Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Why Not a Wheelgun?

I’ve written quite a bit before about carrying, and using revolvers for self defense.

Carrying Revolvers
The “first handgun” question
The “One Gun” game
Getting serious about home defense
Basic Ammo Questions
Serious Chamberings for Serious Purposes

My wife carries a revolver on a regular basis; and I WOULD if I had a suitable revolver for carry.

At the moment the only revolvers we own are a Ruger SP101 (my wifes carry piece), and a Smith and Wesson 625, that I use as my field carry piece; but I deeply regret that state of affairs, and intend to rectify it as soon as possible.

Although I am a huge fan of the 1911 type pistol, the Browning Hi-Power, and the pistols from CZ, SIG and HK (I like Glocks professionally, but personally don't care for them); I almost always recommend a revolver to people for their first gun, for their only handgun, for woods and hiking carry… pretty much any application where flatness or ammo capacity aren’t the most important considerations.

The “Serious” revolver chamberings; .357 magnum, .41 magnum, .44Spl and Magnum, .45 colt and the like; are in general more effective than the chamberings offered in auto pistols of equivalent size (excepting the 10mm); and the larger revolver chambering like .454 .460 and.500 can do far more than any auto pistol chambering (excepting perhaps .50ae and .45win mag); so when flatness isn’t the primary concern, a revolver can often be a better way to go.

I personally plan on purchasing a Smith and Wesson 340pd as a pocket carry piece, replacing (or maybe supplementing) the KelTec P3AT that rides there every day. The 340 is just as light as the KelTec (loaded), it uses a far more effective cartridge (I’d take 5 rounds of hot .38 spl +p+ or mild .357 mag over 7 rounds of .380 any day)… really the only disadvantage is that it is a fair bit thicker, at 1.3 inches vs .77 inches.

Of course that’s also comparing it against the thinnest gun on the market. For comparison purposes let’s look at a common subcompact carry auto pistol, the Glock 30, at 1.27” .

Not just for pocket carry; I also highly recommend the medium frame .357 revolver in 2-4” barrel lengths for concealed carry as well; and both the medium, and large framed revolvers in the above mentioned “serious chamberings” for open carry, and woods carry.

A lot of people think of revolvers as bulky or unwieldy, but that just is not true at all. If they think that, it’s because they don’t have the right experience with the right guns.

There are three pictures in this post. The first, is a Smith and Wesson 686p, in my hand, with the topstrap aligned with the edge of my hand an dthe muzzle with the tip of my fing.

The second is that same 686p in a size comparison against my daily carry automatic, my Custom 1911.

The third is the 686p in a size comparison against my small (very small) 9mm carry automatic, a Kahr K9.

The 686, is a full framed (S&W L frame, which is an “extra medium” frame) 7 shot .357 magnum revolver. This particular model has a 2.5” barrel (equivalent to a 3.7” barrel on a .45 auto pistol, because auto pistol barrel length is counted from the breech face, while revolver barrel length is counted from the forcing cone) and an ergonomic rubber grip which extends perhaps a bit more than 1/2” below the butt of the frame. This same gun is (or was) available in 3”, 4”, 6” 7” and 8” barrelled models.

The 1911 is a commander length Springfield champion, carrying 8+1 rounds of .45 acp; and as a commander, the barrel and slide are a bit less than an inch shorter than a full size 1911, which many people carry every day.

The Kahr K9 is an all steel compact carry gun, holding 7+1 rounds of 9mm.

Now, you’ll note that the 686 doesn’t extend all that far outside the edges of my hand. In the second picture, which was taken with the muzzles and topstraps of the guns lined up, you’ll also note the 1911 is longer in the slide and barrel area, and the 686 is only longer in the butt area, and more protruding in the trigger guard. If a more compact concealment grip had been fitted to the 686, the guns would have been effectively the same size (trading the hump on the back corner for the hump on the inside corner). The 4” model of 686 would only be about 1/2” longer than the commander, and in fact would be about 1/2” shorter than a full sized 1911.

In the third picture, again the muzzles and topstraps are aligned; and the upper half of the full sized .357 revolver, is exactly the same length as the very compact concealed carry piece; and in fact the revolver has the longer barrel. The size difference here comes entirely in the butt of the gun. Again, with a concealment grip, that size difference would be much smaller.

Now, look at the shape of the butt on the revolver, vs the shape of the auto pistols butts; and think of your own hip. Which one would conform more naturally to your bodys contours? Which one would be less noticeable under clothing, especially with concealment grips? Which one is thicker or more angular, or has more sharp edges?

Now look at the shape of your hand, and the shape of the revolver, and of the auto pistol. Which one do you think might fit your hand better?

Right, it’s the revolver.

Ok, what about weight? Revolvers are heavy right?

Well, my 1911 weighs 36oz empty, and 44 ounces loaded and chambered with 8+1 .45acp (mine is about 2oz heavier than a standard commander because I have rubber grips and a mag well). The 2.5” 686 weighs 34.5oz empty and 38 oz loaded with 7 rounds of .357 magnum. A full size 1911 weighs about four ounces more, and a 4” 686p weighs about 3.5oz more for 46oz and 41.5oz loaded weight respectively. The 4” 686p loaded, is actually lighter than either the commander or full size 1911.

Then of course there's the 686ps lighter cousin the 386 mountain light; which is essentially the same gun as the 686p; but has a 3-1/8" barrel (effectively the same as a commander), and only weighs 18.5oz empty, and 220z loaded. With that barrel and grip it's a half inch shorter than a full size 1911, and maybe 1/4" taller; but it's also 24 full ounces lighter. In fact, you could carry TWO of the 386s for the same weight as a full size 1911 (I used to own one of these, and I deeply regret selling it).

Really, the only areas where a revolver isn’t at least as good a carry choice as an automatic, are thickness, and ammo capacity.

Well now, I don’t know about you; but 7 rounds of full power .357 magnum does not leave me feeling under armed as compared to 8+1 rounds of .45acp, or 7+1 rounds of 9mm… but that’s just me.

What about reload speed? Speed strips are relatively fast and very concealable; speedloaders are faster and a little less concealable; and moon clips are actually faster than most magazine fed autoloaders to reload (with practice), though still a bit less concealable.

Ok, what about accuracy, and speed of fire?

Two words, Jerry Miculek.

Jerry is the fastest handgun shooter ever; unofficially besting Ed McGiverns speed shooting records (also with a revolver) using a Smith and Wesson 625 (coincidentally I have one of them), a reolver that shoots .45acp using moon clips. Jerry doesn’t miss very much, misses don’t count.

Then there’s long range metallic silhouette, PPC, and Pin shooting; the best of all of which are significantly packed with revolvers.

Now, the modern auto pistol is a very reliable beast; but even the most reliable weapon can be jammed up by bad ammo, or very commonly bad magazines. That issue does not exist with revolvers. If the gun doesn’t go bang, pull the trigger again and your malfunction is cleared. It’s a lot faster to pull the trigger again than it is to rip rack rack slap tap bang.

So, I’ll say it again, the only area where auto pistols are markedly superior to revolvers, is in their thickness. There are several areas where revolvers are markedly superior to auto pistols, including reliability, and effectiveness of chambering, two critical factors in defensive shooting.

If you are large enough, or wear appropriate clothing, there is no reason why you WOULDN’T choose a revolver as a carry piece; excepting personal preference.

So, why don’t I carry a revolver as my primary carry? Well as I said, I intend to carry a revolver for my “always have it” piece as soon as I acquire one.

But what about my general sidearm, where my 1911 currently does the duty? If I HAD a suitable revolver for primary sidearm carry, I would not hesitate to do so with the right clothing and holster. The only real issue I have, is that I prefer to carry IWB, and you can’t really carry a full sized revolver inside your waist band easily; so it’s a matter of suitability to my preferred style of carry.

Additionally, I live in Arizona; where much of the year I can’t wear suitable cover garments; excepting the classic Hawaiian or bowling shirt over a t-shirt look (which is what I usually wear outside of work anyway, whether I’m carrying on my hip or not), and the flat auto pistol conceals better under a light overshirt.

Ooops, foiled again, the reason I don’t use a revolver as m primary CCW, is the only really objective advantage auto pistols have over revolvers; and that’s thickness.

That said, if you don’t carry IWB; if you open carry; or if you carry with suitable cover garments, I see no reason why not to, and plenty of reasons why you should carry a revolver.

Oh and like I said, that 340 PD is just a dandy little pocket pistol.

I dunno about you, but the thought of never being without 5 shots of .357 (vs 7 of .380, or .32, or worse .25 or .22 - the other likely pocket pistol choices) is pretty comforting… heck I might even feel a lot better about just having my pocket gun when I can’t have my sidearm.

And THAT, is one VERY good reason to carry a revolver.