Buying a New Sidearm? Don't Finalize a Gun Until You Read This Guide!

Person standing with a sidearm that is carefully tucked into a gun holster

Selecting a sidearm can get confusing, carefully consider your needs before spending your next dollar. 

 

Key Takeaways 

  • Pistols and revolvers are the two most common sidearms
  • Pistols can carry more rounds compared to a revolver
  • Pistols have more internal parts, which increases the likelihood of malfunctions
  • Revolvers have simpler actions, which are much easier to maintain
  • Loading a revolver takes longer than a pistol
  • A double-action sidearm requires more effort to fire than a single-action

 

The whole purpose of a sidearm is to serve as a reliable backup weapon when your primary weapon malfunctions, is out of range, or is out of rounds. Selecting a sidearm is no joke; every gun owner needs to invest enough time to research a quality sidearm. Is a revolver more effective, or does a pistol make more sense? You need to take a good look at what matters to you most. 

Buyers need to consider the various sidearm types, ammunition, safety features, and other such variables before narrowing down to the one that best meets their requirements. Honestly, that is a lot of information to go through. Hence, Ammunition Depot, in this write-up, will guide you through the various considerations when choosing a sidearm.

 

Most common sidearm types

Pistol: A Pistol serves as a handy, lightweight, reliable, and easy-to-fire sidearm. A pistol has a fixed chamber, a magazine, and a slide. The owner will load the rounds into the magazine and move the slide back to chamber a round. Pistols like the Glock 17, S&W M&P Shield, and Ruger 1911 Commander have all acquired extraordinary popularity.

Revolver: A revolver uses a revolving cylinder with multiple chambers. Each chamber can hold a single cartridge. The operator may need to cock the hammer or pull the trigger to cock and release the hammer. Some popular revolvers are Smith & Wesson Model 64, HERITAGE Rough Rider Small Bore, and S & W Model 60.

 

Pistol vs. revolver 

A well-maintained revolver is highly unlikely to jam. All you have to do is pull the trigger to line up a new cartridge in case of a misfire. Also, you can chamber a revolver for more powerful cartridges. This makes the wheel gun a reliable choice in jungle settings and for home defense. Plus, modern revolvers with steel or aluminum frames offer minimal recoil. 

Pistols have a higher capacity. Most revolvers have a capacity of five and seven rounds. Whereas, with pistols, you can sometimes go all the way up to 20 rounds. Plus, pistols reload much faster due to having a detachable magazine while revolvers require you to load a cartridge into each chamber. Most pistols also use a polymer frame that makes them more lightweight.

 

Sidearm caliber

Most revolvers use rimmed cartridges. The rim dictates how far into the chamber the cartridge can go. Without the rim, the cartridges could slide into the chamber. The most common revolver calibers include the .38 Special, .44 Special, .44 Magnum, .357 Magnum, and the .45 Colt. 

Pistols generally use rimless or semi-rimmed cartridges. The rimless cartridge allows for more fluid cycling and feeding mechanism from the magazines. However, there are a few semi-rimmed cartridges that have a rim slightly larger than the case diameter. The most common pistol calibers include the .380 ACP, .45 ACP, .40 S&W, and 9mm. 

You won't come across interchangeable cartridges for revolvers and pistols that often. When dealing with ammo, minor differences mean a lot. A .38 special is not the same as a .38 Super, which is a semi-automatic cartridge. Be very specific with ammo names. Simply stating .38 isn't enough — .38 ACP is not the same as .38 Super, .38 Long Colt, .38 Special, and other .38 variants.

 

Sidearm customization

Upgrading your favorite sidearm to make a fancy statement is every shooter's dream. From adding a gun wrap to attaching custom components, there are many creative ways to personalize your sidearm. However, certain sidearms carry more limitations and don't allow a lot of room for extras. Always evaluate the most popular and useful upgrades for your specific sidearm. 

Most pistols allow the shooter to add accessories such as scopes, suppressors, and laser pointers. Outside of all this, shooters can fit hybrid barrels, polish the extractor, lower the ejection port, refinish the pistol, add a front slide serration, or get a flat-top slide. The point is, with pistols, more parts mean more opportunities for enhancement. 

Revolvers don't allow as many customizations as pistols. However, owners can still customize the sidearm with subtle details, like changing the color on the grip, trigger, or even the cylinder. You could even add a logo, an engraving, remove cylinder endshake, attach a frontsight, add a target crown, or get a premium mirror polish finish for that personal touch.

 

Sidearm safety features 

Modern sidearms are very safe if the operator knows how to use them properly. With that said, you still want to have a set of features to ensure absolute safety and peace of mind while carrying the sidearm. The last thing you want is the gun firing off unexpectedly. 

Many pistols feature a manual safety lever that shooters can activate to prevent the pull of the trigger. Besides this, you'll see pistols with a grip safety, firing pin block, hammer block, transfer bar safety, Loaded Chamber Indicator (LCI), trigger lever safety, and even a passive safety called a “drop safety” to reduce the chances of a pistol firing when dropped. 

Single-action revolvers don't have many safeties except maybe a half-cock hammer notch. However, double-action revolvers feature many internal safety mechanisms, such as a transfer bar safety, firing pin block, longer trigger pull, and a hammer block that prevents it from firing accidentally in your holster. You can also customize a revolver with external safety features.

 

Sidearm — double-action (DA) vs. single-action (SA)

With a single-action sidearm, the trigger pull is light and short — the shooter doesn't need to exert much force to squeeze the round off. However, the shooter must cock the hammer before firing. A single-action semi-automatic pistol requires manual cocking on first fire, after which the recoil from the slide will cock the hammer. The easier trigger pull allows for more accurate shooting. 

With a double-action-only sidearm, the trigger pull will cock the hammer and drop it for every shot. In a double-action pistol (SIG P250), the hammer always rests in the down position (so it’s not cocked) until you start to pull the trigger. Using a sidearm in double-action mode allows faster firing but requires a more extended and heavier trigger pull, which affects your accuracy. 

DA/SA revolvers and pistols (PPK and P.38), in double-action mode, the trigger pull will cock and release the hammer. In the case of a semi-automatic pistol, after the first fire, the recoiling slide cocks the hammer, ejects the spent cartridge, and chambers a new round. All the subsequent shots will be in single-action mode.

 

The best sidearm for you

Revolvers are more potent, offer little recoil, and load fewer rounds that take longer to load, but they are easy to maintain, repair, and operate. Pistols, on the other hand, have more moving parts and more maintenance issues. However, pistols hold more rounds, and that gives you flexibility and a sense of security that you won’t find yourself without the ammunition you need in an emergency. Ultimately, the best sidearm is the one that meets your expectations.

For more firearm buying tips and guides, check out our Gun Owners Gazette blog, and know that you can trust Ammunition Depot for all your sidearm needs.

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