Those who travel the backwoods trails often like to supplement their outdoor equipment with a small, lightweight handgun. The role of this handgun is multifaceted. It may be used to kill threatening venomous snakes, pot small game, ward off potential attackers or provide plain plinking fun. Think pocket pistols.
Best Pocket Pistols for the Backcountry
The premise for our outdoor journey may not be taking us into grizzly country, but we still can’t discount running into a rabid animal. While there are autoloading pocket pistols that might fill this niche, they are not as versatile as a revolver ammunition-wise, especially if you want to carry shot cartridges. Let’s take a look at a number of pocket pistols that might offer some comfort and protection in the backwoods.
Bond Arms Snake Slayer
If your biggest fear is “Mr. No Shoulders,” you might want to select something like the Bond Arms Snake Slayer. This over/under, two-shot derringer is configured with 3.5-inch barrels, an overall length of 5.5 inches and weighs 22 ounces empty. It is chambered for the .45 Colt cartridge and will also take .410 shotgun shells.
With this gun, you can even swap barrels in a number of different lengths and calibers, adding to its versatility. Crafted from stainless steel and fitted with extended rosewood grips, it has a single-action mechanism with a rebounding hammer, retracting firing pins and a crossbolt safety. Fixed sights add to the rugged simplicity of the Snake Slayer. For even more info, please visit bondarms.com.
Heizer Defense PS1 Pocket Shotgun
For those looking for simplicity in form and function, Heizer Defense has the PS1 Pocket Shotgun. This is like a single-shot, break-open .410 scattergun that you can literally put in your pocket. It will not only take 2.5-inch shotgun shells, but also chambers .45 Colt cartridges. The grip portion of the receiver is hollow so you can store two extra .45 Colt cartridges inside. With the many choices offered today in .45 Colt/.410 ammunition, you can match your load with the anticipated need.
As far as pocket pistols go, it’s the smallest on this list. The PS1 is all stainless steel and can be had in silver or black finishes. Its operating latches are recessed and snag-free. The entire gun is about the size of a smartphone. For even more info, please visit heizerdefense.com.
If your tastes or needs are better satisfied with a single-action revolver, then there’s the compact Ruger Bearcat. This little sixgun was introduced in 1958 with an alloy frame and was replaced in 1971 by the Super Bearcat with a steel frame. It was dropped from production in 1975, but returned in 1993 as the New Bearcat, with a transfer bar action and a stainless or blued finish.
The barrel and cylinder mate well with the frame—all stainless or all alloy steel (for blued models). The grip panels are made of hardwood. With the Bearcat, you get the flavor of the Old West combined with modest size/weight proportions. For even more info, please visit ruger.com.
Another small, lightweight contender for the pack or tackle box is the Ruger LCR. This small-frame, double-action-only revolver can be had as an eight-shot .22 LR or a six-shot .22 Magnum. This innovative wheelgun melds a polymer fire control housing, including a friction-reducing cam system, with an aluminum monolithic frame, which supports a stainless steel barrel and cylinder.
The cylinder is extensively fluted to reduce weight and features a nitrided black finish. The concealed-hammer design will come in handy for pocket carry. This revolver will take up little space no matter what mode of carry is used. For even more info, please visit ruger.com.
Charter Arms Pathfinder
The Charter Arms Pathfinder is a classic DA/SA revolver that’s been around for many years. I like the stainless steel target version in .22 Magnum. With its matte finish and rubber grips, it will handle rain, snow, sleet, or sweat. Even with a 4.22-inch barrel, the overall length is just 8.24 inches. As might be expected, the target version has a fully adjustable rear sight and a sloping ramp front sight. Below the Pathfinder’s barrel, there’s even a full-length ejector rod shroud. For even more info, please visit charterarms.com.
Smith & Wesson Model 60
If you are looking for something a little more heavy-duty caliber-wise than a.22 LR, S&W offers the Model 60 with a 3-inch barrel and adjustable sights. This compact DA/SA revolver weighs 24.5 ounces and chambers .357 Magnum and .38 Special +P cartridges. This gives you a choice of potent magnum or +P JHP ammo for defense or milder .38 Special standard-velocity rounds for small game and plinking. Then there’s the CCI shotshell with 100 grains of #9 shot for vipers and varmints.
This stainless steel handgun with synthetic grips will stand up to the rigors of the outdoors. That being said, it’s still small and light enough to not be burdensome. For even more info, please visit smith-wesson.com.
Taurus Model 605 Poly Protector
Offering light weight, more power, and less burden on the belt is the Taurus Model 605 Poly Protector. This DA/SA revolver has a 2-inch barrel, a lightweight polymer frame, a stainless steel barrel, and an alloy steel cylinder which gives it a weight of only 20 ounces. With an overall length of 6.7 inches, it falls in the middle of the size spectrum of these pocket pistols.
Its construction makes it virtually weatherproof. Control in rapid fire is aided by its hand-filling Ridged Rubber grips. It also sports a fiber-optic front sight that mates up with a fixed rear sight for rugged dependability. Chambered for the .357 Magnum, it also takes .38 Special +P ammunition and can be used for sport, defense, or plinking. For even more info, please visit taurususa.com.
NAA Black Widow
One of the smallest pocket pistols you’ll find for your kit will likely come from North American Arms (NAA). The version I chose has a 2-inch barrel with three-dot sights that include an adjustable Marble rear. It’s also a conversion model, so it comes with both .22 LR and .22 Magnum cylinders. Each hold five cartridges.
To load the revolver, the cylinder must be removed. One advantage of the Black Widow is its “pull-down” cylinder pin latch. This rugged little gun is made of stainless steel and has oversized rubber grips. For outdoor carry, I’d use the .22 Magnum cylinder for more useful cartridge power and reserve the .22 LR cylinder for practice and plinking. You can also get a laser sight that replaces the cylinder pin latch. For even more info, please visit northamericanarms.com.
Taurus Model 992 Tracker
One of the most versatile handguns I’ve seen for backcountry use is the Taurus Model 992 Tracker in .22 LR. What is so different about this revolver is the unique conversion system that allows it to also shoot .22 Magnum ammo. It has a quick-release cylinder system that allows you to swap the .22 LR for a .22 Magnum cylinder in just seconds. The downside is this is not the most compact or lightweight revolver. However, in return it has a nine-round capacity and a fully adjustable rear sight.
It’s also constructed of stainless steel and has a recoil-absorbing Ribber grip that will help it stand up to extreme environmental conditions. For even more info, please visit taurususa.com.
Smith & Wesson Model 317 Gun Kit
Over the years, S&W’s Kit Gun variations have come and gone. Today, the only S&W retaining the “Kit Gun” moniker is the Model 317. Still built on the J-Frame, it has an empty weight of just 12.5 ounces due to its aluminum alloy frame and cylinder.
With a 3-inch barrel, its overall length is just 7.19 inches. It has a fully adjustable rear sight paired with a green HiViz fiber-optic front sight. The revolver has a matte silver finish and black synthetic grips. Unlike its Model 34 predecessor, the Model 317 is not a six-shooter. However, it has a cylinder with eight charge holes for .22 LR ammo. For even more info, please visit smith-wesson.com.