Snubby Revolver Advantages
When I first became a peace officer more than 30 years ago, most of us carried a J-frame as a backup on duty and off duty. The J-frame is the right combination of reliability, portability and power. In an intimate-range struggle, the revolver may be pressed against an opponent’s body and fired more than once. This makes the revolver a top choice for backup use.
There is another advantage often left out of reports concerning the J-frame: the 2-inch barrel J-frame can be drawn quickly from leather. With a properly designed holster, the J-frame practically leaps into the hand. At close range, the short sight radius is fast on target. I would never say the J-frame is easily mastered, but the type may be used well.
Smart Beats Out Bond
I have noted that many shooters come to my class with a handgun that is a non sequitur to the problem at hand. But some come to the class with a good choice. Among these are the young shooters who have recently qualified near the top of the class with a snubnose .38 revolver. It can be done, and when you have mastered the J-frame .38, you are well armed.
During my last few years in police service, a rookie officer took a matter to the chief that he and I disagreed on. His wife had purchased a stainless Walther PPK .380 automatic for off-duty use for this officer. I did not allow him to qualify or carry the piece. The .38 Special is little enough for defense use, but will serve with the best loads. The .380 ACP is another matter.
This rookie asked the chief to intervene. After all, the man said, “James Bond used a PPK.” I was apt to ream a rookie out when he compared fiction to reality. The Chief laughed, “Maxwell Smart was smarter than James Bond.” The rookie was instructed to get a .38 if he wanted a backup. He was also reminded that nothing less than a .38 Special could be used for (mandatory) off-duty carry. Maxwell Smart did indeed carry a concealed hammer .38 Special revolver.
Choosing the Right Snubby Holster
When it comes to holstering the J–frame, some folks just drop the gun in their pocket. That’s not a good idea. You need a good holster. The choice in J-frame holsters is wider than that offered by, say, Commander .45 holsters. This is simply because the J-frame .38 will fit in places the larger guns cannot — with the right snubby holster. Belt holsters, inside the waistband holsters, tuckables and pocket holsters are all viable for the J-frame. Many of these designs simply would not work well with a heavier handgun.
The J-frame is packable, concealable and fast into action. But the J-frame also packs enough power to be effective if the shot is well placed. The holsters illustrated take advantage of the light weight of the J-frame to enhance comfort and also offer real speed in most cases. Others are light, thin, concealable and still maintain a balance between speed and access.
The first holster anyone should consider is the strong side belt holster. The strong side holster offers a natural draw. There should be a good reason for deviating from the ease of access of the strong side holster. Among the most effective I have used is a wrap-around pancake style from Silver Star Custom Leather.
This holster keeps the handgun tight against the body with good retention while also offering good concealment. With the holster tightly held by a good gun belt you have good speed. This is because the gun butt is presented at the right angle for a rapid presentation from leather.
Another choice that is reminiscent of the Berns-Martin break front comes from Blackhawk. The Blackhawk holster features an elastic band built into the holster that keeps the revolver secure. It also offers a good sharp draw. This one requires some practice in pushing the gun butt forward on the draw to break out of the elastic band, but it is a viable option.
Another strong side holster I sometimes use comes from Jeffrey Custom Gunleather. This one is a very sturdy, design that features a belt loop with a strong snap on the back of the holster. The scabbard is kept secure, but you may change the holster quickly if need be. The holster isn’t quite as close-riding as some. Due to the grip clearance, it is among the fastest strong side holsters for the J-frame.
Snubby Holster Preferences
A true specialist for selecting holsters for snubbies, including holsters for the Ruger SP101 and Colt Detective Special, is Bobby Mac. Since many snubby .38s are hammerless, Bobby understands the need for good retention and also builds a holster that is very fast into action and comfortable. His pancake holsters are sought out by professionals and the buying public. A few factory ready J-frame holsters have been known to split at the belt loop because they are thin and light and folks tend to just pull them off the belt without much care. The Bobby Mac holster will survive such treatment.
An advantage of the snubby .38 is that it is short enough that a strong side holster conceals almost as well under a light jacket as an inside the waistband holster (IWB). But when carrying under a sweatshirt or sport shirt, the IWB works well. There is no holster body below the belt line and with a properly designed holster speed is good.
There are several preferences at work including clip to one side of the gun, clip over the cylinder and dual offset belt clips. It is up to the end user to decide which suits their needs best.
The NTAC IWB is a Kydex design with dual spring steel clips. This holster may be used as an OWB or IWB, so there is real versatility. The Kydex construction offers resistance to oil, solvent and perspiration. The holster retains its shape for years and offers a good, sharp draw.
IWB Snubby Holster Options
The Barber Leather Works design is one of my personal favorites. This one offers a tilt to the front for speed and concealment. The leather is top grade and the holster is well molded for the individual handgun. There is a strong holstering welt that prevents the holster from collapsing when the handgun is drawn. The belt clip rides on the rear of the holster. This works well with a light .38.
Sideguard offers two designs for the J-frame that serve different purposes. The first is a conventional IWB with the belt clip over the cylinder. This makes for a very compact holster taking up a minimum of space on the belt and under the waistband. This is a very handy holster that is secure, but fast to fit into the waistband without unfastening the belt. The second sideguard design is thinner for maximum concealment. The belt clips are situated at the ends of the holster body and there is no reinforced welt for holstering. The holster will collapse after the revolver is drawn. This is the flattest quality IWB I am aware of. The IWB is probably the best choice for most of us for carrying the snubnose .38, but there are other choices.
Pocket carry is very popular. I am late coming to pocket carry, but I sometimes carry a backup in the pocket. I have used several pocket holsters with good results.
The Gunfighters LTD pocket holster is very light and inexpensive. This is the one for casually dropping in the pocket. I own several to protect my J-frames when they are stored in the safe. The holster also rides in the pocket with me, particularly when the J-frame is carried in a jacket pocket. The DeSantis Nemesis is a similar but slightly heavier design that is very popular.
Perhaps the state-of-the-art holster at the moment is the Remora. Frankly, the other guys have a lot of catching up to do with this design. The Remora is designed not to collapse after the piece is drawn from the pocket. The Remora is also designed to work as an IWB without belt loops. While it performs okay in this application with most handguns, and it is known as the “Sticky” holster. (The Remora holster is available for many types of handguns.)
As a pocket holster the Remora is a big step forward. When the firearm is drawn, the Remora stays in place and does not collapse. Just remember to blade the hand on the draw. Do not attempt to make a fist and affirm the grip in the pocket or you will not be able to draw the handgun.
A Tuckable Snubby Holster
The Tuckable snubby holster allows a handgun to be carried under the shirt with the shirt tucked in. This neatly solves a number of problems, including concealing a handgun with dress wear, but no jacket. The J-frame offers a number of possibilities for this type of carry.
Most of the time you only have to evade the observation of people that you are not in contact when carrying concealed. It is quite another thing to be armed about those that you work with on a daily basis. I have carried for a considerable time in such an environment when only I and my client knew I was armed. I carried a handgun larger than a J-frame, but the principles are the same.
Carrying my Smith & Wesson Military Model 19 with 2.5-inch barrel in the Active Pro Tuckable was neatly accomplished. I wore the revolver over my right rear pocket. The Active Pro Tuckable was fitted into the trousers and the shirt tucked in over it. To draw, I first pull out my shirt and then draw the handgun. Rip the shirt out with the same hand that you draw the handgun. Make sure to practice in order to attain speed.
The Tuckable is a compromise, but in this case a good one. The Active Pro design isn’t made of cheap fabric, but rather the material is thick enough for the job and tightly woven. I would prefer a metal hook, but the plastic belt hook is well designed and of quality material. While fabric isn’t molded to the handgun in the same manner as leather, the Active Pro design achieves good fit by properly sewing each holster for the individual handgun it is designed to fit. As an example the trigger guard is properly blocked off in the revolver types.
Ankle Holsters and Other Options
Ankle holsters are the natural home of the backup .38. I do not recommend the ankle holster as a good option for the primary gun. The ankle holster is accessible when seated and when the wearer is driving. However, only the best quality holsters should be chosen. The problem is that when the body is traveling, the legs move more quickly than the torso. There is a lot of momentum built up with an ankle holster. If you move quickly there is a real chance the handgun will be dislodged from the holster. A $20 pawn shop holster simply will not do the business.
Gould & Goodrich are among the best factory production holsters. This holster is constructed of quality leather. The design elements are outstanding. As an example, you can lace the leather strap that attaches to the leg through boot loops. The thumb break is a folded over design not likely to be actuated unless you intend to draw the handgun. This holster is a marvel of design in many ways and an option that civilians as well as peace officers would be wise to explore.
A final option is the revolver-mounted belt clip produced by Brownells. Brownells offers a tune up kit consisting of premium springs, a set of Hogue grips and the belt clip. It is a minimal fashion, but then so is the snubby .38. This belt clip will prevent the J-frame from falling out of the belt, but the firearm still rides against the skin. It is a neat trick for the grab and go.
So Many to Choose From
When it comes to the snub-nosed .38 there are more carry options than with any other handgun type. Take care in selection and practice with the holster you choose. The life you save may be your own.
About Bob Campbell
Bob Campbell is a writer for Concealed Carry Magazine with a degree in criminal justice. Bob has been a firearms writer for decades, writing for Concealed Carry Handguns, Gun Tests, American Gunsmith, SWAT Magazine, Law and Order and Black Belt, among others. He has written 15 books primarily focused on handguns and training, including The Accurate Handgun from Gun Digest. In addition to serving as a peace officer and firearms instructor, he has also written curriculum at the university level.