LOCK-TIME: Slow, Fast or Does It Matter?

Jim Taylor
Saturday, May 11, 2019, 07:07 (102 days ago)

(from my files ... I wrote this a number of years ago)

I had just finished reading an article in one of the new books on the market and was struck by the fact that the author of this particular article referred several times to the "slow lock-time" of the single action revolvers. He prefers to hunt with a double action revolver due to the "faster lock-time" of the DA.

Now it is not my point to disparage the double-actions or to pit one type against another. The double action is a great gun and is very accurate. And everyone should shoot what they feel most comfortable shooting and what they like best. But what got me thinking is this concept of "fast" and "slow" lock-time. How much difference does it make in a handgun as far as accuracy goes? Does it make any at all? What does it do?


It is commonly believed that the single action revolvers are inherently less accurate due to a longer arc from the full cock position to the fired position. Also the hammers are heavier, thus slower to get into motion, making the time from the trigger is pulled until the gun is fired, longer than in the double action revolvers. The combination of long hammer arc and heavy hammers are said to make the single action less accurate. Some also throw in the "jarring" effect of the heavy hammer whacking as it hits the frame. This is said to deter good accuracy also.


In a word, "no"! It IS true that the arc of the hammer fall is longer (generally), that the hammers are heavier (generally) and that they whack the gun pretty hard when they fall. It IS NOT true that these things make the single action revolvers inaccurate. I have fired a large number of single action revolvers over the years that - as far as plain accuracy goes (removing the influence of the shooter as much as possible) - were more accurate than many rifles, let alone handguns.

Lock-time as a factor is very minimal in the accuracy game. A gun with one of the slowest lock-times around is the flintlock. Yet a good "flinter" will outshoot many of today's rifles. When my Dad worked at Aberdeen Proving Grounds during World War Two an old .32 caliber Kentucky rifle was taken out for firing against the M-1 Garand. At 100 yards the Kentucky rifle would keep it's shots in 1 1/2" from a machine rest. The Garand ran around 3". Lock-time had nothing to do with it.

Many of the old-timers could shoot the flintlock rifle and pistols as accurately (or more accurately) as any of todays guns. Why?


They practiced. They practiced with what they used. One of the concepts that seems to be getting lost today is the idea of "Follow Through". "Follow Through" means that you keep the sights exactly on target as you start your squeeze, as you finish the squeeze and until nature takes over and the gun bucks up in your fist obliterating the sight picture. If you do it properly it does not matter how long it takes for the gun to go off.

I was testing some experimental loads in my .45 Ruger. Shooting at 50 feet, the first 3 shots had gone into the black. I lined the sights up, took a breath, exhaled slightly and started the squeeze. As it came I held my breath, the hammer fell. And I was rewarded with a CLACK! ssssssssBLAM! and the shot went into the black. I had held the sight picture through a hangfire. It is called "Follow Through".

One reason some writers (and other shooters) have problems with single actions, or other slow lock-time guns is that they shoot their faster lock-time guns a lot, are used to them, and do not use proper follow-through for the gun they are using. It takes some thinking beforehand.


One way to improve your follow-through is to dry fire the gun. Some handguns can be damaged by dry firing so you should probably invest in some Snap Caps. These in the chambers protect the firing pin, cushioning the blow of the hammer. And they will keep you from getting live ammo into the chamber "by mistake" (known as a "rectal/cranial inversion").

Practice holding the sights on a very small target. A thumbtack on the opposite wall of a room is good. Whatever the target it should appear to be about 1/2 the width of the front sight when you look through the sights at it. Practice keeping the target perched on top of the front sight, exactly in the middle, as you squeeze the shot off. During the trigger squeeze and afterward the sight should not have bobbled off the target. With practice you will get quite steady at it.

If you normally use a double action or an autoloader with a very fast lock time, take an old single action revolver and test yourself. You will find out quickly if you need to work on it or not. Whatever kind of pistol you shoot, watch that front sight as you dry fire. If it moves around during/after the hammer fall, you need to practice until it does not move.

When my good friend Jack Pender was alive he came up to the Ranch one Fourth of July and spent a few days with us. We had a bunch of people out on the range shooting lots of different guns and Jack sat nearby, watching it all. Every once in awhile someone would say, "Jack, come here and try this gun." and Jack would wander over. Invariably he would drill the target with it. It did not matter what kind of gun it was, big bore, rimfire, double action, semi-auto, or single action. He would pick up the gun, feel it's weight, plant his feet, go into his old Bullseye Shooter Stance and whack! Drill the target. Thirty-odd years of shooting bullseyes had taught Jack the need for the fundamentals.....like sight alignment, breathing, trigger squeeze, ...and.... follow-through. Someone asked me, "How does he do it?" I told them, "It's nothing magical even though it looks that way. It's lots of hard work." Hours, days, weeks, months, years of practice. One day when you're shooting, to others it looks like magic. You know the truth.


In handguns, not really. Some would debate this and if you think it does, so be it. I won't argue with you. I am giving you my opinion here and basically my point is, you cannot beat competence. If you are shooting bench-rest rifles, doing your best to put all your bullets through one hole at 200 yards or so, fast lock-time can help. However,nothing replaces expertise. No matter what the technology, you cannot "techno" your way into winning a shooting match. No matter what the technology. The coming thing is electronic ignition. This will be hailed as the "most advanced" "most accurate" yada yada yada... It is fast. Of course your battery can go dead at the wrong time.......


Saturday, May 11, 2019, 07:28 (102 days ago) @ Jim Taylor



Saturday, May 11, 2019, 07:31 (102 days ago) @ Jim Taylor


Jim Taylor
Saturday, May 11, 2019, 08:05 (102 days ago) @ JT

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nice six gun

Saturday, May 11, 2019, 08:29 (102 days ago) @ JT

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Love the 45-270 bullet. . .

Sunday, May 12, 2019, 15:27 (101 days ago) @ JT

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lock time

Saturday, May 11, 2019, 08:43 (102 days ago) @ Jim Taylor

Very well written Jim. Thank you for posting.

Can't tell you how many times

Grover Sr
Saturday, May 11, 2019, 08:49 (102 days ago) @ Jim Taylor

I have been at the range and guys with a new gun complain about how their new gun was not very accurate. Albeit, they may have never fired one before! Practice, practice, practice and development of the technique required for the particular weapon from handgun, to rifle, mortar or cannon makes the shooter! Great observations there J

Nicely done. Lots of common sense, often lacking. Since

Saturday, May 11, 2019, 09:19 (102 days ago) @ Jim Taylor

"retiring" my shooting time has easily tripled, and even though it's a "diminishing skill" with age, etc., all the extra practice I'm getting has increased my follow through, consistant grip, and thinking about what I'm shooting first before loading...

Whether my GNR SA Customs, semi-autos, single-shot carbines, etc., my POA/POI has improved wonderfully. Of course that is a matter of perspective, mainly my shooting competence before retiring ;)

The USMC taught B-R-A-S-S (breath-relax-aim-stop-squeeze), which has proved very helpful over the years. But with all the variables, follow through with your sight picture during recoil is my highest priority. That's when I hit what I'm aiming.

Agree, lock time and inherent accuracy are apples/oranges

Saturday, May 11, 2019, 10:36 (102 days ago) @ Jim Taylor

I've pondered this some myself. There are lots of things going on here too. It's more (to my thinking) the relationship to how it effects the specific platform's shootability. I note my tendency to group Glocks to the left of POA. You can't get a much faster lock time than a Glock! It's half cocked to begin and the trigger take up finishes it. When it breaks over I "flinch" a touch to the left before it fires. (at least I tend to do it consistently) The very light weapon moves more than a heavier one for my minute pull to that side.

A SA of most any configuration, even a single-six, is comparatively heavier than my light Glock. Any input I add to a flinch is effected less by the resisting increased mass. SA and DA designs are fairly close in mass so the lock time of each, which is within a nano-second of each other, does not make much difference. As you point out.

Other factors such as grip influences, balance, sight radius etc. are other control variables too wide to scientifically measure. Try to compare the lock time influences between my little Kahr .380, a Pocket Positive Colt .32 DA, maybe throw in a Bearcat for fun. I think the smaller guns, sight radius, less ability to hold and shoot accurately, etc. would magnify the differences. It numbs the mind to try and control all the variables and speculate on the differences.

I don't think we can ever satisfy anyone who wants to argue in the first place. The argument will likely continue onward but I really like your article and agree. Thanks for sharing on a rainy old Saturday.

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