When Your Revolver Malfunctions


When Your Revolver Malfunctions

Semiautomatic pistols rule today’s world. They have the lion’s share of the handgun market. There are so many different models from so many different manufacturers that it becomes very hard to make a decision when it comes time to choose one. For a defensive handgun, the capacity and ease of reloading a semi can’t be beat. But every concealed weapons permit class I put on has a few revolvers sprinkled in the mix.

The revolver is the choice of many CWP permit holders. They’re simple to operate and reliable, making them popular with shooters of all experience levels. That reliability is a double edged sword. We become so used the gun going off every time we pull the trigger we tend to forget the consequences of the time it doesn’t.

We wheelgunners can be a pretty smug bunch at matches when we see our brother shooters have a malfunction with their bottomfeeders. Because we very rarely experience a malfunction with our revolvers, much less a serious problem, we tend to lord reliability over our semiauto shooting brethren. Our guns as a rule run like Swiss watches. On occasion, they don’t, and this is where we go into vapor lock.

When severe malfunctions do pop up they usually take the gun out of commission. Whereas the auto guys can do the tap-rack-bang thing to get back in the game, for the six shooter carrier the fix is either very simple or very hard. The usual immediate action drill of “stroke the trigger again” doesn’t solve actual gun problems. 

The Click Heard Round The World

The normal cause of a revolver not going bang is the lack of unfired ammunition in the cylinder. Reloading normally clears up the problem. If it doesn’t, you’re probably looking at something broken, be it hammer spring, firing pin, or other piece of metal necessary to the ignition sequence. This is take it to the workbench fixing time. Your immediate action drill now is to drop your recently created paperweight and draw your backup weapon. (You do carry backup, don’t you?)

The usual malfunction a wheelgunner experiences is a simple misfire. This is where stroking the trigger again is called for, as it brings a new round under the hammer. If it goes bang, you’re back in business. (We like to point this out to the semiauto shooters because it doesn’t require a bunch of gymnastics to accomplish.) If it doesn’t, you probably need to reload.

Things Can Break Really, Really Badly

Just because a revolver doesn’t have a bunch of metal moving around that you can see when they fire, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot that can wrong with the gun. Hidden under the sideplates are a bunch of small, precision made parts that have to line up just so every time to make the gun go bang. You’ve got one piece turning the cylinder, another one stopping it and locking it in place, another one cocking the hammer…you get the picture. There’s a lot going on inside the gun that you don’t see. These parts wear, and sometimes outright break. 


Precision parts. Tolerances have to be very close so that the revolver is in time and locked in battery when it is supposed to be. Put a speck of dirt under the extractor star and the cylinder may not be able to turn. A high primer rubbing against the recoil shield can do the same thing. If the cylinder can’t turn, the gun won’t fire. There’s only one immediate action drill for a revolver. Kick the empties or live rounds out of the cylinder and reload. You will probably have dislodged whatever was under the extractor star, and you’re back in the fight. If not, it’s time to draw your backup.

Don’t Get Caught By Surprise

Like the Boy Scouts, always be prepared. Unlike a semiauto, you can’t force malfunctions to practice clearing them. Well, you can, but you don’t really want to. Creating a malf in a semi is as simple as loading an empty case randomly in the magazine. Either the empty won’t feed, or the hammer drops on it with a resounding click. Either way, you get to practice the immediate action drill. We don’t really want to break our revolvers to simulate a parts breakage. You can, however, mentally prepare yourself for the possibility.

You may go your entire shooting career without ever experiencing a revolver failure. Personally, I’ve had revolvers that shot themselves out of time (S&W M29s, two of them, from shooting a steady diet of SuperVel magnums). I’ve had them lock up due to high primers. I’ve had misfires due to weakened hammer springs. I shoot a lot, so Murphy has plenty of opportunities to raise his ugly head. And I have to admit, when one of my revolvers fail, it always shocks me. I’m just not expecting it. Thankfully the failures have always taken place on a one way range.


The Tactical Pirate

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President and lead instructor. Follow me on Twitter, and check out our blog.

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