Snubbies but Goodies

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Snubbies have long been the go-to firearm choice for those pistoleros who desired a small and concealable handgun that could still deliver 5-6 hard-hitting full sized rounds at close range.


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In the late 19th century, shortened revolvers like the Bulldog and others were popular with gentlemen, investigators, and travelers for personal protection.

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By 1927 the Colt Detective, a small framed six-shot double action revolver that fired the then very modern and powerful .38 special round had become a favorite with prohibition era police types. In 1946, Smith and Wesson introduced the Chief's Special, their first J-frame 38. With five shots of 38SPL and the capability of firing +P ammunition, the J-frame smith has been the bar that every other snubby has been weighed against.

Today's guns

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Since the days of the Colt Detective and the original WWII-era Chief's Special, snubbies have gotten smaller and lighter with composite alloys, polymers, and plastics. Firearms such as the Ruger LCR and the S&W 340PD top the food chain as concealable defensive snub-nosed revolvers of the most modern design. The LCR weighs in at 13.5-ounces and the 340PD with its impressive .357 Magnum capacity tips the scales at 11.4-ounce. As a reference keep in mind that the 1927 Colt was a 21-ounce gun that could fire six rounds of non +P loaded .38SPL.


Then as today the snubby class of revolvers have as their number one recommendation the fact that they are readily concealable. While many CCW carriers try to get away with a full-size sidearm, myself included, there are some situations where bulky clothing, jackets, and outside the waistband holsters just will not work. Unless you are wearing a bikini, odds are you can carry a snub-nosed revolver safely concealed with a minimum of effort. These firearms also have some of the easiest weapon's nomenclature and manipulation required to learn and practice. In the event of a misfire, a short-barreled .38 can be simply fired by a follow-up trigger pull, which is easier than the tap-rack-pull needed in a semi-automatic. When compared to .380 compacts, having the increased power of .38SPL rounds at your fingertips, the snub-nosed chalks up another advantage.

While of course you should go to the range with your firearm at least quarterly, we all know that this always doesn't happen. The fact that snubbies can be left loaded and stored for years if needed and still go bang when needed is also a feature desirable in a home defense firearm.


It can be argued that the days of the snubby have come and gone. With modern subcompact semi autos like the 21-ounce, 11-shot Glock 26 and the 17-ounce, 8-shot Ruger LC9 you have a firearm of almost the same size as most J-frames with a faster reload and larger magazine capacity. Nevertheless, the snubby remains popular and most likely will not fade from modern use any time soon. With over a hundred years of snub-nosed wheel guns being used by all elements of the population, they are still valued and serve to fill a unique niche.

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June 25, 2012  •  11:21 AM
Nice article and I really liked the comparisons between yesteryear snubs and todays. I may seem old fashion in going with a snub for an everyday carry gun but in all my years of firing various weapons, I've never had a wheel gun miss a beat. If I'm going to put my life on the line when I pull in a life threatening situation, the last thing I want under stress is a miss fire or jam. Sure, all the experts say to practice for those and be ready for when it happens. I would much rather have a sure 5 or 6 shots at close range with a 38 snub than a maybe 10+ from a 45 or whatever auto. I've watched numerous times at the range as an inexperienced shooter gets a jam from a auto anything and hubby, daddy, boyfriend, or experienced girlfriend has to step in to get the gun working again. Some people with their precious autos will tell you that they have never had a jam and it may be true but I find it doubtful. I have several auto loaders from rifles to hand gun in various sizes and they have all jammed or miss fired at some point in time. Would I want to trust my life that it isn't going to happen at that critical moment to me or my love ones? I think not.
July 6, 2012  •  10:18 PM
To: JeffnReno, We have winters here so 70% of the time I carry my Super-Match .45ACP & 2 C.M. Mags. in Blackhawk gear. In the summer, with light clothes, I carry my LaserGripped S&W 442 .38Spl. in DeSantis Tuckable rig. + 1 HK SpeedLoader and 2 'speed strips'. Both weapons loaded with 'Personal Defense' ammo. Prior to the 442 I carried a S&W Mdl.60 Stainless Chief. I am 'Old School' and I Really Love my 'wheel' guns. Recently however, I am considering a new 'small frame' auto for summer carry.
I train and drill with all my defensive weapons including 870 Shotgun & AR carbine.
But to my point: I once (and only once) had a Revolver 'jam' that COMPLETELY locked up the weapon. A 'squib' round went 'pop' and released the bullet just far enough to engrave into the Bbl. forcing cone but NOT clear the cylinder's chamber. After that I always carried a stout metal pen I could insert into the barrel and pound bullet back far enough into the chamber to free the cylinder. Paranoid...or just careful? You decide. ANY machine CAN & WILL have a failure. Don't EVER bet your life, or the life of a loved one, thinking your revolver CANNOT fail.
My best to you,
July 21, 2012  •  02:41 PM
Nice article, love wheel guns, especially snubbies. I have 7 various makes of snub nose wheelguns each special in its own way, whether it is a "beater" gun, engraved collectible, night sights for evening carry etc.. I am still a big auto fan too and have many more autos than wheelguns, but, there is always a special place and use for my wheelguns. Hear there is a big auction coming up in NH come September and they will be auctioning off two of Bonnie & Clyde's guns. Bonnie's Colt Detective that was found taped to her thigh with medical tape and Clyde's Colt 1911 Govement model that was tucked in his waistband which they found after they were killed in LA in 1934. They are estimating they will go together for at least $200-$250,000 at auction. Now there's a snubby I would like to have in my collection.
July 22, 2012  •  01:51 PM
I agree that anything mechanical can fail. Sounds like in your example it was an ammo failure that caused the problem. I have read about wear issues causing cylinder timing problems that actually result in the gun coming apart and injuring the shooter. I have found that ball ammo has never jammed in my 45acp weapons but I have experianced hollow point jams on a consistent basis and ball jams in loaner weapons at the range. I still occasionally carry my 45 loaded with fmj for the reliability factor but the 38 snubby is lighter so I still prefer it for my everyday carry weapon. What works for each individual is the way to go. Better to have a gun if needed than not.