The Making of a RevolverGuy: My First Revolver

Making of a RevolverGuy

My first gun, not surprisingly, was a .22 rifle.  That seems to be where most of us start out, because it’s a lot easier to teach a youngster how to shoot a rifle than it is a handgun.  I always had a lot of fun with that rifle, but the time came when I wanted to shoot a handgun, instead.  I didn’t know it quite yet, but I was ready to take my first steps as a RevolverGuy.

The Making of a RevolverGuy: Getting Started

The first handgun I actually shot was my Dad’s duty gun, a 6” Colt Python (what a great start, huh?). As fine a gun as that is, it’s not the right gun to teach a young boy with, and Dad didn’t really have anything else that was suitable for the job.  So, when I eventually started to make noise about wanting to learn the handgun, it was obvious that another solution was needed.

I didn’t just want to learn the handgun, I wanted my very own.  Dad thought it was a good idea, so he suggested a way for me to get one.  If you’re thinking he told me to “ask for one” for Christmas or a birthday, then you would be wrong.  Nope, the solution was for me to get a job, so I could earn the money to buy one . . . just like it should have been!  Society-at-large could use a dose of that medicine these days, for sure.

Back in those days, a young kid could still get a job as the neighborhood paperboy.  Things hadn’t yet reached the point where those jobs were reserved for a handful of adults with cars, so before I knew it, I was assembling papers from the big bundles that were dropped off on my doorstep early in the morning, and loading them up into a delivery sack that was carefully draped over the handlebars on my bike. That setup caused more than one crash in the months to come as I pedaled around the neighborhood, but somehow I learned to manage the shifting load so that I didn’t go down too often.

It took a while, perhaps a year or so, to build up the funds needed to buy my blaster. While I waited, I pored over magazines and catalogs and dreamed about the different possibilities.  A Combat Magnum or Distinguished Combat Magnum seemed like a good fit, but so did the S&W Model 39 or the Colt 1911 Gold Cup.  Whatever I finally decided on, I was sure it would ride in a Bianchi thumb break holster on my hip, just like in all those cool, glossy catalog photos.

Dose of Reality

By the time we got to the gun store, it had been decided that my first handgun would be a .22, not a service caliber. I’m sure that Dad knew I wasn’t ready for the centerfires yet, but he didn’t say so.  In his fatherly wisdom, he merely pointed out the fact that I couldn’t afford to shoot a centerfire, and I grudgingly saw the logic in it.  None of my boyish daydreams had involved me boldly saving the day with a .22, but I guess I could go for one if it meant I got to shoot it a lot.

At the store I remember being drawn to some sexy looking Colt Woodsmans and Ruger Mark IIs, but Dad steered me towards a shelf that had some Ruger single action revolvers in it.  Knowing what I do now, I suspect he was trying to get me into a gun with a slower rate of fire, so I would take my time and focus on the fundamentals, rather than hosing bullets downrange with abandon as I tried to go cyclic.

Finding the right one

I remember the Ruger Bearcat was eliminated without even handling it. It was small, didn’t have good lines to my eye, and I didn’t like the combination of the brass-colored trigger guard and the blued frame.  The Single Six though, looked really good.  It looked just like the guns in all the TV and movie westerns I had been raised on, and it had some heft to it (for a young boy).  Dad thought it was a fine choice too, so that settled it for me.  It was quickly decided that the stainless version with the 6-1/2” barrel was going home with us. All previous thoughts about Magnums and 1911s disappeared as I sighted down the length of that beautiful sixgun. I was in love with it and excited to finally join the crowd of handgunners.

The stainless version I had chosen was relatively new, having only been introduced in 1974.  Since my gun was built after 1973, it was a “New Model,” with the transfer bar ignition system and no loading position on the hammer.  That meant I could safely carry 6 rounds in the cylinder, which I did from the start, because Lord knows I didn’t want to get caught short if a hostile raiding party suddenly appeared on the horizon!

My gun came with a spare cylinder chambered in .22 Magnum, and while it saw occasional use from time to time, the .22 Long Rifle cylinder pretty much lived on the gun year round. Somewhere in my ammo stash I have the remnants of what is probably only the second box of .22 Magnums that I have ever purchased, so I didn’t shoot a lot of those over the years. Still, it satisfied a young boy’s thirst for more horsepower to touch off a few of the hotter loads once in a while, and it gave me some bragging rights to tell my buddies that, “I was shooting my Magnum the other day, and . . . “

Making of a RevolverGuy

Leather

A good handgun deserves a good holster, and a good holster deserves a good gun belt, so in short order I was back into the catalogs again, looking for the right components to build my rig. I had already determined that I was a Bianchi man at this young age, but I think there were problems trying to get a fit for my gun, so I wound up with a Safariland holster and gun belt instead.

Those of you who are late to the party may not realize that there was a time when Safariland made a complete line of sporting leather goods in addition to their law enforcement products. This was before they decided that the Bianchi juggernaut was too big to tackle and pulled back to focus on the police gear exclusively.  Didn’t they make CCW holsters, you ask?  Well, back then there really was no “CCW” holster market—it was presumed that the only folks carrying concealed guns were off duty police officers, so even the concealment holsters were marketed as police gear. In the 80s Safariland got big into racegun holsters for IPSC, but aside from that, it was a police-only operation until somewhere around the early 2000s. It wasn’t until the company that owns Safariland purchased Bianchi that we saw some sporting gear being sold under the Safariland banner again—mostly rebranded Bianchi designs.

Making of a RevolverGuy

Anyhow, the Safariland holster went onto a billeted gun belt from the same company with a traditional square buckle and a suede lining.  I was a pretty thin guy from the start, and I remember that the gun belt was a little big for my waist, even though it was worn on top of my basketweave pattern, Bianchi B8 pants belt.  No matter.  John Wayne always wore his gun belt low on his hips, so I could too.

On my gun belt I carried a small pouch for the spare Magnum cylinder (because you never know when you’ll run into a man-eating beast, and need a “Magnum” to save the day!), and a flapped box for extra cartridge boxes and whatever else a young adventurer needed to pack. With my fully loaded gun belt, a canteen, my Case fixed-blade knife, and a surplus boonie hat, I was ready to tackle the wilderness!

Learning, one round at a time

The Single Six is a pretty svelte revolver, but it still weighs about 35 ounces in the 6-1/2” version, and it didn’t take long for a young boy to get tired holding it at arms’ length. I’m not sure why I picked the long barrel, honestly (it might have been all that the shop had available for sale that day?), but I do recall times later on when I thought that my brother made a better choice when he picked a 4-5/8” Single Six instead. As I matured and got stronger, I grew into the gun. The long barrel looks good to my eyes today, and I’m glad I got the “Cavalry” version back then.

The excellent sights and the light, single action trigger were just what I needed to learn the fundamentals of handgun marksmanship. Having to load all those cartridges through the loading gate, one at a time, sure made me focus on how I used those six rounds.  In retrospect, Dad knew exactly what he was doing when he suggested this revolver.

Making of a RevolverGuy

Honestly, the Ruger was never a real tack driver, but it took an awful long time before I was capable of outshooting the gun itself.  With the milk-carton economy loads from the major players, the Single Six easily groups inside a 3” square at 25 yards when I’m shooting from a standing position, and a lot of that error is still the nut behind the trigger! A rest, younger eyes, and some better quality ammo could probably shrink that in half.

There’s a pure, mechanical joy that comes with thumbing back a hammer on a single action sixgun, and I still never tire of it.  The single action notches on the hammers of my double action revolvers never get used, so it’s only on the single action guns that I get to indulge myself with cocking the hammer, and feeling the internals work as the cylinder rolls and locks into position. It never fails to put a smile on my face.  If I were a young Millennial, raised on plastic autos from the womb, I think this feature alone would turn me into a budding RevolverGuy.  There’s something kinda “steampunk” about running a single action sixgun with all the hammers, loading gates, and ejector rods snapping and clicking and clanging away.  You just can’t help but grin when you’re shooting one!

Making of a RevolverGuy

The one thing that doesn’t make me smile is cleaning the gun.  The .22 is a dirty cartridge due to the outside lubricant and soft lead of the bullet, and it’s twice as dirty in a revolver as it is in an autopistol.  The tiny, recessed chambers of my Single Six can be a bear to get a rod into, and they’re famous for shaving little bits of plastic off my coated rods.  These days, I sometimes cheat and use a pull-through cleaner like a Bore Snake to do the job, but those didn’t exist back in the day.  All the work is worth it though, to keep this beauty running well.

A Good Start

That little Ruger got me started on a lifetime of adventures and joys shooting handguns, and staked a claim for revolvers in my heart. Eventually, I graduated to shooting centerfire, double action revolvers that taught me how to manage a trigger really well, but that single action Ruger is what got the ball rolling. I may shoot a lot of self-chuckers these days for work and defensive training, but there’s no beating a revolver for pure shooting fun. I sure am glad that Dad gave me the nudge I needed at the start, and started me down the path to life as a RevolverGuy.

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Author: Mike

Lieutenant Colonel (Ret.) Mike Wood is a certified revolver nut, an NRA Law Enforcement Division-certified Firearms Instructor, and a columnist at PoliceOne.com. He is also the author of Newhall Shooting: A Tactical Analysis, the definitive study of the infamous, 1970 California Highway Patrol shootout in Newhall, California. Please visit the official website for this book at www.newhallshooting.com for more information.

10 thoughts on “The Making of a RevolverGuy: My First Revolver”

  1. We’re in the same club, my first handgun was (still is) a 6 1/2″ Single Six. Mine was blue, and Mom had to buy it because I was a couple years too young at the time. I say ‘was blue’, because the finish got damaged in a house fire, and a local guy put a cool satin nickel finish on it for me. Looks like it came that way from the factory.
    I shot the heck out of Magnums with it, back when they were cheap(er), because I read somewhere that a Magnum out of a 6+” barrel had about the same velocity as a Long Rifle out of a rifle. True? I dunno, but a whole lot of squirrels and rabbits and some other eatable critters hated it to death.
    Quick draws were a lot of fun back then, too, out of a no-name gunslinger outfit I found at a western clothing store. Didn’t hit much, but I could miss real fast.
    Today I usually use LR, because I’m wise enough to know that it’s plenty potent to do the job, and smart enough not to spend three times the money per cartridge.
    Seeing your rig makes me think about going to the Triple K catalog and setting up a ‘rancher rig’ for mine—get it out of that ugly utilitarian nylon holster. Maybe time to play with my ‘inner cowboy’ again. Should be OK; I mean, Christmas is coming, right?
    To quote Bob Hope, thanks for the memories. Ace

  2. Ace, great to hear from you! I loved hearing about your Single Six and would love to see that satin nickel finish you described–I’m sure it’s a beauty.

    “Didn’t hit much, but I could miss real fast.” Ha! That’s got to be one of my favorite lines I’ve seen here on the blog. Got a deep chuckle out of that one. I think we’ve all been there (or still are).

    You made me curious, so I consulted the “Ballistics by the Inch” website and it turns out you’re right on the money. A 40 grain .22 Magnum out of a 6″ barrel bests a 40 grain .22 LR out of an 18″ barrel by several hundred fps. Wow! I had no idea. Very cool.

    That Single Six definitely deserves some good hide. Nylon is for stockings, eh? ; ^ )

    Thanks for writing. I’m glad you enjoyed my sentimental wanderings. Merry Christmas!

  3. Great article… I came late to revolverism (’98) by way of armored car work. Lately I’ve been eyeing that Ruger.22 SA shopkeeper with a three inch barrel and bird’s head grip. Something about that look… I think the kids might enjoy learning on it too. You have me convinced. I will get one!

  4. .22 WRM never gets enough love. It is my favorite varmint round. I use an old bolt-action Marlin to dispatch ground hogs and rabbits at 30 to 50 Yards on our farm with nary a second hit needed; .22 lr was too cruel, often needing a second shot, and the magnum round shoots flat and true. Also it is quiet enough to keep our guardian dog and chickens from complaining. Now I want a revolver chambered in it!

    1. I’m with you, Old School. The first rifle I owned was a stainless steel, magazine-fed Marlin bolt action in 22 Magnum! And if I had it to do all over again – I do the same thing.

  5. Another great story, Mike. It’s amazing how similar the arcs of our experience have been!

    My own Single Six came quite a few years into my handgunning career, well after I had already acquired a number of other sidearms. But my dad, like yours, was a career police officer and from him I early on came to a deep respect for that most honorable of professions. And that Single Six is such a fine revolver, in so many ways. I especially like the contrast between the black sights and the stainless frame of your model (mine is blued).

    My first handgun was a 2″ Smith and Wesson Model 15. I’m embarrassed to say I was attracted to it simply because it was a cool-looking snub nose, de rigueur for the time. It was pure dumb luck that I chose that instead of one of the J-frame variants. And no one told me it was nuts to shoot a weapon like that like one might a rifle. I thought a hundred yards was a nice distance!

    Sometimes we learn more when we don’t know what we don’t know.

    And amen on rocking that hammer back on a single action revolver. The lovely, full sound of the lockwork quietly ratcheting into readiness… well, you can feel it down into your bones. The world catches its breath, waiting for what comes next.

  6. Goodness Jeff, that last paragraph is poetic. I’m beginning to think there’s a ballistic muse with Hoppes #9 in his veins that perches on your shoulder as you type.

    I’m glad you enjoyed the story, and hope the arcs of our experience will intersect at a campfire someday, where we can catalog all the prior tangents.

    Rileyguy, I have a feeling that if you get that Shopkeeper, the kids may never get a chance to lay their hands on it. You’d better get two, so they’ll have a turn. ; ^ )

    Merry Christmas everybody!

  7. My first gun was a .22/.410 Stevens over/under with the Ryanite stock, that was given to me by my Grandfather, one of the most influential people in my life, ever ! It remains the most accurate open sight .22’s I have owned. As of December, it became the property of MY Grandson, & hopefully it will pass on to his Son or Grandson some day. But, my first revolver was a Greman made single action .22 LR that my Wife bought me for my 20’th. Birthday. It is still in fair condition today, even after I tried hard to wear it out down thru the years. I hesitate to even guess how many rounds of .22 LR, & .22 Short, & Shot shells have passed down that barrel. But it is now in my shop, safe & sound in case it is needed. I have MkII’s, & MkIII’s, & my S&W 617, but I have only had my 5½” Single Six for a couple years now, & it is a very frequent woods & field companion ! Contrary to what I hear from most other owners, mine wears the .22 Mag. cylinder maybe 75% of the time. I just enjoy the little extra “oomph” I get out of it ! That’s not to say I actually shoot the Mag. cylinder more, but counting range time with the LR, I’d guess it would about break even. I’ve really come to like the time I spend plinking & toting the Single Six on outings. The Mag. has accounted for several fair size Pa. Groundhogs. It’s a really fun companion !

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