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.

Unloading a Semi-Automatic (1911)


Unloading a Semi-Automatic (1911)
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This is an older video that I posted on google videos several years ago.  Now that google owns YouTube, they made me either delete the video or transfer it to YouTube.

Since this video is one of the first three I ever made – I choose to keep it for sentimental reasons.  I have learned a lot about making videos since those first videos.

This one on Unloading a Semi-Automatic is pretty good information even if the camera work is not the best.

No matter what type of firearm you have ensure that you follow proper safety procedures.  Ensure that no matter what, you follow proper firearm safety rules and treat every firearm as if it was loaded.

Never point your firearm at anything you do not wish to shoot.

Keep your firearm on safe until you are ready to fire, and keep your finger straight and off the trigger until you intend to fire.

When I bought the micro compact 1911 I was ignorant enough to think that all 1911s were the same, but with comparing the tiny little one with a normal sized 1911A2 I realized that I did not know as much as I thought about the model.

Always Physically Check Your Firearm Chamber For Safety

Physically Check Your Firearm Chamber
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So as I said in my Physically Check Your Firearm Chamber video above, firearm doctrine is created by our understanding of what works and why it works. Some things may seem to be superfluous or unnecessary when our understanding is limited, but as we understand the framework of the system we begin to realize WHY we do what we do.

This post shows one such firearm safety procedure and why you should always check your firearm chamber, physically as well as visually when unloading.

Firearm safety rules and procedures are fundamental to our safe use of firearms.  Later we will delve into the 4 fundamental rules of gun safety and why they are the fundamental rules.  For now let’s just talk about one thing. Why do we need to physically check to make sure our firearm is empty? Isn’t enough just to look into the chamber to see there is not a bullet inside?

I get a lot of personal joy helping someone become more comfortable shooting.  However, the main reason I like firearm training is the knowledge I get from keeping current in the field. To teach defensive firearm use I need to learn about how the mind works under stress, and how to apply that knowledge to physical tasks.

Why You Should Physically Check Your Firearm Chamber

You don’t rely on just your eyes to ensure our firearm is unloaded is because you cannot always trust them. To be more accurate, we cannot always trust our brain to accurately interpret what our eyes are telling it. Our brain is constantly being hit by stimuli, our clothes, background noises, smells, air currents, and other things would drive us crazy if the brain was not able to catalog and then ignore what it finds to be unimportant. It also creates little shortcuts to deal with minor repeatable tasks. If a stranger says “hello, how are you?” your brain automatically responds with something like “Pretty good, you?” (Or if you’re a Dave Ramsey fan “Better than I deserve”).

Of course someone is saying, “That’s stupid, I would never go into autopilot with something important like seeing if my gun was unloaded?”.   I bet if they thought about it, they could not remember a recent time that they actually thought through the steps it takes when they start their car, they just do it. Cars are serious business; more people are killed by cars than by handguns.

Furthermore, I bet that if they really think, they can remember a time when, after changing jobs, they found themselves missing a turn to their new workplace because they found themselves on autopilot driving to work.

When your brain goes about deciding to ignore the unimportant as background, it is creating ruts to preserve its processing power work together in this case.  If you find yourself “going through the motions” of gun handling you may be in for a surprise.

Basically, if you expect to see an empty chamber, you will probably see an empty chamber.  You can learn more about this in the book Thinking, Fast and Slow.

By physically using a finger to Check Your Firearm chamber you fix both of these root causes. By taking the extra step, your brain attaches extra importance to the act of ensuring the chamber is clear.  When your finger actually touches a round, the double dose of reality jars the brain into admitting its mistake.

Train like you Fight!

 Cops dumped the rounds in their hands so they wouldn’t have to pick them up laterI know this may sound a little farfetched to some, but put this in your head for perspective. You fight like you train.  For decade’s law enforcement trainers told their students to let the rounds fall to the ground when reloading their revolvers.  Rather than reload quickly law enforcement students would instead take the time to dumping spent rounds into their hands.  Cops dumped the rounds in their hands so they wouldn’t have to pick them up later. Officers routinely said they would only do that on the range.  They argued that they were smart enough to know the difference between range ease and street tactics.

After the Newhall shooting, the officers killed in the line of duty were found with casings in their pockets and unloaded firearms in their hands showed both trainers and students that training outweighed notional ideas of what you might or might not do. The officers involved were good cops and they fought back the best they could.  However, they did not have a full understanding of their tactics and training issues involved and they ended up murdered.

We might not carry revolvers as much anymore, but firearm fundamentals and mental preparedness apply to any firearm action type. You can easily check your firearm chamber by feel in a semi auto as a revolver.

Take what I am saying to you, and apply it to your situation.  I would hate to hear about a negligent discharge caused by an “unloaded gun”.