Wheelguns

Six For Maybe, Part 2

Fresh off of the inaugural Rangemaster Master Instructor class and accompanying social media hullabaloo, I wrote Six For Maybe, a discussion on revolver reliability.

Today, I discussed the issue with my boss who will soon have been a lawman for a mere 42 years. He was the top gun in his academy class shooting a Smith & Wesson Model 66, and he worked for an agency that issued Navy surplussed Smith & Wesson Model 10s. He has some time behind a wheelgun.

He told me that he didn’t remember revolvers failing at the rate in which I have seen them fail in various classes. He then went on the tell me about the old 10th Congressional District Pistol Matches (a pistol match open to all of the agencies within the 10th Congressional District of Georgia) and other training events, and he said, “I just don’t remember any real failures that weren’t related to ammo”.

So then I asked, “Did you carry a brush with you to the line?”

What followed was a detailed description of how they all carried brushes and cleaning cloths so that during any shooting event they could clean out under the extractor star or wipe down the breach face and other such sundry tasks.

So then I asked, “How often did you do all of that?”

He described that at least every 100 rounds or so he would go through the above described procedure?

So then I asked, “In the academy, was somebody always yelling at y’all to do all of that?”

The answer was an affirmative, but then he said, “I guess at a certain point we just all knew that we had to do all of that stuff.”

So then I asked, “Would you foresee problems if somebody was told by a buddy or gun shop guy that to use a revolver because it was “six for sure” and who didn’t understand the maintenance needs of a wheelgun?

The answer was in the affirmative.

Going back the original piece and the position that Darryl Bolke expressed, if you are going to seriously run a revolver, you have to be committed to maintaining it constantly while shooting it.

The only way to develop skill is to train, and in order to train, you are going to have to maintain.

That is a vital point that must be driven home to those who are going to use a revolver.

Six For Maybe

The oft-uttered mantra for wheelgun fanciers is “six for sure” referring to the supposed reliability of the revolver. Whether or not such is actually the case is a matter of perspective.

I pinned on a badge at the very end of the revolver era. I attended a regional academy, and only two agencies still mandated revolvers. The cadets worked in jails, and if they moved to a field division, they transitioned to semi-autos.

Of note, we were required to shoot the “Double Action Course” (GDAC) to graduate from the academy. That course had a stage in it based on the Newhall Incident, which occurred in 1970, requiring those shooting revolvers to fire two rounds, manually load two rounds, and then fire two more rounds all in 12 seconds. Those of us shooting magazine fed guns simply used a two-round magazine. I attended the academy in 1999. The GDAC was replaced circa 2004. Some things are slow to change. The replacement course is “revolver neutral” meaning that six-round magazines are mandated so that those shooting revolvers and semi-automatics all reload at the same time.

A decade or so later, I traded into a Smith & Wesson 586 so that I could shoot in an IDPA revolver match. I won my class and earned a match bump in classification with it. One thing I didn’t include in the original piece on that match was that in the later stages, I had trouble with the cylinder sticking. I brushed the cylinder out and tried to clean it in a safe area, but it took a detailed cleaning after the match to get it running smoothly.

In 2014, I met Tom Givens of Rangemaster and began to train with him on a regular basis. I had the chance to attend his Defensive Revolver class as a student in 2015. In that class, we had three revolver go down hard, as in done for the day. I assisted him with teaching an iteration of the class earlier this year, and we had revolvers fail in that class as well.

This past weekend (11/15-17/2019), I was part of the inaugural Rangemaster Master Instructor class. The class is only open to those who have already completed the Rangemaster Instructor Development and Advanced Instructor Courses.

We had four revolvers mechanically fail, and we had a fifth revolver get deadlined when the bullet from a squib round lodged between the forcing cone and the cylinder. This was during the revolver qualification course, and the student was forced to continue with his backup gun (a J-frame). This is the second time I have seen this happen. The other time was a first hand experience with one of my own revolvers. While this is an ammo related problem, the firearm is put completely out of action, and the fix involves using a rod and hammer to beat the bullet back into the chamber so that the cylinder can be opened. That’s not going to happen in time to save your life.

One of the failures was due to a small piece of debris binding up an action. This was at the outset of the revolver shooting. The person shooting this revolver was Chuck Haggard.

Another student in the class reported the above on Facebook resulting wheelgun lovers forming crowds with torches and pitchforks because their beloved platform had been impugned. Other responses ranged from “yeah, okay” to “Why would anyone shoot a revolver anyway?” The answer to that last question is that firearms instructors teach students, and sometimes students show up with revolvers…

One response, however, came from Darryl Bolke of Hardwired Tactical Shooting. I’ll quote the relevant portion below:


“So, with that background let me toss out some thoughts on revolvers and their legendary reliability. Here is a basic fact that I challenge anyone to argue. With a clean, properly functioning revolver with quality ammunition, they are incredibly reliable in actual street shootings through the initial load and likely the reloads typically carried. That means it will likely fire it’s first rounds under typical use while engaged with a criminal, and should have no issues with another pair of reloads if they are even possible. It does not matter if the gun has been sitting in a drawer for ten years or carried a lot. A proven quality service level revolver that is clean, lubricated and with quality ammunition is in my experience far less likely to malfunction than a semi-automatic pistol in the conditions we find in street shootings. That means, non-locked wrists, poor grip, asymmetric firing positions, interference from clothing or barriers, body contact, disturbance to the gun during firing, impacts, improper administrative handling, etc. They are consistent in their performance in those conditions, which is what reliable is. Where they are not reliable is when subjected to tests of ruggedness. They do not work well when dirty and full of debris. They do not work well when abused, neglected or exposed to foreign matter. They do not work well when poorly maintained. They do not work well with modifications made by unqualified individuals, or used outside of the limits of the modifications. If these are factors, their consistency will suffer. They also tend to require a trained individual and tools when they break or stop working.”

I understand the point Daryl’s point. I also think that by making his point he disproves his thesis somewhat.

I fall somewhere in between on the issue. I agree with Daryl in that a well maintained revolver in the hands of someone who knows how to use it can be formidable for the first cylinder full of ammo. I’ve also seen enough revolver failures in training and competition environments to worry about when that failure is due.

I enjoy shooting revolvers and will continue to do so. I very much enjoy teaching revolver skills. I’ll even continue to carry a revolver in Class A uniform for ceremonial functions because I personally think that they have much more class than any “bottom feeder”.

All things considered; however, I simply have much more faith in a quality semi-automatic for social purposes.

I’m not trying to convinced readers anything here. I know that even though I write that, some readers will assign a conclusion to me and then either praise or cuss me for it. Other readers will be mad, but they won’t know why. Such is the case when you put something on the interweb.

I’m not trying to change Dary’s mind. He is certainly qualified to espouse his conclusion.

As for the Master Instructor class, I shot a perfect score on the qualification course as did two other students. Each of us was shooting a service sized revolver with adjustable sights. Nobody shooting a small frame revolver or one with fixed sights shot a perfect scores. Maybe there is a clue there.

To settle the matter, the three of us participated in a shoot-off. I didn’t win the tiebreaker as I had two failures to fire…