A Case for the Snub Nose – An Albert Defense Review


Written by Tim of Albert Defense


For many of us who came of age as gun enthusiasts following the end of the 1994 Assault Weapons ban in 2004, the proverbial fudd was always the butt of the joke. Their distrust of polymer-framed pistols, rifles chambered in 5.56, and kydex holsters led to the belief for many, that anything these guys like is outdated and relatively useless compared to more modern offerings. Many of us are quick to ridicule those who write-off modern firearms, while failing to see that we are doing the same thing to platforms that have been staples in armories and behind gun counters for decades. 

Flash back to 2020, I like most, was carefully rationing my ammunition and components, and reluctant to train with my usual frequency as I wondered how long my supply of small pistol primers was going to hold out. I was (and am) a devout Glock fan, but was looking for something new to break up the monotony of my daily dry-fire routine. I’ve always been interested in snub-nose revolvers, it’s hard not to when you’re raised on images of Michael Corleone, Popeye Doyle and the bad old days of New York City. Learning to use the snub-nosed revolver effectively, seemed like an interesting challenge. For the sake of this article, we’ll define these as small-frame revolvers with barrels <2.5”. At the time, it was difficult to find any specific firearm, but I was lucky to have a friend at Smith & Wesson who was able to give me a discount and my pick from the product catalog.

Before we continue, any mention of concealed carry is theoretical from this point forward. I’d also like to clarify that I would never recommend carrying a concealed handgun without a license, but our adult readers are more than capable of making that decision for themselves. 

The Smith & Wesson 642

I ultimately settled on a Smith and Wesson 642 Pro Series for a number of reasons. First, I didn’t see the need for a small revolver in .357 magnum. If ballistics was a primary concern, I was already accustomed to carrying Glocks, with modern 9mm +P loadings that are on par in many respects to .357 out of a 2.5” barrel. Second, after doing some research, I concluded that the DAO (double action only) action of the 642 was more than suitable for the situations the snub-nose revolver excels in. In my opinion, the single action capability of shrouded hammer models is an unnecessary complication (additional thoughts on this topic from Chris Baker can be found here). Finally, the Pro Series comes cut for moon clips leaving more reloading options, and omits the dreaded “Hillary hole” or internal frame lock, introduced by Smith and Wesson in 2000 as a failed effort to appease anti-gun politicians in Washington. As a side note, I was unable to find any first-hand accounts of frame locks activating unintentionally under recoil, so this shouldn’t be considered a deal breaker if it’s all you can find online or at your local gun store.

SW642 with ANR Design J-Frame Revolver Holster

In terms of modifications and accessories, my current carry setup is as follows. 

  • Smith and Wesson 642 Pro Model with an Apex Duty/Carry trigger kit and NOS Uncle Mike’s boot grips. The Uncle Mike’s grips have a better texture than factory, and are slightly thinner, allowing for easier use of speed loaders (These are no longer in production, but can be found on eBay).
  • ANR Design IWB Revolver holster, modified with a G-Code 4-hole belt clip for deep appendix carry.
  • Bianchi Speed Strip loaders AND HKS 36-A speed loaders.

It’s worth noting that I purchased my holster prior to having any relationship with Alex or ANR Design.

What a Snub Nose Revolver is (and What it is not)

There are many misconceptions, both positive and negative about snub-nosed revolvers, and their ideal uses and capabilities. I was able to arrive at my own conclusions through research, discussion, and over a year of regular carry, dry fire, and range time. I will summarize these learnings here. It’s important to keep in mind that my experience is with the revolver described earlier in this writing. Your experience will vary more, or less based on how similar your setup is to mine.

A Snub-nosed revolver is not:

  • A Replacement for a duty pistol: The snub nosed revolver falls short in terms of magazine capacity, reload speed and sight radius. If firepower is your main concern, a snub-nosed revolver is not for you.
  • A good beginner pistol: The simple manual of arms, and ability to remediate a dud round with just a pull of the trigger may seem like positives for a new shooter (and they are), but small-framed DAO revolvers are difficult to shoot well for those without good trigger control. Additionally, the recoil of even standard .38 Special loads in such a light firearm can be unpleasant for smaller shooters.
  • A good choice for armor or barrier penetration: .38 Special +P is considered by many to be the minimum acceptable self-defense loading, and does not approach the performance or load availability of 9mm. In my opinion, the .38 snub nose does well in creating distance between you and an assailant, allowing escape in a self-defense situation. If you expect situations more extreme than that, best to consider a different carry pistol.

A Snub-nosed revolver is:

  • An accurate firearm: For experienced shooters (or those willing to put in the work), a snub-nosed revolver is capable of accuracy on par with most carry pistols within reasonable distances. With some practice, I was able to hit standard USPA targets at 50 yards with relative ease. It’s a common misconception for those used to striker-fired guns that a heavy trigger is a bad trigger. In reality, the 12-14 pound trigger on most J-frames is incredibly smooth and predictable once broken-in. It’s also worth noting, that the bore axis on most small revolvers is lower than all but a few autoloaders, lending to natural pointability a quick target acquisition. Accuracy is limited by the sights, which in most cases are small and unable to be upgraded without significant modification. 
  • Safe to carry without a holster: The 12-14 pound trigger we discussed earlier, makes most small revolvers safe to carry in a pocket (always by itself). This opens up a number of different carry options, and for many can result in carrying a firearm when it might otherwise be uncomfortable or inconvenient to do so (models with enclosed, shrouded, or bobbed hammers are ideal for this). Retention is still important though, so don’t take this as a greenlight to waistband carry. 
  • Ideal for non-permissive environments: This is primarily opinion on my part, but a small revolver carried AIWB or in a pocket, is the most discreet firearm a person can carry. Your right to self-defense doesn’t stop because a legislator or employer says it does, but that doesn’t mean you want to trade your income or freedom to do so. If discreet carry is a primary concern for you, there are few options better than a snub-nose revolver.
  • Enough gun: Again, this is my opinion, but I’ve come to the conclusion that 5 rounds of .38 Special +P is enough to allow me to escape any dangerous situation I’m likely to face. My goal is to get myself or loved ones to safety, not win gunfights. A lot of this comes down to confidence in your abilities. Training is key here.

If I Have Your Attention

If you’re still reading, what I’ve had to say so far probably resonates, and you’re considering buying a snub nose revolver. My first recommendation is a shrouded hammer Smith and Wesson J-Frame. These include the 442, 642, M&P 340 (.357), and 340 PD (.357). The 638 has a shrouded hammer and is suitable if it’s all you can find. The bodyguard 38 is a polymer framed version that I don’t recommend due to its grip shape and construction. Offerings from Taurus are generally heavier, with noticeably rougher triggers than their Smith and Wesson counterparts. They are generally reliable though if you’re on a budget.  

Regarding reliability, it’s important to note that most revolvers, even expensive ones, are not indestructible like your Glock. Dirty chambers will cause empty cases to stick, and repeatedly slamming your cylinder shut will eventually cause your revolver to go out of time. Take care of your revolver, and it will take care of you.

Speed Strip Loading 2 rounds at a Time

When it comes to reloads, the process is not nearly as intuitive as an automatic. I recommend buying a few reloading options including Speed Strips (or related), speed loaders, and moon clips if your cylinder is cut for them. Get some .38 Special dummy rounds and practice different reload methods until you find what you’re comfortable with. Lucky Gunner has a great video covering a few popular loading techniques here: How to Reload a Revolver. In addition to practicing reloads, you’re likely to find (as I did) that it’s very easy to get a lot of dry fire in with a DAO revolver and you’ll quickly grow proficient with the trigger. While you’re at it, don’t forget to practice your draw stroke. The small grip can take some getting used to, and drawing from a pocket takes just as much practice as drawing from a holster.

Closing Thoughts

The more years you have under your belt shooting and carrying, the more you realize that life presents each of us with unique circumstances and use cases. While something like a Glock 19 is a great option for most situations, it’s not the best option for every situation. Before you write off someone’s preference for something you perceive to be useless or outdated as ignorance, take time to consider why they might have that preference. You may find that a platform brings something to the table you had not previously considered, and could benefit your situation.  Finally, there is always value in being a beginner at something. Learning a new weapon system makes you a more well rounded shooter, and can build skills that apply to other platforms. 

Hubris in our current generation of firearms, gear, and techniques can blind us to important lessons learned by those who came before us. Appreciating the new, while learning from the old, makes you the most capable shooter you can be.

Check out the author on Instagram @albert_defense or www.albertdefense.com

One comment

  1. Great article! Very well summed up in your “Closing Thoughts” !!

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