Why A Revolver Is Still A Smart Choice For Personal Defense

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 3 months ago

Outdoor Life:

In today’s world of high-capacity, polymer-frame, semi-auto pistols, we often forget about the original repeating handgun. While the roots of the revolver go back to the revolving arquebus, produced by Hans Stopler of Nuremberg in 1597, it wasn’t until 1836 that Sam Colt figured out how to make it work reliably. Once Colt started making revolvers, the world of repeating handguns changed forever.

Whether you’re in the field hunting, hiking, or exploring, or in any wilderness setting, the revolver is the top choice in a handgun. For personal defense, the double-action revolver may be a bit less popular nowadays, but it’s every bit as good a choice as it ever was.

I agree.  I have one concealed carry revolver, and two that are too big to conceal, requiring open carry.  I carry my small wheel gun regularly.  And while we’re on the subject of revolvers again, Lucky Gunner has a nice article on testing the Ruger GP100.  I love mine.  But that’s not what caught my eye.  While reading the Outdoor Life piece on carry revolvers, I noticed one I missed from two years ago that has some remarkable anecdotal data.

Even here in Alaska, where you’d think we would have the “bear sidearm” thing figured out, all you have to do is mention bear protection in a crowded place or online forum, and you will no doubt hear from numerous people who swear on their mother’s grave that their .44 mag, .454, .500, or other monster caliber is the ideal bear protection. I have however, only heard one claim myself of someone stopping a grizzly with one shot from a .460. The bigger-is-better idea is rapidly going the way of the buffalo, and here’s why.

I’ll say this very clearly. No handgun has the energy to drop a bear in its tracks (barring a perfect, or extremely lucky shot). Even the .500 S&W has little more energy than a .30-30. If you read John Snow’s blog last week, you saw a scientific comparison of several autoloading cartridges and the conclusions that the FBI drew from it. Yes, the bigger cartridges do slightly more damage than a .45 ACP, but we are talking about animals that can sometimes soak up .375 H&H rounds like they are BB’s. I’ve personally witnessed a brown bear take 13 solid shots from less than 20 yards with a .375 Ackley before it expired. I have seen black bears shot at under 15 yards with .338’s and 7mm Mag’s and not even lose their footing. The handgun is a last resort, slightly better than nothing. Never, EVER rely on a handgun as your primary defense if you know you are going to be in a risky situation. Take a large rifle you are comfortable with, or a shotgun.

[ … ]

I think that with a heavy wheelgun, you will get one shot off if you are lucky. If you’re wondering how you would do, next time you are at the range, see how many hits you can get on a 15” x 20” target at 15 feet in 3 seconds (including drawing from your carry holster). You probably won’t have much more time than that in the field, and possibly less.

Select your backcountry sidearm wisely, and be safe out there!

Okay, I hear you loud and clear.  But it’s still the case that soon after firearms were declared legal in national parks a man defended his life from a grizzly in Denali National Par using a .45 ACP handgun.  I always want more rather than less, but I’ll take what I’ve got and try to aim well if this situation ever presents itself.  I’m not sure that anyone can ever be truly prepared for an attack like this save doing it all of the time.


  1. On May 8, 2017 at 11:38 pm, TheAlaskan said:

    Exactly right. While I’m a big believer in my 44 while in the bush, it is not, I repeat, not my go to bear gun. I like it because I can shoot it accurately out to 50-80 yards and it’s easy to carry all the time in my shoulder holster, out of the way, riding close under my left arm. I can fish, pull net, drive boat, drive truck, drive 4 wheeler, ruck in, pack out, climb rock cliffs….and its always there ready to pull. It’s my go to gun because that is often the only one in reach.

    If I’m really worried about bears, then I’ll have close by…or more likely, carrying a 12 gauge pump, full tube, 20” rifled barrel, chambered in 3” mag, 400gr black magic slugs.

    He’s right about being lucky to get off a shot. Bears are very fast when they’re charging. If it’s not a false charge, it can be on you in mere seconds, depending on the distance. And yes, they can pack the lead, so even your shotgun may not stop him. But everybody I know who has had to go into the pucker-brush to finish a wounded bear, went in with slugs. But if he’s on me, I still got my 44 (won’t jam.) Better than nothing I guess. You just know, there’s no guarantees, no matter what you’re carrying, that you’ll make it out alive when one them surprises ya and wants to ruin your day. All you do is be the best shot you can be…steady.

    Sometimes, I just hate fucking bears. We got them all…Polar, Grizzly, Brown, Black, Kodiak. When you’re out in the bush, you’re always thinking about ’em…fuckers.

  2. On May 9, 2017 at 2:21 am, Dan said:

    With ANY firearm the ability to be accurate counts more than the size of the caliber. If you practice properly and often enough you can be accurate enough with a larger caliber. But what you carry matters not if you cannot hit what needs hitting.

    A century ago we were a nation of marksmen. And virtually EVERY gun
    carried in the American west would be considered anemic by todays standards yet those people were very successful hunters and woodsmen.
    Successful to the point of driving buffalo and grizzly to the brink of extinction in most of North America. So it’s less the caliber or the weapon and more the person holding the weapon.

  3. On May 9, 2017 at 8:26 am, Blake said:

    I think bullet choice means a lot when it comes to bears. Shooting 230 grain hardball ammo from a 45 is probably going to give you better penetration over a hollow point from a 44 mag.

    I believe really tough game requires solid bullets rather than hollow points.

    If anyone knows differently, please let me know.


  4. On May 9, 2017 at 11:02 am, Pat Hines said:

    I bought a new revolver last year, a Smith & Wesson model 360PD. About as light as a revolver can be, at less than 12 ounces (empty), and capable of firing .357 Magnum rounds (I load 38 Special +P rounds), it’s pretty nice. If I’m going on a short run of errands within a few miles, it’s easy to slip this small frame revolver into my pocket. Smith has begun using a light gathering front sight these days.

    At other times, my SIG P229 is my carry choice, but for convenience, the tiny revolver is hard to beat.


  5. On May 10, 2017 at 11:39 am, Christian said:

    I have personally witnessed a charging momma blackie in Alaska stopped hard with two shots from a FA .454 SA wheelgun. The story was published in Outdoor Life.

  6. On May 10, 2017 at 12:36 pm, Herschel Smith said:


    Would you care to provide a URL so we can read up on it?

  7. On May 10, 2017 at 8:48 pm, TheAlaskan said:

    What stops charging bears is mass + energy. Big bore hand guns fit that narrative, if you can handle them. They’re useless if you can’t hit with them. I still like a slugged up 12 gauge better. Experience has taught me that you’re not always in possession of one…heavy to tote around and always in the way…so…a properly holstered revolver will be there should need it…uncomfortable at times, but always there. This is assuming you are NOT hunting bear and that you’re in the bush for other reasons. When in the bush, everything you do, EVERYTHING, you have to think if its going to attract bears.

    Here’s a good read if you want to understand a little more about Alaska’s bruins.


  8. On May 11, 2017 at 6:54 am, Fred said:

    I really enjoy my GP100 in .357 Magnum.. and the variety of loads I can shoot thru it.
    But it IS very heavy for the firepower I get so in a SHTF setting and I am interacting w/ people I will carry my M&P9 (or more likely a carbine)

    I view it more as a trail gun for this reason since it can serve as both a defensive weapon (at greater ranges than a 9mm, 40cal, 45acp etc semiautos whose moving barrels compromise range) and can handle loads that will take out larger critters as well.
    One of my loads has as much energy as a 44 magnum and can penetrate the bones of even the biggest critters… I never fired it in anger (just a couple times in test to get used to the recoil) but its nice to know its there when needed…

  9. On May 13, 2017 at 10:08 am, Sum Dude said:

    Thank you all for your input, this is a very interesting and informative discussion.

    Does anyone have any suggestions for which caliber to use in the event of an encounter with a mountain lion? I keep thinking .38 Special +P+ or .357 Mag should be fine, though I am considering .45 Colt (ala Ruger Blackhawk).

  10. On May 13, 2017 at 10:21 am, Christian said:


    Unfortunetly OL doesn’t publish an easily searchable catalog of it’s monthly “encounter” comic series. I’ll see if I can find my physical copy and snap a pic.

  11. On May 14, 2017 at 12:37 am, Btr said:

    I live in AK and always carry when in the bush. Hunting, fishing, hike atv etc. Most Alaskans carry. Lots of people swear by .44mag and I followed the crowd. As I practiced at the range I realized my ported .44 was both heavy, slow to reacquire the target etc compared to any of my semi autos. I now normally leave behind the .44 in favor of my favorite full frame semi. I believe I’ll have at least 3x the rounds on target with the semi and at least I’ll go down swinging. I plan on putting that last round into big bruins face as he takes a bite. Who knows, at least my kids will have a chance to get away.

  12. On May 16, 2017 at 7:38 pm, Zail C said:

    Not many bears here in Southern California. Methinks the most dangerous critters in the woods are humans. Favored last line of defense is a 5-inch Smith 627 loaded with 8-shot moon clips of copper hollow-points over low-flash propellant. It works just fine out to beyond 75 yards. I’ve popped black bears using rubber balls and slugs with the desired result – run away. Of course there were heavy slugs in the magazine, just in case.

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You are currently reading "Why A Revolver Is Still A Smart Choice For Personal Defense", entry #17099 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Firearms,Guns and was published May 8th, 2017 by Herschel Smith.

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