An email came in last week asking just that question. The answer is a little more involved than you might think, because there are some variables involved that simply don't exist with the same action in an autoloader.
There are at least a half-dozen different ways that I've used to reload a revolver, and I've seen variations which exceed that number. Each technique has strong and weak points, and it's up to the shooter to decide of they fit his/her situation. For instance, it's possible to shave corners in technique which decrease the time required for the reload, but which increase the chance of failure (case under extractor jam, speedloader release binding, debris under the extractor, un-ejected case, and so on.)
There's also a big difference between using speedloaders and moonclips. The moonclips in and of themselves aren't all that much faster than, say, a Comp III or an SL Variant speedloader, but their all-in-one nature allows the shooter to cut those aforementioned corners without the associated risks. In my experience, using moonclips will shave .4 to perhaps .6 seconds off of the average person's reload times. In competition, that's a huge bonus over the length of a match. In self defense? I personally wouldn't carry a moonclip revolver for self defense, my rationale having been well documented in this blog and elsewhere.
All that being said, if you want to see what's possible when all the conditions are perfect (talented shooter, moonclipped gun, and lots of practice), check out the famous Jerry Miculek video:
Back here on earth, I'll share with you my personal experience. When I was shooting competition very regularly and thus "in shape", my average time with Comp II speedloaders was something in the 2.8 second range. A Comp II loader would typically cut that by only a tenth or so (I found the much larger Comp III to be harder to handle in my tiny mitts, which reduced their speed advantage over the Comp II. Most people do a little better than that.) When the stars were aligned and I was having a good day I could do noticeably better, having hit 2.5 seconds in competition more than once.
My considered opinion is that anything under three seconds using speedloaders is pretty darned good; most people can't do that with an autoloader!
My very fastest reload using speedloaders, and one which to this day I can scarcely believe, happened during a Steel Challenge-type match about a decade ago. I'd missed one target before I got to the stop plate, which means I had no room for error. If you've shot SC type matches you know what happened next: I missed the stop plate! I could tell as the shot broke that it wasn't going to be a hit (again, steel shooters know that feeling) and immediately started a reload. I hit the stop plate with round #7.
The guy holding the timer, who'd himself switched from revolvers to autoloaders some months prior, looked at the timer and said "If I could do that I'd still be shooting the wheelgun!" There on the display were my seven shots, and the split between #6 and #7 was 1.98 seconds. The gun was a Dan Wesson Model 15-2, the speedloader was a well-worn Safariland Comp II, and the bullet was a LaserCast 158gn SWC.
I don't remember it seeming all that fast; I do recall it seeming to be effortless. Never before or since, no matter how much I practiced, was I able to recreate the occurrence. In fact I haven't even come close, which leads me to consider the possibility that it might have been some sort of timer malfunction. If not, it shows what is possible under the right conditions.
Last February I brought you the news that Bobby McEachern at Bobby Mac's had unearthed some NOS (new old stock) SL Variant speedloaders. Apparently Bobby has had his ear to the ground in Europe, because he now brings us news that the Variants are back in production!
He's carrying the whole line - 5, 6, and 7 shot - for 'J' through 'N' frame guns. The SL Variant is unique for a couple of reasons: first, the spacing of the rounds can be adjusted to precisely fit the gun you're using, and second because each round is individually spring-propelled into the waiting chamber. They're fast and easy to use.
I've been hoarding my stash of them for the last couple of years, in fear that should I lose or break one I'd never find another. That fear is gone! Head on over to Bobby's place and check 'em out.
SL VARIANT SPEEDLOADERS: Reader Drew R. sends word that Bobby Mac's managed to uncover a small cache of the coveted SL Variant Speedloaders. If you missed them last time, don't hesitate - they're not being made any longer, and this may be the last you'll see of them.
A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM: Have you been over to the new Personal Defense Network forums yet? Things are just getting started, and your participation would be welcomed!
Lots of people ask me about speedloaders - as in "what speedloader should I buy?"
Well, there are really only a couple of choices these days: Safariland and HKS. (The superb SL Variant models are no longer imported, the Maxfires don't - at least in my mind - qualify for the "speed" part of the name, and the Australian "Jet" loaders are close enough to the Safariland Comp III that we'll consider them the same.)
Personally, unless I'm using a gun for which they don't have a model, I use only Safariland speedloaders. Here's why.
First, they're simply a whole lot faster to use. Not only are they faster to release their payload, they hold the rounds in a solid, fairly rigid package. That rigidity makes it faster to align the bullets with the chambers than the "floppy" HKS style. This is an important, and often overlooked, advantage.
Second, they're more secure. Over the years I've listened to people bad-mouth the Safariland speedloaders, with the statement that they release their rounds too easily - when in a pocket or dropped, the story usually goes.
I've been carrying Safarilands on my person for about 10 years now, and I've never had a single round released when I didn't want it to. They won't, unless you forcibly jam an object into the release button which is in the middle of the rounds. I've had more than one HKS let go while in the speedloader pouch, let alone my pocket!
Dropping? When this argument comes up I pull out the oldest, most used Comp II that I have. (It's been used for practice for a decade, and I stopped counting when it reached 5.000 reload cycles. I keep it loaded with dummy rounds - regular bullet, case, but no primers- for practice.) I drop it on the floor or ground, then pick it up and throw it on the ground; if there's a wall nearby, I'll either kick it or throw it into the wall. I've done this little demo hundreds of times, and I've never had a round fall out.
However, the only way to get this kind of performance and reliability is to load the things correctly! Safariland doesn't help their case, as they sell competition "loading blocks" that force you into loading the things improperly.
Most people will put the rounds into the speedloader, then turn it face-down onto a table so that they can push on the button to lock the rounds. This is almost guaranteed to leave a round (or two or three) that isn't fully seated, and when the speedloader is dropped it/they fall out. No wonder people think they don't work well!
The key is to hold the speedloader BULLETS UP, and push the button up while simultaneously turning it to the right. You'll feel the rounds "lock in", and they won't come out until you want them to!
UPDATE: I've now seen several guns whose cranes (yokes) have been bent apparently due to the side loading forces of Maxfire speedloaders. I strongly recommend that you not use Maxfires!