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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
All right, it's time for one of the great debates in handgunning. Arguably, this debate is as interesting and overplayed as the .45 ACP vs. 9mm debate. And ULTIMATELY, we WILL find the conclusion to this argument is based soley on personal preference.

However, in the interest of discussion and education. I thought it would be nice to compare and contrast the tactics of the use of a wheel gun vs. the use of a semi-auto in a self defense situation. To stay fair, I suggest we compare small snubs(barrels 2" or less) to small semi-autos, we compare larger revolvers(2"+-4") of .38 and .357 chambering to larger handguns, and we compare chamberings .40+ with barrel lengths 4"+ to their full size handgun counterparts.

So, I'm interested on everyone's take of comparing a .32-.38 caliber snub to a .32-.380 caliber semi-auto. Let us consider tactics, that would be carry and deployment, etc.

Then, let us compare larger guns in .38 and .357 to 9mm counterparts. IE: How does a 3" .357 compare to a CZ75 Compact? Let us consider the tactics, carry, deployment, reloading, etc.

Then, let us compare big bore guns, such as a Smith 625 in .45 ACP with a 5" barrel, to a 1911 in .45 ACP with a 5" barrel. Or how does a .41 Magnum stack up against a Sig P220? Let us consider the tactics, carry, deployment, etc.

In my very humble and inexperienced opinion, both wheel guns and semi-autos have their strengths and weaknesses. Obviously, capacity is strongly in favor of semi-autos, but what about some of the 8-shot .357s being produced by S&W? Reloading is a strength of the semi-auto as well, but what about reloading using a Safariland style push-button speed loader, or moon clips? How about reliability? The old 1911 is a proven design, but so is a 6-shot .4x caliber revolver.

Your thoughts, opinions, and ideas are appreciated.


1,053 Posts
Good questions, let's see.

1 (small guns): there is probably wide latitude here due to the "why" one carries a small gun. For me (and this does not mean you are wrong if you don't do it for the same reason) small guns like this are "hideouts" or they are actually "3rd or 4th tier weapons". I don't really expect to get down to this level but they are "just in case all else fails" or "just in case I am with someone who I trust who needs a gun" (If I trust them they probably have a gun but perhaps it broke). OK, as such, what differences.

Carry - not much. Both fit in pocket or ankle holster. Since they are not primaries for me, a belt holster is not an option as I have more serious stuff there.

Shooting Technique - a lot! I have known 4 people involved in fights with .380s (both using JHP ammo and fmj)...it did not work in any of them. Also a fifth fight many of us have seen in some training venues did not work but I did not know any of the participants. I don't really think I would use any pocket pistol cartridge for anything other than shooting for the ocular window. That is very demanding but a few of the pocket pistols I have had or used were capable of such accuracy at close range (An Iver Johnson TP22, an early PPK/s I had in .380, a Colt Mustang .380 and a Llama that I accuraized). The revolver, like a J-frame, I would trust for body shots with the right ammo. And in fact that makes the choice for me.

Reloading - by the time I would be down to a pocket pistol or a j-frame, I have already been through 2 heavy duty pistols. Time has run out and these are my last ditch items. Would never get a chance to reload under fire... I keep extra ammo in a speed strip to top it off just in case but I don't think that opportunity would come. If for some strange reason my primary weapon was a 5 shot revolver then I would certainly have another one to go to rather than reload it.

2. (medium guns): More or less same as above. I might feel a bit more confident with a 3" .357 or a compact 9mm than a pocket auto in .380 or a 2" .38 but not enough to make me feel "warm and fuzzy".

Carry - Also not much difference but autos seem more comfortable in an IWB holster. This class might rise to the level of "back up gun" (BUG) if I am really feeling lazy but the truth is that I dont recall a time when it did unless it was just going to the mailbox.

Shooting Technique - definitely better than the "pocket rockets" here. The default shot(s) would be multiple hits to the sternum with ammo that will penetrate adequately. I would expect (being on the safe side) to have to use 5 to 6 rounds on one subject before he gives up the fight. Perhaps one less shot with a .357 but in truth I would be prepared for it to take all six - I had a woodchuck absorb six .357s one day! It would never surprise me to see the occasional subject take 12 to 15 hits from a medium bore whether it was a magnum medium bore or not (same goes for the .40 but I think it does just a little better).

Reloading - if a revolver I still want another gun instead of trying to reload it. A 5 or 6 shot medium bore might see me through (probably will) but it is too close to call...like driving on 4 bald tires - you need a spare! With the auto, I also want another gun in case that one breaks or gets shot but if it holds 8 to 10 rounds or more then I expect that it will get me through and a spare mag is used to top it off (if it runs dry during the fight and I don't have cover then I would transition to the BUG).

3 (Serious Sidearms): Actually in reality a 4" revolver is proably comparable to a 5" auto, even a 3" big bore is a fairly large piece.

Carry - definitely here we are in a place where IWB is a challenge for the wheelgun since the cylinder is so large. I even find it a challenge for big bore Glocks which are pretty thick. But that is OK. OWB is certainly concealable. I have no trouble concealing a 4" model 29 in a Hume J.I.T. slide. Personally, I want two serious guns for carry. Too many people get shot in the gun hand or the gun to suit me. Still and all that may be a personal thing. No criticism if you dont.

Shooting Technique - Probably pairs for the wheelie though I am not really comfortable with shooting just twice by default...but then I am not comfortable with running dry either! Shooting technique with the big bore autoloader is to drive the subject to the ground! Unless there are multiple assailants then keep shooting until the target changes shape :) I might be temped to carry hotter loads (like the .45 Super) in the wheel gun just for a little gain...if there really is any (I am not too sure - I have not found a great difference between the .44 mag and the .45 ACP on wild boar). Long study make me expect to end a fight with one BG in 2 to 3 rounds well placed but I would not be greatly shocked if it took 5 or 6

Reloading - I carry two spare mags for my primary auto though I train to transition to the BUG when my primary quits ( the plan here is to "top off" the partially depleted primary during the first "lull" in fighting but if I run dray transition is faster than an emergency reload). If my primary was a wheel gun I decidedly want another one handy. I do not want to take my primary out of action to recharge it while someone is shooting at me!

Again, interesting questions and no claim that my way is superior.

Best regards,
Jim H.
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