Snub Nose or Semi-Auto Pocket Pistols?

When you gotta have a Pocket Back-Up

When we dive into pocket guns, one big advantage is the concealment due to the smaller pistol size. Pocket semi-auto and small revolvers like the snub nose type can be a never ending debate to which is better to carry. Both have their pros and cons. If you’re old school (old timer), you may opt for the snubby .38. For the newer generation, probably opt for the semi-auto .380 pocket pistol. We need to point out its easy to distinguish the idea of carrying a smaller pistol when there is something bigger is a better fighting tool. (Just to be clear, we’re talking pocket pistols with a two inch or less barrel and for this post we’re leaving the micro 9’s for another day.)
Let’s go over some factors with these pocket guns. The no-brainer is that with a snub nose – you’ll get top reliability and easier to get to the gun.
With the semi-auto pocket pistol you’ll exchange those qualities in favor of a smaller gun that’s easier to conceal, at least thats what the consensus says.

Here are some factors between the two pistols to consider:
  • Caliber – Most pocket mouse will be be a .380 or .32 ACP, Snubbies do come in .38s but, when shooting with a short barrel less than 3 inches at close range. The differences between the .32, .380 and .38s are relatively none. Its all about shot placement. Though, .38s have more power, we need to put this into the context for personal defense purpose.
  • Ammo Capacity – Snubbies are 5 rounds while semi-auto are 6 to 8 rounds.
  • Lightweight – With the current technology both pistols are now lighter than their predecessors.
  • Costs – This can be within $200 to $400 range, this is a plus for either type of mouse gun.
  • Shootability – Recoil, shoot-ability and ergonomics. Being able to shoot a gun well is a good thing. This when viewed from a newbie standpoint, can make the learning curve easier if they choose to go with a pocket gun. Intermediate to advance shooter is a different story based on bias feelings and experiences. Some will say its more comfortable to shoot the semi-auto than a revolver.

Many concealed carriers have stated revolvers have proven to be more reliable than the semi-auto pistols. That is true and with a more curious younger generation wanting to be factual they have gone out and tested this. Findings have found that revolvers can be unreliable as the semi-auto.
Revolvers require more maintenance to keep the running smoothly. Durability with revolvers is not good, especially when dropped. However, in a personal defense scuffle to get the gun out they do outperform the pocket semi-auto. Semi-auto feeds have failed to operate during this hand-to-hand entanglement.

Now, bear in mind the pocket carrier will have these snubbies and/or mouse guns at the waist (IWB) or pocket carry. Sometimes its not easy to get to it while under stress and securing a good grip to fire. With a snub nose doesn’t matter squeeze the trigger and it goes bang. This bang can be from 6 feet away or even when a 300 plus pound guy is on top of you that’s ready to pounce you to submission. Now of course if someone grabs it and keep the cylinder from moving then the snubby won’t go off.


Getting your snubbie or mouse gun out quickly and easily is a very important factor to consider. Easier said than done. You would need to overcome the obstacle of clearing your garment to dig out your equalizer. But, the fact is when you decided to carry a pistol for personal protection. Getting your gun out is a deliberate action that needs to happen.
Bulk Ammo In-Stock

Which brings us back to the snubbie revolver, its shape and grip offers a better choice than a semi-auto pistol for accessibility. A decent snub nose with a Pachmayr grip is a lot easier to pull out than most semi-auto. Grabbing the pistol from an odd position is no problem. Especially, from the belt, ankle, handbag or even from your pocket.

Most snub nose revolvers are a little bigger than a pocket gun. Have a look at the comparison below. The image below is from Lucky Gunner, its a size comparison between an AirLite snub nose and G42/Kel-Tec P32.

As you can see the snub nose is a little taller and longer in length.

Another Way to View Stopping Power
We need to address this, even though we all know that having a bigger caliber will have more stopping power without looking at the ballistic numbers. Instead we’d like to show you this study from Greg Ellifritz who did a detailed study several years back on the stopping power of various rounds in real word incidents. Looking at the chart below you will see that while the number are not great when compared to bigger handgun rounds they are in the ballpark with much more powerful rounds.

The average number of rounds to incapacitation (counting only center mass hits) is 2.2 which is worse than .22 LR but actually right in line with 9mm and .40 caliber ammunition. The percent of fatalities from .25 ACP is also very comparable, statistically, to both of these rounds as well. Also note that this study factors out the “psychological stops” where mere fact that the victim was armed ended the attack. That number, regardless of the caliber of the firearm, was around 90%.

Looking at the .32 to .38 Special “rounds to incapacitation”, theres not much differences. The bottom line here is that even tiny rounds out of mouse guns can stop an attack and having a gun is far more important than the caliber of the gun you carry.
So yeh, we’re talking about the Indian here and not the arrow. If you’re a skilled shooter that can place shots rapidly in the right spot, you can stop the attacker. Also, remember we’re not cops, we’re just Joe citizen that want to defend ourselves. Whether you do this with your .32 or a rock (to the head) and made the bad guy stop. You’re golden!

Ammo & Performances
The following ballistics information is from Lucky Gunner Lab. Their information is invaluable to have for the pocket carriers. Hopefully, this gives you a realistic look at the ammo and expectations. This is not a complete list of ammo brand/loads and pistols.

.32 Ammo
Here’s the gel ballistics results from decent loads take look below, keep in mind these were shot from a short (2 inches) barrel.

.32 ACP Long

.32 H&R Magnum

Ruger LCR 327 Federal Magnum

If you’re sticking with the .32 then this Ruger can fire all of the .32 family (short, long, H&R Magnum and Federal Magnum).

Smith & Wesson 332 Ti

Aluminum J-frame, aluminum frame with Titanium alloy cylinder, lightweight at 11.5 ounces. Shooting this is in .32 short is like shooting a .22 magnum, very soft on recoil. Still softer than shooting a .38.

Beretta 3032 Tomcat

The magazine holds 7 with one in the pipe. If you’re challenged getting the slide back, no need to worry. Just press the lever forward to pop the barrel up and insert a cartridge into the chamber. Snap the barrel down and insert a loaded magazine and you’re good to go. Pretty nifty!

Kel-Tec P32

A deep concealment semi-auto pocket pistol weighing in at 7 ounces unloaded. Holds 7 +1 in the magazine, trigger pull is 5 pounds. Being this small, the hammer block axis pin near the rear of the gun can be a problem for some shooters. It is rough around the edges and sits right on the metacarpal joint of the thumb.

.380 ACP Ammo
Speer 90 gr Gold Dot average 5 shot penetration is at 11 inches.

.380 Auto – 99 Grain JHP – Federal Premium Personal Defense HST

Hornady Critical Defense 90 grn
Sig V-Crown 90 gr

.380 ACP Pocket Pistols

Kel-Tec P3AT

Pocket size for deep concealment, chambered in .380 power with a smooth trigger pull and 6+1 capacity. Warning, being a small pistol, has a tendecy to jump out of the hand while shooting.
Smith & Wesson Bodyguard

If you’re looking for decent power in pocket size, this Bodyguard is not bad. Some shooters have said must have a good grip on the gun to shoot accurately.
Glock 42

Though this Glock is slightly bigger than most semi-auto pocket pistol. G42 was made easy to shoot for its size.

Felt Recoil Performances
Quick word on “felt recoil“, just like the name that recoil. Comparing a light caliber to a heavier one gives you a sense of what you can control and shoot quickly.
In order to do this you would need to shoot the two different calibers and time yourself. Its not just blasting away but how fast can you get back on sights between the shots.
Using a drill like the 5×5 we can evaluate the effects of recoil. Again its all about how quickly one can recover their sights from recoil and fire the next shot. Take a look at the timed results below:

Note the bigger the caliber the longer it takes to get on target for the next shot. Within the context of self-defense, the more rounds you put into the target accurately and quickly, is what counts. Not the bigger caliber. However, we’ve all been told to stick with the bigger calibers and not really training to get more proficient with it.

Do Real Men have to Pocket Carry?
There you have it, this comparison can be debated into the next decade and beyond. Think the bottom line goes back to the shooter experiences and preferences and this can be difficult to be un-biased.
Understanding pocket pistol role in the bigger firearm picture can help you decide on what you’re willing to carry. Accept the plus and minus for stopping power over concealment, may be hard for the biased shooters to swallow.
We’re not here to say that the pocket pistol calibers (.32, .380) rules over the bigger 9mm or .45 ACP. But, to understand what a shooter can do if you have a smaller caliber pocket pistol to carry when you’re in that non-permissive environment.

Featured Image from

Remington Model 51

A 20th Century Pocket Gun that was ahead of its Time

At the beginning of the 20th century semi-automatic magazine fed pistols were a novel concept. However, this era gave us the iconic M1911 and the German Luger just to name a few. There were many others that popped up into the scene but were left behind as time went by. One pistol that was forgotten but had a really good design was the Remington Model 51 which was developed during the prohibition era of the United States.

At this time John Browning may have been the most well known firearms designer. But, a lesser known John Pederson, who in his own right should have had the same notoriety. John Pederson had collaboratively worked on many successful guns with different designers (including J Browning), his most successful is the Remington Model 51 that reached full production level.


Pederson designed the Model 51 in 1917 as a pocket gun which at the time the market was dominated by the cheaper and reliable revolvers. The pistol was somewhat successful, it did not dominate the market.
The U.S. military did take a look at the Model 51 as a possible combat handgun before WWII. From a production level perspective. The more cheaper and reliable direct blow-back design was the order of the day. The Model 51 production eventually wound down.

Remington Model 51 Features

The Model 51 was design as a pocket pistol. The exterior is sleek and smooth. -The sights were filed down to be snag free when drawn from the user’s pocket.
-Another fine feature is the “safety,” which was created from the entire back strap of the pistol, held in the hand comfortably with no sharp edges. When depressed, it lines up smoothly with the rear edges of the grip.
-The grip uses a smooth single stack magazine like the M1911.
-The original Model 51 houses 7 rounds of .380ACP cartridge and the magazine release the same as the M1911.
Due to the Model 51 sleek design, the revolvers were no match from a concealability stand point.

Marvelous Internal
Many people like the looks of the Model 51 but gunsmithers will appreciate the internals design of the gun. The design uses a fixed barrel design vs a barrel-base short-stroke recoil system of the time. The breach itself tilts to impart momentum so the slide can effortlessly carry through the operating cycle.

Disassembly – Breaking down the Model 51 is really different and can be looked at as a little complex to the newbies. Here are the steps from N Leghorn of TruthAboutGuns:
  • -Remove a crossbar pin to unlock the barrel.
  • -The user then grips the end of the barrel and pulls it forward to unlock the mechanism and remove the slide.
  • -From there, the internal components can be removed by sliding it back and tilting it out, which allows the firing pin and the spring to fall free.
So here’s why gunsmiths will appreciate the internal designs that was created for better concealability:
The barrel doesn’t tilt, so there’s no need for a separate guide rod for the return spring. In the operating cycle most semi-automatic pistols of the era used an under-over placement for the return spring that provided the forward pressure to chamber the next round. This increases the height of the handgun (a bigger pistol), and makes it a little harder to conceal in a pocket or holster.

With the recoil spring around the barrel the gun could be much thinner with an extremely low bore axis…an edge over the competition. A huge advantage for concealed carry.
Another advantage is the felt recoil. The original Model 51 lower bore axis reduces felt recoil, makes it softer shooting and allowing for quicker rapid shots.

Not many gun enthusiasts or collectors had the chance to run this gun, so we can’t say what the majority would say. This perspective and experiences is from N Leghorn when he took this original Model 51 out on the range.
“The Model 51 is chambered in the .380 ACP cartridge which was considered more powerful than the .32 ACP – which was the pocket gun competition at the time.

The recoil is incredibly tame. It feels like you’re shooting a rimfire cartridge than the centerfire .380 ACP.
There’s a tiny bit of take-up in the trigger. After that, the break is crisp and clean. Once cycled, a short reset gets you back in firing condition. Something noticeable in this design: there’s a tactile reset. You feel and hear a small “click” when the trigger is back in firing position. That removes all doubt about whether you need to release the trigger any further and discourages “short stroking” (where the shooter will try to pull the trigger again without fully resetting the gun)”.

This shooter claims the 103 year old pistol runs like a charm and was able to put a 2 inch groupings at 15 yards. Which is efficient for personal defense.
Another writer/gun enthusiasts (E. Buffaloe) claimed:
“Very few guns feel so much like an extension of the hand as does the Remington 51. W.H. B. Smith says: “With the sole exception of the Luger, and the new German Walther P38, the Walther PPK, Sauer-38 and Mauser HSc (all foreign developments) this Remington 51 is probably the best-balanced, most-instinctive-pointing pistol ever made.”

Re-Design Model 51
Parting Shots
The Remington Model 51 may have been lost through the times, but Remington did release a remake design of this awesome pistol a while back, thanks to the efforts of a couple of its employees. Here are the good points of this awesome pocket gun which is ahead of its time.

Accuracy – 4 Star
For a pocket pistol with tiny sights the gun isn’t half bad. Two inches at 15 yards is nothing to sneeze at in the compact handgun world, even among modern firearms.
Functionality – 5 Star
Runs every single time. The action is smooth and the recoil is light.

Here’s what some are saying about this awesome pocket gun:
PeterK says:
Such a cool piece of engineering. I can see why JMB thought so highly of Pederson.
Andrew Lias says:
A gun on my bucket list. I have 2 savage 1907s that need a friend. I hope parts are easier to find.


Tom in Oregon says:
Sweet piece of nostalgia. Also on my “need to have if the price is right” list.
jwm says:
It looks remarkably like a hammerless Makarov. From that era I judge pocket pistols when compared to the Colt 1903/08.
Michael Case says:
One of the classics, I would love to add this to my collection if I can find a descent one.
Charles Gallo says:
I have a well functioning M51 ! My fathers daily carry ! We head to the range with a 357 SnW 19 too and my guns I just keep loading for 20 minutes straight while pops shot them , I’ll treasure my M 51 the memories at the range with dad ! RIP 5/27/19 Korean Veteran Air Force.

Review by J Hines and Photos from Sources from E Buffaloe, N Leghorn, Wikipedia