By: Bryce M. Towsley

In today’s world of high capacity, polymer-frame, semi-auto pistols we often forget about the original repeating handgun. While the roots of the revolver go back to the revolving arquebus, produced by Hans Stopler of Nuremberg in 1597, it was 1836 before Sam Colt figured out how to make it work best. Once Colt started making revolvers, the world of defensive handguns changed forever. It wasn’t so long ago that almost everybody, law enforcement and civilians alike, carried double action revolvers for self-defense. A surprising number of gun savvy people still do.

Critics argue that most revolvers only hold six shots. But, for other than a Hollywood style fantasy shoot-out or a zombie apocalypse, that’s usually more than enough. (Don’t be fooled by The Walking Dead. Rick’s choice of a Colt Python would have resulted in his death with the first hoard attack. If the zombies show up, a magazine fed semi-auto is the best . . . the only . . . choice for survival.) But for most self-defense situations a revolver is enough if you can shoot and actually hit the target. The spray and pray crowd will never be fulfilled with a revolver.

Or sights for that matter.

The same critics also argue that a revolver is slower to reload than a semi-auto. They are but, surprisingly, not by much. With a speed loader, or moon clips, the difference is less than you might think. Check out your local ICOR match and watch those guys run their wheel guns. They shoot them very fast and reload them with blinding speed.

How fast can they shoot? Well, Ed McGivern gave up on semi-auto pistols because they were too slow to cycle and he didn’t like waiting. He is famous for his ability to put five shots on a playing card in 2/5 of a second with a double action S&W revolver. That 1934 record still stands and remarkably McGivern set it at 57 years of age when arthritis was messing with his hands.

My friend Jerry Miculek is currently the fastest man alive with a revolver and he did five shots in 0.57 seconds using modern and more accurate timing equipment than McGivern had available. Jerry also fired six shots, a reload, and six more shots in 2.99 seconds. He can empty an eight shot S&W revolver in less than one second. So, nobody can argue that a wheel gun is slow to shoot, or reload for that matter.

One big upside of a revolver as a defensive gun is that it is totally reliable. A high quality revolver that is maintained and fed a proper diet simply does not jam. In the event of a miss-fire, another pull of the trigger lines up a fresh cartridge. It is versatile too, because a double action revolver has the option of a fast double action trigger pull for defensive situations; or, for a precision shot, cocking the hammer results in a light, crisp single action trigger pull.

The longer, heavier, double action trigger pull is an advantage in some tactical situations where it can help prevent an accidental discharge. For example, while holding the gun on a bad guy and waiting for the police to arrive. If the person with the gun is stressed and nervous it might not be a good idea to have a light trigger pull. The double action helps prevent shooting at the wrong time. Remember, the main goal here is to protect your family. But a secondary goal should be to not shoot anybody. Unfortunately, even a justified self-defense shooting in today’s America will alter your life dramatically. You will need a lawyer and will almost certainly be charged and brought to trial. It’s not fair, it’s not what America should be about, but it is the reality.

While you hope that the system works and you are exonerated, it will be hugely expensive, as in bankruptcy expensive. If you shoot some douche-bag because you were stressed out and accidently pulled the light trigger on your gun, the prosecutor will hang you out to dry.


The hammerless S&W J-Frame revolver can be easily carried in a pocket holster. I did a milti-shooter test with several holster types and this was the fastest draw. With your hand in the pocket on the gun you do not draw attention to yourself.  Our best shooters could draw, fire and hit a 7-yard target in half a second from that starting position.

When loaded with high quality .357 Magnum ammo, a J-Frame is a formidable exception to the “starts with a four” rule of fighting handguns. A J-Frame is a far better choice than a .380 and almost as easy to hide.

Another consideration for wheel guns is they can be chambered for very powerful cartridges. On the other end of the wheel-gun spectrum is the Mag-na-Port Combat Mini .44 Magnum Conversion based on a Model 629 in .44 Magnum. The gun is designed for concealability. Ken Kelly reworks the grip frame to a round butt K-frame design. Then he cuts the barrel to 2-1/2 inches. The package of course includes Mag-Na-Port recoil reduction ports. Ken works his magic to fine tune the action so the double action is slick and smooth and the single action trigger is crisp and clean.


Towsley shoots the Mag-na-Port Combat Mini .44 Magnum Conversion

One of the great things about a .44 Magnum revolver is that it can also fire .44 Special ammo for urban concealed carry. The recoil of this .44 Special ammo is very mild in the Mag-Na-Port handgun; on par with a 9mm. I shot several 10 yard drills with this ammo and my best split times, that is the time between shots, ran about 0.22 seconds. The average for splits was 0.24 seconds. That’s four shots in less than second. That’s with my 57 year old arthritic hands and is about as good as I can do with a revolver. Not up to Jerry or Ed’s performance, but representative of what the gun can do in the hands of the average shooter.

With Federal full power .44 Magnum Personal Defense 240-grain Hydra-Shok loads my split time averages opened up to 0.28 seconds. Still not bad, considering the level of power. That means I can put six .44 magnum shots on the target in less than 1.7 seconds. Not much on earth can walk away from that.



I carry the gun in a Galco Combat Master CM135, left-handed holster. While not heavy by .44 Magnum standards, the revolver is not a flyweight. It tips the scales at 2.5 pounds empty, which is exactly the same as my S&W 1911. But, it’s more comfortable to carry all day due to the smaller footprint. It also hides well with the short barrel, bobbed hammer and the round butt. I carry my reloads in Safariland speed loaders, in two Galco belt holders. This gives me the ability to reload quickly for twelve more shots. This is a great carry gun for both urban and wilderness locations. For a complete review of this gun check out the March issue of NRA’s Shooting Illustrated magazine.

Does this mean I’ll give up my semi-auto carry guns? Of course not, but I am a gun guy and I like to have options. Wheel guns have always been a big part of my defensive handguns strategy and always will be..