Revolver Relevance

Ruger GP100 Wiley Clapp.


In today’s modern age, the polymer framed high-capacity pistol is what you will most likely find in the holsters of law enforcement officers and concealed weapon permit holders. Does this mean that the medium framed double action revolver is obsolete?  Is the revolver still relevant?  Can it meet the needs of the self-defense shooter if he or she is capable? Having carried a wheelgun as a duty weapon in a previous life I believe it can.  The Close Quarters Pistol class put on by Hardwired Tactical Shooting (HiTS) seemed like the perfect venue to test my theory.


Revolver gear has come a long way since break front holsters and dump pouches. I chose some of the best equipment I could find. To start I chose a Ruger GP100 “Wiley Clapp” 357 magnum. The gun is a simple medium frame double action revolver with a six shot capacity, three inch barrel and excellent Novak sights that feature a plain black rear with gold bead front. Being a practitioner of appendix carry I chose the JM Custom Kydex AIWB to carry my GP100 on a Talon Tactical 1.5” Cobra belt. To feed the monster I used traditional Safariland Comp II speedloaders and the Austrian JetLoaders from BufferTech. Safariland Split-Six, CD-2 and CD-6 carriers were used in addition to my pants pockets to keep enough ammo on my person to prevent holding up the rest of the class.  I didn’t cheat and use powder puff ammo. I ran commercial 158 grain plated round nose 357 Magnum reloads from LAX Ammunition. I dressed normally in Wrangler cargos and a baggy t-shirt. I did cheat a little with one piece of hidden gear. I wore Hold-Up Suspender Company Hip-Clip suspenders to keep from having to readjust my pants.


The HiTS Close Quarters Pistol class was held in Dallas at a local police range. A thorough safety brief was given by Darryl Bolke and Wayne Dobbs. After the safety brief we were advised of the strict accuracy standards we would be held to.  Head shots had to be inside of the 3”x5” eye box and upper torso hits needed to be inside the black of a B-8 repair target. Any hit outside of that was considered a miss and resulted in a counseling session. Time standards were enforced. The ranges were from seven yards to contact distance. We started off easy from low ready with drills progressing to drawing from concealment, drawing on the move, shooting on the move and negotiating lots of No-Shoot targets. Thinking was required and sweeping No-Shoot targets with your muzzle was not accepted. We fired 500 rounds over the weekend and I had to reload, a lot.


I learned quite a bit during the HiTS class and ran the GP100 harder than I have ever pushed a wheelgun. I did not feel handicapped by the long double action pull because it was so smooth. The excellent sights and good trigger allowed me to meet the accuracy standards. Eighty-something reloads later I realized that during fast paced drills I could get the cylinder hot enough to be very uncomfortable. I experienced zero weapon related malfunctions. Extraction of empty cases was always as positive as the smack I gave the ejector rod. The Lett style rubber grip of the GP100 soaked up recoil well and my hands, elbows and shoulders appreciated not being abused by recoil. Although I met the time standards I can admit that I generally was the slowest shooter.


The positive release of the Comp II’s and the lightning fast JetLoaders kept me running with near fumble free reloads. I have to admit that for as fast and easy handling as the JetLoaders were they lack a concealed carry friendly solution for toting them around.  I was left using just my pockets. I found the CD-2 to be fast but not carry worthy as it held too little tension on speedloader to trust in a scuffle. I would gladly use them again in another class to keep extra ammo on me. The shape of the CD-6 was just uncomfortable and didn’t last through the first day before being tossed into my range bag. The Split-Sixes were a nice blend of discreet carry, comfort and speed with the Comp II’s. I cannot complain about the performance of the JM AIWB. The excellent staff at JM Custom Kydex happily made a few minor tweaks to the holster with feedback I was able to provide after two-hundred plus draws. The Talon Tactical belt held up my pants, GP100 and eight loaded speedloaders comfortably all weekend. The LAX Ammunition reloads were uniform and shot clean. I experienced zero ammunition related malfunctions or gear related failures.


Ruger GP100 in JM Custom Kydex AIWB holster flanked by JetLoader and Comp II.


So can the medium frame double action revolver still be considered relevant in today’s polymer age? I still think so. I also think several of my classmates walked away with a better appreciation of the venerable wheelgun.  I’ll close with a quote.

Hearing six REAL “booms” from (Brandon H) followed by the jingle of six .357 magnum brass hitting the ground followed by the loader click and the cylinder closing was music to mine and Wayne’s ears. ~Darryl Bolke

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14 thoughts on “Revolver Relevance

  1. Thanks for the write up. While I like the newest generation of plastic and carry that on duty. I have to admit that I find carrying revolvers off duty to be easier for me to conceal. While I’m a dyed in the wool Smith guy I’ve been toying with the thought of picking up one of these Wiley Clapp Rugers after holding one.

    While there are trade offs, and revolvers are not for everyone, I believe the wheel gun is alive and well for those willing to train.

  2. It is no secret that both Wayne and I are huge revolver fans, and I have started shooting competitively again using a revolver in stock class speed steel matches. I am of the opinion that the medium frame revolver is really the best thing out there for a majority of the public who are not dedicated users due to the ease of administrative handling, and they can be left unattended and unmaintained for years as most people do. With that said, dedicated users can do great work with them. Are they my first choice for a multi-subject counter robbery gun, or in an offensive capacity-no. The simple efficiency of today’s modern service pistol in firefight sustainability is undebatable if you need more than six rounds. The fact is that revolvers are generally a 1-2 bad guy gun. The solution for a really dedicated revolver shooter is two of them (or more). Lots of bad guys have been put down by revolver armed gunfighters over the years with great efficiency. Unlike many here, I actually carried a revolver as a duty gun for several years (my duty gun was an N frame big bore, but I carried a 3″ Model 13 off-duty). We did fine work on criminals with them.
    It was a pleasure to watch Hizzie run his battery of 3″ GP-100’s. He held his own, and trust me, everytime one of those full house .357 magnums went off, all the auto shooters eye’s widened a little. I honestly believe that the flash and blast coming out the front of these things in close quarters has a psychological and physical effect on the bad guys in typical robbery range.
    There are some great revolvers out there these days, and i was VERY impressed with the brace of 3″ GP-100’s Hizzie was running. We are putting on a full weekend revolver class next year and look forward to seeing how a large group does running them.

  3. So, would you choose a revolver like this one over a modern semiauto, for self defense or LE duty? That’s what would show the real “relevance” IMO.

  4. I took acouple of classes last year and ran a revolver instead of a auto pistol and my results were similar to the author. I was never the fastest shooter but I got my hits and they were with full power ammo, .357 mag or .38 +P depending on what wheelgun I was shooting. For the first cylinder a revolver is just as good as a semi-auto and as long as you practice reloads I believe you are not any worse off than a semi-auto. Just my two cents.

  5. I took a Pistol 3 class using my S&W Performance Center 327. As this was a level 3 class I was nowhere near fastest, but in a level 1 class I’m pretty sure I’d have come out near the top. Reloads with full moon clips are ridiculously fast, much surer than speed loaders of any type.

    I wish we’d had these when I carried a S&W Model 19 on patrol, an 8 round full moon clip puts you on equal footing with single stacks, plus you get to shoot .357 magnum ammo, one of the most effective stoppers for a handgun round.

  6. Brandon (and others)-Great article. I also use my Ruger Security Six and GP100 for concealed carry (in a Blade-Tech IWB kydex and Kramer horsehide IWB holsters respectively) and competition (IDPA SSR), and for nightstand use.

    After being in a potential situation at night where there was a potentially significant threat from multiple medium-sized to large dogs, I have re-evaluated my revolver use. Basically, my feeling is that their limited capacity plus the more difficult reloading sequence (and yes, with quality speedloaders) is significantly exacerbated in night/low-light situations sufficiently to warrant precluding their use, if there’s a viable semi-automatic alternative (in my case, a Glock 19). Accordingly, now my revolver use is constrained to day, competition, and nightstand use. We had a pretty lengthy discussion of this, and my decision process a year or so ago on

    Best, Jon Stein

  7. I’ve never been much of a revolver guy preferring the high capacity and faster reloads that are inherent to a well-designed semi-auto pistol. But that doesn’t mean I consider revolvers dinosaurs.

    This is especially so now that Ruger has introduced the LCR in 9mm. The simplicity that comes with reloading with Full Moon Clips makes this revolver even more viable to new shooters than before. While the availability of Speed Loaders have made this possible for decades; most new shooters who would best benefit from the simplicity and reliability of revolvers have found these contraptions too complicated to use even at the range. Like it or not it take a lot of practice and familiarity to effectively use Speed Loaders even with experienced shooters.

    The revolvers, especially the lightweight j-frame sized models, still have a niche in today’s society. I personally use my S&W 340PD Scandium in .357 Magnum as my primary “walking around the house” gun. I figured that in case of a home invasion its 5-rounds should allow me to get my hands on my Glock 35 (357 SIG), Remington 870 (12 GA) or LWRC PSD (5.56x45mm).

  8. Even though my first gun was a 1911, the next two were Smith revos.
    My missus found my safe open one day and counted 19 sixguns in there, which was not intended to be a happy statement.
    I made B in USPSA in Revo before Single Stack.
    I’ve put on local and regional ICORE matches (but hate the scoring system).
    I once finished fourth overall in a large (44 shooter) IDPA match with my Detective Special and Comp IIIs.
    There really isn’t a better pocket gun than a J-frame. Excellent on the ankle or elsewhere for a backup, too. Amazingly effective tool.
    I can drill the zero zone out of an IDPA target with my Official Police at 12 feet shooting from the hip all day long and can do some good tricks with my DS like that, too. My buddies joke I shoot the service revolver better from the hip so I don’t have to think about the sighting thingie.
    But I still carry a Commander.
    Man, six rounds if you have one problem creature might be okay. Two problems, six is sort of nerve-wracking to think about.
    Plus, the Commander has a little thumb safety that, in the horrible event the gun is removed from my control, will prevent almost any wrong person from operating it.
    Love those roundguns, though.

  9. I carried a revolver for the first several years of my long and little-storied career. While I understand their appeal and romance, I think a high capacity semiautomatic pistol is a much better choice for law enforcement and self-defense. Even if restricted to a single stack pistol by policy or repressive state laws, one generally can reload a pistol faster and surer than a revolver. I was recently in a leadership class in which one officer was the talk of the day because he was carrying a revolver in a belt slide holster. He mentioned how he felt that he would only need a revolver’s capacity if he were victimized while off duty. Maybe so, maybe not, gunslinger, but didn’t you drive a marked cruiser to class.
    Be safe.

  10. Great article. Nice to see some wheelgun respect when it seems the rest of the world has gone ‘tacticool’. In my neck of the woods you’re far more likely to be attacked by a black bear than a human…and I’d rather have 6-8 rounds of .357 than most other *controllable* pistol calibers if confronted by a bruin.

    • Yeah, I am going to run a revolver in my next class for this exact reason. No bears where I live but I spend about half the year in campgrounds and sometimes carry revolvers.

  11. I’m still pissed that I missed that class. Thanks for the write-up on it.

  12. My first gun purchase was a Ruger Security Six revolver bought in 1978. I love that beast. It has spent a lot of time riding my hip while I’m out in the sagebrush. However, I have always considered it a “six rounds and done” gun. I’m left handed and left handed speed reloads are a bit trickier. I never gained absolute confidence that I wasn’t going to drop it in the mud. Competing with it might have helped my confidence but truth is, I am much more confident in my ability to speed reload my 1911 and my Glock 19.

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