Handguns > Revolver

The Revolver Speed Load

When training for speed reloads with a revolver, perfect practice makes perfect.


Law enforcement statistics tell us that the average gunfight is over after just a few shots have been fired, often no more than two to three rounds. However, the smart defensive shooter doesn't practice for the times when everything goes right. He practices for the times that everything goes wrong. This is the reason that responsible defensive-training schools put so much emphasis on the speed reload. 

Learning to do a smooth, fast-speed reload with a revolver is more critical than with an autoloading pistol because, even with lots of practice, the operation takes a bit longer, and it involves more fine motor skills. The serious revolver shooter must learn a solid technique and then practice it over and over again. The following speed-reloading technique is one that comes from the days when most shooters carried a double-action revolver. It's a positive method and, with practice, can be executed rather quickly.

Regardless of whether the shooter is right- or left-handed, the revolver is laid in the left hand, with the left side of the gun up, during the reload. The index finger and little finger support the right side of the frame, in front and in back of the cylinder. The two middle fingers support the cylinder from the back side, and the left thumb is on the top side of the cylinder. As the right-hand thumb engages the cylinder release, the two middle fingers push the cylinder out of battery. At this point, the revolver muzzle is turned upward and the palm of the right hand is used to smack the ejector rod, dumping the empty cartridges.

As the left hand rotates the gun muzzle downward, the right hand goes to the belt for the speed loader and brings it to the revolver cylinder. The thumb and two middle fingers hold the cylinder still so that it won't rotate during the loading process. It is a good idea to locate the two cylinder chambers that are in the 10 and 11 o'clock positions and start those corresponding bullet noses in first. The other cartridges will then generally be lined up with their chambers, too. At this point, the release on the speed loader is activated and the cartridges are dropped into the revolver chambers. The speed loader is dropped, the cylinder is closed and the shooter is back in business.

Revolver Speed Load

Competition revolver shooters often use a different method, but this is the one that I recommend for defensive shooting. It gives the shooter a solid grip on his revolver throughout the reloading process. This is important because gunfights are very dynamic events. A person may be physically attacked by one criminal while he is trying to reload to deal with the other, armed criminal. It would be terrible, not to mention embarrassing, to have the revolver knocked from your hands at the exact time when it is most needed.

One of the most common mistakes that I see revolver shooters make is that they reload their revolvers and then take the time to put the empty speed loaders in their pockets, or back in their pouches. It's time wasted when you may very well need to be shooting. Once the speed loader is activated and the revolver cylinder is reloaded, just let go of the speed loader, get the cylinder shut and get back into the fight. The speed loader will fall away and you can pick it up later. Obviously, it is critically important to do this during the practice sessions as well. Develop the habit of just letting the speed loader go and retrieving it later.

Another common mistake for revolver shooters is that of moving the gun to belt level, near the ammo supply, to do the reload. The end result of this technique is that the shooter is bent over, looking down at the reloading process going on at belt level. The obvious problem with this technique is that the shooter loses nearly all of his or her peripheral vision. He can't see what is going on around him. If a person is executing a speed reload, it's because bad things are still likely to be going on around him. In a gunfight you've got to be able to keep up with where the bad guys are. You can bet that they are keeping up with you.

The defensive reload should be executed at some place between your shirt pockets and your chin. And the higher the better, so long as it doesn't interfere with our vision. About 12 inches in front of the body is about right, too. The reload takes place at about the same location that you would use to thread a needle (guys, get your wives or  your embroidery-loving husbands to show you).

With practice, most of us have learned to speed reload an autoloader without ever looking at the pistol or the magazines. Unfortunately, we cannot do the same with a revolver. We have to, at least, glance at the cylinder when we are first starting the bullet noses into the chambers. The high reload, with head erect, allows us to do this and still do a good job of keeping up with what is going on around us.

As with any use of defensive force, reloading is best done behind cover. Cover being anything that will stop, or at least slow down, the bad guy's bullets. Of course, one should already be behind cover. Once you see that danger is imminent and unavoidable, you should get to the nearest cover. And one only leaves good cover when there is a strong, compelling reason for doing so.

Anyone who has tried to reload a revolver in a hurry knows that it is not an easy task. It is one that must be practiced over and over again until the movements become mechanical. The speed reload should become a regular part of everyone's dry practice at home and in the live-fire practice on the range. Every time you reload your revolver, for whatever reason, do it in a tactical manner.  Practice doesn't make perfect; only perfect practice makes perfect.

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17 Responses to The Revolver Speed Load

N. Harmon wrote:
August 29, 2012

8/29/12 I need to practice this method more. I've been using the 'modern' method suggested below however with a twist. The speedloader has an epoxy stub glued on the side. It seems pretty reliable, insert, twist, catch and the knob releases.

Jack S. wrote:
March 23, 2012

Kevin explained the reload perfect!

Harding wrote:
March 18, 2012

No speedloaders - I only carry revolvers with moonclips becuase I don't have to manipulate the screw and can carry twice the loads in the same carriers. And I can carry either my .357 or .44, and am having my .41 modified for the clips.

Tom H. wrote:
March 13, 2012

As a LE officer from the 60's / 70's, and left handed, I was taught to hold the revolver in the right hand, with the thumb through the open frame and the palm of the right hand facing up to allow the weapon the rest there. The right index finger ejects spent rounds and it is then easy to reload. This technique was developed before the advent of speed loaders, so the upward facing palm served additional duty as a catcher for any fumbled rounds. As a detective, we carried speed strips which were easily secured in suit coat pockets. Slower? Sure, but times were different and that's all we had. Still like speed strips for carrying extra rounds. Nice and flat and it takes three quick moves to reload.

J.R Chapman wrote:
March 08, 2012

interesting comments. I'm LH, revolvers in PPC for 35+ years. I feel the only secure way to reload is to use the left hand fingers thru the cylinder frame holding the cylinder in position while the right hand retrieves and guides the speedloader into the cylinder. In a stress situation, the 'modern' way might result in the cylinder closing before being recharged.

JW wrote:
March 02, 2012

I won a S&W 357 magnum from their Performance Center (model 327). It came with two moon clips, and I am wondering if the use of the moon clips is required in order to provide the proper head space....or, can I load the cylinder without the use of the moon clips and still be within head space limits. The revolver has an 8 shot cylinder made of titanium, with a 2 inch barrel. The instructions that came with the gun do not address the absolute requirement to use the moon clips.

Frank wrote:
February 22, 2012

I reload revolvers almost as described, but at closer to the belly button to sternum level. I'm right handed, but place the opened revolver in my left hand. The right palm smacks the top of the rod twice. I flip the revolver back muzzle down, as a retrieve the speed loader with my right hand, and load up. As the speed loader falls, I put the revolver back in my firing hand, and close it with my left. Same movements with moon clips, just don't worry about dropping a loader.

David Hicks wrote:
February 17, 2012

How do you teach a left handed person to reload a revolver?

Joey wrote:
February 14, 2012

the article is very informative, especially to a revolver owner!

Greg wrote:
February 14, 2012

For IDPA/IPSC I do my semi-auto reloads without moving the pistol too much out of the firing position. But I don't have to look at the gun to do this. For a wheel gun doing a speed load "between the shirt pockets and chin" seems awkward and slow.

Chuck32571 wrote:
February 14, 2012

Any different method required for Moonclips?

Arturo wrote:
February 14, 2012

I was trained by New Orleans PD. Upon finding the revolver empty, swing out cyl. and sweep your left hand back and away from your body and empty the cyl. While this is taken place, reach for the speed loader. Put your revolver on left hand, your pinky on the upper f frame, your index on the rear frame, your two remining fingers hold the cyl. open and in a smooth, slow motion load the cyl. then grab the butt with your right hand if r. handed and using the left hand close the cyl. and you are in battery again. We were required to fire 12 rounds from the button down holster at waist level in 20 seconds. I am retired but practice this method once a day.

Reader wrote:
February 14, 2012

This is the modern way. The way you want to load a revolver will not work under pressure.

Kevin wrote:
February 13, 2012

I actually prefer to reload the modern way. Cylinder released with gun pointing up and swung out; Left palm forcefully comes down on th ejector clearing the cylinder of spent rounds; barrel is then oriented downward where left hand grasps speedloader bringing it forward, aligning the loader with the cylinder, quick twist of the release -- rounds drop in, rotate loader free while simultaneously closing the cylinder and bringing the gun to ready.

Kevin wrote:
February 13, 2012

Actually, I find it much quicker to bring the left hand in speedloader in hand, slide in, twist to release, close cylinder with the same motion and return to ready.

John Buol wrote:
February 12, 2012

Match One in PPC 1500 demonstrated the advantages modern revolver speedloaders offered to revolver-armed law enforcement and their wide spread adoption in the field trickled down from there. Jeff Cooper credits Ray Chapman for developing the speed load for automatic pistols, originally created to win practical shooting competition. Yet another example of how competition shooting experience has created valuable knowledge for responsible defensive training.

Guy wrote:
February 10, 2012

I disagree with your statement regarding whether if you are left or right handed, the revolver is put in your left hand to do a speed reload. I am a lefty and it is more natural to place the revolver in my right hand and load with my left hand.