Prepper Guns: Firearms, Ammo, Tools, and Techniques You Will Need to Survive the Coming Collapse (2016)

HANDGUNS

The J-Frame and Its Triple Cs

Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.

—Mother Teresa

(She probably didn’t mean guns, but the message resonates here.)

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On the ride back from the Rocky Mountain 3-gun match a few years ago I shared a rack of miniature airplane seats with two very nice women. Both were grandmothers in their late fifties and both were schoolteachers, liberals, and past anti-gun advocates. When conversation came around, as it always does, to my profession I told them: “I am a writer and I write about guns and hunting.”

I used to duck the question and hide my profession to avoid the hassle, but many years ago I decided I am proud of what I do and that I will never again apologize for being a gun guy.

With these two ladies, I figured that would be the end of our conversation and that they would do as good liberals on dozens of airplanes have done in the past and frostily turn their backs to me for the duration of the flight. Usually that’s just fine with me, but my book sucked on this trip and I was bored so I was glad when the conversation continued.

Surprisingly, both asked me to help them choose a pistol for personal defense. I said I would be happy to do that while advising them to also get professional training not only on how to use it, but when to use it. Then I asked them to join the NRA. I doubt that they will, but you never know.

These women represent a growing demographic of gun buyers. Like they both said, “I never dreamed in my life I would own a gun, but . . .” The bottom line is they are scared of what is happening in the world and have decided to take charge of their destinies. (One little handgun, of course, is not the answer, but it’s a start.)

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The S&W J-Frame revolvers define this category of carry guns.

Even though it has fallen from grace with the Internet experts, I keep recommending the same handgun I have always suggested to first-time carry-gun buyers: a small double-action revolver in .38 Special or .357 Magnum, like the Smith & Wesson J-Frame.

Sorry, but I don’t follow the herd or often buy into the latest groupthink with anything, including guns. I still think this is one of the best options for a first-time carry gun buyer. Particularly one who is probably going to shoot the gun a little bit and then put it away until a bad guy shows up. Gun guys like to pretend we have evolved past the little revolver, but we must remember that these people are never going to be gun guys. They will start and end with the same gun. They are not going to go shooting on the weekends and are not going to take any continuing training. A small revolver makes a lot of sense for that kind of new-gun owner.

Besides, let’s face it, a lot of hard-core gun guys, including me, carry small revolvers. If that’s the case, they must be effective, right?

How does that old saying go? We gun guys talk about 1911 pistols, we shoot Glocks and we carry J-Frames. A good friend of mine is a very serious and very good competitive shooter. He is a very big man and could easily conceal and carry any handgun on earth. But his carry gun of choice is a J-Frame. I joke with him all the time about that, but I have no doubt about his ability to protect himself and his family with that little revolver.

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A J-Frame in a Front Line holster is light and easy to hide.

For a new shooter, it’s the simplicity that is attractive. Even a simple semiauto has activation and function problems that can confuse and stall a person who is unfamiliar with the gun, especially when things are happening fast. We gun guys shoot a lot, so we have the muscle and mental memory to deal with it, but for somebody who is going to buy a gun, get some initial training and then probably not shoot it again unless trouble shows up, I think a semiauto is generally a bad idea.

The revolver is about as idiot-proof as a repeating handgun can be, powerful enough with most cartridges to stop the bad guys quickly and, in this configuration, small and light enough to appeal to anybody making the decision to carry a handgun.

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So, in continuing the trend I have followed for more than thirty years, I recommended that these ladies buy J-Frame Smith & Wesson revolvers or one of its CCCs (clones, copycats, and competition). Which one is up to their personal choice and budget, but I recommended at minimum the .38 Special for a cartridge. Finally, I added the one thing that has changed with my advice over the years: Get it with, or quickly add, a Crimson Trace laser grip.

The laser changes the “shootability” of the pistol. The short sight radius of a 2-inch or shorter barrel revolver is not easy for anybody to shoot. But a laser sight makes this gun essentially no more difficult to shoot than any other revolver.

Beyond that are all the other reasons for a laser sight. You can shoot without exposing yourself, you can keep your eyes on the bad guy, they work in the dark when you can’t see your sights and, of course, every bad guy on Earth knows what that red dot means. The hope is they will soil their pants and run away when they see it presented by what they assumed was an easy victim.

For the most part, the definition of the guns we are talking about here is a small-framed, double-action revolver. The J-Frame is the smallest of the S&W revolvers. It is the one that is commonly called a “snubnose” as it usually has a short barrel. While there are endless variations on the S&W J-Frame concept, there are plenty of other guns from other makers in this category too. So, this discussion will also include all of the three Cs.

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This category of handguns includes (clockwise from the top): S&W Model 340, Ruger SP101, Charter Arms Bulldog, and Ruger LCR.

Colt made some wonderful revolvers in this category for years and you can still find a few on the used-gun market. But they are very expensive due to collector’s status and are not all that relevant to a discussion on which guns to buy for prepping.

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Ruger LCR .357 Mag.

Ruger has the LCR, which is a very popular, reasonably priced handgun. This gun makes use of polymer in the frame, which keeps both weight and cost down, yet it can handle a powerful cartridge like the .357 Magnum.

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Ruger SP101.

The Ruger SP101 is slightly larger and heavier and is as tough a gun as you can find in this category. In fact, that’s a trait with Rugers: They are always well-made, tough, and dependable.

Charter Arms has several small revolvers in a wide range of cartridges. So does Taurus. I have a lot more experience with Smith & Wesson and Ruger firearms than with Charter Arms or Taurus revolvers. I tried to get both to test and evaluate for this book, but they never showed up. Those few I have used are not as refined as the Smiths or Rugers, but they seem to work okay and they are often less expensive. However, I would always caution against buying on price for any prepping guns. Your life may depend on the gun, so why compromise? Also, in a survival situation it will be difficult to replace or repair any gun that fails. The old adage of “buy once, cry once” refers to spending the money the first time to get the best. I would say that’s excellent advice for these little revolvers.

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S&W Bodyguard in .38 Special with a laser sight.

I would caution against any rimfire cartridges or pistol cartridges like the .380 or 9mm. The rimfires are underpowered for defense and the .380 and 9mm are not designed for use in revolvers and work much better in semiauto handguns. A revolver works best with a rimmed cartridge and for defense a reasonable power level should be maintained. It makes much more sense to buy a .38 Special or .357 Magnum. Either of these can shoot .38 Special and ammo is plentiful and relatively inexpensive. You can use .38 Special +P ammo for defense and practice with the cheaper stuff. Or, if you buy the .357 Magnum, you have the option of using full-power .357 Magnum ammo as well as all of the .38 Special options.

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Revolvers are chambered for effective cartridges. With modern bullets they are even better.

I suppose an exception could be the .327 Federal cartridge, as it will work for self-defense, but ammo is harder to find than more common cartridges. The .38 Special is as common in the shooting world as Hoppes Number 9. Not too many mom-and-pop stores have .327 Federal. My preference is to get the guns in .357 Magnum. That cartridge can be a fire-breathing beast with a lot of recoil in these little revolvers, particularly in the alloy frame guns like the S&W M&P Model 340 that I carry. But I want all the power I can handle in a fight. So I make sure to train with full power .357 Mag loads with these guns, at least on a limited basis, so I can learn to handle the recoil. Most of my practice is with .38 Special ammo, but I try to end every training session with some full-power .357 Magnum ammo.

I loaded about ten thousand .38 Special cartridges for Cowboy Action Shooting several years ago. Then I found 3-gun shooting and I quit competing in CAS, but those moderate loads with cast bullets and Trailboss powder were perfect for practice with my little revolvers. They don’t beat up the guns or the shooter too much and they let me have some pretty intense shooting sessions. I am down to just a few hundred rounds of ammo now, but as a result I got pretty good with my little carry revolvers.

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Charter Arms Bulldog in .44 Special with Hornady ammo.

Another consideration is the Charter Arms .44 Special Bulldog. While there is no clear definition of a “small-frame revolver,” this gun is a little larger than the .38 Specials, but uses a much larger cartridge. I have one and have shot it a fair amount and like the gun.

To my mind, it’s still a small handgun. It’s chambered for the .44 Special which can be a formidable round for defense, particularly with some of the newer ammo like Hornady’s Flex-Tip loads. Factory .44 Special loads of any brand are loaded to low pressure and low velocity. That’s due to the older guns on the market. If you have a modern full-size gun, the .44 Special can be handloaded hot enough to use for shooting deer, hogs, and similar game if needed. I would never recommend a steady diet of that ammo in this little gun, but in a survival situation, a 250-grain hard-cast bullet with a stout charge of powder can be deadly on deer and hogs.

The Bulldog had its fifteen minutes of fame when David Berkowitz, also known as Son of Sam and the 44 Caliber Killer, used one during his reign of terror in New York City during the summer of 1976. That story is yet another illustration that it’s not the gun but the shooter who determines if a gun is used for good or evil. The Bulldog is an inanimate object, incapable of action on its own. It can save lives as well as make a whack job famous. Either way, it’s a big-bore, small-frame revolver that packs a lot of punch.

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I carry a Model S&W 360 when I am hunting. This is a lightweight, scandium-frame gun with an external hammer. It’s so light that it’s no more noticeable on my belt than a big knife or plier tool, yet it’s there for defensive use or to finish off a wounded big game animal.

These little wheel guns are a very good choice for a backup gun. I carry mine in a pocket holster where it stays hidden. While I would not use it as a primary carry gun after TSHTF, for now it’s often the only gun I carry. It is easy to carry, easy to hide, and is light enough that it’s no burden. In hot weather it’s one of the few guns that I can hide easily in a pair of shorts and still have the full power of a serious defensive cartridge.

I also carry a Model S&W 360 when I am hunting. This is the same lightweight, scandium-frame gun, but with an external hammer. It’s so light that it’s no more noticeable on my belt than a big knife or plier tool, yet it’s there for defensive use or to finish off a wounded big game animal.

These small, easy-to-hide revolvers represent the most power you can find in so small a handgun. Every prepper should consider having one or more of them. They are an option for concealed carry now, and after TSHTF they are great for backup carry.

Oddly enough, just about every serious gun guy I know has at least one of these little revolvers and most carry them regularly. That alone should tell you something.