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Wheelguns

Wheelguns
They Still Have A Place And They Serve Well.

The unknowing often consider the revolver archaic. I guess by comparing it to some of the modern high capacity semi-automatics of today it could be true. The argument for the auto pistol’s 15- to 20-round magazine capacity, compared to six or seven charge holes of the revolver, is valid… but only if you miss a lot. Or if you are fighting a herd of people and don’t know how to reload a revolver.

There is a generation of people who “grew up” on Glocks and the like (the polymer kids). They are concerned about an impending ban… which we tried in the ’90s. I noticed during the last ban that a lot of people who couldn’t carry lots of ammo decided in many cases to carry bigger ammo. As a point of clarity I saw lots of Glock people go to the likes of 1911s during the last ban. The new ban is yet to be determined and what we will be left with yet to be decided…whatever. I never much worried about the ammo gig; I mostly carried a 1911 and started out in the old days on revolvers, which I still own and have the skills to use.

Many people don’t use revolvers nowadays, and since that may change, I thought as an old guy, I might give the younger folks a revolver overview.

Actually there are five sizes, but the choices at either end of the size list are kinda stupid, or worthless. If you get some peewee midget thing that fits in a belt buckle, or some other novelty, you’re armed, but dangerous? That’s questionable! At the other end we have the hand cannons like .500s and .460s. You bet; they’re big guns and will stop stuff. Blow a hole in a rhino? Yep… and weigh a ton. They’ll pull your pants down while carrying them and destroy your hearing when and if you shoot them, unless you have the best of ear protection.

At the smaller end we have 2- to 3-inch barreled revolvers, mostly in .38/.357 calibers, and they aren’t bad guns if you understand their purpose and limitations. You go ahead and shoot all the magnums you want in these small guns. The .357s are not pleasant to shoot. We won’t discuss practical blast, muzzle flash, and hand-crunching recoil of the magnums. A better choice in these short-barreled revolvers would be decent .38 Special ammo properly placed on the threat. The sights on small revolvers are present but sometimes that’s all that can be said about them. The small size makes reloading under stress, even with speed loaders, a task, but it can be done—with practice.

In the medium range we have some good choices. As examples we have the old Colt Python and the Smith & Wesson Model 19, which are no longer made. It wasn’t because they weren’t good guns—they were—but times change. Today, the Ruger GP100 and SP101 type guns are solid affordable revolvers, along with a series of Smith & Wesson revolvers in .38 Special. The K-frame, and the slightly heavier L-frames, are all good size guns that come is various sizes and configurations like Model 64, 67, 586, 686 and the tricky 686 Plus (made for an enemy who counts the rounds you fire?).

And then the big guns, big by size and caliber the likes of the Model 29 .44 Magnum, the Model 57/58 .41 Magnums and the other N-frames such as the Model 25/325 available in the iconic .45 ACP. All these or current variations are very good fight stoppers but require people who are willing to work to conceal the guns as well as work to control recoil—but they are good handguns.

This point requires some clarity. The actions are simple. Deciding which one will work for you is another thing. The ability to shoot a gun that might not be yours—a battlefield pick up for instance—is or could be a point of intrigue.

Single-action revolvers fire one way. The shooter must cock the hammer and press the trigger to fire, then redo to fire again. As an example we have the Colt Single Action Army.

Double-action revolvers come in two formats: the simple version being the double-action-only revolver. In this gun the trigger cocks the hammer by pressing rearward on the trigger until the gun fires, then re-do as required. The hammerless is not actually hammerless. The hammer is internal, or not exposed to the eye. Great examples are the Smith & Wesson models 340, 40 and 42, all with internal hammers. A cheater in the field is the S&W Model 38. It has a partially exposed hammer, protected by a shroud. It could be thumb cocked but it’s goofy to do so.

The other double action is actually correct in that the gun can be fired, by design, either by trigger cocking, or thumb cocking. True double-action revolvers can be fired both ways. Most modern fighting/defense revolvers work this way, examples being the Ruger GP100 and SP101, Smith & Wesson Models 29, 27, 36 (pick any one of a many).

The spectrum of the revolver includes (left, top to bottom) S&W Model 60, S&W Model 686,
S&W Model 29 and (right, top to bottom) the Colt Single Action Army, S&W Model 327 factory
made double-action-only, and Colt Model 1877.

A S&W custom made Model 327 .357 Magnum 8-shot revolver made to fire in the double
action or trigger-cocking mode only. While popular in Europe prior to out Civil War.

ODD Name?

This double-action nomenclature is odd because calling certain actions “double” is indicative of the ability for two types of operation (like a S&W Model 29). In reality, the double-action-only (like the S&W Model 40) is a single action (only one way of operation) because these true double-action-only guns fire one way—by trigger cocking. I’m not getting philosophical or esoteric; it’s just called something it’s not.

The revolver is solid; the sights are mostly decent or can be made that way. If it doesn’t fire, like in a misfire, you simply pull the trigger again. The revolver can be carried in decent fight stopping/changing calibers all based on projectile placement.

The revolver doesn’t hold a lot of ammo, so practice loading. Think this will be a big deal in a fight? Ever watch Jerry Miculek shoot and load? And some sights are frail (aren’t they all?). Also the revolver may have a bit of bulk for concealed carry. However, I don’t notice much difference if I go from a Model 1911 5-inch gun to a 4-inch N-frame Smith & Wesson, since I have always just dressed around the handgun I am wearing.

If, sadly, someday you’re only allowed to have a revolver, (don’t worry about me, I have mine already), personally, I think you’ll be just fine. Nonetheless, we’ll all carry on the good fight to keep our hi-cap and AR stuff, but maybe, just maybe, throw in a bit of practice with your wheelgun—or get one—just in case.
By Clint Smith
Photos By Heidi Smith

Sturm, Ruger & Co.
411 Sunapee St., Newport, NH 03773
(603) 865-2442
www.gunsmagazine.com/ruger

S&W
2100 Roosevelt Ave., Springfield, MA 01104
(800) 331-0852
www.gunsmagazine.com/smith-wesson

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  1. Donald Lefkowitz says:

    I don’t know if Clint Smith had a bad night or just wasn’t thinking. The term single action or double action only refers to the trigger. In a single action gun, the trigger’s only job is to fire the gun (one action). In a double action gun,the trigger has to cock the hammer as well as fire it (two actions). So the terms single action and double action is exactly correct.

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