For the most part, revolvers — even the best revolvers ever designed — are no longer the handgun flavor of the day. Nowadays, you’ll find semiautos everywhere from country sheriffs’ belts to the hands of serious competition shooters and the bedside gun safes of homeowners and more.
The point is, semiautos are seen far more often than revolvers these days. But that’s just a recent trend. You might say unproven, even. For almost two centuries, six shooters were the sidearm of choice .
A good revolver can handle just about anything nature and abusive gun owners can throw at it. Powered by human muscle rather than energy harnessed from the exploding cartridge itself, revolvers tend to be more reliable than semiautos. They’re not finicky about case length, powder charge, bullet-nose profile and whatnot, as many semiautos are. If you can shove an appropriate-caliber cartridge into the cylinder, a revolver will dutifully fire that cartridge. And your revolver will never turn into a one-shooter because you’ve accidentally misplaced the magazine.
Here’s a look at ten of the best revolvers of all time, ranging from the greatest wheelgun from the Civil War to the latest cutting-edge models. Be sure to vote for your favorite below.
Colt 1860 Army
Arguably the single most aesthetic revolver of all time, the 1860 Army also holds the distinction of being the first ergonomic, practical-weight repeating handgun. Of course, others came before — the slender, fragile .36-caliber Patterson; the overbuilt, goliath-sized .44-caliber Walker — but the 1860 was the first of the really great belt-carriable revolvers. The 1860 also served with admirable distinction during the Civil war. Today, quality reproductions are readily available from A. Uberti and others. How can any revolver enthusiast not own one?
Colt Single Action Army (SAA)
The advent of the self-contained metallic cartridge forever changed the face of firearms, including revolvers. Col. Colt’s Single Action Army (SAA) became the first truly successful design, and it went on to serve with distinction on the belts of various soldiers and lawmen for almost a century. Anyone who has reveled in the magic of the silver screen watched the likes of Roy Rodgers (an extremely talented handgunner), John Wayne and others with their six shooters, and wanted one. With darn good reason, too: The Colt Single Action Army is the revolver that won the West.
Smith & Wesson Model 19
While the Model 19 wasn’t Smith & Wesson’s first revolver — not nearly — it was the first lean, capable six-gun in .357 Magnum caliber that didn’t pull lawmen’s pants to their knees because of its weight. Designed in collaboration with legendary lawman and trick shooter Bill Jordan during the ’50s, the Model 19 was built on S&W’s “K” frame, which made it lighter and more ergonomic than any other duty-type revolver at the time. Eventually discontinued (to the dismay of wheelgunners everywhere), it’s recently been revived by S&W in stainless steel guise as the Model 66, and it’s just as good as ever.
Cited as the finest production revolver ever made by various notable shooters, including Col. Jeff Cooper, the Python was originally designed as a premium-grade revolver and marketed as such. Known for outstanding ergonomics and accuracy and an exceptionally smooth, tight action, the Python remains to this day an icon among fine double-action revolvers. Discontinued in the late 1990’s, Pythons soon became scarce on the marketplace, and today heavy sums must be laid out to purchase one. But if you’re the kind of fellow that drives a classic sports car and orders your dry Martinis shaken and not stirred, nothing will do but a Python.
Favored by expert practical handgunners such as Skeeter Skelton and his son, Bart Skelton, as well as John Wooters and Jim Wilson, Ruger’s Blackhawk is arguably the best working man’s single-action revolver available. Its action is distinctly stronger than that of Colt’s SAA, making it more suitable for stout magnum loads. It’s more robust, too, and it is easily tuned and customized. It comes standard with adjustable sights and is very reasonably priced. Mounting a scope on one, while considered a travesty by traditional wheelgunners, is painless and helps milk the inherent fine accuracy. The quintessential classic Blackhawk is typified by the early “flat top” models, but despair not: Ruger has made limited runs of flat tops recently, and with diligent search, they can be found and purchased.
Smith & Wesson Model 29
Although it was introduced in the mid-1950s, the Model 29 didn’t achieve its worldwide legendary status until Clint Eastwood used one (actually several) in the Dirty Harry films. Perhaps the epitome of a great .44 Magnum revolver, the Model 29 is built on S&W’s N-frame, making it controllable but not outlandishly large, and entirely aside from it’s lore-based popularity, it’s an imminently practical six shooter. Commonly very accurate, Model 29s may be fired fast in double-action mode or precisely in single-action. Add superlative good looks, and it’s easy to see why it remains one of the most popular big-bore revolvers of all time.
Ruger Super Redhawk
While it doesn’t enjoy quite the popularity of Smith & Wesson’s big-bore revolvers or even of it’s own single-action siblings — the Blackhawk and Super Blackhawk — Ruger’s Super Redhawk is an excellent heavy, double-action wheelgun. Overbuilt for durability and strength against the battering of high-pressure heavy cartridges, it’s ideal for big-bore rounds such as the .454 Casull, .480 Ruger and, of course, the .44 Magnum. Integrated scope mounts for Ruger’s proprietary rings allow for easy mounting of a scope, thus making it an optimal choice for handgun hunters. All things considered, the Super Redhawk is the dark horse of those included in this list, and it is arguably one of the most practical for heavy handgunning.
Freedom Arms Model 83
If you’re a fan of Swiss pocket watches and vintage Jaguars, the Model 83 is your poison. Absolutely the equal of a very fine custom rifle (in terms of precision manufacturing and quality of finish), Model 83s are available in a variety of calibers and finishes, with one constant: Every one of them is superbly accurate and tuned — yes — like a Swiss watch. The only downside is the cost of Freedom Arms revolvers. You can purchase a whole handful of Ruger Blackhawk revolvers for the same cost, but if owning one best-quality six-shooter is important to you, look no farther than Freedom Arms.
Colt Detective Special
Introduced in the late ’20s, the Detective Special was one of the first modern-type double-actions that employed a swing-out cylinder for fast emptying and reloading. Chambered in .38 Special, it is really the compact revolver that started the “snubby” trend, and it served ably in the pockets of lawmen — and more than a few gangsters — nationwide. Today, Detective Specials are something of a classic and are, for the most part, more valuable for their place in history than as a practical firearm. That being said, if you had to pull one out of the glass cabinet and defend hearth and home with it, the little .38 would rise ably to the occasion.
Smith & Wesson J-Frame
These days, if you go shopping for a quality compact revolver, you shop for a S&W J-frame. Made in a vast variety of different guises, the tiny-but-capable revolvers built on the J-frame foundation are unarguably the best available. I’ve used everything from scandium-framed ultralights to long-barreled adjustable-sighted models, and they are invariably reliable, accurate and tuned to perfection, although, as with any compact revolver, they aren’t always pleasant to shoot with full-house loads. My personal favorite is the Model 60 with a 3-inch barrel and iron sights. Back when I used to carry it all the time I could hit a shoebox at 50 yards with every shot. Why don’t I carry it any more? Because my wife stole it from me.