Looking at a super small and concealable gun that can fire big bullets?
The concept of a Derringer (originally Deringer, with one “r”) has remained immensely popular since its inception.
And that idea has kept these tiny defensive powerhouses in production for over 150 years.
Today, many people choose to carry a Derringer as a backup weapon, or as an easy pocket carry option that still has the power to stop a threat with authority.
That said, most people default to similarly sized pocket guns like the Ruger LCP and the like now, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
A small gun, with a heavy trigger, difficult-to-operate hammer, and a perilously short sight radius isn’t exactly an ideal self-defense gun, especially when there are so many easier to use options available.
If you’re interested in a modern derringer, you have a few options to choose from, and you should think long and hard about what you need and whether or not you’re getting a quality product.
Looking for something that’s tiny, cheap, and chambered in a caliber starting with “4” is a great way to accidentally buy a hand grenade if you aren’t careful. Be sure to do your research thoroughly.
Or you can just get one of the great derringers on this list.
…But First, a Little Background on Derringers
Way back in 1852, John Deringer (one “r”) came up with the idea for a small, easily-concealed pistol with a large bore that could be conveniently carried in the outer pocket of a gentleman’s coat.
Called the Philadelphia Deringer, it immediately caught on and spawned a huge number of copies which, to avoid trademark issues were sold as Derringers (with two “r”s). Capitalism happened, and the name of the copy stuck.
Today, derringers are sold all over the world and are still incredibly popular with those looking to defend themselves, but mostly they are novelties, range toys, and just interesting things to have around. That said, they’ll still put a big hole in a threat, so don’t discount them for self-defense, even if there are better options out there these days.
So if you’re looking for a modern derringer, where should you start? I’m glad you asked.
Here are the best, and most practical, derringers on the market.
Bond Arms is a name you’ll hear a lot when looking at derringers, and with good reason: they’re basically the industry standard, and to my knowledge one of very few manufacturers that put serious effort into derringers these days.
The Backup is one of their most popular models and is chambered in a wrist-friendly caliber: .45 ACP. Like most of their products however, you can quickly and easily do a caliber swap and drop in different length and caliber barrels as you see fit.
This is one of the best things about the Bond Arms series of derringers. There are about 20 different calibers available to choose from when it comes to accessory barrels.
This one ships with a 2.5” barrel, which is plenty of barrel for the type of “get off me” shooting these guns are designed for. I wouldn’t want to have to shoot much past 7 yards, but inside that distance, which is where most self-defense scenarios happen, this thing is more than capable of ruining a bad guys day.
Prices accurate at time of writing
Prices accurate at time of writing
In fact, as a backup weapon for either pocket carry, or to keep in an ankle holster, I think it’s pretty excellent. It’s definitely not perfect, and any kind of multi-target engagement is going to be a problem, but for what it is, and for the most common self-defense scenarios, it does perfectly well.
And while you may not want to carry that Glock 19 because you’re “just running to the store” or “just checking the mail” this thing can easily be dropped into a pocket and forgotten about, right up until you need it.
Like most (all) derringers, the trigger is stiff, and the hammer is hard to pull back so make sure you have the hand strength to handle that and don’t expect to be hitting anything further than 10 yards or so reliably, but for a “bad breath distance” gun it’s definitely worth considering.
Would I take it over a Glock 43? Not if I could help it. Would I take it over nothing at all? Absolutely.
The Snake Slayer is Bond Arms’ most popular model, and comes with a 3.5” barrel, and is available chambered in either .357 Mag/.38 Special, or .45 LC/.410. Either way, you get a little more barrel, a little less recoil, and a lot more accuracy over the Backup model, especially with the .357 Mag version.
Overall, I’d say the Backup is probably ideal as exactly that…a backup. Whereas this is better as a primary weapon. The sight radius, such as it is, is almost usable, and the caliber options give you a little more flexibility as well.
The .45LC/.410 one, in particular, is a favorite of hunters and outdoorsmen in snake country, as you might have expected from the name, and the .357/.38 version gives you more options when it comes to defending yourself against two-legged threats.
As with most of Bond Arms’ products, you can swap barrels out to your heart’s content, but for me, I like the .357/.38 one an awful lot. Between those two cartridges, you will never struggle to find ammo, and you’ll be well equipped to deal with most anything short of a bear or other dangerous game.
The .410 option gives you a good defense against snakes and other small pests, and can even offer some good survival weapon potential. In fact, I’d say a Bond Arms Snake Slayer is a pretty great little survival gun for a lightweight bugout kit, or just as something to keep in your pack when you’re wandering the backcountry.
They also fit nicely in a glovebox or center console to help keep you safe from everything from carjackers to that rattlesnake curled up in the barn.
I think the survival gun last ditch truck gun tackle box gun is where derringers really shine anyway, places where you need something small and light to tuck out of the way, so something like the Snake Slayer really makes sense in that respect.
The Bond Arms Ranger II is probably the easiest derringer to shoot on this list. It comes with a 4.25” barrel which is honestly bigger than what most people would expect from a derringer. That’s a very useful and usable barrel length no matter how you slice it, and it does well with the .410/.45LC barrels.
It does all the same things as the other derringers, but there’s one place you may see them that you wouldn’t otherwise expect: cowboy action competition. These things are wildly popular there, and I can only imagine it’s because they are positively tame when shooting soft-recoiling cowboy action loads.
Even if you’re not planning on living out your wild west fantasies, the Ranger II is a great choice. For one, if you’re locked into getting a derringer, this is one of the most practical ones out there.
You get all the solid upsides of a derringer in that it is simple, easy to use, and virtually bombproof, and you get all that in a fairly usable package that you can either take into the woods as a backup, or keep on you to have a fair chance of defending yourself when you don’t feel like taking a larger or heavier gun.
And of course, for something that’s just plain fun to shoot at the range, or during a cowboy action match you want to be a little silly with, there are few things better.
This derringer won’t beat your hand up like the others either, so you won’t shoot it once and leave it in the back of the safe until you decide to trade it in towards a J-frame or something similar.
What’s your take on the Bond Arms?
4. American Derringer Model M-4 Alaskan
Are you looking for a survival derringer? I mean a derringer that will help you survive almost anything? Well, the American Derringer Model M-4 Alaskan may be exactly what you need.
This thing has a 4.1” barrel chambered in .410/.45LC, which is pretty standard for derringers like this. This gives you the option of the big .45LC throwing serious bullets around, and also the versatility of the .410 which gives you a wide variety of options for what you can do with the gun.
There are about a million .410 loads out there, and you can use all of them with this.
But this derringer has another barrel. And it’s not chambered in .410, .45LC, .45 ACP, or anything else we’ve talked about so far.
It’s chambered in .45-70 Govt.
If you’ve ever shot a rifle chambered in .45-70, you probably felt it in your shoulder the next day. I personally have no desire to ever shoot one again. No thank you. In a pistol? Not even a full-size revolver, but a derringer? I hope you have good insurance cause your wrist is in serious danger of splintering into a bunch of little pieces.
Seriously, .45-70 Govt in a derringer that only weighs about a pound? I don’t know that I could even hold onto such a thing…or that I would want to.
So why put it on this list? Why is it even a thing that exists? Surely it’s just a joke gun, right? A meme cannon to let your buddies shoot at the range with no practical value? Well…not quite.
In this wide world, there are some big animals that never got the memo that we humans are the top of the food chain. In North America, this means bears. Even a big enough black bear is going to laugh at your Glock 19, especially if it’s already on top of you. Nothing on Earth is going to shrug off a .45-70 though, save maybe a whale.
This is the ultimate contact distance gun for surviving a bear attack and I think as a backup to either a 12 gauge, big-bore rifle, or a hefty revolver in something like .454 Casul, this is a neat thing to have.
I trust my life to a shotgun in big bear territory, and I think that this shouldn’t be your number one option, but as a light back up? As a last ditch effort to get a 1000lb Grizzly off of you, or at least take the big asshole with you? I’ll take it over trying to hit the thing with an empty shotgun or revolver, that’s for sure.
As a survival gun that can pack down extremely light, and that can be used as a practical(ish) hunting weapon in case your plane goes down in Alaskan backcountry or your boat sinks or whatever, it certainly isn’t half bad either as you still have that other barrel that shoots the more practical .45LC and .410 loads. Just make sure you don’t accidentally touch off the .45-70 load instead.
Finally, it’s just a freakin’ hilarious thing to own. A .45-70 derringer is something that is almost worth owning just to say you have one, and occasionally breaking it out at the range is certainly going to turn some heads.
There are a few guns out there that a lot of people call a “derringer” even though they don’t technically meet the accepted definition, or aren’t quite a normal derringer.
These are the sort of thing that you might also be interested in if derringers are your thing. And there’s one thing most of you were probably thinking of when you started reading this article…
NAA specializes in some really well-designed, good looking, and surprisingly functional mini revolvers chambered in .22LR, .22 Short, or .22 Mag. These little revolvers are in some cases little bigger than a swiss army knife and carry 5 rounds of .22 in a shockingly usable package.
Prices accurate at time of writing
Prices accurate at time of writing
They also make full-size revolvers and such, but their mini revolvers are definitely the big crowd pleaser here. At 4” long, and weighing in at less than 5oz, your biggest problem might be leaving one in your jeans and forgetting it’s in there.
.22 LR isn’t the world’s best self-defense round by any means, but I don’t think anyone wants to get shot by one either. As a contact-distance weapon, it’s certainly better than nothing, especially if you can shove it against your attackers head or face, and at distances of a few feet, it’ll do alright.
This is definitely not my first choice for self-defense, but any port is better than being out on the sea in a storm, and any gun you have on you is better than not having one at all when your life’s on the line.
Beyond self-defense, good lord are these things fun. They have almost no recoil, are surprisingly accurate if a bit challenging to use, and for plinking at the range, there are few things that will help your dollar stretch further ammo-wise.
The derringer may be a little old-fashioned but it hasn’t gone the way of the dodo just yet. There are still some people out there who carry them every day, whether because they like the idea of a lightweight pocket gun that they can always have on them, or because they’re just plain cool.
Then again, they can be surprisingly fun at the range as well, and will certainly stand out from all the black rifles and polymer pistols that will be taking up the lanes all around you.
Whatever your reason, if you’re looking to own a derringer, there are some great options out there, including some ones that make great carry guns, great survival weapons, or great range toys.
What do you think of derringers? Which one of these is your favorite? Let me hear from you in the comments! For some more…normal CCW weapons, check out our Best Concealed Carry Guns guide!