Derringers – Please Stop.

Alright, people. I really don’t want to get into a fight about this, but it’s a risk I’m going to have to take, and please don’t take this as an insult. I’ve tried to be nice about these things, but they are now driving me nuts. Go and look here. I’ll wait. It gets even worse when you add the word “cobra” to the same search. In fact, it even gets this ridiculous:

I don't remember making that...

What is that old saying? Photoshop is the highest form of flattery? I don’t know how I became the de facto derringer holster maker. I don’t want to be the de facto derringer holster maker. I should probably point this out as well before I go on this rant. Again, I’ll wait. Ready? On with the rant!

Anything you can do with a derringer, you can do better with a different gun. There. I said it. Usually people think they want a derringer until they learn the truth of that statement. There are a lot of folks that errantly think that a large hand gun will be awkwardly difficult to conceal, and will weigh them down. Most people are shocked at how big a gun they can easily wear with the right holster. Some think of a little two shooter as being the absolute most compact gun available. This may have been true at one point in time, but it very simply no longer is. These guns may be charming in their classic style, but they are not accurate shooters by any measure. Although derringers are an economical choice, there are other affordable guns out there. They very simply are not an ideal choice for any reason.

At least once, Tam quoted her “Shootin’ Buddy” as saying:

The less somebody knows about guns, the more they want a derringer.

Although I find this statement to be humorous, and I may have it engraved on a derringer one day, I don’t find it to be completely accurate. I would be far more apt to say that the less somebody knows about holsters, the more they want a derringer. And, that is no insult. Too often, ignorance is used as an insult when it should not be. Ignorance is merely a vacuum of education. I know of nothing more advantageous than well-directed ignorance. Frankly, it’s people that already know all the wrong stuff that you have to watch out for! No, when I’ve asked my derringer toting customers why they choose the derringer, more often than not it’s because they don’t feel like they can carry anything bigger than a derringer. This saddens me, because 99.99% of the time, it is patently false.

When I started making holsters as a hobby, I had friends and family ask if I would make holsters for them. One of Jennifer’s coworkers asked me to make a holster for his .38 Special Cobra. I was really excited to get to design and make a holster for a Colt Cobra revolver. But no. He sent his Cobra Derringer home with my wife for me to make a holster around. He described the format that he wanted in a holster. I sighed, I drew, I cut leather, I stitched and dyed, and delivered the brown and red thing that you saw in the Google searches linked above. This was something like the third holster I ever designed. I’ve had so many people from the internet contact me for a copy of this holster. At this point, I’ve learned so much about making holsters that this one makes me cringe. I could design a better, more useable, more concealable, more comfortable, and more easily accessible holster for the same gun in about two minutes while heavily sedated. Plus, two ammo loops? Seriously? If you’re really going to go to the trouble to carry a reload for your derringer, you should be carrying your spare ammo in strip loaders, not in leather loops. Then again, if you are carrying a gun, you should carry something more than a derringer, in my humble opinion.

My brother carries a full size 1911 and two ten-round magazines concealed by an untucked t-shirt. He’s 5’3″ and weighs about 140-lbs. No big deal. Sometimes he carries his 9mm XD when he wants to travel a little lighter. Jennifer and I went to a Halloween party this year and dressed ‘goth’. It was pretty fun. I wore tight leather pants and a fitted, sleeveless t-shirt. I carried my M&P45c in my tuckable rig, tucked in under said fitted t-shirt.

Bang bang!

The host of the party as well as several other guests were guessing (nearly taking bets) all night as to whether or not I was packing. Including a local cop who was a guest at the party! Frankly, I might have forgotten I was carrying had they not been constantly reminding me with their banter. I did reveal that I was carrying my M&P plus two magazines much to the shock and amazement of everyone there, who had all pretty well decided that it was impossible that I could have been armed. For size reference, I’m 5’6″ and weigh 145-lbs. My wife is 5’4″ and weighs about 120-lbs currently. In other words, she’s not big. Oh and, she’s cute and she dresses like a girl. Her daily carry is the mammoth FN FNP45 Tactical with two extra magazines.

Sci-Fi calls it a tactical "Wheaties Box."

That’s FORTY SIX ROUNDS of .45ACP that she has on her person, in case you don’t feel like doing the math yourself. It has a 5.5-inch barrel threaded for a can and is noticeably larger than a Government model 1911 in every dimension. If my wife can comfortably tote around that kind of firepower without being detected, I can put a gun on you. I don’t care who you are or what challenges your situation presents, I can hide a gun on you. I can hide a gun on you that will pack more than two shots of deadly force that will be comfortable to wear and easy to access if the need arises.

I’m not asking everyone to carry a gun the size of a toaster that’s threaded for a can and milled for a co-witnessing optic. Just carry something competent enough to give yourself a fighting chance! In the paragraphs above, I have shown three examples of not especially large people wearing full-size fighting pistols chambered in .45ACP with extra magazines full-time. If you see me clothed, I’m probably wearing my gun. I personally do not even own a compact gun. I would like to get myself some pocket pistols and snubby revolvers, but I just haven’t yet. Frankly, full-sized pistols and revolvers are far better research material for someone who designs and makes holsters. They’re more of a challenge and they stretch my skills. When I can hide N-frames and full frame pistols on you, the pocket guns are easy. But the point is, it’s easy to hide a gun that’s plenty more firepower than a two shooter.

So, you may ask why shouldn’t you carry a derringer if you want to? My friend and accomplished firearms instructor, Will, refers to these things as “a really loud pocket knife” since “if you are close enough to poke them, you’re close enough to shoot them.” This seems to match my personal experience with their accuracy, or as I like to say, if the muzzle is brushing the target, you’ve got about a 50-50 chance of hitting it. The gun I was referring to was the aforementioned Cobra .38 Special with the 2.75-inch barrels. The two barrels did not shoot to the same point of impact, for crying out loud! Take a look at a high quality snub-nosed revolver for contrast. With its 2.125-inch barrel, I can reliably hit a smaller passenger car at well over 500-yards with Jennifer’s S&W 640.

Yes, that's what I'm doing here.

You may ask what if money is an issue. What if you can’t afford the $750 MSRP Magnum snubby? Not everyone can afford that. I can appreciate that. Their model 442 has an MSRP of $300 less, and its aluminum frame is practically the same weight as the derringer (respectively 15oz vs. 14oz empty per each manufacturer). There are other, less expensive revolvers in the same format for even less money from Charter Arms, Taurus, and others, not to mention the new polymer/aluminum offerings from S&W and Ruger. Aside from these, there are too many guns to list in this write up that meet the bill for affordable protection. Keep an eye out at pawn shops and the used racks at gun stores.

What if you don’t like wheel guns? Great question! Please take a look at this very well made chart which illustrates to scale FORTY tiny pistols in five common centerfire calibers in addition to a J-frame revolver and a full size 1911 for comparison. Save it to your hard drive. Every time you hear someone saying that they’re thinking of getting a little gun, print it for them. Take a look at this:

Tiny weapons!

What you see here are three of my solid aluminum dummy guns. These are made dimensionally identical to the real thing. From left to right, you have Ruger’s LCP, Cobra “Big Bore” Derringer, and Rohrbaugh R9. Size difference? Maybe a hair. What do you think? With the gun in the middle, you get two shots of .38 special if you can manage to thumb cock the hammer and squeeze the stiff trigger before the bad guy makes you eat it. You’ve got seven shots of .380ACP in the Ruger. Even better than that, you get seven shots of Honest-to-God 9mm in the Rohrbaugh. The pistols recharge incredibly faster too. In the days that the Bersa Thunder was considered a small .380, I might have conceded that there was a place for a two-shooter. Not anymore. Now, the Rohrbaugh isn’t even so unique as there are new sub-compact 9mm pistols being released all the time.

What about the thickness of the guns? Does a .38 derringer have an advantage there? Let’s see…

The Ruger measures in at a svelte .81″ thick.

The 9mm Rohrbaugh measures a paltry .88″, shockingly enough.

The grip on the derringer is about 1-1/8″ thick. Even at its rear sight/barrel hinge, it measures a relatively portly .94-inch:

Going back to my beloved snubby:

Is this gun ever NOT dirty? No, it's Jenni's! :P

Even across the cylinder, the J-frame measures 1.3-inch. We all knew it would be wider than the derringer, but it’s not by much. Personally, the payoff in firepower, accuracy, and shootability is well worth the size difference to me. My point is that there are options. Every example you can come up with in which a derringer would be ideal, I can come up with another gun that would do the job that much better. Please don’t go armed with nothing but a derringer. At least, don’t let the excuse be that you don’t think you can carry anything else. A good holster can do things that seem downright miraculous.

Am I telling you not to get a derringer? Of course not! If you want a derringer, please get one for yourself. Just make sure it’s not your go to gun. Get a good holster for a good gun to protect yourself. I’d love to make you a holster, but if you use this advice to buy a good holster from someone else, I won’t have my feelings hurt either. Am I saying that there’s not a niche for derringers? Well, not exactly. In fact, I’ve often thought that maybe I should get a derringer and keep it loaded with shotshells to use as a snake gun at the farm. I may have just convinced myself to get a snubby instead!

20 thoughts on “Derringers – Please Stop.

  1. A friend of a friend asked me about a derringer at a gun show. He liked the way it felt in his hand…I suggested that if he bought it he should file the front sight off….He though about that and asked if it was to keep from snagging on a pocket…I said that it was so that when he pointed it at a person and (maybe) actually shot it and (maybe) hit him (50/50 chance) that the derringer wouldn’t hurt so much when it was shoved up his ass.

    After a bit of thought, we then looked at other, more useful firearms.

  2. lol well you made my wife a pink glitter holster when no one else would even email me back about one, so i guess i can be ok with not getting for for a derringer.

  3. Nice, B. LOL I enjoy my Springfield XD 9mm (4.5″ barrel, IIRC), and will be heading here when I finally am able to get my license and am in need of a holster. I’m 5’10”, 240-ish pounds that need to go elsewhere, and have to tuck in my shirt at work. From what I’ve seen, I figger Mike’s got the answer.

    As for derringers…I’d buy one. But only if its loaded with historical value (ie, was used on a president or something important and memorable). Then it’d sit in a display box. Saw one in a gun store that was .17cal…oddly enough, it was located right next to the aisle with the airsoft guns. Hmmm…product placement, or a knowledgeable salesguy?

  4. Pingback: “The less somebody knows about holsters, the more they want a derringer” | Les Jones

  5. Hey, I was going to ask you. I was planning on carrying eight derringers for self defense and since you are the derringer guy I was wondering if you could make me a shoulder rig to hold them.

    I figure if I carry eight of them I’ll have just as many rounds as my Browning would with a full mag and one in the chamber.

    Think you can work something up for me, buddy???

    Why is your eye twitching like that???/

  6. Have you ever posted any pictures of the rig that your wife carries? I’ve thought long and hard about getting an FNP-45 to carry, but I wasn’t sure about concealing it. What sort of cover garment does she use for it?

    • There are some pictures that I’ve been woefully late in posting. I can conceal it under a loose fitting t-shirt. I wear a lot of blazers in my office which works perfectly for concealment. When Oleg Volk (yes, I’m totally name dropping) took my picture, I was using a knit vest for concealment
      http://olegvolk.net/gallery/d/41036-1/KSG_1823web.jpg
      I’ve used a light linen or cotton vest in the summertime too. Yesterday, I used a fleece vest much like the ones they sell at Old Navy. I’ll try and get pics up soon.

  7. With regards to the first picture, in black leather with a pair of straps you could make a friends emo daughter one hell of a Goth bra.

  8. Only derringer I’ve ever really wanted was an old Remington like a friend has. Even had some .41 Rimfire ammo, so I got to fire it. DEFINITELY a ‘across the card table’ firearm.

    But I still want one

  9. Pingback: On derringers | My Blog

  10. Can I inject a proviso into your rant?

    There are other reasons than self defense for someone to want a gun and holsters for it. Costuming for one. Cowboy action is all about costuming.

    Steampunk cosplay was all the rage at cons not that long ago.

    • Oh, but it is! Please don’t misunderstand, I fully support being armed at all times, I’m just saying that any job you can do with a SAO, 2-shot derringer you can do far better with another choice.

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