Those who travel the backwoods trails, pitch their tent in campgrounds or meander along the banks of streams and lakes in search of fishing holes often like to supplement their outdoor equipment with a small, lightweight handgun. The role of this handgun is multifaceted, as it may be used to kill threatening venomous snakes, pot small game, ward off potential attackers or provide plain plinking fun.
The premise for our outdoor journey may not be taking us into grizzly country, but we still can’t discount running into a rabid fox or raccoon. While there are autoloading pistols that might fill this niche, they are not as versatile as a revolver ammunition-wise, especially if you want to carry shot cartridges. Let’s take a look at a number of handguns that might offer some comfort and protection in the backwoods with a certain level of convenience.
Bond Arms Snake Slayer
If your biggest fear is “Mr. No Shoulders,” you might want to select something like the Bond Arms Snake Slayer. This over/under, two-shot derringer is configured with 3.5-inch barrels, an overall length of 5.5 inches and weighs 22 ounces empty. It is chambered for the .45 Colt cartridge and will also take .410 shotgun shells. With this gun, you can even swap barrels in a number of different lengths and calibers, adding to its versatility. Crafted from stainless steel and fitted with extended rosewood grips, it has a single-action mechanism with a rebounding hammer, retracting firing pins and a crossbolt safety. Fixed sights add to the rugged simplicity of the Snake Slayer.
Heizer Defense PS1 Pocket Shotgun
For those looking for simplicity in form and function, Heizer Defense has the PS1 Pocket Shotgun. This is like a single-shot, break-open .410 scattergun that you can literally put in your pocket. It will not only take 2.5-inch shotgun shells, but also chambers .45 Colt cartridges. The grip portion of the receiver is hollow so you can store two extra .45 Colt cartridges inside. With the many choices offered today in .45 Colt/.410 ammunition, you can match your load with the anticipated need, be it defense, hunting or plinking. The PS1 is all stainless steel and can be had in silver or black finishes. Its operating latches are recessed and snag-free, while the entire gun is about the size of a smartphone.
Ruger New Bearcat
If your tastes or needs are better satisfied with a single-action revolver, then there’s the compact Ruger New Bearcat. This little sixgun was introduced in 1958 with an alloy frame and was replaced in 1971 by the Super Bearcat with a steel frame. It was dropped from production in 1975, but returned in 1993 as the New Bearcat, with a transfer bar action and a stainless or blued finish. The barrel and cylinder mate well with the frame—all stainless or all alloy steel (for blued models)—and the grip panels are made of hardwood. With the New Bearcat, you get the flavor of the Old West combined with modest size/weight proportions.
Another small, lightweight contender for the pack or tackle box is the Ruger LCR. This small-frame, double-action-only revolver can be had as an eight-shot .22 LR or a six-shot .22 Magnum. This innovative wheelgun melds a polymer fire control housing, including a friction-reducing cam system, with an aluminum monolithic frame, which supports a stainless steel barrel and cylinder. The cylinder is extensively fluted to reduce weight and features a nitrided black finish. The concealed-hammer design will come in handy for pocket carry, though this revolver will take up little space no matter what mode of carry is used.
Charter Arms Pathfinder
The Charter Arms Pathfinder is a classic DA/SA revolver that’s been around for many years. I like the stainless steel target version in .22 Magnum. With its matte finish and rubber grips, it will handle rain, snow, sleet or sweat. Even with a 4.22-inch barrel, the overall length is just 8.24 inches. As might be expected, the target version has a fully adjustable rear sight and a sloping ramp front sight. Below the Pathfinder’s barrel, there’s even a full-length ejector rod shroud.
Smith & Wesson Model 60
If you are looking for something a little more heavy duty caliber-wise than a.22 LR, S&W offers the Model 60 with a 3-inch barrel and adjustable sights. This compact DA/SA revolver weighs 24.5 ounces and chambers .357 Magnum and .38 Special +P cartridges. This gives you a choice of potent magnum or +P JHP ammo for defense or milder .38 Special standard-velocity rounds for small game and plinking. Then there’s the CCI shotshell with 100 grains of #9 shot for vipers and varmints. This stainless steel handgun with synthetic grips will stand up to the rigors of the outdoors, but is still small and light enough to not be burdensome.
Taurus Model 605 PLY
Offering light weight, more power and less burden on the belt is the Taurus Model 605 PLY. This DA/SA revolver has a 2-inch barrel, a lightweight polymer frame and a stainless steel cylinder and barrel, giving it a weight of only 19.75 ounces and an overall length of 6.7 inches. Its construction makes it virtually weatherproof, and control in rapid fire is aided by its hand-filling Ribber grips. It also sports a fiber-optic front sight that mates up with a fixed rear sight for rugged dependability. Chambered for the .357 Magnum, it also takes .38 Special +P ammunition and can be used for sport, defense or plinking
NAA Black Widow
The smallest handgun you’ll find for your kit will likely come from North American Arms (NAA). For versatility, the version I chose has a 2-inch barrel with three-dot sights that include an adjustable Marble rear. It’s also a conversion model, so it comes with both .22 LR and .22 Magnum cylinders, which each hold five cartridges. To load the revolver, the cylinder must be removed, and one advantage of the Black Widow is its “pull-down” cylinder pin latch. This rugged little gun is made of stainless steel and has oversized rubber grips. For outdoor carry, I’d use the .22 Magnum cylinder for more useful cartridge power and reserve the .22 LR cylinder for practice and plinking. You can also get a laser sight that replaces the cylinder pin latch.
Taurus Model 992 Tracker
One of the most versatile handguns I’ve seen for trail or tackle box use is the Taurus Model 992 Tracker in .22 LR. What is so different about this revolver is the unique conversion system that allows it to also shoot .22 Magnum ammo. It has a quick-release cylinder system that allows you to swap the .22 LR for a .22 Magnum cylinder in just seconds. The downside is this is not the most compact or lightweight revolver, but in return it has a nine-round capacity and a fully adjustable rear sight. It’s also constructed of stainless steel and has a recoil-absorbing Ribber grip that will help it stand up to extreme environmental conditions.
Smith & Wesson Model 317 Gun Kit
Over the years, S&W’s Kit Gun variations have come and gone, and today the only S&W retaining the “Kit Gun” moniker is the Model 317. Still built on the J-Frame, it has an empty weight of just 12.5 ounces due to its aluminum alloy frame and cylinder. With a 3-inch barrel, its overall length is just 7.19 inches, and it has a fully adjustable rear sight paired with a green HiViz fiber-optic front sight. The revolver has a matte silver finish and black synthetic grips. Unlike its Model 34 predecessor, the Model 317 is not a six-shooter, but has a cylinder with eight charge holes for .22 LR ammo.