Today is Thursday, so it’s not technically a Wheel Gun Wednesday, but I didn’t think fans of our series on defensive revolvers would mind too much.

In late 2015, I attended a couple of defensive revolver training classes. The two classes covered similar technical skills, but were very different in terms of tone and attitude toward the viability of revolvers as self-defense tools in the modern world. I actually happen to agree with both perspectives on this issue. As with many of these kind of “debates”, it all comes down to a matter of context. Details in the video…

In case this whole novel idea of talking pictures on the Internets frightens and scares you, here’s the full transcript:

About a year ago, I started Wheel Gun Wednesdays – they were a series of blog posts and videos about using revolvers for self-defense. I worked on that on and off throughout 2015 and then I was able to kind of cap it off by taking a couple of different revolver training classes back in October and November.

The first was the Revolver Roundup in Dallas, Texas. This two-day class was put on by Darryl Bolke and Wayne Dobbs of Hardwired Tactical. They also invited Chuck Haggard and Claude Werner to help them out. The four of them did a kind of revolver seminar where each guy taught a half day of lecture and rangework on a different topic related to the defensive use of revolvers.

Chuck Haggard Revolver Roundup
Chuck Haggard demonstrates a reloading technique at the Revolver Roundup in Dallas, TX.

The other class was with Tom Givens. During a November weekend in Franklin, TN, he taught a one day revolver class followed by a one day shotgun class.

Despite having decades of experience teaching people how to use them, Tom is pretty critical of revolvers in general and doesn’t hesitate to call them outdated and inferior self-defense tools, except maybe as backup guns.

But the guys at the revolver roundup came across as being a lot more pro-revolver. The prevailing sentiment — especially from Wayne and Darryl — was that the revolver are kind of like the everyman gun. It should be the go-to firearm for the average civilian who wants something for personal protection and semi-autos are probably best reserved for more dedicated shooters.

These two perspectives might seem pretty incompatible on the surface, but I think there’s a lot of merit to both of them. And that’s been one of the recurring themes of the Wheel Gun Wednesday series — this paradox of how revolvers can be seriously flawed but also maybe the ideal self-defense tool for most people.

Tom Givens demonstrates a grip technique.
Tom Givens explains why the semi-auto “thumbs forward” grip is not such a great idea with revolvers.

Now, Tom Givens and these other four instructors are all friends, and I’m not suggesting they’re at odds with each other. I just think there’s a lot we can learn from the different ways they’re approaching this topic. So let’s start by looking at some of the downsides of revolvers that Tom pointed out during his class.

First, there’s the low ammo capacity — five or six shots versus 13 to 16 in a compact 9mm. Reloads are a huge pain – they take forever and they’re really easy to mess up. And then there’s the malfunctions.

The way Tom puts it is that, “People who say revolvers never malfunction never shoot their revolvers.” And I couldn’t agree with that more.

It never ceases to amaze me just how many people are under the impression that revolvers are incapable of malfunctioning. You can just look at some of the comments on some of our other revolver videos and blog posts to see just how common that sentiment is.

The fact of the matter is that even though revolvers can be very reliable, they’re also prone to some pretty serious issues that don’t affect semi-autos. Just in the past year, had I’ve had plenty of revolvers malfunction on me and I’ve also seen people on the range have problems, too.

Problems like…

  • A frozen cylinder from debris under the extractor star or from out of spec primers.
  • An extractor rod backing itself out preventing the cylinder from opening.
  • Multiple light primer strikes.
  • A shooter being sprayed with bullet fragments from a revolver with severe timing issues.
  • A Smith and Wesson revolver with a broken cylinder release latch.
  • A Ruger GP100 that completely stopped working due to a broken cylinder latch.
  • And several instances of triggers spontaneously dragging or freezing up for undetermined reasons.
  • And I’m not even going to go through all the user-induced problems like short stroking the trigger or all the different ways you can fumble a reload.

Out of all those issues, only one — the light primer strikes — is easily fixed. You just pull the trigger again. All those other issues, you have to get out the toolbox, or at the very least spend a few minutes messing with the gun, and in some cases, even send it back to the factory.

Lee Weems revolver
Lee Weems, Chief Deputy of the Oconee County, GA Sheriff’s Office is a seasoned revolver shooter and served as Tom’s assistant instructor for the class.

Of course, semi-autos malfunction too, but the most common problems can be fixed with a simple tap-rack drill that just takes a second. Double feed malfunctions take a little longer to fix, but they’re really not all that common with modern quality pistols using decent ammo.

Over the course of Tom’s one-day revolver class there were plenty of malfunctions on the firing line, and he was sure to point them out every time, emphasizing just how difficult it can be to fix them under pressure.

Overall, the students in that class were already pretty decent shooters but most of them hadn’t spent much time with revolvers before. At the end of the class, everybody’s shooting had improved, but it didn’t seem like anyone was in a hurry to trade in their favorite semi-auto carry gun for a revolver.

The previous month at the Revolver Roundup in Dallas, I don’t think any of the four instructors would have denied that there are some serious downsides to revolvers and we saw some issues with the guns in that class, too. But there was a bigger emphasis on some of the less-appreciated benefits of revolvers.

revolver collection
One of the instructors at the Revolver Roundup brought along a small chunk of his personal revolver collection (or “retirement fund” as he calls it) for a little show and tell.

For example, at contact distance, revolvers are actually less failure prone than semi-autos. In a hand to hand struggle, you can get clothing and limbs in the way and all kinds of other problems that can stop a semi-auto that don’t usually affect a revolver. That’s one of the reasons they make such good backup guns.

In terms reliability in a broader context, I think Chuck Haggard really hit the nail on the head when he pointed out that semi-autos are more tolerant of abuse but revolvers are more tolerant of neglect. A modern full size 9mm pistol from a quality manufacturer should be expected to go through a 1000 round class in a weekend without any problems. If you try the same thing with a revolver, you’re probably going to run into some issues, especially if you don’t keep it clean.

But if you take that same 9mm, load it up, and stick it in a drawer or in a holster and don’t touch it for a few years, what are the chances it’s actually going to work if you suddenly need it some day? It might get through a whole magazine without a hiccup, but there are a lot of things that can go wrong if you don’t keep it lubricated and maintain it.

A student practicing a one-handed shooting flashlight technique at the Revolver Roundup.
A student practicing a one-handed shooting flashlight technique at the Revolver Roundup.

On the other hand, a neglected revolver — as long as it’s kept relatively dry, it’s probably going to work. It’s being used that usually gives revolvers problems.

I’m not suggesting it’s ever okay to neglect a self-defense gun. Ideally, you’ll be practicing with it, handling it, maintaining it, and keeping it in good working condition. But for the majority of gun owners out there, that’s just not reality. And this is where revolvers can start to make a whole lot of sense.

It’s easy to forget that most people who get a gun for personal protection very rarely go to the range. They have zero training and they don’t handle guns regularly.

The way Darryl Bolke put it is that “Revolvers are what 90% of armed people in the country should be carrying because most people can’t even do a chamber check on a Glock”.

Claude Werner showing a grip technique for snub-nose revolvers.
Claude Werner showing a grip technique for snub-nose revolvers.

Even if more people were to take a decent training class after buying their first gun, what are the chances they’re going to remember how to load, unload, and safely handle that semi-auto if they’re not practicing with it? Anyone who has to put a lot of conscious thought into how to operate their pistol might be better off with a revolver where the controls are more intuitive and it’s harder to make a mistake.

For somebody who is serious about learning how to shoot — or even just somebody who enjoys it as a hobby or who seems to pick up on it quickly — for them, I’d say semi-auto all the way.  But for the average person who wants to buy a gun and just stick it in the back of the sock drawer and forget about it, a revolver is very much worth considering, even with all of the drawbacks.

If you’re looking for any kind of firearms training (not just revolvers), I highly recommend seeking out any of the instructors mentioned in the video.

Hardwired Tactical classes are run by Darryl Bolke and Wayne Dobbs and the rest of their team in the Dallas area.

Claude Werner has an excellent blog and teaches classes near Atlanta, GA.

Chuck Haggard’s training schedule is available at Agile Training and Consulting.

Tom Givens of Rangemaster Firearms Training teaches classes all over the US.

There’s a decent probability that at least one of these guys is running a class in 2016 within a few hours’ drive of where you live, so quit making excuses and get some good training this year!

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