Choosing the Best Revolver for Self-Defense | USCCA

There are several types of revolvers on the market today. Choosing between single-action and double-action is the easier part of purchasing. Single-action revolvers are used primarily for recreation, hunting and Cowboy Action Shooting. Double-action revolvers are often recommended for self-defense. Which type of double-action revolver is best depends on preference.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

I really enjoyed this article. I was a new gun owner three years ago and did extensive research on what to buy for personal defense (concealed carry), and for home defense (at the bedside) before buying a gun. The first course I took gave us 9mm Glocks to use. They felt good in my hand, but seemed prone to what the instructor called stove-piping. I found out later that this was because I wasn’t holding it properly.

I can’t recall how many “which gun is best” reviews I read in gun magazines or watched in online videos. It seemed that experienced shooters didn’t like the safeties, de-cockers and magazine releases, which just “got in the way” in an emergency. Even this article seems to agree with that.

So a revolver looked to be the best choice, and smaller was better than bigger for concealed, every day carry. I found a couple of books by Cunningham which narrowed my choices down to S&W and Ruger. Ruger was, according to almost every reviewer, built like a tank and would give good service for may more years than I would need; some even cited its legacy value. The SP101 snub nose was less expensive and seemed the best choice for me.

The next hurdle was choice of caliber, not discussed in this article. The history of the .357 Magnum round sold me, but most reviewers had sore hands after a couple of hundred rounds through a snub nose. Cunningham and others suggested using .38 Special for practice and a +P hollow point for defense. After a hundred rounds of .38 Special LRN (lead round nose) at the range, cleaning the gun afterward further refined my choice of practice ammo to .38 Special FMJ (full metal jacket), a much cleaner round, if slightly more expensive.

I thought about switching my “carry” round from .38 +P to .357 because of its increased effectiveness, but several reviewers who tested the difference between the two in a snub nose said there wasn’t much difference because the short barrel prevents the .357 from attaining a high muzzle velocity. This seemed to be a long running argument among experienced shooters. Today there are some “short barrel” .38 +P rounds that are designed especially for a snub nose revolver, ending the argument for me.

Finally, this article made me aware of the advantage that a concealed hammer revolver has over the SP101, which has a semi-concealed hammer, if fired through a jacket pocket. The gun one selects for concealed carry is a life-critical choice. Every time I read an article about this subject I seem to pick up another fine detail that I hadn’t considered. I very much enjoyed this article and hope to see more like it.


I recently picked up a Ruger LCRx 3" I .357. Replaced the front sight with a tritium bead. This revolver fits my hand so well, and is such a natural pointer. DA is smooth, and the SA is a crisp 4.5lb I will be carrying this one a lot. Not much a 110 gr HP doesn’t stop. It’s super lite, very slim, and did I mention how well it points?


I enjoyed this article very much. I love the Ruger LCRs. I pocket carry 3 LCRs for close-combat within 3 feet. Both front pockets and suit jacket high inside pocket all in pocket holsters to cover the triggers. I have 2 Glock 17s which I love but too big for me for every day carry. 3 time felon carjacker failed after he collected 2 38 slugs from my LCR. Thank you, Jesus. ALWAYS CARRY!


Excellent article.

Far too many seem to overlook the revolver these days, but they are still some of the best, reliable, and easy to use firearms, and if the proper one is chosen, perfect for concealed carry… including a backup ankle holster.

2" barrels are great, even in .357… a little more recoil but manageable, and a good .38 +P is always an option, but the 4" barrels are simply some of the best for all around use, though not as conducive to conceal carry, they can be.

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My fiancee has never owned a pistol before but wants one now to carry for protection. She has little to no experience with firearms. My thoughts were for her to get a .38 revolver. A revolver because it is easy to use, less likely to jam, easy to load, and compact enough to carry. My son, ex military, does not share my opinion on this being a good first carry pistol. His feeling is that the .38 does not have enough stopping power. He is suggesting a 9mm semi-auto. I know her well enough to know that she may be overwhelmed with the semi-auto and therefore would not carry it. My carry guns as she says are too big for her so they are not an option. I have .40 and .45 that i typically carry. I’m sure this has been asked before but i wanted some fresh feedback.

Do you have a store or gun club nearby where she can try different makes, models, and calibers? That’d be the best option of you have it. Ignore the ceaseless internet arguments about which gun is best. Find the one she feels most comfortable using.


I combined these topics because they’re both talking about the same thing. Hope you don’t mind, @MICHAEL479!

I should probably mention that ruger has a 9mm revolver, just look for the LCR chambered in 9mm. Just giving options to people…even if I don’t currently own one myself…:unamused:

Dawn, I don’t mind at all. Thank you for helping.

Wade5, I am probably going to do that. I usually buy online for the cost savings but this time it may be worthwhile to let her put her hands on it.

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Gotta go with @Ouade5. It is always best to let the new owner “try on” a few different models. I have seen ladies fall for all manner of things that I would have not “recommended” that have gone on to be very well developed markswomen with those platforms.

A long time ago I had an encounter with a “ringer” that came into the gun shop that I inhabited and as such I was allowed to help out customers and such. This young lady came in, and let’s just say she came in before she walked through the door, 5’-6" mebby 140lbs blonde wearing a jean jacket that she had no hope of ever buttoning up. She starts browsing the 1911 section and me being a 1911 guy and smith I ask if I can help. After about a half hour of discussing the benefits, down sides add on’s and such she stopped and looked at me. “Do you know what a S&W Model 29 is?” Me “Yes Ma’am, there are a couple over there in 44 Magnum, is that something you are interested in?”

She go this impish grin on her face and said “No, I already have pair of 44’s and spread open her jacket.” Well I am here to tell you that there were FOUR 44 Magnums there, a pair of stainless S&W 44 Magnums wrapped in leather and a pair of 44 Magnums wrapped in her shirt. She commented that I was one of the few gun counter commando’s that she had run across that hadn’t started off with “Now little lady that’s a lot of gun…”

Lesson WELL learned. Turns out she was a PI and could drive those wheel guns better that I could my 1911.




I would not recommend a revolver as a first firearm. As Wade states, it is best she try various handguns first. I read a study a while ago, I don’t recall if it was at USCCA, NRA, or some other site, but they had female new shooters try many different handguns, and the one that was most preferred was the Glock 19. Revolvers of any type were well down the list. The hard, long trigger pull was cited as the negative.

@MICHAEL479, If she finds the heavier .357 revolver easier to hold, be sure to have her fire .38 Spl and not .357. Too many people I know or have seen online complain about the recoil of a .357. I shoot .38s through my Ruger SP101 as a practice/target round and they hardly have any recoil. .38 +P is better for protection and I don’t feel much difference between them and the ordinary .38 Spl rounds.

If she favors a semi-auto, you might want to have her look at the S&W EZ series, where the EZ means it’s easy to rack the slide. It comes in .380 and more recently a 9mm version with, according to one reviewer, hardly any recoil due to the way the top of the slide lines up with the top of the arm. I’ve not tried either of these, but the difficulty of wracking the slide is just below the recoil complaints about semi-autos.

I have both action types on my permit now,
A .38 snubbie is harder to master than a 4"
If she can conceal a 3" or 4" so much the better
Less muzzle blast and recoil=quicker follow ups.
The qualifier is concealment if she plans to carry.
A so called hammerless snub has advantages over a semi auto which I find—for my purposes— gives it the nod, however it takes a lot of practice to connect with a 1-7/8" barrel and DA trigger pull. A short barreled semi really isn’t much of an improvement in my experience

Ideally I would recommend time with a good .22LR for a first handgun, but not for SD unless there was no other option.

Let her decide what she wants to shoot.

Agreed, but I took my SP101 snub nose to a local gunsmith who swapped out a few springs, reducing that 14# pull to about 12, good enough to get my wife interested again.

I’ve “lost” perhaps six or eight S&W .38 Airweight hammerless J Frames over the years. My mom, aunt, sister in law, sister, daughter (twice), a friend, etc., all women, all fell in love with the little lightweight hammerless. It’s NOT the gun I’d have recommended to any of them. However, with Pachmyr grips none of them, all small women, had a problem shooting the pistols. My sister, at 105 pounds and 5’1" loved it with boot grips!

They all loved that it was:

  1. Easily concealable,
  2. Could be shot from inside the purse due to the hammerless design,
  3. Had a long (smooth - they were all tuned) trigger pull so they did not feel they would “accidentally” go off, and,
  4. Had no “controls” to deal with.

Since the first rule of gunfighting is, “Have a gun”, I just relinquished the pistol on every occasion and bought another. And yes, I am well aware of the “don’t carry off the body argument”, but my mother and aunt in their fifties (at the time) were NOT going to wear jeans to church so they could carry a holster. Deal with it.

Given the opportunity I helped a few of them move “up”; my daughter now has a 9mm Shield in addition to a J Frame, but most aren’t “gun people”. My aunt, a friend, mother, sister, and sister in law never got another gun. You may have heard that you should fear the “woman” with only one gun. So, for several decades those women have trained with exactly one gun when they do train. There is something to be said for that.

I just gave a handful of pistols and rifles to my kids because they live in riot “hot zones” and am “down to” a Sig P225 which was a closet queen, but is now off at The Sig Armorer for a Carry Action tune and will become my primary CCW, and a 1911A1 in .45ACP which is my house gun. Every single woman I’ve introduced to the 1911A1 in .45ACP for over thirty years has loved it.

I’ve seen women that simply cannot shoot a full magazine through a Glock without getting “limp wrist” failures, although I have never been able to reproduce that with exactly the same pistol and ammo no matter what I tried!

I know there are more modern guns than a J Frame Airweight and 1911A1. I actually gave my daughter two 9mm Shield PC models with a TLR-6 on each (I prefer to have a backup to my CCW weapon), and she likes them a lot, although my son in law seems to like them even more than the SR1911 10mm I gave him!

I also think that a lot of the “women’s guns” hype is misguided. Take her out to the range a number of times, rent her a dozen different guns, and let her pick what she’ll shoot and carry. Maybe it’ll be a Springfield Hellcat, maybe a J Frame in .357. As long as she likes it and will shoot it, and it’s in a caliber that has good defensive ammo available, that’s the right gun for her. And just hope she doesn’t fall in love with a Wilson Combat at four grand! :slight_smile:


Single-action revolvers are rarely seen on the street or carried under clothing…BUT why not? My experience in Cowboy Action Shooting made me very fast and accurate at combat ranges with a single-action. I shoot Colt, Remington and Schofield clones, all in .45 Colt. For concealed carry, I use jacketed bullets like I use for my 1911. I don’t wear a cowboy cartridge belt, but I carry whatever holster seems appropriate for the situation. I’ve made shoulder holsters, ordinary hip holsters and cross-draws. Right now I’m carrying a 3 1/2" barrel “Colt” clone in a little cross-draw holster (I bought this one). The short barrel conceals under a long shirt just great in Summer. I carry a 5 1/2" barrel “Colt” in a shoulder holster in the winter if I feel like it. Of course, I don’t have a cartridge under the hammer, so it is effectively a “five-shooter!” I love to make holsters and gun-belts for these babies, including the long-barreled Schofields (I have a pair), and since I’m distantly related (by marriage) to Frank James, I have a long-barreled Remington '75 in a replica holster inspired by famous holster maker Wil Ghormley. I proudly “pitch” for him when he gives me such inspiration!

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Just joined the USCCA forums as I’m considering getting a revolver. Gotta say this post is what put me over the edge to join. That’s quite the visual and important lesson to not judge a book by its cover.


I am really surprised that not one of the above responses offered the Charter Arms Professional as an option.