A look at snub-nosed revolvers

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A compact semi-auto is a poor concealed carry choice for anyone who has impaired hand strength from arthritis or some other cause. The stiff recoil spring requires a fair amount of effort to rack the slide.

Less-experienced shooters should also give a pass to the compact semi-auto because of the critical need to master the steps necessary to load and unload the weapon and quickly perform an immediate action drill in the case of a malfunction.

A much better choice for these folks is a small, short-barreled, double action revolver (popularly called a “snubby”). Although a snubby has fewer cartridges on tap when fully loaded compared to most semi-autos, it’s still a formidable sidearm for concealed carry. Of course carrying a fully stoked speed loader could improve things a whole bunch.

Dating back to the 1950s, Colt’s six-shot Detective Special and S&W’s five-shot Chiefs Special had barrels a bit under two inches. Chambered for .38 Special, they both became stereotyped as plainclothes cop guns.

Several major arms manufacturers make revolvers in this class, including Smith & Wesson, Colt, Ruger, Taurus, etc. A snubby from any of these manufacturers would make a fine concealed-carry sidearm.

I had the opportunity to shoot a Colt Detective Special and three S&Ws, including a vintage engraved Chief’s Special, a Model 40 “Lemon squeezer,” and a Model 642 Ladysmith. Three of the revolvers were virtually identical in weight. The Colt weighed 1 lb, 5.4 oz; the S&W Chief’s Special, 1 lb, 5.4 oz; and the S&W M40 1 lb, 5 oz. However, the Ladysmith’s aluminum alloy frame made it the lightest at 15.6 oz.

These are not target firearms. They are for personal defense at close range. So, I decided use the double action pull to shoot five rounds at five yards. Ammo was Remington .38 Special +P tipped with a 158-grain, lead hollowpoint bullet.

The results were interesting.

Colt Detective Special:

Although this was a six-shooter, I fired only five shot groups with all four guns. The Colt appears to be “box stock” with checkered walnut grips bearing the familiar Colt rampant horse logo. As is pretty much standard with DA snubbies, the cylinder latch is on the left side of the frame. You must pull it to the rear to unlatch the cylinder for loading.

DA Trigger pull averaged a bit over 9.5 pounds. Single action was just under five pounds, although I didn’t use single action for this evaluation.

The Colt grouped four shots into 1 1/8 inches, but a called flyer opened it up to 2 5/8 inches. The group was 2 ½ inches above point of aim.

S&W Model 36 Chief’s Special:

This M36 sported full-coverage floral engraving and rubber grips that seemed to soften .38 +P recoil. I much prefer the S&W cylinder latch, which must be pushed forward to release the cylinder.

DA trigger pull averaged 10 lb. 6 oz, and SA pull was a crisp 3 lb, 5 oz. The M36 turned in a 1 3/8-inch group right at point of aim.

S&W M40 Lemon Squeezer:

The S&W M40 has an internal hammer. With no external hammer spur, it cannot be thumbed back for a single-action pull, so it is strictly DAO. Unlike most revolvers, it has a grip safety that S&W developed in 1877 and first offered on an early top-break revolver. This safety will not allow the gun to fire unless the shooter has a firm hold on the walnut grips, hence, the popular name “Lemon Squeezer.”

After the good performance of the Detective Special and even better performance of the Chiefs Special, I was disappointed when the M40 turned in a 3 ¼-inch group centered about two inches left of point of aim (POA). A close look at the group revealed what appears to be keyholing on three of the five shots. I examined the rifling with a borelight, but did not find anything amiss.

S&W M642 Ladysmith

Although the alloy-framed Ladysmith was almost six ounces lighter than the other three snubbies, recoil was about the same. Originally fitted with rosewood grips, the M642 now wears a rubber Crimson Trace® Lasergrips®, which projects a red laser dot onto the target at POA. Most deadly encounters occur in semi- or full darkness, so a laser sight can be a lifesaver in these cases.

Group size was 2 1/8 inches with a flyer that expanded it to 3 3/8 inches.

Although a semi-auto CCW pistol has a little more firepower, a snubby revolver’s simple mechanism makes it a pretty decent self-defense sidearm. It might be the best choice for you.

Stan Skinner

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