The Single-Action Revolver for Self-Defense

The Single-Action Revolver for Self-Defense
The Single-Action Revolver for Self-Defense

On cold day in winter, my Son-in-Law and I was about to share some range time. When I walked out of the house to his car he asked, “Where’s you range bag?” I said, “I’m carrying it.” He then asked me, “Well, what are you going to shoot?” I said, “I’m carrying it.” Off to the range we went. I was glad that the Perry suspenders were doing their job. This particular day was cold so I had put on my purposely over-sized duck vest and my “barn” coat, as it known by my relatives. When we signed into the range for our lane, he still had this quizzical look on his face. Taking my coat off, I posted the target and ran it down the line a ways. I slid the Ruger 22/45 from it’s holster behind my right hip, reached into a vest pocket, pulled out a loaded magazine, slid it home, racked the slide, and commenced to putting the first 10 rounds in the target. Afterward, I removed the magazine, cleared the weapon, and slid it back into it holster. My Son-in-Law had brought his range bag that is large enough to feed a good size horse for 3 days had it been filled with oats. A few minutes later, after loading several magazines for his Taurus 845, he took his turn. We alternated until I had fired the five loaded magazines that I had brought for the 22/45. He asked me if I was going to buy more ammo and I reached into another vest pocket and pulled out 4 boxes of Fiocchi .22 long rifled 36-grain CPHP. “No need,” I told him and returned the boxes to the vest pocket. He took his turn, and thinking that I was going to shoot the 22/45 again, he backed away from the line and I took his place. I stepped up to the line and reached down into my pants to pull the Bersa 45UC from the Smart Carry, reached into another vest pocket, grabbed a full magazine, and with a smile commenced to practice with my normal carry (at the time). Afterward, the gun and magazine parted ways; the magazine going back into the vest pocket from whence it came, and the Bersa returned to the Smart Carry. He said that he never saw that coming. I just smiled. He took his turn and did a nice job of finishing off an otherwise useful target, made the weapon safe, and stepped back to let me do my thing again.

Reaching into my vest, I pulled the Norinco copy of the 1911 that resided in the shoulder holster, reached into a coat pocket to retrieve the three previously loaded magazines, and put their contents all downrange in short order. I slipped the unloaded and safe firearm back into place and it was the Son-in-law’s turn to fire.

Shaking his head, the Son-in-Law shot another couple of magazines full of his re-loaded .45 acp ammunition downrange.

Stepping back into the firing booth after he had finished shooting, I reached low inside my vest; pulled the 4.62″ barreled .357 Ruger Blackhawk from its cross-draw holster, reached into another vest pocket, and retrieved the 125 grain, .357 magnum rounds that resided there. With a slightly unpracticed hand, the Ruger was loaded and I commenced to christen the newly posted target.

Sliding it back into the holster, I reached across with my left hand, pulled the 6.5″ .357 Blackhawk from its Hunter’s 1090 holster and fired six more rounds left-handed with close to equal accuracy, and returned it to its rightful place. (I believe a Western ‘pistolero’ would call this a “Texas Reload”).

The Rugers just melted into my hand; they always have. Something about firing an old Colt SA or a Ruger SA revolver just appeals to me. I guess that it goes along with my love of lever-action rifles and double-barreled, short-barreled shotguns. When I look down the barrel of a single-action revolver and see the extraction tube sitting next to that barrel it reminds me of driving an old car that has fenders – real fenders and a hood ornament mounted way out on the radiator. The view looking down that long hood always gave me a sense of pleasure – Like looking down the 7 1/2″ barrel of a single-action handgun in .45 Colt. I digress, however.

I let my Son-in-Law shoot the Blackhawks and to say that he could not hit the broadside of a barn when shooting them would be an understatement. He handed it back me and said something to the effect of, “I’ll keep my Taurus, thanks.”

I shot a couple more of cylinder-full rounds, cleared the weapon, and returned it to its resting place. Looking at the target, it really got me to thinking about using a single-action revolver, in today’s times, for self-defense. Is it still a viable weapon with all the semi-autos and double-action revolvers out there today?

Moving forward, I am going to express my thoughts, and some thought of others who are more knowledgeable about these things than I am, about the single-action revolver.

Relegated to the written memories of cowboys past, the single-action revolver still enjoys use among those just learning about firearms, the occasional plinking shooter, and the CAS (Cowboy Action Shooting) and SASS (Single Action Shooting Society) crowd. With the proliferation of large- capacity semi-automatic pistols and double-action revolvers on the market today, the single-action revolver remains in the background and perhaps, according to some, rightly so as it has no place in today’s self-defense auditorium.

Granted, if you are not Bob Munden or one of those fast single-action shooters that are around today, the single-action revolver may not be your first choice of defensive carry nor as a house gun. However, if single-action revolvers were not still popular, why would the Gunsight Academy offer a specialty course in single action revolver self-defense?

From 1836 until the advent of the 1911 Government Model, which was simply the packing of the .45 Colt into a modern self-cocking pistol, the single-action was king. Colt introduced the double-action revolver in 1877 with the .38 Lightning and the .41 Thunderer. Billy the Kid and Doc Holliday took up purchase of the newfangled six-guns, but most six-gunners stayed with their single-actions.

With training, no handgun is any faster for the first shot from leather than a single-action. As single-action shooters claim, “We are talking an aimed shot, not just clearing leather and blasting away.”

Chuck Hawks puts it this way; “The single action (SA) revolver must be manually cocked before the trigger will fire the weapon. These are the traditional “western” style guns, such as the Colt

Single Action Army and Ruger Blackhawk and Vaquero models. Such guns are slow to reload, but powerful, accurate and deadly when the whistle blows. Their “plow handle” grip shape fits most hands exceedingly well, making accurate fire comparatively easy. They can be fired rapidly from a two handed hold by cocking the piece with the thumb of the off hand. Never “fan” a single action revolver!

Somewhat like auto loading pistols, I regard SA revolvers as an entirely satisfactory choice for home defense, particularly for experienced shooters, but not the very best choice for the casual user.”

Naturally, single-action revolvers fall apart in the re-loading department. Reloading a single-action revolver is much slower than reloading a semi-auto pistols or double-action revolver. Two methods for re-loading the single-action revolver are:

1. The empty casing are punched out from the cylinder chamber one at a time until the cylinder is completely empty and then new rounds are inserted into the cylinder chambers one at a time until the cylinder is completely loaded, or

2. After removing each empty case from the cylinder chamber, inserting a new round loads the chamber and the cylinder is then rotated to the next chamber; continuing until the cylinder is fully loaded. Some consider the latter method as the “tactical reload” for the single-action revolver.

Most handlers of the single-action revolver are used to pulling the hammer back with the thumb of the shooting hand, as was done down through the ages. The natural-plowing effect of the revolver under recoil positions the hammer almost perfectly for shooting in this style. When shooting double-handed, when using the thumb of the support hand to re-cock the revolver, and with practice, firing five or six shots of your favorite ammunition downrange in a hurry is easy. In fact, when using the thumb of the support hand, and with practice, rounds fired downrange as fast as the 1911 semi-automatic pistol is possible. I cannot say that I have been able to do this, as my left thumb is older and slower than my right thumb, but I can hold my own in using this method.

“Fanning” of the single-action revolver is not recommended as it places stress on the gun and wears internal parts must faster than simply cocking the revolver for each shot. That said, I know of shooters who’s revolver’s innards have worn to the point that the hammer will not remain in the cocked position; the shooter simply aims, pulls back the hammer, and releases it to fire the weapon.

In early single-action (cowboy) revolvers, placing the hammer in the half-cocked position allowed opening of the loading/unloading gate, which allowed rotation of the cylinder. Sturm Ruger modified that in its later offerings of the single-action revolver. With the later Ruger single-action revolvers, one only has to open the loading gate to necessitate loading/reloading.

Ruger’s new action also allows the cylinder to “free-float”, which allows the shooter to move the cylinder in any direction to facilitate unloading/loading.

In Ruger’s latest rendering of common single-action pistols, there is no need to carry only five- chambered rounds like in the old days, as Ruger’s patented transfer bar safety allows you to safely carry six rounds.


The single-action revolver is a viable tool for self-defense. With self-defense being a broad term, that includes defense against; two-legged “varmints”, four-legged furry beasts, slithering snakes, crawling reptiles, and your neighbor’s pet Komono Dragon, I would say ‘yes’ given the correct circumstances, proper caliber, ammunition, and training.

Chambered for everything from .22 to the Pfeifer-Zeliska .600 Nitro Express Magnum, single- action “wheel” guns can handle just about anything that comes down the pike.

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Daryl Dempsey is an Oath keeper, veteran, ex-law enforcement officer and trainer, and an independent conservative libertarian that believes in the Constitution of the United States. He has over forty years of experience as a Technical Writer and Training Program Developer and has as many years devoted to the keeping and bearing of arms.
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good 2 know


another good write-up Daryl…………………


How is it that your left thumb is older than your right 🙂

Excellent write-up by the way


My left thumb arrived earlier than my right. :>)


good article Daryl


Dear Daryl,
Thanks for a super piece. I cc a Ruger Blackhawk Model 10306 (357 mag. w/ 4.62″ barrel) within a Bianchi X15 vertical shoulder holster. Love SAs dependability, big iron feel, and the sick pale looks on anyone within 20 feet when this black ominous looking bad boy makes an appearance, in or out of its holster!  Not only do I love the simplicity of SAs, but I’ve had some pretty dangerous jams with autos of the years, that made me not trust them for dependability. One of the keys in using SAs in self defense is to approach a tactical situation (gunfight) as did most in the old west – move, and use cover, especially when reloading. And the MOVE part is key, because M-O-V-E means: Motionless Operators Ventilate Easily!  Thanks again man, keep up the great work!