This is the third article by Susan. For her background and shooting resume, click here.
Revolvers are not old-fashioned guns or things of the past. Many shooters prefer a revolver over a semi-auto for numerous reasons. Most good quality revolvers can take a bit more neglect than a semi-automatic and still function - there are many true stories of guns kept loaded in bureau drawers for years (this is NOT a safe storage recommendation) which have functioned exactly as needed in a life-threatening encounter. The revolver is 'at rest' even when loaded (assuming it isn't cocked) and therefore, springs aren't being compressed while it sits for long periods of time. Because of this, it is more likely to function properly without constant care and maintenance. Simple controls and ease of cleaning are two other reasons that some people prefer revolvers over semi-autos.
Although reloading revolvers without a speedloader can be awkward and slow, there are speedloaders for most revolvers on the market. I strongly recommend that you purchase 3 or 4 to fit your gun at a minimum and, as with anything gun related - regular practice is essential.
The recoil from a revolver is different - some say it is much easier to make rapid consecutive shots, because of the way the gun responds after being fired. Others say that some women (and men) are not able to handle larger caliber revolvers. Reasoning may be based on shooting a semi-automatic, as the action of the slide traveling to the rear and forward again absorbs some of the recoil, giving the shooter less of a felt recoil, and the ability to shoot a larger caliber gun and successfully handle the recoil. As with anything else, the shooter is more able to make the decision as to which firearm type and model suits her or him best.
There are two distinct types of revolvers - the Single Action Revolvers - presently used more frequently in a shooting sport known as Cowboy Action Shooting or CAS. These guns are recognized as the guns of the old west, although there are modern versions again being made. There also are Double Action Revolvers which can look either very similar to the cowboy guns or extremely different. The differences may not be so obvious when looking at two long-barreled guns in the cowboy gun style.
Single Action (SA) revolvers require that one cartridge be loaded at a time through a loading gate on the right side of the cylinder. Unloading follows the same slow procedure. The cylinder of Double Action (DA) revolvers drops open and allows for a faster loading of one round at a time or the use of a speedloader to rapidly drop in the 5 or 6 rounds all at once. There are also newer DA revolvers that hold 8 rounds of .357 magnum and others that hold 10 rounds of .22LR. Unloading a DA revolver is much more rapid, after opening the cylinder and tilting the muzzle skyward, an ejector rod located in the forward center portion of the cylinder is pushed down to eject the empty cases from the chambers.
A revolver made to shoot the .357 round can also be used to shoot .38 special - but do not try this in reverse - you cannot shoot .357 ammunition in a gun manufactured as a .38 special. Remember that the owners manual is your best source of information. If the gun you purchased did not have a manual, you can obtain the address of the manufacturer and request a copy - typically sent at no charge.
The most obvious difference between a single action and double action gun is that a SA revolver must have the hammer manually cocked before firing each shot.
Revolvers can be made to fit your hand better by changing the grips on the gun. There are many aftermarket companies that manufacture either a hard or soft plastic, or very nice wood grips for many different revolver makes and models. Refer to my earlier article on Hand-Me-Down Guns for additional information. Also, revolvers are less apt to malfunction if, as a new shooter, you limp wrist and dont take a solid, secure grip when shooting. Many models come in different length barrels, as well. Likewise, if a round fails to fire, simply pulling the trigger again will bring a new cartridge under the hammer.
One item to note, it is recommend that you do not dry fire your revolver, use snap caps or already fired brass to keep the firing pin from being damaged.
There are three styles of double action revolver: those with an exposed hammer spur (the device used to cock and de-cock the gun manually), shrouded hammer and hammerless. The hammer may be used to manually cock the gun, allowing for a single-action shot. The gun will return to the same hammer down position after the shot is taken. A shrouded hammer is protected by a portion of the frame of the gun covering each side - typically there is also a much shorter hammer; this allows you to manually cock the gun, but keeps the hammer unexposed and less likely to catch on clothing, etc. A hammerless is exactly that - there is no external hammer and no way of manually cocking the gun for a single action shot. Both the shrouded and hammerless guns are very good pocket guns or purse guns as they are not as likely to snag when being removed.
The following only pertains to revolvers with exposed hammers - those that are hammerless are double action only and can not be manually cocked. Releasing pressure on the trigger of a double action gun prior to firing it is all that is needed, should you decide not to make a shot at that time.
COCKING A DOUBLE ACTION REVOLVER:
This is fairly straight forward - first and foremost, always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction - grip the gun in your strong hand with your finger off the trigger. Use the thumb of your weak hand on the spur of the hammer, pull the hammer all the way back until it locks into place.
DECOCKING A DOUBLE ACTION REVOLVER:
Again, keep the gun pointed in a safe direction with your finger off the trigger. Place your weak hand thumb between the hammer and the frame, keeping the thumb down low to avoid the firing pin, if possible - do not remove this thumb until stated.
Place your strong hand thumb firmly on the spur of the cocked hammer. While keeping the hammer controlled with the strong side thumb, pull the trigger with the strong hand index finger to release the hammer and immediately remove the finger from the trigger. Use the strong hand thumb to gently lower the hammer against the weak hand thumb.
While the strong hand thumb is controlling the hammer, carefully removed the other thumb from under the hammer and slowly lower the hammer completely.
This all sounds difficult to learn , but if you practice with a gun full of snap caps or already fired brass, it will become much easier. It is imperative that you master this skill - there may be many times at the range where you are given a cease fire command, which much be followed immediately, no matter what stage of readiness to fire you are in.
MAKING YOUR CHOICE:
My best suggestion, after you have narrowed things down to two or three different guns - is to locate the same make and model (either by borrowing from someone or renting at a range) and shoot the guns. Be certain that that the gun will actually be comfortable for you to shoot, even though it appears to fit you correctly when you handle it. I suggest you shoot, at minimum, a box of 50 rounds through the gun.
If you are borrowing the gun from someone, you should ask the owner what ammunition they typically use in that gun (get all details - brand, caliber, bullet weight in grains - and be exact, it is important). Purchase two boxes of ammunition - one for you to shoot and one to give as a thank-you. They may not accept your gesture and allow you to shoot the second box as well - not a bad idea. If youre too tired to shoot any more, then you can always save it for your gun.
Rental gun ranges may allow you to purchase ammunition elsewhere and bring it in - if so, you may need to purchase several different calibers of ammunition to narrow down your choices. Other ranges only allow you to purchase ammo from them, they will be certain you have the correct ammo. Calling first to find out their requirement and prices will help you plan your requirements.
No one can tell you that revolvers are the best choice for you - it is mainly a matter of preference, although with exceptionally small hands, you are quite likely to have a greater choice in the more usual self-defense caliber handguns if you consider revolvers.
No matter which gun you choose, learn proper maintenance procedures and keep your gun cleaned and lubricated properly. Obtain some instruction and shoot on a regular basis - fine motor skills deteriorate rapidly. Above all, be certain that you keep your firearm secured safely when it is not under your direct supervision. Having a concealed carry permit is great, but what do you do with your gun when you are home for the evening - or if someone with small children will be visiting? These are all important issues and must be considered once you join the gun totin cadre.
Back to Women's Pages