In Praise of the Home Defense Revolver

Home Defense Revolver

I have been a little down on the concealed carry revolver lately. There are a lot of compromises to be made when selecting a revolver for everyday carry and I won’t rehash them here. There is one role in which the revolver shines, however. The home defense revolver suffers from very few of the problems that plague the everyday carry revolver. This post will take a look at a few of these benefits.

The Home Defense Revolver

First, let’s define the home defense revolver. This is the revolver that rarely leaves the house except for regularly scheduled range trips. It doesn’t see much time in leather (or Kydex) and generally has a pretty easy life. It spends its evenings within easy reach of the home’s principle defender, and most of its days in the safe or a lock box.

Choosing a home defense revolver is easier (in my opinion) than one intended for concealed carry. Most of the benefits of a home-defense revolver are conveyed via the negation of size constraints. Because you have to neither hide the gun nor lug its weight around, you can defend your home with hardware that would be unmanageably large to tote on a daily basis.

Benefits: Size & Weight

According to Boris the Blade, “heavy is good.” I tend to agree. A heavier gun is easier to shoot. Weight helps to negate the forces of recoil which helps to speed followup shots. It also helps to stabilize the gun at arm’s length. Weight is a curse when the gun is being hauled around, but nothing but a blessing when it is being shot. A full size, double-action revolver will have plenty of recoil-absorbing heft. A 4″ GP100 for instance, weighs in at 40 ounces. I wouldn’t want to carry it, but I’d happily keep one as a home defense revolver.

Because the gun doesn’t have to be concealed, you don’t have to worry about size constraints. This frees you up to consider barrel options that wouldn’t work on a carry gun. Four, 5, or 6-inch barrels would all be right at home on a home defense revolver. It also lets you use any grips your heart desires, including those that would be uncomfortable for carry duty. It’s easy to underestimate this benefit, until you’re carrying a snub that won’t hang onto your little finger.

Benefits: Double-Action Trigger

I read a lot of talk online (still, in 2018!) about how the revolver’s trigger is difficult to master. I think this must be due to one of a couple things. Possibly, since J-Frames are some of the most popular defensive revolvers out there, they (and their horrible triggers) are what most people get acquainted with. Or it could be that they are shooting larger S&W revolvers of modern vintage, which aren’t known for smooth triggers. I suppose it could also be that most revolvers don’t ever see a lot of dry practice and don’t get up into the 5-digit round counts, so their triggers never get buttery smooth. Or, more likely, it’s just that not very many people shoot revolvers these days and are repeating what they’ve been told.

Whatever the reason for this misconception, I almost get a case of the vapors when I read such a statement. A high-quality, double-action revolver trigger is a thing of beauty. The trigger on my 686 is so excellent it’s hardly noticeable. Although it’s over 10 pounds you’d never know it because it is so clean and smooth. Aside from that, I feel that the longer, heavier double-action trigger provides a slight margin-for-error.

Yes, I fully comprehend that safety begins with a straight trigger finger and muzzle discipline. Unfortunately not all shooters are as disciplined as you. The DA trigger requires a more deliberate press to activate. I don’t think this is a substitute for safety, but I don’t think it hurts. Remember my article on revolvers for non-shooters? I’d feel much better about that girl padding around her house with a 10-lb, double-action trigger than a 4-lb single-action.

Disadvantages

You’re probably expecting me to cite low capacity here, but I’m not going to (I’ve got a whole article planned about that). Instead, I’d like to talk about another disadvantage that rears its head when the revolver is used to answer the bump in the night. Revolvers are hard to outfit with aftermarket sights and weapon-mounted lights.

I really like the the weapon-mounted light for social purposes where size and weight are not factors. I don’t use one on my carry gun, but I do feel that one on the gun most likely to be used at night wouldn’t be a bad thing. The only problem is…have you ever tried to find a mounting point for a light on a 686? Yeah, same here. And I’m still lookin’! S&W does make a model or two with an integral rail (and I’d love to get my hands on one) but the vast majority of wheelguns have no such provision. This is why a hand-held Surefire is also on my bedside table. I’d prefer not to have to use the hand-held because that means one hand is on the gun and one ain’t. I know how I shoot better, and it’s with both of my sandwich-clamps wrapped around the grips.

Home Defense Revolver Recommendations

Ruger GP100: Ruger’s flagship .357 Magnum revolver would be my top recommendation for a home defense revolver from current production offerings. The GP100 is and always has been an incredibly strong revolver. It is well-supported by the aftermarket, with a wide range of grips, speedloaders, sights, and other accessories. The beefy GP100 can help tame the warmer .357 Magnum offerings, if that’s what you choose to stoke it with, and a GP100 bought today will probably be capable of serving as a home defense gun for your grandchild of the future.

Smith & Wesson K- and L-Frames: I hate to turn into “that guy” but I can only recommend current production S&W revolvers reservedly. I’ve had the opportunity to shoot a few and handle a few more, and I’m thoroughly unimpressed. The triggers are terrible, internal parts have gone from forged to MIM, and the lock… Of course, you can completely disregard what I said above if you’re willing to dip your toe in the used revolver market. The pre-lock S&W revolvers are, generally speaking, exemplary candidates for home defense duty. The medium and medium-large frame revolvers (K and L-Frames, respectively) with barrels from 3- to 6-inches are ideally suited to this role.

Taurus Judge: Of course I’m kidding! Just…don’t.

And speaking of things I’d stay away from… I would firmly recommend against a small-frame, snubnose revolver. The Airweights and LCRs are fine when you want to carry, but not ideal choices for home defense chores. They don’t have any of the benefits and all of the drawbacks. And while we’re at it, the tend to give off quite a bit more muzzle flash.

The Bottom Line

You will doubtlessly notice that two things were missing from that list of advantages and disadvantages. The first is capacity. I’m fine with a six-round gun at home, and I think this issue gets a lot more attention than it should. The other thing that is missing is the infamous “reliability.” A good revolver will be reliable, but no more so than a high quality bottom feeder, so I think that’s a false argument.

Bottom line: if all you’ve got is a revolver, don’t worry. You can take care of yourself nicely.

46 thoughts on “In Praise of the Home Defense Revolver”

  1. Excellent points here. If you have a spouse who only will use a wheel gun…then there you are. She can work the slide on my 1911 just fine, but a heavy revolver is her and my preference. She also does very well with modern 9s, but she likes shooting the wheel guns more and thus wants to practice.

    For non shooters who might practice one time each year, there is the comfort of knowing that a revolver will go bang even if rounds have sat in the cylinders a long time. It is not assured for semis. Thus I rotate my 1911 mags so the springs do not remain compressed.

    1. Old School, I think the magazine spring concern is something that has been exaggerated by the gun press over the years. They’ve scared a lot of people into believing something that isn’t true.

      I once saw a 1911 magazine that had been left loaded for almost 50 years function without issue, and I have magazines that have been continuously loaded (except when I have been shooting them or cleaning them) since 1993 (25 years? My Lord, has it been that long?) that function as they did when they were new.

      A spring made of good materials won’t fail from being compressed for extended periods. Springs actually get worn from cycling, not compression.

      There’s no harm in cycling your magazines, as you have been doing, but I honestly don’t think it’s necessary. Just my $0.02.

      1. Mike, you reply makes a lot of sense. While I still like to rotate mags, with 1 extra loaded in the gun safe, I do wonder where that idea comes from. Perhaps the notion that leaving a load in a truck’s bed long term is bad for its suspension?

        In any case, we also rotate ammo in our home-defense revolvers. It’s all factory stuff, but we shoot the boxes off once a year and replace them.

  2. Hmm… can you expound on the faults of the Taurus Judge in a future article? And does this also include the Smith Governor? I keep trying to talk a friend out of this but I don’t have any compelling arguments against them.

    1. Rileyguy, I’ll let Justin explain in detail, but for starters the gauge is not up to the task, and the guns throw donut-shaped patterns. A .45 Colt is compelling, but there are more handy and efficient platforms for that cartridge.

    2. As Mike pointed out, even with an increase in defense oriented .410 shells, it really hasn’t been shown to be an effective chambering. The erroneous belief that you don’t have to aim because it uses a shotgun round is just that; erroneous. There are too few pellets in any .410 shell to achieve any kind of spread while remaining effective. (Spread of shot shells is a whole other topic, but the short barrel and small caliber of the Judge/.410 combo is not ideal).

      .45 Colt is better, but not the most consumer friendly round in that factory loads are neither generally available nor generally affordable. The S&W Governor is a little more appealing because it is set up to handle moon-clipped .45 ACP rounds, but there are concerns about accuracy, etc. from the extra cylinder length (I honestly don’t know how valid those concerns are, I just know they exist). They are also really bulky and awkward compared to almost any other revolver I’ve handled. If someone wants a .45 ACP revolver, a dedicated gun like the S&W 625 or even a shorter-cylindered multi-caliber gun like the Ruger .45 Colt/ACP Redhawk would be a better choice.

      I think that Taurus is capable of producing a decent gun, but they don’t do it consistently enough for me to recommend them to someone who doesn’t know how to check out a revolver. For some one who is willing and able to check the gun over before taking possession, and who really wants a Taurus (I admit the price can be compelling), I would recommend the model 82 (blued fixed-sight 6-shot .38 +P), the model 65 (blued or stainless fixed sight 6-shot .357), or the model 66 (blued or stainless adjustable-sight 7-shot .357). Ammo is readily available and comparatively affordable for these guns and they are don’t really on gimmicks (ok; a few die-hards might consider a 7 cylinder a gimmick, but I don’t).

  3. Regarding a gun-mounted light for home defense, what are the pros and cons of carrying a good ‘tactical’ light in your other hand as an alternative?

    With a weapon-mounted light, you can’t use it to illuminate a possible threat without also pointing your gun in their general direction. Shining the light in their eyes to identify/disorient them means you’re also pointing a loaded gun at their head. That’s OK if it turns out to be a deadly threat, not so OK if it’s a family member or houseguest.

    Also, a light on your gun provides a highly-visible target for the bad guy to aim at. Whereas a light held in your non-dominant hand can be held well away from your body.

    Holding a light in your off-hand means you don’t have a hand free for opening doors and such, but you can briefly place the flashlight in your mouth.

    Carrying a light in your support hand does mean you’re restricted to shooting one-handed, unless you’ve practiced the Harries technique or some other way of using your support hand while holding a light.

    I guess it all depends on the details of your particular situation, and what sorts of threats you can expect to encounter in your home.

    1. Bill, thanks for your thoughts on this. I think you’ve stumbled onto a neat idea for an article that we can do.

      I’m not Justin, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn last night, so here’s two quick thoughts to ponder until he can get a few minutes to reply:

      1. Contrary to your statement, a weapon-mounted light (WML) actually CAN be used to illuminate a potential threat without pointing the weapon at it. These lights have a lot of power, and many of them have reflectors that throw a wide beam. If you’re indoors, you can use these characteristics to your advantage, by bouncing light off the walls, ceiling, or floor. The reflected light from a WML aimed at a tile floor, or a painted wall or ceiling, can light up a room better than most desk lamps, without ever pointing the weapon at the potential threat;

      2. A hand-held light can be an effective aiming point for the bad guy too. Lots of folks are trained to use Harries, Rogers, or Ayoob techniques that place the light in front of the body, like a WML (but without the added control of the weapon). The old “FBI Technique” of holding it out to the side sounds great, but falls apart rather quickly in the real world. The hold is fatiguing, can’t be used in tight quarters, makes it difficult to accurately aim the light at the target, can be hard to use around cover without exposing more of your body than you need to, makes it darned difficult to shoot well (try it sometime, and see!), and is prone to self-illumination anyhow (most folks wind up lighting themselves with the spill).

      So, there’s a lot to be said for using a WML in the static, home defense scenario that Justin addressed. Yes, there are downsides, but a huge upside is that you now have both hands to use on the gun for enhanced control, speed, and precision. Alternatively, you now have a hand free to throw a light switch, pick up a child, usher a loved one, open a door, or use a phone.

      You pays your money, you makes your choice.

      1. Thanks, Mike, you make a lot of sense. Let’s just say, I’m beginning to see the light….

        But while I’m stumbling around: it strikes me that another, related aspect of optimum home defense, is learning to navigate your home in the dark, without the aid of any light; which in some situations may be the best of all worlds, if you’re able to do it.

        It’s a ‘skill’ I first developed as a young person, sneaking out of my parents’ house at night. Even as an adult, I often refrain from using lights when moving around at night, so I can practice doing it ‘by feel’.

        Everyone’s situation is different, but in the neighborhood I live in, it’s an extremely rare instance where there’s no ambient light coming into our home through the windows. It would take a combination of all the streetlights and other house lights being out, and a completely dark, moonless night, before the house was too dark to navigate in. Since I know my house well, and an intruder isn’t likely to, the advantage would seem to be mine.

        But it still wouldn’t hurt to have a weapon-mounted light in that situation. I do have an old Surefire setup that screws on to the front of the triggerguard of my bedside P226, maybe I’ll have to dig it out….

      2. Mike, while you’re on the subject of weapon-mounted lights, I’d love to hear your and Justin’s opinions on how they ought to be switched.

        I assume you’d agree that you don’t want your only option to be a weapon light that switches on and off; that having a pressure-activated switch that turns it on when pressure is applied, then goes off when you release pressure, is the set-up you want?

        So what are y’all’s thoughts on the best place to locate the switch? I’m assuming that ideally, it would be activated by your gripping hand rather than your support hand? And that it should be a location where you don’t have to shift your grip to activate it?

        And finally: your thoughts on the potential danger of what might be termed ‘cross-contamination of signals’: where under the amplified stress of an armed confrontation, you intend to push the pressure switch for the light, but instead end up inadvertantly pressing the trigger?

        1. LB,
          I think your questions regarding a momentary-on switch and cross-contamination of the signals (or a sympathetic detonation of both the light switch and the bang switch) are intertwined. Every handgun I’ve owned or worked with in conjunction with a WML had a pressure switch on the grip*. These switches have gotten progressively better through the years, and most the models out there now are momentary-only. This lets you flex your “grip fingers” and illuminate, or pull off them just a bit to go back to darkness, and that is the way I feel it should be. This also impacts the probability of sending mixed signals.

          These grip switches are placed on the grip (I think most are on the frontstrap now, as opposed to the old Sure-Fire pads that were held on a grip panel by adhesive tape). With good trigger finger discipline I don’t worry about this much at all. My trigger finger is always straight and along the frame of the gun until I intend to commence shooting. Thus, any sympathetic motion of the trigger finger should be directed side-to-side into the frame, rather than front-to-back, into the trigger. I hope that made sense!

          Anyhow, all of that presupposes a decent amount of training with the light. The good news is you don’t need a range or a case of ammo to do that. My advice would be to throw some snap caps in, find a safe backstop, and practice working one, the other, or both, as needed. Repeat often, many short sessions spaced out over time being better than just a few marathon-length sessions.

          Justin

          *Except one, but that one harkens back to the days of Maglites and rigger’s tape!

    2. LittleBill,

      Mike hit most of the big points for me but I’ll offer one other thing to consider: if you have a WML there’s nothing that says you can’t also have a hand-held. When I was carrying a gun for a living I had WMLs on my carbine and pistol, and a handheld Surefire on my gear (can’t have too much white-light!). When I used a Glock for personal defense, I had a WML on the gun, and a handheld right beside it.

      I know that my skill is going to downhill in a life-threatening situation. I don’t want to further degrade that by shooting one-handed, or shooting with a compromised grip. But, I also know there are advantages to a handheld flashlight and I don’t want to use a WML for everything. Having both gives the the option to use one light or the other as needed, and to drop the handheld and get to work with a solid two-handed grip if needed.

      Right now manufacturers seem to be listening to buyers. Maybe we should let them know we’d like to see a GP100-sized gun with a 4″ tube and a light mount on the lug…

      Sorry for the absence in the comments, guys – I have been absolutely slammed this week!
      Justin

      1. Hey Justin, thanks for chiming in. Between the two of y’all, you’ve just about got me convinced.

        And I share your hope that manufacturers will be ‘listening-in’.
        Light/laser-mounts have started to appear on most semi-autos, and there’s no reason that revolver makers couldn’t start incorporating them into the underlugs of their wheelguns, with little additional expense after the initial re-tooling.

        In today’s increasingly-competitive gun market— following the ‘passing’ of The World’s Greatest Gun Salesman Ever, former President Barack Hussein Obama; and the fortunate failure of Hillary Clinton to take his place— I’m sure gun makers are eager to incorporate any innovation that gives them an edge over the competition.

        I hope you’ve been “slammed” in a *good way*…. we all appreciate your and Mike’s efforts here.

        LB

  4. A decent 4″ K-frame (10, 13, 15, 19, 64, 65, 66, or 67) and a set of CT laser grips should suffice. There are oodles of 38+P rounds that perform adequately. If you shop, you can still find decent Model 10s and 64s in the ~$300 range. Southern Ohio Gun ran a few specials on DAO Model 64s late last year that had them at an out-the-door price, with hand-pick, for about $265.

    That’ll give you a good house gun that, with a little bit of care, will last into the next century.

  5. My experience with K and L framed new production Smiths
    is that the DA triggers are just as good as those on some
    older Smith revolvers.

    Some of the older Smiths have atrocious triggers as well.
    I say this with 50 years experience.

    I don’t buy that the triggers on the new guns are terrible.

    As for MIM parts, that argument fades with the general
    and heavy use of the new Smith revolvers.

  6. Justin – I can’t help but notice the grips in the cover photo. What brand are they? And do they make a set which might fit my 627 PC snub? I’m currently using a current-production Pachmayr Presentation and TBH they suck. Thanks for any info you can give!!

  7. Guys, thank you all for the responses re: .45/410 debacle… my friends’ thinking seems to be use it as a nightstand gun, first 1 or 2 are shot shells, in case he misses. He feels this will reduce down range hazard. “Don’t miss” is not a good enough reply I guess.

  8. In fifty-plus years of shooting I’ve never had a revolver not go bang when I pulled the trigger. At the end of the day that’s a pretty compelling reason for having one close at hand when things go bump in the night.

    Not that I haven’t had a wheelgun get sketchy. I’ve had cases suddenly want to stick to cylinder walls as my handloads got a little too hot. I’ve had the action get tight as unburned grains of powder found their way under the extractor star. And I’ve put so many thousands of rounds through a gun that I ended up having to shim the lockwork to bring it back into spec.

    But I’ve never had one not go bang.

    I know it happens, of course. Revolvers can fail. But it’s never happened to me.

    In contrast, I’m pretty sure every semi-auto I’ve ever owned has failed in some way, at some point. They bring a lot to the party, for sure. And many (most? almost all?) of us are perfectly confident in them… the weapon I’ll be strapping on in a few hours is a 1911, after all. And the gun up next to my bed is a Glock 21, with a laser and a weapon light (and a standalone Surefire resting on the table, as well).

    But I’ll argue until the cows come home that a revolver, kept in a relatively clean environment, is the most reliable bit of self-defense wizardry that one can conjure.

    We all know that handguns suck in a gunfight. Really, they do. But if that’s all I had… one round, one shot, one chance to turn around a suddenly dark nightmare… make it, for me, a .357 Gold Dot in a full-size revolver.

    You won’t find better odds.

  9. At the risk of making this a flashlight discussion and not a discussion of a home-defense revolver, something occurs to me that an instructor said about his house.

    I do not want to become a Mall Ninja here, so I will ask this instead of telling. Wouldn’t the ideal bad guy be illuminated while you are in the dark?

    My thinking is this: if your house is set up so you can turn on the lights downstairs while you remain upstairs in the dark, does’t that give you a real tactical advantage if a creep climbs the stairs?

  10. Great stuff here, love this blog. My house gun is the first gun I ever owned, a 4″ S&W model 66 I bought in the late 80s. My EDC is a 3″ GP100. Both with Speer Gold Dot 38+P. Keep it coming!

    1. Thank you Sir! We’ve got lots more on the way, so please stay tuned. Those are GREAT choices for home and CCW by the way, and I think the Gold Dot 38+P is a wonderful load in both roles. Thumbs up, all around!

  11. Not trying to sound too redneck (but hey- ‘Murica), but when I was in the Army about a year prior to our M-4 transition we needed to mount a light to an M-16A2, accomplished with a mini Maglite and 100 mph tape (green duct tape… someone will ask). I wonder if it might be practical to do the same on a long barreled gun with full underlug and one of those new tiny “tactical” pocket lights?

    1. “we needed to mount a light to an M-16A2, accomplished with a mini Maglite and 100 mph tape”
      You had it made!!!! I remember having to do that same thing only we had to use the old anglehead issue flashlight. Bringing back some memories.
      Justin and Mike, y’all have a great site and you are doing a terrific job with keeping the articles interesting. For what it is worth this is now my favorite firearms site. While I own many autoloaders my pasion is the revolver. That is what I carry the vast majority of the time.
      Anyway, keep up the good work gentlemen!

      1. Justin,
        Since Taurus was brought up I would be interested in your opinion of their full size guns. I currently own two GP100s (both are fixed sight variants) and two model 64 Smiths. As you can see I like fixed sight revolvers which has led me to finally break down and order a Taurus model 65 357 mag. The price at Buds was too good to pass up. This will be my first Taurus and I am kinda excited to see how it compares to Ruger and Smith. I heard all the net commandos say Taurus is junk but now I’m gonna find out for myself.

        1. Martin, I think that’s the best way–check it out yourself and see what you think. I look forward to hearing your thoughts after you’ve had a chance to run it for a while.

      2. Martin, we’re glad to have you aboard! Thank you for the kind words! We’re having lots of fun and look forward to bringing you more quality material.

        I always hated those old anglehead lights!

  12. I enjoy the site tremendously!
    Currently, my Home Defense, and everything else gun is a Ruger Match Champion. I’ve installed lighter hammer and trigger return springs, and done a basic polishing job. It is 4 ozs. lighter than my old S&W 586, which I could comfortably carry for most to the day. (concealed)
    It came with the wooden grips which I didn’t find to be “just the thing”, so I got a set of the “old timey” rubber with wood insert grips, which feel more comfortable.
    I have about 200 roounds through it, and I like the gun, but the hammer pivot pin works itself out during dry and real fire. I sent one revolver back to Ruger for the very same problem, and the tech said “Replace the gun!” No reason given.
    Is the ‘walking ” hammer pivot pin a common thing with Ruger Revolvers? The good thing is, I guess, that the grips keep it from coming all the way out. Is that a flaw of the GP 100 series revos, a fixable problem, or should I just keep shooting it, maybe apply a little Blue Loctite, and call it good?

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