Image via TTAG (Logan Metesh)
Image via TTAG (Logan Metesh)

In today's world, the semi-auto pistol reigns supreme. Seems people today often turn their noses up at small-frame revolvers. Make no mistake, though, small-frame revolvers still have their place in deep cover applications. Especially in non-permissive environments, for those who choose to carry anyway.

Sure, some will no doubt scoff at the idea of carrying a five-shot revolver. They have a long double-action trigger pull and a short sight radius. Some people might consider them effective in an elevator and not a lot farther away. And besides, they are so 1960s and 70s. Yuck, right?


First off, if you can master the double-action trigger of a revolver or double-action semi-automatic, you can shoot any handgun well.  In fact, even in handguns with terrible triggers, those skilled in the art of the double-action trigger can perform at least passably with them. Single action is always an option, too given enough time.

Yes, J-frames like a 642 (or similar-sized guns like the Ruger LCR, Taurus 905, Colt Cobra, Kimber K6s), with their sub-2-inch barrel lengths, have short sight radii. So what? Couple the fundamentals of sight alignment with the art of the double-action trigger and combat-effective hits to 50 feet — the limit of most self-defense situations –should come almost as easy as using your favorite semi-auto.

Years ago, I won a couple of $20 bills at the Urbana Sportsman's Club from people who didn't think I could hit a water-filled milk jug at 100 yards even once with my Ruger SP-101. Little did they know that two hits per the five-shot cylinder was my typical performance when warmed up.

Anyone who tells you a snub-nose revolver can't hit beyond room-length distances doesn't know of what they speak. Or they're trying to sandbag you.

Yes, reloads come slowly. You can carry extras in a speed loader or speed strip, but deep cover means just that. In pocket carry or IWB holster, people around you have no idea you have a gun secreted away. Frank McGee, of NYPD fame, talks about the "Rule of Threes": the "average" gunfight involves three shots or less in three seconds or less at three yards or less.

Tom Givens stretches that out to five yards – a car length – but you get the idea. A five-shot revolver in capable hands can easily dispatch even a pair of bad guys if the worst should happen.

And for me, from a draw, the revolver adds about fifteen to twenty one-hundreds of a second to my first shot over a GLOCK. Why the extra time? To control that longer, double-action trigger. After all, for me, only A-zone hits count. With additional practice and skills, I could probably shave a big part of that off, but spare time grows increasingly precious for me as it probably does for most other folks.

Meanwhile, small-frame revolvers excel in many ways, especially in the role of deep cover. Revolver users seldom encounter malfunctions, even if you're pressing the muzzle into the gut of an attacker (think the Trayvon Martin situation). And contact gunshot wounds usually inflict horrific damage.  (Again, think Trayvon Martin.)


As for concealment, short-barrel snubbies with their small frame size are excellent. Slip one in a jacket or pants pocket and no one will be the wiser.

These little wheel guns perform wonderfully when fired from a coat pocket, too. Especially those with bobbed hammers or the hammerless variety. Ditto for the ladies for discharging from a purse.

No, you won't get hits out to fifty feet that way, but remember McGee's Rule of Threes. Let that rapist/mugger get the surprise of his life when you let your little friend do your talking. Five rounds of .38 Special or .357 Magnum from Messrs. Smith and Wesson will get their attention every time. The look on their face: priceless.


We often give the women (and eventually the men too) in our GSL Defense Training Essential Carry class an opportunity to shoot from inside a purse. It brings a lot of smiles and we make a lot of believers. In fact, they eat it up.


Wheel guns don't leave your brass lying all over the place. For those carrying in non-permissive environments, that can prove extra helpful. Before Illinois had legal concealed carry, more than a few career armed robbers and rapists turned up dead on Cook County Forest Preserve properties over the years.  Obviously their intended victims chose not to notify the authorities.

Additionally, these small revolvers also conceal well in the hand. Remember, most deadly force encounters take place in low-light or no-light conditions. An attacker usually can't see any better than you can. Again, let them experience the shock of their lifetime as they experience the bark and flash of your snubbie discharging at bad-breath distances.

You can also hand one off to someone who has never shot before in an emergency and it can save their life. Even rank novices can figure out how to make a revolver work.  As a close friend and retired FBI agent I know loves to say, revolvers are the ultimate point-and-click interface. Old Frank Wright also says that when God shoots recreationally, He uses a revolver. I don't know about that, but I'm not as old as the retired G-man.

If weight bothers you, Smith and other manufacturers make wheel guns in light, exotic metals such as the Airweight and AirLite S&W models.


These concealed carry revolvers weigh next to nothing – about 11 ounces – but expect stout recoil. You carry these to save your bacon, not to shoot recreationally. Unless you're God.

Yes, the J-frame revolver very much still has its place in today's world. Don't underestimate the man or woman using a small-frame revolver in a pocket holster as their carry gun. Especially in today's world, they probably know how to use it well.

5 thoughts on “The J-Frame Revolver still has its place…”
  1. There will always be haters. My wife carries a S&W Model 637. We have tried many different firearms for her to carry. She has rheumatoid arthritis in her hands and is unable to pull the slide back on a semiautomatic. There are too many people out there that can't control their firearm either being to large, small, lack of training etc. I recently renewed my CCW and the guy I was paired with put only 5 rounds on the target out of 30, so think where did all those rounds go in a real life situation, 25 innocent people shot we sure hope not. Remember then the smallest gun is better than none when someone is shooting at you. We all hope we never have to use of firearm.

  2. I carry a Rossi .357, 6-shot because my hands require I switch hands to rack the slide on my semi-auto. The Rossi is a S&W clone, I like it for my uses, my hands don't have the strength in them I used to have, sorry to say, but want to have my personal protection handy. Have 2 speed loaders handy as well, loaded with .38 Sp. hollow points. .38Sp. has a little less recoil than the .357 loads especially with a snubbie.

  3. "And for me, from a draw, the revolver adds about fifteen to twenty one-hundreds of a second to my first shot over a GLOCK. Why the extra time? To control that longer, double-action trigger."

    You do need to practice more.  Just looked at IDPA scores from last year at Wildcat Valley Rifle and Pistol Club and found "elevator danger zone."  Three targets at bad breath distance, draw from concealment and give each target two rounds strong hand only.  My friend Tom and I both shoot .45acp revolvers and did well.  I placed 11th overall out of 65 shooters with 3.39 seconds and Tom beat me with 2.82 seconds.  Longer shots do slow me down to stay accurate but close up you just can't beat a revolver.  As I like to say "If God created anything better than dogs and S&W revolvers he kept it for himself.



  4. Great gun!

    Sad part is, thanks to the Illinois gun lobby, we have to have a BS, FOID card to buy one. 

    Just as bad, so few people are willing to work to repeal the stupid FOID law

    1.  Repeal the Foid card? Are you kidding? I think we are just trying to keep our guns. I can’t believe you think this general assembly would pass a law to get rid of the Foid card. 

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