Reloading a Revolver

Although I still teach a lot of classes at Black Wing Shooting Center in Delaware, Ohio, my role has evolved to include planning and administration of our training programs, as well as executing those plans. Consequently, I have become more interested in things such as instructor development and the standardization of procedures and techniques.

Among other things, we teach defensive use of the firearm, and while we recognize that a violent criminal assault is a fluid, chaotic event that often demands improvisation, that improvisation has to be born of some sensible, practiced technique.

And from what I have observed, reloading a revolver during a fight is among the most difficult, least likely to succeed tasks during an emergency. So despite my built-in suspicion of controlling the movements of others to a fine degree, here is as straightforward a practice technique as I can present. As described, this is intended for a right-handed shooter. Of course southpaws can run revolvers, but they are stacking the deck against themselves to a pretty unreasonable degree.

Reloading a Revolver

Step 1

We start with the recognition that the gun needs to be reloaded. Bring the gun in close to your body — your retention position. Note that in the interests of clarity, the pictures do not depict the gun up close. The right thumb operates the cylinder release latch. At the same time, the left hand wraps under and around the revolver, so that the middle and ring fingers of the left hand can push the cylinder open from the right side of the frame.

Reloading a Revolver

Step 2

Reloading a Revolver

Step 3

As the cylinder opens, the right hand passes control of the gun to the left. The idea is that the dominant hand (with its greater dexterity) is now free to perform the upcoming tasks.

Reloading a Revolver

Step 4

Reloading a Revolver

Step 5

The left hand pivots the gun upward, which allows the maximum opportunity for gravity to assist the removal of the spent cartridge cases from the cylinder. The right hand reaches over and operates the ejector rod. While training, do not find and push the rod with just a fingertip. Degradation of fine motor dexterity and lessened sensitivity may make locating the tip of the ejector rod difficult. Instead, use the palm of the hand so that positive contact is assured.

With the cylinder now empty, the left hand rotates the gun to point generally downward, again allowing gravity to contribute to inserting the fresh cartridges. The right hand is at this time retrieving the live ammunition, which should be in the form of a speed loader or speed strip.

Most people tend to place the spare ammunition on the non-dominant side of their body. This works fine with semi-automatic pistols because the level of dexterity needed to perform the reload is available from the non-dominant hand. However, reloading the revolver requires more precise control, so it is best done by the dominant hand. This means that spare ammo for the revolver needs to be within easy reach of the dominant hand — the opposite of what most of us want to do.

Reloading a Revolver

Step 6

Reloading a Revolver

Step 7

With the revolver oriented downward, the right hand inserts the cartridges into the cylinder, freeing them from the loading device. The now-empty device has served its purpose and is dropped or discarded at once. This frees the right hand to take control of the revolver again. The right hand takes the grip and the left hand pushes the cylinder up into the closed and locked position. The left hand can now resume its place in a proper two-handed grip.

With practice, the above technique can be performed quickly and smoothly. It can even be applied to left-handed users, at least conceptually. The key ingredient is to allow the dominant hand the ability to perform the more precise or complicated tasks. This means briefly passing the gun into the non-dominant hand and back again.

Other ways to teach revolver reloads exist. My purpose here is to share what is in my opinion a good method, so that it can be a well from which a successful improvisation might spring. God forbid any of us should need it!

Discussion
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43 Responses to “Reloading a Revolver”
  1. Mike D

    Great useful article! I would have included one point, however. With your left hand cupped and manipulating the cylinder during the reload, it serves as “catch all” if you drop a round while placing it in the cylinders. Keep em coming!

    Reply
  2. LarryArnold

    This is exactly how I teach beginners to load/reload/unload revolvers. Over thirty years of firing line experience, including eighteen years of administering CHL practicals, I’ve noticed that beginners using this method (with or without speedloaders) load faster and drop fewer cartridges than the “experts” who know better ways.

    Reply
  3. Ren Driver

    Yeah, us southpaws do get stacked against us with revolvers unfortunately(I have one that I have for target shooting primarily. I keep a PX4 for defense). You do learn interesting and often unorthidox ways to do it consistently and quickly.

    Reply
  4. Andy Loeffler

    Thanks everyone, both for reading and taking a moment to comment.
    Paul, Mike D, Larry, Ron and Dennis- Knowing that folks like you are reading PDN helps me be a better instructor and look for ways to share what I learn with you.
    @Rolf- I am terrible at being left handed, but I’ll try. In the meantime, I highly recommend the book “Defensive Revolver Fundamentals” by fellow PDN contributor Grant Cunningham.
    @Dee- Speedloaders are far from perfect but are much better than dropping loose cartridges in one at a time. There are several types on the market (I have used the HKS brand loaders for years) but no matter which you choose- operate it with the dominant hand and practice! Thanks for reading.

    Reply
  5. Gordon

    I am a southpaw, and can reload a revolver pretty quick, but it took some practice and ingenuity to learn how to do it.

    Reply
  6. J Dellinger

    Great info for classic owners of wheel guns. I taught this exact method after attending the Bureaus training sessions in Peekskill, NY yrs and eons ago. Keep up the good work.

    Reply
  7. Binn

    Great article. Thank goodness I’m ambidextrous with shooting and reloading. Hope the bad guy isn’t.

    Reply
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  9. Ed McCourt USMC (ret)

    This is an old procedure , however good stuff for beginners. If they practice correctly!

    Reply
  10. John Hunter

    You are assuming the right hand is always dominant in every situation. I am right handed but there are a number of activities that my left hand is definitely dominant in performing. It would be very awkward for my right hand to do the ejecting and then the inserting of the ammo.

    Reply
  11. Tom

    A lifetime ago when qualifying with a revolver (Michigan DOC) you used dump pouches. You shot at a B27 target, shoot two, load two, shoot four load four, shoot six. All timed and scored. It was difficult and lots of pressure. The rule was slow is smooth and smooth is fast.

    Reply
  12. Carl Weil

    with the preface of 1- I am not a top pro- such as Elmer Keith or Ed McGivern [got to spend time with Keith, too young to meet McGivern] 2- many handgun records are still held by skilled men using revolvers. 3- style depends on which speed loader one chooses- I use strips and maxfire [I have had no damage] AND if one wants to partial reload during a lull in the fight to stay at max and less probability of running dry., so i keep in my right hand and muzzle down so i cam partial eject spent rounds with strips and full reload same position with maxs which do better if one is left hand trained/skilled. I have been taught to do every thing with either hand as dominant is more apt to be hurt- wont bore you with method – you will find your best – hint muzzle always down – gently push ejector rod only 1/2 way and let it snap back, then pluck the expanded empty’s and use strip loads to replace

    Reply
  13. MikeSlisher

    Having “grown up” so to speak during the time of revolvers, I am only going to speak to my own experience.
    1. Rotate gun barrel upwards with right hand while releasing the cylinder.
    2. Strike the ejector rod sharply with the left palm, dropping all the spent rounds free.
    3. Grasp speedloader (HKS or Safariland) with left hand while rotataing gun barrel down with right hand. Right index finger goes through the cylinder opening holding the cylinder open.
    4. Present rounds into cylinder with left hand. Left thumb and index finger are around the speedloader latch, middle through little finger are cupped aroudn the rounds to help guide them into the cylinder.
    5. Release rounds (twist with HKS, push with Safariland) into the cylinder.
    6. Close the cylinder with the left hand allowing the speedloader to fall to the ground.
    7. Acquire sight picture on target and proceed to fire.

    While I’ve never had to use this under “live” conditions, I’ve used it in competition enough time for it to fall into muscle memory condition. I can accomplish this pretty much sight unseen and in literally a couple seconds.

    Reply
  14. Andrew

    I carry a revolver. I also carry a New York reload. When the revolvers empty, I grab the other gun. 🙂

    Reply
  15. Ronald Hodak

    I have never owed a semi auto hand gun. I am old school wheelman. with every gun I have purchased, and there were a few different makes and models over the years, I have made it a practice to always practice this because different revolvers weigh different, bbl is different and cylinder size can be different between small frame and light frame revolvers. I must admit that I have never used a speed loader or strip. I carry two utility belt cartridge holders that hold 6 rounds each. I find them easier to conceal under my shirt on my right side. many hours of practicing unsnapping them from the bottom so the shells drop into my hand allow me to reload my revolver swiftly using the technics as described by the author. one point I would like to make is to be sure you are behind good cover as you do this.

    Reply
  16. Harold Mendelson

    I’m left handed and when shooting a revolver I follow your reloading procedure except using the opposite hand. The biggest problem is operating the latch to open the cylinder.

    I have found the key to sucessfully using reloading a revolver is to practice with dummy ammo. When you can do it with your eyes closed, you will have mastered the reloading process.

    Reply
  17. TomC

    Ok, right up to the point where the instructions say “the left hand rotates the gun to point generally downward” which just plain ain’t gonna happen the way it is shown in the text — the reload is never discussed in the video and is performed only at nearly full speed, but Rob’s technique is NOT the technique shown in the photos and text.

    Reply
  18. Mike Lawson

    I have to disagree with keeping the gun close to the body during reloading, but holding the gun inverted in the left hand, and operating the ejection rod with the palm of the hand is right on . The unloading/reloading process is best done with the gun positioned in such a way that both it, and the threat, are within your field of view. This is not possible if the gun is held low and close.

    Reply
  19. muddog15

    There’s actually not a big deal for left handed people to change this around. It still takes practice but it can be done. Reloading can be faster because the right hand is out of the way of the cylinder. Look at the picture of the right method, the left hand is in the way.

    Reply
  20. David Harper

    One option for southpaws is to roll their thumb over the grip to operate the cylinder latch (visualize thumb wrestling) and the rest of the technique stays the same–in a mirror image

    Reply
  21. P. B. Krauss

    This is the same technique I learned over almost 35 years ago when I first started in law enforcement. I have seen a number of ways to reload a revolver over the years and always return to this method. I am left handed and had an instructor able to demonstrate how to reload left handed using this method.

    Reply
  22. Brian Parket

    I am just wondering why it is would be harder for a left-handed shooter?
    “Left-handed in MD.”

    Reply
  23. robert j hobbs

    both of my hands work well. use a speed loader or use full moon clips. thank you for your tips. best of the day to you, bob hobbs

    Reply
  24. Ken

    Interesting article with good information, but it misses a key point. If a person is going to carry a wheel gun, I started at 16 with a S&W 19 and now carry a S&W 625, I feel that they need to practice loading with both the dominant hand an the non dominant hand. In any self defense situation there is always the chance of injury or some other reason that a person might not be able to do a standard reload. Our police chief, who okayed my carrying, stressed this important fact over and over to me and the officers. So I always teach them how to do one handed loading, off hand loading, and awkward position loading of their wheel gun. I love my 1911, but I can’t carry it because it is to valuable, 1917 make and issue, so I went back to my first love, the .45 Colt, and try to teach people all the things I have learned since 1977. With practice my students seem to feel comfortable carrying a wheel gun now.

    Reply
  25. Anthony J Skura

    What about a single action revolver? What is the fastest way of unloading and reloading? Thanks for the information on double action revolvers.

    Reply
  26. Glenn Hunsinger

    Your method obviously can work, but I prefer a quicker method that involves fewer movements. I prefer to push the cylinder release with my right thumb as I push the cylinder open and hold it open with my right index finger. Before I open the cylinder, I use my left hand to retrieve my Safariland speedloader and hold it between my left index finger and left thumb. I point the muzzle up and I place my left palm to operate the ejector rod as soon as the cylinder swings open. I place my right thumb to the right of the hammer to clear space for ejected cases to fall free. I operate the ejector rod one time, then point the muzzle down to insert the rounds from the speedloader into the chambers. I use Safariland speedloaders so I can just shove the speedloader to chamber the new rounds without having to change my grip on the speedloader or turn any knob. Then I let the empty speedloader fall away and close the cylinder with the heel of my left hand as I again level my gun at my adversary. Throughout the process I retain the shooting grip on the revolver. Notice that the revolver never leaves my shooting hand, and I bring my hands together only one time. If an adversary can see what I’m doing, he or she probably won’t have a clue that I am in the process of reloading until I have my muzzle pointed up and the empty cases are falling out; from then the adversary will have very little time to react before I have lowered my muzzle, chambered new rounds and leveled my gun again. This is a pretty simple revolver reloading method that with practice can become quite smooth. Smooth is fast.

    Reply
  27. Robert E

    My difficulty is rotating the empty gun downward, can’t seem to twist my wrist far enough unless I lower my left arm.

    Reply
  28. Larry C

    The example in the picture is of a small five shot revolver. There is an important difference to be aware of here as compared to a full-size revolver. (I am familiar with the S&W J-Frames, others may be different) Step five mentions using a speed loader or speed strip, two completely different things. What is important to know is that the ejector on five shot j-frame revolvers by design does not have a long enough stroke to fully eject the spent casings. A sharp whack may eject them but there’s no guarantee, especially if firing hot +p loads or if the cylinder has dirty chambers. This makes use of a speed loader difficult at best. The purpose of the short stroke ejector on the j-frame was so one could shoot a couple rounds, duck behind cover, swing the cylinder open and, with the muzzle pointed downward, push the ejector rod. Release the rod and the live rounds slide back into the chamber while the expanded spent casings remain protruding from the cylinder. Use the fingers of your dominant hand to pick them out, discard and refill with a “speed strip.” Fun times at the range, not so fun if one is being shot at!! BTW, I believe Bianchi is credited with coining the name, “Speed Strip.”

    Reply
    • Glenn Hunsinger

      The longer ejector rod on 3″ J-frames provides a longer stroke that nicely ejects spent cases. Consider carrying only a clean gun, and consider that using the same reloading technique regardless of the number of rounds fired might present fewer problems to ponder during a dangerous confrontation.

      Reply
  29. Bob Ramirez

    I use a Govenor and as was taught to also make it a practice to turn barrel counter clockwise. Do you know why or does it matter?

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      Hi Bob. I’m guessing it was a typo and you meant turning the “cylinder” counter clockwise not the “barrel”. It’s also a guess that you are referring to rotating the cylinder when reloading using loose rounds. That technique is taught by some because when shooting the cylinder rotates counter clockwise and if you need to get the gun back into the fight before finishing loading all cylinders the live rounds will be closer to the firing position. That technique, however, is very inefficient and requires much more dexterity to perform. Check out these PDN videos on reloading a revolver from Claude Werner. The first one covers reloading with loose rounds and addresses needing the gun before completely reloading the revolver. Utilizing Claude’s reload technique a partially loaded revolver will be immediately ready to fire.

      https://www.personaldefensenetwork.com/video/practice-for-loading-a-snub-nosed-revolver-005251/
      https://www.personaldefensenetwork.com/video/snub-nosed-revolver-speed-loader-004512/
      Thanks
      Deryck-PDN

      Reply
  30. Dmann

    I wonder how many people you’ve killed with this Bad presentation. A revolver should Never leave the safety of the shooting hand.

    Reply