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Preview – Revolver Buyer’s Guide

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Photos by Mike Searson and Shinnosuke Tanaka

Old Doesn't Mean Obsolete. Don't Write Off the Six-Shooter as a Viable CCW Option.

When selecting a handgun for concealed carry, the most common choices that spring to mind are either a compact single-stack .45 ACP, a subcompact polymer .380 ACP, a striker-fired 9mm, or a snub-nosed revolver. Wait a minute — a snub-nosed revolver? Do we mean a wheel gun? A six-shooter, like they used during the Gold Rush of 1849 or in Tombstone at the O.K. Corral?

Not exactly, but if you’re a shooter who was raised on Glocks and SIGs, you may need to acquaint yourself with this other concealed-carry option that never seems to go away despite advancements in firearms technology. The appeal of revolvers lies in their lightweight construction, ease of use, reliability, and ease of concealment. Each of these factors plays a crucial role in any plan for carrying a handgun covertly, and perhaps explains why the “six-shooter” is enjoying something of a renaissance. Or perhaps it never really went away.

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The revolver is one of the oldest “modern handguns” and dates back to the mid-19th century. It has been declared “obsolete” many times over throughout much of the 20th century since the advent of semiautomatic pistols. However, revolvers have been making a strong comeback in recent years. Not as side-arms for law enforcement officers or the military, but as a viable option for a primary concealed-carry weapon (CCW) or as a backup in case the primary arm should fail.

First developed by Samuel Colt in the 1830s, the earliest revolvers were front-loading black powder types. Colt scoffed at the mention of loading metallic cartridges in his firearms, but an upstart company from Massachusetts headed by Hiram Smith and Daniel Wesson picked up the ball and ran with it.

Smith & Wesson has led the way in revolver development going back as far as 1857. The company was responsible for the first cartridge revolver, the first double-action revolver, and the first “swing-out cylinder” — and blazed the magnum handgun trail since the introduction of the .357 magnum in 1935.

Smith & Wesson has also heeded the call for producing lighter-weight handguns since its introduction of the aluminum-framed Aircrew model in the 1940s. Since then, Smith & Wesson has taken advantage of new materials — such as titanium, scandium, and now polymer frames — in building its guns. The difference being that a lighter revolver will more likely be carried than a heavier one.

The Revolver Advantage
They may lack the capacity and quick-reload option of a semiautomatic pistol, but they have other traits that stand above the rest when it comes to a CCW plan.

Revolvers have long been praised for their ease of use. Although revolver virtuoso Ed McGivern famously said in the 1930s that a double-action revolver was “the hardest firearm to learn how to shoot well,” there is nothing simpler than picking up a double-action revolver and squeezing the trigger. There are no safety levers, de-cockers, or slides to rack in order to make a revolver ready to shoot. It is in this regard that the revolver can excel for a new and inexperienced shooter in a life-or-death situation.

Most revolvers can also remain loaded for years at a time, without being concerned about weak magazine or recoil springs. Ease of concealment goes back to the size of the revolver.

In this case, we’re not talking about the gargantuan N and X frames of Smith & Wesson or the massive Ruger Super Redhawk, but rather the J-frames of Smith & Wesson, the discontinued D-frames of Colt, and the LCR made by Ruger. Revolvers of these types can easily be concealed in a pocket (although that’s not a recommended practice without a good pocket holster) or a waistband with a suitable holster. The grip profile is smaller, the frame is typically narrower, and when coupled with a bobbed or concealed hammer the draw from the pocket can be quicker than most semi-autos.

Some shooters aren’t physically capable of racking the slide of a pistol under pressure. We don’t just mean the elderly or infirm, but someone who has been injured in the course of an altercation may find it easier to get a revolver into action if one of their hands has been injured as opposed to making ready a semi-auto pistol.


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