The “Inadvertent Revival” of 3-Inch Snubs

The new batch of 3-inch snubby revolvers fills a lot of niches, from concealed carry to "packing' pistol."

Visit TRIGGERED to see all these 3-inch stubbies in action!
Every so often you get what I think of as an “inadvertent revival” of some specific type of gun. The uber-example would be the Ruger LCP…while Ruger was hardly the first to bring a small polymer-frame .380 to the market, the LCP arrived at the right time and place to trip off one of the most enduring firearms trends of this century.
 
Strangely enough, 3-inch barreled revolvers are a “thing,” which is interesting, because 3-inch revolvers are not “pocket pistols,” the role of many, maybe a majority, of snubby revolvers.
 
In this picture, from the top, are:
 
 
Familial resemblance, n’est-ce pas?
 
I say “inadvertent revival”because I don’t believe a cabal of firearms manufacturers Saturday down and said, “Three-inch revolvers! Yes! The future of wheel-guns!” Rather, it’s a pree-COVID, pre-riots policy of filling every niche out there.
 
I have talked a lot about us being in the Golden Age of Guns…if you want it, it’s probably out there already. These types of guns were once relegated to custom gunsmiths.
 
The manufacturers realized, however, that when you aggregate niche markets you come up with a really big number. The reason that manufacturers have left the niches to custom gunsmiths until very recently is that the manufacturing processes used in building firearms were slower than in some industries to adopt modern techniques. Increasingly sophisticated CNC machines, zero inventory techniques, fast prototyping/solid printing, more sophisticated/flexible suppliers, modern quality control, much faster throughput and a willingness to keep the corporate ears to the ground have given at least some manufacturers the ability to fill a niche, then change gears back to regular producing in an amazingly short time.
So let’s take a closer look at each one of these puppies.
1) Kimber K6 “Tactical Law Enforcement” .357
  • Height (inches): 5.0
  • Weight (ounces) with empty cylinder: 23
  • Length (inches): 6.62
  • Width (inches): 1.39
  • Cylinder capacity: 6 rounds
  • Action: DAO
  • MSRP: $999

I have to admit I came late to the Kimber K6 party. Although my friend Grant Cunningham — one of the masters of the small revolver — hammered out the details of the first K6s introduced in 2016, and I shot those first K6s with full-bore .357 loads at the 2016 SHOT Show without any evidence of spontaneous combustion, it wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I got one of my own.

Grant, of course, absolutely and unequivocally knows what he’s doing, and that’s why there is much to like in the K6. First and foremost, it is the least painful small .357 revolver on earth, thanks to weight, grips and, heaven help us all, ergonomics. Trigger pull is excellent at a little over 10 pounds and, true to Kimber advertising, doesn’t stack at the end.

The 3-dot night sights are the best of this particular four-gun selection and, in the macro sense, second only to the dovetail-mounted Novaks on the Wiley Clapp SP101. The big push-in cylinder release is easy to run fast. I like the matt black finish over stainless, and I think I like the G-10 grips, which are not only cut for excellent concealment, but they’re grippy without feeling like a wood rasp.

I’ve been open carrying this gun while waiting for my new CCW to arrive in a superb Kirkpatrick Leather hi-ride holster with .357 125-gr JHPs, and I couldn’t be any happier. The Fiocchi 125s shoot to point-of-aim at 10 yards

2) Lipsey’s/Ruger SP101 .357

  • Height (inches): 4.5
  • Weight (ounces) with empty cylinder: 27
  • Length (inches): 8
  • Width (inches): 1.4
  • Cylinder capacity: 5 rounds
  • Action: DA/SA
  • MSRP: $719
Right off, I have to tell you that I am a huge fan of the little SP101. It is quintessentially Ruger, overbuilt enough to sustain a direct nuclear hit and heavy as that proverbial brickbat. Typically for Ruger, the SP101 was released in 1989, literally decades after people had started clamoring for a J-frame sized Ruger. The iconic S&W Chief’s Special snub was released, for example in 1950.
And, of course, typical for Ruger, the little SP101 weight almost twice an S&W Airweight snub’s weight. While the SP101 was sized as a pocket pistol, it made keeping the pants up a challenge, a big issue  since the hip-hop/prison style of pants around the ankle hadn’t yet broken through into the mainstream.
I have two SP101s, both in .357 Although I wish I’d snagged the .327 Magnum version I shot at GUNSITE when the caliber was debuted in 2008. My main SP101 is a hammerless version overhauled by the aforementioned Grant Cunningham when he was still a full-time gunsmith. The second is the Wiley Clapp version with it’s rear fixed Novak sights and a brass bead front sight, a pretty much perfect combination.
The SP101 is a snubbie that you can shoot…a lot…and I have. With 38+Ps, it’s no big deal, and I have carried the little guns in both an Kydex IWB and a leather OWB from Ritchie Leather.
The new Lipsey’s 3-inch SP101 adds something that one would never attribute to the homely looking originals — elegance. The Lipsey’s SP101 is beautiful with its blue/black finish and wood panel inserts in the rubber grips. On my gauge the trigger is clocking in at 11+ pounds. I suspect that with a set of Wolff springs that should come down to below 10 pounds. Definitely a keeper!
3) Taurus 856 Defender .38 Special
  • Height (inches): 4.8
  • Weight (ounces) with empty cylinder: 15.5 (aluminum); 23.5 (steel)
  • Length (inches): 7.5
  • Width (inches): 1.41
  • Cylinder capacity: 6 rounds
  • Action: DA/SA
  • MSRP: $425
The Taurus is the new kid in town, and I have to confess I’ve just gotten my hands on one, a steel matte black version. I am not, however, a stranger to Taurus revolvers. My first was an old 3-inch .44 Special, a gift from my father who said he couldn’t hit the floor with it…not that that was all that unusual. As some of you may know, I have a “thing” for .44 Specials, and I eventually sent the Taurus to the legend Jim Stroh at Alpha Precision and asked whether he could anything with the trigger. It came back, predictably, perfect.
Not only that, but shooting it alongside my other .44 Specials, the little Taurus turned in the best accuracy of any of them, regardless of load. I also have an old Model 85 Ultralite that I bought back in the 1990s when I couldn’t afford either an S&W or a Ruger. I shot the thing a lot; carried it either as my primary of a secondary gun for years. In short, if I had to carry it tomorrow, I’d be good with that.
At a Taurus event last year, Rob Garret — whom I usually refer to as the “God of Snubbies,” much to his chagrin — spent a bunch of time running rounds through 5 or 6 of the 5-shot Taurus 856s, and our conclusion was that they ran pretty good…no complaints. So when I saw the release on the 856 Defender, I put my name on the list.
First off, I like the way the gun looks, that flat matte black, and I like the rubber Hogue grips. As a bonus, it comes with a front night sight surrounded by an orange outline, which really helps my pathetically old eyes.
4. Charter Arms Professional, 7-shot .32 H&R Magnum
  • Height (inches): 5.25
  • Weight (ounces) with empty cylinder: 22
  • Length (inches): 7.93
  • Width (inches): 1.37
  • Cylinder capacity: 7 rounds
  • Action: DA/SA
  • MSRP: $438

Okay, let’s deal with the elephant in the room, the caliber, .32 H&R Magnum. The round was created in 1984 in  joint venture by Harrington & Richardson and Federal, with the idea of jacking up the old .32 S&W Long into a modern and relatively serious cartridge. The goal was .38 Special ballistics in a package that would allow 6, rather than the more typical 5, rounds in a snub nose revolver cylinder.

I have a lot of experience with the .32 Mag because my second snubbie (or first if you discount my 4-inch S&W Regulation Police) was a butt-ugly H&R in that caliber. I immediately started loading 98-grain lead bullets for the gun, which was to be honest a quantum leap over the .38 S&W that I’d been loading. There are pellet guns that are a quantum leap over the .38 S&W.

When my Sweetie decided to get into Cowboy Action Shooting, I stumbled on a pair of Ruger birdshead-gripped Single Sixes in .32 Mag, and she began shooting them in competition using the heavier 115-gr bullets intended for 32-20s because the heavier bullets rang the steel a little better.

So why would a modern company close .32 H&R Mag over the more modern and more powerful .327 Federal Magnum? I called Nick Eckerd, the President of Charter Arms and an old friend, and asked him. “Because,” he said, “the .327 Federals were just too hot. And we wanted the seventh round in the gun.” And yes the much higher pressures of the .327 Federal Magnum would probably have demanded a 5-shot cylinder.

This Professional was a surprise to me. I have had and presently have a couple of Charter Arms guns and have generally liked them.  But the Professional (and, yes, I wince every time I wrote that name) is a clear step up. It has a steel frame with a black nitrate finish, green fiber optic front and a beautiful set of walnut grips. Trigger pull is hanging in at about 11.5 pounds, but my experience with Charters is the trigger pulls smooths out and lightens up somewhere around 300 rounds. If you ask a gunsmith to clean up a Charter trigger, chances are he/she will run around with his/her fingers in his/her ears shouting, “LALALALA,” They’re a bit of a pain to work on.

With the 115-gr cowboy loads, it just stacks bullets in a single hole at 7 yards. Recoil is essentially no big.

The Net Net

So, how to sum this up…the net net, if you will? Let’s run through the bullet points:

• Three inch revolvers are always going to be easier to shoot than their shorter-barreled brethren, because physics. The guns are a little heavier, and a little heavier means a little more soaking up recoil. This functionally doesn’t make any difference if you’re talking about .38 Special, even +P, or .32 H&R Magnum, but it does when you start talking about .357 Magnum. However, modern ammo design has gone a long way to alleviate the .357 issue. If you check out the TRIGGERED episode this week, you can see me shooting the SP101 3-inch and the Kimber K6 with Fiocchi 125-gr JHPs, your baseline .357 Magnum load. Note that my hand didn’t explode.

• There-inch snubs are holster, not pocket, guns. That extra inch makes a big difference. I suppose eom of you will send me emails that you routinely carry 3-inch whatever in your coat pockets. Well, okay. I have, too, but it was more of an exigency than an everyday solution. Note that the adjustable sights on the SP101 means it may not fit your SP101 3-inch holsters…it didn’t fit mine, except for Simply Rugged.

• Buy ammo (well, if you can ever buy ammo again, that is) that is designed for the gun. The Buffalo Bore 110-gr standard pressure .38s designed for low flash and low recoil were cupcakes in the Taurus 856, printing maybe an inch high at 10 yards. I wouldn’t hesitate to carry that load.

• Favorites? Hard to say. I would default to the SP101, but I suspect that it is because I have drastically more time behind an SP101 than the other guns, and that makes a difference. I have been carrying the K6 for a while since my CCW expired and I while was waiting for the new card I had to open carry, and the K6 with Buffalo Bore .357s in the Kirkpatrick OWB fit the bill.

John Taffin has spent years talking about the “perfect packing’ pistol.” I am lucky enough to live in a place where a perfect packing pistol has a lot of utility. I think that the 3-inch revolver fits that category better than any of the other alternatives I have tried. I love the 3-inch midframes like the GP100 or the S&W  Model 19s and some of the 686s, but you have the added weight/size penalty. I can tell you from experience that carting around an SP101 or a K6 is one of those rare instances where the reality actually matches “it disappears on your hip” gunwriter shibboleth. As I said, I carted the K6 for more than a month and once I put it on never gave it another thought.

In the TRIGGERED video companion piece, I talk about the Galco Combat Master holster, which is an excellent choice for an OWB. If you’re willing to go for the high priced spread, so to be (and yes, I date myself with that line from a commercial), Doc Barranti’s Carry Confidence CCR is the best there is, so my knowledgeable friends tell me.

I have a great OWB holster for the Ruger LCR from Ritchie Holsters, and, of course, I would be hugely remiss if I didn’t mention my good friend Rob Leahy at  Simply Rugged and his wonderful Silver Dollar Pancake…quality at a reasonable price!

The 3-inch little revolvers have a lot going for them, and they’re perfectly suitable for a lot of different jobs, from concealed carry to schlepping around in the woods. Besides, everybody needs another revolver!

 

 

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