When I launched the Wheel Gun Wednesday series back in January, my intention was to compare revolvers to today’s semi-autos in a more nuanced way than the typical Internet virtual shouting match allows. Instead of looking at the overly broad question of whether a revolver is the best self-defense option for any person in any situation under any circumstances, I decided to focus more narrowly on my own personal perspective: if I switched from practicing with and carrying a modern polymer 9mm semi-auto to a wheel gun, what would I discover? And which specific revolver would be best suited for this task? That’s what I worked on for the first half of 2015.

The results are summed up in the video below, or you can keep on scrolling to read the full transcript. Below the transcript, you’ll find some additional details that didn’t make it into the video!

This is my Smith & Wesson Model 66 and it’s the best revolver in the world.

Okay, that might be an exaggeration, but only slightly. I have some good reasons for believing this Model 66 is about as good as a fighting revolver can be, but first — a little background.

Why Revolvers?

I’ve always been a fan of revolvers. I like shooting them, studying them, and I’ve even carried a small 5-shot .38 on occasion. It’s kind of like driving a manual transmission — revolvers let you feel like you’re more directly involved in the shooting experience. But for self-defense I’ve always considered revolvers to be less than ideal compared to other options.

I don’t want that to be true. I still really like revolvers — I want to shoot them and buy them and carry them. But at the end of the day, I’m far too practical to pursue the enjoyment of revolvers as an end in itself. If a semi-auto is just as practical to carry, but it’s more likely to help save my life, I’m not going to switch to a revolver just for fun.

But I had to give revolvers a fair chance. I couldn’t let go of this idea of that a revolver could potentially be the equal of a semi-auto if i just had the right revolver and got good enough at shooting it. I might even find some benefits of using a revolver that I didn’t really understand before. So at the beginning of this year, I decided that would be my project.

Normally, the gun I rely on almost every day for self-defense is a Smith & Wesson M&P compact: a double stack 9mm semi-auto. So wherever I go, I have 13 rounds on tap before I need to reload. I can shoot this gun pretty well — it’s fast, reasonably accurate, easy to conceal, and I’m confident in using it.

My first step in this project was to find a revolver that I could learn to shoot just as well and carry just as easily. And then I wanted to work on my reloads to mitigate the problem of low ammo capacity.

Finding the Ideal Carry Revolver

So for the first half of the year, I shot revolvers almost exclusively. Every week, I was at the range with a few boxes of .38 special and a couple of wheel guns trying to find one that would give me that balance of shootability and concealability.

After a lot of trial and error, the revolver I landed on is the Smith & Wesson Model 66. It’s a 6-shot .357 magnum made in 2004 and based on the Smith & Wesson medium size K-frame, a design that goes back to 1899.

The K-frames are a good middle-of-the-road size. They’re not awkward to use like the small J-frames and they carry a lot easier than the bigger L- and N-frame Smith & Wessons.

I picked the 66 in particular out of all the other K-frame models mostly because of the adjustable sights and the option to get a 3-inch barrel. It’s a nice balance between the short snub nose barrels and the full-size 4-inch barrels that are more common.

The gun weighs just over 2 and a half pounds loaded with a holster. That’s about 20% heavier than my M&P. It’s also a little longer, and the grip sticks out farther, but I can still conceal it with some effort.

Smith & Wesson Model 66 Mods and Accessories

One of the advantages of shooting a gun with a basic design that’s 116 years old is the availability of modifications and aftermarket parts. So the first thing I did to this Model 66 was improve the action.

I installed a few different springs until I found a combination that lightened up the double action trigger a little bit, but would still reliably ignite the primers on my carry ammo.

And thanks to this excellent vintage 20th century instructional DVD from Jerry Miculek, I also smoothed out some the rough spots in the action.

The final result is a buttery smooth double action trigger that breaks at about 8.5 pounds.

I changed out the factory adjustable sights for a for the more durable Rough Country rear sight from Bowen Classic Arms. The original front sight was fiber optic, which I like, but it had a rounded profile that makes it tough to get good sight alignment on longer shots, so I got rid of that in favor of a square fiber optic from Cylinder and Slide.

For a self defense revolver, you’ve got to get rid of that hammer spur and convert it to double action only. Using the single action feature on self-defense revolvers is, frankly, un-American. And the hammer spur will get caught on clothing during the draw stroke anyway. So I installed the spurless Evolution hammer from Apex Tactical. I also got an XP firing pin from Apex, which helps with more reliable primer ignition.

The grips on a revolver are where you have the most options. They come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. I settled on the Tactical Diamonds from VZ grips, but I sanded off the finger grooves. They fit really well now, and have aggressive texture just where I want it to be.

You might have noticed this plug in the internal lock opening here just above the cylinder release latch. They don’t make the 3-inch Model 66 anymore and the used ones are getting tough to find, so I was able to save a few bucks by getting one that was made after Smith & Wesson starting putting these locks on all their revolvers. For liability reasons, our lawyer says I’m not supposed to talk about how to disable the lock, but he’s not here right now, so all you have to do is take off the sideplate [CONTENT REDACTED] and then it works just like any pre-lock revolver.

S&W Model 66 Range Performance

So now that I’ve got six months of dedicated practice and a revolver that’s set up the way I want it, how does it perform?

I can’t run the trigger quite as fast as my M&P, but in self-defense drills I actually shoot it a little more accurately than most of my semi-autos.

The long double action trigger forces me to slow down just enough to confirm proper sight alignment. I end up getting hits when I otherwise might rush the shot and miss with a semi-auto. The trigger control discipline necessary to shoot a revolver well carries over when I switch back to semi-autos, so as long as I keep my revolver skills sharp, my pistol shooting benefits too.

I got really comfortable with emergency reloads on this revolver using Safariland Comp II speed loaders. I couldn’t find a speed loader pouch that I liked, so I just keep the reload in my front pocket.

With this setup, I can reload in about 4 and a half seconds if everything goes smoothly. One of the only benefits of having such a low ammo capacity is that you get lots of opportunities to practice reloads at the range. It doesn’t take long to get in plenty of repetitions, even if you don’t set aside much time to specifically work on reloads.

A three-inch K-frame is pretty bulky compared to a five shot snub nose, but a medium size revolver offers some pretty compelling benefits. That full size grip that’s such a pain to keep concealed is really nice to have when you go to draw the gun. And the extra bulk really helps out when you’re trying to keep the sights still on targets out past 10 yards. And with .38 Special ammo, the recoil is really mild.

For the first time, I really feel confident that I could bet my life on a wheel gun if I needed it in a real emergency, especially if that revolver was my model 66. There might be better revolvers out there, but for all practical purposes, for me, this Model 66 is the best revolver in the world.

But… it’s still a revolver. The K-frame is easy to carry relative to other revolvers, but not even close to the convenience of a polymer compact semi-auto.

And the capacity issue is really the big elephant in the room. The more I learn about real world defensive shootings, the more aware I become of the possibility that six shots might not be enough, and trying to pull off one of those finicky reloads doesn’t sound like a good solution to that.

The revolver does have some benefits, and it’s certainly not obsolete. For someone who knows how to use one, it will get the job done most of the time.

But much as I hate to admit it, I can’t really deny that for me, even the best revolver in the world can’t compete with the practical advantages of a modern boring plastic double stack 9mm.

Deleted Scenes

Here are a few more thoughts about my project revolver that didn’t make it into the final cut of the video.

Carry Ammo

As I’ve mentioned a few times previously in the Wheel Gun Wednesday series, my chosen carry ammo for .38/.357 revolvers is the Speer Gold Dot .38 spl +P 135 gr load. Out of an all-steel K-frame, the perceived recoil of this load is only marginally greater than the rather tame practice ammo I’ve been using, which is American Eagle 130 gr FMJ.


The 66 can handle .357 magnum loads, but it’s not wise to subject it to a steady diet of the high pressure ammo, nor is it particularly pleasant for the shooter. Even if there were no mechanical or comfort issues, the muzzle flip, concussion, noise, and muzzle flash that come with firing magnum ammo out of a 3-inch barrel make it difficult to get quick, accurate hits on target. On the other hand, the light recoil of the .38 +P Gold Dot load means I can crank off six rounds as quickly as I can manipulate the trigger.

Today’s .357 magnum ammo hasn’t benefited from advances in modern bullet technology nearly as much as .38 special has, and the gap in real world effectiveness between modern iterations of the two sister cartridges is minor compared to what it was when cops carried six shooters — at least as far as typical carry guns are concerned. Carbines and long-barreled revolvers are able to wring out more of the potential velocity of the .357 magnum cartridge to pull off some pretty impressive feats for a pistol caliber. But from my little 3-inch S&W, that power is never fully realized, and magnum loads offer more bark than bite.

The Holster

For the last five or six years, I’ve always carried my handguns in the appendix inside the waistband (AIWB) position. It’s definitely not for everybody, but for me, carrying this way is quicker, safer, and more comfortable than any other carry position I’ve tried. Unfortunately, even though holster options for K-frame revolvers in general are legion, AIWB style holsters are a rare breed. But I did eventually find one to fit the S&W Model 66 — the kydex Archangel from Dale Fricke Holsters.


In general, I’m pretty happy with this holster, but I had to make a couple of modifications. The holster I ordered was made to fit “3-inch K-frames” generically, but not the 66 in particular. There wasn’t quite enough room for the adjustable sights or the ejector rod shroud — features that are not present on all K-frames. A few minutes with a file to relieve the opening of the holster allowed the rear sights to fit, and replacing the screws with slightly longer ones I had on hand let me adjust the overall fit of the holster to accommodate the shroud.

The final change I made was to the “extra girth adapter kit.” This optional feature is essentially a small block of dense foam rubber that’s attached to the muzzle end of the holster with some adhesive. The idea is to prevent discomfort from the open bottom of the holster digging into the body, and also to help keep the rig from sliding around while its being worn. I found that the “extra girth” kit had a little too much girth, so with liberal use of a Dremel sanding wheel, I re-shaped the square block into a wedge and reattached it with some waterproof glue made for shoe repair. The final result isn’t exactly pretty, but comfort is much improved.

Inside the waistband carry generally isn’t particularly easy with revolvers. The thickest part of the gun — the cylinder — tends to sit right under the belt, which isn’t conducive to either concealment or comfort. The Dale Fricke holster has worked fairly well, but even a great holster can’t magically make this particular challenge go away completely. I plan to continue experimenting with other holsters and will report back if I find one that makes appendix carry with a K-frame any easier.

The Future of Wheel Gun Wednesday

The dedicated period of “field research” for my revolver project is finished for now, but that doesn’t mean the end of Wheel Gun Wednesday forever. I still have plenty of observations to share, and other topics to explore in the world of the round gun, even if those updates come more sparingly than they did in the early part of this year. I’ve had some requests to follow up on the contenders that lost to the Model 66 for my carry revolver decision, so a detailed look at some of those is in the works. I’m also attending a couple of revolver classes later this year run by world-class trainers and actual expert revolver shooters, which will undoubtedly lead to some new revelations. So keep your eyes peeled for more Wheel Gun Wednesday goodness in the near future.

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27 thoughts on “The Best Revolver in the World

  1. Nice video and write up. You didn’t convince me to give up my 3-inch SP101, but you did get me to backup the video and watch the section on removing S&W internal locks a second time. 🙂 I have had fun following the Wheel Gun Wednesday updates, and look forward to any future additions.

  2. I sometimes pack a Ruger Blackhawk in .41 Magnum, because… Hell I don’t know. Because.

    100% practicality is boring.

    1. Yep, I pack a S&W 629-5 Mountain gun in 44 Magnum for the same reason. It just makes me feel comfy.

  3. Chris thanks so much for the time and effort put forth,,I have enjoyed all the articles and have myself grown to enjoy shooting wheel guns, About to make a purchase on a ruger sp101 soon. I carry a Glock 43 put have been tempted to step back intime as to speak with a snub nose, thanks again and look forward to more articles.

  4. damn fine article Sir, Me myself I carry the Ruger Security 6 .357mag. Never seen it jam, stovepipe, misfeed. and if I need more than 6 in the first 15 sec of action then I should of started out with a rifle

  5. Try a SIG with DAK trigger sometime. I grew up shooting DA revolver and agree with your statement about the long trigger stroke helping accuracy. I also love the 3″ S&W, but when my bead-blasted government overrun 686-CS became worth $1800, it had to go.

  6. Thanks for the thorough handling of the subject matter. Though I favor revolvers, I cannot find fault with your well-considered conclusions. In fact, I have reached similar conclusions and am slowly making the transition to a polymer double-stack 9mm.
    One thing that you didn’t mention is that a big advantage the modern, lightweight polymer pistols have over the classic wheelgun is that they are already so ugly, most shooters aren’t likely to mind getting them scratched, dinged, marred by holster wear, and generally banged up by carrying and training hard with them. Glibness aside, it’s psychologically difficult to train realistically with an heirloom-grade firearm. On the other hand, knowing that $40 is all it takes to replace the entire frame on a Sig P250 gives one a certain feeling of relaxed freedom. A small thing to be sure, but it’s the small things that add up.

  7. My Chiappa Rhino 60 DS 357 handles 158 gr. with the recoil of about a 9mm. Simply the best 357 I’ve ever shot….and accurate as can be.

      1. The sights on a Rhino 60DS are adjustable. So, unless you’re talking about the front sight pins I’m not sure what you mean. I’ve easily put over 2,000 rounds through mine and have had zero problems. One time, I used some cheap ammo in it and the shell casings wouldn’t come out easily. Had to force the plunger down on my shooting bench with a fair amount of force. I examined the shell casings and found cracks in a few of them, small but very noticeable. Were this a cheaper gun, might have been a different story. Never have had a misfire, and very, very accurate. Sorry yours is giving you problems. I’d send it back to Chiappa if I were you.

  8. I own a model 686+ with a 2 1/2″ barrel. I have absolutely no problem firing magnum loads. None whatsoever! Is the Model 66 simply a much lighter gun?

    1. The 66 is lighter than the 686 by almost half a pound. The K-frame revolvers are generally quite durable, but they *can* show increased wear from shooting certain magnum loads, especially the older models. The original intention was for the user to practice primarily with .38 special ammo, and use .357 for carry and occasional practice. Firing a box of .357 through the 66 is not a big deal, but a couple of thousand rounds over the course of a month is not an advisable practice, and not exactly comfortable for the shooter, either.

    2. The other problem with the model 66’s (and 19’s) is the firing cone. On the older models the firing cone flattens out (and is therefore weaker) on the bottom to fit the cylinder lug. A full diet of magnum loads could lead this to blow out. There are a few reported cases of this but no telling were the guns new/old etc. This has been corrected with the re-introduced 66-8 though.

  9. Great work on the Wheelgun series, look forward to more articles. You’re on of the few original content creators on the ‘net. And, for next Wednesday upgrade to the .454 Ruger Alaskan for daily carry! 🙂 Kidding aside, the 3-inch K-frame to me is more comparable to a 4-inch service pistol; based upon the added length of both barrel and cylinder.

  10. Excellent article about the 66. I’ve always admired these guns from their beginning. One thing I’d like to add to the statement you made about bullet technology improving more in 38+P than .357, but don’t forget the same Speer 135gr bullet loaded in a .357 case. I have carried it many times in my Mod 60 3″, and my 340PD. That load actually doesn’t recoil a lot more than the +P, but will get you up to about 1.000 fps out of that 3″ revolver. You might want to try them.

  11. Good evening all. I am looking into getting a weapon that would be used for home defense and safety while hiking alone. I am looking into a 9mm or a .45. I would prefer a revolver as I have heard they are less likely to jam. Not looking to spend over 1,000.00. Suggestions?

    1. That’s a tough question, Scott. There are lots of great options that will work, and the right choice depends on many factors. You don’t have to spend anywhere near $1000 to get a decent handgun, so I’d suggest you take some of that money and pay for a few hours of private instruction with a reputable firearms trainer in your area. That’s the very best way to determine what pistol you need.

      1. Thanks Chris. I figured not a grand, just figure I would throw that out there. Definitely going to get instruction. My dad is still a sharpshooter at 72! I will be going to a veteran friendly store near me, so I’m sure they will help a lot too. Thanks again

  12. Couple points I would like to add to your video. You can speed up reloading by sweeping your weak hand middle two fingers through the back strap and wrapping those around the cylinder. Then use your weak hand thumb to push the empty casings out. I works very smoothly and can greatly speed up reload times. This way your strong hand can be grabbing your speed loader as your doing that. I can reload almost as fast as an auto. I know because I spent 20 years as a Peace Officer carrying and training with a Ruger Security Six. Which IMHO is the best revolver in the world hands down.

    Having trained with other Peace Officers at the Sheriff’s range, I’ve seen so many S&W’s break it’s scary. When I was inducted into the unit we fired over 1000 rounds over the span 3 or 4 weekends. I don’t think a single S&W made it through the 1000 rounds without a failure. Most of the other officers carried Smiths. I’d like to add for training we were only firing 38 wad cutters. I never had a failure with my Ruger the entire 20 years I carried it. Never had a range failure period. If your gun isn’t 100% reliable don’t carry it.

    The gun wasn’t new when I bought it. It was a PA state police gun retired when they went to autos. Only modifications over factory was the original owner had the trigger smoothed out by a gunsmith. The trigger is now glass smooth. It is still my favorite revolver ever. Though admittedly for concealed carry it’s a bit big. Another big plus over a S&W is I can field strip it with any coin I’m carrying. Only screw that needs to be removed is the hand grip. I keep a small brad in the grip to retain the hammer spring. Otherwise the gun can be completely field stripped with no tools. Try that with your S&W.

    1. Hard to believe a revolver failed during weekend instruction, 1000 rounds??? Sounds suspicious to me. My Smith and Wesson 686 has never failed and my dad and I have shot thousands of rounds through it over the past 20 years.

      1. Well you’re welcome to your opinion. I know what happened since I was there. Smith & Wesson’s were the worst of the lot, of course they were the most prolific also.

  13. If a guy ever read my mind about carrying or not carrying a revolver, you’re the guy! Love my 66-5 with Lamo Camo Hogues! If you want to be nostalgic, consider steel framed pistols and not just poly. I got into the 3913 instead of the Shield. It’s become clear that concealability is not weight, but thickness of the slide and grip length. Wish I could carry my 66 everywhere…or my New Vaquero. Maybe I was born in the wrong century.

  14. Chris, I would first and foremost like to commend you on the scientific rigor and analysis that you’ve brought to this all too often contentious issue. I personally love wheel guns for many of the same reasons you mentioned. Primarily, the feeling of a more direct connection with the firearm. But the question must be asked, is this feeling and enjoyment worth the downsides(capacity) when your life is on the line?

    I think what happens all to often to us humans when we’ve decided we like something that has come under logical and critical attack is we tend to become decidedly uncritical. We tend to defend our choice based on our emotional attachment to it and less on the facts. We also tend to blow the potential benefits out of proportion and rationalize and downplay the negatives.

    The issue of reliability of semi-automatics that you devoted part of one of your articles to is a prime example. Perhaps when semi-automatics first came out there were more feeding issues than there are now. But today with modern semi-auto design that hardly seems an issue. As you said, 1 misfire in 4000 is pretty reliable.
    There is however one potential benefit of the revolver vs the semi auto that I do not think you touched on yet.

    For me it is the issue of safety. Revolvers have 3 main safety advantages that most semi-automatics don’t possess. First, while not every semi automatic has a round in the chamber indicator it is very easy to tell if a revolver is loaded. Secondly, the fact that most revolvers do not have a manual safety means that in a stressful situation there is just one less thing to forget that could get you killed. When you pull the trigger the hammer will strike the primer and the firearm will discharge. Thirdly, the weight of the trigger pull is another safety feature in my opinion. Unlike the relatively light trigger pull of semi-auto’s the heavier pull of a revolver serves as a type of safety against accidental discharges.

    Thank you for an excellent series.


  15. T’was very interesting and rewarding to follow your series on revolvers and I would certainly agree that the Model 66 is a highly agreeable revolver, and even outstanding from a price/value perspective. But as for being the best revolver in the world literally I would like to point out two other contenders that you seem not to have considered, namely the standard Korth (not the Sky Marshal) and the Manurhin MR73, both available with different barrel length. It would have been interesting to hear your opinion on these pieces.

    True, they are quite expensive, for most of us prohibitively so, but still. If we’re talking about the best revolver in the world and haven’t even touched these I must raise en eyebrow. Fortunately for my wallet, the Korth does not appeal to my taste however good it may be, but the Manurhin (an abbreviation for the French equivalent of Rhine Manufacture) did and that was that. 3″ barrel. While I certainly like the 66, both for the looks, for how it fits me and does what I want it to do, I think the Manurhin is a better revolver and I like it even better than the 66. Adjustable SA and DA trigger with roller bearings that does not affect the hammer force for one thing, the precision and… Well. And all of my friends who have beautiful S&Ws, Rugers, Colts smile when they try it and agree that it is a better revolver as such than theirs, even if perhaps not from a price/value perspective. That would be a matter of wallet thickness, taste and personal choice of investment, just as your choice of cars. But it would be very interesting to read your opinion on it as well.

    One interesting little detail: you say in the video that using SA for defence situations is “un-American”. Would you care to elaborate on that adjective?

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