Not Optimal

Over at AmmoLand, Jim Grant lays down some smack on the .38 revolver as a carry piece:

Despite the fact that revolvers are among the most recommended carry guns for new and female shooters, they aren’t all great choices.
Don’t misunderstand me, I’ve owned and carried revolvers for years. While six-shooters absolutely have their place in a shooter’s arsenal, they’ve often employed wrong. This isn’t to say that they’re a bad choice when shoe-horned into roles they weren’t built for, but more so that a combination of factors have caused some of their most shining moments to eclipse. Paramount among these is the .38 special snub-nosed revolver. Compact, reliable and fool-proof, the .38 wheel-gun should be the perfect concealed carry option for new shooters – but it’s not.
Here are four reasons why it’s not.

…and I’m not going to argue with any of them.  Here’s an example of the offending article:

I carry this S&W 637 as a backup most of the time — with the occasional exception being for a 2-minute trip to 7-11 to get lottery tickets — and I’ll also confess to not practicing with it as much as I used to (now, maybe once a month or so instead of twice a week).  The only weekly practice involves dumping shells and reloading with a speedloader (I keep ten empty casings around for that specific purpose).

Even with this amount of practice, the time from last shot fired to next shot after reloading is about seven seconds — compared to just over four seconds with my 1911.  (The time includes retrieving the speedloader / fresh 1911 mag from my left-hand pants pocket, because that’s typically where I carry them.  Real-world stuff.)  That’s not combat-adequate, of course, but in reality you’re not going to need more than what’s already in your gun to end the threat, one way or the other.  If the ChiComs were to invade, we can talk about adjusting to that threat later.

I’m not too worried about my accuracy with the 637 because it’s not bad, and the 637 is a halitosis-range gun anyway. which is just as well because even shooting “only” .38 Spec+P ammo, alloy-framed snubbies have an astonishing amount of kick;  which is why I’m idly thinking of replacing the 637 with a steel-framed Model 60 at some point, or maybe just going with a 4″-barreled 627 in .357 Mag instead:

…the other reason being one of Grant’s points, viz.  the terminal ballistics of a .38 Spec bullet coming out of a 1.5″/2″ barrel are just awful.  Even with a decent bullet design, you’re asking a lot from a snubby — which means multiple shots and only five rounds in the cylinder — but then again, the 637 is my backup  carry piece.

Yeah, the steel 627 is heavier to carry than the alloy 637, but saving weight is a big trade-off in terms of saving your life, and the 8-shot 627 still weighs about the same as my 1911.

I guess the point to all this is that snubbies are really just backup, and not primary carry pieces, and that’s how I’ll continue to treat mine.


  1. Couple of points.
    1) If the shitbags you may deploy your .38 snubby against were motivated, they’d be working, or robbing banks, or doing some other gainful stuff.
    2) Few non-motivated individuals will pursue shitbaggery with a .357″ hole in themselves.

    So I feel fine with either a .38 or even my P-32.

  2. i have several small guns ranging from 22 to 357 and i like the 38 the best. easy to hide and should work for what i need.

    Nothing will work at full potential from a snubby but i think 38 gives me the best odds

  3. Mine is an 11.5 oz. Taurus 85, Total Titanium. A “J” frame copy, in .357 Mag chambering. My carry loads at present, are .38 +P Hornady Critical Defense, 125gr. loads.

    With the ported barrel on the Taurus, and the Taurus copy of the S&W “Banana Grip”, the ergonomics and ported barrel render the recoil as VERY manageable.

    An alternate load is the classic 148 gr., pure lead, hollow base, pure wadcutter target bullet. But loaded up to a “just under leading velocity” of about 900 fps., vs. the normal factory velocity of +/- 780 fps.

    You know how a wadcutter round works on paper. Like an office paper punch, it cuts nice, nearly perfect holes, which are easily scored at scoring-ring edges n’ such.

    They do mucho bad damage to tissue, cutting that blood vessel or nerve, vs. shoving it aside as might a round nose bullet. And being soft lead, if they hit bone, the round can deform into quite the wicked frisbee for the rest of it’s trip through the target.

    Recoil? Negligible.

    And who can quibble with carrying “mild target loads”, vs. “evil hollow-points” as to Prior Intent? “Gee, Mr. Prosecuter, I hadn’t even changed out from my mild practice ammo when this happened!”

    As always, all the pros n’ cons in the discussion of ammo or projectile. But I don’t feel at all undergunned when carrying the .38 Special.

    Sunk New Dawn
    Galveston, TX

  4. While one cannot argue that any of his points are wrong, per se, his conclusion, i.e. the title of the article, Four Reasons to NEVER Carry Just a .38 Snubnose, IMNSHO, is full of shit, IMO. Your title “Not Optimal” is much better.

    The problem I have with the article is typical in these discussions–making the perfect the enemy of the good. Ideally, I’d love to have my highly customized Kimber Compact CDP, with two mags on the weak side belt. All. The. Time.

    In the real world in which we live, except for a vanishingly small minority of people, most of us won’t strap on that thoroughly when going to just get gas, pick up a carry out sandwich, or for other short errand. I agree I SHOULD carry my preferred carry rig, everywhere, but that’s not realistic for most of us. Going out on a shift driving for UBER? Absolutely, gear up. Going to work, see a movie (there is no such thing as a gun free zone in my world), going to church on Sunday, strap up properly.

    But most of us will go out without our ideal carry rig sometimes, and the author’s NEVER admonition means we go unstrapped. Bullshit. My .38 snub loaded with 5 Speer Gold Dot Short Barrel .38spl +P in my .38 (not .357) snub makes me feel adequately, if not perfectly, armed to just go pick up a pizza carry out order, or drop of a package at the UPS store.

    I agree with you it is not ideal, it is best for a back up piece rather than a primary, and even accepting my argument, one drawback to it is I admit I carry only the snub all too often. I think it takes some discipline to go more adequately strapped most of the time, and one must fight the habit of just “settling” for the pocket snub too much. But most of life is like that, is it not? It takes discipline to not have that third cookie (or martini), to always go to the gym and not settle for a few pushups/situps when you don’t have the time or opportunity, etcetera.

    One cannot really argue with the author’s arguments about the shortcomings of the pocket snub for primary carry use all of the time. His arguments are sound. But I don’t think it’s really necessary to strap up with a more serious caliber, higher capacity, faster reload (shit the only sensible ‘reload’ for a snub is a second snub), to go get a couple of Philly cheesesteaks for me and the wife for dinner. Despite all his reasonable objections I CAN ruin any perps day–permanently–if molested between the shop and my car with my .38 snub in a Kramer pocket holster. It’s his categorical stance that I take issue with, not his arguments.

  5. “I think it takes some discipline to go more adequately strapped most of the time, and one must fight the habit of just ‘settling’ for the pocket snub too much.”

    Excellent point, JC.

  6. My shooting buddy brought his wife’s ultra-light, titanium, S&W .38 snub-nose pistol out to the range a few months ago. She went through an NRA women’s training class in Raton NM a few years ago and learned how to shoot her pistol but for the life of me I could not hit much of anything with that gun and five rounds and I was done. When possible I like to have my Browning High Power and that is in cooler weather where I can wear it under a jacket.

    Recently I decided I need a better ‘go to church’ gun and ended up buying a Glock 43 which is a small 9mm, I have an inside the waistband holster for strong side and a two mag carrier for the off side. For some reason that little gun hits where I am aiming, even better than my Glock 17 which I ended up getting, for the right price, this past year. I always liked older design steel guns but the Glocks are not bad at all.

    For most of us civilian older people the chances of us getting in a true shoot out needing reloads are slim, even more so than the chance we will ever have to use out gun for self defense where one or two shots will probably stop a home intruder or car jacker. To me the right advice for a person wanting to carry a gun is to try several guns, take a few lessons and learn how to work the damn thing and then have it close if it is ever needed and if small children are around don’t leave the gun out where they can get to it, ever. Basic safety rules and common sense and if the .38 snub nose works then good for you.

  7. All good points.

    I have a J frame that is my throw something in the pocket (with a good pocket holster) when doing yard work or a quick trip and don’t have time to gear up gun.

    I think of it as my knife fight gun, as in the gun I bring to a knife fight, to be used at knife fight ranges. partially because I don’t practice enough to make sure shots much beyond that range, and partially due to the inherent accuracy of a short barrel wheel gun with minimal sights.

    After years of carrying a wheel gun in combat competition and private security I’m pretty good with a speed loader, but never as fast as with a magazine.

    The main reason (besides financial) I don’t switch to one of the small autos on the market for this role is that they don’t fit my hands very well.. Some of them have sliced up my hand as the slide moves when I have a good shooting grip.

  8. My experience with small snubbies is the pathetic grips they normally come with are most of the problem. If they expose the backstrap of the frame, replace them. If they also expose the frame behind the trigger guard, throw them away, they are junk.
    For best service, the grips should be soft rubber over the backstrap. The main drawback to this is a slight decrease in concealability. Followed by clothing tends to stick to it a bit.
    Also, where it covers that frame needs to be fat, or more accurately, reasonably flat and wide. This is to spread the recoil impulse to more of your palm. Some of them are quite narrow here, probably for styling reasons, or other stupid thinking. I just grind it down until it gets wide enough, while leaving enough material for cushion.
    If the grips extend below the frame, usually to make space for your little finger, cut that away. You shouldn’t need that finger for recoil control, and the added bulk makes concealment a much bigger problem.
    For me, the performance difference between the described grips, and the factory boot grips that are shown on that 637, is to double the distance I can make head shots with a double action only snubbie (S&W 442).
    Apparently, the gun moves with trigger pulling and the recoil of standard pressure 125gr ammo, when using those boot grips. Plus, I can run 50 rounds without problems. (gun is not rated for +P)

  9. If you watch the u-tube channel ASP, you will find, according to the host, that virtually no civilian gunfights required a reload. I think he has stated that he has only seen a few out of ~5000 videos worldwide, and they were essentially administrative reloads, just in case the BG’s came back, or the empty gun makes you nervous.
    The reasons seem to be that the BG’s are all down or they have run off, leaving no further targets to service, or you have emptied the gun, and the BG’s are beating feet.
    Cops, on or off duty, seem to be the only ones who bother to carry spare ammo. Mostly the on duty ones.

    So, what you have in the gun is usually all you get to use, mostly due to time restraints. This situation is one of the factors in the recent push for civilian carry guns with high capacity mags. The main problem I see is too many people default to the “throw a wall of lead” at the BG’s, and hope for the best. You want to know who else thinks this way, and is actually a cultural mindset? Jihadist’s. They don’t really aim, they expect Allah to guide the bullets.

    Cops in the US have an average hit probability of ~15%. And, you wouldn’t believe what they count as a hit. The best dept in the nation is 25%, and they are mandated to hit the range once a month. For most, it’s once a year. Don’t let anyone tell you cops are good with guns. The VAST majority are near useless.

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