Revolvers have fallen out of favor as self-defense weapons, especially for concealed carry. At first blush this is not a bad thing. Semi-autos have become so dependable that they are no longer a detriment. Also, they are slimmer, generally hold more rounds, and are faster to reload. So, how can the old wheel gun compete?
Well, there are several ways. First is in the case of an ammunition failure. If you have a dud round in an auto you must know how to clear it and get your gun back into action as quickly as possible. In all the self-defense courses I know of, these drills are taught. However, if you have a dud in a revolver, all that is required is for the shooter to pull the trigger again. The cylinder rotates and brings a fresh round under the hammer.
Also, a revolver is much easier for the novice shooter to learn to shoot well. That is the primary reason that in the Texas CHL course the shooter who qualifies with a revolver can only carry a revolver, while those who qualify with a semi-auto can carry either a revolver or the auto.
I often carry an old Smith & Wesson Model 38 Bodyguard in .38 Special. This is the gun I carry in situations where I want a gun but must appear to be unarmed. The little Bodyguard is almost unnoticeable when carried under my belt and covered with my shirttail. And should I need a gun I have five +P hollow points at my command. I also carry six extras in a small leather pouch in my pocket, and I have a couple of speed loaders that I sometimes carry in urban environments.
Smith & Wesson revolvers with speed loaders. Photo STEVE LAMASCUS
There are a number of revolvers on the market that are suitable for concealed carry. I am, as I write this, testing a Smith & Wesson Model 325 in .45 ACP. It holds six rounds in a "clip" that looks like a star. It has a 2 1/2-inch barrel and is made of a super-lightweight alloy. The sights are not adjustable (a point I find disappointing), but it is a very accurate gun and the clips make for the fastest reload I have ever seen in a revolver. Jerry Miculek, the fastest man, ever, with a revolver, uses a similarly equipped revolver for his shooting demonstrations and you have to watch very closely to see him reload. Of course, he has fired a million or so rounds to become that proficient.
The best rounds for the concealed carry revolver are, in order of power, the .38 Special, .357 Magnum, .45 ACP, .44 Special, and .45 Colt. The .44 and .38 Specials can be fired in .44 and .357 Magnum guns, thereby reducing muzzle blast and recoil and increasing control and, generally, accuracy. However, there is an equal loss in power when the specials are used in place of the magnums.
I recently tested a Smith & Wesson Model 329 Night Guard. It is a .44 Magnum in the ultra-light Scandium alloy used by S&W. The recoil with a full-house .44 Magnum is pretty grim, but when used with 200-grain Winchester .44 Special Silver Tip hollow points it is much tamer and more controllable. Since the .44 Special is one of the finest manstoppers ever developed, this makes a dynamite combination.
A new addition to the self-defense line-up is the .327 Federal Magnum. It is said to have more manstopping power than a +P .38 Special, but I am doubtful. Still, for someone who is recoil sensitive it is a valid choice, and it does have considerable power behind the little bullets.
I have given this advice before, but here it is again: If you are new to shooting, have no great love of guns, only want a gun that is well-suited for personal defense, buy a revolver. You simply cannot beat a revolver for that first 5 or 6 shots. Since the average gunfight is over in 3 shots, you should have enough firepower in that cylinder to get the job done. If not, well, the fat is surely in the fire and you had better have a Plan B.
As for which revolver to buy, I wont presume to advise you to purchase a specific gun, because there are many good choices, but I will give you a couple of hints.
It needs to be as powerful as you are capable of handling in rapid fire. If that is a .32, then get a .32 Magnum. If it is a .38 Special, get either a .38 or a .357 Magnum. The .357 Magnum is one of the best manstoppers you can buy, but it loses some of its wallop in the short barrels of concealed carry guns. The best reason to buy one is that you can carry .357s in the gun and buy or reload .38 Special wadcutters for practice. Or, if you so desire, you can carry .38 Special +P or +P+ loads. The point is that the .357 Magnum is very versatile.
Also, if you like the bigger calibers, as I said above, the .45 and .44 caliber guns are available and pack a huge punch. I am growing quite fond of the M325 Night Guard in .45 ACP that I have been carrying for the last week or so. It uses the standard star or "moon" clips, which aid in a rapid reload. I dont think it will take the place of my Model 25 Mountain Gun in .45 Colt, but it is a very pleasant gun to carry and it shoots very well. If you want a gun in the renowned .45 ACP, but prefer a revolver over a semi-auto, the M325 is a wonderful solution to the problem.
Final verdict: If I could only have one handgun for self-defense and field carry, if would undoubtedly be a big bore revolver. For everyday concealed carry, I would opt for one of the smaller guns, like my old Smith and Wesson Bodyguard .38 Special, the Taurus Model 650 .357 Magnum, or the Charter Arms Bulldog .44 Special or Pug .357 Magnum. Taurus also makes some great guns for the ladies in .327 Magnum and .38 Special.
Just because the old wheel gun has fallen out of favor does not mean that it is not still capable of doing the job. A 1911 in .45 ACP may be a better choice as an all-around carry gun than a Smith and Wesson Chiefs Special, but then again, maybe it isnt. It really depends on what you require of your gun, not the gun itself.
Ruger SR 22
RUGER PISTOLS HAVE been my rimfire personal choice for several years. I especially enjoy my Mark II and 22/45 pistols. These are great guns for target shooting, hunting and competition. Yet they leave something to be desired if wishing to strap one on your hip for a while due to their heftiness and because they lack the modern ergonomics.
Rugers SR 22 semi-auto pistol. PHOTO: Hannah Royer
To fill this niche Ruger introduced the SR22. The SR22 pistol more closely resembles modern semi auto pistols with a sleek black polymer frame. With a 3.5" barrel it is less than 6.5" overall length and weighs just 17.5 oz. I might compare it to Walthers uber cool looking P22, but I believe the SR22 prove to be much more durable that the disposable Walther (I had first hand experience with a broken frame and slide on a P22). First thing I noticed about the Ruger was the beefy stainless steel barrel that should have no problem delivering accuracy for several thousand rounds. The SR22 boasts of an ambidextrous magazine release, adjustable 3-dot sights, and a double action trigger along with ambidextrous safety lever and decocker.
The designers made ergonomics a priority with the SR22. The grip angle was easy to adapt to and the interchangeable rubber grips guarantee fit to any shooters hand. The grips change out surprisingly easy, yet stay in place without any slippage while shooting. To switch you simply clear the action, drop the magazine, grab the slide with one hand, pinch the grip with the other and pull. The surrounding rubber grip will slide right off for replacement.
Ergonomics are a plus, with quick-switching interchangeable grips to fit any shooters hand. Photos: Hannah Royer
Test firing time was mostly spent loading the magazines. Not that the magazines were slow to load, for they come with the standard spring relief knob. But this was because the SR22 was very fun to shoot fast. I could shoot through all my 8" steel targets at 15 yards in less than 10 seconds with split times as fast as .17 of a second. I found the ergonomics to be a major advantage here, as it seemed I mostly began to point shoot ignoring the sights. For my accuracy test I backed up to 100 yards, yes, thats 300 feet, to zero in on my LaRue FAST silhouette target. I was able to ring steel easily enough and keep on target at this extended range. Not bad for a compact 3.5" barrel.
The pistol also showed great reliability as I fed it any mixture of ammunition I had on hand, even subsonic loads. Speaking of subsonic loads, Ruger would be very wise to offer a factory-threaded version. Silencer sales are soaring and this would be a perfect host. Fieldstripping was so easy that it wasnt even necessary to consult the owners manual. You simply pull the lever on the bottom of the frame, pull the slide back, lift and remove.
Dustin found the SR22 "very fun to shoot fast." Photos: Hannah Royer
The SR22 does have some more unique action controls than the Mark series. Located right below the slide the safety/decocker switch will strike traditional 1911 shooters as completely backwards. Decocking seems normal, for down is decock, but it is also safety. To fire, you must roll your thumb upwards like Rugers "P" series. This takes a while to get used to for shooters who use a "thumbs forward" technique. Switching the safety also disengages the trigger and leaves it limp, but it will come back to life once placed on fire. The pistol also has a magazine disconnect safety which leaves the trigger even limper then the safety switch does, but there will be no mistake that something is amiss if you start to press the trigger with the magazine not fully seated.
The Ruger SR22 is going to be a great seller. Retailing at $399 it combines Rugers legendary reliability with a lightweight and fun package. This will be an excellent choice for plinking, training or a solid trail gun.