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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:

Size

Most revolvers are either "service" size with four-inch barrels or the small-framed snubnose variety. There are few options that correspond with the mid-size semi-auto.
Most revolvers are either “service” size with four-inch barrels or the small-framed snubnose variety. There are few options that correspond with the mid-size semi-auto.

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.

Weight

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.

Caliber

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'll be giving up 13 rounds of 9mm for six or seven rounds of .38 special +P
I’ll be giving up 13 rounds of 9mm for six or seven rounds of .38 special +P

Action

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.

Sights

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.

Aftermarket Support

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?


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  • Brian Peterson

    It’s a little out of your criteria, but I often carry my s&w model 10-6. It was a police trade in that I purchased a few years back while on leave, it’s light, very accurate with the stock sights, and crimson trace does make a laser grip for it, the part you won’t like about it is it is a 4″ barrel, but it is a relatively inexpensive 6 shot 38 spl

    • I’ll be carrying appendix iwb so 4″ is a bit long but a 2.5 or 3 inch model 10 wouldn’t be too far off the mark.

      • Randy Burks

        My regular carry is a model 10 stub nose. With custom grips

  • stoptheworldandletmeoff

    I carry a S&W 325 PD 45 ACP it’s a light in weight and 6 rounds of 45 with extra moon clips works well for me.

  • Russ

    Average Joe of the blog of a similar name and the Gun Nation podcast recently reviewed a Ruger GP100 Wiley Clapp TALO Edition that meets most of these criteria. I want one of those now.

    • I like the GP100 and I’ve had my eye on the WC version since they first came out but at 37 oz, I can’t see myself carrying one every day. Might get around to trying it anyway

  • Drew

    I carried a 3″ round butt Smith & Wesson M65 for years with stock magna grips and a Tyler T-grip. Not heavy, sights were good to very good, and though full tilt 125 grn .357 Magnum JHPs were a real handful, it had enough heft to tame stout .38+Ps. I took the hammer spur off and checkered the top of the hammer so I could use it for the rare SA shot. It had a wonderful DA pull. I carried it in a high-riding Galco OWB holster and carried a couple speed strips or speedloaders in my pockets. In my humble opinion, it’s the perfect EDC revolver. Granted, I carry an M&P40C now but I’d strap that 65 on in a heartbeat and not think twice.

    • A model 65 or 13 is on the short list after I try the adjustable sight options.

  • EdC

    I have considered the new Ruger LCRx line as possible candidates for a primary carry candidate.

    • Gunnutmegger

      Ruger Speed Six.

      • EdC

        Discontinued over 20 years ago. I like the GP100s at the range, but for carry it’s too heavy/awkward for my tastes. The LCRx looks better on paper but I’ll be interested in how it performs at the range. To each their own.

  • Jesse Johnson

    S&W model 60 Pro series, the S&W R8 M&P is awesome gonna be a bit large though lol but pretty awesome, the new Ruger LCR 3 inch, S&W 640 Pro or most any m640 pretty sweet option too, S&W 686 Pro SSR, S&W Model 60 the 3 inch know I already said a 60 but that was the pro series, S&W 649. There is the Thunder Ranch can’t think of the model now but its .45 ACP might be a bit big I guess.

  • Cannoneer No. 4

    Original Son of Sam Charter Arms Bulldog 3-inch .44 Spl. 5-shooter. 3-inch is the sweet spot. Crimson Bulldog at 2.5-inch works, too.

  • It would be a good time to point out that Apex also makes upgraded parts for recent-production S&W revolvers.

    • I have some sitting on my desk right now 🙂

      • 6ShotsOr5?

        I have the aluminum frame 5-shotter 442 with the extended CT laser grip so, and i put the Apex kit in it so its a 9# pull, and of course DAO. It feels very shootable to me, and im not going to accidentally pull 9#. I was the last of my old guy tribe to get the gun, but the first to upgrade the trigger. That little $5 tool has a lot of jobs and miles on it now. Before the trigger spring jobs, nobody practiced shooting with these but now they all do. Dry fire practice helps cure the flinches too. Still i would love a few extra rounds, so looking forward to the rest of this. S&W makes a K/L round butt laser grip, but not the green one … yet. Great series. I may have to change my screen name to 7ShotsOr5?

  • StickShift

    Looking at the gun in the picture…it’s a S&W, probably a 7 shot L-frame, with adjustable rear sights and a black finish. The only one of those I know of off hand is the 386 Sc/S.

    I think the sights on the Night Guard series are better for a carry gun than the typical adjustable sights, but either should work fine. Truth be told, I’d probably stick with a 686NG to help tame the recoil of the hot .357 loads, but that’s just me.

    • Give the man a prize… it’s a 386 Sc/S. The 386 NG has the Cylinder and Slide fixed rear sight, so that leaves the Sc/S. There’s also the 386 PD Airlite with the Ti cylinder, but it has the funky graphics on the sideplate which would have been visible in the featured image.

      The rear sights will probably get swapped out and I’ll be sticking with .38 so recoil won’t be an issue.

      • StickShift

        Sweet! The guys on the Smith & Wesson forum love their Night Guards now that they’re all out of production, so I’ve seen or heard of most of the recent production carry-optimized S&Ws. The 386 Sc/S is a great package and I’m excited to see an in depth article on it.

        Have you ever heard of the 242? That’s a good set of sights away from being perfect per the criteria you lay out in this article. http://www.chuckhawks.com/s-w_M242.htm

  • Robert Frye

    This guy is so smart to be so stupid…. WTF??

  • Robert Frye

    Most self defense shooting is done within 0 to 10 yards. Ever heard of point shooting?

  • RxDoc

    Not with all your extra preferences, I carry the Ruger SP101 .357mag Spurless 2.25in. The sights are accurate enough as purchased (HiViz), pointability enhanced with a Hogue Wood grip with Checkering and angle, and handles mag loads with ease. Just might consider it.

  • tomrkba

    The “quest” for the perfect revolver is difficult. I tried for years and eventually went back to semi-autos. I ended up preferring 357 Magnum in a medium frame gun with 4″ barrel, though the Ruger Super Redhawk Alaskan was a fun experiment. The eight round N-Frames are quite good, but a 3″ barrel is not an option. People like the K-Frames, but the short barrels on light frame make 357 Magnum less than pleasant (38 Special is ok).

    I was going to say the near perfect gun matching your criteria doesn’t exist, but the S&W 586 L-Comp comes quite close. If only the barrel did not have the porting!

    Another option is to modify an S&W 686 Plus with 3″ barrel. You’ll have to install night sights. S&W can do the work: install night sights, chamfer the charge holes and smooth out the trigger.

    Stocks are very important for concealment. The current “trend” in using large rubber Hogue grips is unfortunate. Look at boot grips, or at least shortened grips fit to your hand, from Herrett’s, Badger and Eagle. I tried the Ahrends Tacticals, but they’re too smooth and extend too far below the bottom of the frame.

    The other part of the equation that you have not mentioned is concealing spare ammunition. The best compromise is a “Split Six” speed loader holder on the belt. Speed strips are the most concealable, but are slow. Partial reloads will get the gun back into action. There is a new holder that orients the speed loader sideways and you may want to try it.

    • Either a 3″ 686 Plus with upgraded sights or the Ruger Wiley Clapp 3″ GP100 would be great if they weren’t so heavy. Both are around 36 oz. A snub K-frame is around 30 oz and that’s about as heavy as I’m willing to go for a carry gun with half the ammo capacity of my 9mm.

      A 3″ 8-shot alloy N-frame would be pretty sweet, but those cylinders are so thick it would make IWB carry pretty tough.

      I’m with you on the big rubber grips… no bueno. I’ve been trying some wood boot grips. It’s been a challenge to find some that have any kind of texture and also don’t have finger grooves. I’d hate to take the dremel to a set of $90 grips, but it might come to that.

      I haven’t been able to find the split six holders anywhere except high end custom leather makers. Does anyone still mass produce them? Bianchi made them at one point, right? Right now I’m just sticking a Comp II loader in my pocket. Not as annoying as I thought it might be. I’ve seen the sideways holder from Crossbreed but they’re only making it to fit 5-shot speedloaders right now.

      • tomrkba

        1) Stocks: Badger or Herretts. Spiegel or Eagle may work. Badger has a steep angle that helps with trigger pull.

        Herretts cuts them to your hand. Specify boot length and say NOT below the frame if you need a shorter grip.

        2) Safariland 371 speed loader holder

        3) N-Frame carry is not difficult. I conceal a 327 TRR8, 635 or Ruger Alaskan IWB on occasion. The cylinder is not a problem with a thin holster. The tricks are:

        a) Boot stocks
        b) Loops mounted on the ends of the holster like the Sparks Versa Max 2.
        c) Forward cant. The limiting factor is barrel length because it puts pressure on the pants and may print if too long. This is one reason why 3″ and 3 1/2″ barrels are popular.

      • tomrkba

        Regarding weight:

        It is part of the revolver game. It eats recoil. If you want a light gun, get a semiauto. I love the all steel 625. I thought I’d love the alloy 325; shooting it was not pleasant. I hated it so much that I only bothered with 24 shots. I would rather shoot a 629 for the power of 44 Magnum.

        I settled on the GP100 as the best compromise.

      • Critter

        Chris, bud, yer kind of scrawny to pack an N frame over your appendix. I figure it’d look like an alien under your t shirt.

  • Glad I’m retired

    Other considerations are important such as why a concealed weapon is being carried. Police requirements and mindsets are different than those being carried for personal protection as a civilian. Another consideration would be how comfortable it is to carry – if it isn’t, you’ll find yourself coming up with reasons not to carry it.

    In patrol and detective assignments for my first 17 of 31 years, I carried a Colt Python with a 4” barrel and a S&W Model 36 as a back-up weapon. The Python was my “ideal” revolver while I carried it at work but not after I retired.

    My “ideal” gun now a S&W Model 60 with small Hogue Bantam rubber grips. I don’t see it’s 5 round
    capacity as a deal killer in this context, as I’m no longer in the crime fighting and apprehension business (better to be a good witness) but in the protect me and mine business.

    It’s small, light, easily concealed and – very important – comfortable to carry. It’s groove sights are dead on from 1 to 50 feet – doubtful I’ll be engaging targets at more than 50’. It’s not as easy to deal with as a full size, heavier revolver, such as my Python, but going to the range a couple times a month gives me all the control and accuracy I need.

  • Ben Stark

    I think a system approach is best. I love carrying my Smith and Wesson model 66 with a 2.5 inch barrel. I usually load it with either a hot .38 special load or mid velocity .357. On the occasions when that’s too hard to hide, I’ll use my Ruger LCR.

  • Ron Burling

    Wow, my EDC revolver didn’t make the cut.

    While the S&W K frame is a great piece, for years I used one in PPC matches and when I went through the police academy we learned to make that basic design work wonders, I wanted something that speaks with ‘greater authority’ than the .38/.357, I wanted a .44.

    The S&W Model 29 was very attractive but the size was an issue. I arrived at the Charter Arms Bulldog. I found one of the old blued steel versions on Gunbroker and got ‘speed strips’, which I had used back when they issued ‘dump boxes’, regular speed loaders are just too bulky, IMO. If I can find the right carrier I might go with HKS Speedloaders, but today, my EDC is that Bulldog, with the factory grips, and 2 speed strips loaded with Hornadays. My holster is an Uncle Mike ‘pancake’ design.

  • jason carter

    Ruger SP101 3” in 327 Fed Mag meets ALL your requirements.
    9mm+P ballistics? Check.
    Easily concealable on a thin person? Check. (1.3″ at it’s widest!)
    6 shot Capability? Check.
    Sub 30oz weight? Check.
    Crimson Trace Grips available? yup
    Adjustable Sights? Novak’s? Why yes, Yes they do!

    • Would be nice, but:
      – Nearly impossible to find, especially at reasonable prices
      – Never seen one with Novak sights
      – Debatable whether 327 can achieve 9mm ballistics from a 3-inch barrel
      – 327 ammo is often in short supply

  • rahrog

    Ruger lcrx 1 7/8″. I put an XS dot on the front but don’t use sights 10 yds and under. Great trigger! So easy to conceal in so many ways/places. Speer Gold 38+P for short barrel is all I need.

  • Paul Eaton

    I just bought a S&W 640 Pro Series this morning, I understand it is a better grade revolver than a non Pro Series, the other 640-1 I bought in 1996 was just great, I always carried Corbon 125gr HP`s had the wooden grips on it, no problem with recoil. This morning I ran some Critical Defense .357`s through it, recoil just like my old 640, miss it, but this Pro Series is great!