Derringers! The name conjures up images of Old West gamblers blazing away over a suspicious deck of cards. The classic original Remington derringer fired a .41 caliber rimfire cartridge moving at only 425 feet per second. The bullet was so slow it could be seen in flight, but at card table distances it was still deadly. Here are five modern takes on the derringer, in modern calibers.
Cobra’s C22 is a .22 LR caliber derringer with a chrome finish and pearl grips. Metallurgy is on the cheap side but its only shooting a .22 LR after all. The best thing about the C22 is the price, only $120. The C22 is a very traditional derringer in shape, execution, and concept. Historically, the derringer was always a lower powered, cheap gun marketed primarily to women. 21st century American women may or may not dig its shiny looks, but 19th century women loved it!
The .380 acp caliber is more popular than ever. All of the major ammunition manufacturers are producing serious defensive ammunition loadings for it. Tiny automatics like the Kel-Tec P3AT, S&W Bodyguard, and Taurus 738 are finding their way into the pockets of more American shooters than ever before. However, some of these little pocket pistols are notoriously picky about feeding and extraction. They all cost way more than the Cobra CB380. With the Cobra you only get two shots instead of the six- or seven-round capacity of the semi-autos, but you also only pay $127, and you don’t have to worry about a jam in the action.
$180 gets you a derringer and a half from Cimarron. You can choose between the .38 Special barrels or .32 H&R Magnum barrels. The .32 Mag caliber is an odd choice to me, throwing a 95-grain bullet around 1000 feet per second. It’s certainly the most powerful of the .32 cartridges, but it’s not particularly popular, nor is it a historically correct caliber, since it was only invented in 1984. My guess is, someone at Cimarron is a huge .32 H&R Magnum fan and hey, I’m cool with that. The .32 barrel would certainly kick less than the .38 Special while offering nearly the same muzzle energy. So maybe its a smart idea after all.
If you are considering a derringer for serious self-defense carry and not just as a cool toy, take a look at Bond Arms. Their guns are made of satin-finished stainless steel and are generally beefier than their competitor’s pistols. That’s a good thing, as Bond Arms chambers their derringers in high chamber pressure calibers like this .357 Magnum “Cowboy Defender.” Now we are talking about some serious stopping power, but be forewarned. This gun still only weighs 19 ounces. One online reviewer wrote that firing a derringer in this caliber feels a lot like smacking your thumb with a hammer. After the first barrel fires you may want to hop around, shake your hand vigorously, and curse randomly for a few seconds before picking the gun up to fire that second barrel. Still, there’s no way to make a smaller, more concealable .357 Magnum.
Okay, now we are getting a bit silly, but hey, that’s okay by me. The Bond Arms Ranger II is alot bigger than it looks in the photos, with 4.25 inch barrels and weighing in at a pound and a half. Like the Taurus Judge, it can fire either .45 Long Colt cartridges or .410 shotshells. It costs nearly $500, which is actually significantly more than a few Taurus Judge models. I looked at a couple of YouTube videos of guys shooting these and they were pretty intimidating, with lots of guys grimacing, their hands shaking badly, and leaning way forward as they force themselves to squeeze off two shots in a row. When the ordeal of firing is over, they congratulate each other heartily on being Real Men and fighting through the pain. I’m forced to conclude that a derringer that fires shotgun shells is not so much a self-defense weapon as a great prop for the next MTV “Jackass” practical joke movie. But it’s certainly a beautifully made pistol.