Just reading the title, you might think this would be a very short post. Everybody knows that rifle twist works by spinning the bullet so that it is stable as it flies through the air. Naturally, there’s a bit more to it than that.
In part 1 and part 2 of the j-frame carry gear, we looked at holsters and ammo for you compact carry revolver. Today we’ll look at a piece of gear that, while optional, is something I believe every compact revolver should have on it – a laser sighting system. There are a lot of options out there for laser sights for you carry gun, but the clear winner is the Crimson Trace LaserGrip for J-Frames or the Ruger LCR. I do believe that your carry gun should have night sights, but in an actual self-defense situation at low light, there is no guarantee that you’ll be able to see the front sight, or that you’ll be in a position to use that sight. The laser grip from Crimson Trace takes that uncertainty out of the situation. Even if you’re in an unorthodox firing position, you’re still able to make aimed hits on the target, simply by indexing the red dot from the laser on the threat and firing. Again, it’s an optional item for your gun, and you’ll probably never need to actually use it – but then again, I don’t carry a firearm for self-defense because I’m an optimist. Having a good holster and powerful defensive ammo doesn’t do you a whole lot of good if when the threat appears you’re not able to get reliable hits on the target. Having a laser on your defensive firearm allows you to get those hits while keeping your eyes focused on the threat. This eliminates having to shift between two focal planes (the sights and the threat) and allows you to better asses a defensive encounter in real-time.
I also believe your carry gun should have good night sights on them. Recently, I came around on XS Sights for carry guns – while I don’t believe they’re the right fit for every gun, for a compact revolver they are a significant upgrade over the usual gutter/front post arrangement that you’ll find. My personal j-frame wears a Trijicon front night sight and S&W adjustable rear sight. The goal is to be able to see the sights in any lighting condition, and have the laser as a backup sighting system should the sights be unavailable for any reason.
The compact revolver, be it a S&W J-Frame or a Ruger LCR is a great carry option. Yes, it takes practice and discipline to master the double action trigger pull, and they hold less rounds than some semi-automatics. But they’re far more reliable than other pocket .380s on the market, and offer the option of considerably more puissance in a .357 Magnum chambering than a comparably sized or smaller .380. With a good holster, good ammo, and most importantly good sights and a laser, the compact revolver is one of the best and most reliable carry guns out there.
I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for sleek black powder revolvers. Old blued steel with an aged patina and smooth worn wooden grips just call out to me. They have history, and stories to tell. Samuel Colt’s 19th century, single-barrel 5- and 6-shot revolvers revolutionized warfare and ended the “Wild” in the Wild West. If any inanimate object could be said to have a soul, it is these beauties.
In the hands of frontier law men, his pistols served justice-dead or alive. In the hands of outlaws, Colt pistols made legends of bushwhackers and bad guys.
And after much use before, during and after the Civil War, it was said of Colt’s rotating cylinder invention and Samuel Colt, “Abe Lincoln may have freed all men, but Sam Colt made them equal.”
Colt pistols, beginning with the Paterson of 1836, a collaborative effort between Samuel Colt and Texas Ranger Samuel Hamilton Walker, lead to the Colt Walker 1847 and the 1848 Colt Dragoon. And each revolver, in some small or great way, helped change the course of American history.
The Colt Army Model 1860, another blackpowder pistol, perhaps Colt’s most stylish handgun, replaced the Dragoon and became a commercial success, selling nearly a quarter of a million units, mostly to the U.S. Army through the mid-1870s. The Model 1860 was produced from 1860 to 1873.
The Colt Army is a cap and ball, .44 caliber front-loading revolver common to the Civil War. Whereas the LeMat Grapeshot Revolver was used by Confederate forces, the Colt Army Model 1860 was the handgun of choice for Union troops. The Colt Army is chambered in .44 caliber, but its siblings, the Colt Navy, Model 1851 and 1861-virtually the same gun-are chambered in .36 caliber. The Navy-Army titles were handy monikers used for marketing effect by Colt-nothing more.
The Colt Army was favored by Union infantry, cavalry, artillery and even some naval personnel. Using a rear sight notch on the gun’s hammer, most visible when the Colt Army Model 1860 was cocked and a front blade sight, skilled marksmen might expect accuracy out to 200 feet or more.
The Colt Army used lead ball or cone-shaped bullets measuring 0.454 inches in diameter. Colt Army revolvers used 30-plus grains of black powder, a lead bullet and a percussion cap, seated on the nipple, for each of its six chambers. A loading lever ram beneath the gun’s barrel was used to seat the ball. The loading process-as with other blackpowder front-end loaders-was lengthy and not easily performed on horseback at a full trot. Thus, most cavalry carried several loaded pistols into the fray.
The Colt Army weighs about 2 1/2 pounds, unloaded, fully 2 pounds lighter than the Colt Walker. It measures 14 inches overall with an 8-inch barrel (some had a 7 1/2-inch barrel). Depending on the powder charge, the 138-grain lead round has a muzzle velocity of approximately 750 feet per second.
In Civil War enactments and Hollywood films depicting that period, the Colt Army Model 1860 is the most common stage prop handgun. In the film The Outlaw Josey Wales, Wales carries a Colt Army in his waistband, and the Model 1860 was variously used by others characters in that film.
Last Tuesday, we talked about some of the accessories you’ll need if you choose to carry a pocket sized .380 ACP pistol. But what if you’re one of the old school guys that carries one of the jillions of S&W J-Frames out there? I still carry a Model 60 when I need to conceal my firearm, and have never felt under armed with 5 shots of .38 Special +P in the chambers. There is plenty of gear that you are going to need though if you do make the decision to tie on a wheelgun as your defensive firearm. The first decision of course being “what kind of holster should I get?” On the blog yesterday we had a great look at inside the waistband holsters, which are probably the best option for concealed carry for a compact revolver. Another option of course are pocket holsters; however these will only work if you have large pockets and choose to carry one of the superlight aluminum framed guns or the polymer framed Ruger LCR.
The J-Frame and Ruger LCR are best carried in an inside the waistband holster like this Bianchi Holster pictured. The small size and weight of the gun can be concealed even on the hottest of summer days under an untucked t-shirt, and unlike the equivalently sized .380 ACP pistols, the DA revolver offers the option of .38 Special rounds or hot .357 Magnum rounds for personal defense. Admittedly, a small revolver isn’t the best choice for everyone, as the DA trigger is difficult to master. They require practice and training to be used to their full potential, but once you do reach that level you’ll find that your little J-frame is an incredibly accurate and powerful defensive firearm.
Next Tuesday, we’ll continuing looking at essential J-Frame gear, with the focus being on methods for getting your little gun back in the fight after you’ve depleted your five rounds. This is one of the most critical skills to work on if you carry a roundgun, so make sure you check back next week for more!
Is your .380 enough gun? Lately, the market has been flooded by compact .380 ACP pistols, from the brand new Diamondback .380 to the Sig P238 there are a ton of options out there for shooters looking for a compact pocket gun. In fact, Cheaper Than Dirt! recently went over some of the more inexpensive pocket .380 pistols available. Having carried a .25 ACP in a pocket for quite some time, it’s safe to say that I’m a firm believer that the .380 you carry is a step above the 9mm or .45 ACP that you leave at home because it’s too heavy.
The current generation of pocket guns have some serious strengths and weakness as well. Starting with the Ruger LCP and Kel-Tec guns, the sights are essentially non-existent. Both the Ruger and the Kel-Tec sport what is commonly called a “gutter sight” which means that instead of the traditional 3-post set up we’re all used to, there is a trough down the middle of the slide. All of these pocket pistols benefit greatly from the addition of Crimson Trace Lasers, but this goes more so for the LCP and the Kel-Tec. By adding the Crimson Trace Laserguard for the LCP to your gun you then greatly improve your ability to hit close targets faster and to hit distant targets period. Using a Crimson Trace equipped Sig P238 (pictured above) I was able to make consistent hits on an IPSC A/C zone target at 25 yards. The Sig P238 doesn’t even need the Crimson Trace as much as the LCP as it has excellent factory night sights; and yet even on this gun it just makes sense to add it.
The next issue that you’ll encounter on these pocket guns is the trigger. I like the Ruger LCP – I think it’s a great defensive firearm. I don’t like the trigger very much. The same can be said for the Kel-Tec, Diamondback, Bersa, and pretty much all the pocket .380s with the exception of the Sig P238 (again) which has an excellent single action trigger. But that’s not without problems of its own, as the Sig P238 must be carried cocked-and-locked with the safety on…in a pocket. That might be an area of concern to some gun owners, in which case a double action gun such as the LCP might be a better bet.
Of course, the most critical issue with the .380 is ammo selection. The debate will continue to rage whether the .380 is “enough” gun, and whether or not you should use ball ammo to get more penetration or use JHP ammo to get more expansion. The BVAC ammo at the right is a 90 grain JHP at approximately 1000 FPS using a Speer hollow point bullet. I tend to prefer hollow points for .380 ammo not because I think they improve my stopping power but rather because a hollow point bullet is less likely to glance off the hard bones in the rib-cage if used in a dynamic critical incident. FMJ rounds are great for practice and training, but for defensive carry I definitely want the heaviest, fastest hollow points I can get for my .380.
The final thing to consider for your defensive .380 is reliability and learning curve. Your gun must run the ammo that you choose for it reliably. If you carry the BVAC ammo above, it needs to work in your gun. You also need to practice with you gun, and not just standing on the range. A .380 that’s carried as a last ditch defensive weapon needs to be something that you can draw and get quick, accurate hits with. Would you take a defensive shooting class with a Ruger LCP? I honestly don’t know if I would, but it’s something to think about.
When selecting a defensive pocket gun, remember that the first rule of a gunfight is “have a gun”. The .380 you have beats a .44 at home, but if you have the wrong ammo or can’t hit with your .380, it’s not much better than a magic talisman. Carry your guns…but make sure your gear is the best you can get. After all, your life may depend on it.
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