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Best Revolvers Of All Time

Best Revolvers Of All Time

Here are 10 wheelguns we find truly deserve to be called classics.

While today’s handgun market may be dominated by auto pistols, revolvers remain extremely popular. A strong market for them clearly exists, as companies continue to design and manufacture new models every year. While there are some excellent modern revolvers available today, it raises the question of what were the best revolvers ever made.

Of the 10 revolvers that I felt were deserving of a spot, some will only be available used while others are still being produced today in some form or another. Either way, all are certifiable classics.

Lists like this are subjective by nature, but it would be hard to argue that the selected wheelguns didn’t leave a major impact on the handgun world. That said, if you feel that any revolvers are missing or that one of these picks doesn’t deserve its spot on the list, let us know in the comments!

What Makes A Revolver “The Best”?  

There are many different metrics that one could use to determine what the best revolvers of all time were. You could analyze it from a pure manufacturing standpoint, consider each model’s features and shootability or even look at raw sales numbers. This list will use a more comprehensive approach.

To qualify as one of the best, each revolver needs to have been well-built and shootable enough to have earned a good reputation and an extensive history of proven, real-world use. Whether that use was with the military or police, hunters, competition shooters or just ordinary citizens, all these guns became known to work when they needed to, work well and work for a long time.

What are the 10 best revolvers?

The Top 10 Revolvers of All Time

S&W Model 442 

With small carry guns like this S&W 442, the sights are adequate only in perfect light. The addition of a laser allows accuracy levels that could never be achieved with iron sights with such a short sight radius. This group was fired with Remington Golden Saber ammunition at 15 yards off a bench in low light.
  • SPECS:
  • Model: Smith & Wesson Model 442 Airweight
  • Barrel Length: 1.88 Inches 
  • Finish: Black 
  • Grips: Synthetic 
  • Caliber: .38 Special 
  • Capacity:
  • Unloaded Weight: 14.6 Ounces
  • Dimensions: 6.3×1.3×4.3 Inches
  • MSRP: $539 

Descended from the S&W Centennial that was introduced in 1952, this line of snubnose revolvers has been one of the most popular concealed carry handguns ever since it was released. The Model 442 was introduced in 1990, and it’s since taken its place as the gold standard for .38 snubs.

That’s partly because in 1995, the 442 was given an aluminum frame and the “Airweight” designation. As a DAO 5-shot J-frame with an internal hammer and simple, snag-free sights, it was already easy to carry, but shaving off a few ounces made it even better. The 442 is still in production and S&W offers five variants of it at the time of writing.

There are arguably better snubs available for concealed carry today, but a huge number of armed citizens still prefer the tried-and-true 442.

Check out our complete review on the 442!

Smith & Wesson Model 10 

  • SPECS:
  • Model: Smith & Wesson Model 10 (Current production)
  • Barrel Length: 4 Inches
  • Finish: Black 
  • Grips: Wood 
  • Caliber: .38 Special
  • Capacity:
  • Unloaded Weight: 34.6 Ounces 
  • Dimensions: 8.87×1.45 x5.85 Inches
  • MSRP: $879

Initially introduced as the Smith & Wesson .38 Hand Ejector Model of 1899 and chambered for the .38 Long Colt cartridge, this revolver has gone by many names as it evolved over the years. Most known as the Model 10 today, it was one of the most popular handguns in the world for much of the 20th century. It was also called the S&W Military & Police, or M&P, for many years due to its great popularity with police and militaries in both the U.S. and abroad. Given its service history and reputation, it’s not a stretch to call the Model 10 the single most proven service handgun in history.

The Model 10 has always been a pretty simple affair, although more feature-rich variants were produced over the years as well. Today, S&W still makes the Model 10, albeit only the most classic and basic version. Chambered for .38 Special, it has a 6-shot cylinder, a 4-inch barrel, a top strap gutter sight and fixed blade front sight, wood grips and a black finish. This K-frame is about as classic as classic revolvers get.

Colt Python 

In 1955, Colt’s Firearms introduced what many believe to be the most elegant .357 Magnum revolver ever created—the Python. This example is an Ultimate Python in stainless steel and has the best features found with any Python, plus the bonus of custom grips to make it one of the nicest .357 Magnum revolvers one can find.
  • SPECS:
  • Model: Colt Python (Current Production)
  • Barrel Length: 2.5; 3; 4; 4.25; 5; 6 Inches
  • Finish: Polished Stainless Steel; Blued; Matte
  • Grips: Walnut; Rubber; G10
  • Caliber: .357 Magnum/.38 Special 
  • Capacity:
  • Unloaded Weight: 46 Ounces (6-inch model)
  • Dimensions: 11.5×1.55×5.5 Inches (6-inch model)
  • MSRP: Starts at $1,299 

The Colt Python is certainly one of the most beautiful revolvers ever made. It has one of the most iconic, striking silhouettes of any handgun, with the full-length ejector shroud and vent rib on the barrel making it instantly recognizable.  

The Python was made to be an up-market gun, requiring extensive fitting and finishing processes to turn them out. They were popular bullseye guns and some found their way into police service by officers who scrimped and saved enough to buy one. Whether the second generation introduced in 2020 lives up to the original-production models is up for debate, but at least they’re still available. 

Read our full review on the Colt Python.

Smith & Wesson Model 19 

The Model 19 boasted supreme stopping power, yet came in a manageable package.
  • SPECS:
  • Model: Smith & Wesson Model 19 Classic (Current Production)
  • Barrel Length: 4.25 Inches
  • Finish: Black 
  • Grips: Wood 
  • Caliber: .357 Magnum/.38 Special 
  • Capacity:
  • Unloaded Weight: 37.4 Ounces
  • Dimensions: 9.87×1.45×5.85 Inches
  • MSRP: $989

Bill Jordan—the famed Border Patrol agent, Marine Corps veteran and gun writer—collaborated with Smith & Wesson to create the “peace officer’s dream” gun: a medium-frame service revolver in .357 Magnum.  

The idea was a K-frame revolver with an elongated cylinder, a heavy 4-inch barrel and target sights. It was designed to be slimmer and lighter than the other N-frame .357 Magnums of the era, and it certainly achieved this goal.  

The Model 19 saw extensive service in dozens, if not hundreds of agencies and earned a very solid reputation in the process. They aren’t perfect, as the cylinders were prone to warpage if you shot too much .357 Magnum, but that didn’t stop it from becoming one of the most respected and loved service revolvers of all time. S&W still produces a classic variant of the Model 19 as well as two Performance Center carry models.

Colt Model 1873/Single Action Army

The Model 1873 Colt Single Action Army revolver with a 4¾-inch barrel in .45 Colt, the classic gunfighter’s weapon of the Old West.
  • SPECS:
  • Model: Colt Single Action Army (Current production)
  • Barrel Length:  4.75; 5.5; 7.5 Inches
  • Finish: Blued/Case-hardened
  • Grips: Synthetic
  • Caliber: .45 Long Colt
  • Capacity:
  • Unloaded Weight: 36.96 Ounces (7.5-Inch Model)
  • Dimensions: 13×1.67×5.5 (7.5-Inch Model) 
  • MSRP: $1,799

The adoption of the Colt Single Action Army as the new standard military revolver in 1873 helped to mark the end of the percussion revolver era and the beginning of the cartridge era. It is the single most iconic American handgun besides the 1911.   

The 1873—never sold as the “Peacemaker”—enjoyed a long original production run from 1873 to the early 1940s. Rugged and reliable, the most common models were very simple, but the SAA was also manufactured in a huge number of configurations with different barrel lengths, chamberings, grips and other features. It’s easily the most successful handgun of its era, and Colt still offers three new-production variants.  

Check out our review on the Single Action Army and its clones.

Smith & Wesson Model 29

Through the urging of handloaders and outdoor writers, among them Elmer Keith, the .44 Magnum became a factory load in 1956. Smith & Wesson also released the Model 29, chambered for the round, the same year.
  • SPECS:
  • Model: Smith & Wesson Model 29 (Current production)
  • Barrel Length:  4; 6.5 Inches
  • Finish: Black  
  • Grips: Wood 
  • Caliber: .44 Magnum/.44 Special 
  • Capacity:
  • Unloaded Weight: 48.3 Ounces (6.5-inch model) 
  • Dimensions: 12 x1.7×6.1 Inches (6.5-inch model)
  • MSRP: Starts at $1,179

The Model 29 is steeped in ironies. It had to be featured in a popular movie to sell any, as S&W had all but discontinued the model before Dirty Harry came out, and you were only supposed to shoot .44 Magnum on a limited basis with it. It was estimated that you’d get maybe 1,000 rounds through one before the cylinder warped. Elmer Keith wore out several, and .44 Magnum was partially his creation.  

That all said, who cares? The Model 29 is an incredibly beautiful gun with excellent sights and a very good factory trigger. It may not be “the most powerful handgun in the world” anymore, but it’s still just as iconic. Smith & Wesson continues to offer the classic N-frame with two barrel length options.

Ruger Blackhawk 

Predating the Ruger Vaqueros were the Ruger Blackhawks, like these with adjustable rear sights.Predating the Ruger Vaqueros were the Ruger Blackhawks, like these with adjustable rear sights.
A couple of early Blackhawks with adjustable rear sights.
  • SPECS:
  • Model: Ruger New Model Blackhawk (Standard Blued Models)
  • Barrel Length: 4.62; 5.5; 6.5; 7.5 Inches
  • Finish: Black 
  • Grips: Hard Rubber
  • Caliber: .45 Colt; .357 Magnum; .41 Rem. Mag.; .30 Carbine
  • Capacity:
  • Unloaded Weight: 42 Ounces (4.62-inch .357 Mag. model)
  • Dimensions: 10.5×1.75×6 Inches (4.62-inch model) 
  • MSRP: $879

The handloader’s darling, the Ruger Blackhawk is a beefed-up single-action (heavily influenced by the Colt SAA) revolver with target sights, a fantastic factory trigger and a robust construction. The original models have been a mainstay among hunting revolvers and silhouette shooters for decades, and the current production New Model Blackhawk models are just as loved.

It was originally created for the .44 Magnum—in fact, the Ruger Blackhawk in .44 Mag. beat the S&W Model 29 to market—though that chambering has been moved to the Super Blackhawk line.  

It’s always been a hoss, but that’s part of what makes it an all-time great.  

Check out of full review on the Ruger Blackhawk.

Remington New Model Army 

Photo: Rock Island Auction Company.
  • SPECS:
  • Model: Remington New Model Army (Original)
  • Barrel Length: 8 Inches
  • Finish: Blued
  • Grips: Wood 
  • Caliber: .44  
  • Capacity:
  • Unloaded Weight: 45 Ounces 
  • Dimensions:  13.25×1.7×5 Inches  
  • MSRP: N/A

Yes, the Colts are more iconic, but the Remington New Model Army is stronger, better built and better designed.  

The top strap makes the New Model Army more durable than Colts of the era, and arguably more accurate. Remington added half notches to the cylinder so the user could lower the hammer between primers and carry a full load. You’ll need to pay an arm and a leg for an original, but reproductions are available from companies like Uberti for reasonable prices.

Smith & Wesson Model 17 

  • SPECS:
  • Model: Smith & Wesson Model 17 Masterpiece (Current production)
  • Barrel Length: 6 Inches
  • Finish: Black 
  • Grips: Wood 
  • Caliber: .22 LR 
  • Capacity:
  • Unloaded Weight: 40.6 Ounces 
  • Dimensions: 11.25 x1.45 x5.85 Inches  
  • MSRP: $1,169

There have been many excellent .22 revolvers made over the years, and some of the models from H&R have a special place in my heart, but the best of them is without a doubt the S&W Model 17.  

The Model 17 is a K-frame in .22 LR which has been offered in several barrel lengths over its original production run from 1947 to 1998 and was popular as both an all-purpose plinker and a gun for serious bullseye shooters. The Model 17 is still found at NRA Bullseye matches to this day.  

Smith & Wesson Model 15

Photo: Rock Island Auction Company.
  • SPECS:
  • Model: Smith & Wesson Model 15
  • Barrel Length: 4 Inches 
  • Finish: Blue 
  • Grips: Wood 
  • Caliber: .38 Special
  • Capacity:
  • Unloaded Weight: 34 Ounces
  • Dimensions: 9.13×1.45×5.85 Inches  
  • MSRP: N/A

The S&W K-38 Combat Masterpiece, later renamed to the Model 15, is a target version of the Model 10. It’s an all-time classic both because it’s a great revolver, but also because so much of modern shooting wouldn’t exist, in a way, without it.  

That’s because much of modern handgunnery is descended from (either directly from or in spite of) Jeff Cooper and the modern technique he developed. Part of the modern technique, of course, comes from Jack Weaver, and the K-38/Model 15 was his handgun of choice.  

The Model 15 is accurate, eminently shootable and was both a common service revolver issued by the U.S. Air Force (among many other groups) and a common bullseye handgun for competition shooters. It’s hard to imagine a better .38 than this. The only real downside compared to most others on this list is that it’s no longer in production. 

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