MARCH 16, 2023

Skill Set: J Frame Revolver

There are a lot of different style pistols, but one of the most iconic is the Smith & Wesson “J” frame. These “snubbies” – short barrel revolvers – have a special place in America, and still have a great appeal as defensive handguns.

Although the “J” frame design is decades old, it’s still one of the most popular handguns -- and for good reason. These small-frame short-barrel revolvers are reliable, as are all revolvers, but they’re also easily concealed. They work especially well for pocket carry, as long as you have a pocket holster. This is ideal concealment when you can’t conceal or carry a large frame pistol. They’re very common in the south, when summer wear is often a t-shirt and shorts. “J” frames are ideal for “back-up” pistols, again due to their size and ease of carry. A “J” frame in a well-designed ankle holster is easy to carry, comfortable, and in some cases, depending on your body position, might turn into your primary pistol.

Snubbies come in a variety of calibers. A small frame revolver might not be pleasant to shoot with .357 Magnum rounds, but it’s comforting to know you can practice with .38 Special rounds and carry the magnum ammo for defense, when the difference in recoil won’t be noticeable. You can also load them with “snake shot” rounds, which are like little shotgun shells and perfect for dealing with uninvited yard pests.

“J” frames score high in the “fit” department, too. A pistol must fit the hand – your hand – in order for it to be used efficiently. The ability to easily change out the stocks on the “J” frame means you can customize the pistol for your hand size. Stocks – which go on the grip of the pistol – are available in a variety of sizes and shapes, made from about any natural or man-made material you can think of. With the options offered today, there is no reason you can’t find the “perfect” stocks whether you need small ones for concealment or something larger to make the pistol more comfortable to shoot.

Revolvers are often referred to as “simple.” And they are the easiest pistols to shoot but they’re the most difficult to shoot and manipulate properly. All defensive revolver shooting is done in double-action. The trigger stroke both cocks and releases the hammer to fire the shot. The trigger travels a lot more distance than the trigger of a semi-auto. It takes a lot more practice to learn how to manage the trigger properly. The short sight radius of a snubbie means you have to pay close attention to sight alignment and picture. If you spend enough time on the range with one, you can consistently hit man-size targets at 100 yards. Revolvers are more complicated than semi-autos when it comes to loading, unloading and reloading. This is nothing that proper technique and practice can’t overcome.

Revolvers are ideal for self-defense. But, they’re not for everyone. If you decide to pursue them you’re going to need to invest more time and effort to “learn” them. This journey is very rewarding. Revolvers are fun to shoot. The small “J” frame revolvers have a lot to offer, so don’t discount them until giving them a fair chance.

Tiger McKee is director of Shootrite Firearms Academy. He is the author of The Book of Two Guns, AR-15 Skills and Drills, has a regular column in American Handgunner and makes some cool knives and custom revolvers. or visit Shootrite’s Facebook page for other details.