Big-Bore Snubbies. Seriously?


Astra Jovino Terminator .44 Magnum

Big-Bore snubbies are stupid. That’s right, you heard me. Stupid.  They are inefficient, heavy, bulky and do not do justice to the cartridges they are chambered for. A snub-nosed .44 Magnum like the one pictured above loses more than 50% of it’s muzzle energy compared to a gun with a six-inch barrel.  Take a typical 240gr. JHP in a commercial load; from a six-inch gun it has 1015ft/lbs. of energy. From the gun above? 475ft/lbs.  Mind you 475ft/lbs from a handgun ain’t nothin’ to sneeze at- but to get that you are going to have a massive muzzle-blast, trauma-inducing recoil and a long recovery time between shoots.

And lets talk packaging- yes, that’s a ‘compact’ gun… that doesn’t mean it isn’t big and fat.  Much harder to conceal than, say, a Glock 17.  ‘Yes, but POWER!’ I hear you cry. OK, let’s look at that. The gun pictured above holds six shots at 475ft/lbs for a total of 2850 total. Not bad at all. So a Glock 19 carries 15 rounds at- with a typical modern defensive load- 402 ft/lbs. each, for a total of 6030ft/lbs. Umm… yeah. Not much comparison, is there? So, heavy, fat, short of power both shot-for-shot and overall total. Yep, there’s no doubt. Big-bore snubbies are stupid.

Of course I absolutely adore them.

I’m not alone in that by any means. People have been making large-caliber, short-barrel revolvers for almost as long as they have been making metallic cartridges. Webley’s first cartridge revolver had a short-ish barrel and fired the .577 Trantor cartridge. Their first big market success with a revolver was a short-barreled .442- the Royal Irish Constabulary. This was followed by their British Bulldog revolvers in .442 Webley and .450 Adams, and these were so popular they were widely copied in Belgium, Spain and the United States.

Webley RIC (top) and British Lion bulldog revolver, both in .450 Adams

Short-barreled large caliber revolvers were made all over- witness my previous post about Sheriff’s Models.  Even if the manufacturer didn’t offer a short-barrel option there was always someone around who was happy to lop the barrel off to a more concealable length. In more modern times Charter Arms offered the Bulldog in .44 Special (and still do,) and other makers have followed suit with five-shot medium-frame revolvers also chambered for that cartridge.

Too often these guns simply do not make ballistic sense. The large, powerful cartridges they fire turn most of their power into muzzle-blast.  The Charter Arms Bulldog originally came with a three-inch barrel. A typical modern defensive load fired from a six-inch barrel makes 525ft/lbs of energy. The same load from the 3″ gun makes 328ft/lbs. That’s not awful by any means; It’s certainly better than a .38 Special in the same size range- though the .38 will give you an extra round.

The real problem is that you aren’t trading recoil and bulk for extra stopping power, which has always been the argument for guns like these. In real-life shootings no caliber has distinguished itself as being noticeably better at stopping an attacker- there have been a few that stand out as worse (.22,.25 & .32) but that’s about it. This is because past a certain point where you hit someone is far more important than what you hit them with. We beat that dead horse recently enough that we don’t need to do it again here.

Charter arms ‘Boomer’ .44 Special

So why do we love them? Some people love them because the are convinced they are more effective than the options. Some people, sadly, love them because it makes them feel manly. Sorry, dude, if you need a gun to make you feel manly you’re doing it wrong. Some people like them because they are fun.  Guess what? ‘It’s fun’ is all the justification you need.

Me? I love the look of a short gun with a ridiculously big hole in the end. It’s kind of hilarious. I love the meaty thump of the recoil.  I like the balanced aesthetics of a short-barreled revolver.

I got my first big-bore snubby in the 1980s- an Astra Jovino Terminator .44 Magnum. I thought it was stupid gun then, but I bought it because the price was ridiculously good and knew I could turn it for twice what I paid for it. It was a very nicely made gun with an excellent trigger pull. Of course I had to shoot it before I flipped it… and it was awesome. With .44 Special loads it was sweet as could be, and even shooting magnums it wasn’t all that bad. I fell in love; I was a little embarrassed to own it, but I just didn’t want to let it go. I sold it when my first wife and I moved to NYC, and I still wish I’d kept it.

Mind you, these guns aren’t useless by any means; it’s not like a .44 Special snubby will work less well than a .38.  And there are actual applications where they will do the job better- like if you are dealing with a dangerous animal. If you can fire a 250gr. hard-cast bullet at 1000fps. you can drop any animal that walks the North American continent, and no Glock19 in the world is gonna do that. A Ruger Alaskan, on the other hand, will do that without even flinching.

Ruger Super Redhawk Alaskan in .454 Casull

For walking the woods, whether camping, hunting, working or whatever, a compact gun in a potent caliber is a valuable companion.  Yes, it’s heavy and bulky- but it’s a lot less heavy and bulky than a rifle or shotgun, and if you do your part it can and will save your life.

As for self defense if we were all ruled entirely by the numbers we’d either carry a Glock 19 or a Glock 43, depending on our concealment needs. But the real world doesn’t work that way. I know a fellow that cut his teeth on single-actions, and he’s carried them on the trail, hunting etc. his whole life. Shoots ’em like they are hard-wired into his hind-brain too. He’s got a busy life; maybe for him a Sheriff’s Model in .45 Colt makes more sense than learning his way around the latest ‘plastic-fantastic.’

I know another fellow who got a Charter Arms Bulldog the day he turned twenty-one, and it’s been his hiking/trail/EDC ever since. I can’t honestly say he’d be better off with something more modern. There’s something to be said for a man that does it all with one gun.

So yeah, strictly speaking large-caliber snubbies may not be the most efficient choice in the world, but if it works for you then rock it with pride.  And if you happen across a Jovino Terminator at a good price drop a brother a line…


Michael Tinker Pearce, 27 September 2018




1 thought on “Big-Bore Snubbies. Seriously?

  1. Billca

    It’s true that some big bore snubbies don’t make a lot of sense. A short snout .44 Magnum just doesn’t allow for much velocity, at least compared to it’s potential. I have a S&W Model 25 Jovino conversion. Out of it’s almost 3″ barrel the .45 ACP reaches about 75-80% of it’s standard velocity. But more capable is my S&W 657 3″ .41 Magnum. A Speer 210 grain Gold Dot load runs about 1120 fps — with a howitzer-like muzzle blast. However, loading Starline .41 Special brass with a 210 grain bullet to 950 fps gives a satisfactory 420 ft-lbs at spitting distance and recoils like you fired a fence post downrange. Either are quite adequate for “soft” targets encountered in most defensive incidents.


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