Shooting Times Magazine
Snubnosed sixguns sans hammer spurs make fine pocket guns: however, some shooters believe dehorned revolvers invite accidents. Not so. Others think snubbies must be holster-carried. Not so again.
Three of my more useful tools are a squarebutt Smith & Wesson Chief’s Special, a Smith M60 stainless, and a Colt Detective Special, all two-inch barrels. These .38s don’t do much work; they just lie around in convenient places, ready to be crammed in a waistband or dropped into a jacket pocket. They are always loaded, always “on call”.
Besides being snubnosed belly guns, these little hideouts share another common characteristic. They all have had the same surgery performed on them that make them look, feel, and perform differently from their factory brothers. Their hammer spurs have been removed.
I have been grinding off the hammer spurs of pocket revolvers for so many years that I sometimes forget not everyone else does the same. It was a bit of a surprise when a letter came last month from a gentleman in New York who described himself as a firearms instructor, stating that he considered the dehorning of hammer spurs a “dangerous practice.”
He pointed out that letting the hammer down from the cocked position after preparing for a single-action shot”… can result in the revolver discharging.” He also stated that the lightened hammer could cause misfires, and that because excellent holsters were available he could not see “dehorning” any revolver.
This is his business, and I would not spend a single minute attempting to win this courteous correspondent over to my way of thinking. However, my own experience has convinced me that he is in error.
Holsters for snubguns are a mistake. My opinion is that the only useful holster ever devised for a two-inch revolver was the upside down Berns Martin Lightning shoulder rig, along with its imitators, and it is of value only when a coat is worn. Under a jacket, the upside down rig is as fast as a belt holster, and conceals itself better. Under a shirt it is as slow as a basset on a greyhound track.
Carried in a holster on a belt, the shorty is no more easily concealed than a four-inch revolver, perhaps even a six-inch gun. The combined diameter of cylinder and thickness of leather, causing eye-catching bulges under a coat, are about the same regardless of barrel length. The man who wears a belt holster would be infinitely better armed with a more accurate, more powerful, long-barrelled revolver in his holster than any snubnose ever made.
My snubbies are salted away in the nooks and crannies of my clothing. Sometimes a side pants pocket, sometimes the roomy patch pocket of a winter coat provides a convenient receptacle for one of these little hide-savers on a midnight trip to the newsstand or grocery store. Stuffed under the waist belt, inside or outside my shirt, the short revolver is fairly unobtrusive. Especially when playing backup to a holstered magnum, the belly gun should be stashed out of view.
If you try a rapid draw from any of these clandestine corners with a revolver still sporting its hammer spur, your movements will be accompanied by the sound of ripping fabric – and perhaps a splash of profanity if the reason for your pulling your gun was serious.
The hammer spur of your short revolver will invariably hang on the lip of a pocket. It will usually foul itself in the lining of a coat or jacket when drawn from the waistband , and will frequently catch in the folds of a blousy shirt tail when a jacket is not worn.
If you have even a marginal degree of manual dexterity, the stub hammer of the altered gun will cause you no problems. The snubnose is essentially a rapid-fire, double-action defense gun. Double-action shooting will be the same, with or without a hammer spur.
On those rare occasions when you desire to shoot single action, start the hammer back by pulling the trigger about half of its normal travel. Then lay the ball of your thumb down over the top of the hammer and the tip of the firing pin and cock it. The flesh of your thumb will mesh with the hammer nose, and the firing pin will sink slightly into the skin, giving a control that is actually more positive than that afforded by the shallow-checkered surface of a hammer spur.
If you feel nervous about cocking the revolver in this fashion, just remember to keep your trigger finger completely free of the trigger. If the hammer slips, the safety mechanism installed on the Colt, S&W, and Charter guns will take over and prevent the firing pin from striking the primer of a chambered cartridge – unless you goofed and held the trigger all the way back.
Those who don’t think these precautions are adequate, or who simply want to fancy up their gun, frequently have the top of the shortened hammer checkered or serrated. With or without this frosting, dehorned revolvers may be handled through the all-single-action PPC course as smoothly as their unaltered counterparts by any shooter willing to devote a small amount of thought and time to their use.
Accidents with dehorned revolvers may have occurred, although I’ve never heard of any. I believe that any such mishap might have as readily taken place if the same gun handler had been armed with a revolver fresh out of the box. I do not believe that the removal of the tiny amount of metal representing the hammer’s spur is going to be a crucial factor in the ignition of any primer that would have been actuated by the original hammer. After about 25 years of using dehorned guns I haven’t experienced such a phenomenon.
J.H. Fitzgerald, the great Colt exhibition shooter and police instructor, was infatuated with short-barrelled, dehorned DA guns, and used them in pairs in a range that started with the .22 LR Banker’s Special and stopped with the .45 Colt New Service, probably only because that was the biggest DA made by his employers.
One of the pet belly guns of Charley Askins, a national pistol champion and serious defense shooter for more than 40 years, is a cut-off Colt Officer’s model in .32 S&W Long. Its spur has been removed.
For exhibition work, the fastest and most accurate of all the hipshots, Bill Jordan, uses an M19 S&W Combat Magnum. No hammer spur. If you catch him jogging down the street near his home, don’t jump him. The pouch pocket on the belly side of his sweat shirt just might contain a dehorned S&W Airweight Chief .38.
Jordan’s holster gun, the S&W Combat, also has an alteration to the trigger guard. Long Willie’s hands sprout fingers that appear to have originated from a package of the product of Oscar Meyer, and his trigger digit swings a wider arc than yours or mine before finding its nest on the Smith’s trigger face.
Jordan’s surgical procedure leaves his index finger as fulsome as ever, but thins the front of the trigger guard to allow a fraction of an inch of extra passageway. With a hand grinder, Bill cuts a half moon of metal from the right side of the front bow of the guard (he is right-handed), leaving it about half as wide at its front as is the factory job.
This is a more thoughtful approach than one that was popular 30 years ago, one that influenced me to screw up several good guns before realizing the folly of it. Some of the old timers weren’t satisfied with hacking off the hammer spur.
Apparently thinking that if a little grinding was good, then a whole lot was better, they birdsheaded grip frames and shortened extractor rods until they wouldn’t raise a fired case a quarter inch from the chambers. This was done in the name of “slickness,” and was accompanied by a great thinning of stocks and filing away of front sights.
About the most useless thing they did was to completely cut away the front of the trigger guard. A DA revolver thus mutilated is a crippled gun.
The cutaway trigger guard looks like a hell of a good idea until you’ve tried it. You would think that a double action with nothing in front of the trigger to slow down your trigger finger’s instant contact during a rapid draw would be infinitely faster than a gun which forces you to carefully thread the key digit through a loop of metal.
Practice has proved to me that my finger seeks and finds the trigger with none of my attention having to be spared to guide it there. In other words, I am as fast with a trigger guard as I am without one, and there are disadvantages to having no guard in front of your trigger.
The most serious drawback is the constant awareness that the loop of metal is gone. With an intact trigger guard you know that if your grip fails the gun will simply roll on your trigger finger, and you will still have it in your hand. The gun can be partially twisted from your hand during a scuffle with an assailant, but unless he gets a very solid grab at it, the guard will keep you from losing it completely.
With the front of the guard entirely cut away, these assurances are gone, and I feel in constant danger of dropping or being torn loose from a gun so butchered. The effect is to make me grip unnecessarily hard on the handle, and to be thinking more of losing the revolver than shooting it. Neither of these distractions will help me much in a bad situation.
* * *
I have been criticized occasionally for pointing out that Colt and Smith & Wesson revolvers with leaf mainsprings may have their DA pulls eased considerably by weakening the springs a bit by bending the Colt or narrowing the S&W hammer-thrower. This has to be done cautiously or the springs will be too weak and cause misfires. The only intelligent approach is to have a spare, unaltered spring at hand as a possible replacement if you overdo things, then to fire a large quantity of ammunition to test the slicked-up gun before relying on it to save your life.
None of my lightened DA guns give misfires from a too-light hammer blow.
My success at smoothing DA sixguns with coil mainsprings has been limited, and I have found that revolvers such as the Smith Chief’s Special seem to smooth out and attain somewhat lighter pulls with use. I leave their springs alone.
Like a ready-made tuxedo, the unaltered factory revolver will fit everyone’s needs fairly well, but will suit very few shooters to perfection. I’ve found some changes that accommodate me quite well, but I won’t try to pressure you into adopting them.
A man ought to do what he thinks is best.
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