It took only one hard lesson to make a two-gun man out of me. Like most 20th century cops, I figured that toting more than one handgun paved the way to charges of swashbuckling. A big sixshooter in a good hip holster was all any man needed when things got sticky. Or so I thought until one autumn evening at a fiesta in a migrant laborer’s camp.
One of the celebrants became a bit argumentative, and tried to brain his opponent with a rock. Exercising my official perogative as a deputy sheriff, I took the rock-wielder into custody. He busted me in the mouth. I busted him in the nose. Two of his relatives make flank attacks, raking my rear with judo chops and other ministrations. The whole thing looked like fun, and about ten of the more active marijuana and booze enthusiasts who were watching joined the fray – making it a dozen to one against law and order.
Why didn’t I shoot? My S&W .357 Magnum and its holster had been pulled around in the center of my back and the gun plucked out. Happily for me, it fell and was kicked under my squad car before it could be fired.
This story brings back painful memories. I took a helluva beating before a little help and a sawed-off 12 gauge rounded out the evening’s entertainment. Deciding that a second gun might be more direct than extra life insurance toward preventing a recurrence of such an interesting evening, I went whole hog.
Grabbing up a smooth, pre-war S&W .38-44 Heavy Duty, I lopped its barrel to 3½” and installed a rugged ramp front sight cut from key stock. The hammer spur and the front of the trigger guard were amputated, the big belly gun was then sighted-in to shoot center with a cast hollowpoint slug backed by a heavy helping of 2400. It was a mean hog handgun. The trouble was it wound up just as bulky and cumbersome as the .357 Magnum. In a shoulder holster, it loomed up like a sack of potatoes under my coat. Dropped in a pocket, it threatened to de-trouser me.
Snubbie .38 Specials were tried. The S&W Military & Police was slick, but almost as big as the .38-44. Colt Detective Specials and S&W Chiefs, while somewhat smaller, needed a holster of some kind. What I wanted was a pocket gun.
Years before I had toyed with the second-gun idea while riding with the U.S. Border Patrol in Arizona. A Sonoran friend had presented me with a nice little Remington derringer in .41 rimfire. The tiny blackpowder cartridges were almost impossible to come by in those days, so I did little shooting with the “Gamblers Bible”.
Waiting one day for my partner to bring the horsetrailer nad collect me and my broomtail after a long ride, I idly fired the Remington into a creosoted power pole. The hollowbased heel of the outside-lubricated slug gazed owlishly at me, not even buried in the wood. Horrified, I let go another round, with the same results. Later, I found that the .41 frequently failed to penetrate heavy tin cans. I traded the gun to a collector.
European copies of the Remington two-holer made their debut about then. Several U.S. importers have offered them in various calibers and varying degrees of quality. Calibers now available include .22 Long Rifle, .22 RF Magnum, .38 Special, .357 Magnum, and .45 Colt. The best of these foreign doubles that I have used were those .357 Magnums and .45’s made in Italy for Intercontintal Arms Co., of Los Angeles. Of brutish power for a pocket gun, the Intercontintal “Maverick” is the only derringer available chambered for the .45 Colt cartridge. While other firms offer .357 Magnum derringers, the “Maverick” is better made than any of its competitors. Detracting from its usefulness is its size. Stuffed in a Levi pocket, this hideout takes up more room than my S&W Chief’s Special, and holds three shots less.
Remington-type derringers are somewhat dangerous. Their heavy, birdshead-shaped butts almost invariably cause them to land on their hammers when they are inadvertently dropped. The safety is a simple notch-sear arrangement similar to that of a Colt Single action, and cannot be relied upon to prevent accidental firing when the hammer receives a sharp blow. When this type of derringer falls, it might fire, and it will be pointed up in the general direction of the dropper or his companions.
The best derringer on the market is the double action High Standard. This is a completely modern design entailing safety, reliability, and good materials and workmanship. The High Standard is being produced in .22 Long Rifle and .22 RF Magnum calibers, and I have used both. These flat little guns have no outside hammers and will not fire accidentally. The trigger must be pulled. Their two shots can be thrown must faster than those of an old type derringer which must be awkwardly cocked for each round.
The .22 Magnum cartridge was, of course, conceived as a hunting round. Its velocity, energy, and killing power are so superior to those figures turned up by the .22 Long Rifle to make comparison laughable. When first introduced, the Winchester-Western .22 MRF was offered only with jacketed, hollowpoint bullets. Small game hunters found it so tremendously destructive on rabbit-sized animals that they insisted upon, and got a full-jacketed version that left something for the skillet besides hide and ears. A salty bunch of New Mexico cowboys I know think the .22 MRF is the last word for shooting treed bears.
The .22 Long Rifle High Standard, while less powerful, has much in its favor. It fires CB and BB caps, .22 short, Long, and Long Rifle, standard and high velocity rounds. The .22 Long Rifle hollowpoint load is superior to the .25 ACP, .32 ACP, or .41 rimfire as a defense cartridge. Ammunition for the .22 LR is cheap and abundant, making plenty of practice both feasible and wise.
Sights on the High Standard are rudimentary. It was never intended to be a target gun. I have found that just pointing and pulling the trigger gives me about as many hits as does deliberate aiming. A higher, more narrow front sight would be better than the integral nub provided, and I intend to fit one to my pair of High Standards so they can double as snake and gamp meat getters.
The one pocket gun that cannot be ignored for hideout use is the .25 automatic. Tremendously popular the world over, literally hundreds of different models have been produced. A bewildering array of European .25 pistols were liberated and returned to the U.S. by World War II service men.
My choice of all the .25 autos ever made is the Browning as currently manufactured. This tiny little gun is extremely well made, as are all Brownings, and boasts an easy-to-operate, positive safety. It is utterly reliable and quite accurate. The lightweight version weighs only 7 ¾ ounces, and is chromed to prevent rusting.
Although the cartridge is puny, driving the 50 grain, full jacketed bullet at 821 fps for a muzzle energy of only 75 foot pounds, it still will make a believer out of a switchblade man.
Granted, the same pistol firing the .22 LR cartridge would be superior. So far no manufacturer has cared enough about offering such a gun to invest in the research necessary to overcome the feeding problems that would result in such a conversion. The rimmed .22 hulls simply don’t run through a magazine as obediently as do the rimless 25’s.
Some day we will have a pocket automatic in .22 MRF caliber, and it will be the most effective hideaway gun ever made. Difficulties are being encountered by high chamber pressures and case head separation during extraction when this cartridge is used in conventional semi-automatic systems.
Our arms designers have licked tougher problems than this, and I’m betting they’ll beat this one.
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