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A Revolver for Concealed Carry?

In a world of 20 round 9mm pistols with red dot sights, compensators, and powerful weapon mounted lights, is there still a place for the humble revolver in your concealed carry line-up? Absolutely. While they'll never win any capacity contests, there are some specific use cases and places where a revolver for concealed carry is the right choice.

If you're looking at a revolver for concealed carry, step one is understanding all the different frame sizes and models of wheelgun out there. Smith & Wesson has 5 frame sizes, from smallest to largest: J-frame, K-frame, L-frame, N-frame, X-frame, and Z-frame. The X-frame is reserved for their massive 460 S&W and 500 Magnum revolvers, and the Z-frame is used by S&W's 410/45 Colt hybrid six shot revolver. As far as N-frames go, while Dirty Harry certainly made carrying a 6.5 inch 44 Magnum in a shoulder holster look cool, it's not a practical choice. That leaves the Smith & Wesson choices as their J, K, and L frames.

revolver for concealed carry

While comparable in size, the purpose behind each of these micro pistols should not be mistaken as completely the same.

Ruger's lineup is similar, although they don't use a handy frame letter system like S&W. Their small frame revolvers are the polymer/alloy hybrid framed LCR series and the all steel SP101s, both of which are similar in size to the J-frame. Ruger eschews the middle of the road K-frame size and skips straight to a medium-large frame with their GP100. GP100s and L-frames in the same caliber can share speedloaders, which is also indicative of both revolver's size.

Ruger and Smith & Wesson aren't the only players in the wheelgun game, although they're certainly the biggest. If your heart is set on a revolver for concealed carry, you also have the American made Kimber K6s, as well as Charter Arms lineup of small and medium framed revolvers. Colt is also back in the revolver game, offering a resurrected D-frame; a revolver with similar size to S&W's J-frame but packing a sixth shot in the wheel. And you can't sleep on Taurus, because their new CEO Bret Vorhees is committed to offering quality revolvers for hunting, target shooting, and personal protection.

Three of these revolvers are medium frames and one is a small frame.

Most users who are choosing a revolver for concealed carry will focus on the small frames. While it's certainly possible to carry a Ruger GP100 with a 3-inch barrel chambered in 10mm, or a Smith & Wesson 586 L-Comp equipped with an Aimpoint ACRO, only a degenerate revolver enthusiast would do something like that. Normal people who carry revolvers are usually focused on a wheelgun to fill one of the specific niches that small revolvers excel at. There are three areas where revolvers beat all semi-automatic challengers: 1) pocket guns, 2) deep concealment or concealment in clothes it's hard to hide a gun in, and 3) guns for an entangled gunfight.

Perhaps the best place for a revolver as a concealed carry gun is a pocket gun. Not in your super tight mom jeans, but specifically in locales that have seasons and concealed in a jacket pocket. When you think about drawing a gun under duress in a concealed carry situation, the sooner you can start your draw the better. Having a gun in a jacket pocket allows you to have your hand on your gun in a surreptitious manner, assuming your situational awareness was good enough to ID the threat in time. An idea revolver for pocket carry would be a hammerless or shrouded hammer small frame revolver with a 2 inch or shorter barrel. The Ruger LCR is an obvious choice for this role, since it's extremely light, and comes standard with an enclosed hammer and 1.875 inch barrel. Smith & Wesson's model 442 J-frame is also a great fit in this role, and can be had brand-new without Smith's Internal Locking System.

a revolver for concealed carry

Easily one of the lightest revolvers, and for that matter, pistols, the Airlite series has made it's point.

As deep concealment guns, revolvers excel. This is thanks in large part to S&W's use of advanced alloys in their line of scandium framed revolvers. These ultralight weight revolvers use a scandium-aluminum alloy which is strong enough for firearms use, but incredibly light. In fact, S&W's 351PD, a 22 Magnum J-frame using this alloy is the lightest production double action revolver on the planet, coming in at a scant 11.2 ounces. That's less than two hockey pucks, or slightly more than one NCAA regulation volleyball, if you're interested in irrelevant weight comparisons. While 22 Magnum may not be the first choice for personal defense, out of revolver this light it's a round that can be easily controlled, and also fulfills the first rule of gunfighting: have a gun. The light weight and tiny size make these guns disappear in anything from board shorts to a fitted suit.

The reason that option 3 is on the list is that entangled gunfights do happen, albeit infrequently. However, if grappling with someone and needing to shoot that person in extreme close quarters is something you worry about, a revolver is king here. A revolver is entirely mechanically driven, so there's no slide to go out of battery, no magazine to misfeed a round, and a small number of moving parts. Because the barrel doesn't move, in extremis it can be jammed into direct contact with someone's attacker, and the gun will still fire its entire payload of rounds.

Although not recommended for concealed carry, the advent of 9mm revolvers opened up the world of competition to a whole new future.

Outside of these use cases, a revolver for concealed carry can still be a workable choice, if you're willing to accept the loss of capacity. Medium framed guns like the Colt Python, Ruger GP100, or S&W L-frames offer a rock solid platform for delivering heavy magnums, and come as close to being a “do everything” gun as you can get. A 4-inch medium frame revolver is certainly still concealable, and loaded with +P 38 Special rounds a valid choice for personal defense. Scale up the rounds to 357 Magnum and you can pack a gun into the woods that can and has dispatched every animal that walks on four legs in North America.

GP100 10mm with a modern 2011 in 9mm

Two modernized museum pieces

There are plenty of reasons to choose a revolver for concealed carry. All the ones previously mentioned are valid, but there's one more. You like them. Sure, you should probably carry a 17 round striker fired 9mm instead, but if you're more likely to practice and train with your wheelgun because you like it…carry that instead. Ultimately what you carry is up to you, and if you like wheelguns, carry one. We've shown that revolvers have valid use cases even in modern times, but at the end of the day, what you carry is a deeply personal choice. Make the one that's most likely to result in you being proficient with your carry gun.

More on Revolvers and Handguns

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4 responses to “A Revolver for Concealed Carry?”

  1. Kevin Nelson says:

    Excellent article. I still have my 649 I bought for a couple hundred in 1988 as a patrol backup. I see they are now $700 plus. Glad I kept it. It isn’t my first choice for EDC, for that I have G43, but it does have a place in my small collection for certain applications.

  2. Mike Jacobs says:

    As far as option #3, have you ever tried to shoot a revolver double action…..with someone gripping the cylinder? Not going to work so good.

  3. Rob says:

    Caleb Giddings? Are you serious…doesn’t really help your credibility when you assoc yourselves with this lying, drunken moron.

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