Twenty-five years ago, it wasn't a surprise for a snubnose revolver to be a common off-duty or backup gun. But in the 1980s, a ton of law enforcement agencies started transitioning from revolvers to semi-automatic pistols, and it became more common for compact and sub-compact pistols to become the mainstream off-duty or backup gun. After all, it only made sense to have your backup gun be a high-capacity weapon of the same caliber as your duty weapon. But in 2006, when a major holster manufacturer is prioritizing what model of weapon to make a new holster for, the snubnose revolver was way up on the list. Everywhere I turn--most especially in the northeast section of our country--the snubnose revolver is there in off-duty holsters. It made me wonder just what was so great about the snubnose--because I haven't carried one for more than twenty years.
Those many years ago, the snubby I carried was a Smith & Wesson Chief's Special, as shown right. The little gun was one of my favorites for off-duty carry, and I was careful to always carry a speedloader with an extra five rounds. I had many an "old timer" tell me that I'd never need more than five rounds--especially off-duty--but I just felt like I needed more. Thankfully, I never did need that off-duty gun. On duty, the gun sometimes rode around in an ankle holster. On at least one occasion, I had brain-farted and left my duty weapon in my locker--and when I realized that (out on the street), I reached down to grab the snubby and put it in my waistband. Hey...what can I say? I was all of about 22 years old at the time. We all have those moments.
Not one to ever be happy with the small wood grips that came stock on the S&W Chief's Special, I quickly acquired and installed a pair of Pachmayrs. Of course, the minute I did that I realized that the gun was less concealable. Still, the two-inch barrel (measured from the back of the forcing cone to the front of the barrel) and the slim profile of the five-shot cylinder made it fairly easy to conceal. And it was far better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.
Qualifying with it certainly wasn't as easy as it was with my S&W Model 15 or the Sig P226 I was eventually issued. As I gained experience with firearms, I realized just how important that sight radius--the distance between the front and rear sight--is. Still, basic marksmanship is basic marksmanship and I've seen some veteran officers qualify faster and easier with their snubbie than with their full size semi-autos.
The other popular snubby at the time was the Colt Detective Special. One thing that I was taught in the academy was that the cylinder on all Smith & Wesson revolvers turned counter-clockwise while the cylinder on Colts turned clockwise. Colt starts with "C," just like "clockwise." Of course, so does "counter," but no one ever said that to me, so it never clicked. Colts turned clockwise. The Detective Special was impossible to find in stainless steel though, and I just knew that any gun that was going to spend time in my ankle holster or pressed up against the skin would rust if it wasn't stainless. A blued gun just wasn't going to last. Still, there were folks--experienced cops--who swore by the Colt and cursed the Smith & Wesson. Other knowledgeable shooters I've met since then swear by the Smith & Wessons--two of them in fact: one in each pocket of an overcoat. That particular gentleman carries matched Model 66s--stainless steel .357 Magnums loaded with .38+P+ loads.
For some cops, the decision about which one to carry was made based on two simple things: the Colt carried six rounds as compared to the S&W's five, and the Colt could be had with a full ejector rod shroud. To me, it seems silly to base a decision on ONE bullet, but I've never been in a shooting that was one or lost by that ONE bullet. And the ejector rod shroud, while providing protection to the rod, is generally perceived as "better looking" rather than "more functional." If you're going to purchase a snubby based on how it looks, then say so.