Smith & Wesson, Colt, Ruger and even Kimber have all recently released new revolvers, and the shooting public has been scooping them up as fast as the companies can produce them. But why? Why is this over-100-year-old design still selling as fast as the companies can push them out the door? The answer is easy; it's because they work.
Sometimes the market is wrong and products become successful because some internet brand ambassador who doesn't know their ass from a hot rock hypes it up, and sometimes products see success because a band of true believers refuse to stop spreading the gospel. The story of the modern revolver is the latter. Despite the repeated pronouncement of its demise and its supposed obsolescence, there are some things the revolver does that like-sized semiautomatics can't.
Revolvers punch way above their weight class when it comes to ballistics. To compare two Smith & Wesson products, the Bodyguard semiauto chambered in the diminutive .380 weighs 1 ounce less than the M&P 340, which is chambered in .357 Magnum. Now, I don't know about you, but if I have something that needs to be shot, I'd rather shoot it with a .357 Magnum. Or at least a +P .38 Special. Since I like all of you, I'll give you my true feelings about the .380. I can envision no scenario in which I'd recommend a .380 for anything other than a last-ditch backup or even tertiary firearm. Recently, I've started walking my dog in the early morning on the weekends. Long walks, anywhere from 8 to 10 miles, and often into the foothills surrounding the valley where I live. Just the other day, a coyote strode right into the middle of the street during one of my walks and paused, looking at me with absolutely zero Foxtrots. I was glad for the Smith & Wesson 340 M&P loaded up with Gold Dot 135-grain +P's riding in the Hill People Gear Snubby Kit Bag across my chest. I feel much better with five rounds of +P .38 than I would with seven rounds of .380. Is a .380 better than nothing? Sure, but so is a sharp stick, and I wouldn't bet my life on either.
Simple and Close
Another reason the revolver remains relevant is that the simple, robust design is easy to operate under stress, especially at common self-defense distances. Although the double-action (DA) trigger press of most revolvers can be inferior to a single-action (SA) or a safe-action trigger, it is entirely adequate for its intended distances, and in the right hands, it can be, and has been, very effective out to 50 yards and beyond. Moving past the trigger press itself is the fact that the immediate action drill for the DA revolver can't be beat; you just press the trigger again. No tapping, no racking, just keep the sights on target and press again, allowing the next live round to rotate into place.
Another reason gets thrown around from time to time, and while it sounds a bit overdramatic, my training and experience as a police officer have validated it repeatedly, and that's the ability of the revolver to perform a contact shot during an extremely close fight for the gun. I've seen semiautos pushed out of battery during these types of fights numerous times during training and in reviews of street shootings. It happens often enough that my personal on-duty backup is a revolver.
There are some drawbacks to the modern revolver. As mentioned before, the trigger can take some getting used to, but we'll get to the training spot in a bit. Also, the light weight of the gun and potent cartridge chambering can lead to some fairly substantial recoil. At a recent Gunsite Academy class, I spent a lot of time with the new Kimber K6s revolver, and after shooting about 50 rounds of the Hornady Critical Defense 125-grain FTX load, I scurried back to the much more pleasant 125-grain .38 Special American Gunner. I'm not particularly recoil sensitive, but that .357 is no joke. Luckily, practice can be accomplished with the much more pleasant .38 loads, and the big boomers can be left for serious work.
Moving into the whole practice and training aspect, my eyes were opened a bit at the aforementioned Gunsite class. I thought that my revolver skills were up to snuff, but they were not. While I wasn't a complete mess, it was obvious that my reloads needed work. The two most common means of reloading the revolver are the speed strip and the speed loader, both of which have advantages and disadvantages.
For a low-profile reload, the speed strip is hard to beat. It's a polymer strip with recessed notches that hold the individual rounds in a row. The most common way to set up the strip to reload a five-shot revolver is to place three together, leave a space and then place two together. The space provides an index point when grasping the strip, allowing the shooter to press the rounds into the cylinder one or two at a time. As the rounds are placed into the cylinder, the strip is peeled back slightly, and the rounds enter the cylinder completely. While the strip allows for a flat, easily concealable reload, it is a slow reload option, even for those who train often.
For a faster reload option, there's the speed loader. The speed loader is a metal or plastic cylinder that places the rounds in a circle matching the position of the rounds in the cylinder of the revolver. The rounds are held in place by detents that engage by twisting a center post. The shooter simply opens the cylinder, lines up the rounds, pushes them into the chamber and twists the post, releasing the rounds and allowing them to fall into the cylinder. The loader is discarded as the cylinder closes. The problem with the speed loader is that it is the same circumference as the cylinder, making it less than ideal for everyday carry (EDC). You can, of course, dress around it, but that might require a level of baggy clothes that is unacceptable to your style. Personally, I use the speed strips when I carry a revolver because I always want a reload and I don't like baggy clothes.
The process of efficiently loading a revolver goes beyond choosing the way you prefer to deliver the rounds to the gun. Unlike reloading a semiauto, fast reloads of the revolver involve breaking the master grip of the revolver and transferring it into the support hand. The cylinder release is engaged by the primary hand and the support hand reaches around the gun, with the middle, ring and small fingers pushing the cylinder out of the frame from right to left. Once the cylinder is free, the revolver is rotated muzzle up and the support thumb depresses the ejector, pushing the spent casing onto the deck. The muzzle is then rotated downward, and the primary hand places the new rounds into the cylinder. The cylinder is then closed with the support thumb, and the revolver is transferred back to the primary hand as it is presented back to the target. This technique sounds complicated but can be mastered with a little bit of dedicated practice.
As previously mentioned, the trigger press of a DA revolver requires practice to perfect. Modern revolvers such as the Kimber K6s and the Ruger LCR have wonderful DA presses from the factory, very smooth and light enough for most shooters. More traditional DA revolvers might need the loving touch of a good gunsmith but can also be made into easy-shooting blasters. When shooting the revolver, obtain a grip as high on the gun as you can and press all the way through the trigger with the same amount of force from beginning to end, not allowing the trigger to "stack." This provides a more consistent grip tension, thus making it easier to keep the sights on target. Because of the length of the trigger press, revolvers favor strong hands. I do not recommend DA revolvers for inexperienced or physically weak shooters, and I cringe when I hear people recommend them to novices. It's not a novice gun.
The revolver renaissance has brought a rugged, utilitarian piece of self-defense gear back to the forefront. While it might not be the answer to every self-defense question, the modern DA revolver has a well-deserved place in the shooter's collection who truly is dedicated to personal defense.