American Derringer Pistol
Small hideout guns tend to be small caliber and that means ineffectual stoppers. The current crop of ultra-light polymer-framed .32s and .380s with double action only trigger mechanisms are also very hard to hit anything with. There is a more effective alternative available.
American Derringer has beefed up the traditional Remington Double Derringer to .45 Colt caliber and it also will chamber the 2½-inch .410 shotgun shells. The .45 Colt is a one-shot stopper with a hit to the vitals, and you have two shots. It is a close range weapon, but then most gunfights are also close range and an attacker coming at you will shorten the range for you.
At these ranges, stopping power is everything and that mandates a .45. This one is small enough to slip unnoticed into a pocket and yet has a big enough grip that with a tight hold on it you won’t be bothered by the recoil. It is the perfect close range backup weapon to a .45 automatic or revolver. How effective is it? Let’s look at three examples.
-In Wyoming a hunter left his rifle in camp as he went a short ways into the woods to relieve himself. A moose stepped out of the brush right in front of him and he shot it dead with his .45 Double Derringer. A grizzly was nearby and tried to claim the carcass by attacking him, but once again the little .45 Double Derringer came to the rescue, killing the bear at a distance of a few feet.
-A soldier was shipping out to Iraq and was allowed to take one of his own guns. His wife insisted he take the .45 Double Derringer because he could always have it on his person. In Iraq he was hit by an IED that overturned his Humvee. An Iraqi came up to shoot him through the window and finish him off, but the G.I. pulled the little .45 Double Derringer from his front shirt pocket and killed the Iraqi with it. He dropped the gun as he scrambled to get out of the burning vehicle and it was burned with the Humvee. He recovered the Derringer from the ruins of the burned out vehicle and sent it back to American Derringer where they fixed it for him free.
-A woman stateside was attacked in her home by an intruder. She killed him with her .45 Double Derringer.
THE COMMON DENOMINATOR in all three cases was that the gun was compact enough to be there and powerful enough to get the job done. Sure, a M1911A1 is the better gunfighting pistol, but it may not be there in all the places a backup gun can be. Despite the ease of carrying and concealing a full-size fighting pistol, there is no denying that the Double Derringer is lighter, smaller and easier to carry and conceal. These are the virtues that balance out its short-range two-shot limitations and make it desirable.
The versatility of being able to also use the 2½-inch .410 shotgun shells means that you can also fire flechettes. Sabot Designs LLC loads seven of these little arrows in a .410 shotgun shell and they are very effective, as well as having very little recoil. These are loaded in a patented sabot that protects the bore, unlike some sellers that simply load them in a shell where the bare steel flechette can contact and ruin the gun barrel, which they will do in short order.
It is vital to have a .45 for man-stopping. Some people put their faith in smaller calibers with expanding bullets, but even the best hollowpoints do not always expand. I have dug too many unexpanded hollowpoints out of my sand and dirt backstop to ever depend on expansion. Anything that will expand does it to the fullest there and results are usually perfect expansion. Usually, but not always.
AMERICAN DERRINGER WAS founded in 1980 by Robert Saunders and the .45/.410 Derringer dates from then. Bob started gunmaking as a kid. His grandfather had bought WWII surplus gun parts in 55-gallon drums after the war and Bob found these and began putting guns together from them.
In 1986, Elizabeth Saunders (formerly Elizabeth Bowen) was hired for marketing and she and Bob were married in 1988. The business grew and had 18 workers but Bob got pancreatic cancer in 1991 and died in 1993. Determined not to let her husband’s dream die, Elizabeth took on running the company.
The next year, 1994, Bill Clinton was president and he caused a gun-buying panic across the country resulting in the distributors becoming overstocked. The distributors were now demanding such low prices that American Derringer wasn’t making any money, so the decision was made to focus on quality instead of quantity and cut the distributors out.
In 2003, Elizabeth got her degree in mechanical engineering and met John Price in one of her classes. John went on to work for her. She found out that she had an employee theft problem and ultimately laid off everyone except John, reaching a small but sustainable size like many of the British gunmakers in the Best Quality gun trade.
John liked gunmaking better than anything since his military service. He was drafted during the Vietnam War and sent to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, for artillery training in 105mm and 155mm howitzers. From there he went to Germany on a Nike Hercules site and when he came back to the U.S., he was sent to Edgewood Arsenal in Maryland. Loving the Army, he reenlisted in 1973 and was sent to Fort Bliss at El Paso, Texas, where he was in a Hawk missile battalion. From there, he was sent to another Hawk missile battalion in Korea, then back to Fort Bliss. After the Vietnam War ended, the Army began to act like they didn’t need the soldiers anymore and didn’t have to treat them well anymore, so John got out in 1978.
He missed the good old early years in the military and so he decided to try the Navy, joining in December of 1980. Despite his training in artillery and missiles, the Navy did not send him to sea but sent him to the Naval Air Station in Kingsville, Texas, where they made him a dental assistant, of all things! He found the Navy treated its men worse than the Army did and promotions were based on who you knew instead of what you knew. When his hitch was up, he left the Navy because he felt they didn’t care about their sailors.
The military’s loss was the American gun owner’s gain. John went on to get his mechanical engineering degree, where he met Elizabeth and went to work at American Derringer. Together they make all the guns in-house by hand to the highest standards.
SURE, THERE ARE cheaper guns, but you get what you pay for. A backup hideout gun is normally only used when your life is on the line. Seems foolish not to carry the very best for that. If you want to stake your life on a cheap gun, that’s your business. I don’t. I want the best and that means the handmade American Derringer. I have used one for years with complete satisfaction.
Since this gun is meant to be carried, it has a neat little safety that blocks the hammer but comes off automatically when the hammer is cocked to fire. I like that.
You must pull the hammer back to the safety position when loading, for if the hammer is down, one of the firing pins is sticking out and can fire the cartridge when the barrels are swung shut.
If you want to carry it in a holster you must have a safety strap, as the gun is too butt-heavy to stay in a holster safely without one.
This is a very compact gun that will hide in the palm of your hand. It only weighs 15 ounces and is 4¾ inches long. The hand filling grips are 1 3/8 inches wide and the gun is 3 3/8 inches high. Barrel length is 3 inches. Despite this, it is not unpleasant to fire. Just have a tight grip on it.
The gun is stainless steel except for the carbon steel springs. This not only prevents rust, but it makes it exceptionally easy to clean after firing and I have fired this gun a lot.
This gun should be used as a hideout gun and a backup pistol, as it is not a long-range weapon like the M1911A1, Luger, or Colt SAA. Used within its limitations, it is priceless.
Story and photos by Jim Dickson