The Way of the Wheelgun: The Capacity Conundrum

Posted on May 5, 2011 by


“Why carry a revolver?” It’s a question that has been asked and answered hundreds of times by literally hundreds of gunwriters. And each time the questions and the answers are always the same. There are a lot of articles like this out there and most of them are fairly comprehensive, so I’m not going to regurgitate what everyone else has to say on the subject. Instead, I want to focus on some of my personal experiences and ask the question: Why not carry a revolver?

There are a lot of arguments that people will make for why the wheelgun is outdated – i.e., fewer caliber choices than auto-loaders (in fact, the opposite is true), bigger muzzle flash (this depends entirely on the cartridge used and has nothing to do with an individual platform), harder to conceal (this depends on too many other factors to make such a generalization), less ergonomic (I have always found the opposite to be true), etc. When it actually comes down to it the only two quantifiable advantages that the autoloader has over the revolver are capacity and reloading time.

Defensive revolvers carry anywhere between 5-8 rounds, depending on the model and caliber. This is more or less comparable to the venerable 1911 or any single-stack .45, where you have an 8-round maximum. But it’s less than half the number of rounds you can stuff into a space-age polymer semi-automatic. I have one of these space-age polymer semi-automatics, a service-size XD-9. It’s a fine pistol.

So why, you ask, would you purposely limit yourself to a revolver that holds only six rounds? The answer is actually fairly simple. Because I’m more comfortable with it.

Here’s a question you ought to ask yourself, next time someone chides you for carrying that 1911 or j-frame because of its limited round capacity: just how many shots do you really need? Statistics tell us that almost all self-defense shootings will be conducted at a range of 5-7 yards and will be resolved with the firing of 2-3 rounds. Alas, there is a tendency amongst gun owners to envision improbably firepower-intense scenarios in which one is defending himself from a platoon of mercenaries in body armor with only a handgun.

In reality, a self-defense shooting is going to be a very up-close and personal affair. The things that will win the day will be superior tactics and gun-handling skills, not being able to lay down copious amounts of suppressive fire.

“But what about multiple attackers?” you ask. Good question. To correctly answer it we need to understand the purpose of the handgun. It is a weapon designed for close-quarters combat. Close quarters can mean across the room or out to 50 feet. Beyond that, you should holster your handgun and pick up your rifle (which you would have brought today if it was as small as your handgun). Beyond that, you can beat feet and get out of there.

What I’m saying is this: If you are in a defensive shooting with your handgun at handgun distances, and there are more bad guys than you can handle with a revolver, you don’t need more bullets. You need more friends. The fact is, six-round wheelguns have been getting people shot dead for well over a hundred years, and that’s not likely to change anytime soon.

Let me close this post with a quote from The Colonel:

“It has never been clear to me why increased magazine capacity in a defensive pistol is particularly choice… And what, pray, does one need all those rounds for? How many lethal antagonists do you think you are going to be able to handle? Once when Bruce Nelson was asked by a suspect if the thirteen-round magazine in the P35 was not a big advantage, Bruce’s answer was, “Well, yes, if you plan to miss a lot.” The highest score I know of at this time achieved by one man against a group of armed adversaries was recorded in (of all places) the Ivory Coast! There, some years ago, a graduate student of mine laid out five goblins [gunny code for “bad guys”], with four dead and one totaled for the hospital… I see no real need for a double column magazine.” – Col. Jeff Cooper

Did I mention the total number of shots fired was 6?