April 12, 2023
The working man’s wheelgun is the 21st Century’s equivalent of the bolt-action rifle. Fondly remembered as an icon in its day, but generally dismissed as a relic of the long dead past. As a contemporary working tool, i.e. weapon, its functional training value is nearly completely hidden to the modern shooter. And any ability to still impart useful shooting tactics is nearly universally mocked. Suggest to skilled shooters anywhere that the contemporary revolver has anything to offer the modern firearms enthusiast, and they will dismiss both you and the notion out of hand.
Reflect for a moment that if you do discover any new knowledge or currently unknown shooting advantage with any contemporary firearm, your fellow shooters will claw their way to you in desperate need to have you impart this new wisdom onto them. Rediscover a similar value in the (shockingly) still measurably popular snub revolver, and you will be, across the board, subject to ridicule. I’ve been there where otherwise world class firearm trainers have picked up spent .38 brass and derisively dismiss them as dinosaur droppings.
I know a former SWAT skilled officer who will regale you with the tale of the day he was at the state’s Firearms Instructor requalification. The master instructor-trainers let the attendees know that they’d leave requalified on; precision rifles, select-fire rifles, shotguns, pistols, and if asked for, wheelguns. And my friend shouted out: “What’s a wheelgun?” to gales of laughter from his fellow trainers. All this so-called humor aside, if a state’s most skilled firearms instructor-trainers and officer trainers can’t take (at minimum) the still lethal threat of the revolver seriously, how much less likely is the pedestrian shooter likely to consider its self-defense value, or even its firearms cross-training value? How much less likely is the casual shooter to perceive any martial value in revolvers at all? Or as one actual, revolver armed gunfight victor called them: “These Wyatt Earps”?
Well, I’ve spent the better part of the last three decades diligently working on recovering, discovering, recording, and disseminating the two types of valuable lessons old shooters believed the wheelgun had to offer serious firearm owners. It’s manual of arms quirks, and its tactical application insights. What I propose to present to you here are a few of the lesser known, or generally forgotten, tips of the working revolver, while avoiding offering you the bland chestnuts you almost certainly already know, and may have already dismissed.
Running Before Walking
I suggest that we start with an introduction of the revolver’s lesser known or nearly forgotten gun running tips. Items that let you get a little more value out of your range time with the weapon. Ideally these are items that let you see that even a pedestrian self-defense tool can have quirks that need to be identified and mastered. Once a shooter has an introduction to these forgotten items for running the revolver, he is in a better position to look at tactical considerations.
I’m going to presume that if you’re still with me, that I won’t have to preach that competent revolver handling is as essential to the skilled shooter as the claw hammer, or a set of wrenches, is to the competent handyman. While there is a score of more sophisticated tools that a craftsman could use, and most probably will use, for the journeyman, knowledge of the classic tools is essential for a complete grounding. To that point I’m going to also assume that you are not new to most firearms but that you believe yourself to be less than equally versed with the revolver. Further, what you are intrigued by is the idea of the revolver as a practical go-to trouble gun, and you would like some information on practical (and ideally) exploitable revolver tips generally completely overlooked by others. You want nothing run-of-the-mill, and nothing you can’t get off Wikipedia. Come along and we’ll see if I can’t accommodate you.
Confronting the Lessons You Don't Want
I’m not going to suggest to you that the revolver is a chess master’s gun. But to me the revolver is a thinking man’s street tool. Its greatest gift is in fact its minimum ammo count. The revolver doesn’t let a shooter count on thirty or forty rounds to solve his street issues. He’s going to be forced to use the craftsman’s skill, the lawyer’s guile, and the tactician’s forethought. A minimum round count requires him, forces him to see more and plan farther ahead. Should he know how to manipulate the revolver adroitly? Absolutely, but the revolver user’s goal is to win the hand early, not draw more cards. Avoid, Evade, Escape become more important than Present, Align, and Compress. But should those efforts fall short, what manipulation tips can one apply to the revolver that most shooters don’t currently have? Ideally, what specific tips can you add to your revolver handling repertoire? Let’s start in close, extend the distance, and see what new material the revolver has in store for you.
The predator picks the hunting area and the attack style. Generally, he’s fast and comes in with overwhelming force. Sykes and Fairbairn once suggested the ideal weapon for the detective was the short-barreled revolver in a heavy caliber for, among other reasons, its speed of access. If set upon quickly and at close range your short-barreled revolver, while not of a large caliber, can still answer for the same reasons. But where can you apply the quickly drawn weapon for maximum success?
I’m going to suggest following up a quick draw with the back of your knuckles, hard against your attacker’s chest. Ideally it would be low on his chest, directly below his chin, and under his line of sight. Run the gun straight up until you contact the soft area under his chin. As soon as you make contact, turn the gun 90-degrees until the top strap is directly between you and your attacker. To the extent possible, force his head back slightly with the muzzle, and if needed, compress the trigger. The round and the gas should enter the gentleman’s brain, and will be least likely to require an additional follow up application. Additionally, the underside of the crown of his skull makes an effective bullet trap.
In the event you draw the revolver quickly but initially fail to make successful contact with the gentleman’s chest, you may find in response that the gentleman’s hand is clamped over the top of your revolver. Clamped down, he will prevent the cylinder from rotating. This in turn will prevent the hammer from rising and falling, and subsequently prevent the weapon from discharging. But here we find an initial weakness that can be turned into a strength.
If you can’t turn the cylinder, (generally counter-clockwise for most revolvers excluding Colt and only a few others) you can still turn the frame. Sharply, suddenly, twist your right hand, palm face up. While the gentleman holds the cylinder in place, you’ll be able to rotate the frame around the cylinder, compressing the trigger, and permit the weapon to discharge. If possible, try to concurrently shove the muzzle into the gentleman, hard, and as high on his rib cage as possible. This will further weaken his grasp on the weapon and enhance the technique.
Reloading Like a Pistol
Sooner or later you’ll want to reload your revolver. The following method does not require you to move the revolver from hand to hand. This is the most versatile method I have ever come across, though our ability to explore its multiple advantages will be limited here by space. Start with the freshly fired snub in your right hand. Move the right index finger off the trigger and position it along the right side of the frame and flush under the cylinder. Move the right thumb to the rear of the hammer spur or onto the portion of the hammer where the spur would normally be located.
Position the left hand’s index finger onto the left side of the revolver’s frame and flush under the cylinder, and position the left hand’s thumb on the cylinder release. Use the left thumb to operate the cylinder release. Use the right hand’s index finger to roll, not push, the cylinder up and out of the window of the frame. As the cylinder clears the frame, keep the right hand’s index finger extended through the window of the frame. Also keep the tip of the finger in constant contact with the cylinder to prevent the cylinder from swinging back into the frame.
Turn the right-hand palm up. Lift the snub up toward your right shoulder. Be sure to keep the muzzle of the snub pointed straight up. When your right hand is raised near your shoulder, you may opt to turn your raised palm in and angle the snub’s butt inboard toward your sternum. This will give you clearer access to the ejector rod. Use the heel of the left hand and not the web of the left hand to strike the ejector rod. Lower the snub until the butt of the snub contacts your belt line. Keep the muzzle of the snub pointed straight down and reload. Close the cylinder and recover.
The Snub as Improvised Brass Knuckle or Push Dagger
In the event you are rushed in mid-reload, the above hand position can be put to good use. With a firm grip on the stocks, your thumb behind the hammer, and your right index finger through the window of the frame, you will find the gun in an excellent orientation for push-dagger like forward thrust. If forced to apply this method under duress, limit your targets to eyes when you are facing the gentleman head-on, or into the temples if the side of the gentleman’s head presents itself.
Avoiding the Newhall Reload
The story of the police killing in Newhall, CA is most likely well known to every reader. Yet not reloading every chamber in the cylinder is still a lost lesson to most shooters. Always practice your range drills with a varying number of filled chambers. Outside of competitions there is no reason to habitually fill every cylinder when range training on the revolver. The long list of the partial cylinder’s self-defense and non-self-defense advantages should be evident. Singularly though, when required, fighting back with a partially filled cylinder is still fighting with a fully loaded handgun.
Nickle and Brass Ammo
Several of the following tips will require that you physically manipulate your ammunition. In anticipation consider loading your revolver with nickel plated ammunition and filling your reloading tools with bass cased ammunition. Nickel cased rounds tend to be slicker and will clear a cylinder with greater consistency. Inversely, brass cased rounds offer an improved tactile feel and are slightly easier to manipulate when reloading.
Split Your Loose Rounds
One of the basic training trips for reloading your revolver is to keep the lion’s share of your spare ammunition on your left side, i.e. on the same side as the revolver’s swing out cylinder. A related tip is split your ammo between your left front pocket and your left rear pocket. This gives you a second ammo supply should you fumble ammunition coming out of the first pocket. Additionally, you will have access to one or the other pocket regardless of whether you are on the ground face up or face down. Concurrently consider putting no more than three loose rounds in any single pocket as three rounds appears to be the upper limit for most shooters to manipulate loose without fumbling then.
The Curse of the Irish Twin Reload
In the above I alluded to the danger in conditioning yourself to filling every available chamber before returning to the fight. An equivalent training failure is to fill the cylinder in sequential progression, or each subsequent round loaded next to the previous round. In the event you need to close the cylinder mid-reload, rounds loaded side-by-side-side create the risk that your vacant chambers will be encountered at the same empty-empty-empty chance percentage as the loaded chambers. Consciously practice filling your cylinder in a live-empty-live sequence until either the cylinder is filled or the need to return to an encounter mandates an interruption.
Cheating with the 2X2X2 Pouch
Prior to the speed loader, the 2x2x2 pouch was the mainstay of the spare ammo carriers. Today, it still offers the advantage of reasonable fast reloads without the bulk of the speed loader. One of the effective tips to exploit the 2x2x2 pouch, especially for the revolver owner with limited interest in carrying additional rounds, is to load the pouch in a 2x0x2 fashion. Under stress it is too common to grab the 2&3 and/or the 4&5 rounds leaving a single loose round behind and having it subsequently fall to the ground before it can be retrieved. Additionally, loading four rounds quickly gets you ready to return to the fight sooner while reinforcing the above noted Newhall learning lesson.
Practical Speed from a Speed Strip
Nearly every shooter using an inline loading strip down-loads it by one or two rounds. The introduction of 6-, 7-, and 8-rounds loading strips reduces the various arguments against this practice. But the exact placement of specific rounds, the ideal number of rounds, and just which sockets should hold these rounds is still a matter of some spirited conversation. Regardless of how many rounds you choose to carry, and in what order you carry them, the one nearly universally agreed upon issue is the undesirable lag time in getting the strip out of a pocket and into position for reloading. A lesser known solution to the topic is found in the Stand Ready Defense Speed Case. The Speed Case is similar in shape to the policeman’s classic, vertical dump pouch. The Speed Case though is constructed in kydex, and features an open front and an open top. The Speed Case rides on the belt in the fashion of the single magazine pouch. The shooter accesses the strip with his index finger along the forward facing, bottom length of the strip, and reloads in the classic “scalpel” fashion. It is the fastest loading strip tool and technique extent.
Tip and Tap a Speed Loader
Ed Lovette of The Snubby Book fame was the first to advocate a simple solution to the trouble caused by revolver stock manufactures’ nearly universal refusal to remove sufficient material from the stock’s left side panel to facilitate revolver reloading. This excess material uniformly makes reloading with a speed loader slow at best, and challenging at worst. Ed suggested practicing canting the speed loader outboard, inserting only two rounds into the cylinder’s 7- and 9-o’clock chamber position, and then tipping, or straightening, the speed loader inboard, into position. A lesser known addition to this excellent idea is to give the speed loader a sharp but tiny fore-and-aft flick once positioned in place. The tap fore-and-aft notably enhances the odds of a complete and clear release of all the loader’s rounds.
Cup and Saucer Rescue Method
Every piece of gear can fail and an easy tip to put in your shooting kit is to plan for rounds occasionally coming free from their respective loading tools. Consider practicing scooping out loose rounds from a bowl or pocket to represent dislodged rounds. With a fist full of scattered rounds in the left hand, extending your left index and left middle finger, in a “V for Victory” fashion. Then transfer the unloaded revolver’s ejector rod over to and in between the index and middle fingers. This will let you hold the ammunition and the revolver in the same, non-dominant hand, and free up your dominant hand to pinch the rounds and reload them adroitly.
The Everyman Malfunction Clearance Skill
One of the most common dangers with short ejector rods fitted revolvers (notably the J- and K-frame revolvers) is the issue of a spent round that slips under the star ejector. The limited working space when the short ejector rod is depressed makes it difficult to clear a round under the ejector, and subsequently return the revolver to service quickly. For the knowledgeable revolver owner this is not a concern. Take an unloaded 2-inch barreled J- or K-frame revolver in your hand, swing the cylinder open and invert the muzzle. Then depress the ejector rod until your finger contacts the crane. Take note of how little working room there appears to be between the underside of the star ejector and the face of the cylinder. In the event that a rim of an empty case was to slip down and under the star ejector, simply hook a finger behind the star ejector and pull. The star ejector for most short-barreled J- and K-frame revolvers will continue through the crane and nearly double the working space for dealing with a trapped case.
Despite the nearly universal derision of the small pocket revolver as a self-defense tool, it continues to enjoy brisk sales. As a firearms instructor I learned decades ago that my job was not to denigrate any student’s choice of weapon. Presuming that the weapon met a minimum level of safe operation, I was tasked with passing on to the student every available tip I was aware of in order to help him become master of his particular weapon. And after the student had mastered its manual of arms quirks, we could move on to introducing him to the weapon’s lesser known advantages and tips to overcome its possible tactical limitations. I hope the above material on the revolver’s manipulation oddities is of some value. Perhaps in the future there will be sufficient interest to move on to the guns’ lesser known and/or nearly forgotten application advantages. At that time, I’d be pleased to pass them along to my fellow revolver enthusiast, even if it is only for the two of us.
This article was originally published in Be Ready! magazine. You can find the original magazine on the OSG Newsstand. If you have any thoughts or comments on this article, we’d love to hear them. Email us at FirearmsNews@Outdoorsg.com.