When it comes to personal defense, the snubnose revolver is so handy, lightweight, easy to manipulate and simple to operate, it is widely used. Even those who carry a heavier firearm as a matter of course often deploy the snubnose as a backup or hideout. The backup gun may be a lifesaver in the case of a malfunction of the primary. The snubnose handgun must be used by a skilled shooter (meaning someone willing to practice).
The best grip and application of the proper technique is vital for proper application of the snubnose revolver. Since most gun battles occur at short range, the speed into action of the handgun may count for more than absolute accuracy. There is nothing faster into action than a snubnose revolver carried in a properly designed holster.
The Taurus Snubnose
The Taurus revolvers, beginning with the Model 85, are good examples of the breed. They feature a smooth action, good fixed sights, hand-filling grips and a reputation for reliability. The rest is up to the shooter. While small self loaders are presently a fad, I do not wish to bet my life on anything below the .38 Special. The Taurus revolvers I use are chambered for the .38 Special. They will handle the +P loads well. Some of the Taurus revolvers are chambered for the .357 Magnum cartridge. While the heavy barrel .357 Magnum revolvers with hand-filling rubber grips may best be considered nice shooting, .38 Special revolvers with the option of using the Magnum load are present.
An advantage of the revolver, that cannot be overstated, is the revolver may be pressed against the adversary’s body and the trigger pulled repeatably without the danger of a jam—whereas a self loader would jam after the first shot. The revolver may even be fired through a coat pocket, which I like a lot. The snubnose revolver will never win a combat competition course, but it will save your life if properly used. The snubnose .38 has saved quite a few lives in fights that could have been lost.
When testing a revolver, I leave nothing to chance. Whenever I try a new revolver, I retrain and master the nuances of the sights and trigger action. By carefully paying attention to the front sight and mastering the trigger action, hits may be made with the snubnose revolver far past conversational range. As such, the revolver is well suited to defense against feral dogs, coyote and the like, providing the user is able to effectively use the piece. This means practice.
Be sure to carry the snubnose .38 in a position that affords good access while maintaining retention. The handgun should never be carried loose. A good pocket holster is essential; a belt holster or an IWB is good when you are able to wear a covering garment.
Types of Snubnose Revolvers
There are three types of snubnose revolvers.
- There are the conventional revolvers with the double action and a single action feature.
- There are revolvers with a spurless hammer.
- There are concealed hammer revolvers.
Revolvers with the exposed hammer and single action capability are the best choice when you make a shot at a reptile or even take small game. Small game with a snubby? I have taken plenty of shots of opportunity—it can be done. The spurless hammer revolver is neat and handy for pocket carry. The concealed hammer revolver is another option. By far the most common and perhaps the most useful of the group is the standard Taurus 85 type revolver with exposed hammer and the capability for single-action shooting. I have used all three.
The major preference I have with the small Taurus revolvers is that they have the modern pebbled hand-filling composite grips. These grips separate the hand from the frame of the revolver, cushioning the shock of heavy loads. Taurus has designed and executed grips that give the you every advantage. As a bonus, the larger snub .38 grips offer better purchase as you begin to draw the handgun.
When Practicing the Proper Firing Grip.
- Heft the handgun in the hand, and take a firm grip. A good test is to hold the handgun increasingly tighter until your hand trembles, then back off.
- Carefully align the sights, taking more care for longer distances. Smoothness is important at this point. Speed will build with time, and without smoothness you accomplish nothing.
- Press the trigger firmly to the rear, and the trigger breaks as the sear trips.
- Maintain control in recoil and align the sights again. The cadence of fire is not set by how quickly you are able to press the trigger again, but by how quickly you are able to align the sights in recoil control.
- Keep the cadence of fire set by trigger action. There is the same amount of time spent pressing the trigger and allowing the reset.
- Press, reset. You will find that when the trigger is reset, you are ready to fire.
There are larger snubnose revolvers which are much easier to use well, although the same rules apply to mastering the application of techniques to counter the shorter sight radius. I don’t consider these true snubnose handguns but rather short barrel revolvers. The snub .38 is a compact five shooter. When you consider the likely use of such a handgun and the fact that lethal confrontations occur at intimate range most often, sticking a revolver in the opponents belly and pulling the trigger makes sense. Some may state that the belly gun is the ultimate example of a defensive handgun.
The larger six-shot Rossi revolver is a great defensive revolver as well—although it is a holster gun versus a pocket gun. The Rossi six-shot .357 Magnum is modeled closely after the now out-of-production Colt Detective Special in size. The Rossi features bold sights, a good trigger action, and one of the best designed grips ever fitted to a revolver. It is one of the most overlooked revolvers on the market. It is the ideal size, more accurate than many would believe, and the Rossi revolver fires a fight-stopping cartridge. It isn’t a bear to fire with purpose-designed .357 Magnum defense loads.
Selecting Ammunition for a Snubnose Revolver
I have deployed a number of .38 Special loads over the years, ranging from the old 200-grain Super Police to the Glaser Safety Slug. I recently tested a number of .38 Special loads in my personal Taurus 605. Among the most interesting are those from Buffalo Bore ammunition. I have been favorably impressed by its loadings in the past, and this was no exception.
- Buffalo Bore loads both standard velocity and +P loads, which is different than the new breed of ultra light .38 Special revolvers.
- The standard velocity 158-grain lead bullet broke 790 fps. Control was good.
- The +P version was a surprise, giving a full 970 fps. This is a very powerful load that makes the most of the .38 Special. (Incidentally, this load generates 1075 fps in a four-inch .38.) While recoil was stout, it was not wrist snapping by any means.
- I think when you practice and invest in the .38 Special as a primary weapon, the Buffalo Bore 158-grain hollow point is a great loading.
- I also tested the Buffalo Bore 125-grain JHP, using the special Gold Dot short barrel bullet. If you prefer the jacketed hollow point, this is a good loading.
- I strongly prefer the lead hollow point in the .38 Special, although I have studied incidents in which the JHP has performed in an excellent manner. You pay your money and make the choice; .38 Special loads are better than ever.
Firing the .357 Magnum in a snubnose Magnum can be interesting. Only loads specially designed for short barrel use are usable. As an example, a load designed for hunting normally uses a heavy charge of slow burning powder. This type of powder doesn’t fully burn in the two-inch barrel. Velocity is often less than the .38 Special +P, recoil painful and the bullet does not expand at such low velocity.
The Buffalo Bore Tactical loads solve this problem. The Tactical Load is not a heavy load but especially designed for personal defense. Loaded sensibly lighter than the full power .357 Magnum, this offering is more potent than the .38 Special +P but controllable. The 125-grain Tactical Load is ideal in the snubnose Magnum.
I conducted experiments in firing from a jacket pocket. A great advantage of the concealed hammer .38 is that you can carry the piece in your jacket pocket and fire quickly if needed. My associate, Lee Berry and I found that the revolver proved to be capable of firing a cylinder of ammunition quickly without any problems. The fabric of the coat did not ignite and this is not something you could do twice from the same jacket—the gaping hole allows the handgun to fall out! At a few feet, the bullet flew true and struck the target. Another advantage of the belly gun is when you are able to fire at contact range. The power of the .38 Special revolver cartridge is greatly enhanced by the rapidly expanding ball of gas that accompanies the bullet—often resulting in a horrific wound. There are specialty loads that make the .38 most versatile. My friends old Hoyt and Ralph often carried bird shot as the first round in their .38s when they were hunting moonshiners and busting whiskey stills. They met more snakes than moonshiners. The Speer .38 Special shot load is a good option.
When all is said in done, the snubnose revolver is a good option for personal defense. For many shooters it is the best compromise available and an option we should not be without.
Have you got a snubnose in your arsenal? If so, which one and what do you like about it? Share your experiences in the comment section.
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 Shooters 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.
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