Although semiautos are the flavor of the day for personal protection, revolvers still have some very real advantages. 1. Since revolvers are operated by sheer human muscle rather than by harnessed energy from the cartridge itself, they simply don’t malfunction as often. If one hangs up a bit, just apply a little more good old-fashioned brute force, and it will keep right on singing. 2. Something few folks consider — they won’t turn into a one-shooter like a semiauto if you loose the magazine. 3. Revolvers aren’t ammo-picky. Unlike semiautos, wherein the projectile’s nose profile has to be just right to feed into the chamber, a revolver will accept just about any shape bullet. Nor do bullet weight and powder charge affect the cyclic rate of a revolver like they do a semiauto. As long as a cartridge of appropriate caliber can be shoved into the chambers of a revolver cylinder, the wheelgun will dutifully fire it.
4. Taking that a step further, shooters who reload can tailor revolver loads to very specialized purposes. Light, fast hollow-point loads can minimize overpenetration for personal defense in highly populated areas with thin walls. We also have inexpensive cast-bullet loads for practice or heavy-bullet loads for hunting.
5. Revolvers are simple, and inexperienced shooters intuitively grasp how they function. There’s really no “manual of arms.” Just open the cylinder, put cartridges in, close the cylinder, point at the bad guy and get down to business.
6. It takes very little hand strength to load and fire a revolver. All semiautos require racking a spring-powered slide to chamber a cartridge before shooting. Springs tend to be rather stout on most semiautos chambered in defense-appropriate calibers. Many older folks and petite women struggle to manipulate such slides. Revolvers are always ready. Just pull it out of the nightstand drawer and go to work.
Now, it’s worth noting that not all revolvers are created equal. There are two primary types — single action and double action — and only double-action revolvers are really well suited for personal protection. Sure, an experienced shooter can do amazing things with a single-action too, but in the hands of the average shooter, in a life-or-death situation, the double-action is superior.
What’s the difference? In short, the hammer, which slams the firing pin against the back of the cartridge and fires the gun, on a single action must be manually cocked each time before the trigger can be pressed to fire the gun. Without a ton of practice, it’s slow. It takes presence of mind — something few of us maintain when life is on the line.
A double-action, on the other hand, has a dual-purpose trigger. It can be employed in single-action function as above, or the shooter can pull the trigger to cock the hammer, rotate the cylinder to a fresh cartridge and drop the hammer. As long as you keep pulling that trigger, it will keep firing projectiles until it’s out of ammo.
Revolvers, as with anything, also vary widely in quality based on the manufacturer and the model.
Cliff Notes on the manufacturers: Smith & Wesson has been making fighting revolvers for a century and a half and is known for superb quality, for actions that function smoothly, crisp triggers, excellent accuracy and outstanding fit and finish. Ruger revolvers are known for toughness. They are overbuilt and handle abuse like no others. Plus, they’re well designed, well built and nicely finished. Taurus, as a company, isn’t known for producing amazing finishes or butter-smooth actions; what it currently is known for is innovation. The Taurus handguns included in this roundup have both blown conventional boundaries to shreds, and, in the case of at least one, turned the defensive revolver world on its ear.
Listed below in alphabetical order are eight of my favorite self-defense revolvers of various sizes available today. Feel free to comment if your favorites aren’t included.
Ruger LCR .357
All of the top revolver companies have dabbled with using Polymer frames — or, more accurately, frames partially made of polymer — to reduce weight and streamline manufacturing. And why not? Polymer revolutionized the semiautomatic handgun world. Ruger’s LCR is one of the most successful, and it offers snag-free hammerless ergonomics coupled with a recoil-taming Hogue grip. Weight is impressively low at 17 ounces, and price is very reasonable for an uber-light .357 Magnum snubbie at $599. Price in recoil? Not so light. Me, I’d stoke it with high-performance .38 Specials. Capacity is 5 rounds.
Ruger SP101 .357
My brother, who is as hardcore an outdoorsman as exists and tends to get himself in tight spots with mountain lions and other furry predatorial types, has been packing an SP101 for decades. It’s stainless, tough enough to pound railroad spikes with and reliable as the day. Chambered in .357 Magnum, it’s a handful, but the robust steel frame dampens weight just enough to make it controllable. For a working outdoorsman or for use as a trail gun, few revolvers can match it. Capacity: five rounds.
Ruger GP100 .357
Ruger’s GP100 is — in all variations — a capable mid-size sixshooter. However, the company is currently offering a distributor exclusive that I particularly like for personal protection purposes. Fitted with a 3-inch barrel,Novak combat sights and finished in a low-luster blue, it’s as discrete as a seriously tough-looking handgun can be. Grips are recoil-taming black rubber with dark wood inserts, and the fluted cylinder holds six rounds. Have your dealer contact TALO — the distributor — for pricing and to order.
Smith & Wesson Model 686 Plus
Arguably the single most versatile revolver in the world, S&W’s seven-shot 686 is constructed of stainless steel, available in a variety of barrel lengths (get a 4-inch), and the action and trigger is tuned to smooth perfection. Accuracy tends to be way above par, and the model is naturally shootable, making it easy for shooters to get the best out of their handgun. Unless you want to conceal it, you just can’t go wrong with a 686 Plus. Capacity: seven rounds.
Smith & Wesson M&P R8
There are smaller revolvers, and less expensive revolvers, but when it comes to fighting, there are no better revolvers than S&W’s M&P R8. Built in S&W’s legendary Performance Center on the large “N” frame and boasting eight chambers in its black stainless steel cylinder, it’s not suitable for concealed carry. But for standing on your hind legs and killing something of uncivilized intent before it kills you, it’s outstanding. Duty carry or for use in an apocalyptic scene? Perfect. Weight is a relatively light 36 ounces virtue of a scandium alloy frame. It accepts fast-loading moon clips and functions perfectly without them as well, and it has — wonder of wonders — a rail machined on the bottom of the barrel housing for mounting lights and/or laser units. Capacity: eight rounds.
Smith & Wesson Model 442 .38 Special
This is the quintessential pocket revolver: compact, snag-free and super light. The hammerless frame dictates that it must be fired double-action, but at belly-gun ranges, that’s just what the doctor ordered, and the lack of an exposed hammer spur prevents the gun from catching on and tearing Victoria’s Secret’s latest. At $469, the .38 Special shown here is affordable, too. Capacity is five rounds.
Some might argue that purchasing the much costlier Model 340 offers the option of also chambering .357 Magnum cartridges; I say shooting those magnums cartridges in a gun that weighs not much more than a pack of cigarettes feels about like having a hand grenade go off in your fist. Fast follow-up shots go out the window, too. Save the extra money, and spend it on additional .38 cartridges for training purposes.
Taurus Judge in .45 Colt/.410 Shotshell
Not that long ago, Taurus brought a way-out-of-the-box revolver design to market, named it the Judge and created a wave of sales that the company is still surfing. What’s so special about the Judge? It is designed to fire either .45 Colt cartridges or .410-bore shotshells. Or both. Mix and match. While it’s a bit bulky, it hits with undeniable authority on the business end, and, when loaded with shotshells, offers quite a bit of forgiveness in shot placement. Today, myriad versions exist with different barrel lengths, cylinder lengths and finishes. Pick one that tickles your fancy. Capacity: 5 rounds.
Taurus View (85VTA Revolver)
Outlandish in appearance, with an eye-widening clear polymer frame panel that allows shooters to see right into the guts of the mechanism, Taurus’s new View is shockingly ergonomic. I’ve shot them with stout .38 Special cartridges, and the weird grip is comfortable, aids natural pointability and offers good recoil control. Who’d a thunk it? By now, I’ve come to expect surprising, innovative, user-friendly models from Taurus, but I still find it unsettling to look right through, as it were, a handgun. Some will love it, though, and it offers features that make it very suitable as a personal protection arm. Capacity: 5 rounds.