BETWEEN 1852 AND 1868, A PINT-SIZE percussion pistol, the Philadelphia Deringer, was produced by gunsmith Henry Deringer. Because Deringer failed to patent his design, copies flooded the market, including counterfeits bearing his proofmark. Those copies were called derringers; the additional “r” was a misspelling. Today the derringer is often associated with gunslingers of the Old West, but they’ve made other marks on history. Most notably, a .44 caliber Philadelphia Deringer was used by John Wilkes Booth to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln. Never say a derringer cannot be lethal.
Article by Kay Ainsworth from Guns & Ammo Handguns Magazine | October 2016
Many manufacturers produce derringers, but they’re not created equal. The market’s premier manufacturer is Bond Arms, a company founded in 1995 by Gordon Bond. Bond worked hard carving out his company’s place in this niche market, and the results speak for themselves. For example, many derringers are manufactured using cheap alloys, but Bond Arms derringers are manufactured using the lost-wax casting process to produce stainless steel components.
I got the company’s Mama Bear .357 Magnum for review. When considering the Mama Bear, one should picture an actual female grizzly: diminutive when compared to her male counterparts but ferocious nonetheless. This rosy-pink-gripped gun is a force to be reckoned with. With a total length of 4.5 inches, the Mama Bear is just 0.5 inch smaller and a few ounces lighter than the Papa Bear model.
All Bond Arms derringers have interchangeable over/under-style barrels that are compatible with every Bond Arms derringer barrel, and while my test sample was a .357, options include 9mm, .45 ACP, .45 Colt and .410. Barrel lengths vary between 2.5 inches and 4.25 inches.
This derringer features multiple safeties. The push-button crossbolt safety is joined by a rebounding hammer, and unlike most, Bond Arms derringers include a rotating mechanism to keep the barrel locked in place during firing. The crossbolt safety is located behind the barrel at its center and is easily engaged or disengaged with your thumb or forefinger.
The barrel-locking mechanism is unlocked by pressing down on a cylindrical metal arm on the pistol’s left side to the rear of the trigger. The barrel is opened with this mechanism for loading and unloading. Locking is achieved by pressing the barrel back into place; there is an audible “click” as it engages.
The hammer of the Mama Bear was initially stiff but improved with repetition. After it relaxed I was able to cock the hammer while holding the pistol single-handed. Front blade and fixed rear sights come standard, and shot placement depends upon which of the two barrels you’re using. The trigger is slightly curved and moderately heavy. It requires pulling down and back simultaneously, a motion that can result in low shot placement.
Gripping a derringer “properly” is a misnomer since holding a truly small pistol in a way that allows control and shot placement varies by shooter. With practice I found my shots were most accurate with a small gap between the hammer and my hand, using a two-handed grip like that used with semiautos. One vital detail: Be sure your thumb doesn’t activate the barrellocking arm during recoil, otherwise you’ll be staring down the flipped-back barrel.
During testing I put 300 rounds through the Mama Bear: half .357 Magnum, half .38 Special, all while standing. Loads included Hornady American Gunner .357 Magnum 125-grain XTP, Remington UMC .357 Magnum 125-grain jacketed softpoint, Fiocchi .357 Magnum 142-grain full metal jacket truncated cone, Federal American Eagle .38 Special 158-grain lead roundnose and Hornady .38 Special 110-grain FTX Bullseye. Hits were achieved at three yards with .38 Special and just shy of that at eight feet with the .357 Magnum.
I was able to stay within the bullseye’s periphery to 11 feet and within an eight-inch circle out to 10 yards with .38 Special. Using .357 Magnum, accuracy degraded more swiftly although it remained within an eight-inch circle out to nine yards. I didn’t conduct the usual Handguns accuracy test because, well, it’s a derringer. But it delivered 0.25-inch and 0.5-inch groups with .38 Special and .357 Magnum respectively. The hotter .357 Magnum load managed two-shot groups out to nine yards. Twin shots fired with .38 Special stayed tight out to 12 yardsalthough they were 1.75 inches outside the eight-inch circle.
There was a significant loss of velocity, which was most pronounced using .38 Special. For instance, with Hornady Critical Defense .38 Special 110-grain FTX, average muzzle velocity with a full-size pistol is 1,010 fps. The Mama Bear chronographed the same load at 245 fps.
Bond Arms manufactures highquality, reliable derringers. And while they’re fun to shoot, they’re useful, too. They’re ideal boot guns for protection from snakes while hunting and can certainly be used as backup guns. Above all, they’re one of those guns collectors just have to have. As Gordon Bond says, try a hand cannon. They pack a lethal punch, up close and personal.