Revolvers VS Semi-Auto Handguns for Grizzly Bear Defense

Revolvers VS Semi-Auto Handguns for Grizzly Bear Defense

(This article is an excerpt from Tony Molina’s book on Grizzly Bear Defense.)

This debate has raged for many years. Is a powerful big bore revolver with high recoil and 5-6 cartridges better than a light frame semi-auto handgun with less recoil and two to three times the ammunition capacity?

The simple and unsatisfying answer is that not everybody is the same, both tools are different, and there is no objectively better option. Each tool has its own advantages and disadvantages. Below, I’ve listed all I am aware of on this topic to help you decide your preference…. Revolvers VS Semi-Auto Handguns for Grizzly Bear Defense

Semi-Automatic Handguns


  • Lightweight

  • Commonly used and owned

  • Affordable

    • Options are around $300 – $1,000 USD

    • Practice ammunition is cheaper than magnum cartridges

  • Modular

  • Accessories are commonly available

  • Less muzzle flash than revolvers

  • Fast to reload; ease of extra magazine

  • Easier to field strip and clean internal components


  • More common to have malfunctions inherent to the gun:

  • Failure to feed (FTF): the cartridge fails to feed into the chamber

  • Failure to eject a case (FTE): the cartridge (fresh or spent) does not get ejected and stops the gun from automatically loading the next cartridge

  • More common to have shooter/environment induced malfunctions:

  • Limp Wristing—failure to keep the frame of the handgun from traveling rearward while the slide of the handgun cycles. This condition often results in a “short stroke” of the slide or failure to complete the operating cycle which can leave a handgun unable to shoot without fixing the issue causing the malfunction.

  • Things like body parts, gear, or environmental objects can stop or block the slide from completing a full cycle, causing a malfunction.

  • Fur or other items can clog the ejection port and stop the slide from entering into battery (completely closing so that the gun can fire). (As happened in a black bear defense in New Mexico)

  • Defensive situations often involve  non-stationary shooting conditions with unforeseen variables that can cause malfunctions. This is a disadvantage even with adequate training for fixing malfunctions.

  • The magazine release button can be unintentionally depressed whether in ideal conditions or a physical struggle. This can result from  a lack of knowledge or a surge of adrenaline during a life-or-death situation. If this happens your source of ammunition is no longer in the gun. Reacquiring it may not be an option, or the magazine itself could be the cause of the issue. A spare or backup magazine accessible on your person is advised.

  • Semi-Automatic handguns (semi-autos) are not commonly chambered in high power “magnum cartridges”

  • Many people feel that semi-autos fail to meet the 4-3-1 minimum pistol rule for bear defense (.40+” bullet diameter, 300+gr bullet weight, 1000+fps muzzle velocity).

Double-Action Revolvers


  • Easy to use (grab, point, pull the trigger)

  • Lower likelihood for shooter/environmentally induced malfunctions. If you experience a failure to fire, you can usually pull the trigger again for the next shot.

  • Commonly available in high power magnum cartridges

  • Affordable: options commonly range from $300 to $1,000 USD, but tend to cost more than semi-autos


  • High power magnum cartridges tend to produce higher recoil than common semi-auto cartridges

  • Revolvers can be difficult to shoot quickly and accurately because

    • Double-action (DA) revolver triggers require more force to fully press

    • DA revolver trigger travel is often longer than common semi-auto triggers

  • Resetting the trigger for the next shot can be done improperly under stress, resulting in trigger lock or skipping a fresh cartridge in a cylinder

  • Revolvers are not commonly as modular for accessories like flashlights, red dots, and night sights

  • More muzzle flash from the cylinder gap, which can reduce the shooter’s vision in low-light situations

  • Can be heavier to carry

  • Slower to reload

  • A jam or malfunction usually requires more time to address and is not as easy to field strip as a semi-auto

    • Bullet jump can be caused by high recoil, which can work a bullet out of its case, allowing it to protrude forward and jam the cylinder (this can be avoided by:

      • purchasing quality ammunition that is properly “crimped”)

      • Replacing unfired cartridges that were in the cylinder during firing sessions.

    • Broken or jammed parts inside of the gun’s working mechanisms

Tony Molina is a leading exert on Grizzly Bear Defense, an avid archery and rifle big game hunter, the Range Operations manager for JH Shooting, LLC and author of: Handgun Selection for Grizzly Bear Defense.

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-End: Revolvers VS Semi-Auto Handguns for Grizzly Bear Defense

Tony Molina bear expert