This is a guest post from my friend Darryl Bolke. It is a followup to the Thoughts on Revolver Reliability post he contributed last week. The original is published on Darryl’s Facebook page DB’s Shooting Adventures.
Darryl is the co-owner of Hardwired Tactical and a very well-established firearms instructor. All of you revolver shooters and instructors should read this article and pay attention to what Darryl has to say.
The article is reproduced here with Darryl’s permission.
This is a follow on to my revolver reliability post. I wanted to discuss why I carry both a semi automatic pistol and a revolver and what my experience has shown to be the positives and negatives of both systems and how I coordinate them to exploit as much of their positives as I can, and to minimize each systems negatives.
First the semi auto part of the equation. “Firepower” is something that is fired out of things that feed from belts out of large containers and are mounted in vehicles. Things like MiniGuns and Chain Guns. If you are looking for Firepower as something from a handgun, I think it is a fantasy. I like semi automatic pistols for the simple fact that in a service gun based system they simply require less manipulations to keep that gun in a fight longer than a revolver. No more, no less. It take a single magazine to feed it, and simply less things I have to do to keep it fed.
By nature the typical systems used by military and law enforcement end users tend to be reliable and easy to maintain. They can be shot extensively in a training environment and parts replaced by minimally trained armorers and often with out specialized tools and with minimal if any fitting of parts. The current polymer framed striker fired guns are cheaper to produce than metal frame guns with hammers. They tend to handle weather and foreign materials fairly well. They are optimal for those who treat them like a lawn mower as my friend and mentor Ken Hackathorn has stated in the past. They are very size efficient. The Glock 19 size guns on the market today offer exceptional size efficiency as far as weight and size combined with caliber and capacity of ammunition.
These are all huge pluses. I normally carry a polymer framed mid-sized service pistol whenever possible. I normally shoot 250 rounds minimum when I go to the range. Melanie and I just shot a full 1000 round case of ammunition in a couple days of shooting with our good friends while in Lake Havasu. That is mostly with our already dirty Langdon Tactical Beretta PX4CC’s and we have yet to clean them since being home. I also did a bit of shooting with the Glock 48 that I use for travel to states and areas with magazine capacity restrictions. We had zero issues with these guns and they are being treated like lawn mowers. Essentially, they offer a ton of positives with very few negatives. When compared to service size revolvers, you get a more efficient gun with less negatives, especially for anyone in the professional gun carrying business.
With that said, they have some serious negatives. The first is they are more complex to work with administratively. If you perform specific tasks in the wrong order they will fire causing damage, injury or death. That is a significant issue for the consequence of a human error. We handle these things administratively doing loading, unloading and verification of their status more than anything else, so the complexities of that process for those who do not train, those who overestimate their abilities, those who are not totally switched on when handling these guns and those with poor trigger finger and/or muzzle discipline can easily find themselves in a horrible situation.
Some folks try to mitigate this risk by carrying these pistols without a chambered round. If that is the case, then the selection of an appropriate revolver is a much better choice. For guns that are used like a fire extinguisher in which they are loaded and put away just for an emergency which hopefully never happens, a revolver is a much better choice. For those who are in an environment where there are individuals not as well trained or experienced who may need to access and use the firearm, a revolver is a better choice.
My wife who passed away from cancer was in the fire extinguisher camp. She shot well and would humor me by shooting her 3” Model 65 once every year or two and usually a box of ammunition at most. She could easily hold the A zone of a silhouette target at 7 yards and that was sufficient for what SHE wanted. My daughter easily learned to shoot, load, unload and verify the status of that exact gun when she was 8. Like her mother, she was interested and understands why she may need a firearm to not be victimized by evil individuals, but she is far from the enthusiast that her step mom or I are. A revolver is a solid choice for her and as she has gotten older she has learned to shoot a semi-auto, but much prefers the simple operation of a revolver, and there is not a single thing wrong with that for her or anyone else.
Another huge negative of the semi automatic is the requirement to use a magazine. This is something that can fail and is usually the culprit behind many reliability issues. Part of what makes semi automatics so good for staying in a fight with less manipulations is that they are fed from a single magazine. The negative is that if that magazine is not seated, becomes unseated, or is completely separated from the semi automatic pistol they quickly become fairly useless. So, magazine fed is both a positive and negative. I saw a lot of magazine related failures in both training and in the field over the years and it is a serious potential problem.
Ammunition is also an issue. The ammunition is essential in making a semi-automatic pistol function properly. The use of poor quality ammunition or ammunition that is not properly paired to the characteristics of a particular pistol can cause numerous reliability issues. That ammunition has to do a lot of different things in a total cycle of operation that can have failures in every part of the cycle (feeding, chambering, locking, firing, unlocking, extracting, ejecting, cocking). That cycle has a lot of opportunities for failure and ammunition is a significant part of that.
Garbage ammunition or quality control problems can be catastrophic. Add poor grip, or the pistol being floated or shot in space without a locked up wrist can cause stoppages….and often do in actual street shootings. Semi-Automatic pistols do exceptionally well when used in range training environments and in field situations that are similar to those range environments. Anything interfering with any of the parts of the cycle of operation in the field can be catastrophic and cause malfunctions and stoppages. Often at the worst times. The small offset is they can usually be cleared with a non-diagnostic solution, and they usually don’t “break”, they simply stop running.
So, with the significant positives of the semi-automatic pistol for someone like me who trains regularly, takes administrative handling as seriously as tactical operation of the gun, and has a solid grasp of the techniques to prevent interruptions to the cycle of operation of the pistol, why on earth would I ever carry a revolver?
The answer is simple, size efficiency again. Here is a cold hard fact that I will not entertain an argument with. Little semi-automatic pistols are far less reliable in the situations where I would use them and when deployed from the places I would carry them compared to a small revolver-period.
I generally do not carry little revolvers on my belt line in a traditional method of carry. If I do carry a revolver as a primary gun on my belt, it is strictly because I like them, shoot them well, and they make me happy. It is not because they are more size and manipulation efficient than a similar sized high quality service pistol. Emotion over logic and I am very up front about that. I am sure I could do just fine in a majority of fights or situations I would likely ever find myself in with one of my revolvers set up for fighting. Did it for a lot of years as a cop. I logically know I am more efficient with a semi-automatic and the revolver forces me to be more deliberate, which isn’t necessarily horrible.
This changes significantly as soon as we get into deep concealment guns carried in pockets, ankles, in specialty holsters carried completely under normal clothing, stuffed and shoved into some off body locations, carried under a leg in the car, etc. Also, when shoved into people, shot in space, poorly gripped, asymmetric positions, shot when impacting hard objects, shot against clothing, etc. These things happen a lot in the real world, and revolvers dominate this landscape in terms of both practical reliability and safety. Also, when I mentioned shoved into people, that was quite serious. The little revolvers actually work best when shoved into an opponent. This is a surefire way to get zero shots, or maybe a single shot with a semi-automatic pistol. It is the revolvers’ happy place. The little revolvers are also hard to disarm. Before the comments about binding a cylinder….there are techniques to easily counter that we teach. I just won’t be going into that on the Internet.
I absolutely refuse to carry all but one semi-auto pistol in a pocket (the exception is the HK P7, and that is several thousand words by itself). I have seen so many issues of failures over the years with either the firearm failing, or the firearm firing when it was not intended to and often with injury that I have zero intention of placing myself behind the curve with this type of carry. We have several revolvers that are literally made for this type of use that are very lightweight and with shrouded or internal hammers and shapes and grips that enhance smooth withdraw at speed from the pocket.
During a recent demonstration in front of the entire class at revolver round up I pulled a .74 second single head shot at 2-3 yards from a totally relaxed street type start, exactly like I walk around in public. My normal time is just under a second. I know people who have sub second draws with typical carried pistols, but it is not from any sort of relaxed position with normal clothing and does not come with the option of not exposing the firearm if conditions change. As far as ankle carry, I have used both semi-autos and revolvers in this role over the years about equally. I was very picky about the autos I used (Sig P-230 and a Glock 26). Those were both wearing uniform pants and to supplement duty carry. Otherwise, in normal clothes and not as a police officer, always a small S&W or Colt lightweight revolver.
If someone has a case of the much heralded Walter PPK ever working well in an actual defensive shooting from deep concealment, I would love to hear it, because I have never heard of one. Revolver reliability does not suffer when the guns get smaller and lighter, the semi-automatic pistols absolutely do. All the negatives with grip, and unlocked wrists with the service guns that can at times be overcome with high quality guns shooting high performance ammunition are amplified exponentially as the guns get smaller. Lots of poor grips, unlocked wrists, pushed out of battery through contact, slide interference due to objects, clothing or skin. The list goes on. The little autos are very easy to carry, the cost of that is that I have seen they are very finicky both in range use and that is amplified under field conditions. We also see dislodging of magazines when carried in deep concealment unless a European heel release is used that makes loading a two handed operation like a revolver.
A big advantage to the revolver in these cases is that while the ammunition is often limited compared to a pistol, it is physically attached to to gun and is near impossible to become separated. The one area I have seen failure in a small revolver is usually user induced with a finger or body part hampering movement of the cylinder. This is a technique thing and I teach a couple of grips to prevent this. It is very in vogue for those without vast combative revolver use to use grips that make this a risk. Buy your ticket and ride the choice and consequences train.
Speaking of training, reality is also simple in that you will not be shooting hundreds of rounds in a single session with your 13 ounce revolver. What I tend to do is shoot 25 rounds a training session with mine. I often do a drill I got from Claude Werner in which I press the trigger and fire a round, and then open and spin the cylinder. Sometimes I will only load a single live round in a cylinder full of empty brass. This will usually give me a couple hundred trigger presses of essentially a ball and dummy drill I can do by myself and only have to deal with the actual substantial recoil of 25 live rounds. It is simply a different training philosophy. You should work longer ranges and some varying drills to maintain skills with the little guns, but I keep it relative. Also…you need to clean them. At minimum pocket lint and dust bunnies should be regularly removed.
I did not invent the idea of a semi-automatic pistol backed up with a deep concealment small revolver for use in the areas where both excel. I have simply followed the tradition of some of the most experienced and seasoned gunfighters and experienced experts in violence (the real kind, not the Internet kind). Pat Rogers was a huge advocate for this Pat always had a small revolver in an ankle holster or pocket or both to supplement his auto pistols.
My best friend used an ankle carried Colt Agent to end a situation when bent over and confined in an very awkward position and could not access his primary pistol. The shot was fired in a position guaranteed to cause a stoppage in a small semi-automatic. Most of the experienced gunfighters from SoCal I was trained by all supplemented their larger autos with small revolvers.
I recently read an exceptional narrative attributed to Mike Pannone about this practice that was one of the best I have ever seen written. Mike is highly experienced in real world violence. Most of those in my training circle of solid non-theory based trainers (meaning their training is based on their personal experience in countering violence with actual results rather than how they think things will go based on watching others, or on their square range performance) all tend to be advocates of this methodology. There are times when circumstances and dress requirements limit me to just a single semi-automatic. Other times I am limited to a small airweight or Airlite revolver. Optimally, I use both and I encourage serious people to examine the practice.
Thanks to Darryl for writing such an informative piece and sharing it with my readers. Take a look at Hardwired Tactical’s training schedule and book a class if they are in your area. You won’t be disappointed.