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

For Young Shooters

The five shot .32-caliber Colt Pocket Pistol Model 1849, is the smallest and lightest at 25 ounces perfect for the youthful novice, who might enjoy the Old West flavor.

Story and Photos by Frank Jardim

The first handgun I ever shot was a target .22LR S&W Model 17 revolver with a 6-inch barrel and those hefty checkered target grips. I was a skinny 12-year-old, and the gun was much too big for me. It was only a K-frame, but that thick-walled long barrel got it almost to 40 ounces and it was every bit of 11 inches long.
Though the recoil was negligible, it was a strenuous undertaking for me at that age to just hold it up, and it required both hands just to get a grip on those big stocks. I loved it, but it was hard to shoot well. Today, as a publicly professed grown-up, I find myself in the same position as those seasoned adult shooters who generously cultivated my youthful interests in firearms.
In doing so, I’ve experienced what must surely be the same anxieties they did with me. Even though a youngster may passionately want to shoot a handgun, I ask myself, “Is this kid physically big and strong enough to handle a pistol safely?” Most of what adults would consider medium-sized handguns are simply too big for youngsters with small hands and slim arms.
My solution was to find a handgun that was kid-sized. Those little .22 LR and .25 ACP pocket pistols are actually perfectly scaled for little hands, but I believe they are a poor choice because they require a really tight (vise-like) grip to shoot without jamming, the slides are hard to pull back because of the heavy blow back recoil springs, and the safety discipline of any autoloader requires the additional steps of removing the magazine and checking the chamber.
The aforementioned heavy recoil spring will probably make it impossible for a kid to pull back the slide and check the chamber. I know many full grown women who can’t. Therefore, in my opinion, autoloaders for kids are out.

THE REVOLVER LOOKED TO BE a better choice. Unfortunately, there aren’t as many small ones made anymore. You can still buy the J-framed S&W Kit guns in .22LR.
The current Model 317 has an aluminum frame and weighs less than 12 ounces. It will set you back about $700 new. Used Harrington & Richardson .22LR revolvers still show up, and they can often be had for less than $200 in nice shape. For youthful novices who you suspect might enjoy an Old West historical flavor to their shooting experience (just about all boys), replicas of the Colt’s Patent Firearms black powder, cap-and-ball, pocket revolvers are perfectly proportioned in grip size and weight.
The five shot .32-caliber Colt Pocket Pistol, commonly called the Model 1849, is the smallest and lightest at 9 inches long (with the usual 4-inch barrel) and 25 ounces. There are lighter versions of this pistol, but they sacrifice the integral loading lever to save weight, and that makes them just too awkward to load, even for adults.
This compact and mild recoiling pistol was so popular, Colt sold nearly 336,000 before production ceased in 1873. In my opinion, an even better cap and ball choice is the graceful Colt New Model Police Pocket Pistol of Navy Caliber or Model 1862 Pocket Police.
It is a five-shot .36-caliber, measuring 113/4 inches long (with the usual 61/2-inch barrel) and weighing only 261/2 ounces, 11/2 ounces more than the shorter Model 1849. This pistol resembles a miniature 1860 Army of Civil War fame, except that it also has a fluted cylinder to save weight.
The longer barrel and sight radius make it easier to shoot accurately, but the main advantage is the longer loading lever, of improved creeping design, makes it easier to load than the 1849. Though this pistol can be charged to pack quite a punch, reduced powder charges produce minimal recoil for comfortable shooting.

The author’s son
Franklin ready to
shoot cap and ball.
Reproductions of the 1849 and 1862 Colts have been in production by one Italian gun maker or another (and sometimes a few at once) for at least 20 years. New guns are available from several distributors at retail prices from $350 to $375.
Dixie Gun Works ( in Union City, Tennessee, currently has the exceptionally nice Uberti-made ( 1862 on sale for $325.
In many states, black powder firearms can be shipped directly to the buyer. If you live in one of these, online price-comparison shopping makes good sense. You don’t need a local FFL dealer and you don’t need to pay for a transfer on a pistol you order from out of state. Just find the best deal from a quality maker.
I’ve notice the online competition for new cap-and-ball revolver sales is so fierce, it’s hard to find a genuine bargain on a used pistol at a gun show.

MY NINE-YEAR-OLD SON and I spent a recent morning in the backyard exploring the merits of our Uberti reproduction 1862 Pocket Police. The revolver was beautifully made, with European walnut stocks, a color casehardened steel frame and brass backstrap.
He’s excited to try it, partly because he knows that it’s a man’s pistol, despite its small size. I’ve explained that Colt wanted a powerful handgun in a compact lightweight package for ease of carry and concealment, particularly for city police officers. In addition, the Model 1862 was the last of its kind. It was the final cap-and-ball pistol Colt produced before changing over to the manufacture of cartridge firearms after the Civil War.
Around 47,000 were made by 1872. It was so well balanced and easy to carry, many were used for protection well into the cartridge era and made their way with the wagon trains west to adventure.
A historic firearm, even a historic replica, has a romantic appeal that modern firearms can rarely approach, and I believe that adds to the quality of the shooting experience for youngsters. In the case of this little Colt and my son, there was definitely a Cowboys & Indians thing going on in his head.

Bulk Ammo In-Stock

From a practical standpoint, firing a cap-and-ball pistol requires the shooter to develop discipline that will help him or her as they mature in the shooting sports. To make the guns shoot, there are, frankly, a lot of steps you need to go through, and in this case, that’s a good thing.
All the effort drives home the point that, in order for the pistol to function reliably and safely, every step must be completed correctly, and every technique executed consistently, while the shooter continuously observes its mechanical state. Because you basically hand-craft every shot, you become inclined to aim and shoot carefully to make each one of them count.

FOR THE UNINITIATED, HERE are the process details, to be executed while always keeping the barrel pointed in a safe direction. After taking the pistol from storage, you need to clear the nipples and chambers of oil that might contaminate the powder or caps before you load for the first time.
A pipe cleaner and cleaning patch works well. You can also fire off a cap from each nipple to burn it out, but this always seemed like a waste of caps to me. In preparation for loading, first position the hammer at half cock so the cylinder can be rotated. (Always check for loads or caps that still in the cylinder. Accidentally loading powder over a full chamber will make a mess.)
Don’t worry about overcharging the pistol. You can’t do that with FFFG black powder because the chamber capacity represents the maximum load. If my son double-charged a chamber, it would have just overflowed. No great danger, only wasted powder. I made him a special reduced charge powder measure with a 9mm cartridge case that threw 13.5 grains. The maximum load for this pistol is 20 grains.
To load the cylinder, charge the first empty chamber with FFFG black powder, drop a ball in the chamber mouth, and seat it firmly over the powder with the loading lever. Properly sized balls (.378 diameter) are slightly oversized, and a thin ring of lead will be shaved from them as they are seated, indicating a good seal.
I like Hornady swaged pure lead round balls because they are perfectly round and can thus be loaded any way. By contrast, cast round balls have a sprue that should always be oriented up during loading.

When all chambers are loaded with powder and ball, the pistol is turned on its left side, pointing downward, and a Remington No. 10 percussion cap gently but firmly seated on each nipple with your fingers. Small fingers are ideally suited for this (I always use my fingers rather than a capper, because I know I can’t accidentally detonate a cap with my thumbnail).
By the way, cap sizes vary from brand to brand and even within the same brand and type. Beware of caps that are too long or tight on the nipple because they often won’t seat fully, which can cause a misfire on the first try as the hammer drives then down.
After capping, Crisco is smeared into the front of each cylinder as extra insurance against the blast from the firing chamber flashing over and igniting the adjoining chambers in a chain fire. I’ve never seen it happen, and it shouldn’t with a properly sized bullet, but why take chances?
The Crisco also lubricates the gun and keeps the fouling soft. Once the revolver is loaded, the hammer should be set on one of the safety pins between chambers until ready to shoot. The firing ritual itself requires the pistol be pointed skyward while cocking to allow the blasted remains of the exploded percussion cap to fall free of the action.
If you don’t do this, they will eventually fall into the hammer channel and cause aggravating misfires, each one requiring a 30-second delay while you wait to determine if the misfire is actually a hang fire. This is where constant observation of the operation of the action pays off.
Paying attention to where those exploded caps are going, and that the unfired caps haven’t fallen off, will insure trouble-free shooting. As with all single-actions, the long hammer fall requires shooter follow through each time the trigger is pulled. Fortunately, this pistol had a simply beautiful, crisp, light trigger.

My son started with a two-hand hold and bullseye targets but quickly moved on to tin cans at fifty feet using one hand. Each round delivered a gratifying boom, some noticeable but manageable recoil, a small cloud of white smoke and, most of the time, a can dancing around and jumping in the air downrange. That’s his payoff for all that loading and shooting discipline: making the tin can dance, and a habit of safety that comes from honing his sense of firearms situational awareness.

This story was originally published in AmSJ July, 2017

Pocket Pistol

Top 5 Pocket Pistols for Concealed Carry

Looking to carry a pocket pistol? You need to check out these guns.
A lot can be said for a gun that is concealable enough to pocket carry and go largely unnoticed. Most of the pistols on this list are very small, you wouldn’t be able to see them even if you knew where to look.

As far as stopping power, for this size, you have to have the mindset that having something is better than nothing. However, this “something” still offer lot of firepower but not a mini-cannon. If you’re not into small guns, these probably won’t do it for you. But if you’re the last boy scout then these are pretty cool as a backup to the backup. (Be Prepare)
Here’s our list for top 5 pocket pistols for concealed carry:


  1. Smith and Wesson .380 Bodyguard
    Let’s begin with the best selling pocket carry pistols out there. Smith and Wesson is the big player here. They really did it right when they made this weapon. All people love this gun. It’s so small it can literally go anywhere totally unnoticed in a pocket.
    This is perfect to carry when packing light.

  1. Glock 42
    Glock is synonymous with quality, reliability, and great shooting handguns and its not just for law enforcement. With that in mind comes the Glock 42. It’s flat out the pocket carry self defense pistol of choice for many Americans. Many people love the stopping power of a .308, and it holds six plus one. The slide locks back after the last shot is fired as well. At less than an inch wide but six inches long, it’s not too different from most mobile devices these days, in terms of concealability.

  1. Smith and Wesson BodyGuard 38 Revolver
    You can call this pocket carry gun one of the most reliable subcompact weapons out there. At only a five shot, it does offer slightly more punch in the 38 special round. The ease of use is that easy. As a such a subcompact revolver, this is a straight self-defense close-range weapon.
    It’s a Smith and Wesson. The brand speaks for itself.

  1. Sig Sauer P238
    If you’re a 1911 fan but need one in a compact size, this is it. Coming in as one of the overall smaller guns on the list, the P238 also carries seven plus one. Following the trend, it’s also another .380. At only five and half inches in overall length, this would look like a mid-sized smartphone while holstered in your pocket.

Gotta love this gun for its incredible low price of just over $300 and also chambered in a 9mm, the CPX-1 or the CPX-2 are both great options. Seeing as both of these weapons are chambered in 9mm, this is a plus for EDC. SCCY also offers a lifetime warranty on their guns. At just over five and half inches long and 15 ounces, it’s easy to forget this is in your pocket.

If you are in the market for a new carry pistol so small it fits in your pocket, choosing any of the five above would make you very happy. If you are still looking for more of a punch, you may have to seek out something bigger. With smaller sizes come smaller chambers; that’s the facts in the gun world. So remember, in an emergency, having an equalizer is always better than nothing.
What pocket pistols do you favor?