Throwback Thursday: How to Shoot a Revolver — Efficiently

I grew up in homes without self-loading firearms of multiple types. My grandfather owned Smith and Wesson revolvers, although he would not ‘flip for the difference’ between Smith and Wesson and Colt. There was a chip out of the wall of his country store where someone was unloading one of those ‘damn automatics.’ Needless to say, at the time he was not a fan.

Well, a few years into police work I saw pock marks in walls, inside an elevator, and one locker door wrecked. All by .38 revolvers… Sure, I learned to set points in distributors, change oil, and drive a three-speed on the column. I am not that ancient. In 1978, my father was driving a 1947 Chevy work truck. I learned how to take the top cap off a transmission and set gears when they hung up. And I also learned to use a revolver well.

thumb wrapped around the hand showing an improper shooting grip
Don’t wrap the thumb around the support hand. This will make for real trouble when you fire automatic pistols. Thumbs forward is stronger.

Often, I still carry a revolver — every day in fact. My backup and ‘never-without’ handgun is an Airweight .38 Special. It may be on the ankle or in the back pocket, but it is always there. When hiking, or taking leisurely walks where man doesn’t tread often, I carry some type of .357 Magnum revolver. I don’t feel disadvantaged.

Shooting a Revolver

The revolver isn’t an ‘also ran.’ It has certain advantages that may make it the top choice for personal defense. However, you must learn to run it. Firing the piece is easy — open the cylinder, load it, close the cylinder, and press the trigger. However, making the bullet hit the target is what counts.

Shooting a revolver is most often done wrong. Folks try to crank back the double-action trigger and keep the sights aligned at the same time. Sure, that is basically what you do. The biggest error can be found in how they use the sights. The front sight is the primary focus or point of concentration. Keep the front sight on target and in focus. There will be some wobble — keep the sight lined up as you press the trigger straight to the rear. You must learn the trigger action thoroughly by dry firing the revolver extensively.

Bob Campbell shooting a revolver showing a proper shooting grip
This is a good firing grip for revolvers.

Work the action and keep the front sight lined up properly. When you get to the range for live fire, you will have the trigger action mastered. Then, all you will have to think about is keeping the front sight on target.

The proper way to operate the trigger is to press the trigger straight to the rear without disturbing the sights. Press, the revolver fires, and the muzzle then rises. As the muzzle rises, you allow the trigger to move forward and reset. Press it again and get another hit. Do what you have done in dry fire. Focus on the front sight. The firing grip must be strong and stable. Wrap the support hand around the firing hand with the thumbs forward and locked for support.

revolver cylinder loaded using a moon clip
If you are concerned with speed loads, a moon clipped revolver is superbly fast.

Don’t lock the support hand’s thumb around the back of the firing hand thumb. That isn’t nearly as stable as two thumbs locked and forward. Get a firm lock on the revolver. Rock the action smoothly, but quickly, and keep the front sight lined up on the target. Don’t hesitate too long on the shot, or you may get muscle tremor. Line up and press the trigger. Dry fire until you get this squared away. Then, live fire using the same technique. Fire smoothly and deliberately. Speed up as you gain skill.

Loaded Lyman speedloader
The Lyman speedloader is very rugged and the most modern of speedloaders.

There are differences in the action of quality revolvers. Taurus and Smith & Wesson are similar. Colt stands on its own and is most likely to be mis-handled. Charter Arms may not be as smooth as some, but the locktime is fast and short. Ruger is simply super tough and may be mastered with practice.

Draw Speed and Reloads

Presenting the revolver from concealed carry isn’t any more difficult than with a self-loading handgun. In fact, it may be a little easier. The revolver handle is offset from the body while the automatic lies flat against the body. Draw with the elbow to the rear and come from under the handgun, scooping the revolver upward and out of the holster.

As the revolver is brought on target, the support hands meet, and the handgun is driven toward the target. At very short range, you may fire with one hand — even fire below eye level if the threat is at intimate range. An advantage of the revolver is that it may be pressed into the adversary’s body and fired repeatably. A self-loading pistol isn’t built for that.

Another advantage of the revolver, that isn’t appreciated by most shooters, is that the revolver barrel may be pressed against the barricade as you fire. You may fire around cover with the barrel pressed against a wall. Sure, the barrel will recoil away from the wall, so ensure that you keep a firm grip. Properly practiced and understood, this technique makes for very accurate aimed fire. This is using one advantage of the revolver. Since the revolver isn’t dependent on the ammunition to cycle the action, you may use low-power ammunition for training. This is important as you begin.

The correct grip on a speedloader before being inserted into a revolver
Be certain to wrap the fingers around the tops of the cartridges as you guide them into the revolver’s chambers.

For defense use, among the best balanced, all-around revolver cartridges is the .38 Special +P. The .357 Magnum is a formidable cartridge with an enviable reputation. I recommend a handgun of at least 35 ounces for use with the magnum cartridge.  

When you have fired and need to reload, hopefully you have hit your threat and do not need to reload —time is important. Speed is less important than smoothness. Don’t fumble and drop the gun, load, or speedloader. First, open the cylinder with your firing-hand thumb, and be certain that the muzzle is pointed upward, and the ejector rod is firmly slapped to eject spent cartridges. Unfired cartridges will also be ejected.

The firing hand transfers the revolver to the weak hand. Alternately, while the revolver is still in the firing hand, the weak hand palm rides over the trigger guard, and the fingers press the cylinder open, while the thumb strikes the ejector rod. This ejects the cartridges in the cylinder.

Using a speedloader to load a revolver
Speedloading requires practice. Don’t neglect this skill.

The strong hand draws a speedloader from the strong-side carrier, as the weak hand orients the muzzle of the revolver toward the ground. It is important that the speedloader isn’t grasped by the release/locking knob as novices often do. The fingers are placed near the cartridge nose as the cartridges are guided into the chambers. When using a HKS or Lyman, the knob or release is twisted. With the Safariland and Speebeez, it is simply pressed. Don’t wiggle the speed load just drop it. Plan on hitting the target and not needing to reload. Just the same, spend some time learning to speed load.

Revolvers are simple to use, reliable, efficient, powerful, and accurate. The man or woman behind the sights is most important. Train hard and smart to take advantage of the revolver’s strengths.

Are you a fan of shooting revolvers? What is your favorite revolver and caliber for self-defense? Do you have shooting tip for revolvers? Share your answers in the Comment section.

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in August of 2022. It has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and clarity.

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