Review: North American Arms PUG

By Bob Campbell published on in Firearms

I should start this report with a disclaimer. The North American Arms PUG isn’t my idea of a defensive handgun. But then, it is a well made revolver that never gives trouble, and that means a lot. There are folks that simply cannot be convinced to carry a larger handgun, and something is better than nothing. Many people would have loved to have had a .22 magnum revolver handy when attacked. It is better than tooth and nail.

4 .22 caliber revolvers

The light .22 revolver is an American icon. The yellow handled revolver is the first American cartridge revolver, the Smith and Wesson No. 1, a seven-shot .22 revolver.

As for myself, the PUG makes a fair second carry gun and a fine third gun. It is affordable, which isn’t true of many of the better type of defensive handguns, yet I would put North American quality at the top of the heap. There is a tremendous demand for handguns that may be concealed in the pocket. A small handgun carries the problem of high recoil and poor accuracy, not to mention engineering obstacles. North American Arms has created a niche market all their own, replacing the once common derringers. The five-shot, .22 magnum revolver is easier to use well than any derringer, and makes much more sense.

The PUG is the lightest and the most modern in appearance. There are a number of variations, some with longer and shorter barrels, and different grips. I have fired a .22 LR and .22 magnum NAA revolvers, and this one has the best performance for personal defense I have yet seen. The PUG features a five-shot, fluted chamber with recessed cylinders for safety, in case of a blown case head, and also to increase reliable operation as the cylinder rotates, and a 1-inch barrel. This one also features barrel ports.

The design goal of the NAA mini revolver seems to be make it light weight. The pistol weighs but 6.2 ounces. It is 4.5 inches long, and it is only 3 inches tall. You can stash this revolver just about anywhere, and that is pretty important.

Loaded cylinder from a NAA PUG revolver

Be certain that the hammer nose is locked into the safety notches, located in the spaces between the chambers.

The PUG is a single action design. That means the hammer must be cocked for every trigger press. This is a simple action, and the hammer is large enough for plenty of purchase for manipulation.

The first challenge is loading the revolver. The cylinder must be removed from the frame for loading. There is a lock on the barrel underlug that is rotated to move forward, freeing the base pin. The cylinder is then pressed out from the frame. The cartridges are loaded in the cylinder. Replace the cylinder in the frame and replace the base pin.

It is very important that you keep your fingers from the around the muzzle. The hammer is down, to be certain, but muzzle discipline demands the finger be away from any handgun’s muzzle at all times. When you are firing the PUG, also be certain that the fingers do not drift toward the muzzle.

Quite a bit of practice in handling any firearm is demanded before deploying it for personal defense. I find practice sessions are limited to twenty cartridges or so, due to the slow loading process. This isn’t a revolver that will be much more accurate the more you practice, but what accuracy it has a trained shooter may make the most of.

5-shot group on a paper target

This is a rapid, 5 shot group at a few feet.

Be certain not to allow the hammer to rest on a loaded cylinder. This could result in a discharge, if the revolver is dropped or the hammer struck. The hammer nose must be lowered into a safety notch, located between the cylinders of the revolver. Always follow this program. The hammer is moved slightly to the rear and the cylinder rotated enough to properly line up the hammer nose and the safety slot. This is a safe, strong system.

I really like the PUG’s grip. In my opinion, it is superior to anything offered by NAA on other revolvers. The synthetic grip offers plenty of adhesion when firing. While recoil isn’t great, the muzzle flip is and this grip helps control the handgun. The grip is important in order to effectively keep the hand stabilized as you cock the hammer and fire the revolver. This PUG doesn’t have a trigger guard as none is needed. It will only fire if the hammer is cocked and the trigger pressed.

Finally, the revolver features some of the best sights I have seen on a small handgun. Small handguns need good sights even more so than larger handguns, as the short sight radius invites misalignment. The NAA PUG features express type sights intended for fast work at close range.

Bob Campbell shooting a .22 lr revolver

Surprisingly good results were had with this diminutive revolver.

I began my test fire with Fiocchi’s 40-grain JHP. I placed the target at five yards and fired five shots as quickly as I could manipulate the hammer and trigger. I put all five into four inches. Frankly, I was surprised. The PUG sights and grip really make a difference in performance. The 1-inch barrel generated 830 fps. I have clocked the Fiocchi load at 1,000 fps from the longer barrel NAA revolvers, so there is a price for compactness.

Hornady’s 45-grain Critical Defense load exhibited 844 fps. After firing at 5 yards I stepped back to the 15 yard line. This is substantial for the PUG, but I elected to try the shot. I aimed for center mass, and after firing three rounds, I found only one on target near the head. I reloaded and fired again, this time aiming for the belt buckle region. This time all three bullets impacted in the center region in a group about 5-inches wide. Knowing what I know about small handguns, this is impressive. At close range the sights are well regulated. Muzzle flip takes its toll at the longer and improbable ten-yard range and beyond.

The .22 magnum cartridge has advantages over the .25 ACP in penetration and velocity. The NAA PUG is reliable and may be fired accurately enough to strike man-sized targets at close range. Any handgun is sufficient for a threat, and the NAA PUG offers more power than a .22 long rifle or .25 ACP cartridge. The PUG is something and that is much better than nothing.

What’s your favorite back-up gun (BUG)? Share your answer in the comment section.

SLRule

Bob Campbell is a former peace officer and published author with over 40 years combined shooting and police and security experience. Bob holds a degree in Criminal Justice. Bob is the author of the books, The Handgun in Personal Defense, Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry, The 1911 Automatic Pistol, The Gun Digest Book of Personal Protection and Home Defense, The Shooter’s Guide to the 1911, The Hunter and the Hunted, and The Complete Illustrated Manual of Handgun Skills. His latest book is Dealing with the Great Ammo Shortage. He is also a regular contributor to Gun Tests, American Gunsmith, Small Arms Review, Gun Digest, Concealed Carry Magazine, Knife World, Women and Guns, Handloader and other publications. Bob is well-known for his firearm testing.

View all articles by Bob Campbell

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Comments (19)

  • Shake

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    George – sorry you had that happen. I’ve carried NAA 22 and 22 Mag since 1977, in all forms, fashion, work, exercise, rough country you name it. NEVER happened to me, not even close.

    Reply

  • Budd Dunson

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    I have two of these little darlings a sidewinder and a standard 22wmr both have their place after market grips make a world of difference.

    Reply

  • Tom

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    Considering that the Pug is the short barreled member in the Blackwidow series, I installed the larger Black Widow grip. It makes the gun much more controllable with no real impact on concealability. I carry in the front pocket in a custom holster. It’s as natural as grabbing your keys and wallet.

    Reply

  • Alf Z

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    Still pricing and researching the NAA Sidewinder.

    Reply

  • Reid scheringer

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    I’m a large man 6’9” I have two of these in 22 mag. Even though I have very large hands I have no trouble shooting and holding these guns even with the slick handles. It took a little bit too get used to being small. Great little gun for concealed carry. I wish I could carry a 45 every were I go but that’s not Feasible. I can carry my 22 mag and no one ever knows.to me thats the only way to carry a gun that no one can ever tell that you have it. There are no tell sings that you have it like some larger
    guns

    Reply

  • Rob

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    This goes with me always.
    Yes, i’ve noticed keyholes, mainly with the optional LR cylinder and bullets. 25 ft can get 3 inch groupings. It takes a while to get the hang of this gun, once there it’s pretty sweet. For the novice, I’d consider their new flip open .22, and the safety is still a little tricky.
    I carry the trusty 1911 when I feel more exposed.

    Reply

  • george

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    A very dangerous pocket gun because the hammer can cam up and off the safety slot between cylinders during normal carry movement over the top of a live round. Then if the gun falls out of your pocket like it did me and lands on the exposed hammer, the bullet will fire missing you by inches just like me. Ill never carry one again.

    Reply

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