Far Beyond the Wheel: A close look at the Classic J-frame

j frame trio


A trio of J frames…all housed in Tucker Gunleather Cover Up’s for the J frame, which is my favorite J frame AIWB rig.


Although small, the venerable J-frame has been a fixture of American gun culture since the 1950’s.  Smaller than the Colt Detective Special that preceded it, the, “Chief’s Special,” became an iconic concealed carry piece.  And, for good reason…portability.  A small, compact, five-shot, respectably powered .38 Special handgun, could now be packed away in a holster, desk drawer, glove box or pocket, with a good degree of ease and power than anything that came before it.

One of my favorite characters as a kid growing up was Detective Rico Tubbs, on Michael Mann’s excellent, “Miami Vice.”  He was armed with a J frame revolver (a Bodyguard or a Model 36 Chief’s Special) and a sawed off shotgun.  I thought that was the coolest pair of guns you could carry!  I purchased my first J frame, a Model 649 Bodyguard, in the Spring of 1996, to be used as a back up gun while I worked in the armored truck service…the rest is history.

I originally picked the J-frame revolver strictly for ankle back-up-gun use.  I thought about my friends that worked in LE, and I couldn’t think of any other ankle gun to use.  There was one guy that used an AMT Backup in .380 ACP, but he was the statistical oddity.  EVERYONE else that ankle-bugged, carried a J frame.  So I bought the 649, ammunition, Speed Strips, and a Galco Ankle Glove (which I later upgraded to an Alessi Ankle Rig) and headed to the range.

The first thing I noticed (the range I used permitted drawing from the holster) that when you are 6’4″ tall, it’s a LONG reach from when the whistle blows until your hand EVER gets onto the gun.  I like to be able to draw and hit a target, at 10 yards, in less than 2.5 seconds.  With an ankle rig, it is tough to hitch up your cuff, get a grip on the gun, fire it and get a hit in 5 seconds!  Sure, practice helps, but it becomes a core exercise routine.  Keep that in mind if you are thinking of rocking the ankle rig!  From the kneeling position, there is less upper body movement, but it is still a different set of skills than just clearing a cover garment…cover garments generally, “cover,” and don’t wrap around your holster and gun.  Your pants are fabric tubes that cover the gun, and depending on your level of fashion and maybe weather, the diameter of said tubes can vary.  But, for me, where the ankle gun REALLY shined, and where I think it was worthy of consideration, even to people that aren’t in the armored truck industry, is how it works when you are sitting…

I put a plastic chair on the range, with my hands on the counter, and my gun exposed.  I don’t know about you, but when I sit, my 36″ inseam pants cuffs ride up and expose my ankle gun, damn near everytime.  For concealed carry, this is something to consider.  But since I was working in uniform, and essentially already open carrying a pistol (and sometimes a shotgun or rifle) this wasn’t a big deal.  With my hands on the counter (or on the steering wheel) my revolver was simply accessed off my ankle.  Nobody noticed.  The design of the armored trucks around the seats obscured any observer’s view of what why hands were doing, below shoulder level.  Thus, I could easily draw the revolver, and have it in hand surreptitiously, ready to go.  I think that for concealed carry, in areas where you might NEED to have a carry piece VERY accessible in your car, the ankle gun is a contender.  It is easy to put on and take off (velcro) and it isn’t visible to anyone driving by like a shoulder rig or seatbelt cross draw rig is.  You can discreetly put your gun in your hand if you need it.

These days (June 2014) there are other, others guns for ankle carry, but the J frame can still be a good choice.


ABOVE, My old 649, .357 Magnum Bodyguard.  I had this on my ankle through just about every major life event I’ve experienced.  It wears the original Uncle Mike’s Craig Spegel Boot grips that, at one time, were OEM equipment.  Now, this same gun ships with an injection molded, proprietary texture grip that is similar in silhouette to the Spegel version, but the feel is different.  These grips are good…not my first choice now, but at the time, they weren’t overly adhesive to the pant leg, and when worn in the appendix carry position, they don’t grab shirts.  They can still be found on Ebay, for fair prices.  About the only other modification I did to this gun was add a longer firing pin from Apex, to ensure ignition reliability with hard primer ammo, like the Magtech .38 that was, for a time in the Middle Tennessee area, the only .38 Special I could find.  I also added a stripe of whiteout to the serrations on the front sight, to make easier to pick up in various lighting conditions.  If you carry an openback, concealed hammer revolver like the Bodyguard, I’d recommend blasting out the space at the back of the frame every couple weeks with compressed air, because it picks up a ton of dead skin, and lint from your socks and clothing.

ABOVE, This was my, “moving to Nashville BUG.”  A Smith & Wesson Model 442 NO LOCK.  This revolver was carried almost exclusively in the appendix carry position, and also in the pocket carry role.  This is the SMALLEST, lightest gun that I feel confident about using for serious self defense.  Although I do have a Ruger LCP, which is smaller, flatter and holds more ammo, I’m not completely invested in it, as I just don’t have the time behind it that I do behind this 442.  Everything you’ve read about Airweights is true…they KICK, they are abusive to shoot and they can be picky with what they will shoot to POA.  I’ve always had good luck with this gun, and it’s served me well.  It wears the excellent Precision Gun Specialties Hideout Grips, available at Brownells.  They are smooth, hard plastic, and they are a good balance between filling the backstrap area on the revolver, but not having too much bulk elsewhere.  I added the Apex J frame spring and firing pin kit to this revolver, and it altered a 100% ignition reliability gun with a 12 pound trigger pull, to a 100% ignition reliability gun with a 8 pound trigger pull.  And the modifications are cheap and easy to do…Apex even has a video on their website that will show you, step by step, how to do it.  I’ve read about THE TACTICAL PROFESSOR having good success with the Wolff and other spring kits available, to reduce the trigger pull, as well.  I also added some red nail polish to the serrations on the front site of this revolver, with good effect.  The red color gives decent contrast in many lighting conditions.

640 left side     640 right side

ABOVE…The S&W 640 Pro Series.  Frankly, I bought this gun because the Franklin Gun Shop had it in stock, and Caleb Giddings of Gun Nuts Media had one and I thought it looked amazing.  It has a fluted barrel, no lock, and most significantly, VERY usable Novak style sights, with tritium inserts shot into them.  It gives a crisp, clean sight picture, that is usable in all lighting conditions, OR complete darkness.  It comes out of the box with a great DAO trigger.  I swapped the grips for this picture to show my third type of preferred grip, which is the Ahrends boot grip.  They are made of durable cocobolo wood, they fit snugly without any palpable seams, and they have enough width and frame take up that they give good recoil management and recovery.  I would recommend that anyone who uses this gun for carry get a holster that covers the body side of the sight, because it is sharp and will gnaw a hole in your sock, or belly, pretty quickly.  With .38 wadcutters, this gun is a 10 yard, one hole wonder.  I’m going to use it in a charity NRA Bullseye Match, just for fun, to see what it can really do at 25 yards.


Uh, no.  Two guns that are regularly recommended to novice shooters for self/home defense are the J frame revolver, and the 12 gauge pump action shotgun.  When I hear people make that recommendation to a new shooter, the first thing I think is, “WHY don’t they want this person to have a good time practicing?”  Handing a newbie an alloy framed (or God forbid, an unobtainium framed) revolver and letting them blast away, usually leads to a frowny face and hand wringing.  My dear friend, the late Paul Gomez, used to say, “Revolvers and tube fed shotguns are expert weapons…any gun that requires extreme dexterity to manage its ammunition supply is an expert’s weapon!”  I find this to be true as well.  Even under the artificial pressure of competition, fumbling speedloaders, speed strips, or loose rounds HAPPENS with regularity.  Even the GREAT JERRY MICULEK himself would be hard pressed to jam a moon clip of hardball into his 625 while he’s getting beat on by an angry bad guy.  ALL OF THIS aside from the fact that a revolver is very vulnerable to damage when the cylinder is open (things can get bent, easier than you can imagine).

Summing up…in 1996, the j frame as a uniform BUG was a good choice.  It would still work today, 18 years later.  But honestly, there are better choices.  Need a gun for your non-shooter or novice wife, or girlfriend/boyfriend?  Would they be better suited with a five shot, difficult to shoot well .38, or an easier to shoot, ergonomic, 8 shot 9mm self-loader?  These are rhetorical questions, of course.  You’ll need to examine your needs and determine what best works for you, or your loved one, in this VERY significant self defense role.


FOR ME, nearly every role that was previously occupied by a J frame (except for the rare occasion requiring pocket carry) has been filled by the S&W Shield 9mm.  The gun is accurate, suitably powerful, compact, flat and easily manipulated (unlike some other, smaller guns like the Kahr PM9…I have LARGE hands) with high visibility sights and a 7 shot magazine.

Thanks for reading!


Awerbuck Memorial Range Session



Years back, I read an essay that Louis Awerbuck wrote about, “planning your range time.”  This was in the 90’s or early 2000’s, LONG before Todd Green or anyone was working out the logistics of practice or range work and writing about it on the internet (check out, “pistol-training.com” for more great drill/training/learning information).  Awerbuck wrote about, “budgeting,” a certain number of rounds to your practice session, and not exceeding that budget, even at the expense of ego.  Meaning if you end your session on a sour note, that note was earned, and served as a model of reflection, as far as what you can improve on.

Thus, today’s range session, in Louis Awerbuck’s honor, was 100 rounds of 115 grain 9mm CCI Brass, consisting of 10 yard-single-shot-from-the- concealed draw-with-2.5 second par time drill (from Pat McNamara) and 10 yard Bill Drills (which is 6 rounds, from the concealment draw, with the starting position in either the, “hands up,” surrender, or hands at the side).  The Bill Drill, while normally fired at 7 yards, was instead fired at 10 yards, which seemed like a logical building block from the previous McNamara drill.  And, of course, 100% accuracy is the goal.  I have no idea what a good time is for a, “Bill Drill,” but I think 100% accuracy and sub 5 second time would be a respectable performance for regular folks.  I’m just trying to improve, so this gives me a good baseline.


SiG-Sauer P226R DAK.  Great gun, carries in a Dale Fricke Archangel Appendix Rig nicely, and it IS reassuring having the ability to reholster with my thumb on the hammer bump, to mentally and proprioceptively KNOW that there is nothing impeding a safe reholster (like a zipper, t-shirt, jacket pull, etc).  The DAK trigger, to me, reminds me of a revolver, but with the ability to shoot from trigger reset (albeit a LONG reset).  It’s an easier pull to let the trigger go past the reset, and pull it from it’s full length, though.  It takes a couple of mags to get accustomed to, but it is easily conquerable.  CERTAINLY much easier than the NYPD DAO 226’s…  Split times are appreciably slower, but that’ll improve with time, no doubt.


REALLY digging this shot timer app for the iPhone, appropriately called, “Shot Timer.”  It is VERY portable (duh) and has all of the features that my PACT Club timer has.  A Go-Pro is on my shopping list, so once I have that, I will be able to post videos of these drills along with the timer progress.  I really recommend that any serious student of defensive pistolcraft use a timer to chart their own progress.  It seems that all too often, we are FAR more awesome (or awful) in our head’s than we are in, “real,” life.  The timer reinforces progress and reflection…it’s very humbling!

RIP, Louis Awerbuck.  Thank you for the information, and the lessons.  You will live on, through your teaching, writing and your students!


Pair G19 up


It’s 1950…you see a police officer on the beat.  In his holster?  A 4″ Smith and Wesson revolver.  Fast forward to 1963.  JFK’s assassination.  You see hundreds of cops and agents of various agencies.  In their holster?  A 4″ K frame of one variety of another.  MAYBE a Colt 4″ Police Positive…which is the Colt version/competition for the Smith product.  “Small enough to conceal and big enough to fight with.”  Travel to any 3rd world African Republic, or South American coastal city, and the cops are carrying a K-frame.  They are ubiquitous, worldwide, right into the 1990’s.  And you will STILL find them in the police holsters of cops worldwide, outside of the United States of America.

Fast forward to present day.  Switch on the news…the court officer standing near the witness stand?  He’s wearing a Glock 19 (possibly a 17), and so is the detective that is testifying on the stand.  Go to any shooting range with rental guns and ask them what is popular to rent.  “THE GLOCK 19 is ALWAYS A FAVORITE!”  Outside the country, both American and other countries use the Glock 19 as a military sidearm, police sidearm, and as a defensive weapon for agents and operatives of different varieties.  It is, “Small enough to conceal and big enough to fight with!”


This is a line that I attribute to James Yeager of Tactical Response and AmmoNation, as I first heard him say it in regards to the Glock 19.  What I interpret this to mean is that the gun is small enough to hide on your body, but big enough to use effectively without any disadvantage.  With a good appendix carry rig or IWB holster, you can hide the G19 under a t-shirt.  The G19 is an abbreviated version of the Glock 17, but all of the controls are the same size.  This translates into better ergonomics and better handling.  An overlooked factor that many people don’t consider when they think about, “downsizing,” to a subcompact type of pistol, is that the manual operating characteristics drastically change, from a compact or full size pistol.  With smaller controls, short slides, TINY magazine releases, many of the advantages a semi-automatic pistol takes from the revolver are lost in the miniaturization process.  But, the Glock 19 retains all of the operational capabilities of its larger sibling.


While similar in height and rougly volume, the 4″ K frame is a bit longer.


Seriously?  This is a scientifically based site.  There is no comparison in the performance characteristics of these two guns.  NONE!  The Glock 19 is functionally the equivalent of a BRACE of K frames…that means more than one K frame!  But, what we can compare is this:

The K frame (in the Pre-Model 10 M&P) was introduced in 1899.  The Glock 19 was released concurrently with it’s larger brother the Gen 2 Glock 17, in 1988.  The Glock weighs about 21 ounces empty, and the K frame weighs 36 ounces.  The Glock is 6.85″ long, and the K frame (with 4″ barrel) is 8.875″ long.  The Glock 19 holds 15 rounds in its double-column magazine, and the K frame revolver holds six rounds.  BOTH are well regarded for being accurate, and reliable self-defense weapons.

paddle holster compared archangel comparison

On the left, the pair of pistols are both tucked into Safariland paddle holsters.  There is a clear size advantage to the Glock, which is smaller to begin with.  Both take up the same amount of space, roughly, horizontally, but the Glock needs far less more vertical space.  While just as popular with men, the Glock 19 is also a comfortable choice for women.  And SO IS the K frame.  The two holsters on the left are the superb DALE FRICKE ARCHANGEL that are crafted from khaki shaded kydex.  I like the lighter shades of kydex for AIWB, as it makes it easy to see if the holster mouth and body of the holster are clear of obstructions.  Also, if the holster is inadvertently, “flashed,”  regular folks don’t recognize khaki as a, “gun,” color and are more likely to think it is a medical device or a phone.

K frame ammo comparison

FOUR reloads for the K frame.  24 spare rounds, plus six in the gun give the user 30 rounds at their disposal.  30 rounds is nothing to sneeze at!  But, considering that it takes an average skilled user (NOT a Jerry Miculek) about 5-8 seconds to load a revolver, with any method shown here, that’s thirty rounds with significant lulls in the action.  But, with training, this time can be lessened.  However, as Paul Gomez was fond of saying, “MORE BULLETS IN GUN EQUALS MORE TIME IN FIGHT.”  Think about that.

G19 magazine comparison

Two Glock 19 magazines…that’s 30 rounds, also.  Plus fifteen in the gun and you have almost an entire box of ammunition at your disposal.  The magazine pouches shown (the tan one is from DALE FRICKE and is his ARCHANGEL magazine pouch) and the other is the, “Snagmag,” http://www.snagmag.com/ that holds a magazine in the opposite gun hand trouser pocket, where it looks like a clipped on knife or flashlight to the casual observer.  It is darn near impossible to withdraw the carrier with the magazine.  The CHIEF difference between the ammunition payloads (and WHY I am showing you these two pictures) is that with the Glock 19, the spare ammunition can actually be CONCEALED!  Look again at the above picture of the the revolver ammunition…the ONLY thing that is easily concealable is the SLOW strips, and they only hold six rounds, in roughly the same space as a 15 round magazine!  So in terms of spare ammo volume, the Glock 19 wins.


I am a revolver fan, yes.  But do I shun all other weapons in favor of something that was designed and functionally unchanged since one generation BEFORE the venerable 1911 came onto the scene?  CERTAINLY NOT!  There is NO PERSON on this planet that can teach you how to use a revolver as effectively against multiple, armed, determined attackers MORE EFFECTIVELY than a semi-automatic pistol.  NO ONE.  What I can demonstrate is how to efficiently use a revolver for most private citizens, for MOST common defensive situations.  But the simple truth is that the semi-automatic pistol just MIGHT be the better choice, for you.

I am an advocate of using firearms by law-abiding citizens for righteous self-defense.  WHAT gun you do that with is as personal a choice as what shoes you wear.  I prefer slip on boots for casual wear and Chelsea boots for dress up, and New Balance for running and sports.  What you will choose must be rationalized between several points, not the least of which includes your operational capabilities and mission.  If you are physically incapable of racking the slide on a pistol (don’t laugh…some people can’t) then THE REVOLVER might be the choice for you.  If you live in an area WELL KNOWN for multiple attacker ASSAULTS AND ROBBERIES, you might be better off to carry a high capacity pistol or MULTIPLE revolvers, since one 5 or 6 shot revolver may not be able to handle multiple attackers (people’s accuracy, even the BEST people in the world, suffers under real-world stress).

It’s important to remember that MISSION drives equipment selection.  As an average home dweller, supermarket shopper, South Nashville Ghetto dental office proprietor, father and everyday guy, I prefer to use what I can (in order of priority) 1.  CONCEAL 2.  PRACTICE, COMPETE AND TRAIN WITH  ECONOMICALLY  3.  SEE THE SIGHTS AND OPERATE THE TRIGGER ON

YOUR priorities might be different.  I shoot about 2000 rounds a month in practice, training and matches.  I dry-fire about three times that many.  And I train with both pistol and revolver (and long guns of various types).  I know that not everyone can do this or has the time to do it, but do what works for you.  And choose what works for you.  But, whichever weapon you choose:

1.  KNOW your limitations

2.  HAVE a plan

3.  HAVE a backup plan


ron swanson

Ron with the truth…

Pair K up

Which gun do YOU put on, “top?”


obi wan revolver users



I’ve owned a Keltec SUB-2000, for awhile.  But during that time, I haven’t shot it, or even handled it much.  Life gets in the way…

When I saw that the MCTS club (www.mctsclub.com) had a steel match, AND that there was a pistol caliber carbine (PCC) class, I thought it would be a good chance to give the gun a, “shot.”  This might seem kind of silly to some of you, but I wasn’t fielding this, “virgin,” gun for self-defense (life or limb protection), but to play a GAME.  If it worked under those circumstances, I would use it more, and test it as a viable option for economical and efficient self-defense.  OR, at least as a fun gun to use for shooting games!

A bit about the gun…this is a 16″ barreled carbine, that feeds, through the grip, from Glock 19 9mm (or Glock 17 magazines) and has the unique attribute of being able to be folded in half, for easy transport.  It has a mostly plastic construction, save for all of the load bearing parts, like the bolt, barrel, buffer tube, etc.  It is very light, and handy.  This gun has been out for a number of years, and there are other take down or packable guns that are a bit more sophisticated that this one.  Keltec has a reputation for making interesting guns, that aren’t always reliable or well constructed.  So I wasn’t sure if this gun would work, but I was going to give it a try!  The match was five stages, and each stage was around thirty rounds or less (I only performed one emergency reload the entire match).

Like I said earlier, I had no idea if this gun would run, at all.  I also didn’t know where it was shooting…or if it was zeroed from the factory, and with what.  SO, I set out on the first stage with 33 round Glock 9mm magazines loaded with Tula 9mm ammunition, and waited for the buzzer…

I thought that the way the front sight looked from the factory, it seemed REALLY low.  The front sight blade is made from a translucent, red plastic.  Not like a fiber optic, but like a sliver of a watermelon Jolly Rancher.  The rear is a plastic aperture, that is at the terminal end of a post, that folds down as a part of the folding mechanism.  My first shots on the first stage went very high.  I then altered my hold from a POA/POI (using the top edge of the front slight blade, centered on the plate) to using a six o’clock hold at the bottom of the plate.  The size of the plates varied from 6″ plates, to full size pepper-poppers, to 2″ mini plates.  For the other four stages, I was able to hold correctly and make my hits.

The stages were set up with all steel plates…seems simple, no?  The cool part (and what required strategy) was that the plates had to be hit in the order of RED, then WHITE, then BLUE.  To shoot out of sequence was a time penalty.  Some of the stages used spinning plate racks that are weighted, then start spinning once one of the plates falls off from being hit and then the entire apparatus begins spinning.  It made for a few interesting shots, like when a red plate target is behind the other spinning plate rack with white and blue plates in front of the target plate!

The gun worked well…I was very happy with how it ran.  No malfunctions, and the gun ate the Tula 9mm from Wally World just fine.  I carried my spare magazines in my back pocket, without a magazine carrier, like I would in real life with a long gun.  I have been ridiculed in the past by the tactical ninjas for not wearing a chest rig, battle belt, or other apparatus for carrying spare magazines for long guns, but if the need ever arose in real life, in my action packed adventures as a dentist and parent, I would put the spare magazine in my back pocket, so why not compete that way?  One of the problems I’ve had with carrying magazines in the back pocket is that lint from the pocket lining gets stuck up in the feed lips and causes feeding malfunctions.  This didn’t happen at all with the Keltec.  I will often use a leather or kydex pocket magazine pouch to ENSURE lint doesn’t foul my magazines.

If I could change the properties of space and time, I would make two alterations to this gun.  One would be to have an integrated optic rail fixed to the barrel, that would allow an Aimpoint Micro in a tall, quick detach mount to be put onto the gun after it is put into, “ready,” mode (as opposed to, “storage,” mode).  The OEM sights on the gun work OK for what they are, but a red dot optic would be a much better and easier sighting system to use.  The other alteration would be to have two QD sling swivels shot into the gun so that a 2 point sling could be easily attached, after assembly.

sub2k ready pic

This little sucker weighs four pounds.  FOUR POUNDS!  It’s light and easy to swing around.

sub 2k shooting pic

After this stage, I decided to full on, “hose grab,” the forend, a la the Magpul/Chris Costa type grip, and the controllability (which is pretty easy, anyway) went WAY up.  Like I said earlier, I just wish there was a way to have a return-to-zero mount for an Aimpoint T1 on it.  It would make it a burner…the man that won the division AND had the best score/time overall shot a 9mm Beretta Storm Carbine with a Red dot.  If you don’t believe that a red dot on a long gun is a force multiplier, you haven’t used one, or  you are immune to science!  I felt like the fat guy in the little coat shooting this gun.  It is compact, light, and short.  In fact, I couldn’t even put it in the ready rack for long guns on the range because it is too short to stay in the rack…so I just leaned it up against the rack itself.  The recoil is quick and sharp, although the muzzle rise is mild.  It’s even better when you really hang onto the forend solidly.

sub 2k outside bag

This is the Original Special Operations Equipment Sub2000 chest rig/carry sleeve.  It will hold six magazines, from the Glock 17 size all of the way up to the 33 round magazines by just adjusting the length of the lid with the velcro lined pouches.  There is also a waist strap and another shoulder strap that are removable.  I prefer to wear this rig like a bandoleer, but you can wear it however you like.

sub 2k inside bag

Interior of the case.  Holds the folded SUB2000K with ease, and you can even put it away red hot and not worry about it starting the SOE component stitching on fire or melting it.  There is also another velcro hook panel lining the interior that you can mount whatever you like on.


I always have a good time shooting with the folks from Music City Tactical Shooters.  The club owner, Michael Bresson, absolutely busts his butt to make sure that people have a good, fair match, and most importantly, that everyone has a good time.  This match was no different!  I would HIGHLY recommend this club (www.mctsclub.com) to anyone in the Middle Tennessee area looking for a great shooting challenge.  They host IDPA, Outlaw Steel, GSSF, USPSA and 3 gun matches, nearly every weekend of the year.  And I’m convinced that there is NO better way to test your mettle, especially with a new gun, at a busy shooting match.  The stress of not looking like a bag of hammers in front of a crowd (or you significant other) is real.  So check them out!  The results are posted here:  https://www.practiscore.com/results.php?uuid=07548F18-2868-45E6-89A6-DC00DE2F2F2F&page=matchCombined

As for the Keltec, the research continues.  The weekend after, I performed the excellent Gila Hayes, “5x5x5,” drill with the KT carbine, which it passed with flying colors.  I’m debating on whether or not to attempt to improve the front sight (by replacing the red jolly rancher sliver, with a tall piece of red kydex that I could grind to the proper height to shoot POA/POI at 25 yards with 115-147gr ammo…that’s not TOO much to ask for!).

I suppose that there is some utility to carrying a carbine handy that runs the same magazines as your sidearm.  You really, there is no ballistic advantage.  Sure…12″ more of barrel than your average service pistol is great, but having no better a sight system than a pistol, the advantage you’d actually get in a fight, is slight, in my estimation.  But, like a few other guns on the market that can break down into small components, it is handy for travel.  And, if it continues to run well, it might become a lightweight suitcase gun.




It is 1987…

If you are a saavy pistolero, you are no doubt packing one of the latest iterations of the, “wonder nine,” or, “crunchenticker,” (as the late COL Jeff Cooper was fond of saying…because the first double-action pistol shot was a CRUNCH and the rest, fired single action, were TICKS) in an OWB or IWB of some leather iteration.  Or heck, they are pretty safe to carry with the decock down, so maybe you just slip it into your belt and go on about your day?

Who am I kidding?  I was just a kid in 1987.  But, thanks to guys like Dave Spaulding and Massad Ayoob, and my mother’s bi-weekly trips to the supermarket to feed my family, I read EVERY gun publication in the rack, every trip.  I would read, memorize, and learn.  I had only limited experience at that time, just with revolvers and manual action rifles and shotguns, but a fine semi-automatic pistol like a SIG P226 or a Smith and Wesson Model 659 seemed like a work-of-art to me.  I wanted one…but then:

Enter the Crime Bill of 1994.  THANKS BILL CLINTON!  I was 19 years old.  The buying frenzy was already on.  I had a buddy that worked at ACE Hardware, who would keep me abreast on the latest buying binges, and what was popular on our little Pacific Northwest Island.  High capacity magazines were gone…in their place were the neutered 10 round versions.  Depressing…all this time I was so looking forward to the day I could go to Kesselring’s gunshop and buy my own wonder-nine, when I turned 21.  But alas, that day never came.  My first two handguns were a Smith 681 and a 649.  I was working for an armored car service and needed a primary and a BUG.  And it made no sense to me to carry a 10 round, magazine fed pistol that couldn’t be fired from the gunports of the armored vehicles I worked in.  So I rolled with the revolver, practiced and here I am today.  At the time, I carried my 649 in an Uncle Mike’s suede-like IWB with a clip.  It was tacky, stuck to my skivvies, and allowed me good access with a quick draw when I needed it.  Reholstering wasn’t as easy; the gun had to be twisted into the holster.  Not ideal, but doable.

Fast forward years later, and appendix carry is totally in-style.  And for all the right reasons.  You can hide a gun carried in the appendix position (for the uninitiated, I’m talking about the 12 o’clock to 2 o’clock position for a right handed shooter) and access it, even while driving, very easily.  There now exists a myriad of holsters available for appendix carry, in both leather and kydex, and they are tested and designed, THEN redesigned, by very competent gunmen.  So now it is actually possible to find a product, that is purpose-built to perform the AIWB role, and not have to buy something that is intended for conventional IWB and chop it up and modify it.  

One of the many issues that so many other great minds have thought of, was, “HEY!  I have a striker fired pistol pointed at my femoral artery/genitals, and if I muff up this draw (OR reholster), I will have one non-factory hole.”  But, we love our striker fired pistols!  Glocks, M&P’s…they are so easy to run, and shoot fast.  Bob Vogel tears up the competition world with one, with superhuman agility and speed.  But what makes them so easy to shoot, also makes them have a higher potential of unintentionally parking a round in your own body on reholster.  And it HAS happened.  People get zippers, shock-cord pulls and what have you stuck between the holster mouth, their body and the trigger guard, and unexpected loud noises occur!  How do we prevent that?  

I like appendix holsters that are made out of bright colored material.  The leather appendix holsters I use are all natural, or neutral colors.  I can visually SEE that the mouth of the holster is unobstructed.  Yes…not tactical black, or some other ninja color, but I don’t really care; I’m a dentist.  I like kydex colors that are also in light, bright colors.  Another factor to consider (and this is the take home) is using a TDA semi-automatic pistol (instead of striker fired pistol).  Hubris aside, my aim here is to say that many folks, thanks to guys like Todd Louis Green (of pistoltraining.com), Claude Werner (THE TACTICAL PROFESSOR), Ernest Langdon (Langdon Tactical Inc.) and John Johnston of Ballistic Radio, amongst others, have recently lauded the benefits and attributes of the TDA for defensive carry.  (AUTHOR NOTE:  I care not WHAT you carry, as something is better than nothing at all)  Recently, Wilson Combat has started to offer their excellent gunsmithing and modification services to the Beretta 92 series of guns.  So, I think with the resurgence of appendix carry (Bruce Nelson carried a Commander in the original, “Summer Special,” in the 1970’s) and the concerns over safety, the TDA semi-automatic pistol will become more and more popular.  And with the market swing, manufacturers will bring back or perhaps redesign their products to suit the consumer.

One of the pistols I always thought was great when I was a kid was the Smith and Wesson 3rd Generation Series.  They looked so rugged, and weighted, and when I handled them, they seemed solid.  And solid they were, as users of them often referred to them as, “Boat Anchors.”  Or, as Tom Givens said to me once, “You can alway hit them with it if it runs out of ammo and you don’t have to worry about it bending.”  But by the time I was old enough to buy one, and the Crime Bill had expired, the only versions of that elegant pistol available were the, “Tactial Series,” with that ugly rail nailed onto the dust cover, or the, “Chief,” and, “Value,” series (the 908 and CS9/CS 45) pistols.  So, unless you hit the secondary market to find one, you were out of luck!  

Luckily I recently scored a police duty trade-in Model 6904.  Novak sights, 12 round magazine, comfortable but girthy grip, smooth but long DA trigger, short and crisp SA trigger, and best of all, carried heavily but barely used.  So, in the spirit of this column/blog, I will run my tests in the DA/SA pistol realm with this old favorite!


OLD GUNWRITER TRICK…cover up any fliers with a gun!  My 6904 with my M&P IDPA/understudy carry gun for a size comparison.  It’s basically a Glock 19 sized pistol with a DA trigger like my Smith L frame.  Smooth, long, but positive.


What the reduced size B27 target ACTUALLY looked like, when I shot it at 10 yards, decocking to DA for every shot.  Which, with the slide mounted decocker SEEMS like it would be clunky and awkward, but it really isn’t.  Whether using the right hand thumb (I’m right handed) or the off-hand thumb, it works well.  And yeah, I drop a few shots into the eight ring now and again, but that’s why I PRACTICE!  With some more practice and exploration, I’ll find what RS can do for our DA/SA friends, to contribute to the collective intelligence!

Thanks for reading!


judge 2

I’ve received a few messages to the Facebook site, asking me to give my thoughts on the Taurus Judge…but that would be a short article, because I don’t feel very good about the weapon, or any of the variants in its family (eg the, “Public Defender,” etc).  Being a regular shooter, competitor, shooting student and gun press reader, I’ve heard some ridiculous claims attributed to the Judge over the past few years since they came out.  I’ll be at the range, practicing, and someone will inquire as to what I’m shooting, and then extol to me the virtues of the MIGHTY Taurus Judge, and all of the magic that it can accomplish in their hands.  I thought I would take some of the most interesting and comical claims I have heard, firsthand, and talk about them.

1.  “It works against carjackers!”

So does an ice scraper.  So does ANY other gun.  I’ve never knowingly dissected a carjacker, but I’m pretty sure that they contain no endogenous force field mechanism that renders projectile weapons ineffective.  The Judge, in any of it’s iterations, is a LARGE gun.  If you keep a loaded gun within your arm’s reach in a car, specifically to repel unlawful boarders, you could easily find a smaller, lighter, more reliable pistol or revolver that would most definitely serve in that role better than the Judge.

judge 4


I’d pick ANY of these other three revolvers (and one is a .22) over the Judge, all day, for self-defense.


2.  “It’s the ultimate personal defense weapon!”

Hmm…sure.  Of course, all things with any type of physical matter are capable of greatness, I suppose… but ULTIMATE?  I can think of several other guns I would rather deem the, “ultimate personal defense weapon.”  But instead of comparing a Judge to an H&K MP5K or a FN PS90 or an M4 variant (which is what I think of as a PDW) let’s focus on the one portion of that statement that is easiest to refute…PERSONAL.

Nobody is concealing a Judge in normal clothes.  If you carry one, and think it is concealed, you might just be kidding yourself.  The grips are sticky, clothing clings to them and tend to print more than a less tacky grip.  The cylinder (the hardest part of the revolver to conceal) is BIG, long and wide.  A conventional revolver, in the same caliber (.45 Long Colt) would be easier to conceal.  So, to ME, “personal,” means you have the weapon on you, ready to DEFEND yourself.  A ten inch long revolver in nightstand at home, does you no good at all when you are getting bent over by a team of thieves outside the Circle K.

3.  “.410 Ammo is DEVASTATING!”

It certainly is!  It is devastating to paper, cardboard, tin cans, ear plugs, clay pigeons, snakes, and probably small rodents.  But to a determined attacker?  I’d say (unscientifically, as I haven’t tested this hypothesis) that is would be just slightly more effective than pepper spray.  Shot, as in bird shot, produces AWESOME results on a shoot-n-c target.  It gnarls it up!  But that effectiveness on paper doesn’t translate into effectiveness on humans.  Bird shot is light, and the powder charge that propels it is light.  The barrel it travels down is short, and the spread is large.  The FBI wounding data recommends a minimum of 12″ of penetration on bare gelatin…and the lowly .410 birdshot would NOT achieve this.
“OH YEAH?  WELL WHAT ABOUT THE BUCKSHOT LOADS?”  maybe, you say?  000 buckshot from a true shotgun can yield impressive results!  Sitting on top of a 12 gauge powder charge, a spinning mass of 000 buckshot will gnaw a gaping hole in a human as it hurtles along around 1250-1375  feet per second or more.  But what’s it doing out of your Judge?  800 feet per second?  600 feet per second?  Slow enough to see with the naked eye?  So YES!  Lobbing three or four 9mm lead balls at a badguy might stop him…or they might bounce off of his sternum or skull, and do nothing.  I can think of NO professional firearms instructor from the civilian, law enforcement or military subsets that recommends .410 buckshot loads as a viable self defense load.

Remember, each pellet creates a wound.  A 70 grain 000 pellet, traveling at less that 1000 feet per second creates a wound…and so does a 90 grain .380 slug traveling at 1100 feet per second.  And most everyone I know agrees that the .380, despite the best ammo available, is just on the lower edge of the performance envelope we are trying to achieve (which is 12″ of penetration in bare ballistic gelatin).  Would you carry a .380 for defense?  Would you carry a .32 ACP for defense?  Would you carry an UNDERPOWERED .32 ACP for defense, EVEN IF it held 20 shots (5 shells times 4 pellets per shell)?  All things to consider…and ENOUGH for me to consider something other than a Judge.

4.  “You just can’t miss with a shotgun!”

Whoah Nelly…we’ve all heard this.  And anyone that has shot at anything with a shotgun with their eyes and head oriented at the target knows this is absolutely wrong.  Your personal requirement for accuracy DOES NOT change with a shotgun.  Especially at the close range distances that personal defense altercations occur, you will be literally making noise and praying for luck to hit someone with 5 shots from your wonder Judge if you close your eyes, turn your head and blast away.  You can miss with a 12 gauge from 3 feet…the pattern is barely (if at all) bigger than the diameter of the free-flying wad cup.
5.  “I shoot the .410 into ’em first, to scare him, then finish them off with the .45LC”

Hmm…Paul Howe once wrote that having a tiered approach to your weapons utilization was good.  He wrote words to the effect that he would deplete all of the ammo from his M4, then move onto his breaching shotgun, then his pistol, then pick up enemy combatant rifles and continue to fight.  And that is a solid plan!  “Gaming,” your response, with a mixed load gun, that you no doubt have fired at least two cylinders of rounds through, is silly.  IF one variable can change your, “defense schema,” then your plan is bad, and needs revision.  In this case, what if you are attacked by TWO bad guys?  THREE bad guys?  Dividing an odd number of badguys by an odd amount of shells?  That means that the first guy gets two rounds of shot, the next gets a .45 slug, and so does the next…MAYBE.  How is the recoil different?  Have you shot both, with precision, to determine how the points of aim will differ (don’t forget…no fudging with the, “SPRAY,” pattern of the shot; that is not a real-world solution).  How is your shot to shot recovery with that load?  All things to consider!

6.  “The Judge is a DO IT ALL handgun!”

I don’t know what it is supposed to do, but it doesn’t do any of it well…meaning that there are BETTER solutions.  The Judge is the strongside/crossdraw holster of the revolver world; it doesn’t do either of those things well.  I suppose if it’s ALL you have, then it will work.  There are those that might argue that .45 LC is an effective caliber, and I wouldn’t disagree at all!  It IS a great cartridge, and there are guns that are smaller, more rugged, hold more ammo and are RELIABLE than the Judge.  I would much rather have a large frame snubbie, that I can CONCEAL and actually have on my body, then a foot long shot-volver that doesn’t.  The Judge is a novelty.

Also (Taurus apologists will be miffed) but I’ve found Taurus handguns in general to be just a few steps above worthless.  They are not high quality, heirloom type firearms that will last for decades.  I’ve seen guns that have been delivered from the factory, out of time, with some kind of odd mainspring deformity that results in an ever-increasing trigger pull until the gun is simply inoperable, or cylinders that won’t open, and the gun has to be sent back to Taurus, several times.  Now, Taurus hasn’t ALWAYS made poor quality guns, but the samples in the past 10 years have suffered numerous issues.  The old Model 85’s and K frame copies were decent, along with the older model PT92/99 series.  But the Judge is none of those.


There are better tools available.  The Judge seems to have become the defense firearm of choice for those folks that don’t heed Harry Callahan’s advice, of, “knowing your limitations.”  It’s the gun that the guy that changes your oil recommends, or the old neighbor on the corner that sells tractors swears by.  Sure, they may be subject matter experts on synthetic versus conventional motor oil, or how much horsepower your tractor needs, but when it comes to guns for defense, seek out people that know…

I can think of a niche for the .410 shotgun revolver, and that is as a very close range, snake defense piece, for farmers and others that deal with snakes regularly.  I’d rebrand the gun, and call it the, “Snake Snapper,” and inscribe a WARNING on the sideplate of the gun that says, “This weapon is intended for use on snakes and paper targets ONLY!  DO NOT USE FOR PERSONAL DEFENSE!”  Or, better yet, get a .410 break-action Snake Charmer for anti-reptile utilization, and a Smith or Ruger revolver for self-defense, or a pistol from Glock, Smith, SIG or Beretta, and press on.


judge 1