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Being a fan of the fighting revolver in 2015 is often a frustrating experience. There’s a big disconnect between the revolvers we want and the revolvers we can have. Some complain about the demise of the .41 magnum, the criminally high prices of used Colt Pythons, or the fact that .327 magnum never gained any traction. But for me, the problem is a decided lack of viable options for real mid-size carry revolvers.

But there are a few out there, and as our Wheel Gun Wednesday regulars know, I’ve spent some time this year putting these mid-size revolvers through their paces. Today’s video has the details:

What is “Mid-Size” Anyway?

A key component of my frustration is the fact that “mid-size” is a relative term. Typically, any revolver bigger than a S&W J-Frame Airweight but smaller than a steel N-Frame .44 magnum is considered to be in the medium size range. And I suppose that’s technically correct, but I think of mid-size more in relation to how we label modern auto pistols.

A compact or “mid-size” semi-auto weighs around 20-30 ounces and has a 3-4 inch barrel. Since pistol barrel measurements include the chamber and revolver barrels do not, that’s the equivalent of a 20-30 ounce revolver with a 2-3 inch barrel. Most revolvers fitting that description are not mid-size — they’re small, but heavy. They’re more like a Ruger LCP that weighs as much as a fully loaded Glock 19 but is still just as hard to shoot as a standard LCP.

revolver-lineup

But I’m stubborn, and unwilling to accept that a revolver can be easy to shoot or easy to carry, but can’t be both. So I embarked on the Quest for the Ideal Carry Revolver. I started with the S&W 386, a lightweight L-Frame snubby, and then moved to the classic 3-inch K-frame models 66 and 64. Then I tried out the Ruger SP101, followed finally by the J-frame S&W 640 Pro and 60 Pro.

If you’ve been following along with us at home, then you know I eventually chose the Model 66, and made some modifications to create what I call The Best Revolver In the World. And the video above summarizes my overall impressions of the five runners-up (or is it runner-ups?).

The Honorable Mentions

There are several revolvers that almost met the criteria I set up for this project, but I skipped over them for one reason or another.

Smith & Wesson Model 12 – The S&W 12 is a lightweight aluminum K-Frame revolver that was discontinued back in the 80s. Most had 2-inch or 4-inch barrels. Model 12s are plentiful on the used market, and relatively affordable. At 19 ounces unloaded, it would probably meet the weight requirement with a new set of stocks. The only other criteria where it falls short is the sights. Shooting the Model 64 confirmed that I still have a tough time with the small post and groove style S&W fixed sights, and I knew the Model 12’s would be no better. That said, if I ever seriously decided to carry a revolver as a primary on a daily basis, the Model 12 would get a second look for those days when the 66 feels too heavy, but I still want six shots and a K-frame trigger.

Smith & Wesson Model 315 – This was part of the S&W “Nightguard” line from a few years ago. It’s essentially an updated Model 12 with a 2.5 inch barrel, much better sights, and rated for +P ammo. I’d pick up one in a heartbeat but S&W made very few (rumored to be well under 1000) and on the rare occasion a used one shows up for sale online, they’re usually well over $1K.

Ruger GP-100 – I’ve owned a GP100 before and I really like them, but they are just too chunky for me to carry. If I had tried one for the carry revolver project, it would have been the Wiley Clapp model — 3-inch barrel with Novak sights (similar to the SP101 in the video).

Ruger Security Six – I also once had an old “Six” series revolver (Security Six, Service Six, Speed Six), and while it was a great shooter for what I paid for it at the time, the triggers are not great, and aren’t easily improved. There’s also not much aftermarket support for them.

Colt Revolvers – I admit I’m not super familiar with Colt’s now-discontinued line of double action revolvers, but I think the Detective Special could have been a nice contender for my project. Unfortunately, with a finite supply on the used market, prices are high and aftermarket support is not great. There’s lots of “stuff” out there for Colt revolvers, but most of it seems to be fancy leather holsters and stocks geared more toward making the Colts look like traditional show pieces. In terms of modern offerings for grips, holsters, sights, and speed loaders, there’s not much to choose from.

Budget Brands – I don’t want to name any names, lest I offend someone’s delicate sensibilities, but anytime I do a list like this, there are always questions about the low-end budget brands that I’ll call “Morris” and “Tartar Farms”. These companies have, at times, introduced some pretty interesting products, but the execution leaves much to be desired. Maybe one day they’ll put out a product that I’d be willing to trust my life to, but based on what I’ve seen to date, you’re really rolling the dice when you put down money for a wheel gun that was made on the cheap.


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  • Gmx

    What holster is that in the beginning of the video?

    • AIWB holster from Stealth Gear USA.

  • Greyson

    I think it is interesting that you came to the same conclusion that I did concerning SP101 vs J-Frame triggers even though it flies in the face of common wisdom. I compared triggers on an SP101 and a S&W 60 when I was looking for my revolver, and the SP101 was a lot smoother; it may or may not have been lighter (I’m not a good judge of trigger weight, I have found), but it was noticeably smother. A little work cleaning the rough edges off of the hammer strut and it smoothed up even more (I still have factory springs in my SP101). Add in the fact that the factory grips on the SP101’s just fit me naturally (though wood inserts are required in order to improve looks and feel if we are talking about a non-Wiley Clapp version), and it was a pretty easy choice for me.

    • Torrorojo

      For me the 5 shot is a pocket gun and this means a j frame. Sadly because the ruger sp101 is a sweet shooter

  • Greyson

    One option that you didn’t discuss at any point is the Chiappa Rhinos. Was it excluded just because of price or were there other considerations.

    • The price, holster availability, and reports of spotty reliability had me apprehensive about the Rhino. I spoke with two different importers of the Rhino about getting a loaner gun for testing. Both said they could send one, but neither followed through. I get the impression there may be some issues on the supply side.

  • Nate

    Any chance for a CZ-era Dan Wesson .357 review be added to this set for comparison?

    • Not likely. Too big, too heavy, too expensive, and no aftermarket support. Maybe a great target/hunting revolver, but not for ccw.

  • Cannoneer No. 4

    1970’s era pencil barrel 4-inch Model 10 Smith.

  • will_ford

    FIXED SIGHTS RUGER SP 101 2 1/4 barrel

  • Dave Whitford

    I LOVE my S&W 386. Light, easy to handle, concealable. Now IF S&W made a .357 semi NOT in THEIR version of it, I’d consider giving up the “in your face” near indestructability of a wheel gun for a semi.

  • Ricky

    I’m curious why you didn’t try the ruger lcr with a three inch barrel? I know it comes in very light at 15 ounces, but it has a decent trigger and a pinned front sight. Love the videos btw.

    • I fired one at SHOT Show. I like the idea but way too much recoil for what I want out of a primary. I much prefer the .357 LCR since it weighs a bit more, but I still consider it a backup/secondary carry.

  • Chris Duke

    S&W Model 360 Talo Ed is nice fixed sight with added laser max grips. Though my Model 13-2 4inch weight doesn’t bother me…but doesn’t fit in pocket.

  • Jason Kerr

    Any opinions on the Armscor revolvers? They look and operate like late-model Colt revolvers, but have rougher finishes.

  • Justin Brown

    SW model 586 L comp is the best midsize conceal carry revolver.

  • Ray Nieves

    Very good article and research. My only comment is that the negative comment of “Morris” arms seems based on old history and Internet rumor. I have used “Morris” in the last 10 years and they work as well as my S&W, but cost less as they are made outside of the US. Many do trust their lives to them so perhaps in the future you might consider including them in reviews.

    • I have used a couple of Taurus revolvers made within the last 10 years and they both had/have multiple problems. That experience is not unique and is far from “Internet rumor”. I’ve also spoken to several full time firearms instructors who have witnessed repeated problems with their revolvers. You may very well have one that works, but I wouldn’t say that’s a good indication that they are, on the average, well-made firearms. Grant Cunningham outlines some of these problems in more detail on his website: http://www.grantcunningham.com/2006/07/why-i-dont-work-on-taurus-revolvers/

      • Ray Nieves

        I understand. You and others have had bad experiences. But on many sites, forums and blogs people report bad experiences with some Swith and Wesson models. Have you read Chuckhawks article on his experience with Smith and Wesson?
        FWIW I have 3 Taurus revolvers , one I got in the early 90s that has never failed. So for me they are good. For others as well.
        You do have a really good site BTW that I enjoy

  • James Hershey

    Quote: “But I’m stubborn, and unwilling to accept that a revolver can be easy to shoot or easy to carry, but can’t be both.”
    This is sort of like saying: “My Mercedes Benz S550 is a fine touring sedan but won’t go four wheeling in the desert.
    Sadly there are some things you can’t have both ways.