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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Greetings All,

My mother recently expressed a desire to have a handgun around for protection, since she lives alone (well, with her Doberman) in a rather isolated area. I had her look at several of my guns, but none of the REAL small ones looked like they'd fit the bill - She has trouble working the actions of the semiautos, and did not like the single-action or the feel of the NAA mini. I concluded that her best bet would be a lightweight .38 snubby, so we got her an alloy Charter Arms Off-Duty for Christmas.

Mom is a very fit 80-something lady, but I don't want her to be overwhelmed by recoil or muzzle blast. I bought her a couple of boxes of 110 gr. Federal Premium Low-Recoil JHP ammo, but would appreciate any meaningful suggestions for other personal defense ammo that would be effective but not too 'stout' for a great-grandma with a .38. We haven't had the gun out to shoot it yet, so I don't know what her reaction will be to this ammo, or to any other .38's I might have her try (I have a good assortment in the ammo closet). She has fired a .38 snubby in the past with no problem, but that was a much heavier steel-framed gun. Anyone have any good experience arming Grandma? Thanks in advance for your suggestions.

Regards,
Jim
 

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The lightweight snub 38 will be much snappier than an all steel version. If she shoots any +P ammo out of it she may be overwhelmed. I have a S&W 442 Airmweight and an old 60s model 49 all steel and the Hornady Personal Defence in standard 38 special is a good round for less recoil. The +P ammo is a better performing SD round, but if one can't comfortably fire it on target in anticipation of recoil, then it can't be effective on what it can't hit.
 

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I second the suggestion about a steel-frame snub, rather than the lightweight model. Some of the alloy-framed Charters are as light as 112 ounces, and that would be a handful even for a guy. If you haven't shot the gun yet, maybe you can see about a trade for a steel-frame model where you bought it.

The other thing I'll suggest is staying away from +P ammo for Mom. The additional recoil and muzzle blast in a snub make it that much harder to recover from shot to shot. In fact, I would even suggest loading her snub with the 148 grain wadcutter load... your Mom will only be shooting to get someone out of her house, it's unlikely she'll get into a running gun battle. A sharp-edged wadcutter will certainly make a bad guy bleed no matter where he's hit. And the .38 WC is still far better than a .22, .25 or .32.
 

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Don't forget to tell grandma the seriousness of never letting the BG get ahold of her gun. And shoot until the threat (and defensive of her life) has been stopped.
 

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would echo the above, but in addition, maybe think about something w/o a hammer, You don't want her gettin all panicky and having a "hair trigger" trained on someone
Just sayin


G = Guns | PG = Plenty of Guns | PG-13 = More than 12 guns
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Guys,

Thanks very much for the quick replies!

Well, the alloy-frame snubby was chosen specifically because of the light weight. Mom has had a steel-frame Detective Special on loan from me for the last 20 years, but it stays in the night stand. She wanted something she could carry around in her pocket or apron, and the steel-frame snubby was just a little too bulky and heavy for her tastes. The Off-Duty weighs in at about 12-1/2 ounces vs. 21 oz. for the Detective Special. I also like the simplicity of the hammerless design so she's not worried about snags, etc.

So, the choice of gun is pretty much a given - I'm just looking for the best trade-off when it comes to performance vs. recoil & muzzle blast. She won't be using +P's. As soon as we get a chance, we'll try out a number of different loads and see what she likes. In the meantime, I'm interested in anyone's suggestions and/or experiences with elderly women shooting .38 snubbies!

As for tactics - we've had a good discussion about this. She's clear that the BG must never get anywhere near arms length, that he gets ONE warning (STOP!), and only if there's time for one, and that if she ever has to shoot, she ought to shoot at least a couple of times! My sister, brother-in-law and I have discussed this in a lot of detail, and we're very comfortable that Mom can handle a gun (and an intruder) safely. The last time we had the Detective Special out, she was shooting 3-shot groups of 2" at 7 yards, fairly rapid fire!

Anyway, thanks again for the suggestions, and I welcome any additional comments!

Very best regards,
Jim
 

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In my view the lightweight, alloy-framed revolvers fall more in the realm of an expert's gun and are not the best choice for someone not adept with handguns or with weaker hands or grip. It would be much kinder to provide a heavier steel framed gun to such a person. Despite the current fashion of seeking out ever lighter, ever smaller handguns for self defense, a model of adequate size and weight often may be shot more effectively and accurately.

If I was given the responsibility to arm such an individual for her household self defense I would select from the Ruger SP 101, Colt Detective Special, or Smith & Wesson Models 10 or 64 with 2-inch to 4-inch barrels. These all steel revolvers soak up .38 Special recoil far better than do alloy-framed guns or even the steel Smith & Wesson J-Frame guns. Only the Ruger is still available new. Though a .357 Magnum, the SP101 handles great when used with .38 Special loads. The others are only obtainable on the used market but fine examples abound and priced right too.

I still like the weight and style of bullet represented in the 158 grain semi-wadcutter load better than any jacketed 110-125 grain offerings which appear to be as ho-hum as a .380 and don't really offer huge velocity advantages in snub barrels. The 158 grain SWC adds a bit of weight into the equation for penetration and cuts a nifty hole and wound channel.

Some women like my wife are willing to tolerate the recoil of alloy-framed .38 Special snubs but they don't relish it. Some women simply can't handle the lightweights. I'm familiar with the 2-inch Smith & Wesson Model 10 and such a revolver even soaks up recoil from +P 158 grain SWC loads well. In my experience, women of all ages that shoot 2-inch or 4-inch Model 10 revolvers always love them. A great choice for household use.



S&W Model 10 2-inch round butt from the mid 1990s



The Model 10s predecessor, an early 1950s Smith & Wesson Military & Police 2-inch in square butt guise.



My 1966 Colt Detective Special (exposed ejector rod) visiting a friend's Detective Special (shrouded ejector rod) from the 1970s-1980s.


I'm a little concerned with recommendations of factory target wadcutter ammunition. They are pleasant to fire and easily controlled. The ones I've chronographed over the years are awfully slow. Most clock somewhere in the bottom end of the 600 FPS range or even less! Granted that's faster than velocities generated if propelled by a sling shot, but not by much. I've seen them occasionally caught in cans and other light weight targets when used in plinking sessions. They failed to completely penetrate and that would be a concern.

One can't safely push the hollow based wadcutters to any meaningful velocities due to the bullet's design. It's said that it is relatively easy to blow their skirts off with a resulting obstruction in the barrel. I've heeded warnings about hollow based wadcutters and excessive velocity so never used them with more than mild loadings.

Now a 148 grain solid base or double ended wadcutter, propelled to 750-850 fps is another matter entirely and would offer good effectiveness in a snub gun with reasonable control characteristics. Such a load is a handloading proposition though as far as I know.

Thirty years ago or longer it was fashionable in some circles to handload the soft lead hollowbased wadcutters backwards so the gaping base was oriented forward. With heavy powder charges this was thought to be wicked short range medicine for self defense, a sort of dum-dum load. I loaded up a single box of 50 once and shot them up in various ballistic "non-tests." They were a disappointment. Large wet phone books, dry phone books, earth, gallon paper milk cartons (remember those) full of water all were tried. No dependable expansion was to be had. Often as not the hollow base was mashed shut. Accuracy was poor.
 

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If this is for a house gun, I would not get her a snubby-anything. I would get her a 4", steel frame, full size revolver such as a used S&W M10 and put Hogue or Pachmayr stocks on it.

It will be much easier to shoot than any snubby.
 

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Hi Jim;

While I was shuffling photos I see that you posted that you want this revolver choice for her to carry on her person. Since she does so well with the Detective Special she may handle the Charter Arms revolver fine. I'd still be tempted to advise her just to tote the Detective Special that she handles so well as she is also is familiar with its characteristics.

Unless you'd just like to have the Detective Special back, heh!
 

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You were asking about ammo choices with concerns about recoil. I would try 158g LSWCHP and 140 Wad Cutters.
 

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get some 148gr wad cutters for her. it will do the job and will not be hard on her.
 

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The light-weight and feather-light 38's and 357's that I've shot, seemed to me to have a lot more recoil than a good solid revolver has. I didn't like them at all. Maybe it was me, but you might try them if possible first.

A 4" barrel .38 police special is not that heavy and shoots well without a lot of recoil.
 

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The light-weight and feather-light 38's and 357's that I've shot, seemed to me to have a lot more recoil than a good solid revolver has. I didn't like them at all. Maybe it was me, but you might try them if possible first.

A 4" barrel .38 police special is not that heavy and shoots well without a lot of recoil.

She could also shoot the 'short barrel' ammo.
 

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"She wanted something she could carry around in her pocket or apron..."

How about a pocket holster ? Might be a good investment for Mom, no matter which snubbie she carries.

bosco
 

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bmcgilvray, your photographs and advice have really gotten me revved up! I'm about ready to head for my local gun shop to check out the latest merchandise. Great job!
 

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A steel 4"-6" revolver would be a much better choice for a home defense weapon since concealability isn't a requirement.
 

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KW 3

My mother will be 80 this coming June. If your mother wants a gun that will go in her apron pocket it sounds like you got the right one. Mine has a Detective Special that sits in the closet that Daddy left her. She has expressed no desire to carry even around the house.

Anyway, I got some Buffalo Bore .38 spc. 150 gr. hard-cast WCs that are designed to be shot out of 2" barrels, have little muzzle flash and are standard pressure and shot some out of my S&W 642. These leave the barrel at about 850 fps and are of top-notch quality. I was surprised at their light kick.

If you're interested, Cabela's sells these along with others.

My mother wanted a light-kicking load and this seemed to be it.

Some older policemen I've known actually recommended (sp.) this load for my 642. The edges are sharp and the cutting action of the WC bullet is very damaging even in the low-velocity load, and they penetrate very deeply.

Hope this helps,
Bill
 

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Hmm, interesting thoughts here.

Here are mine; first, dont ever give a person 'lesser' ammunition because of physical size or age of that person. That is just not thinking things through. The ammo used for self defense is not for the shooters comfort, its for the attacker discomfort. Do you think the attacker of a small or elderly person is going to be any smaller or less determined than our own attacker? I think not.

Here is what you do; load up her snub with some light weight target ammo, like wad cutter. Let her shoot that as much as possible and gain confidence. Then stoke it up with the good stuff to carry. Should she ever have to use it to defend herself, I promise she will never notice the difference in recoil.
 

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Discussion Starter · #20 ·
Hi All,

I appreciate everyone's suggestions.

The choice of gun is a done deal, based on careful consideration of what Mom wants and needs. There's a lot to be said for a heavier/longer barrelled/steel frame/etc. gun, but she needs something small & light for carry in her apron around the property. The suggestions for ammo are what we really wanted.

We'll try out a number of loads to see what she's comfortable with. I'll let you all know what we decide! Your suggestions for ammo will give us some options to try out. Thanks again for the input!

Very best regards,
Jim
 
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