When choosing a revolver for self-defense or competition, there is a hard and fast limit on the number of rounds in the cylinder, meaning you must get religious when it comes to mastering a rapid reload.
Going all the way back to the days of Rollin White’s revolutionary cylinder design of 1857, immortalized by two guys by the name of Smith and Wesson, the cartridge revolver that could be quickly reloaded has been a hit. Even though the detachable magazine semi-auto pistol was introduced just a few decades later, the wheel gun has endured and is still popular today. The two largest publicly traded firearms companies in the U.S.– S&W, and Ruger– still have almost as many if not more revolver designs in production as they do semi-auto handguns. This is because the revolver is inherently simple, has few moving parts to master, can be very compact in snub nosed varieties, can bring the heat in large framed magnums, and a lot of people just plain old like ‘em.
With that being said, there is nothing that bars the average wheel gun user from stepping up their game when it comes to being able to rapidly reload an empty cylinder. This can be for fast and positive use on the range, competition, or in trimming the time needed to get back in the fight during a self-defense scenario.
The first revolver speed loader patented came from the mind of William H Bell in 1879 and was a simple metal disk with a rotating locking mechanism that held six cartridges. The Prideaux “cartridge-packet holder” of the 1900s was popular with Webley owners and even saw use in World War I while by the 1960s Dade Machine in the U.S. was making plastic body speed loaders for common cylinder patterns.
Today, more than a century after the semi-automatic pistol hit the scene, there are literally dozens of speed loader options on the market for almost any 5-6-7-8 shot revolver out there.
HKS is one of the most popular makers and extensively markets their twist-knob speed loaders in several variants. To charge, simply hold the empty loader skyward, place the cartridges in primer side down, and twist the knob to lock. To use in loading a revolver, simply line up with the open cylinder, ideally with the muzzle facing down to tap in Mr. Gravity’s help in the process, align the rounds with the pattern, and twist the knob a quarter turn to the left.
Five Star Firearms has a more advanced version that substitutes high-grade billet aluminum for plastic.
Safariland offers their popular Comp I and Comp II series that use a small plastic knob in the center to lock the rounds into place, and a centerline button that, when popped by the ejector rod dimple on the revolver’s cylinder, releases the tension and allows the rounds to drop into the chambers. These are very fast and often used in competition but take a bit to time to get the trick of. Also, I personally find that they “ride” better than a twist-knob type as it is hard for the release button to be actuated except when being loaded into an open revolver cylinder. There is nothing worse than having a pocket of loose rounds and an empty speed loader.
For more competition-minded users, there are top-shelf designs from Speed Beez and Buffer Tech.
When using a speed loader, first, switch the revolver to your offhand. If you are right-handed, this means it goes to your left hand. Then pop the cylinder out, pushing your two center fingers (middle and ring) around the cylinder to hold it in place to keep it from spinning– kind of like Spiderman’s web grip. Having those fingers in place when you go to reload is very important.
Next, using gravity as your friend, point the cylinder face towards the earth and the barrel towards the sky and work the ejector rod like you mean it, with many instructors advocating pumping the rod 2-3 times to make sure you have no brass left in the cylinder. It should be noted that any spent brass left in the cylinder is going to derail your reload via speed loader.
Finally, rotate the gun back around and have your speed loader ready to align with the cylinder face, using the same “Spiderman” web grip to hold it fast. Be sure to keep all fingers and toes out of the trigger guard and away from the muzzle crown for safety.
When it comes to retrieving your speed loaders from a pouch or clip, remember that it is ideal to have them on your strong side, as you will be drawing them from that side. CrossBreed also makes a really sweet single speed loader carrier that is designed specifically for concealed carry designed by Grant Cunningham while Andrews Leather’s Slimloader is similar.
In any case, be sure to experiment with your wheel gun loaded with snap caps or dummy rounds in a safe area to get the hang of it.
Made by Bianchi, Speed Strips are simply a length of narrow urethane material that holds spare rimmed cartridges. Typically, they can be slipped into a trouser or shirt pocket, though there are also a number of wallet and belt-style pouches made for carrying the strips. Generic mobile device holders work for this as well.
For these, the best way I have found to use them is to take it two rounds at a time and push them into the cylinder while peeling the strip away. This too takes practice, and be aware that reloading via a speed strip is just incrementally faster than carrying a handful of loose rounds in your pocket.
In the end, though your mileage may vary, there is no reason not to tote a reload with you to double or triple down on your average six-shooter– just in case.