What is a “Snub?”
Consider the following guns, for example, and ask, “are these snubs?”
I think it’s fair to say that we’d get a pretty good mix of opinions from a survey like that. Some may object to the large frame guns, even though they have shorter barrels than normal, while others may object to the longer-than-normal barrel on the tiny J-Frame.
I think this is too narrow a view, however. While the tendency is to focus exclusively on barrel length, I think frame size, intended carry mode, and the balance between various weapon selection priorities must be part of the equation.
One could argue, for example, that the Ruger Super Redhawk Alaskan, which has a barrel that’s effectively cut off flush, at the end of the burly frame, is a “snub” by virtue of its short tube. However, I personally don’t think “snub” when I see a massive, 44 ounce gun that’s chambered in velociraptor calibers (h/t Michael Bane) like .454 Casull and .480 Ruger! Yes, it’s shorter than usual, but I don’t think of it as a “snub.”
I feel the same way about the large N-Frames, or even the L-Frames with short barrels. It gets a little harder to parse things when we get to the shortened K-Frames, but even those don’t strike me as “snubs,” per se.
defining the Snub
I’ll freely admit that many knowledgeable people would disagree with my interpretation of things, but if you asked me to break down the elements that make a “snub,” it would look like this:
- Short barrel, under three inches;
- Compact frame, roughly S&W J-Frame, Colt D-Frame, or Ruger SP-Frame in size;
- Particularly well-suited or optimized for pocket, ankle, or other non-belt-mounted carry modes;
- The balance between shooting/handling qualities, ballistic performance, and concealment favors concealment as the priority.
It’s important to note that #3 doesn’t preclude its use as a belt gun, but helps to define the “spirit of the law.” You can carry a snub on a belt if you want, but to me, the magic of a snubby is that a belt is not required to carry it effectively. Got a pocket? Cool, you’re good to go.
The last factor, #4, is the key to the whole snub concept for me. It’s true that every gun is a compromise of some sort, which requires us to prioritize our needs and make exclusive choices in our quest to find the best tool for the job. We’d all love to have a gun that shoots like a .22, hits like a 12 Gauge, handles like a full size, yet carries like a NAA Mini, but since these qualities are at odds with each other, we have to give and take a little, to reach a reasonable compromise.
With the snub, I think that compromise is heavily weighted towards concealability, at every turn. We choose a frame size that allows us enough purchase and control to be practical, but not one that’s big or heavy enough to compromise concealment. We choose a caliber that’s powerful enough to do a reasonable job of stopping an attacker, but is still controllable enough in the smaller and lighter gun that we intend to hide from view. We accept a reduced round count, in order to keep the overall package compact.
If we were more concerned about power, handling qualities, shooting characteristics, or capacity, we’d choose a larger and more capable gun, wouldn’t we?
not a snub–the service gun
So, if those qualities define the snub, then how would I classify the other guns that are not snubs?
To answer that, I offer the following classes for consideration, starting with the Service Gun.
- Medium to Large frame;
- Barrel length of three to six inches;
- Minimum caliber of .38 Special;
- Intended and/or particularly well-suited to be carried in a belt-mounted holster;
- The balance between shooting/handling qualities, ballistic performance, and concealment overwhelmingly favors the first two, as the priorities.
The guns in this category would include the typical military and police revolvers of the 20th Century, which ruled the roost prior to the widespread adoption of autos. These are the full-size duty revolvers that are intended to be carried openly, and are picked primarily for their reliability, handling qualities, and suitable power.
Concealment is not considered to be an important factor in the selection of these guns, and is typically ignored entirely. Instead, the focus is simply on providing the best fighting gun that can be openly-carried within reasonable size and weight constraints.
Not a snub–the compact service gun
Which leads us to the next category, the Compact Service Gun:
Compact Service Gun
- Medium to Large frame;
- Barrel length of three or less inches;
- Minimum caliber of .38 Special;
- Particularly well-suited to be carried in a belt-mounted holster, but capable of being carried in some larger pockets, or on the ankle, by virtue of its shorter length, modified grip frame, or reduced weight;
- The balance between shooting/handling qualities, ballistic performance, and concealment favors the first two, as the priorities.
In this system, the primary physical characteristic that distinguishes the Compact Service Gun from the Service Gun it’s derived from, is the shortened barrel, but the Compact Service Gun may also have a shortened or reconfigured grip frame, as well (i.e., a round butt, in lieu of a square butt).
In any case, what really makes the Compact Service Gun different from its larger parent, in my opinion, is the increased emphasis on concealment. While concealment still doesn’t rise to the level where it’s prioritized above shooting/handling qualities and ballistic performance, it receives considerably more attention in this evaluation, than it does in the case of the Service Gun. Essentially, the user of a Compact Service Gun wants to retain the functional qualities of the Service Gun in a package that is smaller, lighter, and easier to conceal.
It’s true that some users may simply be chasing size and weight reductions as their primary consideration, with enhanced concealment being just a related benefit, but I think enhanced concealment should be viewed as the driving factor. Lopping off some barrel will certainly reduce size and weight, but the weight savings pale in significance to the gains in concealment and handling qualities that are achieved with the shorter barrel. The magic of a 2.5″ Combat Magnum, for example, is not the loss of a few ounces, but how it carries, where it can hide, and the way it clears leather compared to the four-inch Service Gun.
Not a snub–the outdoorsman’s gun
We might also add a fourth category, to cover all the big guns with short barrels that are used for hunting, or defense from four-legged predators:
- Medium-Large to Extra-Large frame;
- Barrel length under four inches, but typically less than three;
- Minimum caliber of .357 Magnum, though frequently much larger;
- Sometimes equipped with muzzle brakes or barrel ports;
- Intended and/or particularly well-suited to be carried in a belt or chest-mounted holster, or in some kind of off-body holster, like a pack, case, or saddlebag;
- Intended primarily for use against game or animal predators, not bipeds;
- The balance between shooting/handling qualities, ballistic performance, and concealment favors ballistic performance.
In contrast to the other categories, where the anticipated threat is a human, the short-barreled Outdoorsman’s Gun is intended for use against animals. The Outdoorsman’s Gun can be used for hunting, but is more often used for defense against aggressive animals in the wild.
There may be a bit of crossover with the Service Gun, here, in that some of the larger Service Guns could be successfully used for animal defense, with proper ammunition selection. However, the intent of this category is to capture guns that are oriented towards animal defense, including the guns that are chambered for big bore cartridges that would generally be considered excessive for personal defense against humans.
The guns in this category tend to favor those heavy-hitting cartridges, which are chosen for their ability to penetrate animals with tough skin, thick, hard bones, lots of muscle or fat, and deeply-seated organs. The short barrels on these guns are primarily selected for weight savings and portability, not for concealment.
but what about?
Admittedly, there are some examples which challenge the rules and don’t fit neatly into the categories I described above. The North American Arms mini revolvers, for example, hardly qualify as a “snub” in my view, and they certainly don’t fit into the other categories. Perhaps a “novelty” class would be an appropriate addition, here?
Additionally, there are some guns that knowledgeable RevolverGuys might reasonably disagree about, when it came time to classify them. Some of these “wobblers” might include:
The shortened K-Frames. You could arguably include the shortest versions of these as “snubs,” but under my admittedly-subjective rules, I classify them as Compact Service Guns. While a shortened K-Frame could be carried in some pockets, or on the ankle, it’s not as well-suited to the task as its J-Frame counterpart, and is often more effectively carried on the belt, instead. More importantly, while the shortened K-Frame is more easily concealed than the Service Gun it’s derived from, the person who carries a shortened K-Frame is more concerned about preserving the superior shooting/handling qualities and ballistic performance of the larger Service Gun, than they are about maximizing concealment. If concealment were their first priority, then they would choose a smaller gun, that more neatly fits the “Snub” category, instead.
The longer, but still shortened, three-inch K-Frames are a bit of a wobbler too, straddling that border between Service Guns and Compact Service Guns. A three-inch K would make a dandy Service Gun, and I’d generally lump the square-butt versions (like the Model 10s issued in Australia, Canada, France, and Turkey, for example) into that category, but the round-butt models (like the FBI’s Model 13s) probably belong in the Compact Service Gun category, since the frame change was made to enhance concealability. Yes, it’s subjective, but it’s my football, so I make the rules! ; ^ )
The Charter Bulldog. Similar to the shortened K-Frames, under this system, I’d class the 2.5 inch Bulldog as a Compact Service Gun. Historically, “Bull Dogs” were created from chopping down Service Guns, like the Webley or Colt New Service revolvers. I think this pattern was reversed at Charter Arms, where the shorter, two and three-inch versions preceded the longer four-inch version (today’s Target Bulldog model is 4.2 inches), but the general relationship holds true. One could argue the Charter Bulldog was designed from the ground up to be a Snub, and should fall in that category, but I disqualify it in my system because the desire for enhanced ballistic performance is a priority over concealment. If concealment were prioritized, the user would select a smaller and lighter frame that handled a less powerful cartridge, and was more easily concealed.
How about you?
So, that’s how I slice things. It’s an admittedly subjective system, but it works nicely for me. You might have a different way of looking at it, and I would certainly respect your right to disagree–there’s no black and white here, just shades of gray.
What’s a snub? I guess it all depends on who’s answering the question. What do you guys think? Let me hear from you in the comments, below, and be safe out there.