Range Report: "Snake Slayer"

I finally got that derringer I ordered... er, six months ago? Nine months ago? Something like that.

I'd ordered a Bond Arms Texas Defender, but what I actually got was their upgrade model, which for some reason they decided to call the Snake Slayer. All Bond Arms guns are essentially the same, with one variation off the standard double-barrel derringer:

Texas Defender: 3" barrel, short grip.
Cowboy Defender: 3" barrel, short grip, no trigger guard (so it looks like an old Remington derringer for Cowboy Action shooters).
Century 2000: 3.5" barrel, short grip.
Snake Slayer: 3.5" barrel, long grip.

All of which means nothing, since you can buy the extra sized grip as an aftermarket, plus the barrels are interchangable. So what you're really buying is the one you want out of the box, but you can make it into any of them (including the Cowboy, as the trigger guard is removable). Plus, you can buy a barrel for your same derringer that can shoot pretty much any major cartridge made, from .22 LR to .44 Special or .45 Long Colt. All you need is an allen wrench, included, and you can swap out barrels as easy as easy can be.

This one is chambered for .45 Long Colt, but will also take .410 shotgun shells. In fact, Bond Arms will happily sell you .410 shotgun shells loaded with 00 buckshot. I was shooting Hornady .45 Long Colt "Cowboy" loads, which are cast lead without jackets.

There are four things which are notable.

1) This is an extremely challenging weapon. Recoil is stiff, the stiffest I've ever encountered in a handgun. It's got almost no barrel anyway, so accuracy is quite poor. Out of twenty rounds, I kept all of them on paper, but I only had one in the X ring; two in the eight ring; five in the six-seven ring; and the rest were just somewhere on the paper. Not good. Still, for defense at extremely close ranges (FBI crime reports suggest that most gunfights take place at less than ten feet) it would be adequate.
2) The barrel is so short that, even at fifteen feet, the bullet is "tumbling" rather than traveling straight. That could create a nasty wound cavity. This is a good thing for everyone except, of course, the fellow on the business end.
3) It has a crossbar safety, as well as being single-action. As long as you exercise the usual precautions that you should always exercise when handling a firearm, the risk of accidental discharge is as close to zero as an engineer could desire.
4) The report and the cloud of smoke are worthy of comment.

So here's the comment: I arrived at the range on a cold, grey day. There was a small crowd of young people there with a couple of experienced instructors. I assume they were taking a course on firearms safety or something similar. They occupied most of the lanes, so I had to wait a bit. It was not unpleasant, though, watching them shoot: young men and women learning the ropes, and accepting the challenges and responsibilities that come with handling a dangerous weapon.

They kindly made room for me at the next ceasefire, and so I set up on the lane furthest to the left (which is desirable, as it keeps hot brass from being pitched on you by the semiautomatics). I was of course wearing earplugs, as hearing protection is (and ought to be) mandatory. Even so, I could hear the buzz of conversation from these young folks. They were wondering just what it was I was going to shoot, as I wasn't obviously in possession of a firearm.

I took out the derringer, laid it on the mat, and carefully loaded the first two rounds. I could hear the two young ladies tittering. "It's so tiny!" one of them said to the other. I smiled, because I understood. They'd been firing .45 ACPs and Sig Sauer 9mms, which are much more impressive to look at even though they fire a round that is substantially weaker than the old Long Colt. They didn't have enough experience to notice how big the bore of the barrels were.

The thing about the .45 LC is this: in 1873, the US Army had to ask Colt to go back to the drawing board and produce a less-powerful version of the cartridge for Army use. It was too hard-hitting for professional soldiers, even firing it out of 7-1/2" barrels from a full-sized Colt Single Action Army revolver. This thing has almost no barrel at all, and none of the mass of the Colt to absorb the recoil.

I discharged the tiny thing. For about half a minute, there was utter silence on the range.

It takes about five seconds for even a reasonable breeze, such as we had, to clear the smoke well enough that you could see the result of the shot. The report is a shockwave, for a handgun -- obviously any serious rifle will put it to shame. Still, between the report and the cloud of smoke, it's a fairly serious psychological weapon. If you should discharge it in a street while defending yourself from the average armed robber, I would think he would be halfway to the nearest train station before the smoke cleared even if you missed him. If you hit him, I'm fairly sure that tumbling .45 would put him down.

I cocked it again, fired again, and then reloaded and worked through the box. Afterwards, at the next ceasefire, one of the instructors came over to me.

"What on earth is that thing you're firing?" he asked. I told him.

"What does it shoot?" he wondered. I took a spare cartridge out of my pocket and handed it to him.

His eyes got big. "My God," he said. "Hey, Bob, come here and look at this."

So, here's my verdict: if you're up to a real challenge, you might like a Bond Arms derringer in one of the heavy calibers. As a "toss it in your pants pocket on your way to town" gun, it's perfect. I have no doubt that it would be effective as a defensive firearm, at the sort of close ranges where crime is apt to take place. The psychological effect of it is apt to stop fights and disperse crowds, as it was shocking even to experienced firearm instructors.

However, it's not for beginners, and it's not for the weak. You'd better have the wrists to back it up.

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