By Ronald S. Markowitz
When I obtained my “Pennsylvania License To Carry Firearms” I spent a considerable length of time mulling over what type of handgun to carry. Like most of you I read all the “how-to” articles in the popular gun magazines by all the so-called “experts” and spoke to people I knew that carried.
I came to several conclusions:
- The gun had to be as close to 100% reliable with factory ammo as possible;
- It had to be chambered in a caliber with good stopping power;
- I had to feel comfortable with the piece, i.e., it had to have good ergonomics for me; and
- It had to be easily concealable in the type of clothing that I wear.
You should know that I have a thing for Smith & Wesson revolvers, especially the L frame 586 and 686. While it is possible to carry these revolvers using any these revolvers using an inside-the-waistband holster covered by a jacket or photographer’s vest, they are really too large and heavy for the way I dress, which is usually in khaki pants with a tucked-in shirt. What I needed was a revolver that was small enough to fit in a pants pocket and chambered for a powerful, yet controllable cartridge.
But I have gotten ahead of myself, why a revolver and not a semi-auto?
I will not get into the revolver versus semi-auto argument; there are hundreds if not thousands of articles in the gun literature on this subject. In my opinion, with the current state-of-the art in ammunition and firearms manufacture there are no practical differences in reliability between the two types. The advantages of easier repair and greater firepower possessed by the semi-auto are only of concern in the military. The civilian needs reliability, good stopping power and the ability to get hits in the kill zone. My decision was to go to the revolver because of familiarity, but for you the same thought-process might lead to the semi-auto.
So I decided on a small revolver, but I wanted something better than a .38 Special if possible, although I could live with that if necessary. In the last several years all the major revolver manufacturers with the exception of Colt have developed small 5-shot .357 S & W Magnums. I decided to limit my search to the bobbed-hammer Ruger SP 101 and their SP 101 and the Smith & Wesson Model 640-1. If I had seen one, I might have considered the Smith M940 in 9 x 19 mm.
Both the Smith and Ruger were well built, felt good in the hand and had, to my surprise, equivalent trigger pulls. The 640-1 had the advantage of a totally enclosed action, important in a pocket gun as you don’t have to worry about lint getting into the action. The Smith had one other advantage. Because of being totally enclosed rather than being just bobbed, one can safely fire the piece in your pocket without worrying about jams due to the hammer catching on something.
Now the subjective enters in I just prefer Smiths. Rugers are good but they are not a Smith. Rugers remind me of Russian guns — strong and reliable, but without finesse. So I went with the 640-1. In a recent review of the Ruger SP101 and S & W 640-1 in Gun Test Magazine the authors chose the Ruger as number one in this category, but also spoke highly of the Smith. You might agree.
When the snubby .357 Magnums were introduced by Smith & Wesson, Rossi and Taurus (in response to Ruger who had started everything with its SP 101) all the gun magazines ran articles comparing the revolvers. A constant thread that ran through all the articles all the articles was how difficult it was to control the heavy and very uncomfortable recoil. It was suggested that maybe the smart shooter should not use the magnum loads, but instead use +P .38 Special loads. I thought that if this was the case, why chamber the guns for the magnum cartridge in the first place? All the reviewers had made the same error, they tested full blown 125 grain and 158 grain loads. They neglected to test the easier to shot 125 grain medium velocity loads of Remington and the still easier to shoot 110 grain loads available from most of the major manufacturers.
I have tested Winchester 110 grain magnum loads and Remington 125 grain Golden Saber loads. They are both manageable and within 7 yards shoot close to point of aim. Remember we are talking about fixed sight guns that are probably regulated for use with 158 grain bullets. At longer ranges my revolver shots low. I don’t consider this to be a hindrance as most gun fights are under 7 yards (or so goes the conventional wisdom).
I have done some shooting with 158 grain .38 Special P+ handloads out to 50 yards and find the sights to be well regulated for this bullet weight. If anyone tells you that snubby revolvers are not accurate they are wrong, it’s possible to plink clay targets at 50 yards and get hits a good percentage most of the time.
Using these reduced power magnum loads you will get approximately 350 ft./lbs. of energy, putting this class of gun in the same class as a hot 9 mm Luger. This may disappoint you, but we are talking about an easily concealable pocket revolver and not a full size service pistol.
Carrying the Revolver
I don’t like the idea of carrying a handgun loose in the pocket; rather it should be in a holster designed for the specific gun and for this specific purpose. I want the gun to be in the same place when I reach for it, not muzzle up or in some other position that will preclude a fast draw. Pocket holsters are available for snubbies from Kramer, Galco, Alessi and others. My 640-1 resides in a Galco made specifically for J-frame Smiths. I do carry on my belt if wearing jeans that are too tight to pocket carry. This is only if I am wearing a knit shirt, not tucked in, or when the weather calls for an open jacket. This circumstance requires a different mind-set. If carried under a shirt you have to remember to lift the shirt up with your weak hand first before drawing the revolver (pistol) or if wearing an open jacket you have to remember to sweep the jacket aside before drawing. Practice with an unloaded gun!
In summary: I chose a snubby .357 revolver because it provides reliability, power, conceal-ability and handling familiarity. I gave up firepower because I don’t consider this to be of major importance in a personal defense situation. The ammunition I use is more suitable than full power loads because it’s controllable and I made sure I knew where its point-of-impact was. I chose a holster that secured the revolver in my pocket and allowed easy access.
This was my solution to the problems of concealed carry, yours might be different, depending on your circumstances, but you need to give it a good deal of thought.
This article is republished with consent of the author.