Smith and Wesson Website
Weapons available with either internal or shrouded hammers.
CIA range have internal hammers. Protector range have shrouded hammers.
.38 Spl with internal hammer.
Spurless hammers available. No model with internal hammer.
Marketed after this article was first webbed, a hammerless Ruger revolver with polymer grip frame.
Colt no longer make Snubs, but Detective Specials, Agents and Cobras are still available second-hand and are often still perfectly serviceable weapons.
The 200gr .38 Spl round tested in the trials was at 630fps, closely reproducing the ballistics of the British 38/200 round. On paper this does not look that impressive. Muzzle Energy is only 176 ftlbs, momentum 0.56 ftlb/sec and TKO 6.4, all less than a typical 9x19mm. I believe the superior performance observed in the trials is due to the soft lead bullet with a very high sectional density (0.222). This is much higher than any common pistol round short of rounds like the 300gr .44 magnum. Bruce Jones informs me he has used an even more effective 200gr .357 round at 950fps that works very well in snubbies. Momentum is 0.84 ftlb.sec (close to .45ACP rounds) and TKO 9.69.
This article makes a very good case for medium calibre snubbies being an ideal self-defence gun for non-gun people.
Many of these points can also apply to larger bore short-barreled revolvers. Compact large bore defensive revolvers were popular in the late 19th Century. Best known of these were British Webley Bulldogs. Similar weapons were produced in America and often called by the same name. In 1973 the idea was revived by Charter Arms who produced a 5-shot .44 Spl Bulldog. The Charter Arms name is once more in business and the Bulldog back in production. Taurus also offer a wide range of 5-shot .44 Spl Snubs.
- Simple to operate, even under stress, and needing little maintenance or training.
- Low weight and bulk.
- Wide range of carry/concealment options.
- Comfortable for prolonged carry.
- Uses widely available and reasonably effective ammunition.
- Recoil within the tolerances of most individuals.
- Grip suited to all hand sizes.
- Can be used at extreme close range. Will fire when pressed against the body of an assailant.
What the .44 Spl guns offer is considerably more power, having a TKO level similar to the .455 Webley. Like the smaller snubs they are simple to operate, very reliable and low maintenace.
Although they are slightly larger than .38/357/9mm J-frames, Bulldog-type weapons are still of moderate weight, ranging from 19-30oz with about 23oz being typical. They use a compact/medium sized frame, so are similar in size to 6-shot .357s.
These are more holster guns than pocket weapons, so a spurless hammer is acceptable (and there don't appear to be hammerless or shrouded models available). A Colt Commander hammer style does not appear to have ever been tried with a revolver. The S&W 469 Automatic had a spurless hammer that could be thumb cocked. Gentle pressure on the trigger allowed the thumb to be placed on the checkered top of the hammer.
The capabilities of the .44 Spl may not be as familiar as those of other rounds. Originally introduced as a target round, the writings of Elmer Keith drew attention to the fact that it could be handloaded to exceed the performance of factory .357 and .45 Colt. Before the introduction of the .44 Magnum it had gained a reputation as a hunting round. Many modern combat loadings for the .44 Spl follow the trend for light, high velocity rounds, but still have a bullet of 180-200gr. Heavier loadings such as the 240-245gr more closely resemble the most effective rounds of the .455. The 44 Spls history as a hunting round suggests that Bulldog type weapons may be an alternative to short barreled .44 Magnums for officers who also need a defensive capability against large animals.
Taurus also offer models in .45 ACP, .45 Long Colt and .41 Magnum. The .45ACP is ballisitically a shade better than the .44 Spl, but this may be outweighed by higher recoil and the .44s potential to use heavier and more effective designs of bullet. The .41 Magnum and possibly the .45 Long Colt is probably not a gun for inexperienced shooters.
For a combat pistol a non-reflective finish is usually a requirement, so as not to betray the firer's position in low light conditions. For a personal defence weapon this is not so much of a requirement. Some suggest that the muzzle of a polished weapon looks more intimidating. Such weapons will spend a long time in close proximity to the body, so in some respects a matte or polished stainless steel finish is a very practical choice. If having an aesthetically pleasing weapon helps the carrier bond with the weapon, so much the better.
The Taurus range of revolvers offers a wide choice of finishes. As well as the more traditional, the use of titanium offers new shades. A nice option is that of gold plated triggers and cylinder releases. Sadly this is not offered with the hammerless models. A nice grip is another thing that can improve the looks of a weapon. The Barami Hip-grip is only available in black for most models, which is not a good colour for concealment, since it can show through light materials. The Clipdraw is an alternative that lets you use the grip of your choice, but it also prevents the use of a conventional holster. It should be fairly easy to construct a metal clip that works like the Hip-grip that has an end that secures under the grip panel. If produced commercially, it should be available in a choice of finishes.
As well as weapons like the Detective Special, Colt also used their D-frame for the Colt Diamondback. This was a long barreled .38 Spl resembling a gracile Colt Python. It was John Waynes weapon in one of his detective movies, and many shooters mourn its passing. S&W J-frames are offered with 3 barrels, and the addition of a vent rib and ejector shroud would improve the look of these.