Real Talk: Revolver vs Semi-Auto, which is Best for New Shooters? By: Joshua Swanagon

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Whether for home defense or concealed carry, new gun owners are on the rise. Rising violent crime is becoming a serious problem in many cities throughout the United States. But as many new shooters head to the gun store for the first time, some are unsure of the type of handgun to purchase. So, we take a look at the revolver vs the semi-auto and break down some pros and cons of each.

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Revolver vs Semi-Auto: Which is Best for the New Shooter?

Learning to shoot involves more than just pointing your pistol downrange and pulling the trigger. Understanding the different platforms and how they operate is important. Especially when it comes to determining which would work best for you.

So, to help you decide which platform might fit you best, between a revolver or semi-automatic, let’s look at the basics of each one.

Revolvers

Revolvers have been around since the 17th century and have a very simple operation. Consisting of a revolving cylinder (hence the name), cocking the hammer rotates the cylinder to the next firing chamber. In single action only (SAO) revolvers, this is done manually. However, the typical modern revolver is double action, and the hammer is cocked and released with a single pull of the trigger.

Although companies still make single-action only revolvers, most modern revolvers are typically either double-action-only (DAO) or double- and single-action (DA/SA). For example, if the hammer is exposed, it is double- and single-action because you can still manually cock the hammer. However, if the hammer is not exposed, it is double action only.

For some new shooters, a double-action-only revolver might be a little harder to shoot because it has a heavy trigger pull. But for concealed carry, the lack of a hammer spur means less snagging for easier retrieval in defensive situations.

So, in the case of a new shooter firing a revolver, I would recommend a double- and single-action. This will allow them to operate the pistol in single action, providing a much lighter trigger pull. This allows them to focus on aim and trigger control. Similarly, if a new shooter is using a revolver to learn to shoot, a large frame revolver’s longer sight radius (distance between the rear and front sights) is recommended. This will help with aiming basics.

The pros of learning to shoot with a revolver are fewer moving parts and stationary shell casings within the firing chambers. As a result, there is less chance of malfunction.

However, the cons of the revolver are less capacity (anywhere from 5-8 rounds) and slower reloads. Although you can get some .22LR revolvers with a higher capacity, the slower reload times are still an issue.

Semi-Auto Pistols

The semi-automatic pistol has been around since the late 19th century and is more complex. Unlike the revolver, the semi-automatic pistol is magazine fed. Featuring a reciprocating slide, the semi-auto uses the energy from the fired cartridge to retract the slide under recoil. Simultaneously, it extracts the shell casing and recocks the hammer or striker.

While the slide is retracted, it is under spring tension, which then forces the slide forward and back into battery. As a part of this operation, another cartridge is fed into the chamber from the magazine, readying it for a follow-up shot.

For this reason, with semi-automatic pistols, quality ammunition becomes more important. This is because lighter loads do not offer enough energy to cycle the slide reliably. As a result, the new shooter may experience stoppages in action, which could cause frustration in the learning process. Not to mention distracting them from the basics.

Like revolvers, semi-automatics are available in double-action (DA), double-action-only (DAO), double- and single-action (DA/SA), and single-action (SA). But there are other variants, such as the double-action Kellerman (DAK) from Sig Sauer and Glock’s optimized preset triggers.

One obvious pro to semi-automatic pistols is the magazine capacity. Modern semi-autos are achieving impressive capacity utilizing optimized double-stack magazines.

Another pro is faster reload times. Reloading semi-autos requires depressing the magazine release and letting the spent magazine fall to the ground, then inserting a loaded magazine and releasing the slide back into battery. This can be done very quickly.

A con of the semi-automatic is more moving parts causing the increased possibility of malfunctions, especially with light load ammunition.

Also, in the case of new shooters, they may unintentionally wrap both thumbs around the rear of the grip. This places the thumb directly behind the slide, which can cause “slide bite.” This can really discourage a new shooter.

So, Which Should a New Shooter Buy First?

So, now that we know the basic differences between the two, which is better for new shooters? Both have their pros, and both have their cons. But does one outweigh the other? We turned to our readers on Facebook to get their opinions in our latest Real Talk discussion on revolver vs semi-auto.

Not all comments are reflected here, just a sampling of each.

Start With What Works Best

A prevailing thought, and one that I tend to agree with, is that it comes down to personal preference. Not everyone is built the same. Some people are very high speed and low drag and would acclimate to a semi-auto very quickly. However, others require slow and easy instruction, focusing on the basics, and a revolver might be better for them.

As many in the discussion agree, it’s best to test each platform for yourself and see what fits you best. Some highlights:

“Decide what you shoot best with and are comfortable carrying, and buy that.”

“I have new shooters try a variety of handguns. I watch them and see how comfortable they are with each…Some think they are more comfortable with a semiautomatic, but their actions can show otherwise.”

“Get with someone who has both and have a frank conversation about the pros and cons of each. Then hit the range and try them.”

“If you have a range that offers weapon rentals, try both or a few in different calibers. Every person is different.”

“Personal preference, sir.”

Revolver

Of the people that commented, the revolver seems to lead the charge for its simplicity and reliability.

“The single action revolver is much safer to learn the basics on. Especially if you only load one round at a time.”

“I started with a revolver back in the day, then later went with the semi-auto for a while, now back with a .357 revolver for EDC.”

“Revolver. Understand what you are getting into before purchasing your first semi-automatic pistol.”

“Wheel gun and stick to them until well-seasoned.”

Five people voted simply:

“Revolver.”

Semi-Auto

Again, not everyone is the same, and for some, the semi-auto makes the most sense.

“Overall, I would personally recommend getting a semi-auto pistol since, to me, there are more advantages to them, like capacity and ease of reloading.”

“Not a revolver.”

“Depends on what they want to do with it. In general, a semi-automatic pistol is easier to shoot well.”

“My first was a revolver, but wish I had started with a semi. Muscle memory is different.”

To reiterate, pistol selection is very subjective. Everyone is different and some may do better with a revolver than a semi-auto, while others are the opposite. The key is finding what is right for you and then practice, practice, practice.

Regardless of which you choose, revolver vs semi-auto, you’re still the one that is responsible for where every round goes. And that requires practice.

Also, ensure you understand the basic gun safety rules before handling any firearm. Whether your pistol has a mechanical safety or not, you are the only true safety feature. In addition, make sure to download our free Gun Primer for New Gun Owners to learn more about firearms and safety.

Stay safe and happy shooting.

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