Throwback Thursday—Snake Guns

By CTD Blogger published on in Firearms

Throughout recorded human history, man has feared snakes. And, for the most part, rightfully so. Silent, deadly, and occasionally prone to aggressive unprovoked attacks, vipers and various other venomous snakes have a more or less permanent place on many people’s list of varmints to kill on sight. Traditionally, a short break-action shotgun chambered in 20-gauge or .410 bore is the standard for dispatching serpents. Prior to that, a well-placed blow from a garden hoe or a shovel quickly ended a viper. Now there are many options to quickly and safely deal with snakes. Choices range from traditional short-barreled shotguns to various Derringers along with new modern shotshell-firing revolvers.

The invention of the Derringer gave people the option of a small, easily portable handgun capable of inflicting devastating damage at close range. Normally found tucked away in a lady’s garter, or hidden in a gambler’s boot, these small holdout guns were not used for killing snakes. Early models were mostly rimfire affairs, with larger calibers coming initially in black powder .38 Special and .45 Colt loads. Soon, smokeless powder was developed allowing an even larger variety of Derringer offerings. As designers introduced more and more calibers to various Derringer designs, specifically with the advent of pistol caliber shotshells—namely the .410 bore, developed around 1900—it was discovered these little shooters made excellent snake guns.

Taurus Judge with black grip and silver frame on a white background, barrel pointed to the left.

Loaded with .45 Long Colt, a .410 shotshell or Winchester’s PDX1 Defender makes the Judge a formidable survival gun.

While the origin of the .410 shotshell is not very well-known, a good indication of its heritage is the fact that it shares the same chamber size as the .45 Long Colt. This interchangeability drove the popularity of the .410 shell and soon every major revolver and Derringer manufacturer offered pistols advertised as firing .45 Colt along with the .410. This still persists today and is seeing resurgence in popularity with the Judge line of revolvers made by Taurus.

Chambered in both .45 Colt and .410, or as with the Raging Judge, .454 Casull, .45 Colt, or .410, the Taurus Judge sets the standard as the snake gun of choice. Advertised as the perfect trail gun, the Taurus Judge is indeed versatile enough to take small game, snakes and varmints when firing a .410 load, or take medium game with a .45 Colt or .454 Casull using the Raging Judge. Available with a 3-inch barrel, it is small enough to tuck into a backpack or fanny pack, or carry comfortably in a holster.

While hunting early-season whitetail deer, summer feral hog or late spring turkey in the woods and fields of North Texas, nothing causes me to freeze in my tracks faster than the telltale rattle of a western diamondback rattlesnake. Most snakes hibernate in the wintertime, making them less threatening to deer hunters. However, early archery and muzzleloader season hunters can still run afoul of not only the rattlesnake, but also cottonmouths, copperheads and a number of other North American pit vipers. Cottonmouth snakes, also referred to as water moccasins, are particularly aggressive vipers and known to chase after individuals unlucky enough to cross their paths.

I remember one time I had a too-close-for-comfort encounter with a cottonmouth. I was a young boy hunting frogs and turtles along the bayous of South East Texas. Forging my way through the tall summer grass along the bank and, true to form, I was not really paying attention to where I was going. I stepped on what I thought was a rock, except this rock was a little squishy and squirmed out from under my foot. As you might have guessed, this rock turned out to be a 6-foot long cottonmouth sunning itself along the banks of its favorite bayou. Luckily, this particular water moccasin was more concerned with escape than biting me and quickly slithered off with a mean hiss. That large snake put the fear of God into me, and ever since I have been particularly careful to watch for snakes when out in the woods and fields.

Nowadays, I carry a small Bond Arms Snake Slayer IV chambered in .45 Colt and .410 tucked in my hip pocket whenever I head out in the warmer months. It’s smaller than the Taurus Judge, carrying only two rounds, and for snake defense that is usually enough. Snakes are ambush predators adept at camouflage and hiding. When you encounter one it will generally be at a very close range; what I call “Oh my, that’s a SNAKE!” distance. This generally puts you anywhere from 3 to 10 feet away from the serpent, close enough to do serious damage with a .410 blast, and generally far enough away to keep you safe from a sudden strike. More than 12 feet, the pattern from a .410 shotgun load in most handguns opens up too much to make it effective for eliminating venomous snakes.

Picture shows a silver Derringer with rosewood grips.

The Bond Arms Snake Slayer IV is perfect for snake defense.

Loads for snake run the spectrum from .22 LR CCI shotshells, to full shotgun rounds such as 3″ .410 shells filled with #4 shot. What load you choose to carry depends on your firearm and what types of serpents you anticipate encounterong. .22 LR shotshells are generally going to be inadequate for all but the smallest snakes. Stepping up to the larger, yet still mild recoiling, .38 Special shotshells we find a much more effective cartridge for dealing with unwanted critters. Firing #9 shot at over 1,000 FPS, the CCI .38 Special shotshell is perfectly capable of dispatching most snakes with a single, well-placed shot. It patterns well, and while the #9 shot size is a bit on the small size, it still does the job nicely.

When it comes to snakes, however my favorite load, is the .410 shotshell. Three-inch Remington .410 shells loaded with #6 or #7.5 shot seem to have the best performance from my observations. It is big enough to have adequate penetration, but small enough to give a good pattern at 3 to 12 feet. CCI shotshells loaded with #9 shot are also available in .45 Colt. It provides better patterns than #6 or #7.5 shot, but at the expense of slightly less penetration.

So, what gun for snakes? Some use a .22 LR to great effect on snakes while my late great-grandmother insisted on a 12-gauge loaded with #6 lead. Both do the job equally well in the right hands; however, in my opinion neither are ideal. A .410/.45 Colt revolver or Derringer is small and portable while still packing a wallop. Additionally, they are cheap, abundant and easy to find. Ammunition is inexpensive for these little snake killers, making them affordable to feed and for practice. The Taurus and Snake Slayer IV are not the only choices for a snake gun. However, they are some of the least expensive and most commonly available; it would be hard to go wrong by them.

What gun do you carry in case of running into snakes? Tells us which one and why in the comment section.

This article originally appeared on March 28, 2011.

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Comments (41)

  • Curt S


    For the last 40+ years while hiking in the PA Mountains my gun of choice was a Dan Wesson 357 with the first two rounds being 38 Special snake shot followed with four rounds of 357 Magnum 158 grain HP. You never know what large hairy animals you mite run into especially in the late 70’s. The woods were loaded with hippies (just kidding).


  • Richard W Penick


    I’ve never had a problem using my .22 revolver with 6″ bbl and snake shot on some rather large (6′) western diamondbacks and mojaves around my place here in SE Ariz. Been using it for over 50 years and never missed.


  • Grayson childress


    I actually use a .177 caliber ruger break barrel pellet gun
    And a colt defender co2 powered bb pistol


  • Bruce G


    The only rattler I took aim at was a Mojave Green on a friend’s property while here was gardening. It was upright and still, which gave me the advantage of a clean shot with a Kahr 9mm 115 grain Cor Bon, which dismembered its head but for a piece of skin. There was with nothing but desert as a back drop. Now I live on a ranch and the “Greens” are found in barns and horse pens, where a 9mm’s ricochet is far to risky for humans, dogs and horses alike. Today I picked up a modern version of a Snake Charmer by Rossi/Taurus, an 18″ single shot 410 with 4 spares in the stock’s heel compartment. I fashioned a sling, making it easy to carry to the barns, corrals and pens when feeding or cleaning, or if called to take care of business on the property by the ranchers or riders My first choice for ammo was Winchester Super Speed (1250 fps) of 25 #6 hardened shot. I figure if I do my part, the Snake Charmer should do its part without harm to others, including those neighbors down the road. It also tucks handley beneath the kitchen/living room bar divider, within easy reach from my recliner, should a miscreant invade through my door uninvited. The small single shot seems tight and well made, and cost about $200.


  • Mark


    Actually looking forward to acquiring a Judge Magnum to see how it compares to firing an existing mod of an over under Stevens Model 22/410 break open shotgun chambers 410shotgun shells under with 22LR over.. Like the versatility of 45LC round along with 410 and 22LR though.


  • Bill Wilson


    65 years ago I liked a revolver with first 3 holes with 22 snake shot and 6 holes with 22 hollow points. The snake shot worked well with Water Snakes, and the hollow points worked well with snapping turtles, & squirrels.

    Now I like a 357 mag with the first 2 holes with snake shot and the rest with solids. I would do much the same with a 5 shooter to an 8 shooter.

    If expecting snakes a double barrel 410 or 28 gage with # 9 to a #6 shot size


  • Bob Shier


    I carry a Smith & Wesson Governor where the first two chambers contain #8 shot .410, the next two #4 shot .410, and the last two .45 LC hollowpoint.


  • Snakes


    […] I ride horses, folks sometimes ask if I wear a pistol so I can shoot snakes. Torching a round off while on horseback, especially if riding with others, […]


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