Do not Rule out the Derringer

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The humble derringer-style pocket gun has served western civilization for a large part of the past three centuries.

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History of the Derringer

The original Derringer was the Philadelphia Deringer (note, just 1 R) invented by one Mr. Henry Deringer, around 1825. His pistol, usually a large caliber single shot fired by the then-novel percussion cap, made him much more money or fame than the Model 1814 or 1817 rifles he designed for the Army or the dueling pistols he lavished attention on. His guns were so popular that they were imitated (here's where you see the imitators used two R's).

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John Wilkes Boothe's Philadelphia Deringer.....yes, this is the Lincoln gun.

In 1865, Remington upped the ante and increased the derringer's firepower by a factor of 100% when they added a second barrel creating the classic Remington double-barreled over and under pocket derringer. From 1866-1935 Remington produced more than 132,000 of these mouse guns and they proved extremely popular, selling for $8.† These classic Remington guns were less than five inches long overall and weighed less than 11-ounces loaded.† Some of these old classics sell for as much as $2,000 in good condition.

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The standard Remington derringer came in .41 Rimfire. Good luck finding that in a Bass Pro Shop catalog.

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- Some of the old Remington guns were very ornate....

The Derringer Today

Today's derringers pay homage to the classic Remington designs of the 19th and 20th centuries.† From 1982-1998, Davis Industries produced a popular update to the old design utilizing a simple push button safety in .22LR, .22Mag, .25acp, and .32acp cartridges, and the larger frame derringers in .38 Special and 9mm. After 1998 Cobra Industries of Salt Lake City, Utah,† has assumed Davis's line and continues to market their pistols, even adding such behemoth cartridges as .45LC into their lineup. Current small frame models weigh only 9.5-ounces and are flat 4-inches long. A baby Glock still canít beat that size.

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American Derringer of Texas also has taken up the pocket pistol mantle and has a huge a varied selection of these little guns. They make a Lady Derringer complete with either scrimshaw or Cameo grips, a four-barreled derringer, a slab-sided M4 Alaska Survival derringer, and others. They even offer custom serial numbers and engravings.
Other manufacturers include Leinad and Bond Arms with similar products. They are popular with law enforcement officers as a secondary or tertiary weapon. They find a home in the Cowboy Action world. Their concealability and just pure sexiness often finds them a home with members of the opposite sex.

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Pros and Cons

These dang things since 1825 have offered the same thing: viable last-ditch protection in a highly concealable size. I have owned a few derringer double barrels in my time and have never been let down. Most of the ones I have shot have been able to still hit the vital zone of a silhouette target at 7 yards (21 feet) which is honestly as far out as you can expect one to hit. In situations where I could not carry even a compact pistol, I have been able to tuck a derringer into the corner of a pocket. With today's modern defensive ammunition, even anemic calibers such as .25ACP and .32 Auto are viable self-defense rounds in a close-combat situation. Modern used derringer designs can often be found for under $75, while new models except for specialty pieces, retail for under $200, making them very affordable pieces.

Donít get me wrong, they are not the answer to every need. A derringer canít be expected to be a combat handgun, a law enforcement sidearm, an 'operator's tool', or a dragon slaying long-range hunting weapon. There are tricks to carrying them, loading them, and even firing them. At best you have two shots and thatís it, as extended magazines and speedloader are pretty rare in the derringer community. If you buy only one handgun, I cannot say that the derringer is THE one.

However, with all that said, they are still neat little pieces of hardware that you can turn to for your last line of defense.

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September 10, 2012  •  11:10 AM
Great Article!
I have one of those 1990's Davis .38's and just love it. It fits in my boot in a handmade holster of brown leather smooth side lining and black suede outer skin with matching hammer thong & strap (for strapping to the inside of my boot pull strap to secure it at the top of the boot. Either boot and either side works so as to fit the situation or person. Rich