This past year has been one of significantly more work with a revolver than I usually do. This was fostered by my acquisition of a Ruger SP101 in early 2017 which quickly usurped my Ruger LCR as my primary deep concealment gun. The LCR and other such light weight small revolvers are ideal for pocket, ankle, and other forms of non-waistband carry but the much heavier SP101 is great for a deeply concealed gun worn IWB or in a belly band. The extra weight makes it a great shooter for such a small gun which led me to do quite a bit of shooting with it.
The small-fame revolver has been a part of my life for many years now but it has been a decidedly secondary carry option used for deep concealment when carrying my regular pistol is not tenable. For the past year I worked with the SP101 extensively and spend several months carrying it as my primary. For a revolver to carry on your hip the all-steel variants make more sense, in my opinion, as you can really shoot these guns. Light weight revolvers like the LCR are simply difficult to shoot for extended periods. But, alas, after using a small but heavy-weight extensively this past year I have concluded that for the auto shooter who needs a small revolver as only a deep concealment option the light weight guns are the only way to fly. They have the versatility for such a role.
As part of my more dedicated shooting and carry of the revolver this past year I worked extensively on reloading the wheel gun. For quite a few years now I have simply carried a speed strip (more aptly called a slow strip) along with my revolver. A few years back I did dabble with a 5 Star speedloader for my LCR. It is a nicely crafted speedloader but I simply never warmed up to twist knob loaders like the ubiquitous HKS model or the more modern 5 Star. The LCR is not compatible with the Safariland speedloaders which require only a push. I ditched the 5 Star and went back to strips.
Once I began training with the SP101 I decided I would up my game with a faster reload so I acquired some Safariland speedloaders which are compatible with the SP101, a much better solution compared to the twisty loaders. I even got a JOX Loader Pouch. These are custom made kydex belt pouches for speedloaders. They are expensive and take about 6 weeks to ship but they are worth it if you indeed want to carry a speedloader on your belt. Working with the safariland from the JOX pouch under concealment I was able to reload the SP101 in a consistent, though still quite slow, five seconds last shot to first shot. One issue that is certainly a hindrance with small revolvers such as the SP101 or S&W J Frames is that the cylinder rides close to the frame and a speedloader binds against the grip of these small guns unless positioned just so. Larger revolvers reload significantly faster with speedloaders.
So, after several years of going from speed strips to a speedloader, back to speed strips, then back to a different speedloader for a diferent gun, I am finally……………..back to speed strips. I have a feeling this time it is for good. So, after all of this screwing around with a weapon that is secondary to me in the first place, spending a lot of time training on a skill that realistically does not pan out in the real world (show me where somebody reloaded a small revolver while under fire, go ahead, I’ll wait) and spending a lot of money on speedloaders and pouches, I have come to my conclusion: small frame revolvers and speed strips go together like a steak and potato. This is why:
For a small revolver speedloaders are faster than speed strips but they are still simply too slow to be a realistic mid-fight reload. A 2.5 second reload is obtainable for a competitive revolver shooter using a full size gun and competition gear. There is no way any mortal is going to do that with a J Frame or similar using a speedloader carried in a pocket or in a concealed belt pouch. It takes me 5 seconds, a more dedicated wheelgunner I believe could do it in 4 or so. But here is the thing, I can reload the gun with 4 rounds from a speed strip in about 6 seconds using the 4 round speed strip reload method that I have written about before. Therefore, I am sacrificing a second in speed and one round, but due to the overall lack of speed I believe I am at the point of diminishing returns with a speedloader. It is still too slow and too fumble prone to be a mid-fight solution as an autoloader reload feasibly is.
The strip, while slower and even more fumble prone then the speedloader, is much, much, much, easier to carry concealed. I only use a small revolver when I need the deep concealment. The speedloader makes a rather obvious bulge in dress pants, a strip lies flat and is virtually invisible. If wearing a speedloader in a belt pouch I am usually dressed in a manner that I can carry a larger autoloader to begin with. Which brings me to this point:
After a lot of time, money, and experimentation, my SP101 is retired to a backup role, living luxuriously in the safe, and the LCR and a speed strip is my go-to combination for deep concealment again. The SP101 is a great shooter and for a revolver enthusiast who wishes to carry a very small yet capable gun it is a great option. It is also great for deep concealment in a belly band or in an IWB holster. However, since I am essentially done with my revolver training kick and will now shoot one less often (still doing some training with it since I use it for deep concealment needs) I find the light weight gun more versatile. Summer is soon upon us and trips to the beach in which I will pocket carry demand the feathery LCR rather than the more shoot-able, but less versatile, heavy weight champ of snubbies, the SP101.
So, I am done with it for now, but I will not be getting rid of it, I like the chunky little SP101. I think such a revolver serves a good role for anyone, even if you are not much of a revolver enthusiast. A revolver is an ideal weapon to have on hand for arming an untrained person. Yes, yes, I know, they are harder to shoot. My argument for the revolver, though, is that for a novice the safety advantage of the long double-action pull and the fool-proof design is more advantageous than any shoot-ability advantage for the untrained. I will keep this little monster in the family, it is worthy.