Inexpensive pocket revolver recommendations?


September 19, 2010, 01:28 AM
I'm looking to buy a new gun, pocket sized, and am looking for recommendations or advice.

I have never owned a revolver, only semis, so this is all new to me. Originally I was planning to just get an LCP or P3AT but then started to investigate whether maybe a revolver was a better solution.

It seems the primary negative tradeoff for a revolver is size and weight. But the gains are several: no slide action (important if ever fired, god forbid, in the pocket), more reliable and less finicky, larger round.

So I have 3 questions.

1) do my considerations seem sane? Am i missing anything important, or weighing in any irrelevant factors?

2) How's the recoil and overall handle'ability of a small 38 compared to a pocket semi 380?

3) What I'm most interested in - what are your recommendations for a good revolver that will meet my needs and not break the bank? In the ideal world here are my criteria in order of importance:
* small
* INEXPENSIVE (around $250-400 if possible)
* light weight
* covered hammer (is this necessary? seems like a good idea)

I've read nothing but great things about the S&W J-frames on this board, but it's a little pricey so I'd rather go with something else, if there's a decent alternative (though if the consensus is that it's the only one worth getting, i'll just save up and wait a bit).
I've seen cheaper Taurus, Charter Arms, etc... but can't confidently choose one unless some more knowledgeable folk agree they're worth it.

Thoughts? Thanks!

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September 19, 2010, 01:50 AM
Welcome to THR mstrat!

Do you have any friends who own compact revolvers? It would be good for you to shoot them at a range to get an idea of what you like. The action and feel of the weapon varies greatly between S&W, Taurus and Charter's products. Is a used gun acceptable? I just purchased a classic Colt Agent for my wife's CCW piece for under $250.

I carry a .38 Special Model 60 on a regular basis, but it can be a little heavy. The weight does help with heavy +P loadings, however. To me, the recoil impulse of a P3AT or LCP .380 is very similar to a light weight j-frame type gun loaded with non +P .38 Special ammunition.

Whatever route you choose, make sure you take a friend who is revolver savvy to check-out the gun before you buy it (even new). You don't want to deal with a lemon right out of the box!

September 19, 2010, 01:54 AM
I used a charter arms SS .38 spcl with a bobbed hammer for 17 years. 11 of those years in law enforcement. I qualified 4 times a year with it. Fit in my fanny pack or IWB just fine since my pockets held other things. Wish I still had it.

September 19, 2010, 01:55 AM
ruger lcr

September 19, 2010, 04:55 AM
If you're looking for a revolver that's not heavy for ~$400 you can buy a S&W Airweight which weighs only 15oz empty. I carry one daily and I forget it's in my pocket.

If you like Ruger better there's always the LCR but I'm still not sold on plastic revolvers even though I'm sure they are just fine. Same goes for the S&W Bodyguard 38 although I think both are outside your price range. BUT, the S&W Bodyguard 38 does come with a none removable laser.

September 19, 2010, 08:50 AM
I don't know about the new Charter Arms guns...I've never even seen one, but I do have one of the older ones that I carry every day now. I resisted a "snubbie" for a long time, and now don't know how I got along without one. I paid less than $250.00 for the one I've got, used of course.

Smith & Wesson and Ruger (and Colt if you can find one, and don't mind paying) are the head of the class of course. You won't go wrong with either of them.

I did have a Taurus 85 years ago, but had been bitten by the semi-auto bug and got rid of it. I will say it worked well for what I wanted it to do. When I got the Charter Arms recently I thought about another Taurus, but figured I'd never had a CA so I'd give one a try.

September 19, 2010, 09:38 AM
I resisted a "snubbie" for a long time, and now don't know how I got along without one.

Same here.

I would probably go with the Ruger LCR in your case. But, I carry a Smith 642/442 J-Frame (38spl). I would choose the one that feels better in your hand and simply pay the price and get it past you.

None of the small revolvers have great triggers. They are not intended to be target guns. You practice at fairly short distances and in the event you ever need to use a gun in self defense; you're probably talking close range (under 10 yd). Trigger control is important, but you are essentially yanking the trigger at the moment of crisis and probably not thinking completely normal because you're scared. The only counter to that is to practice all the time and maybe your training would take over at the moment of crisis. For me, I'm going to just pull the trigger when I have to. At 7 yds, I could use a rock and hit a man sized target. I have no interest at spending hours and hours shooting a J-frame at the range, a gun I will likely never shoot outside the range. That's my choice and others will disagree.

Added: So from my point of view, if you like a Taurus or Charter Arms revolver and feel they will function reliably, I'd go there if cost is a critical issue. Again, I would just get what I like and pay the price and be done with it.

September 19, 2010, 11:44 AM
I'm looking to buy a new gun

I would not buy new.

*general broad sweeping statement alert!!!*

Old guns are better. With the exception of some of the new fangled titanium frames, there is no advantage to a new gun.

A buddy of mine picked up a MINT J frame, 3 inch barrel, blue, from a pawn shop last week for 330 out the door. It has a better trigger pull than a new one. No MIM parts. Better fit and finish. In addition a gunsmith would modify it (many "smiths" will not work on MIM guns because the parts do not polish well). And, of course, no lock designed by a drunken chimpanzee.

The danger in buying an old gun is that you might be buying someone else's problem. Read the sticky on how to evaluate a revolver and you will avoid most potential problems.

The risk/reward matrix leans HEAVILY towards avoiding the new gun counter.

Old John
September 19, 2010, 12:17 PM
I checked them all out, the J-frame S&W's, the Ruger LCR, and the Taurus models.
I liked the trigger best on the Ruger LCR. So, that's what I got. It fits easily in my blue jeans or Dockers pockets in a little cheap Uncle Mike's holster.

The price on them at my LGS was $429 for the Ruger, $509 for the S&W, and $359 for the Taurus. All were New in the box.

I like the little LCR. My DSW shoots it pretty well too
Try them all out. Buy what you like the best

Steve 48
September 19, 2010, 12:40 PM
I tried them all too and out of the pocket 380's in that price range, the Taurus TCP has the best trigger and is accurate. I know I am in the minority on this but I put 100 rounds od UMC 380 ammo into a head at 10 yards with this gun.

September 19, 2010, 01:00 PM
I second the LCR, but seems like you really can't go wrong with the J-frame either. I just got my LCR a few weeks ago and got it at a LGS for $399. Also if you decide to stick with the well proven j-frame, S & W is offering a $50 rebate on j-frames through Dec. So really your looking at the same price for either.

None of the small revolvers have great triggers.
Maybe not great trigger, but the LCRs is really pretty darn good. Only slightly behind my 686-2. And I do agree it's not a target gun, there are guns I'd rather shoot, but I do put quite a few rounds through mine. I'm of the practice practice practice mindset for defensive firearms.

September 19, 2010, 04:22 PM
1) Your expectations are pretty sane. Small revolvers tend to be a little larger than small autos, but the tradeoff is not bad: .38+p is a more effective round than .380 acp, and ounce per ounce, revolvers can end up being more powerful than autos. New autos are nearly as reliable as revolvers, but you can usually get away with not cleaning a revolver as often. One of the reasons I prefer revolvers is that there's no slide or safety to worry about.

2) I can't compare lightweight .38 revolvers to .380 autos because I've only fired the former, but recoil tends to be manageable yet lively. Many revolver owners choose to own two: a lightweight one for daily carry, and a full-sized steel one for plinking and home defense. I think it's a good approach, especially since they can use the same ammo. I probably do 2/3 of my handgun shooting with a steel revolver & 1/3 with my lightweight. A rubber grip that covers the backstrap (the rear of the metal grip frame) can help with recoil.

3) Your guidelines seem pretty good. I'd recommend a used Smith & Wesson model 642 or 442, used Ruger .357 LCR (I'd only shoot .38 out of it, not .357 magnum), or a new Charter Arms Undercover, the "stainless DAO" model. You can go lighter, such as the S&W model 340, Ruger .38 LCR, or CA Undercover Lite, but in my opinion they would have unmanageable recoil.

A few things worth mentioning... no matter which brand or model you end up considering, give them a good examination before buying. Do a web search for "revolver checkout" for an explanation on how to do it. The 3 brands I've mentioned usually range in quality from pretty good to good enough, but once in a while every brand will make a lemon. Another thing is that revolvers have the advantage of comfortable grips; if you find you don't like one, it's very easy to switch it with one that you do. Lastly, buy a few speed loaders and speed strips so you can reload quickly. Practice with each (preferably using snap caps or empty casings) and stick with the style you prefer.

Good luck!

September 20, 2010, 12:44 PM
Ive carried a Ruger SP 101 in .357 with a front pocket holster for years, Ruger has a lifetime warranty and quality is as good if not better than my S&W 686 (which now has a 1 year warranty) never really liked MOUSE guns. Just my perspective. I do wish they offered the SP in .44 special as well.

Grey Morel
September 20, 2010, 12:50 PM
The great thing about new guns is that they are NEW.

There are few things so obnoxious as finding a good deal on a vintage revolver, only to have to replace the hand / bolt / ratchet and have a smith adjust the timing. LAME.

September 20, 2010, 12:58 PM
Buy a used MD 36 S&W or an Air Weight if you can find one.

September 20, 2010, 01:13 PM
Ruger LCR

September 20, 2010, 01:47 PM
LCR problem

September 20, 2010, 05:42 PM
I do wish they offered the SP in .44 special

Now THAT would make me mix a cocktail with Ruger Kool-Aid!!!

September 20, 2010, 05:56 PM
I just wanted to follow up and thank everyone for your suggestions, experience, and feedback so far.

Ideally I would have a friend familiar with revolvers help pick one out, inspect used ones, etc... but I live in a state where "guns are baaad, mmmkay" and unfortunately don't know any other shooters.

So this board and its contributors have been a great resource.

Based on your feedback, I'm leaning towards, in order of preference:

1) Used S&W 442 or 642. The only difference is finish, right?
2) New or used LCR (hoping that video was a fluke)
3) New Taurus or Charter (since they're both inexpensive, i'll choose one
based on gut reaction and feel).

And for now I'll rule out any other manufacturers that weren't mentioned and recommended.

Thanks again. And I won't be buying for another couple weeks, so please keep chiming in with your experience if you have the time. :)

Cactus Jack Arizona
September 20, 2010, 06:10 PM
I too resisted the revolver as my CCW for my first two and a half years of carrying. However, I since purchased the S&W 637 Airweight. It cost me a few dollars more than your top limit of $400. All I've done to it was to replace the small two-fingered grip with a bit larger Hogue for better controllability, especially when using +P.

Taurus has a few different models of ultra-lites. Although I've never shot one of the Taurus Ultra-Lites, I have shot the Model 85 and was pleasantly surprised at it's accuracy and function. Plus, they can generally be found for under $400.

September 20, 2010, 06:11 PM
$509 for the S&W

That's pretty steep if you're talking about a 642/442.

September 20, 2010, 07:40 PM
I own a 442 and carry it. Its nice for carry, very light. I did pocket carry for a while, then gave up on it. I found it uncomfortable and slow to draw. SO I got rid if the tiny grip it came with and put on a nice pachmayr and carry it in a holster on my belt. Shooting it with the larger grip is super nice.

Last week I shot a guys LCR .357. Very nice gun also. I shot +P+ .38s and there was very little felt recoil due to it being a bit more beefy than the 442 and a few oz heavier too. The LCR comes with a nice grip which also helps with the recoil.

(Then I shot his glock 27 with a 15 round mag, which is just silly.:D)

September 20, 2010, 08:11 PM
310.00 OTD.
I like it and it goes BANG everytime

September 20, 2010, 08:18 PM
A touch over $250 got me this one a little over a year and a half ago. It had the factory stocks on it at the time. I added the modified Siles for an extra $9 and some sand paper time.

September 20, 2010, 08:21 PM
Be patient and look used. I recently purchased a M38-1 S&W for $200.00. Of course I looked 3 years before I laid eyes on a used Smith.

September 21, 2010, 05:03 PM
I love my Taurus M85 stainless ultralite. Very accurate revolver, still tight, still 3" at 25 yards accurate after 14 years and many thousands of rounds. It's 17 ounces and it is not noticeable all day in a pocket. I think they run a might over 400 at Academy IIRC. I've seen Smith 642s at Academy for under 500. 500 is a more realistic top price methinks. The new Ruger LCR is between 4 and 500. You can get an all steel Rossi for under 300, but it's a might heavy compared to the little alloy guns. The little Ruger is REALLY light at 13 ounces.

The little light weight alloy guns have some recoil with +P stuff. I shoot light loads at the range in my Taurus so my hand can handle a hundred rounds or two. The gun has no problem handling it. I have the rubber boot grip it came with on it for pocket carry, but a larger grip would help the hand. It's not a range gun, though. It's a pocket defense revolver for me, so the boot grip stays.

Gato MontÚs
September 21, 2010, 05:29 PM
Don't forget that Smith and Wesson is running their $50 rebate on snubbies til the end of the year. I just got a 642 for $370 after rebate.

September 21, 2010, 05:34 PM
Don't forget that Smith and Wesson is running their $50 rebate on snubbies til the end of the year. I just got a 642 for $370 after rebate.

A quick google only found rebates for M&P and and Sigma. Do you have a link or more info?

I'd *love* to get a 442 or 642, but the cost is holding me back, unless i can find one used... maybe a time-limited rebate is enough to defend the new purchase (to myself, and the lady). :)

September 21, 2010, 07:37 PM
Of course, if caliber isn't a problem, there are the NAAs. :D Hey, technically a pocket revolver for under 400 bucks.

Fat Boy
September 21, 2010, 08:45 PM
I can tell you about a S&W Centennial that sold recently for $450- in 90% or better condition at a gun show; the buyer considered it a good deal....:D

Gato MontÚs
September 21, 2010, 09:40 PM
A quick google only found rebates for M&P and and Sigma. Do you have a link or more info?


September 21, 2010, 09:46 PM
Perfect, thank you Nasser. :)

September 22, 2010, 07:51 PM
I carry an older Charter arms 38 special undercover. I fits well in my pocket and fires every time. I bought it for $200.00 otd and love it. You can buy a more expensive revolver but what do you really want it for? For self protection or show?

September 22, 2010, 09:20 PM
I saw a used S&W 642 at the store today for $390. But they also had brand new 442 for $445. With the $50 rebate, i'd only save $5 used.

I'm still not quite ready to make a purchase, so (after using their range, of course :)) I just handled them, did some browsing etc.

So in case they still have this later and I'm deciding between the new and used, let me ask a really dumb question: What's the gun store etiquette on asking for a lower price, used? Is it ok to bring up the fact that the $50 rebate makes their used one essentially the same price?

In the past I've only ever bought new so I just paid sticker price when it was fair.

September 22, 2010, 09:37 PM
The 642/442 solution is hard to argue with for anyone's "first" pocket-snub.

It's an industry-standard for a reason.


Gato MontÚs
September 23, 2010, 12:32 AM
That was my line of thinking. I really liked the LCR's trigger, but I felt more comfortable going with the tried and true, especially given it's my first snub.

As for haggling over used guns, it never hurts to ask.

September 23, 2010, 07:51 AM
New LCR (for a snubbie they have GREAT triggers)
Used an OLD Smith or Colt. Yes, I do think the old ones are better for some or all of the reasons that people have already mentioned.

But, my problem is that when I find an old one it ends up being a safe queen because I don't want anything to happen to them. So a LCR is in my pocket now and my old snubbies are safe in the safe...

September 23, 2010, 08:16 AM
I have a North American Arms in 22 mag and you can carry it all day long and never know you have it in your pocket.

September 23, 2010, 09:03 AM
I never realized how proud S&W is of their new small J frame revolvers. The LCR is a good choice, I would go with the 357mag model. Just personal preference.
As far as 38 vs 380, 75% of the 380 autos I've shot, jammed every round. The taurus 380 I owned, was sent back to the factory twice and they still couldn't get it right. IMHO, I would always carry a small frame revolver rather than a small frame auto.

September 23, 2010, 10:12 AM
I have the LCR 357. They are a nice carry gun. I carry it or the S&W 380 bodyguard. I also have the North American 22 mag for times when I wear shorts and tee shirts.

September 23, 2010, 02:12 PM
I can sell you this S&W M-36 chiefs special for $325.00 one bad spot on the cylinder rest of the gun is in good shape pinned barrel .38 special just a honest working gun.

September 23, 2010, 02:24 PM
As far as 38 vs 380, 75% of the 380 autos I've shot, jammed every round.
msgunner: I've heard that a number of times, and each time it makes me more and more likely to buy a revolver. I love the idea of the TINY size of a 380, but I really don't think it's worth the tradeoffs.

Bigtubby, that looks like a nice revolver. I think I'm pretty set on a 642 or 442 though, but I definitely appreciate the offer.

And thanks again to everyone for your replies. It's been really helpful, and should be helpful to others in my shoes who stumble upon this later.

September 29, 2010, 08:40 PM
I spent a lot of time going and back and forth between pocket 380s, various .38 revolvers, and even some sub-compact and slim 9mm.

Just wanted to follow up and say today I finally bought one. :)
I ending going with my gut and the overwhelmingly positive suggestions on this forum, and got a S&W 642

Got a pretty good deal (for this area), too: $455. Other shops around here wanted $520-590 for it.

Thanks again to everyone!

September 29, 2010, 09:13 PM
A very, very wise choice . . . and a gun that can last you and serve you well for an entire lifetime . . . and still be going strong!


September 30, 2010, 10:06 PM
Typically most shops don't have a lot of leeway on new gun prices, except sometimes.

On used guns, most shops do have some discretion and it is considered "appropriate" to ask or offer less than the tagged price.

October 1, 2010, 09:15 AM
$530.00 is about $100.00 too much for a 642. I bought one several months ago for right at 400. Check to make sure the barrel is squared up with the frame. I saw quite a few when I was shopping that had a slightly canted front sight. I still think the 642 is the best pocket revolver even with the new polymer entries. The latch on the new polymer S&W 38 is awkward and slow, I wouldn't even consider it.

October 1, 2010, 10:10 AM
$530.00 is about $100.00 too much for a 642. I bought one several months ago for right at 400.

Only way I could get it for $400 is by driving waay downstate. I'm happy with 455.

Check to make sure the barrel is squared up with the frame. I saw quite a few when I was shopping that had a slightly canted front sight.

Thanks for the info. I'll be sure to check that as soon as I pick it up. Can hardly wait.

October 1, 2010, 10:16 AM
I tell ya there is a lot of talk about locks, finishes and MIM parts. I have a prelock M38-1 I would trade in a new york min for a used 642/442 or LCR.

October 1, 2010, 11:16 AM
The J-frame Smith is the gold standard. As the OP points out, in more ways than one. The Colt revolvers were great, but are produced no more, and the used market is pretty steep there, too. I'm suggesting South America...the J-frame is also one of the most knocked-off guns in history, and I really like my Rossi 88 copy of a Chief's Special Stainless. I picked it up from a CA pawnshop online. Evidently, due to the enlightened law of the Left Coast, they couldn't sell it in-state which probably accounted for the very reasonable price. I'm not that familiar with Taurus, but they probably make a J-frame copy, too, and have a good rep.

Erik M
October 1, 2010, 11:18 PM
I ran into a Taurus 85 Ultralite a year or so ago, Its been my 'light' carry piece since. The overall consensus is that S&W j-frame is the go to for light revolvers. I just happened upon the Taurus clone of the Smith 637, and the price was just over 2 bones.

A bit of advice, don't go cheap on your choice of holster. No matter how nice your firearm is, the comfort and quality of the holster is just as important. Im not saying to buy the most expensive thing on the market. Holster makers have large fanbases for a reason, just like firearms manufacturers.

October 3, 2010, 11:45 PM
I picked up my new 642 today, and realized it doesn't have the internal lock.

Is this a newer model, or older one? Just curious.

October 4, 2010, 12:10 AM
Bud's Gun Shop has the S&W M637 for $418.00. There will be some fees for your local FFL to receive the gun, but you still get a $50.00 rebate from S&W through the end of this month, so you should come out under $400.00. I really like the little Smith and I don't have any hangups about it being new. Smith's bad days were in the later 1970s and 1980s toward the end of the Bangor Punta era, so used is no guarantee of satisfaction.

Of course, everyone is going to jump up and down about the M637's exposed hammer. Because of the way I draw the gun, I don't have any problem with it snagging, even when it's in a pocket. If it's a big deal to you, Bud's has the M642 for the same price.

Gato MontÚs
October 4, 2010, 12:14 AM
The two 642's that come without the lock are the new Pro models and a special run with the older 642-1 frames. The pro models are cut for moon clips, and since you didn't mention anything about that, I'm guessing you're like me and got one of the -1's. Check under the crane to see the dash designation.

October 4, 2010, 12:15 AM
I checked and it's a 641-1.

Thanks, that answers my question.

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