By Jim Dickson | Contributing Editor
When you talk of power in a small pistol package the American Derringer comes to the top of the heap. This pocket power small gun only 4.82 inches overall with 3 inch barrels. Its height is 3.35 inches, frame width .9 inches, width at grips 1.2 inches and it only weighs 15 ounces. It can easily be covered by your hand yet it has the power of two .45 Colt cartridges lurking inside.
This is a cartridge that has killed all North American big game. A cartridge designed for the U.S. Cavalry in the early 1870’s who required their new round to be able to kill an enemy’s horse with one shot at long range. It did that and much more.
When the cavalry was employed in exterminating the buffalo in order to eliminate the Native Americans’ food supply, troopers found it great fun to ride alongside the buffalo and kill them with their new .45 Colt M1873 Single Action Army revolvers. Until “magnumitis” swept the country it was the most popular handgun caliber for bear protection and it was not found lacking. Just be sure you have hard bullets as you need penetration not expansion. You already have a big enough hole.
When the new .38 revolvers would not stop the fanatical kris and bolo knife wielding Philippine Moslem Moros on jihad before they got to the American soldier the .45 Colt once again proved a one shot stopper. This is truly a cartridge that has proven over and over that it is one that you can safely stake your life on.
While the full size revolver can be counted on to shoot alongside a M1873 or M1892 Winchester at all ranges if the shooter only does his part, the little Derringer is and always has been a hideout or backup gun with a range that should be limited to about 10 feet. That is not as bad as it sounds since most gunfights occur at 5 to 10 foot ranges. Just remember that Derringers were designed and intended as deep cover guns or a backup to a full size pistol. Don’t shoot this at 50 to 300 yards and expect to hit anything. Even 25 yards is quite a stretch for any belly gun like this.
The difficulty of hitting with these little guns has led to some interesting developments.
Sabot Designs LLC loads seven flechettes in the 2 ½-inch .410 shell which will also chamber in these guns. At 10 feet they have a spread of 5 ½ inches on the target which can make up somewhat for the difficulty of precision shooting with these guns. These flechettes will penetrate a car door to reach an enemy and they penetrate over 20 inches of ballistic gelatin. Each one has about the same stopping power as a 9MM pistol cartridge based on its energy signature, the total energy deposited by the projectile on impact. The energy of seven 9MM pistol cartridges striking simultaneously is impressive. As the name implies these rounds are inside a plastic sabot that prevents the bore damage that would occur if the steel flechettes were fired against the bare barrel.
There are also Federal buckshot loads for the 2 ½-inch .410. There are four .36-caliber 000 buckshot stacked end to end. Since they come out in a column they only spread to 4 ¼ inches at 10 feet. The total weight of the buckshot load is 280 grains and the combined frontal area is 1.44 inches of striking surface.
Both the flechette and buckshot loads are popular for defense but for bear I would not consider anything except the full power .45 Colt loads. For defensive use, the “Cowboy Action” loads with their somewhat slower velocities work fine as they penetrate a bit less, which means they are dumping more of their energy into the target instead of over penetrating. Humans are thin targets front to back. That’s why the .455 Webley at 700 FPS had such a good reputation as a manstopper. The full power .45 Colt is a cavalry horse and bear stopper. It also works equally well against enemy attackers, just like it’s big brother, the 45-70. Its extra power is no disadvantage.
This pistol is highly recommended as a backup gun for bear. It will be most welcome if you get to “rasslin’” range with something with big teeth and claws that may outweigh you by 1,500 pounds. If your rifle and full size pistol get knocked aside, as has happened with bear in the alders, this little gun can literally be a lifesaver.
The American Derringer is all stainless steel except for its springs, which makes it very carry friendly. It is comfortable to fire so long as you keep a tight grip on it thanks to its generous size grips. It can be carried in a pocket or a holster.
For inside the waistband carry nothing beats the holsters from Sticky Holster company because once it is positioned behind the belt inside the waistband it stays at whatever angle you left it at. This makes carrying a lot more comfortable. While the Sticky Holster has the waistband and the belt to keep the gun in its holster, the gun is too grip heavy to stay in a conventional holster without a safety strap to keep it from falling out.
Avoid holsters with a belt clip for this gun. If the gun is in a holster with a belt clip and is positioned in front of your hip bone the holster and gun may pop out and fall to the ground the first time you bend over.
I have used simple holsters with old fashioned safety straps as well as pancake holsters with this gun and everything seems to work well with it. It can easily be carried in a pocket but a gun carried in a pocket must not have any keys, coins, or whatever else in that pocket and a pocket holster is very desirable to break up the outline of the gun and protect it from the grit and lint that magically seem to appear in pockets. Any pocket holster should have a neb sticking out at the top to catch in the pocket lining so the holster does not come out with the gun when you draw, as in El Paso Saddlery’s PocketMax model. I have seen too many pocket holsters that seemed to be inseparable from their pistol in a fast draw from the pocket.
A lot of people will not carry a full size .45 opting for the smallest hideout gun they can find. These miniature guns are equally hard to hit with as their small size makes precision shooting almost impossible. A double Derringer in .45 Colt makes a lot more sense. You can take out one drug crazed oversize attacker with each shot whereas you may not be able to stop even one before he reaches you if you have a smaller caliber.
This is a deep cover carry gun that has a most unique safety. It blocks the hammer so the gun cannot fire if dropped but it automatically comes off when the hammer is cocked. It doesn’t get any better than that.
You must pull the hammer back to the safety position when loading because if the hammer is all the way down one of the firing pins will be forced out where it will fire a cartridge when the barrels are swung shut.
These are top quality handmade pistols built by Elizabeth Saunders and John Price. Elizabeth is a widow carrying on her late husband’s dream of making double Derringers. Robert Saunders founded the company in 1980 and began making this pistol. Tragically he died of pancreatic cancer in 1993. Elizabeth took over running the company and eventually went back to school to get a degree in mechanical engineering. There she met John Price in one of her classes. John was a military veteran getting his degree as well. Afterwards he went to work for her.
Quality is the watch word at American Derringer. They even cut out all distributors in 1994 when their demand for low prices conflicted with the quality standards American Derringer was determined to maintain.
They are the only entirely handmade guns that I am aware of that are available in the U.S. outside of some Best Quality guns from the British Isles and Germany. Thankfully their cost is more like a new Colt or S&W than a Purdey or a Holland & Holland. They are the only reasonably priced entirely handmade guns out there. For those of us that appreciate practical art and skilled hand work there is great pride of ownership that comes with a handmade firearm. This is one anyone can afford. It is available from:
American Derringer Corporation
127 North Lacy Drive
Waco, Texas 76705