How should you cock the hammer on a revolver?

Assuming that you’re gripping the firearm with two hands, you have a simple choice; either cock the hammer with the thumb of your dominant hand or your support hand. And whilst we’re mainly talking about single action revolvers here, this could also apply to shooting a double action revolver in single action mode.

Firstly, as long as you’re adhering to the basic safety rules (particularly point the firearm in the safest available direction and keep the trigger and trigger guard clear), either method is safe.

I would, however, mostly recommend that people use their support hand thumb to cock the hammer; this ensures that the dominant hand can maintain a solid grip throughout the process. With that said, everyone’s body mechanics and physical capabilities are different so, as with most recreational pleasure shooting, I usually encourage people to use whichever method is most comfortable and efficient for them.

Of course, if you’re shooting one handed then it’s perfectly acceptable to cock the hammer with whichever hand is gripping the firearm.

Cowboy action shooters using SA revolvers will often point-shoot from the hip, and in doing this will sometimes hold the trigger down and snap the hammer back with their support hand à la Clint Eastwood. Whilst this can be an unpleasant experience unless you’re very skilled or using low powered cartridges, I see no problem with it as long as your firearm is pointed at a safe, legitimate target.

What is the safest way to de-cock a hammer?

Unless your firearm has a built in de-cocker (like many double action semi-automatic handguns), when you want to de-cock the hammer you must first pull it rearward to take pressure off the sear, then press the trigger and slowly lower the hammer in a controlled manner.

This is a potentially dangerous process; if your thumb slips whilst pulling the hammer back and you release it unintentionally, the firearm will likely discharge.

So, to make sure an ND doesn’t happen, it is always good practice to ensure that you cover the firing pin (or firing pin channel) to protect it from the hammer in case it falls uncontrolled.

To do this, most people can place their support hand thumb in the gap between the hammer and the frame – this is often known as “the two thumb de-cocking method”. But if you have meaty hands (or a small firearm) and your thumb won’t fit in the gap, then you can try your pinky instead. If that won’t fit, then find something that does (e.g. pen cap etc.) – as long as it’s strong enough to prevent a ND in the event the hammer falls, it should work. 

Of course, when lowering the hammer, as soon as it touches your support hand thumb (or pinky) you will need to move it out of the way to allow the hammer to move into the fully de-cocked position.

And yes, if the hammer slips and strikes your thumb it can hurt a little bit, but that’s better than an ND.

Some revolvers have safety mechanisms which will not allow it to fire unless the trigger is completely depressed throughout the firing process. The most common of these are the hammer block (aka firing pin block) and the half-cock position safeties. Another, more modern revolver safety is the transfer bar which, although it works in a different way, still requires the trigger to be fully depressed for the gun to fire.

In either case, if your firearm has one of these types of safeties, you should still follow the above procedure but as soon as you begin lowering the hammer, release the trigger. At that stage the safety mechanism can engage and it should be safe to remove your second thumb – but I suggest you keep it there anyway as this will create a consistent safe practice regardless of which type of firearm you’re using.

I recommend that this method be used when de-cocking any type of firearm with an exposed hammer (unless using a built in de-cocker). It doesn’t matter what type of firearm it is – revolver, lever action rifle, coach gun etc. – and it doesn’t matter whether or not it’s loaded (remember: treat all firearms as loaded). 

Eddie Banner is a regular columnist for Calibre. The owner and operator of Instinct Canada, a personal safety, firearms, and first aid training company located on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Eddie has extensive training and experience with firearms through both professional and private channels, and is an avid outdoorsman. Any questions pertaining to firearms training or safety for Eddie can be directed to info@calibremag.ca.

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