Single Action vs Double Action Revolver

Single Action vs Double Action Revolver


Mathew R Reed
August 19, 2021

If you’ve been eyeing off a brand new revolver but haven’t made your final decision, there’s a good chance you’ve come across the single action and double action varieties.

These are the two main categories that revolvers come in and trying to distinguish between them can be challenging if you’re not already well-equipped with these terms.

What’s the difference between a single action vs a double-action revolver?

A single-action firearm is one that can only be fired when you cock the hammer and squeeze the trigger, as this is the only action possible to fire it.

A double-action can be fired by doing this as well, but also gives you the ability to fire by squeezing the trigger.

Most loyal handgun owners fall into one of two camps, as there are pros and cons to weigh up on either side.

We’re here to end the debate once and for all to look at the history, mechanisms, and best and worst features of these two types of revolvers, so you can find your perfect fit.

What is The Action of a Gun?

Before jumping into the differences between a single and double action revolver, we need to learn the basics.

The action of a gun is what we’re talking about when we distinguish these guns into categories of single or double, and that relates to the method it uses to fire the ammunition.

The type of action that a gun employs will dictate all of the most important processes it takes, including loading, locking, and firing, as well as how and where it extracts the cartridges.

Almost all of the popular handguns come in either single or double action, with revolvers being one of the most hotly debated.

What is a Single Action Revolver?

What is a Single Action Revolver?

The single-action revolvers work with the trigger performing just one function, hence its name.

After the hammer has been manually cocked, the user then squeezes the trigger which causes the cartridge to fire inside the chamber.

These guns get their name because only one thing happens when you pull the trigger which is the release of the hammer.

In some types of single-action revolvers, you will only need to manually cock the hammer once at first.

After this, all subsequent shots will be cocked automatically thanks to the recoiling slide, just as a double-action revolver uses.

Their History

Their History

The revolver was first designed as a way to overcome a common problem that people had with guns: the fact that they had to be reloaded.

Before the ease of today’s cartridges was introduced, this was a lot more time-consuming and usually took a full minute to do, which meant your attacker would be able to take a clear shot.

The first attempt at rectifying this was with a Chinese weapon called the pole gun, with three barrels that were loaded before they were needed.

Although it was a timely process, it did solve some of the issues of reloading and lead to further advancements like James Puckle’s rotating cylinder revolver that was patented in 1718.

The Pros

  • The trigger of a single action revolver is a lot lighter and this difference is obvious the second you place your finger on it. This not only makes it easier to fire but it means better accuracy with every shot.
  • A single action handgun is regarded as the easier of the two to use, as their inner mechanisms are simpler. This means for a first-time user they’re easier to get a handle on but also, will encounter fewer malfunctions over their lifetime.

The Cons

  • A single action revolver isn’t the best choice for self defense so if you’re looking for something to concealed carry, the double is the better option. With the single, you need to manually cock the hammer every time you take a shot, and if you’re in a situation that requires quick thinking and reloading, you’ll probably only get one try to make enough impact.

Read Also: Revolver vs Pistol: The Great Debate

What is a Double Action Revolver

What is a Double Action Revolver

The double-action revolver features two actions, as its name suggests. These firearms can fire just like a single action gun and they have the same trigger even if the pull is not the same.

The main difference is that the recoiling slide on the gun will do the work of cocking the hammer for you after each round has been fired.

A double-action revolver comes in a few different styles, including double-action-only (DAO) and double-action/single-action (DA/SA), and to make it even more confusing, all types can be used as a single only if the owner wishes.

However, the DAO style operates by having its hammer pulled back when the trigger is pulled and the cylinder is also rotated. Once it pulls back to the right point, it then drops down onto the cartridge and fires it.

Their History

Their History

Although the single-action revolver can take the credit for being the first, the advancements that lead to the double-action revolver were considered even more important.

The first double-action revolver was patented in 1851 by Robert Adams, and although it was capable of delivering a greater rate of fire, the manufacturing processes and parts were unreliable, so people were hesitant to use them.

In 1877, Colt had started developing double-action revolvers with much more reliable manufacturing techniques, and by the 1900s, they had easily overtaken their predecessors.

Although the majority of revolvers sold today are double action, many still count on the accuracy and traditional design of these firearms.

The Pros

  • Using a double action only revolver might be best for self defense as it’s generally seen as the safer and more reliable option. As there’s no hammer coming out of the firearm, there’s less chance you’ll accidentally pull it, so the rate of accidental discharge goes down.
  • When compared to a single action revolver, there’s a consistency with a double when it comes to how much pressure is needed to pull the trigger. Some people find this is less distracting as there’s not a lot of thought that goes into it, so they can act quickly when needed.

The Cons

  • The effort used to pull the trigger of a double action shotgun is a lot more and you’ll have to put in a lot more work to get the job done. Some people find the stiffness of these triggers to be off-putting and for new shooters, it can be a challenge to overcome.
  • The added force of having to work harder to pull the trigger will usually impact the accuracy of your shot, as you may pull it slightly off target to try and make up for it. With some practice and careful attention paid to trigger placement, this can be improved, but the double action is generally not at accurate.
  • Because you need to pull the trigger between each shot, the single action revolver is considered to be the slower of the two. When you’re in a situation where response time needs to be lightning fast, having to cock the hammer every time you want to fire wastes precious time. However, some single action semi-automatic handguns resolve this problem with their unqiue design.

Which One is Best For Me?

As with any type of gun, there’s no clear-cut answer that makes one type of revolver better than another.

It all depends on the person using the gun, what makes them comfortable, how accurately they can fire the weapon, and whether it’ll be used as your primary or backup weapon.

A single-action revolver is ideal for those who want low effort, but even those with double-action guns don’t utilize the double factor all that often.

As you can calibers for everything from big game hunting to personal protection in both single and double-action revolvers, these guns can be as versatile as you want them to.

The general consensus on these types of revolvers is that the single action is the better choice for hunting where you have more time to line up the shot and no need for rapid-fire.

If you’re looking for a self-defense weapon, the double-action revolver is considered the better option because they’re faster to fire, and if you can get past the long trigger pull, are still incredibly accurate.

Choosing The Right Caliber

Choosing The Right Caliber

Whether you choose a single action or double-action revolver, one of the most important decisions will be what caliber to go with.

The type of round you choose and the revolver you pair it with should be dictated by its purpose and how comfortable you are firing it, with these being some of the more popular options.

  • .38 Special: With a reputation as one of the most popular revolver calibers in the world, you’re getting the best accuracy with the .38 Special. One of the better features of this round is that its recoil is low for how much of a punch it packs, making it even more popular.
  • .357 Magnum: The .357 Magnum has a reputation for being extremely powerful and when used with a revolver, it’s even more impressive. The .357 is a popular choice for close quarters like self-defense and some types of hunting, with accuracy up to around 100 yards possible.
  • .45 Colt: The .45 Colt dates all the way back to 1872 and is still used to this day as a reliable and powerful firearm. Although it went away for a while, Colt released their famous weapon again in the 1950s and it’s considered one of the most dependable guns out there.
  • .454 Casull: This is considered the best of the best if you’re hunting large game, like a buffalo, with 1,600 foot-pounds of muzzle energy and speeds of 1,400 fps. When coupled with a reliable revolver, you’ll have one of the most serious calibers around that can take down anything you want it to.

Read Also: 10mm vs 45mm: Which Caliber is the Best?

The Importance of the Action

The action of any handgun is a big deal as it ultimately affects how the gun is fired.

When it comes to revolvers and the debate over single vs double, most people are loyal to their choice, but nothing is stopping you from utilizing both and having twice the fun.

Revolvers come in all shapes and sizes, with features out there to match just about any requirement their potential owner has.

If you still want to learn more on revolvers beyond the single and double action debate, check out these FAQs and our answers to do just that.

What is The Best Revolver Caliber?

The .357 Magnum is usually considered the most popular caliber for a revolver because it has a high ratio of energy per bullet size.

However, those wanting something more powerful might opt for the 500 Magnum which is commonly used for personal protection and defensive revolvers.

Can You Hunt With a Revolver?

Although a handgun isn’t the most common firearm for hunting, there are some single-shot pistols and double and single-action revolvers that are suitable.

The accuracy and range of today’s revolvers make them better for hunting than previously, but a rifle is a preferred gun for today’s hunter.

Can a Revolver Fire Without Pulling The Trigger?

All types of guns can fire without the trigger being pulled in the right circumstances, including both types of revolvers.

This occurs due to a mechanical failure that causes an accidental discharge but they are an extremely rare occurrence in most modern guns and not an issue that you normally have to worry about.


Mathew R Reed

Mathew R Reed is a professional gun seller who runs a dedicated gun store in the suburbs of Oakland, CA. A hardcore hunting enthusiast since childhood, Reed has ample experience with guns and accessories. He is the founder of and creates some of the most helpful gun-buying guides and explainers. If not in the gun shop, you can find him on the nearest hiking trail or nearby hunting spot.