Bullet Migration in 9mm Revolvers

By John Farnam

.38 Special Revolver Cylinder
I’m still a fan of sunbby revolvers and own several, but my recommendation, when you share my enthusiasm for them, is to stick with 38Spl.
Defense Training International, Inc
Defense Training International, Inc

Ft Collins, CO –-(Ammoland.com)- “Bullet-jump” with light-weight revolvers, particularly those chambered for 9mm:

Last weekend, during a Defensive Handgun Course, a student brought a Ruger five-shot revolver, chambered in 9mm.

During an exercise, shooting factory 115gr hardball from a well-known and reputable manufacturer, a bullet jumped forward far enough to protrude from the face of the cylinder and thus prevent the cylinder from rotating normally. In fact, the bullet jumped forward far enough to physically separate from the case. This not only precluded the revolver from continuing to fire, but it also made it impossible to swing-out the cylinder, so the revolver could now not be reloaded!

Tilting the revolver upward allowed the errant bullet to fall back far enough so that we could swing-out the cylinder. After thus fixing the problem, discarding the entire offending cartridge, and then reloading, the same thing happened a second time a few minutes later!

To be fair, this student fired a number of rounds normally before this started happening, but her faith in her revolver was still irreparably damaged.

Back in February of 2012, I did a Quip on this very issue:

“When the revolver fires, remaining cartridges in the cylinder (yet to be fired) are subjected to significant G-forces as the pistol recoils. Sometimes, it is enough to persuade a yet-unfired bullet to migrate forward far enough to protrude from the front of the cylinder, preventing the cylinder from rotating normally, and thus preventing the revolver from firing.

Ammunition manufacturers have been familiar with this issue for a long time, and thus typically put a heavy crimp into 38Spl and 357Mg cartridges as part of the manufacturing process. That crimp usually suffices to mitigate the bullet-jump issue, even in small revolvers.

However, with the advent of small, light revolvers chambered for 9mm, the problem is, once again, rearing its ugly head, as most 9mm ammunition necessarily does not come with any kind of bullet-holding crimp.

In fact, on many boxes of currently-produced, high-performance 9mm ammunition, manufacturers have printed the warning, “NOT FOR USE IN REVOLVERS,” because they calculate bullet-jump will be a problem in some guns.”

This is the reason revolvers chambered for 9mm, although otherwise well-made and perfectly functional, do not enjoy a place on my “Recommended [Arms] List.” Some ammunition is better than others, but all 9mm rounds share this same issue, even expensive high-performance brands. The 9×19 cartridge was designed to function in autoloading pistols, not revolvers!

I’m still a fan of sunbby revolvers and own several, but my recommendation, when you share my enthusiasm for them, is to stick with 38Spl. The bullet-jump issue still exists, to be sure, but to a much lesser degree, particularly when you’re shooting high-performance ammunition, like Cor-Bon’s 110 gr DPX or Speer Gold-Dot. Manufacturers insure that these bullets are adequately crimped-in and are thus unlikely to migrate.

/John

About John Farnam & Defense Training International, Inc
As a defensive weapons and tactics instructor John Farnam will urge you, based on your own beliefs, to make up your mind in advance as to what you would do when faced with an imminent and unlawful lethal threat. You should, of course, also decide what preparations you should make in advance, if any. Defense Training International wants to make sure that their students fully understand the physical, legal, psychological, and societal consequences of their actions or inactions.

It is our duty to make you aware of certain unpleasant physical realities intrinsic to the Planet Earth. Mr Farnam is happy to be your counselor and advisor. Visit: www.defense-training.com

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    David C. TellihoAdamBig BillGary HowellWild Bill Recent comment authors
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    Big Bill
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    Big Bill

    Bigg,
    The reason this isn’t a problem in pistols, as opposed to revolvers, is that the rounds in a pistol aren’t being held captive by their rim, but are instead in a magazine that allows them to move (albeit very little) as a unit; there are no forces acting on the bullet to pull them out of the case. In fact, any recoil forces act to push the bullet further into the case as the round tries to remain still as the magazine recoils with the pistol.

    Gary Howell
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    Gary Howell

    Mike was right regards the Lee crimp die. It really lets you make your ammo to high end specs. I guess the old wheel guns retro fitted to 45acp didn’t generate enough recoil impulse to be a problem for the troops of WW2.

    James
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    James

    I have been shooting revolvers for nearly 60 years and have never had such a problem. Those revolver are 22, 22 magnum, 38s both Smith and Wesson and Colt, 357 magnums, 41 magnums and all time favorite 44 magum. All of these were barrel lengths from 3 in 6 inch. Never a problem of any kind.
    I;m pleased with my never let me down revolvers unlike the frequent jamming autos.

    Michael
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    Michael

    I have two fine 9mm revolvers, both Smith & Wessons. One is a seven shot and one an eight. The same bullet migration situation existed.
    The solution was very simple. Buy a Lee crimp die and heavy crimp all rounds before snapping them into their full moon clips.
    Situation resolved.

    Adam
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    Adam

    Revolvers in general would not make my Recommended Arms List. There’s nothing inherently wrong with them, but situations in which they offer a definitive advantage over a semi-automatic pistol are few. Specifically, a revolver is better if you end up jabbing the target with the barrel before shooting or plan to leave it in a drawer for years at a time. At the same time, compared to a 5-shot DAO revolver a 6+ shot single-stack striker-fired pistol will be thinner (and generally smaller overall), have less felt recoil, be simpler and faster to reload for anyone not named Miculek, and… Read more »

    David C. Telliho
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    David C. Telliho

    I have many experiences to the contrary, and several issues with your summation. The spray & pray method of semi-auto`s is no contest to calm revolver fire, which can be fired just as fast,if not faster. You mention a top pistolero. See also, Ed McGivern.

    Wild Bill
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    Wild Bill

    @David T, I have his book “Fast and Fancy Revolver Shooting”!
    @Adam, While I do not disagree, you forgot the most important advantage of all: revolvers do not leave all that embarrassing evidence behind. I am thinking that that Ruger GP 100 .22lr ten shot revolver combined with CCI quiet .22 ammunition might create some interesting possibilities.

    Adam
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    Adam

    The fact that revolvers can be fired as fast by someone at or near the pinnacle of shooting skill means little to the 90%+ of us who are not at that level. Additionally, I can see how a revolver “shooter” who leaves theirs in a drawer for years at a time rather than practicing with any regularity would be unable to competently handle a semi-auto pistol, and instead resort to “spray and pray”.

    David C. Telliho
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    David C. Telliho

    The venerable revolver in 22 cal. , is my choice. My ‘pinnacle’ of skill was decades ago. However, I can still deploy and fire in a timely fashion. Hit what I want, where I want. The scattered fired cases with prints on them, from the semi auto, give law enforcement a place for those cute little yellow flags. Note; I do carry a semi auto, of Walther manf.. But , when ‘afield’, I carry 3 revolvers & 2 semi`s, 5 knives. Calibers from 22, 38,45 acp,380.. Then there is ‘baby’. Whom I am quite fond of. Baby is a Rem.870,… Read more »

    Jems Brigham (Bigg) Bunyon
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    Jems Brigham (Bigg) Bunyon

    I have a Smith & Wesson 610 that does the same thing. But since I cast boolits and roll my own, I can work around it with lighter loads or even tighter taper crimping. But it bothers me that such a nice revolver works best when it’s NOT used to its fullest potential. I’m guessing the taper crimped rounds in the pistol grip of a semi auto just don’t feel the “inertial impulse” the same rounds feel higher up and farther forward in the cylinder of a revolver. Much shorter moment arm in the magazine than in the cylinder sort… Read more »