Single-action revolvers, in the right caliber, bring tremendous stopping power.
(Photo by Nick Allen)

An additional benefit of the single-action (SA) revolver is that it is available in many calibers and chamberings—from rimfire to as hot and heavy as you can handle. You can’t go wrong with a .357 Magnum. Its capability of shooting light .38 Special loads for practice and magnum loads for serious work, along with the widespread availability of ammunition, makes it a top choice for many. I have three Rugers chambered in .357 Mag, and they all see regular use.

Trustworthy Single-Action Revolver Calibers for Self-Defense


My favorite cartridge for any revolver is the .44 S&W Special. It proves very accurate, and works with loads over a wide range of power needs—from powder-puff target loads to practice with near-magnum loads for those times I tread in country shared with grizzly bears. I almost never shoot factory ammo with jacketed bullets in any of the seven or so revolvers I have chambered for this wonderful cartridge. Instead, I handload a Lyman 429421 semi-wadcutter that I cast from linotype over 8 grains of Alliant Unique powder. This is a hot load and should not be fired in vintage guns. But my Ruger and Colt SAs digest it without a problem.

.45 COLT

The .45 Colt is the original chambering for the SA revolver, and it remains an excellent choice. Originally, it took 40 grains of FFg black powder to launch a 255- to 260-grain round nose bullet with a tiny flat point. It owns a well-earned reputation as a one-shot fight-stopper. Except for some traditional cowboy-action shooters, the blackpowder loads have disappeared into obscurity. Again, I prefer to cast my own 255-grain semi-wadcutters from a Lyman 452424 mold. With 8 grains of Alliant Unique to move it at about 850 to 900 fps, it replicates the ballistics of the original load pretty well.


Finally, I have relatively recently discovered a new (for me) cartridge for the thumb-buster. It’s actually one of the oldest chamberings for the SA revolver—the .44-40. I “discovered” it when I began to shoot in some local cowboy-action matches. Being a sort of traditionalist, I was drawn toward it—so much so that I ordered up a matched pair of consecutively serial numbered Colt SAAs. It has proven to be a remarkably pleasant and easy cartridge to shoot.

Large, soft point bullets make good fight stoppers in revolvers.
(Photo by Nick Allen)

And although it would not be my first choice for dedicated self-defense, it has a long and well-earned reputation for that task. For what it’s worth, I load the .44-40 with real black powder. Thirty-three grains of FFg behind a Lyman 427666 flat-point bullet that falls from my mold at 212 grains will provide you with plenty of oomph to take the starch out of most any bad guy. You can, of course, replicate the ballistic qualities of this load with 7.2 grains of IMR PB or 8 grains of Alliant Unique.

This article is from the April-May 2021 issue of Personal Defense World magazine. Grab your copy at

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