Tag Archives: double action

SKILLS: Holsterless Handguns — Viable?

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A true packing pistol should be viable if simply shoved in the waistband… READ MORE

no holster carry
Carrying the piece crossdraw in the waistband works well for many shooters.

Bob Campbell

For years most of us have counseled concealed carry handgun carriers to choose a proper holster. A holster keeps the handgun stable and angled for the proper draw. Just the same, who am I to go against two hundred years or more of tradition? Wild Bill Hickock kept his revolvers in a tightly woven sash. Few early holsters were suitable for concealed carry. Even today many folks like pocket carry. I will leave that for another time. Many of us like to shove a handgun in the belt for a quick run to the store or for more casual carry. Among my friends that are retired cops the trend seems to be toward such carry. That’s fine as long as they know what they are doing. The handgun must be tightly sandwiched in between the belt and the body and reasonably secure, not likely to be dislodged. I am not recommending concealed carry with no holster, far from it, but I am also a realist and feel that this common practice should be discussed.

no holster carry
If there were ever a better packing revolver than the Colt SAA the author has never seen it.

Sam Colt designed pocket, belt and holster guns. Each was a different size, for different needs. They generally ran .31, .36 and .44 caliber. Today we have sub-compact, compact and service size pistols. Some are less suited for concealed carry than others. As an example, I usually carry a Commander .45. I may carry a Government Model .45. I have learned after much experimentation that rail guns can be tricky on the draw. The Springfield Operator seems the best of the bunch when coupled with the Galco N3 holster, and a sharp draw isn’t difficult. Sometimes this isn’t true with other designs. If you are going to carry the 1911 in the waistband then the casual outlook probably doesn’t include a rail for mounting a combat light. The rail may snag on clothing. It is important to practice the draw. It is obvious that carrying the pistol cocked and locked isn’t the best idea if the handgun isn’t carried in a holster. The 1911 may reasonably be carried hammer down in relative safety if the pistol features a firing pin block or extra strength firing pin spring as most all modern 1911s do.

no holster carry
A cocked and locked 1911 rail gun, upper, may not be the best choice for waistband carry. The P210 9mm, lower, is long but slim and rides well without a holster. It is also easy to cock the hammer quickly.
no holster carry
This rail may snag the undergarments — practice a few draws to be certain.

The problem is cocking the hammer on the draw. It isn’t that difficult with the modern Government Model with a spur hammer. Some practice needs to go into this draw and making the pistol ready. It is slower than cocked and locked carry. But it is faster than carrying with an empty chamber. If you are carrying a self loading handgun with an empty chamber you really need to be carrying a revolver! When it comes to other single action hammered self loaders we have a mixed bunch. I am not exactly a snowflake, but I find the hammer of the Browning High Power 9mm very difficult to cock on the draw. The hammer is powered by a very heavy spring. The High Power will certainly crack most any primer, which is the design intent, but that hammer renders the High Power much less desirable for holsterless carry. I have to use two hands to rack the High Power. The CZ 75 is another matter. This piece is snug against the body, nearly perfect for carrying in the waistband. While the CZ is a double action first shot pistol it is pretty easy to cock the hammer on the draw. I am very much enjoying the SIG P210A. This is a wonderfully accurate and very well made single action handgun. I find cocking the hammer on the draw quite easy. I don’t feel comfortable carrying any striker fired handgun thrust in the waistband. Neither should you. Some self loaders dont work well based on design. Among my favorite light handguns is the Bond Arms Bullpup 9. The Bullpup 9 is a great shooter and its double action only trigger makes it a safe enough pistol to pack without a holster. The problem is the super compact geometry. The piece just doesn’t fit and balance well in the waistband.

no holster carry
The Model 69 .44 Magnum, top, is a good waistband gun — the Ladysmith, center, is pretty good but the snub .38, bottom, may squirm too much.

For the most part revolvers do not work nearly as well in the waistband without a holster. The snubnose .38, among the most trusted defensive handguns, is too short and squirms in the waistband. A three inch barrel version is a bit better. I sometimes carry the Model 69 2.75 inch barrel Combat Magnum .44 in the front, to the right of the belt buckle, and it is okay for a casual walk. The absolute best balanced revolvers for casual in the waistband carry are the plow handled Single Action Army types. This is among the reasons so many lawmen kept the SAA long past its prime, it is simply well balanced and fast handling. A 4 ¾ inch barrel SAA is about as compact as most double action .357 revolvers and balances well if worn in the front and tucked into the waistband. If you are worried about the revolver slipping into the pants then open the loading gate (crossdraw in the waistband also works as well) as you draw close the loading gate.

no holster carry
Striker fired pistols such as the SIG, top, are not the best choice for carry without a holster. The DAO Bond Bullpup, lower, is a good handgun but the geometry demands a holster. Just not enough real estate to keep the piece steady in the belt.

I think that there are times when holsterless carry works well. It isn’t ideal but then all types of concealed carry are a compromise.

RETROSPECT: Smith and Wesson Versus Colt — What Happened?

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A lifelong fan looks at the two greats of the revolver world. READ MORE

colt vs smith and wesson
The Colt Cobra, top, and the Smith and Wesson Model 13, bottom are each fine all around defensive revolvers.

Bob Campbell

When Samuel Colt invented the revolver as we know it he turned the handgun world on its nose. Most handguns were horse pistols or pocket guns similar in design to rifles — simply shorter. The Colt revolver had to be designed to stabilize the firing hand to allow thumb cocking and to present the sights for proper aiming. The Colt revolver was an offensive firearm and a credible military firearm that hastened the western movement. In short it was an immensely important invention. Smith and Wesson’s original handgun was a lever action design that led to the Winchester repeating rifle, but that is another story. By the time of the Civil War both Smith and Wesson and Colt were manufacturing viable revolver designs.

colt vs smith and wesson
The S & W Perfected Double Action and Safety Hammerless are over 120 years old- and still function well, despite years of use.

After the war both companies manufactured distinctive revolvers. The hinged frame and later break top Smith and Wesson revolvers competed with Colt’s solid frame revolvers. The Colt sold better domestically while Smith and Wesson armed Russia and Japan among other armies. During the 1880s Colt began development of swing out cylinder double action revolvers that would bring the two companies products much closer in design and appearance. Colt’s revolvers such as the New Pocket featured a swing out cylinder, cylinder latch that pulled to the rear, and a smooth double action trigger. Smith and Wesson followed suit with the Hand Ejector, a similar size .32 caliber revolver. The Colt .32 Long is smaller in diameter than the .32 Smith and Wesson Long and will not interchange. At this point in time the companies were producing revolvers that in many ways were more similar than they differed.

colt vs smith and wesson
Once Colt perfected the swing out cylinder revolver the stage was set for revolvers for a hundred years to come.

In a few years there was another strong unifying movement in the handgun world. Preciously there had been proprietary cartridges for each maker. The .32 Colt, .32 Smith and Wesson, .38 Colt and .38 Smith and Wesson were among these. In general the .32 and .38 Colt cartridges were smaller and would chamber in the Smith and Wesson chambers but the cartridge case often split on firing. A big change was the introduction of the Smith and Wesson Military and Police .38 revolver. The .38 Colt was a dismal failure in action in the Philippines and at home as well. The US Army asked for a revolver more robust than the Colt 1892 and a more powerful cartridge. Smith and Wesson lengthened the .38 Long Colt cartridge slightly and improved performance from a 152 grain bullet at 750 fps to a 158 grain bullet at 850 fps. The .38 Special became the most popular revolver cartridge of all time. The older .38s were eclipsed.

colt vs smith and wesson
This Colt Army Special .38 had the barrel shortened many years ago.

While the Colt Single Action Army remained popular past its prime the primary spear point of competition for the two makers was in double action .38 Special revolvers. They traded in the top position in sales for some fifty years. During the 1930s the race was real with Colt having an edge. By the 1970s Smith and Wesson carried three quarters of the police market. Many felt that Smith and Wesson had the edge when they reinvested war time profits in new machinery and models after World War Two. Colt introduced some models such as the Python but Smith and Wesson introduced more models at more attractive prices. Eventually Smith and Wesson enjoyed a considerable price advantage over Colt for similar handguns. When I was growing up during the 1960s and beginning a life long interest in revolvers, my grandfather expressed a common opinion. He told me that he would not flip for the difference between the two. His favorite revolver was a Smith and Wesson Military and Police, but he liked the Colt Detective Special better than the Smith and Wesson Chief’s Special. I have pretty much the same preference.

colt vs smith and wesson
Top to bottom — A Colt Army Special, Colt .357 and a rare Colt Detective Special with 3-inch barrel.

I think that while the revolvers looked similar and handled the same there were differences in the grip and trigger action that had appeal to different shooters. The price point and good performance made Smith and Wesson the leader. There were many excellent revolvers manufactured during the heyday of this competition. The Combat Masterpiece, Shooting Master, Target Masterpiece, Trooper, Highway Patrolman, Python, Detective Special, Chief’s Special, Cobra, Python, and Combat Magnum were among them. Adjustable sights, ramp front sights, shrouded ejector rods, target triggers and hammers, trigger stops and red insert front sights were introduced. But just the same, the revolver manufactured in the greatest numbers was the plain vanilla Military and Police revolver.

colt vs smith and wesson
The Colt Army Special had the barrel cut at some time in the past — it was re-purposed as a snake charmer.

The differences in the revolvers were seldom based on quality of manufacture. While each may have had an occasional bad run this was rare. There were high points of production for each company. The Smith and Wesson Combat Magnum was probably the best balanced revolver of all time. Light enough for constant carry, durable in long use, accurate, smooth in operation, and firing the best man stopper we are likely to invent, this .357 Magnum revolver was a prestige revolver. The shrouded ejector rod and high visibility sights were important advantages. The K frame .38 has a skinny frame for use with Magnums but the development of target stocks and rubber recoil absorbing stocks went a long way toward taming Magnum recoil. The Colt action differed, and while smooth enough, the Colt was the more likely to go out of time after hard use. The Colt revolver cylinder rotates right into the frame, the Smith and Wesson to the left, and the rifling is also different. Today those who appreciate old iron are happy to find either revolver at a fair price.

colt vs smith and wesson
The Smith and Wesson .357 Magnum was the first Magnum and a classic handgun with excellent performance.

The heyday of the revolver may be over as far as law enforcement is concerned. But many of us find the revolver suits our needs well. Most are highly accurate and offer plenty of power. When I am hiking or traveling around Appalachia, the Blue Ridge and the Smokies I sometimes find myself in the vicinity of feral dogs and other dangerous wild life. The big cats are sometimes aggressive — I will never forget that my grandmothers’ cousin, a small child, was killed by a panther in the early 1920s. Fifty years later she recounted the story as if it were yesterday. I like something on my hip in the wild. A heavy loaded .38 Special or a .357 Magnum revolver just feels right. Will the revolver be a Colt or a Smith and Wesson? I own and enjoy both, more Colts than Smiths and would hate to part with either. Just the same, the gun on the hip is usually a Colt Python. But sometimes it is a Colt Single Action Army .45 or a beautifully smooth Colt Three-Fifty-Seven. I guess we know who won the battle with me — but lost the war.

colt vs smith and wesson
The author considers this 1917 .45 caliber Smith and Wesson N frame revolver among his front line working handguns.