GOING RETRO — 40 Comments

  1. Thanks for posting.
    Because my .38 is light, mild, & handy, I shoot it most often. Therefore, I’m very comfortable relying on it for defense. I know the trigger, I know the recoil, I know the manual of arms.

  2. Mr. Ayoob,
    I still use a S&W 581 as my Home Defense Weapon of choice. I purchased it used over 20 years ago. It is reliable, and accurate. I have alot of semi autos, but prefer my revolver over them as a defensive weapon. Just Remember, ” OLD GUYS RULE”!!
    Thank You for all your years of Service. Thank You for also being such an Awesome Mentor/Writer for all us 46 year old kids who grew up reading and memorizing your books and magazine articles.
    Sincerely, Matthew Horn

  3. Mas, I’m guessing you will be getting a lot of push back on this subject, but not from me. Like many gun enthusiasts, I own or have owned just about every new design of handguns put on the market, in search of that perfect defensive weapon. I’ve spent countless hours mastering each. Everyone of them have their own little idiosyncrasies that require even a well trained person to think, even just for a moment, before putting them into action, unless it is the one you carry and practice with daily. This is especially true of single-action semi-autos. Location of safeties, do you push up or push down, is it located on the slide or in the frame, etc. Knowing how to operate one doesn’t always translate into being proficient with it.

    I have first hand knowledge of officers killed due in part to transitioning from revolvers to 1911’s and experiencing a gun fight before they had acclimated to the differences (one was killed, his partner grievously wounded buy an attacker using a .22 bolt action rifle at near point blank range). I also have first hand knowledge of an officer who survived after he was disarmed during a struggle over his 1911. The suspect couldn’t figure out how to disengage the safety, giving the officer time to retrieve his little Baby Browning .25 from his pocket.

    I have come to embrace simplicity in my choice for defensive weapons. Not necessarily just for myself, but mainly in consideration of my immediate family, who are trained in weapon use, but not as enthusiastic in the sport. It is not hard to master a weapon with no mechanical safeties. This narrows my selection of weapons accessible to family to double action revolvers and long double action semi-autos. Simple to put into action for them, especially in a high stress situation. Even though I’m not a big fan of Braz-tech offerings, I settled on one of their Circuit Judge .45/.410 revolver rifle/shotgun for their go to long gun (only after I did a re-spring and polished the action myself).

    Yes, simplicity has a place in defensive preps. Of course, I’ve still got all my end of the world, Armageddon, mass frontal assault weapons just in case.

  4. Speaking of double action triggers, am I the only one who finds my accuracy deteriorates when I thumb back the hammer for a single action shot? I find that the smooth, constant pressure of a long, smooth double action trigger pull works in conjunction with my grip to maintain my sight picture until the sear breaks. My wife tells me I’m unique, this may just be further proof.

  5. I’ve got a Model 65 as well, the first handgun I ever bought. I’m woefully out of practice with it though, and it’s harder than I thought to find a good IWB holster for a 3-inch barrel. I’d love to carry it more if I could find a good holster. I’ve got a Don Hume OWB, but I like inside better.

  6. After I first got my handgun carry permit, in 2008, I decided that I needed more training than just the eight (8) hour concealed carry course required, by TN law, to get the permit. I have since taken a number of courses including Mas’ MAG-40 class.

    One of my first classes (post carry permit) was a one-day course designed to teach the basics (holster carry, drawing from a holster, grip, stance, etc.).

    In this class, all of the other students were shooting various flavors of semi-auto pistols. I was the only one with a revolver. I was shooting my S&W Model 19 (Combat Magnum) with 4-inch barrel. The other students thought that I was being all cute and “Retro” with my wheel-gun. They nicknamed me “Wild Bill”!

    I well remember when we reached the point where the instructor wanted to teach “Malfunction Clearance”. He started to set up the other students with various malfunctions to clear. When he came to me, he took one look at my Model 19 and he said “You can just stand over to one side and watch the others. This does not apply to you.”

    Each of the students shot about 400 to 450 rounds that day. I shot 396 myself (I kept track). Leaving aside the deliberate malfunctions set up for training purposes, I saw the other students have a few “genuine” malfunctions that day. I, on the other hand, did not suffer a single one with my “old-fashioned” wheel-gun.

    That is why, most of the time, I still use a stub-nose revolver as my standard concealed carry gun to this day.

  7. As someone who enjoys both semi-auto pistols and double-action revolvers, my carry pieces of choice are always revolvers. Speaking only for myself, I find revolvers to be the safest, most accurate, and reliable handguns available.

  8. Mas, at the fore-mentioned ILEETA, were you not actually carrying the Model 64 .38 Special rather than a Model 65? The Model 64 is hard to beat for accuracy.

    The wide variety of ammo in .357 Magnum and .38 Special gives the revolver a certain redeeming social value. You can’t get much better whammy than with a quality .357 hollow point, and the heavy hard-cast or (legal) “metal-piercing” bullets provide efficient, perforating penetration on some tough objects. .38 Special can be loaded nearly to .357 levels, and down. Give me the simplicity of a spur-less revolver to obtain the quickest, most accurate first shots in a battle situation. Especially on an aggressive bear in bad-breath proximity.

  9. So refreshing to see that the duty size revolver is not dead. I retired last year from law enforcement and my wife and I are touring the country in our RV. I carry 50 states under LEOSA (HR218). I’m forced to leave my Glock 17 at home in the safe because of various states that have magazine restrictions. I travel with my five shot Chiefs Special and my S&W model 686, .357 mag. Brings back memories as I began my LE career in the late 70’s with .38 model 15. I refuse to buy 10 round mags for the G17, and I don’t want to buy another pistol just to travel thru mag restricted states. When I can, I shoot in local PPC matches to keep my skills sharp.

  10. And another reason is the salutary benefit of all or most of the class being outshot by a “mature” man with an “obsolete” handgun! Maybe some of them will realize that the skill of the man behind the gun is much more important than the gun itself, and apply themselves to practice and training.

    I would have liked to attend (again) the class in Wallingford, but I’ll be on vacation the following week, and will have a lot of stuff to wrap up beforehand. I was the guy there a couple of years ago shooting a Ruger LCR. I still like the LCR, but I’ve moved on to a Kimber K6S, which has a beautiful trigger out of the box (~9 lbs on my example).

    Mas, do you know of any stock/grip maker that makes boot-style/concealment grips fit to the buyers hand, as Herretts does for larger revolvers? Herretts does have a grip for smaller revolvers, their “Detective” model, but it’s not the style I want (theirs is a square but) and not for any of the guns I favor (apparently they just do Colt and S&W). I Have a pair of Herretts grips for an N-frame S&W, and they’re wonderful. I’d like to have the same fit on my carry gun!

  11. I’ll be in your MAG40 class in NJ this weekend (8/3 – 8/6), Mas. I’m bringing a S&W 686P as my back-up gun. I’m really looking forward to having you as an instructor again. The last class I took with you was the Judicious Use Of Lethal Force back in 2005. I still have my certificate of completion from that course. See you this weekend!!

  12. The first handgun I ever bought was a Smith & Wesson Model 19-4 with a 4″ barrel that I purchased new in 1980, while stationed at Mtn. Home AFB, ID. The last of the ‘pinned and recessed’ Model 19s.

    I’m betting that your ‘other’ .357 Magnum is a J Frame Model 60. I have one in .38 Special.

  13. I’m mostly a ‘Flat Gun’ guy nowadays, but still have a few ‘Round Guns’ which I don’t carry as they are not as efficient. My main gripe with revolvers is not so much low ammunition capacity, but that it’s difficult to carry extra ammo in speedloaders, especially since Safariland no longer sells the model which positions the loader on top of the belt with three rounds outside and three inside.

    The only double action wheelguns I have now are all Smith & Wessons, either 5 or 6 shot models, except for my older, no lock 8 shot S&W 317, in .38 Special, .357 Magnum, .44 Magnum, .45 ACP, and .45 Colt. If I had to carry a revolver for urban defense now, it will be my S&W Mountain Gun in .45 ACP with a bunch of loaded full moon clips. Early in my second police job before I was qualified to pack a pistol, I carried a S&W 625 with 4″ full lugged barrel in a Safariland SSIII holster. I was able to fit 4 full moon clips in a HKS double speedloader pouch designed for their N frame S&W models and carried that combination for several months until I was allowed to switch to a SIG 220 that I packed for the next eight years.

    I shoot pistols 90% of the time now, but still practice with revolvers to keep proficient just in case, mostly with my old 4″ S&W 10 and 625 Mountain Gun in .45 ACP. I used to carry a S&W 37 and 38 for backups, but they have been replaced with a Glock 27 which carries the same 10 rounds of ammo, but in a much superior caliber. I have friends who shoot revolvers better than they do with pistols and I urge them to carry what they are most comfortable with, as long as it’s .38 special +P or better.

  14. Sure wish I could enjoy that class with you. Would have to bring my own along. Had a lot of fun in class with a revolver!

  15. Yes! I still like to use a good double action S&W K frame when working with anyone asking for a hand in doing better. A clean smooth trigger action, and the 38/357 can be loaded with rounds for mid range wadcutters to full power loads. Thanks for sharing your experience and thoughts on this topic. And our best to you and yours.

  16. Dear Mass…love your stories-you teach so much! I have moved to Va from NJ so I will not see you this coming weekend..(which I was hoping to attend)I am hoping you will be doing something down here that I can attend-I did get my CCW for both Fl. and Va and still want to take more courses on self defense. Unfortunately Max Meadows Va doesn’t seem to have this so I will need to search further away! Luckily unlike NJ I can practice my farm and my neighbors practice on theirs! I am waiting for my 30 days after getting my Va license to get my new 200 yr ann. Remington 870. The guy had it on sale for 75% off-hopefully that will deter the wildlife I can encounter on this farm-including undesirables, which is right next to Jeff Nat’l Forest! If you ever want to shoot some awesome wildlife, you have a open invite to visit!

  17. Well, Mass, I guess that I must be really RETRO as my choice of carry weapons varies between a 1911 and a Model 19 . depends upon the day and my mood.

  18. Quote of the Day:

    “Never trust a Woman, a District Attorney or an Automatic Pistol.” ( per John Dillinger)

    I figure that those are words to live by. 🙂

  19. Remember shooting my ‘mith & Wesson 64 at Bridgeville, the one I had shortened and smoothed. IDPA immediately outlawed it as a bug when they saw how it could out shoot that plastic stuff. Wheel guns are real guns!

  20. Against both my better judgement and good taste I will break the prime directive and will post something.
    Number one, this might prove that Jeff Cooper was right. No classes! No revolver class, no auto class, no good shooter/bad shooter class. You chose your poison. Pay your money and take your chances.
    Number two, retro, or in this case open carry retro. Yes gentlemen, if you were born before, say the Eisenhower Administration, you might consider “RETRO DENTURES” (copy right?). More specifically, “OPEN CARRY DENTURES”. These “CUSTOM” dentures are custom made so that you can carry your favorite knife clinched in your teeth. Available for K-Bar, Randell, (please specify model). I’m telling ya, we could get rich with this one.
    Keep both your sense of humor and your wits about you and never forget the words of Lord Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell:


  21. Mas
    I was at the Rogers School when you were in attendance recently wherein Bill used the revolver to clearly demonstrate how cylinder rotation continuously moves in a smooth fashion in order to “work the trigger” in a timely fashion toward breaking the shot. He also uses the Beretta M9 for the same purpose as its easy to see the hammer motion.

  22. Simple is beautiful! I consider myself Neo-Amish. Machines are great when they work, and very frustrating when they don’t work, because I can’t fix them. Makes me feel helpless.

    Imagine someone wants a small gun, maybe because of the hot weather, and it needs to be easily concealable. Hard to beat a snub nose revolver. The new Glock 43 is nice and small, and it only holds one round more than most little revolvers. My guess is .38 Spl+P is pretty close to 9mm Parabellum, so a revolver carrier is only down one round, 5 versus 6. Colt makes small 6-shot revolvers, so if they can handle .38 Spl+P, then they aren’t even giving up ammo capacity.

    Revolvers are less finicky about the types of bullets they are fed. I think revolvers should always be carried as back-up guns. If someone is on top of me, punching me (like Trayvon Martin did) the revolver could be pressed against the bad guy’s body and fired. A semi-auto would fire that first shot, but the slide may not go fully into battery because of the obstruction to its travel. A revolver could also be fired while held inside a coat.

    It’s great that capitalism has produced so many choices. We can debate about which guns to use, instead of being confined to one gun type, or no guns at all.

  23. I know a ‘Nam Marine veteran who carried a S & W Model 19 .357 Magnum Combat Masterpiece by choice on his helicopter missions.

  24. I carry a Robar NP3 plated Ruger Alaskan .44 Magnum in the woods and in bear country and feel adequately protected against all two and four-legged predators.

  25. I normally carry one Glock or another but I do carry a revolver when there are griz around. In recognition of this, I recently ran ran a revolver for a class. I found I could shoot it as accurately and fast as a semiauto but I sincerely hope I don’t have to reload.

  26. The big advantages that a semi-auto pistol has over a revolver is (1) ammo capacity and (2) speed of reloading. This is more true for service size handguns rather than compact carry-size weapons. The real question is: how significant are these advantages in practical terms?

    I have given a lot of thought to this question and it seems to me that gunfights tend to fall into two (2) broad categories. These are: (1) defensive gunfights and (2) firefights. What causes the difference?

    In my opinion, mainly mindset with disparity of force being a secondary factor. In a defensive gunfight, the opponents may be willing to act aggressively, up to a point, but when the guns come out and the bullets start to fly, the primary objective (mindset) is to save one’s own skin. Therefore, defensive gunfights may be quite violent but they soon come to an end. Usually, with one party fleeing or surrendering quickly. Typically, less than 5 or 6 rounds are fired in a defensive gunfight.

    Note that if there is a large disparity of force between the two opponents, then that also tends to bring the fight to a quick conclusion.

    In a defensive gunfight, only a few shots are typically fired and a revolver will serve just as well as a high-capacity semi-auto pistol. In looking at the NYPD firearm discharge reports, it seems to me that about 90% of the gunfights between the NYPD and criminals are defensive fights. I would estimate that about 10% of them are firefights. It depends (somewhat) upon where one wants to draw the line.

    The other type of fight is a firefight. In this type of fight, both opponents are typically well-armed and their mindset is to conquer the enemy. Winning takes priority over “saving one’s own skin”. These fights may be protracted with numerous shots being fired. A high-capacity semi-auto pistol with plenty of spare magazines is the proper tool for such a fight.

    Now consider the roles of these possible combatants: (1) a soldier, (2) a policeman, (3) a criminal or (4) a private citizen.

    The soldier is typically well-armed and has a duty to fight for his country. Firefights will, therefore, be common and the semi-auto pistol is (far and away) the best tool for him to use.

    The policeman’s duty is to uphold law and order. He is armed largely to defend himself and innocent civilians. However, his duty to uphold the law may require him to confront a determined criminal or set of criminals. Therefore, while defensive fights are (far and away) most common (as shown above for the NYPD), the policeman may (on rare occasions) find himself in a firefight. While a policeman can “make do” with the revolver about 90% of the time, the chance of being involved in a rare firefight suggests that a reliable semi-auto pistol would (occasionally) be superior for police-work.

    Criminals vary all over the map. Most are only interested in preying upon those weaker than themselves. Most of the time, they will save their own skin in preference to sticking in a fight. Occasionally, however, one finds a criminal who would rather die than be captured by the police or else he is high on some narcotic. He ends up fighting to the death and creating a firefight with the police.

    Unlike the soldier or policeman, a private citizen has no duty (zero) to become embroiled in a firefight. His or her sole duty is save his or her life and (possibly) the lives of his immediate family or friends. Retreat should be his or her first line of defense with the firearm being used merely as a tool to help facility the retreat. It is hard to see a circumstance whereby a private citizen is justified to become embroiled in a firefight.

    The above line of reasoning immediately points to the best weapon for each type of combatant. A soldier should be issued nothing but service size semi-automatic pistols in an effective caliber. A policeman can “make do” with a revolver but is probably better served with a semi-automatic.

    A criminal is likely to use whatever weapon he gets into his hands. In most cases, he can do just as much harm with a revolver as with a semi-automatic. I suppose that a hardened criminal, who is determined to “go down fighting” rather than go back to prison, is better served (from his point-of-view) with a semi-automatic.

    The private citizen, with no need to “stick in a firefight” is served just fine with a revolver. Indeed, its simple “Manual of Arms” likely makes it the best choice of all. A citizen who loads himself up with a service size semi-auto and multiple extra magazines is missing the point of civilian concealed carry. He or she has an unrealistic view of the likelihood of actually being embroiled in a true firefight.

  27. TN-MAN, I carry a Leatherman multi-tool as a compromise to carrying a pair of piers, two screw drivers, a pair of wire cutters, a bottle opener, a can opener, scissors and a file. It will perform many the functions of a much larger tool kit in my truck and get me through many tasks without the weight of toting around the master mechanic tool chest in my garage. So will my downsized carry revolver or low capacity dao pistol.

  28. I’m imagining Jerry Miculek getting ready for post-apocalyptic urban warfare. He carries a Thompson sub-machine gun (or an M-3 Grease gun). On his right hip is a 1911 semi-auto, and on his left hip is a S&W 625JM revolver. Three different guns, but they all use the same ammunition. Beautiful. He’s ready for CQB (close quarters battle).

  29. @ Dennis,

    Not sure that I get the point that you are trying to make. A defensive handgun is not a multi-tool. I don’t carry my stub-nose because I think it will be handy to tackle a variety of tasks. In fact, I have never had to use it in a serious defensive situation although, of course, I do practice with it. I hope that I am never in a situation serious enough that I have to use it.

    I agree with Mas’ definition (in the previous blog) that: “…the defensive firearm is a direct analog to a fire extinguisher. Each of those items is an emergency safety/rescue tool, whose purpose is to allow the ordinary citizen who becomes the first responder to ward off death or great bodily harm until the designated public safety professionals can get there to help.”

    So, I am not “getting” your comparison with a Leatherman multi-tool.

  30. TN-MAN, probably a poor analogy on my part, but then my mind sometimes works in mysterious ways, that makes no sense to others. I was pointing to the fact that a small instrument like a a Leatherman in your pocket can get you through the day, being able to handle the situations you may encounter without necessitating carrying around maybe more effective, but much bulkier tools.
    Since we are, after all, discussing the attributes of the “old” technology revolver, I will point out some of its “multi-function” aspects and attributes. I live on a rural piece of land. I encounter varmints on a regular basis. With my J-frame, riding comfortably in my pocket, mostly unnoticed, I am ready for snakes and other small vermin because my first two rounds are my #8 shot reloads, followed by +p hollow points. Can’t do that with a semi-auto. I practice, a lot. I love to shoot, it’s rare for me to go through a day without firing a few shots, but I hate picking up brass, especially in thick grass. With the revolver, it’s not a problem. I can load my ammo down to 5-600 fps so my grand-kids are comfortable with the recoil or load it up with full house stuff for defensive use. Most semi-autos are much pickier.

    Handguns are not just capable of self defense functions (and they suck at that when compared to the shotguns or rifles you DON’T have in your pocket), they can, often do, take game for the table (not as easily or efficiently as the shotgun or rifle you DON’T have with you). It can signal for help when your lying in the woods with a badly broken ankle (a story for another time). You can start a fire with the powder removed from a couple of cartridges (using that other easily carried tool, a Leatherman to remove the bullets). They can take out a side window (and your eardrums) if you’re trapped in a car and nothing else is available.

    I carry my Leatherman every day because it gives me comfort knowing I’m much better prepared with it than without it. Same with my sidearm. Both are piss-poor substitutes for the tools they are substituting for, but their size and weight make them much more expedient. Makes sense to me, but like I said, my mind doesn’t always work like other folks.

  31. I pointed out-“They can take out a side window (and your eardrums) if you’re trapped in a car and nothing else is available.”

    I could have pointed out also, that you can remove a couple of rounds and use them for expedient ear plugs to save your hearing (if you have the presence of mind and had thought about such possibilities before hand). I tend to see the possibilities of things past the obvious intended uses. It comes from being raised in a family who made do with what we had available.

  32. I teach basic CCW courses, often to gun “newbies” who frequently have never fired a handgun before. They are ALWAYS advised to buy a revolver (to start) and later, if they get the “gun fever” can always buy semi-autos. Why? because it takes lots of practice to use a semi-auto successfully in a high-stress self defense situation. Adrenaline cause lots of physical problems. If you combine that with semi-auto gun problems you are sure to fail.
    I tell the students who think they are gun people that, if they really plan on carrying a semi-auto for self defense they had better practice not only malfunction drills but also safety release on every draw (if gun has a safety) or they will end up with a non-shooting gun. If you don’t flip off that safety EVERY time you practice draw you WILL forget during high stress. If you experience a malfunction during practice shooting you MUST clear it as if your life depends on it because it will in a self defense situation.
    Lastly, I use the analogy that using a revolver is like driving a Chevy pickup. Dependable and easy to drive for its intended purpose. Using a semi-auto is like driving a Ferrari. You can drive that Ferrari on the road, likely without mishap, but try driving in a race (i.e. self defense fight) and you had better be a race-car qualified driver or you will crash.
    While I own dozens of handguns and could use any for concealed carry (well OK not the Desert Eagle or the scoped Thompson Contender) my wife and I carry Ruger LCRs in .327 Federal magnum (equal in power to .38 Special but much lighter recoil) because it’s a 6-shot rather than five .38’s and I can get my wife to practice more using .32 S&W ammo.

  33. @ Dennis,

    Thanks for the expanded explanation. Yes, a revolver is certainly more versatile than a semi-auto pistol when it comes to ammunition. The semi-auto pistols will only work with ammo balanced for a narrow power range.

    My favorite trail gun is a Taurus Judge with alloy frame and 3-inch barrel. it is more of a midsize revolver rather than a pocket gun but I have a fanny-pack style holster that carries it just fine. Its alloy frame makes it light to carry.

    Because, I could encounter a variety of threats on the trail (snakes, feral dogs, two-legged predators, etc.), the Judge makes a good choice. I can load 410 gauge birdshot loads for the first two shots followed by 45 Colt hollowpoints for the rest. That way, I am ready for anything that walks or slithers. Try loading a 410 shotshell into a semi-auto and see how far that gets you! 🙂

  34. That sounds like fun shooting. I’ll have to see if I have a K-frame lying around.

  35. Call me “retro”, call me traditional, call me old fashioned…However labeled…I love revolvers and carry one for personal defense. I never feel under-gunned, and I can hit at what I am shooting at.