Are Revolvers Still Relevant?

About 18 years ago, I hung up my revolvers, and replaced them with semi-automatic pistols. I first embraced the Glock platform, and most recently, the 1911 auto and its various models. But, over the past several years, I have found myself more often slipping that lightweight .38 snubby into my pocket when I make a run to the store, primarily for the sake of convenience. Readers will also recall the .38 snubby plays a large role in my gun packing and motorcycle riding scheme (CCM May/June 2009, “Concealed Carry on a Motorcycle”). And, over the past several years, our training school has seen a resurgence in new gun purchasers, with many of those first time gun buyers bringing small revolvers to class. So, when I made the decision to attend Tom Givens’ RangerMaster Tactical Conference this year, I thought to myself, what a great opportunity to answer the title question of this article! Each spring for the past eleven years, Tom has put together a gathering of armed citizens to shoot and train together, with the two-day event drawing participants and top instructors from all across the nation. I have participated in several, and was looking forward again to this year’s event.


Limited to 120 participants, the group this year included such well-known instructors such as John Farnam, Massad Ayoob, and Skip Gochenour, as well as several lesser known but none-the-less brilliant presenters, resulting in two full days of top-notch training covering a dozen different subject areas. But, the training portion is not the subject of this article, because in addition to the training sessions, there is a pistol match, allowing each participant to get a little dose of shooting under stress, an endeavor every serious gun packer should do from time to time. There is nothing like a little stress to expose those little problem areas in your shooting repertoire.

Recently, I had the fortune to put together a unique revolver; one which I felt had a lot of potential. It is an N-frame Smith and Wesson Model 610 (that’s right, a 10mm), and I swapped the stock 6.5 inch barrel for a 3 inch one, supplied direct from Smith and Wesson. I then entrusted the revolver and barrel to the competent hands of revolversmith Grant Cunningham, and he made the swap. So, a few weeks before the tactical conference, I decided to take the revolver and shoot it in the match. I wanted to answer the question, are revolvers still relevant? Can a good hand with a revolver take care of business and compete while shooting head to head against other competent gunmen with semi-autos?

To answer the question, I loaded up some relatively hot .40 caliber loads to snap into the full moon clips that the 610 takes (one can shoot either .40 S+W loads or 10mm loads in the 610). I have found that reloading the shorter .40 loads into the 610 cylinder is much easier and faster than 10mm shells. Also, I wanted to make sure the loads were stout enough to take down the reactive targets that Tom Givens typically uses in his matches, setting these targets to only go down with full power loads (not wimpy match ammo). I then made the appropriate travel arrangements, and off I went to a part of the country I had never before visited, armed with a six-shooter, to go head to head with some of the best in the business, armed with hi-cap semi-autos. It would be fun.


So, how did this antiquated six shot technology do against the super whiz-bang, high capacity flatsiders? Let’s take a look at the challenges presented in the match, and you decide for yourself if the revolver can still deliver.

But, before I go on, I would be remiss not to mention the superb facilities this year’s conference was held at, that being the new United States Shooting Academy located in Tulsa, OK. They have built one of the finest shooting ranges in the country, complete with a state-of-the-art shoot house, which the first stage was set in. Stage one was a tactical stage, called “Embassy Exit.” It was not scored on pure shooting skills, but instead on a combination of tactics and ballistic prowess. The tactical shooting challenge was ripped directly from the headlines, a re-creation of the Mumbai terrorist attack last November in India. The scenario called for the shooter to work his way out of an American Embassy, encountering terrorists armed with AK-47s along with unarmed innocents, and hostage situations. The task was simple. Get out as fast as you can, without leaving any terrorists alive to shoot you in the back or kill the innocents.

When the attack starts, the shooter moves through the shoot house, encountering scenarios like the one pictured. Either a head shot or body shot takes the target down. When I hit the terrorists where they lived, with the hot .40 loads, they dropped like a sack of potatoes. That was comforting. The shooter was limited to the capacity of his gun and two extra loads, meaning I only had 18 shots to solve this problem. That idea caused me a moment’s pause, but when I finished the stage, I found I had reloaded twice, and ended with a full gun load of six rounds. Given the fact there were seven or eight targets inside, I felt pretty good about it. Scored by overall time (and I admit I took extra time to make sure I didn’t miss any of those nasty bastards with the AKs), I finished with a respectable but not record-setting time of 51.22 seconds. Good enough for 24th overall, out of 91 shooters. Oh yeah, did I tell you about the bomb? About halfway through, there was a loud, bright explosion right in front of me. I know it raised my heart rate considerably, and cost me ten seconds as I jumped back behind cover and surveyed the area. I’ll take the ten-second hit though, making sure no other bombs were going to explode in my face! I must also admit there was no small degree of satisfaction blowing away terrorist targets with a large caliber revolver!


The next stage was the standards, a straight forward shooting skills test that would be the real test of whether a six-shot revolver can still hold its own. A series of shooting exercises from 5-20 yards, involving strong hand and weak hand shooting, along with kneeling and speed loads, made this a challenging test. In previous matches, I have shot Tom’s standards too fast, dropping precious points, so this time I decided to take just a little extra time with each shot, and that tactic paid off. I only dropped two points and placed 32nd overall. Not bad, considering I had two forced reloads where every other shooter with a flat side gun didn’t have to reload. That probably cost me an extra six seconds (three seconds per reload) which would have put me up much higher. But the test was to see if the revolver, and its low capacity, could compete head-to-head, so I’m not complaining. But when I watched U.S.S.A operations manager and IPSC Grandmaster Mike Seeklander shoot the stage, I realized I should have shot much faster. He was, in my opinion, the man to beat in the match, and his results in the standards with a score of 36.4, only about 30 seconds faster than I, certainly proved that hypothesis. There is a lesson here. If I ever have to face Mike in a shoot out with me armed with a six shot revolver, we will see how well he does on moving targets, ’cause I’m gonna be running as fast as I can!

The third stage was based upon a classic shooting exercise designed by the late Col. Jeff Cooper, called the Dozier Drill, named after General James L. Dozier, who was kidnapped by leftist terrorists in 1981 when a group of them raided his apartment. As I understand it, Cooper postulated that if Dozier had been armed with a handgun, he could have shot down his kidnappers immediately, instead of suffering 42 days of captivity before being rescued by Italian S.W.A.T. cops. This rendition of the Dozier Drill had the shooter facing away from five steel reactive targets, and when the start signal was given, he would spin, draw, and shoot them all down. Hmm, five targets, six shots. I had better not miss. So when my turn in the box came, I spun as fast as this 53-year old endomorphic body could spin and, for what felt like an eternity, shot them all down with one shot apiece. That eternity was actually, 4.79 seconds, good enough for a 25th place finish on that stage. The fact that I felt I could not risk any missed shots made me shoot a little slower than I normally would have on a stage like that, but the result was pretty good. Seeklander won that stage too with a blazing 3.23 seconds. It was a pleasure to watch him perform.


The last stage of the match involved the rescue of a baby, and was my best stage. I came in 7th place overall, with a time of 10.54 seconds, only 2.21 seconds behind the stage winner (again, Mike Seeklander). This stage was actually much like a classic IPSC stage, involving a little scenario where the shooter needs to run and grab a baby, engage the two targets supposedly attempting to kidnap the baby, and then run behind a truck, secure the baby gently behind the truck wheels for cover, and then engage two additional targets which were surrounding a no-shoot target. The 610 performed splendidly in this stage; in fact I kind of felt like it was controlling me, forcing me to shoot it a little faster than I had been shooting. After all there were only four targets to engage, so I could shoot a little faster without worrying about running out of ammo. I think there is a lesson here too, but I am not sure exactly what it is.

Overall results and impressions

I came in 16th overall, ahead of 85 other shooters, shooting a gun which only holds six shots. Frankly, I would have placed much higher (likely in the top ten) if I hadn’t taken Stage One (Embassy Exit) as seriously as I did. As an example of what I mean, I actually placed higher overall than Mike Seeklander did, even though he beat me handily on the three pure shooting stages, and won each of those overall. You see, he took Embassy Exit even more seriously than I did, clearing the shoot house slowly and methodically as his previous military training taught him, taking 109.41 seconds. I wish I could have watched and filmed his work in the shoot house; it would have been a good training film. There is a lesson here too: Train as you want to fight, the scores be damned. Perhaps in the future, these types of stages should not be scored except on a pass/fail basis.


So is the revolver still relevant? Absolutely! The S&W Model 610 is a great, albeit a little large, platform for serious shooters with small hands. When using full moon clips and .40 loads, it doesn’t give much away to a 1911. I will admit I was rusty in the shooting skills side of things, having not shot a revolver in competition for more than 18 years, but overall, I was quite pleased with the experience and results. I have some guns that I will never sell, and the three-inch barreled 610 just made it into that category. In fact, it is cleaned and loaded, serving duty as my bedside gun as I write this.

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