Machine Gun Revolvers

When it comes to handguns issued to the military, the very first autoloader that I am aware of which found its way into holsters worn by soldiers was the Mauser C96.


The Turkish government bought 1,000 of the guns in 1897.  Hardly enough to equip all of their officers, it is true, but you have to start somewhere.

It took a lot longer for civilians and police forces to join the late 19th Century.  I remember a lot of old wheelgun aficionados back in the 1970’s who would deride the popularity of autoloaders, holding forth whenever anyone seemed to be listening on how only revolvers were reliable and jam proof.  I suppose they were lucky to have never suffered a poorly seated primer.

Nothing wrong with revolvers, of course.  I’ve carried them myself for my defense, and never felt less than adequately protected.  I just never saw the need to give anyone else grief if they didn’t see things my way when it came to choosing their own defensive tools.

But, all that aside, there were people who bitterly opposed the rising reliance on semi-automatic handguns.  Revolvers or nothing for them, and anyone who didn’t agree was a fool!

hard used 357 magnum and 38 snubby in seoia tones

One could say that I affectionately called these people “The Revolver Boys” for their lack of acceptance of the choices of others.  Except I wasn’t really being all that affectionate.

There was one problem that the revolver boys kept coming up against, and that was a matter of firepower.  Autoloaders beat revolvers every day of the week when it comes to putting a large amount of lead downrange in a hurry.

taurus millenium pro

Was there a way to increase the number of shots in a handgun that could only hold five or six rounds?  Actually, there is!

One of my shooting sports mentors bequeathed to me a collection of gun magazines which stretched back decades.  As I read them, I kept noticing an idea that the gun writers kept returning to.  It all had to do with the fact that revolver cartridges are normally much longer than the ammo designed for autoloaders.

a 9mm cartridge next to a 38 special round

Why the size discrepancy?  Mainly because revolver rounds were originally loaded with black powder, while autoloading ammo was designed to use smokeless powder.  You don’t need nearly the volume of propellent to achieve very respectable velocities when using smokeless powder, so why not make the cases of the semi-auto ammo shorter?

But even revolver rounds used smokeless powder in the 20th Century, leaving a great deal of empty space in the brass.  Why not put another projectile or two in there?

It seems that someone tried to experiment by placing a few buckshot pellets behind the bullet.

double 0 buckshot

This didn’t really work all that well, as the round ball did not have enough area scraping against the inside of the barrel for the rifling to impart any spin.  The traditional bullet in front, spinning like mad as it was supposed to, would fly true to the target.  The lead ball, though, would go pretty much off target as soon as it exited the muzzle.

Okay, so a round ball wasn’t the answer.  Howsabout a wadcutter?

wadcutter rounds

wadcutter bullets ready to be reloaded

Completely flat bullets!  Perfect!

Except that people started to get greedy.  Wadcutters are pretty long, and it was hard to get more than one or two in the case before you ran out of room.

Hey, what about this!  If standard wadcutters are too long, then just cut them in half!

stackable wadcutter next to standard wadcutter

I’ve always heard these dwarf bullets referred to as “stackable wadcutters” by people interested in handloading.  Is that the correct term?  Dunno, but it sounds about right to me.

And they perform as expected, as long as one expects a bunch of really light bullets to fly out of the muzzle of your revolver.

Keep in mind that the first bullet, the one perched at the tip of the case, was usually of standard weight and design.  The rest, however, gave me pause as to penetration and wound capability.  Even at that tender age, with very little experience in the shooting sports, I couldn’t help but wonder what good it would do to fire off a bunch of projectiles that would not penetrate deep enough to disrupt the internal organs.  There didn’t seem to be anything wrong with the performance of standard revolver ammunition, so why not stick with that?

The authors publishing articles in the gun magazines didn’t seem to be plagued with doubts.  This was the best self defense ammo, EVER!  You could get as many as 24 bullets flying downrange with a mere 6 trigger pulls!  They assured their readers that nothing short of a machine gun would d as much damage!  Now let us see a fan of autoloaders do as well!

I wasn’t convinced for the same reasons I detailed above.  Still, it seemed to be an interesting idea.  It wasn’t long before I decided to push my doubts aside and give it a try.

I had no experience with handloading, or equipment for the task.  So I turned to the same old man who had turned over his collection of gun magazines.  He guided me through the process, teaching me the basics of reloading that stood me in good stead when I was looking to save money for the charity course.

The weight of metal that had to be accelerated up to speed was much greater than that of a standard, single bullet cartridge.  But my mentor had apparently taken that into account, as he had experimented with the concept himself at one time.  It took less than an hour with his reloading press, using notes written on an index card he had carefully filed years ago, before I had assembled 50 multi-projectile revolver cartridges.

I couldn’t wait to try them out!  We took a trip to the shooting range, I loaded them up, and fired one at the target.

revolver muzzle flash

Holy crap, my hand!  What the heck just happened?

Nothing much, except all that I had not been prepared for the extra recoil all that high velocity metal imparted to the revolver.  The bullets were just moving along at medium .38 Special velocities, but there were a lot of them moving along all at once.  Noise and flash weren’t all that exciting, but the muzzle flip was rather extreme.  Nothing was hurt or bruised, but after that first round I didn’t want to shoot another.

My mentor thought the whole thing was just hilarious, as you might imagine.  He reminded me that it was my idea to try this out, and I had used his reloading supplies to assemble the ammo.  If I gave up now, then that material would go to waste.

terminator 2 finger wag

If I had just a bit more experience with reloading, then I would have known that it isn’t all that difficult to pull the bullets from the case and salvage the material that made up the ammo for another project.  But, at the time, I took him at his word and stepped up to the firing line.

In retrospect, it wasn’t all that horrible an experience.  My hand got sore from gripping the gun very tightly in an effort to keep the muzzle flip under control, but I fired off the rest of the ammo without any real trouble.  It occurred to me that, with the gun bouncing around a great deal, there certainly was no chance of a quick follow up shot.  If I hit a violent criminal attacker on the first round, all well and good.  But I would be in real trouble if I had to try again in a hurry.

And so my experiment with multiple projectiles packed into a single revolver cartridge came to an end.  From time to time over the decades, I’ve come across people who sell similar ammunition.  It is always produced by themselves in their garage or basement, is always terribly overpriced, and it is always said to be the best self defense ammo, EVER!  For some reason, the major name brand ammunition manufacturers never got around to offering their own version.

Thanks but no thanks.  I’ll stick to the standard defensive fare.  After all, there certainly isn’t anything wrong with it.

8 thoughts on “Machine Gun Revolvers

  1. Autos vs. Revolvers is like the caliber squabbles (Tastes Great! Less Filling!); personal preferences rule. We don’t all have to like the same thing–that’s why we live in America! And love it!

  2. The one overwhelming argument for me was that it’s slower and more difficult to reload a revolver, and you have to do it more often. But other people may value other things (for instance, you can’t stove-pipe a revolver).

  3. Just hold the trigger back on a Webley-Fosbery. That’s your automatic revolver right there! It is just a shame nobody ever invented a speedloader for it.

    stay safe.

    • I’m pretty sure that the speed loaders for the regular Webley .455 would work for the Webley-Fosberry. I’m also sure that it was *designed* to fire one shot per pull of the trigger. Well pretty sure. 🙂

  4. Pingback: Two For The Price Of One |

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