Snubby recommendation

I was emailed the following question. It’s a good question with an involved answer.

Which snubby do you recommend?

This was my reply:

It depends on the person, their ability, their needs, and their desire to achieve an acceptable standard of performance. The S&W 642 and Ruger LCR .38 Special have become the default purchases for people who want to carry a snub. They work for some people but not everyone.

A baseline go/no go test would be whether the person can make 5 hits out of 5 shots into a 12 inch circle at 7 yards in 15 seconds and then repeat it successfully 3 more times for a total of four separate strings. That’s the test for the NRA Marksmanship Qualification Program Defensive Pistol I Pro-Marksman Course of Fire.

Note that the standard for this Course of Fire is 100% hits for each string. I’m a big believer that the concept of 70% hits is a negative influence brought into the firearms community by Law Enforcement. No one wants their neighbor to shoot six shots at an intruder and have two of the six end up in OUR home but that’s what a 70% standard implies is okay. It’s not okay with me nor do I believe it would be okay to anyone who thinks rationally about it for one second.

The truth is that the .32 S&W Long is a far better choice for the beginning revolver shooter than the .38 Special. Unfortunately, the caliber has fallen out of favor within ‘cognoscenti’ circles because of the mistaken belief that it will not be able to inflict a wound any worse than a bee sting. Theodore Roosevelt never stated the reason he adopted it (in the dimensionally and ballistically identical .32 Colt New Police) as the first official revolver of the NYPD but he was a pretty smart guy. I doubt he made the choice without considering the situation carefully.

pocket positive 2 crop

The question of what kind of ammo is often asked next. My answer is:

whatever shoots to the sights and you can shoot the Course of Fire with.

Often, higher performance ammo shoots much lower (6-8 inches) than standard pressure ammo in the 130 – 158 grain range. Or the ammunition is so unpleasant to shoot that the shooter flinches badly and is unable to hit anything with it, except by luck. The ability of the shooter to hit the target consistently is the single most important consideration for ammo selection. Perceived advantages of terminal ballistics, which are often illusory, are irrelevant if the target isn’t hit.

I wish I could give a cut and dried answer but the question is more complex than is often realized.

15 responses

  1. Maybe a stupid question, but why do you assume their specification for “snubby revolver” is correct as well? With so many compact autoloaders available, is that not worth also not assuming and considering a broader range of tools to fit the need (and of course: identifying the need)?

    1. I understand your question. Since he specifically asked about snubs, I confined my response to that. Expanding it to ‘which gun do you recommend?’ would have turned a blog post into a book.

  2. The simplicity of revolver function is a real advantage to the casual firearm user. As soon as the casual user employs a Ruger LCR or Sig P238, Shield .380 or heaven forbid a Jimenez-Jennings model, they run the risk of slide malfunctions, dropping the magazine etc. etc. as well as the revolver generally can be engaged even from enclosed pants / jacket / carry purses. I don’t know of a single documented civilian engagement that ended in a negative manner due to only having 5-6 rounds in the cylinder.

    1. I’m sure you mean LCP. 🙂

      Malfunctions happen under stress conditions much more often than we acknowledge. I can document at least one incident where a casual user was killed because she had a malfunction and couldn’t clear it.

  3. I find that J frames want to shoot high when loaded with +P ammo. A special effort is needed to hold the muzzle down. With training, no problem. However, Colt D frames, fitted with a rubber Pachmayr grip, are much easier to shoot accurately. Barely noticeable size increase for the D frame.

  4. I have been taking a new , personally paid for, Colt Cobra (2017) through its paces as part of preparing an article. This has included multiple 5x5x5x5 drills. The updated Cobra gives Six shots, smooth barely stacking trigger pull, easy to see front sight, and is easy to handle and control in rapid fire with Plus P ammunition. I don’t like the Factory standard Hogue grips but they make for comfort on the Range.
    This not a paid plug. No one has given me anything for my opinion.
    Someone looking for a new defensive revolver should take the time to shoot the Cobra reboot before settling for 5 shots or a plastic frame.

  5. Great article, Claude! I’ve completely dropped 158gr LSWCHP +P as an option for use in my J frames and even in my Model 12 snubbies. Standard pressure 158gr RNL or LSWC shoots to the sights, don’t abuse the piece, and are much easier for follow up shots.

    1. I’m with you on getting away from 158 +p. It’s a good load in full size steel frame revolvers, both 3 and 4 inch, but in an Airweight J Frame leaves much to be desired.

  6. Thanks, Claude! Having a performance standard to measure skillsets against is helpful.

    I heard one of your recent podcasts where you mentioned most trainers (who typically come from a law enforcement or military background) assume that because they carried a full-size pistol on-the-job, that all of their students can/should do the same. I agree with your suggestion that there are times that logic doesn’t work/apply. In my opinion, the snubby will continue to serve an important role for the civilian population (even though some suggest revolvers are outdated).

  7. Excellent observations Claude. I strongly concur.

  8. Went to the range a couple of days ago, was able to score five shots in a five inch group at 10 yards with about one second per shot with a new model Charter Bulldog 44. Ran the target back and forth from 3, 5, 7, 10 yards testing my skills with the Bulldog, Bulldog Classic and Smith 638. Probably did a little better with the Smith, maybe four inch group. Groups really went to hell unless I slowed down, focused on grip, staging trigger between shots, sight picture, etc. Did five shots per stage unless I screwed up the first attempt then went for the second cylinder more slowly, taking my time, in a hurry.

    Did this test after I was almost carjacked picking up food at midnight in West Rogers Park Chicago. Long story, but I had my new model Charter Bulldog and my Smith 638 on me with two reloads for each vs three choirboys. I made the decision to crank up the truck and get the hell outta Dodge but three more steps and St. Francis woulda been on me.

    Passed the DTI Handgun Proficiency Test with John Farnam at the Reichard Ranch Spring 2017 with the 638 at the Basic level.

  9. […] Speaking of short barreled handguns, you will also appreciate Claude Werner’s snubby revolver selection advice. […]

  10. Since I carry snubbies on a regular basis I decided to test myself against the standard you mentioned. I passed with three of my snubbies; a Colt Cobra my wife just gave me for my birthday, the S&W 442 with a cheesy whiteout covered front sight and an LCR with a tritium dot that I carry most of the time. Interestingly, the tightest group of the three was with the 442! The reason goes to something you mentioned in the post; point of impact. With the dot on the front of the LCR I have to aim a bit higher while the 442 was shooting to point of aim. The Cobra is new and I only have a box or so of rounds through it otherwise I think I would have done a bit better although the red fiber optic sight is a bit hard for my aging eyes to see easily. The tightest groups of all though were when I used the Crimson Trace laser on the LCR. I have it on as a backup to the irons but it sure did help the accuracy in this particular test.
    Oddly enough, I just had an opportunity to shoot a S&W model 30 with a three inch barrel. I have to say that that little .32 was the easiest and most pleasant snubbie I have ever shot. Other than the cost of the ammo and, well it isn’t my gun, I could have stood there hitting 8″ steel targets at 20 yards all day long!
    Thanks for the post and God bless!

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