In the fifth installment of our revolver series, we’re embarking on a mini-series within the series: finding the ideal concealed carry revolver. Last year, Caleb at Gun Nuts outlined his criteria for the “modern defensive revolver” and Greg Ellifritz responded on his own blog with a some insightful critique of Caleb’s list. I’ve come up with some more specific criteria for this particular project, but I want to give credit to both of these guys for a lot of the ideas that I’ve incorporated here.
One of my goals of the Wheel Gun Wednesday series is to dig into every possible angle of the real advantages and disadvantages of revolvers as self-defense tools. I thought one way to do that would be to temporarily give up my primary concealed carry pistol — a Smith & Wesson M&P 9mm compact — and try to find a revolver that would be a suitable replacement.
I’m not talking about a super compact lightweight snubnose. Those might work well for a backup or secondary carry option, but for my current quest, I want a wheel gun that will duplicate as many features of my normal carry gun as possible. The M&P9c and other modern mid-size/compact semi-autos like the Glock 19 are really well-rounded pistols that can be easily carried but don’t give up much versus a full size. For me, the perfect wheel gun would be a counterpart to this category of “just right” semi-autos.
I already know that no revolver can match the capacity of a double-stack 9mm pistol, and I don’t expect a revolver to have a trigger that’s as easy to manipulate. But is that all I will have to give up in the switch?
Here’s what I’ll be looking for:
I want to mitigate as many of the revolver’s shortcomings as possible with my choice, starting with the two biggest: ammo capacity and shootability. Small framed revolvers are limited to five rounds, and even the heavier steel variety don’t handle and shoot as well as a larger gun. There are some large-frame revolvers available with an 8-shot capacity and their heft really tames the recoil. Unfortunately, their weight and girth make them too impractical for me to carry.
I’ll be looking at revolvers in the mid-size category with 6 or 7 rounds in the cylinder. A barrel length of 2-3 inches would most closely match what I’m used to carrying, so that rules out the ubiquitous 4-inch revolvers.
In its current configuration, my M&P9c weighs around 25 ounces loaded. That’s light enough for me to carry all day in a good holster without any discomfort but also sufficient weight to be easy to control. It is going to be tough to match this balance in a revolver. Most mid-size revolvers are steel framed, and much heavier than 25 ounces. Alloy framed revolvers can weigh less than a pound, but the majority of these fall into the 5 shot small-frame category.
If I limit the range of my search to revolvers weighing roughly 20-30 ounces, there are a few potential choices that might hit the “sweet spot” between comfortable to carry and easy to shoot.
To match the round-for-round effectiveness of my current 9mm carry gun, I’ll need a revolver firing a cartridge with a similar track record. That could mean a 9mm revolver, but there’s not much to choose from there, so realistically I’ll be considering my options in .38 Special +P. For reasons I’ll explore in a future post, even if the revolvers I try out are chambered in .357 magnum, I’ll be sticking with .38 and .38 +P ammo for the most part.
I don’t expect the gun to come out of the box with a super smooth trigger and action, but it has to have potential. Even my M&P9c has aftermarket parts from Apex tactical to improve its action, after all. I don’t mind experimenting with aftermarket spring kits, and will even consider having the action professionally tuned if the revolver seems like a winner otherwise.
I would prefer a double action only revolver with a bobbed or shrouded hammer, but that’s another feature I don’t expect out of the box, especially since I’m not considering small frame revolvers until I exhaust my options in the mid-size category.
There are a lot of great revolvers out there that have terrible sights. Fixed sights on revolvers typically consist of a shallow trench in the rear and a short ramp in the front. I appreciate that these type of sights are rugged and “snag free,” but if that’s at the expense of them being usable, it kind of defeats the purpose of having them on the gun to begin with.
I want large sights that I can see in a variety of lighting conditions. Most semi-autos don’t come from the factory with great sights, but it’s usually pretty easy to swap them out for a better set. This can be a more challenging task on a revolver, even those that come with adjustable sights. I’ve seen a couple of decent aftermarket revolver sights in my search so far, but I’m not sure they’ll be available for the models that fit my other criteria.
I want to be able to customize and tweak this revolver without sending it off to a gunsmith for every little change I need to make. Specifically, replacement parts, grips, speed loaders, and IWB holsters need to be plentiful. This is probably going to rule out a lot of revolvers that are no longer in production, most notably anything with a prancing pony on the side. Being a big believer in laser sights, it would also be nice if Crimson Trace Laser Grips are available for the gun I end up carrying.
The Unicorn Revolver
If you hold each of these criteria to the strictest standard, then the available options add up to exactly zero. My idea of the “perfect” carry revolver doesn’t actually exist other than in my imagination. The modern mid-size fighting revolver has not really been the focus of much R&D by the gun manufacturers in the last few decades. The advances in handgun technology that have become expected features on semi-autos are not as common on revolvers. So even looking at the latest wheel guns to hit the market, options for high visibility sights are limited, very few mid-size revolver designs incorporate modern alloys and polymers in their construction, and not much has been done to make the modern revolver easier to shoot than they were 50 years ago.
So that means I’ll have to compromise a little bit in my search. So far, I’ve got a grand total of two candidates I’m seriously considering. I’ll be putting them through their paces over the coming weeks, and will keep you guys in the loop. Eagle-eyed readers may already have an idea of the identity of one of the guns in question, but the second has yet to appear on the Lounge. Any guesses?