Revolvers: Double Versus Single Action
T he evolution of handguns is relatively simple. It began with a muzzle loading single shot touched off (literally) with a match, then progressed in logical steps, arriving at the modern single-action (SA) and double-action (DA) revolvers we have today— as well as modern semi-autos.
Today the semi-auto has become the gold standard for the self-defense weapon, replacing the DA revolver in the holsters of most police officers and CCL holders. However, the revolver still has a lot going for it, especially for hunting.
It is pretty much foolproof and will fire even dented or corroded ammunition if you can cram it into the chamber. On the other hand, a semi-auto requires almost perfect ammo to function properly.
If you have a misfire with a DA revolver all that’s necessary is to pull the trigger again. Many people still cling to their revolvers, and to a certain extent I am one of them. I love my revolvers, especially in the big-bore and magnum calibers.
The real question is which is best, the SA or DA?
I know one retired sheriff who still carries a Colt Peacemaker in .44 Special as his concealed carry gun. However, the DA is, for most people, far and away the best choice for a self-defense weapon.
I freely admit that I generally carry one of a pair of 1911s in .45 ACP for concealed carry, but another of my favorite weapons is a 2 1/2-inch Smith &Wesson Model 19. Loaded with 125-grain .357 Magnum hollow points, it has stopping power and concealability. Tucked under a loose shirt in an El Paso Saddlery Street Combat holster it is well hidden and fast to get into action.
At this moment I am in my workshop, which sits a few feet from my house in the middle of several hundred acres of brush. As I sit here working on this article, a new Ruger Single-Nine .22 Magnum hangs on my belt. Since I am more worried about rattlesnakes and skunks than bad guys, the little nine shot .22 Magnum is a perfect companion. And it would probably work pretty well should I be faced with a serious self-defense situation. The .22 WMR with 40-grain hollow points packs a pretty mean wallop.
At other times, in the same situation, I might carry a Smith & Wesson Mountain Gun in .45 Colt. A pair of #9 shot snake loads would be loaded up front, followed by four 250-grain Keith semi-wadcutters. Or I might opt for a four-inch Model 29 .44 Magnum, loaded the same way, or even a little nickel-plated .38 Special Model 36 Chief’s Special with a bobbed hammer. Mostly, it depends on my mood and what I plan to do for the rest of the day.
If I am going hunting with a handgun, I leave the shorter guns at home and carry either a 5.5-inch Ruger Super Blackhawk .44 Magnum, a Ruger Red Hawk, also in .44 Magnum, but with a 7.5-inch barrel, or a beautiful old S&W Model 27 .357 Magnum with a six-inch barrel.
As for which is better—well, I guess, as I said before, it depends. However, the vast majority who own a DA revolver will never shoot it double action, but will pull back the hammer and shoot it single action. That’s because the trigger pull is so much better. In that situation it matters not at all which you choose.
On the other hand if you use your revolver for concealed carry, and have learned to shoot it double action (the way you should), the DA gun is much, much better. Although a SA is just about as quick as a DA for the first shot, the DA is much faster to shoot in a quick, aimed series of shots.
A person who is properly trained to shoot double action is astoundingly accurate. I shoot just about as well double action as I do single action, but I practiced almost daily for a lot of years. Also, the DA is much faster to reload than the SA.
I would have to say that for most situations the DA is better than the SA.
Although either will shoot very well, the faster reloading, the faster second and third shot, and the ability to shoot it either double- or single-action, gives it a distinct advantage. On the other hand, the SA’s sloping grips that allow the gun to turn up in your hand handles recoil better, and a good SA, like the Rugers, is tough as an anvil.
The big DAs, like the S&W N-Frames, with their heavy cylinders are subject to bending the crane, which can cause mis-timing and end shake if you flip the cylinder in and out like you see in the movies. Don’t ever do this! You don’t have to baby them, but neither should you abuse them. Handled properly a good DA will last several lifetimes.
Skeeter Skelton loved his SAs, and even made one arrest while carrying a 7 1/2- inch Ruger Super Blackhawk. His buddy, the famous Border Patrol gun slick, Bill Jordan, was a DA fan, all the way. Both knew more about handguns than I ever will. So, in the end, I suppose it all boils down to what you like best. I’ve been at it for nearly 50 years now, and I still haven’t firmly decided. When I do, I’ll let you know. But don’t hold your breath.
Email Steve LaMascus at ContactUs@fishgame.com