Is a snub nose still relevant?
Is a snub nose better or worse for carry that an semi-automatic?
What are the pros and cons of a snub nosed revolver?
These questions are asked all the time. Below, I will give my personal opinion on the subject based upon using both types in pistol training courses and carrying both.
For my comparison I will use the two handguns I carry most, my Generation 4 Glock 26 9mm and my Ruger KLCR .357 Magnum.
Before I start I want to address the biggest and most common myth regarding handguns:
Caliber Size Matters
Ballistics wise, there is not much difference. You can refer to my other article, A Case For Your Carry Caliber and Why They All Suck for more of my opinion as to why all handgun rounds are comparable. The FBI also came to the same conclusion scientifically recently. You can read about it here: FBI 9MM Justification.
Again, if you face a determined adversary, shot placement is more important than bullet size. Just ask Sgt. Timothy Gramins who put 14 rounds of .45 ACP into a suspect, 6 in supposedly fatal locations. Firing 33 rounds in 56 seconds in the gunfight until he finally ended it with head shots.: Why One Officer Carries 145 Rounds of Ammo on the Job
Carry what you shoot well. Leave the caliber fights to the uneducated.
With that out-of-the-way, now I can get into peeling back the layers of the snub vs semi debate from my personal experiences.
So I will now hit on what I feel are the important points regarding concealed carry handguns:
I would like to address the revolver first. While revolver malfunctions are rare, when they do happen there is only two that can be fixed by pulling the trigger again. These failures are the two most common:
Light primer strikes
Most other revolver failures can put a stop to the weapon, requiring time and tools to fix.
One of those being a cylinder freeze up from debris under the extractor. This is a result of dirty environments and/or high round counts between cleanings.
High primers can also cause a cylinder to jam. Checking your carry ammo before you deploy it for high primers can prevent this.
Another revolver failure that can put a stop to a revolver is if the crane screw backs out preventing the cylinder from opening and/or rotating.
Yet another is the cylinder release latch screw backing out and causing the latch to fail not allowing the cylinder to open.
Crimp jumping in snub nosed revolvers is also an issue. Ammunition with improper crimps can push the bullet out of its casing during the violent recoil found in a snub nose just enough to lock the cylinder up requiring tools to get it back in service.
Snub nose revolvers can also go out of time causing the shooter to be sprayed with bullet fragments.
Another issue is improper extraction and casings getting caught under the extractor star.
What the snub nose revolvers have going for them is the lack of ammunition sensitivity. It will shoot just about anything chambered for it with little or no problem as long as the ammo is properly primed and crimped (see above).
Semi-autos have their own host of issues.
Lack of lubrication aka neglect can cause them to stop functioning properly.
Double feeds, failure to extract and or eject cases are also an issue.
Magazine failures due to weak springs are also an issue and can contribute to some of the above
Most of these issues however can be resolved with a tap, rack, bang procedure or inserting a new magazine.
Double feeds can take a little longer but are not common when using proper ammunition and new semi-autos with high reliability track records.
Most modern snub nose revolvers and sub compact semi-autos; when loaded with good quality and properly tested ammunition; are not prone to failure and are extremely reliable.
To proclaim a revolver is more reliable than a semi auto is simply untrue. I have seen enough failures of both. Personal and second hand.
Another plus about the revolver is it is more reliable when shooting out of a pocket and at contact distances where clothing and other foreign objects can get involved with the cycling. Semis are much more prone to failure when foreign objects are introduced to the firing cycle. However the Glock will fire slightly out of battery at contact distance as has been shown by numerous tests.
Revolvers will tolerate neglect a lot better than semi-autos but semis will tolerate torture a lot better than the snubs.
Meaning, if I fail to oil or clean a revolver and a semi and put both in a drawer for years then take them out to test them, the semi has a higher chance of shooting only one round off before locking up but the revolver will have a better chance of firing all cylinders.
On the other hand, if I take the semi out to a 300+ round pistol course and run it through dirt, mud, etc. It will more than likely finish without failure whereas the revolver cylinder will more than likely crud up causing the cylinder to lock up or extraction failures.
I experienced this recently running both the Glock 26 and the Ruger LCR through a pistol course of fire. While the LCR did not fail, the cylinder did stop rotating freely and I am certain that if I had kept going, it would eventually stopped extracting and spinning altogether while the Glock 26 showed no sign of slowing down.
Where the LCR shines is if you are neglectful and where the Glock 26 shines is where if you like to run high round counts. For carry, there is no clear winner here. Each are reliable when maintained properly and loaded with good quality, tested ammo and will serve well for concealed carry and do what they are intended to do when they are intended to do it.
Capacity and Reloading
The elephant in the room when discussing the compact semi vs the revolver is capacity. The snub nose will always have a fixed number of shots. In the LCR’s case 5. My Cobra holds one more with 6.
The Glock 26 can have 10+1, with factory +2 mag extensions 12+1, and can use the 15 round Glock 19, 17 round Glock 17, and 33 round Glock factory magazines. Those are just the factory options, There are many other aftermarket options.
Going on the base factory configuration, the Glock 26 holds more than double the LCR. Even the smaller single stacks hold at least 6 in the mag and 1 in the chamber, giving 2 more rounds.
As far as the “you can always reload” aspect, I say… can you? While in an active confrontation?
Now my reloads in courses where the mags or speed loaders are nicely available on my belt with an open top configuration, can be done in 2 seconds ore less. But in real life where I carry concealed and the mags or speed loaders and or strips are in a pocket or on a belt in a clip or holder under a shirt, the reload times go up into the 4 to six 6 second time frame.
That’s a lot of time flipping up shirts, fishing around in pockets, etc. So you are really giving up a lot in terms of capacity when carrying a snub nose. It is much faster to carry a NY reload in this case. Which means a second snub.
To touch more on reloading. When carrying on the belt, my reload times are pretty similar, because I train to reload with both firearms. The Glock 26 is about .25-.5 faster but when carrying the reload in a pocket, and having to fish the smaller speed loaders out, I can reload the Glock 26 a full 1-2 seconds faster. When using speed strips to perform a 2+2 reload, I can reload the Glock a full 4-6 seconds faster. That’s an eternity when under stress in the middle of an active confrontation.
The semi-auto magazine insert process is way less prone to fumbling than using speed strips or speed loaders as well. In the recent course I did I actually fumbled a round out of the speed loader under stress when closing the cylinder, loading only four rounds. I have also ripped rounds out of a speed strip into the cylinder and dropped some of the other rounds by hitting them with my fingers, loading only 2. It takes more dexterity, a hand swap; depending upon the method you use; and is just slower than inserting a magazine and hitting the slide release.
The Glock 26 is just faster to reload and holds more ammo than the LCR.
Recoil and Follow Up Shots
The Glock 26 9mm definitely handles recoil better than the LCR with 38 +P rounds. (depicted above)
A LOT better than the LCR with 357 magnum rounds. Follow up shots with the Glock are faster due to both recoil and the trigger reset which I will cover below. Split times and transition times are just faster with the Glock 26. Running the same pistol course of fire with both firearms, I was faster hands down with the Glock 26. Even when I ran the LCR for a second time to shave time off after knowing what to expect.
The Glock 26 has lighter recoil, and due to the trigger reset sends rounds down range more accurately and faster than the LCR.
The two triggers couldn’t be more different.
The double action long pull of the LCR was around 10.12 lbs new and broke into 9.15 lbs last time I checked it. It is a crisp long pull with no discernible stacking but it’s downside is it is prone to short stroking without training. In my recent course I short stroked only once. A simple extra couple pulls of the trigger solved the issue, but even with 6000+ rounds under my belt I still do it under stress.
The striker fired double action trigger of the Glock came in at 6.54 lbs new and has broken into 5.8 lbs now. It has a typical striker fired “spongy” feel to it on the first trigger pull and then it has a very pronounced and clean reset that can be worked for quicker trigger pulls and accurate followup shots. The spongy feel of the first pull smooths out over time and shooting. I prefer the stock Glock triggers over aftermarket but there are plenty of aftermarket options available.
As stated above, The Glock 26 trigger reset allows you to send rounds down range more accurately and faster than the LCR. The LCR has the ability for the shooter to short stroke as well. The Glock 26 has the better working trigger out of the box.
The Sights and Accuracy
The Glock definitely has a longer sight radius. But both have aftermarket sight options available to them. The LCR front sight only, the Glock both front and rear. I run the Ameriglo CAP sights on all my Glocks and love them. The LCR just gets green nail polish on it. I do have the option of putting a night sight on it. I just choose not to.
The longer Glock sight radius combined with the trigger reset helps out with accuracy on longer shots. I found running both side by side in a duplicate of the FBI qualification course where a 48 out of 60 is required to pass, I was able to score 18 more points with the Glock 26 and I passed it the first time (missing no par times) with a 50 out of 60 whereas I only shot a 32 out of 60 with the LCR and missed par times on a few stages.
UPDATE: I recently shot it with the same hand loads out of my Smith 442-1 and scored a 48 of 60 (passing) and missed no par times. The shorter trigger and reset is much better than the LCR split time wise and helps with accuracy and followup as well. Who would have thought?
Running Bill Wilson’s 5X5 drill from concealment, I was able to complete it a full 10 seconds faster after shot placement penalties with the Glock 26 than the LCR. I ran it twice with the LCR and could not come close to the Glock 26 time.
This also was the first pistol course I have run since I had my hand and wrist surgery so my expectations were low to begin with but I was pretty happy with the way the Glock 26 performed.
The Glock 26 has a 3.42″ barrel as opposed to the LCR’s 1.87″ barrel. Combine that with the longer sight radius, less recoil, and the trigger reset, it is just more accurate and faster than the LCR regardless of sights.
Concealing, Size, and Weight
The LCR weighs in at 19.1 ounces loaded with 135 grain 38+P Speer Gold Dot HP for Short Barrel holding a total of 5 rounds
The Glock 26 weighs 27.1 oz with the 147 grain Speer Gold Dots holding a total of 11.
Size wise they are pretty comparable. Both are about the same length within .10″ and the LCR with the boot grip is about the same height.
The cylinder on the LCR is .10″ wider than the Glock 26 at its widest point.
As far as being concealable for me, what makes the difference is the width not so much when I appendix carry, but the grip length outside of the pant line and the length of the barrel comfort wise. Both conceal well and both are comfortable to carry all day.
They both sit well in the Galco stow and go holsters. The LCR is more concealable due to the boot grip and is noticeably lighter to carry but the trade-off is you have to dig deeper to get a grip and draw it.
The plus for the LCR is the carry weight.
The plus for the Glock 26 is it is easier to grab and draw. Making it a little quicker to get the first shot off.
So it just comes down to preference. They are both comfortable and small/light enough to carry all day without issue.
So I ask again Is a snub nose still relevant? Is a snub nose better or worse for carry that an semi-automatic?
My answer is: It depends.
Obviously, I know that shoot the Glock 26 better than the LCR. Due to a number of factors such as trigger reset, barrel length, carry posture, sight radius, recoil, and barrel length.
If you choose to carry a snub nose revolver, you just need to be aware of the trade offs in accuracy, speed, and capacity. If you cannot accept those trade offs then the answer is no, it is not relevant. FOR YOU. Move on, buy a semi. But just because it is not relevant for you, does not mean it is for others.
If you can accept those limitations, and train with your snub enough to become proficient, then the answer is yes, it is as relevant as ever in this modern era.
For me? The answer is a resounding YES. I love snubs and I carry them by choice. I use and carry both sub compact semi-autos and snub nosed revolvers and I am fully aware of the trade offs involved with both and nobody can tell me otherwise. The snub nosed revolver is as relevant as ever in my opinion.