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Small-Frame Revolvers: Still An Excellent Choice

Don't dismiss a wheel gun, which can serve an effective backup role.

July 02, 2010  |  by Brian Ostro - Also by this author

Speedloaders for most popular models from Smith & Wesson and Taurus are represented, and leather and vinyl pouches are available for housing them from such holster makers as Galco and Uncle Mike's. Most will hold two speedloaders, giving you an addittional 10 rounds on the belt or ankle.

Officers say that with practice, it isn't difficult to master a quick revolver reload with a speedloader. The process is significantly different from a quick magazine reload of a semi-auto pistol, so it's prudent to seek out those who have mastered the skill in order to gain life-saving training and confidence. The muscle memory dynamics are different. Please practice at home with an unloaded revolver using plastic dummy rounds. I use .38 Special dummy rounds in a .357 cylinder.

It's also important to address revolver reliability. To assume 100 percent reliability is a mistake, but revolvers are substantially more reliable than a semi-automatic because the cartridges are being fed in a circular fashion instead of against spring tension in a vertical column.

This also makes the revolver less prone to limp wristing in firing from unconventional cover or concealment, particularly at deep angles or one-handed fire. This is among the strongest advantages for officers. Jamming is almost unheard of, but revolvers still need lubrication to keep the areas of movement smooth and reliable.

Finally, ammunition selection for the small-frame revolver needs to be addressed. Most small-frame revolvers are chambered for .38 Special and/or .357 Magnum cartridges. There are a lot of urban legends surrounding the .38 Special. Most experts recommend purchasing the .357 Magnum-chambered revolver since it will accommodate the .38 Special cartridge, but will fail to tell you that the .357 Mag chamber is longer. This increases length, which may be a concern to those individuals who place a premium on every millimeter of deep-concealment space.

Having said that, I own the .357 Mag-chambered model, but would never hesitate to carry .38 Special +P ammyunition (for added pressure/velocity). Today's .38 Special +P expanding bullet is not your grandfather's lead-ball ammunition. Today's .38 hollow-point offerings from Corbon, Hornady and Speer offer near 100 percent weight retention and minimal bullet deformation upon entry and penetration. If you're recoil-sensitive to a .357 Magnum, there's no reason to dismiss the respectable .38 Special +P offerings.

Gunmakers such as Smith & Wesson, Taurus, and Charter Arms started to offer compact revolvers chambered in 9 mm, .40 S&W, and .45 ACP. This is great for the officer whose primary service pistol is chambered in these calibers. This type of flexibility should place the compact small-frame revolver at the top of your backup gun considerations.

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Comments (2)

Displaying 1 - 2 of 2

shotmaster @ 7/9/2010 4:26 AM

The firearms industry has developed some awesome backup guns. A great holster for this type of weapon is the Stealth Defense Holster with the patent pending "strut" feature.

Craig Brenan @ 12/26/2012 10:26 AM

I am hunting for a small frame revolver for my wife. The problem is that she is very small (4'-11" and a buck twenty) and were a little bit up there in age. She has fired my S&W 357 (27-2) and my sons .40 Glock and the caliber doesn't seem to be the problem. It's just the weight and trigger pull. She has tried some Taurus and can't pull the hammer back. I'm looking for revolver about 24 ounces, with a light trigger pull and a 4 inch maybe 3" barrel so she can shoot at some targets a little further away. I would prefer 38 special or above for stopping power if ever needed. The gun does not have to be new model or even new for that matter, just something that works well. My other problem is, thanks to some doctors or I should say pharmaceutical company's screwing up my life, my limit is going to be about $400.00 area. Am I asking for too much? Any help please!
Thank you

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