Handguns Opinion

Carrying a Big Bore Revolver in Modern Times

In my opinion, I think there is a case to be made in favor of carrying a big bore revolver under certain circumstances today.

“Do you already have an article written or would you care to share thoughts on carrying large bore/powerful revolvers in the modern times?” This was a question that was recently posed to me and I figured it would make a fun thought exercise and a good post since I haven’t written on this topic before.

As I began thinking about this question, I realized this is a complex question that can be looked at a number of different ways and that’s what I’m going to do. By doing so, I hope to find a succinct answer. One aspect of this question is, when or why would a person carry a revolver in modern times? Another is, what constitutes large bore and when or why would that make sense in modern times? Where do those aspects overlap?

Before exploring those aspects, I think it’s important to consider the typical roles of a handgun in today’s context. Based on summaries of recent survey data I’ve come across and my own anecdotal experience talking to folks about their carry a pistol, it seems like protection, or self defense, is the predominant reason folks carry today. Competitive sports and hunting are secondary and tertiary reasons respectively. As such, I think it will be valuable to explore those reasons while maintaining an emphasis on protection as we dive into this topic.

When it comes to reasons why a person would carry a revolver today, especially when it comes to protection, I find myself channeling Paul Harrell. The main reasons being:

  1. Compliance with jurisdictional constraints and regulations,
  2. or a revolver being the only handgun available to an individual.

I do think there are some other less likely reasons and I’ll get to those shortly. I do have to disclose my bias here. When I think of protection, I tend to think in terms of protection against two legged predators and associate it mostly with urban and suburban environments. For those environments and that specific threat, I think a reliable semi-automatic pistol with a larger capacity is preferable to a revolver as it increases the number of available trigger pulls that go bang between reloads. For those wanting to know more about my bias, I’ve written in length about this here, here, and here.

In rural environments, there tends to be an increased likelihood of having to protect oneself against predators of the four legged or slithering variety. In these cases, one may opt to load a handgun with a few rounds of rat or snake shot which may not feed reliably in a semi-automatic pistol. That could very well be a reason for folks to opt for a revolver instead.

From a competitive perspective, an individual may want to participate in revolver divisions or competitions strictly designed for wheel guns. This, of course, requires equipping and using a revolver competitively.

Hunting is multifaceted. On one hand, a hunter who is hunting with a rifle or a bow may want to carry a sidearm for defense against wildlife. This scenario is very similar to rural defense concerns where the threat is less likely to be of the two legged variety and may call for specialized ammunition. Again for the same reasons, a revolver may be a better option. On the other hand, a hunter may be hunting with a handgun. In this case, the hunter may prefer or require a handgun with a longer barrel, a handgun that a scope can be mounted to, or a handgun that is chambered for a larger more powerful cartridge. I find there to be many more revolvers that offer those features in the market than reliable semi-automatic pistols.

This seems like a good place to segue the discussion to exploring what constitutes a large (or big) bore, having now mentioned larger more powerful cartridges being a preference or a requirement for handgun hunting. The truth is I’m not completely certain if there is an official definition of large or big bore. However, my research on this topic leads me to believe that anything over .40″ (or 10mm) caliber is generally considered to be large bore or big bore (I have already and will continue to use these terms interchangeably). That said, I feel obligated to mention that sometimes handgun hunters will use small or medium bore cartridges depending on the game animals being hunted.

Interestingly enough, not all big bore cartridges are more powerful than their smaller counterparts. Consider the following comparison of .44 Special and .357 Magnum.

CartridgeBore ClassProjectile WeightMuzzle VelocityMuzzle Energy
.357 MagnumMedium125 grains1500 fps624 ft-lbs
.44 SpecialLarge165 grains900 fps297 ft-lbs

It should be apparent that the big bore .44 Special is less powerful than the medium bore .357 Magnum. This doesn’t mean the .44 Special isn’t a viable cartridge for certain applications. In fact, I shared my thoughts about how it compares to it’s magnum counterpart for self defense applications before.

There are a number of widely available big bore handgun cartridges, some of which are relatively common and some of which are very powerful, that can be considered. Limiting the list of cartridges to those revolvers are commonly chambered for, off the top of my head I come up with this list: 10mm Auto, 44 Remington Magnum, 454 Casull, 460 Smith & Wesson Magnum, 500 Smith & Wesson Magnum.

This brings me back to the question, when would somebody like to carry a powerful big bore cartridge?

From both a handgun hunting and competitive perspective, I think the answer is fairly straightforward: whenever the game animal or match rules call for it. That’s about it.

From a protection perspective, I believe the answer depends on whether or not there is a chance that one might encounter large or dangerous enough wildlife where a large powerful cartridge might be required (or preferable). Anecdotally, I can say that I firmly believe that personally carrying a revolver chambered for 44 Remington Magnum as a sidearm when out on hunting trips has paid off.

So where do revolvers and powerful big bore cartridges intersect?

In my opinion, the most obvious match is for somebody who has either jurisdictional or financial constraints and also finds themselves either hunting or with a frequent need to be ready to defend against wildlife threats. Then a revolver chambered for either 44 Remington Magnum or 357 Magnum makes a lot of sense. I know the 357 isn’t considered a big bore caliber, but it’s a powerful enough cartridge to be viable for similar scenarios as well. Furthermore, revolvers chambered for both of these cartridges can also be loaded with 44 Special or 38 Special, respectively, which are, again in my opinion, excellent choices for protection against two legged predators.

Regardless of the reasons behind the decision (or constraints) to carry a big bore revolver (or any other handgun), I firmly believe it is prudent for the individual carrying it to become proficient in operating and shooting both the firearm and the loaded cartridge.

1 comment

  1. Well researched & thought out. Excellent choice.

    Personally, I carry an old Taurus Total Titanium Model 445, 44 Special Revolver with a ported barrel. Been toting it since they came out earlier in the century. Before that I’d carried a Charter Arms Bulldog. I still carry the 44 Special because it’s an effective round & a reliable gun.

    I was taught to shoot by a damned fine trainer, my dad. He was a Marine officer and had carried a 1911 for decades. He always told me to try as many firearms and as many calibers for them as possible, then settle on one that suits your needs. The primary stipulation was that it be the biggest caliber that’s comfortable to shoot & you can consistently hit what you shoot at.

    While I’ll always be a 44 Magnum fan, I relegate the caliber to the woods. It’s just too much ass for the street, and I have no desire to carry a gun capable of shooting through buildings. My old Taurus, loaded with Underwood 200gr. hollowpoints work just fine.

    Please keep the articles coming. I’ve been a fan for a long time and like your style.

    CD Hale

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