Derringers, the tiny handguns that some people tend to view as no more than a novelty in the gun world, are often thought of as too small, too underpowered, and having a limited capacity. It’s easy to see why people would view these weapons this way; no doubt they have their limitations, but they are far from useless.
Henry Deringer (notice that’s only one “r” in his name), invented the Derringer in the mid-19th century. His name, misspelled as Derringer, became synonymous with small pocket pistols. The Philadelphia deringer (again one “r”) was a black powder, muzzle loading, single barrel pocket pistol that became a popular concealed carry weapon.
These weapons first found favor with military officers and then became very popular among civilians looking for a small, concealable handgun to carry in a coat pocket. Deringers became very popular weapons for ladies as it could easily be stashed in a purse. The Philadelphia deringer was sold in pairs to offer a second shot should the first shot fail. This compensated for such a small, short barreled pistol.
The most famous use of a Philadelphia deringer was the assassination of Abraham Lincoln in Ford theatre at the hand of John Wilkes Booth.
The design Remington used is the design most commonly associated with derringers. The over and under design doubled the capacity, and the use of metal cartridges aided the derringer’s staying power.
Over time the use of smokeless powder gave way to smaller, higher powered cartridges. The Remington design stayed popular, and now many companies produce this same design in calibers from .22LR to .410 shotshells.
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Three popular companies make modern derringers—Cobra, Cimarron, and Bond Arms. Each company offers something a little different. Cobra offers the most affordable in a variety of calibers. Cimarron offers a .38 special, and a .32 H&R Magnum, and Bond Arms are the rock stars of derringers. Bond Arms offer heavy weight cannons in derringer form and have released the Bond Arms Ranger 2. The Ranger 2 is a beast, much bigger than a regular derringer, but chambered in .45 Long Colt or .410 shotshells. This thing is honestly unnecessary, and completely against the good qualities of derringers. Honestly though, it looks cool and that’s about it.
Bond Arms does feature some tamer derringers. The .38 special and .357 magnum are perfect and beautifully made. Bond derringers also have the ability to swap barrels and calibers out all on one frame, so your .357 can become a 45 Colt or .410 derringer.
Now a derringer isn’t the perfect concealed carry weapon; it lacks a lot of fire power when compared to even snub nose revolvers. A derringer is perfect for deep concealment though.
When I go for a run, I wear a shirt and basketball shorts. I don’t trust the loose pockets to hold a handgun, and I really don’t have a holstering option on me. I do bring one of those cases that fit an MP3 player and attaches to your arm. I bought one made specifically for a larger style music player, and my .22 Magnum derringer fits perfectly behind the music player. The weapon is completely out of sight, and comfortably carried and easily accessed.
It’s not a lot of gun, but it’s a gun, and the gun you carry is better than the one in your closet or nightstand. I feel better dealing with any overly aggressive critters, on four legs or two. Derringers are perfect for situations where you can’t carry even the smallest automatic or revolver.
Another option is a derringer as a backup gun. One is none and two is one is a good mantra to follow when carrying a weapon. It could even be your backup’s back up, cause three is a lot of fun.
If you choose to carry a derringer for self-protection, you better get some practice with it. Derringers offer you almost no range; they’re a point blank kind of weapon. Seven feet is a pretty good practice range and that’s about all you’re going to get out of it. Don’t only practice the basic fundamentals of marksmanship, but also operating the weapon, cocking it, and reloading it. I can’t stress practice, practice, practice because shooting a derringer is a different beast. A derringer has a tiny grip and usually a stiff trigger. Your first few shots with a derringer may be wild, but turning your two wild shots into two lethal shots is key.
Derringers were popular with women in the late 1800s and still remain popular with women who are not shooting enthusiasts. My wife likes my derringer. To her, it’s an unintimidating weapon, it’s lightweight, simple to use, and she enjoys firing it. Her exact words were, “It’s cute.”
In a situation where you’re feeling uneasy, say a dark parking garage or maybe you’re getting gas in a bad part of town and somebody that looks suspicious is walking towards you. You have your normal concealed carry piece (say it’s a snub nose, five shot .38 special). By most standards, it’s a small gun, but could you draw it and keep it in your hand without anyone seeing it? This suspicious person hasn’t done anything. A gun in the hand is the quickest draw though. Maybe your bad feeling is nothing, and some random pedestrian saw you walking around with your .38 drawn. Now you may have questions to answer with the local police department.
Now, imagine the same situation, but you have a derringer as a backup weapon to your .38. You can draw it, keep it concealed in your hand, and the only thing anyone sees is a clenched fist. Now you immediately have a gun and the element of surprise on your side.
Derringers don’t fit every role. In fact they really only fit a specific niche for concealed carry, but they fit it well. I believe derringers aren’t weapons to just be ignored and seen as novelties. While they can be a lot of fun to shoot, in the end, they offer a unique concealed carry option.