Concealed Carry

Lightweight Snub Nose .38s: Are They Worth the Weight Savings?

Smith and Wesson .38 S&W revolver with 2-inch barrel

Some folks say the snub nose .38 is outdated or out of style. Sales figures don’t reflect this. The 9mm striker-fired guns are the number one seller — no surprises there, but the snub .38 remains a strong choice according to the gun shops. Quite a few choose the snub nose revolver as their primary carry gun. Others choose the revolver as a backup to the primary gun — whatever it may be.

There are many short-barrel revolvers in calibers from .22 to .44, but I am focusing on aluminum-frame .38 Special revolvers. The primary use for my .38s is the back-up role. Therefore, I prefer an aluminum frame version.

man on a horse with a .38 caliber snubnose revolver in a OWB belt holster
A short-barrel revolver firing a powerful cartridge is a useful tool.

I like to save weight when possible. Although lighter than a steel-frame revolver, aluminum-framed .38s use the same lock work. An airweight revolver is simply a variation on a standard revolver in which the majority of the frame is an aluminum alloy.

The snub nose revolver may be carried in a pocket, inside a vest, or in a purpose-deigned cross draw or inside-the-waistband holster. Whether a Charter Arms with its steel skeleton around aluminum, Smith & Wesson Airweight, or Taurus Ultra Lite, these revolvers carry light but hit hard.

The snub nose is only of value against a threat if you have mastered it, but this is true of any handgun. As my friend Jerry Brickhouse said concerning frequent practice with his snubnose .38, “It isn’t a gun you can leave in the drawer all year and not shoot it.” The same may be said of the 9mm or .45 automatic, but the snub .38 is something of an enigma.

Purchased by everyman and seldom used, the .38 snub nose is at its best when in the hands of a well practiced handgunner, where it may do surprising work. I’ll be the first to admit, you probably need more gun if you are more likely to face multiple adversaries.

A peace officer, precious stone dealer, or pharmacist (in some areas) are at a high risk. In cases such as those, I recommend the .38 as a last ditch revolver or backup. I often carry the .38 during peaceful excursions and when walking the dog. It is almost like being armed some may jest. However, a lot of practice has gone into the .38 Special revolvers I carry.

Smith and Wesson 642 .38 S&W SPL +P revolver
The SW 642 is ideal for concealed carry.

The .38 Special is a minimal cartridge in my book for personal defense. However, with good shot placement, it will get the job done. If you have not practiced, you are in the unenviable position of being armed with a deadly weapon you cannot use well.

Engagement Distance

A friend who has seen some trouble, been shot, and shot adversaries… Doug says most people don’t understand handguns. They are for short-range work — 3–7 yards. Heft and balance mean a lot. The snub .38 he carries is easily handled. It is a powerful deterrent. If need be, at short range, it may be placed an opponent’s body. It may be fired as accurately as any gun at short range. It hits hard enough, he says, if you put it in the boiler room.

There are several good, quality, aluminum-frame .38s available. All are affordable. The Smith & Wesson 442 with its hidden hammer, smooth double-action trigger, and recoil-absorbing grips is one. The Charter Arms Off Duty is similar. The Taurus 856 Ultra Lite is a small frame .38 re-engineered to carry six shots, rather than five, in its cylinder. This revolver and others of the same type feature a visible hammer and may be cocked for single-action fire.

5-shot S&W Airweight (top) and Taurus 856 Ultra-Lite .38 caliber revolver (bottom)
The Taurus 856, lower, is a six-shot revolver. The 856 offers lightweight and an additional shot.

If you cannot afford the most expensive small revolver, you may get something almost as good for less money. A pretty gun isn’t as important as a reliable gun. Practice makes you faster and safer. And practice is the defining factor in proficiency. I may pick up a 9mm after a long hiatus and fire it pretty well. However, the snub .38 is more challenging and demands more practice. If your primary carry is a snubnose .38, you should hit the range every other week and certainly no less than once a month.

A nickname for the snubnose .38 is a ‘belly gun.’ This means it isn’t accurate enough for anything save thrusting the gun into an opponent’s belly and firing. Of course, the revolver is useful at longer range. However, the belly gun role should not be overlooked. This role should be appreciated particularly in the back-up role.

The revolver may be fired at contact range, and it will not jam in the same firing position in as an automatic would jam. Place the muzzle against an adversary’s body and fire repeatedly. An automatic would jam. Another advantage would be when a gun grabbing bad guy tries to grab your revolver. There is very little leverage for him if he grasps a short barrel, while you have a larger grip to hold onto. The snubnose .38 has many advantages in intimate range shooting. As an example, I have noted the type is a favorite among those who practice martial arts.

Smith and Wesson 640 Pro .357 (left) compared to the much lighter Smith and Wesson 642 revolver (right)
That’s a 640 Pro .357, left, compared to the much lighter 642, right. Smith & Wesson offers excellent defensive revolvers.

While the snubnose .38 is a good choice for intimate range use, and for keeping under the pillow at night (which many women and men living alone still do), there is a requirement to fire the pistol well at longer range. After all, the possibility of needing to fire at longer range should be addressed. I recommend firing the pistol at 7 to 10 yards. At this range the short sight radius that makes the revolver so easy to conceal doesn’t enhance accuracy.

The additional kick of a lighter revolver in an airweight frame is more noticeable in deliberate fire at longer range when compared to rapid fire at close range. You must first have the basics of handgun marksmanship squared away. You must apply these marksmanship basics to the challenge of firing the snubnose .38.

Practice a smooth, straight-to-the-rear trigger press. Firing should begin at 5 yards or so, until you build confidence. Speed will come later. Work on smoothness. An error in sight picture becomes more critical as range increases. Fire with a smooth, double-action trigger press. As the trigger resets, control recoil and bring the sights back into alignment.

Don’t push the session. Recoil builds — 30–35 rounds may be the limit in a firing session. If the practice is goal centered, this is a good standard. Don’t neglect to perform safe and effective dry fire in the home with a triple-checked unloaded revolver. Practice ammunition is inexpensive. 130-grain FMJ is fine for practice.

As for the ‘point of aim’ versus ‘point of impact’ relationship, at 10 yards 110-, 125-, and even 158-grain defense loads are close enough to the same point of impact that you may as well use the cheapest practice ammunition you can find.

.38 caliber revolver with a box of TulAmmo aluminum-case ammunition for practice
Practice is essential with any firearm and particularly the snub .38!

When firing the revolver, don’t ‘low rate’ your skills. If you are doing well at 5 yards, you may be prepared for most situations — especially situations inside the home. Stretch your range, however, and you will shoot just as well at 7 yards with proper technique (maybe even 10 yards).

The longer the range, the slower the cadence of fire. Fire using one hand for at least for a cylinder of ammunition, once you are getting pretty smart in two-hand fire. It is ridiculously easy to miss at close range with any handgun if you have not built skill. Use the sights.

Ammunition selection is critical, but not nearly as important as shot placement. A 16-ounce or lighter revolver isn’t the place for heavy .38 +P loads. Buffalo Bore offers standard pressure, low flash, hollow point loads in 110- and 125-grain weights. Federal offersits 110-grain Hydra-Shok standard pressure, and Hornady has the 110-grain Critical Defense. These are good choices. Don’t neglect firing a few of these loads to acquaint yourself with recoil and to confirm the point of aim and point of impact relation.

Support Tools

It is good to have a spare gun load (extra magazine, speed loader etc.). Spare ammunition is essential in a primary weapon. If you carry the snub nose .38 as a backup, a spare load is less desirable. It isn’t often that the primary runs dry and you need a backup. More likely, you have a problem such as having the primary grabbed away or the primary has malfunctioned.

Top center is a speedloader, left is a moon clip, and right is a speed strip — all for reloading revolvers.
Top center is a speedloader, left is a moon clip, and right is a speed strip — all for reloading revolvers.

I often carry a flat, easily concealed, Galco ammunition carrier. At times I have carried a speedloader in a pouch. Galco offers an inside-the-waistband holster with an integral speed loader holster. Practice with the Speedloader, they demand attention to manipulation.

Snubnose Holsters

Good quality holsters make or break concealed carry. The revolver is well suited to ankle carry. An automatic pistol may malfunction after exposure to dirt, street debris, mud, or the like. I recommend ankle carry, only when the handgun is carried as a backup. For primary carry, an inside-the-waistband holster makes for excellent accessibility and speed.

Choose a well-designed holster that doesn’t collapse after the revolver is drawn. During the winter months, I often carry a handgun in a shoulder holster. The Falco shoulder holster is one of those masterpieces of leather that does everything right.

Falco Kydex IWB holster with a S&W .38 caliber revolver inserted
While Falco is well respected for leather holsters, they also offer excellent Kydex holsters. This is a neat setup.

Any shoulder holster demands proper adjustment — prior to wearing it. Count on an hour or so of off/on adjustment. Perhaps a little less if you are good at spatial relationships and have help. A helper will be able to adjust the harness as you are wearing the rig. The Falco holster offer a fast draw, very sharp, and also offers a dual speed loader carrier to offset the handguns weight.

The airweight .38 is a time-proven handgun that offers real utility and reliability. The type is well suited to many chores if you are willing to master the handgun. The snubnose .38 Special is not for everyone, but for some, it is the ideal defensive tool.

Do you carry a snub nose .38 revolver as a primary or back-up gun? Which model and load do you prefer? Carry position? Share your answers in the Comment section.

  • Two snubnosed .38 caliber revolvers and a .380 semi-automatic handgun
  • Falco leather ankle holster with .38 caliber revolver inserted
  • Falco shoulder holster with spare speedloader pouches and .38 caliber revolver
  • notched groove sight on a revolver
  • Smith and Wesson Airweight revolver with 1 5/8-inch barrel
  • Falco Kydex IWB holster with a S&W .38 caliber revolver inserted
  • man on a horse with a .38 caliber snubnose revolver in a OWB belt holster
  • Rubber Hogue grips on the S&W 642 revolver, right profile
  • Smith and Wesson 642 .38 S&W SPL +P revolver
  • .38 caliber revolver with a box of TulAmmo aluminum-case ammunition for practice
  • Smith and Wesson .38 S&W revolver with 2-inch barrel
  • 5-shot S&W Airweight (top) and Taurus 856 Ultra-Lite .38 caliber revolver (bottom)
  • S&W Airweight revolver with 1 5/8-inch barrel showing wear from carry and use
  • Charter Arms Uncover .38 caliber revolver, right profile
  • Smith and Wesson 640 Pro .357 (left) compared to the much lighter Smith and Wesson 642 revolver (right)

About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.


Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Handloader
Rifle Magazine
Handguns
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns



Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (43)

  1. BEST HANDGUN FOR BEGINNERS

    YOUR FIRST HANDGUN: This information may be helpful if you are buying your first handgun. Do not waste your time looking for the ‘best gun’, there is no such thing. What is best for you?
    Please read Self-defense for beginners (below)

    Beginners first concern is NEED. Do you really need a gun?

    WHY DO YOU NEED A GUN?
    1. Will your gun be used for hunting? On the farm, ranch?
    2. Will your gun be used for competition? Target shooting?
    3. Will your gun be used for home defense? Business defense?
    4. Will your gun be used for SELF-DEFENSE? Concealed carry?

    If you plan on using a handgun for hunting; farm; ranch, target shooting or competition you already know about guns and do not need beginner’s help. This is NOT for you. For home or business defense consider a 410 shotgun and take lessons!

    Beginners second concern is SELF-DEFENSE:

    Beginners need to be aware of three problems: 1. Your gun firing accidentally. 2. You become so nervous you cannot draw the gun. 3. You cannot release the safety’s, or pull the trigger. You need to take lessons and practice.

    You MUST take lessons about laws and weapons before buying a gun; You MUST take shooting lessons with the gun you purchased; You MUST be legal to carry concealed; and most important, you MUST practice shooting at least once a month.

    Very few people will do some of those things,
    much less all of them.
    The third concern is for the beginners that do NOT take lessons or practice shooting. Please remember these three things:

    1. Only use a gun to protect people, NOT stuff. The only time you should fire a gun in self-defense is if you; your spouse, or your children’s lives are threatened:
    . If you shoot a gun, you may be detained (arrested), and your gun held as evidence. When a gun is fired the police will NOT decide who broke the law, or what law was broken. That’s the court’s job.
    . If you shoot a person you will probably need to post bond; hire a lawyer, risk both criminal charges and civil lawsuits. Don’t argue with the police, they don’t make the laws, they enforce the law! The police are not required to decide if it was self defense – an attacker was pointing a gun at you, or close enough to threaten your life (3 to 6 feet). They will probably leave that to the courts.

    2. Never show or point a gun at a person unless you are prepared to kill them. Guns are made for only one purpose – to kill! Only use a gun if you, or your family is attacked and a life is in danger. There are of course exceptions when to use a gun, but for beginners – keep it simple.

    3. Most guns can, and do go off if dropped, bumped or the hammer is caught on something. Some guns will have safety’s, striker plates, etc.. But they can still fire accidentally if it is dropped or bumped hard enough and a bullet is loaded in the barrel’s chamber. If you really need a gun, all beginners should consider a simple light weight; point-and-shoot; hammer-less, double action revolver with the barrel chamber empty.

    SAFEST GUN: With the barrel chamber empty it is almost IMPOSSIBLE for a hammer-less revolver to fire without pulling the trigger. There is no bullet to be fired. Yet it is simple to shoot – just pull the trigger.
    A double action revolver automatically rotates the empty chamber to the next chamber (which is loaded), and then fires the bullet. You just point and shoot.

    Personal attacks can happen very fast. With all other guns you need time to find the safety release(s); if a bullet is not loaded in the barrel chamber you must cock the hammer with single action revolvers; with semi-automatics you must rack the slide.

    SAFEST POINT-AND-SHOOT REVOLVERS are light weight; 12 or 14 oz; hammer-less; 2” barrel; double action; minimum 32/380, my personal minimum is 9mm/38sp. or as large as you can handle the recoil.

    Small point and shoot revolvers (2-3” barrel) may be uncomfortable to hold; possibly the worst gun for shooting long distances, and smaller people may have a problem pulling a 12–14 pound trigger. Be sure and test trigger pull. But with barrel chamber empty it is the safest gun.

    AGAIN: With a double action revolver there is no need to have the barrel chamber loaded as it is the last chamber to fire. It rotates the cylinder automatically before firing. At 3 to 6 feet you will only get 1 or 2 shots. But still have 5 or 6 available if attacker is armed at a longer distance. For certification a semi-automatic, or longer revolver (4 or 6 inch barrel) can be rented.

    With lessons and practice you may prefer a semi-automatic which has some advantages. Just remember that semi-automatics (and single action revolvers) with barrel chamber empty, must be cocked or racked before firing. With the barrel chamber loaded they can, and do, fire accidentally if dropped.

    AUTOMATICS are really semi-automatic, the trigger must be pulled for each shot. Fully automatic…machine guns, are illegal to own. Semi-automatic pistols are now very dependable; less shock, and are more accurate for many people.
    However semi-automatics can be difficult to use (re: DA/DAO). They are not practical for self-defense without loading the barrel chamber as they would have to be racked before firing. But automatics loaded with a bullet in the barrel chamber can fire accidentally if dropped or bumped. Beginners keep it simple with a point and shoot revolver.

    With LESSONS you may prefer a semi-automatic.

    Again this information is for first time handgun buyers. There are other factors to be considered in buying a handgun. Learn about guns; ammo; holsters; laws; defensive procedures; trigger pull; shooting positions, etc..

    CONCEALED CARRY: Carrying a gun is not for everyone. But if you must carry…..take lessons, practice and become legal. Consider liability insurance. Please do not carry hand guns in your pocket or purse. Use a holster! Remember ‘Open Carry’ makes you the first target.

    A reminder to experts that this is for beginners only. Many people are now buying guns that have never shot a gun. The only lessons they get are from a sales clerk on how to load the gun. That’s wrong, but is fact. Keep it simple. Keep your customers safe! Tell them they do have options.

    REVIEW: Three problems beginners must deal with:
    1. Learn how to safely draw and shoot a gun:
    . Take lessons and practice. Learn to observe and be prepared. Is attacker armed?
    2. Be so nervous you cannot release the safety, aim or fire the weapon:
    . Carry a point-and-shoot revolver. Practice; practice, and practice!
    3. The gun going off accidentally if dropped or bumped hard:
    . Use a hammer-less revolver. Do not load barrel chamber.

    NOTE: Load or not load barrel chamber? That is an age old discussion and the answer is personal choice. But, for beginners – keep it simple!

    SUMMARY: Best handgun for beginners? What is best for you? Maybe just keep it simple – a minimum 9mm., or larger…point-and-shoot, hammer-less revolver.

    Experienced shooters are reminded this is for beginners only!
    Or is it?

    SEE BELOW for self-defense options!

    SELF DEFENSE FOR EVERYONE

    Self defense for everyone; not just well trained, experienced shooters; Judo, martial arts experts.

    Everyone needs to be able to protect themselves, their spouse and children. Protection from physical assaults, guns and all other weapons.

    Protection that does not cost a fortune; take hours to learn, and years of practice. Unfortunately that narrows it down to guns.

    There are many ways you can be attacked. Many different weapons can be used to attack you. Many different conditions: Are you with children? Do you have the ability to fend off an attacker? Any physical disabilities that you have?

    Unfortunately most articles of self defense are written by gun dealers; shooting range instructors; and sporting goods shops. They obviously have a product or service to sell.

    What is needed is common sense self-defense. That requires a writer that has actual experience in being attacked and even being shot. They will all agree that the reality of being assaulted and shot is NOTHING like what is described in books.

    Reality: An assault happens really fast, even if you are expecting it, the reality that it is really happening catch’s you off guard.

    It is going to be one-on-one, even if there is a large group, it starts with one person. You don’t need a machine gun or three 30 round magazines. If you are going to use a gun, in a personal attack you will only have time for one or two shots, that’s all! Police and military must be able to control large crowds, they need larger automatic weapons, you don’t.
    Reality: If you are going to use a gun you must be prepared to kill someone.

    FACT: Guns are made for ONLY one reason – to kill.

    It would be wonderful if we could eliminate all guns being used in assaults. That is impossible in the United States where the public owns hundreds of millions of guns. Many owned by BAD GUYS, bought and sold on the street. Bad guys own and use guns! The same guys that will attack/assault you. How can you stop them?

    FACT: Gun confiscation? The bad guys will not turn in their guns. Only the good guys will surrender their guns, like you. How will you stop a bad guy that has a gun? How will you protect your wife or children?

    FACT: It takes a gun to stop a gun. Just common sense. Again, how can you stop a bad guy attacking you, or your wife?

    What type of gun should beginners consider?

    Please read BEST HANDGUN FOR BEGINNERS?

  2. Posted earlier that I have a S&W model 638, model 36, and a 3″ model 60 (in 357). Shooting all three, with 38 – 110 gr. ammo, at the same time, I can state the following personal opinions; 1.) Only the model 60 factory grips work. The 638 and 36 factory grips are too small. 2.) Model 638 light weight and too small grips makes DA firing inaccurate. 3.) Replacing the 638 and 36 factory grips made a large improvement in ease of shooting. 4.) The 3″ model 60, with the adjustable sights, is my choice as the best all-around snub nose revolver. 5.) SURPRISE -my alternate snub nose choice is the CA 44 bulldog. 44 spl “COWBOY” loads are also very effective for self-defense.

  3. I posted earlier about my .38 snub. I forgot to mention my primary round. A 158grain L.S.W.H.P., accuracy was good, recoil mild, and reasonably low muzzle flash; and I believe very good terminal energy transfer. My second was a Speer 148 grain H.B.S.W.C. loaded inverted, in effect a hollow point. The issue was our insurance carrier did not cover us as it was a “reload”. It also plugged when fired into a swath of jacket cloth, shirt, t-shirt, and covering a water filled milk jug. I couldn’t afford ballistic gelatin and compromised with this. I did use this round with 3 grains of Bullseye powder for dispatch of road injured deer and some other animals, woodchuck and such. Just a few thoughts and memories. The biggest thing is realistic and documented practice; including all weather-rain/snow, darkness/low light, inside/outside (muzzle blast and noise levels will shock those unfamilar to C.Q.B.), standing , sitting, laying flat, from a car seat, weak hand, cover and concealment, even disengagement. Train not for perfection in one area but for effective compliance in realistic scenarios. It’s more work, and scores will be affected, but I feel it would offer a level of protection from all but malicious prosecution. Well there you have a rambling thoughts of a career 68 year old. Advanced Police Officer, Level ll Firefighter, Basic E.M.T. Certifications and Military Veteran. Not quite Hill Street Bluesor The New Centurions, and closer to Barney Miller, or Andy Griffith. None the less as the Sarge says “HEY, HEY, BE SAFE OUT THERE!”.

  4. I posted earlier about my .38 snub. I forgot to mention my primary round. A 158grain L.S.W.H.P., accuracy was good, recoil mild, and reasonably low muzzle flash; and I believe very good terminal energy transfer. My second was a Speer 148 grain H.B.S.W.C. loaded inverted, in effect a hollow point. The issue was our insurance carrier did not cover us as it was a “reload”. It also plugged when fired into a swath of jacket cloth, shirt, t-shirt, and covering a water filled milk jug. I couldn’t afford ballistic gelatin and compromised with this. I did use this round with 3 grains of Bullseye powder for dispatch of road injured deer and some other animals, woodchuck and such. Just a few thoughts and memories. The biggest thing is realistic and documented practice; including all weather-rain/snow, darkness/low light, inside/outside (muzzle blast and noise levels will shock those unfamilar to C.Q.B.), standing , sitting, laying flat, from a car seat, weak hand, cover and concealment, even disengagement. Train not for perfection in one area but for effective compliance in realistic scenarios. It’s more work, and scores will be affected, but I feel it would offer a level of protection from all but malicious prosecution. Well there you have a rambling thoughts of a career 68 year old. Advanced Police Officer, Level ll Firefighter, Basic E.M.T. Certifications and Military Veteran. Not quite Hill Street Bluesor The New Centurions, and closer to Barney Miller, or Andy Griffith. None the less as the Sarge says “HEY, HEY, BE SAFE OUT THERE!”.

  5. Excellent article
    The section that the author noted many martial artist select the Snubby as their EDC – hit home.
    As a life long martial artist, since age 12, now 63 – this is true.
    Many of my instructors and including myself – chose the Snubby as a main EDC option.
    Effectiveness- Simplicity- compliments other edc tools – makes it a logical choice
    Thank you for the articles and memories

  6. I carried a model 38 during the entirety of my career. All of jackets and coats were tailored with a “gun pocket” sewn in. My uniform pants also had gun a pocket. It was secure, stealthy, and present. I also carried a Bianchi speed strip. Accuracy was good. You do need to practice as with any weapon. I practiced with duty loads or equivalent rounds. That may have resulted in the breakage of the hammer spur stud. Being a larger guy I could easily conceal this weapon. In some situations with hostility possible you could casually have your hand in your pocket. Did I ever feel underarmed ? No, you just need to practice and be accurate. Know and trust your training, equipment, abilities.

  7. The .38 snub is a great asset, I have a few of them. Compared to the very popular 9mm autoloaders, or any autoloader, with a revolver you don’t need to worry about changing out a magazine every so often to give the spring a chance to rest. Checking to see if the firearm is unloaded is also easy with a revolver, just open the cylinder. With autoloaders you remove the magazine but many newcomers forget to check if there’s a round in the chamber. Last, this was a good article but shooting hot .38 loads out of a snub isn’t easy and shooting .357 mag loads is even harder. I’ve found that 148 grain full wadcutters are great for target practice and defense. There is less recoil and flash and the flat bullet cuts a full .38 hole in paper or any other intended target. And don’t forget shotshells for those living in snake country.

  8. The S&W 642 Airweight is my favorite. The Taurus 856 jams & fails to fire WAY too much. I STRONGLY suggest spending $150-200 more for the better quality and reliability the Smith & Wesson provides you.

  9. Speer Plastic Bullets and Cartridges, fired with only a primer, are good and inexpensive way to practice with a .38 snub nose safely inside, even in a basement.

  10. I defended my wife and home with a S&W .38 snubbie loaded with wadcutters, when a crowbar-wielding, doped-up creep broke into my house at 4:30am. One in the shoulder and one in the face persuaded him to turn around and leave.

  11. One of my fave carry guns is my S&W 386 nightguards. So light, I shoot 38 +p’s in it and put on an adjustable rear sight to hit point of aim. It still kicks, but no more than a regular weight shooting .357 magnum full house loads, and 7 shots of 38 +p’s with uber reliability is awfully comforting.

  12. I have a 1961 colt cobra with a shoulder holster workout nice in cold weather with wadcutter

  13. So if a .38 snub nose works, then why not just get a .357 snub nose, the cylinder is not that much longer, nor the respective gun that much heavier, pretty much the same brand, and model, choices as the .38 snub nose, but just have more flexibility in a single gun, as .38’s also work in a .357, but not visa versa?

    It doesn’t seem like .357 Magnum DEFENSE loads are as recoil producing, at least felt recoil, as standard magnum loads, which kind of makes them feel more like a .38.

    As for revolvers vs semi’s, G. Gordon Liddy, a G-man revolver guy, use to say: If you can’t hit them in six, it’s time to get the H-E-LL out of there! Of course with some of todays micro pocket revolvers, Mr. Liddy would probably have to change that to FIVE, and get moving a little sooner. 🙂

  14. I have had a S&W Model 49 for close to 40 years. Once I saw Detective Ricardo Tubbs on Miami Vice with one, I had to have one. I even replaced the wooden grips on it with Pachmeyer’s. Truly you do have to master it as it can kick a bit is not the easiest to aim. But I worked at it in the 5 to 7 yard range and became somewhat proficient with it. It started out as a pocket and ankle gun and then it became back up to a S&W Model 59. At 20 oz’s unloaded it was a tad heavy. Through the years I have transitioned to a Glock 19 with a Ruger LCP in a pocket holster.

    But I still take the 49 out to the range on occasion as folks seem to enjoy seeing it.

  15. S&W M642 Airweight w/internal hammer, Performance Center trigger action job for 8# double action pull, Crimson Trace LG-305 laser grips to get three fingers around the grip, standard-pressure full wadcutters.

  16. Surprised your piece, which is very well written and helpful, did not discuss the pros and cons of a hidden hammer…notwithstanding the obvious conceal ability. My S&W 637 Airweight features an external hammer. It was a gift. Not sure I’d go that way again. Maybe, though.

  17. I have carried a S&W snub nose of one model or another for the last 40 years. I currently have been carrying a S&W 340pd for the last 10 years, loaded with Speer 135 grain +p gold dot hollow points. 90% of the time I carry it in a 5 shot leather ankle holster. I have no problem qualifying with this revolver for the yearly HR-218 qualification, shooting it out to 25 yards. Even though the revolver weighs 14oz loaded, I have experienced no problems with recoil, even with +p ammunition. I practice with it at least twice a month, and with extra ammunition carried with it, I have never felt under gunned.

  18. I carry a SW Airweight .38. JHP ammo. The trigger pull is always a surprise if I don’t do lots of range time. Lots of back travel until the trigger connects!
    I only carry it in low risk areas.
    My Glock 19 is my go to carry!
    Both are holstered IWB, right side, nylon holsters.

  19. Can’t comment on the light weight snubs… but I do carry a 6 shot .38 Spl steel snub when not carrying my S&W Shield Plus. Either one is IWB. I keep the .38 loaded with 125gr Federal Nyclads. Is it enough? Who knows, but I’m not volunteering to find out how effective it is or they are. When I started in law enforcement we were issued the S&W 686, 4″ barrel, loaded with .38 +P. So handling and accuracy with a snub nose is no issue for me. But I had also become a qualification instructor so I suppose I have a slight advantage over the average person. For me, a .38 snub isn’t hard to shoot. But I do like the revolver and will probably always have one in rotation.

  20. I prefer a .22 pocket pistol for it’s simplicity in accuracy…no recoil to spoil accuracy. 3 rapid shots to the head should stop any criminal. Light weight, easy to handle and totally concealable though I never carry a gun concealable anyway. Just my take on it.

  21. My EDC has, for a long time, been a 5-shot .38 Spl snubbie. My first was an original S&W Model 60 – the first present I bought myself after I started work – that lives at our second home. My EDC at our primary home (in a rural community) is a Taurus airweight, and backup is a S&W airweight with a shrouded hammer. All of these have been set up with Crimson Trace Lasergrips. These avoid the complexity of a semiautomatic, are small enough to conceal easily, and are comfortable for all-day carry. I pray I go to my grave never needing any one of them, but at least I’m not unarmed.

  22. I have owned and carried a s&w model 60 for years. Not an air weight. I also have a model 640 in 357. Great guns that shoot more accurately than the average shooter. Simple, durable, doesn’t mind taking a sweat bath on a humid Arkansas day and ammo selection for specific tasks depending on the day’s itinerary is unlimited. Money well spent amongst all the plastic fantastics

  23. I have owned and carried a s&w model 60 for years. Not an air weight. I also have a model 640 in 357. Great guns that shoot more accurately than the average shooter. Simple, durable, doesn’t mind taking a sweat bath on a humid Arkansas day and ammo selection for specific tasks depending on the day’s itinerary is unlimited. Money well spent amongst all the plastic fantastics

  24. Shortly after we were married (1980’s), I bought my wife a Rossi .38 snub nose for protection. It was either aluminum or brushed steel. She was never comfortable carrying it, so I recently sold it. Now she prefers a Taurus Spectrum, or Ruger EC9. Lighter and more easily handled.

  25. I’m short and slender so my pockets are not as deep as some people commenting. I can’t effectively conceal a 38 snub in my front pants pockets. That is reserved for a 380 pocket pistol. Snub-nosed revolvers are belt guns, IWB or OWB for me. I have several light weights and a couple steel framed ones. Favorite lightweight is still my 642 though I have yet to shoot the LCR. The Colt Agent 3rd Gen is a very close second. Favorite steel frame is the Ruger SP101. That revolver fits my hand like no other. However, I still have and occasionally carry my first CCW revolver, a Taurus 85CH. I have several compact and midsize 9mm semi autos but a snub revolver is still my go to.

  26. Great article. I carry a LCR and practice with it often. Always carry a speed loader as it is one of those “better to have it and not need it things.”

  27. Kanki Su Kidd

    You are correct, LCR is a great revolver! I am currently working up a story on the Ruger.

    Best
    Bob Campbell

  28. Started carrying a Smith and Wesson Model 638 Bodyguard Airweight .38 SPL. revolver in an Uncle Mike’s, and later a Bob Mika pocket holster when I was a youth working an urban newsstand job not far from “skid row.” That became a lifelong habit.

    As I’ve aged, I’ve moved to pocket carry of a much heavier, all-steel S&W Model 649 .357 with a true 2.125″ barrel, or IWB with a kydex scabbard or “sticky” holster and Magpul gunbelt.

    For a good long while, I loaded +P 158gr. LSWCHPs. Then it was Speer GDHP 135gr. +Ps. These days it is mostly Federal 130gr. personal defense Hydra-Shok deep cartridges.

  29. When my Father made Sargent in the late 60’s, he purchased a model 36, and used in matches instead of his state issued 4″ model 10. Yes – he was able to outshoot most of his competitors. “J” frame S&W can be accurate. Now as one of the many “older shooters”, found that when shooting my model 638, model 36, and 3″ model 60, only the model 60 comes with OEM grips that work. Both the 638 and 36 OEM grips are uncomfortable to use. The light weight of the Aluminum frame S&W snub nose revolvers, with the too small grips, only makes the issue worse. Suggest that anyone wanting to carry one of these lightweight S&W 38 revolvers swap out the OEM grips before their first trip to the range. I also prefer the CT LG-305 Laser Grips in lieu of the OEM grips.

  30. I am a disabled veteran and I carry a ruger LCR everyday. the only thing I added was a set of crimson trace grips.

  31. Great article Mr. Campbell. I frequently carry one of a pair of Charter Arms .32 Mag. snubbies, not sp much because I like snubbies, but because as you said, they are light and reliable. They are also sturdy, simpme, and I bon’t worry overmuch about rain or sweat. As you said, they are not easily mastered, and in addition to the short sight radius, many models have pretty rudimentary sights that are difficult to use well.

  32. William

    I am currently working up a feature on developing a personal qualification program.

    Keep watching the Shooters Log

    Bob

  33. Have carried a snubby as pocket carry for over 20 years. As William said, if I need 20 rounds, I’m probably screwed anyway. If a street thug threatens me and he sees me, a little old man, timidly reaching into my pocket for my “wallet” I’m gambling his guard will be briefly down just long enough to prove him wrong.

  34. I lave noticed that most gun writers omit the Ruger LCR series from articles on compact revolvers. This is not OK. Like most concealed carriers I started out with Smith & Wesson concealed hammer snubbies. I got a Riuger LCR shortly after introduction. I subsequently sold most of my Smiths. The trigger linkage on the Rugers gives a far superior pull than any other compact DA revolver I have ever used, The LCRx model has an external hammer that protrudes minimally from the frame and has yet to snag on anything. This series is very easy to shoot and even with stout loads I have yet to experience significant discomfort. When I am out “dressed for peace and armed for trouble” my LCRx rides in either a soft pocket holster or a Kydex IWB holster where it disappears under a light jacket or vest. I carry six spare rounds of standard pressure Underwood Defenders in a pocket speed strip to back up the five in the cylinder. Sure I’d rather have my .45 Commander or Glock 19 with me but sometimes this is not possible. The .38 snubbie is a reasonable compromise and I’d always rather have a gun and not need it than need one and not have it.

  35. I carry a S&W Airweight in .38 Special in low risk situations like going for a walk or to the store to get a Sunday paper. I carry it in a pocket holster and have it loaded with hollow point ammo and feel very comfortable with the protection it offers. Your comment on practice is spot on. I go to the range 2-3 times a month and always run at least 10 rounds through it. I feel comfortable with accuracy up to 10 yards with it and appreciate the dependability and safety a revolver offers. In higher risk situations I switch to a compact 9mm for a little more accuracy at longer ranges and the higher capacity to have more chances to get a “Hit”. You should carry the firearm that you have the confidence in to provide you the best chance to defend yourself in a critical situation. Thanks for the article, keep them coming!

  36. I carry the Charter Arms Off Duty. Love the gun and practice often. Note: Do not use wadcutters for practice. The short barrel along with the flat point does not give the bullet enough spin to be accurate.

  37. I have always considered buying the S&W 642 a mistake. I shot it once at the range and it’s been in the gun safe ever since.

  38. What about the Kimber K6 S? I carried a Charter Arms 5 stainless 5 shot for many years. A gun dealer showed me a Kimber K6 and I bought it. I was impressed that it was a six-shot .357, but the slim profile was the deal-clincher. The stock grips are great, but I bought a set of after-market grips that were a little longer and make it easier to retrieve. It’s now my EDC. It is very concealable in a DeSantis fabric pocket holster in either cargo shorts/pants (my favorite) or blue jeans with large pockets. A little practice and it comes out very quickly. I’m a big fan of the DeSantis holsters, and have one for my stainless Taurus Public Defender that shoots the 21/2” .410 shells. That is my dog-walking gun where I know there are coyotes and bobcats around. It can also serve as a pocket gun with the right pants. Thanks for the article, It was spot-on. I don’t even own a 9mm (except for my S&W FPC) because I figure if I need 20 rounds I’m in a gunfight, and, at 75, I’m probably going to die.

    Last, how about an article for those who have to practice alone. Local gun ranges frown on quick-draw practice and my friends don’t seem to want to go out in the desert or forest (when we’re at our summer cabin) to target-shoot or otherwise. Any recommendations for older solo shooters on their own?

  39. Hey Bob ! Good article. I carry a snubby about 50% of the time, OWB, I’m 72, and hit the range about once a month with a couple handfuls of different pistols/revolvers. I like the 38, but have 22, 22 mag, and 44 special also. The 38 I carry is a Ruger LCR. I don’t currently have a S&W snubnose but will have one again soon. Thx for your articles.

  40. This really comes off like a gun version of “Why two door hatchbacks with four cylinder engines are really great cars.”

    There is nothing wrong with them– more or less– but they are a subset of a subset.

    .

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