“Whatcha gonna hit with that belly gun?” my assistant taunted. Then I fired twice at 10 inch steel plates seven yards away while crab-walking towards my weak side. Two plates fell—one per .40 SW bullet. “Well I’ll be…”Bond Arms’ New Derringers
By Dave Norman
A ROMANTICIZED STYLE
My hero Isaac Bell carries a derringer in his hat during his daring investigations on the pages of Clive Cussler’s novels. Bell can always hit his mark, even if it’s the gun in a bad guy’s hand.
They’re everywhere in Western novels, too, and cowboy movies— just look for the gambler pulling one out of his vest pocket, or shaking one down from inside his sleeve. There’s a certain allure to derringers—those double barrel, single action weapons of absolute last resort.
Casinos don’t generally let you bring one to the poker table these days, and if I was investigating organized crime in a rough city I would carry something far more substantial (as Bell does, too, in point of fact).
But do they have any role in modern, real-world defense? To see if we can liberate them from fiction and history with any degree of success, we picked up a pair of derringers from Bond Arms…including their brand new, unreleased as of press time, Backup model.
MODERN PEACE OF MIND
Modern carry guns are incredibly light, and they each make one hole per trigger pull. This has never been considered a bad thing. But what about a gun that makes six holes per trigger pull? That is a bit smaller than the average carry gun, and puts out a cloud of return fire?
Well that’s something different…and the starting point for many who consider a derringer. Bond Arms makes a lot of models that come with (or can come with by special order) .45 Colt / .410 bore barrels, meaning that you can shoot the eminently powerful cowboy load or the incredibly destructive shotshell load inter- changeably. It’s the shotshell load that captivates us.
With modern metallurgy and design, quality derringers like the Bond Arms Backup and USA Defender can withstand years of shooting practice, daily carry, and adventure. The stain- less steel in the USA Defender, and powder coated steel in the Backup, will ignore your sweat and ask only to be wiped off now and then. We shot the USA Defender until there was fouling buildup on the muzzle, then wiped it away easily and it shined again like justice.
These derringers put those loads through that modern metal at respectable velocities (they have, by design, extremely short barrels), in a very straightforward way: cock the single action hammer (which is wide enough to be very easily engaged), pull the trigger. Repeat to fire the other barrel. That’s important for self- defense: reliability, which they proved in spades…and straightforward, stress-proof operation.
They’re not as simple to operate as “point and click” striker fired designs, but less complicated than a 1911 (which isn’t really complicated at all)…and they fit in interesting places.
Which brings up their other modern utility: derringers are backup weapons, and extremely deep con- cealment weapons. Bond Arms dis- tributes the Flashbang Holster, which is designed to clip between the cups of a bra so females can carry their diminutive derringer in a very incon- spicuous place. Many holster makers have ankle holsters for derringers, and there’s even a garter-style thigh hol- ster for females who want to carry like ladies supposedly did in the Old West.
They also serve as deep conceal- ment arms, as their particular pro- file—in the case of the USA Defender and Backup, anyway, which we easily concealed and which fit the classic derringer profile—is easy to make disappear on your body…easier than a wider revolver, or a more L-shaped semi-auto.
You shouldn’t expect to go charg- ing into battle with a derringer, nor to wear one as your primary duty gun in an armed profession. Rather, derringers are the weapons of last resort you want when you’re on your back with your primary gun miss- ing…or when you’re surprised (as in a parking lot) at contact distance.
Or when you’re fishing, and come across a copperhead too close for comfort. Or when you need to administer a coup de grâce without disturbing a deer’s antlers or meat with a point blank rifle shot.
For those times when you need a single, powerful shot at point blank range, you might need a derringer— especially when you want to use a buckshot shell to turn that single shot into six 9mm projectiles hitting all at once.
Made in a limited edition of only 5,000 units, the USA Defender is a deluxe derringer. The grip is ample and hand-filling, which came in very handy during range testing, as it spread the recoil impulse of the .410 bore defensive rounds across more of our shooters’ hands…which made recoil more tolerable and accurate hits more possible. The stainless steel is polished bright and shiny, and the large front sight is surprisingly easy to acquire in the rudimentary rear notch.
Our thumb and trigger finger had an easy time knocking the safety back and forth, and we were surprised to see that the hammer will still fall (on part of the safety) when the safety is engaged—it just won’t connect with the firing pins. While you could theoretically use this as a decocking feature, we prefer to use it in conjunction with easing the hammer slowly forward in the traditional manner.
Likewise, the barrel release lever— with its knurled end—is easily manipulated, and though no derringer is as quick to reload as a semi-auto (or revolver with a speed loader), the USA Defender was quick enough to reload. That speed was helped, of course, by a true innovation: the ejector built into the barrels (for rimmed cartridge chamberings), which you slide with your finger to draw the rimmed cartridges out of the chambers…saving your thumb- nails and expediting the reload.
Bond Arms’ newest derringer is the comparatively diminutive Backup, which is shorter in length and height than the USA Defender, slightly lighter, and has a non-glare baked-on powder coating. The shorter barrels reflect its chamberings: for “rimless” semi-auto cartridges like 9mm, .40 SW, and .45ACP. Looking at the chambers of the USA Defender, most of the apparent “barrel length” is invested in chambering the shotshells. The Backup’s cartridges are shorter…and so are the barrels, consequently lightening the gun and making it even more discrete-carry-friendly.
As the name implies, the Backup is intended to be a discrete, diminutive derringer carried alone to back you up, or carried in addition to a larger handgun as backup in case your primary arm can’t help you. When carrying a backup gun, it’s prudent to do so in a means accessible by your weak hand—should you need the backup gun, it might be because your dominant hand (and arm) is busy fighting, has been seriously injured, is pinned beneath your body, etc. In all of those situations, it behooves you to have a backup gun, and to carry it in a manner that’s easily accessible with your other hand…and bonus points if you carry it on a completely different part of your body, in case whatever prevents you from accessing your primary gun would prevent you accessing a mirror-holstered derringer.
In each case, the Backup could be your ticket out alive.
TRIAL BY FIRE(ING)
I loaded two 2.5 inch .410 bore shotshells loaded with #8 shot into the USA Defender, swung the barrels closed—which feels totally awe- some, by the way—lined up on tar- get, cocked the hammer, and pulled the trigger.
I don’t admit to flinching, but my assistant laughed his head off at something. That something was what happened when the hammer fell on the safety, rather than con- necting with the hammer’s barrel- selecting transfer bar. I tried again, with even more hilarity, until in a moment of panicked frustration I remembered the safety…and immediately fired both barrels out of spite as much as anything. The USA Defender roared, my hand stung, and my target had absolutely no idea what happened to it. Mostly, because it was an inanimate object.
But also because those loads of birdshot did things to that IDPA target that I had never done to such a target with a handgun before. It was sprayed shoulder to shoulder, neck to nethers, with two clouds of birdshot. The pellets all penetrated the cardboard and synthetic corrugated backer, while I wondered about their real-world penetration. I fired from fifteen feet, and certainly would have dissuaded an attacker, though the #8 pellets wouldn’t have ended the fight on their energy or penetration merits alone.
Which is fine, because that’s an extreme range for such a load in a derringer, and birdshot is not by any means a good defensive load. So I loaded up some Federal 000 buck- shot, closed to ten feet, and wreaked absolute havoc on that target.
6 pellets of 9mm buckshot hitting simultaneously, havoc.
Suddenly, a two-shot derringer seemed a formidable weapon. Then I closed to five feet and fired the other barrel…
…and cackled madly at the devastating result.
Then we switched to firing Winchester’s fantastic PDX-1 defensive shells, which were developed specifically for the Taurus Judge (and generally for other .410 bore hand- guns). These rounds feature three plated discs and twelve plated BBs, for a total of fifteen projectiles…three of which are roughly 9mm and pack quite the kinetic wallop. On paper, the BBs spread far and wide to cover the target (with a few misses beyond ten feet of range) while the discs clustered in an almost straight line each time…and hit across roughly three linear inches at three yards.
The patterns are best at ranges closer than ten feet, and even at five feet you shouldn’t try any precise shooting around a hostage. It’s inadvisable to fire a multi-projectile load at any attacker more than about ten feet away if you’re anywhere that a miss could potentially strike innocent bystanders. Patterning the USA Defender shows exactly why—the way the groups open up dramatically, coupled with your panicked in-the- moment marksmanship, could potentially send projectiles right past an attacker and into anyone standing in the distance behind him.
But derringers aren’t designed for long distance accuracy, and specifically, those chambered for shotshells are intended as an up-close-and-personal solution to a threat that has closed to, or within, contact range. At that range, a cloud of 9mm pellets dispersed across their torso will very, very likely end the threat.
For those who like the derringer concept, but want the tactical versatility of a single predictable projectile rather than a cloud of shot, the USA Defender also shoots .45 Colt cartridges, and can be chambered in just about any common, smaller handgun cartridge…
…which is where the Backup really shined.
SAME CALIBER, SMALLER PLATFORM
The Backup shoots the exact same caliber and type of bullets as our carry guns—9mm, .40 SW, and .45 ACP (courtesy of interchangeable, dedicated barrels, sold separate from the one set it comes with). We shot it with the latter two calibers, diverting the rounds from our Springfields to the Backup—important for those who value the simplicity of using one caliber, and cartridge, across multiple platforms. The savvy marksman could even maintain a carbine in .45 ACP, a .45 ACP carry gun, and a .45 ACP Backup (like we tested), with the same round in each.
Or do a .40 SW or 9mm version of the same. One bullet—three guns, for three different purposes.
We found the recoil to be surprising—though eminently manageable, the .45 ACP and .40 SW recoil in each derringer felt virtually the same as the .410 bore defense loads in the USA Defender! With no slide to soak up recoil energy, and very low mass to dampen that recoil impulse, that energy went straight to the rear…which over time came to sting. But the derringer isn’t a session gun, and shooting a hundred rounds through it (as we did…each) is going to add up.
The Backup returned minute- of-badguy accuracy at fifteen yards, and surprisingly good accuracy at 7 yards—we kept eight .40 SW shots on seven 10 inch steel plates. While moving laterally.
If you need a backup gun for use at backup-gun-ranges in backup- gun-situations, either gun would treat you well…with personal preference going to the USA Defender and its cloud of 000 buckshot or PDX-1 payload. There’s a lot of good to be said for the Backup’s diminutive size and same-as-larger-gun chamberings. Both are specialized handguns, and could serve as a primary carry gun…but better as a contact-range solution, back- up gun, or tackle box gun.
If you have the time to dedicate to training at the range, in one- handed cocking and firing (safely), you can get a lot of utility out of each of these derringers. They do the same basic thing differently…and if that solves a need in your life, or buys you peace of mind, they’re ready for a lifetime of service.