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Revolver Loading and Unloading

Revolver Loading and Unloading

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As I have said before, I believe that proper technique is crucial to consistent performance under stress. We learn proper techniques from refining what works and discarding what does not. On the range I see several ways of manipulating revolvers, but those that consistently follow a proven manual of arms tend to do much better than those that “just put the durn bullets in the gun”.

The Revolver Loading and Unloading technique I am demonstrating today stems from the FBI method. It is not the only accepted method, but it is the most widely accepted method. Ayoob’s stress fire method is designed around perceived weaknesses in the FBI method and I recommend any person that uses a revolver for self-defense study both. I am not going to discuss Mr. Ayoob’s method because it is proprietary, and I am not a certified instructor in his method. I will however link to a video of him describing it for those interested.

Any method of action that an individual performs under stress should be simple, free of unnecessary actions, use gross instead of fine motor skills, and be proven –as always I will tell you what, and try to explain the why so that you can decide for yourself what works.


  • With the revolver in a two handed shooting position, use your shooting hand to engage the cylinder release. At the same time remove your non-dominant shooting hand from the gun. Bring your free hand underneath the revolver and place your ring and middle finger on the cylinder. Your pinkie and index fingers should be extended and touching the right side of the revolver framing the cylinder.
  • Using the two fingers on the cylinder, and as you are engaging the cylinder release, press the cylinder so that it swings out of the frame. (Your hand should remind you of the international sign language motion for “I love you” or “hook ‘em horns” if you’re from Texas). When this is done you should have good positive control of the handgun and can now remove your shooting hand from the grip. This is done for a couple reasons. It is simple, it provides great retention of the gun, its ergonomic, it frees your dominant hand for the fine motor skill of loading the bullets in the cylinder, and it allows your non-dominant thumb and index finger to control the motions of the cylinder to rotate for loading.
  • With the cylinder open, rotate the handgun to orientate the muzzle skyward. If the cylinder is full of unfired cartridges, they will most likely fall out due to gravity. If the rounds are spent, then they have expanded inside their chambers and will need help to be extracted. With the palm of your shooting hand come over the top of the gun and deliberately strike the extractor rod. You need to make sure your force is centered on the top of the rod of and perpendicular to the rod. Strike it forcefully to cause the rounds to move freely, but not so hard that you damage your palm. If you don’t have the help of gravity, have large aftermarket grips, and/or press the extractor rod hesitantly and with too little force, the spent rounds my hang up and not be fully extracted.
  • Now reverse the orientation of the revolver so the muzzle is pointed downward at a slight angle. This also uses gravity to help the process.
  • Use your dominant hand to feed rounds into the cylinder, and your support thumb and index to rotate the cylinder. You may do this one round at a time, or if the stars aligned and you have put in your practice sometimes you can insert two rounds into adjoining chambers at the same time. Because this process is time consuming there are devices designed to speed the process.
  • I use Bianchi strips for my carry revolvers. A Bianchi strip is a piece of rubber that has cut outs to hold 6 rounds in a row. You can use the strip to insert two rounds at a time in your cylinder. This cuts movement from 6 similar actions to three. It is also great because it keeps the rounds together and orientated correctly. It’s MUCH easier to reload from a strip than 6 loose rounds in your pocket. I choose the strip instead of the speed loader because it is flat and easier to conceal.
  • Speed loaders come in all sorts of configurations, but they generally are a reverse model of the specific cylinder of a revolver model with a means to hold rounds by their rims. This leaves the bullets hanging out. Since the loader matches the cylinder, the bullet tips line up with the cylinder chambers allowing all 6 rounds to drop into the chamber once the loader’s release is activated.
  • No matter what method is used, once the rounds are loaded into the cylinder, reacquire a firm shooting grip with your dominant hand. As you use the thumb of your non-dominant hand to press the cylinder closed rotate your middle fingers out of the gun.
  • Establish a two handed grip, and raise the gun to proper shooting level.
  • Lastly, I feel the need to explain that as long as a round is lined up with the barrel when the hammer is fully rearward and cocked the gun will go off. It does not have to be fully loaded. Academically I understand that is overly simple, however, there have been officers killed while reloading who have had rounds in the cylinder. If you only have a few rounds in the gun, but a bad guy is on you, you can accelerate the process and fire the gun as is. However, if you just blindly close the cylinder the rounds may or may not line up with the barrel – if they are not, you will just pull the trigger without the gun firing. Also if you put close the cylinder in such a way as to ensure the round is in line with the barrel as the cylinder closes, that round will be rotated away from the barrel as the hammer is cocked.
  • If you know what direction the cylinder of your brand of revolver rotates – ensure that your live rounds are placed so that they are directly beside the top-strap so they are rotated one click to align with the barrel. Smith and Wesson rotates counter clockwise, so a single round will need to be to the immediate right of the barrel. Colt on the other hand rotates clockwise, so a round will need to be in the chamber to the left of the barrel.

I know that may be a little confusing, so feel free to watch the video for a live explanation.

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