Gun Review: NAA 4″ Sidewinder

NAA_Sidewinder_right-side

As the happy owner of a .22 LR Mini Revolver, which I finally reviewed nearly two years ago, I jumped at the opportunity to borrow one of North American Arms‘ newest creations, the 4″ Sidewinder. Instead of requiring the complete removal of the cylinder in order to reload — a process which many people find complicated in NAA’s revolvers — the Sidewinder employs a traditional swing-out cylinder with an actual extractor mechanism . . .

Despite being a new firearm that lacks “microstamping” capability, it’s still California legal. Thanks to an exemption for single-action revolvers that hold at least five rounds (not a typo) and meet minimum overall length and barrel length requirements, NAA is able to sell some of its new revolvers in the Golden State. For the Sidewinder, it needed a 4″ barrel to meet that OAL figure.

NAA_Sidewinder_left

Of course, that isn’t the only reason to slap a longer barrel onto a handgun. This Sidewinder benefits from a longer sight radius than its stubby siblings, and it’ll generate higher velocities from both .22 LR and .22 WMR rounds. Handy indeed, as you’ll have your choice of…

NAA_Sidewinder_lockbox

… a 4″ Sidewinder in .22 WMR only or with both a .22 WMR and a .22 LR cylinder.

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Swapping out the cylinders is a simple affair. Just remove the flathead bolt from the bottom front of the frame and the cylinder crane will slide out.

NAA_Sidewinder_cylinder-front

Install the other cylinder, snug down the bolt, and you’re back in business. The fit between crane and frame is top notch. In fact, as is the case with the other NAA Minis I’ve owned and played with, fit, finish, and machining are all exemplary. Tolerances are snug, everything that should line up flush does so exactingly, and the action is precise and solid.

NAA_Sidewinder_cylinder-right

As mentioned in the previous review, don’t confuse these guns for cheap novelties. They may be absurdly small — cute, even — and because of that there is an obvious novelty factor, but they’re high quality, reliable, stainless steel revolvers that are made to be used.

NAA_Sidewinder_cylinder-out-front

The knurled part on the cylinder pin is a spring-mounted sleeve. Pull it forwards to clear the locking trunion thing under the rear of the barrel, then the cylinder can be rotated outwards for loading or unloading. Unlike the standard Mini Revolver, on which the cylinder pin is removed entirely and then used as a ram rod to eject the empty brass one at a time, the Sidewinder’s pin works as a normal extractor plunger with star extractor.

NAA_Sidewinder_cylinders

In fact, with .22 LR if you give it a firm tap with the ol’ index finger, it’ll pretty consistently eject all five cases as seen in the video above. .22 WMR cases are too long to eject clear out of the cylinder, and the extra pressure also causes them to stick a bit more. Additionally, their extra length and width demand more concentration due to tight clearances with the grip panel and recoil shield.

NAA_Sidewinder_cylinder-out-back

The front sight is a polished post.

NAA_Sidewinder_front-sight

And the rear is the Mini Revolver standard frame notch. It’s visible once the hammer is cocked.

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Rudimentary, to be sure, but they aligned much more easily and more repeatably for me than the ramped front and same rear on my 1-1/8″ barrel Mini. Still, it ain’t a bullseye pistol.

NAA_Sidewinder_sights

For folks who really do want to eke out the accuracy potential of these little wheel guns, NAA offers a handful of models with real sights. Adjustable target sights, even. And don’t scoff; the Minis actually are mechanically accurate enough to keep a good shooter engaged. The main stumbling block with this model is the sights.

Not that the trigger helps it any.

NAA_Sidewinder_trigger

It actually isn’t a bad trigger, with only a touch of creep before a decent break and very little travel overall, but at ~4.5 lbs it’s heavy. Especially for a single action revolver. The small size and convex curve make it feel even heavier than it actually is, too.

At any rate, the end result was 3″ to 6″ groups at 15 yards, depending on how bad the flyer or flyers were. Again, that’s mostly due to inconsistencies with sight alignment followed by a trigger that measures under 5 lbs but feels more like 11.

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On The Range

The magnum-framed Mini Revolvers are noticeably easier to shoot than the LR-framed versions, and it’s all thanks to the larger and fatter grip.

lr-vs-mag

I can shoot this bad boy faster and more accurately than my LR. Of course, it doesn’t fit in my jeans fifth pocket.

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For whatever reason I was more accurate when shooting .22 WMR. Just running around goofing off and shooting offhand at my steel silhouette, there was more of that great steel target gong feedback when shooting the mags.

That said, I’m definitely faster when shooting Long Rifles. The frame never shifted in my grip and the front sight stayed on target better, leaving me able to fire as quickly as I could thumb that hammer with my left thumb.

NAA_Sidewinder_hammer

Which, for the record, is a lot of fun.

Another benefit of the longer barrel is the group size when shooting rat shot (aka snake shot, e.g. CCI shotshells). In fact, I was surprised by just how much tighter the groups actually were. With the 1-1/8″ barrel, the .22 LR rat shot spread out to at least a 12″ diameter from only 10 feet away. With the 4″ barrel, the spread was barely over 3″ (and about a 2″ spread at 6 feet). Considering how tiny the #12 shot is in these shells and how sparse the patterns often are, this is a huge difference and it makes the 4″ version significantly more effective for snakes and other little pests.

Conclusion

NAA’s Mini Revolvers are really fun little guns. They’re novel, but they aren’t novelties. They’ve proven themselves in self-defense shootings, and they come in sizes so darn tiny that there’s no excuse for leaving it home. Heck, I’ve had my 1-1/8″ barrel .22 LR in everything from jeans fifth pockets, NAA’s belt buckles, the key / gum / business card pocket inside a suit jacket’s larger pocket, and even in my boardshorts while doing various watersports. Somehow it’s managed to stay out of any “lady parts,” but the same can’t be said for everyone.

NAA_Sidewinder_grips

Of course, with a 4″ barrel and the magnum frame, this Sidewinder is giving up some of that incredible concealability. But it brings to the table swappable cylinders, a longer sight radius, tighter groups with rat shot, and a significantly more manageable grip size. Plus, it can enjoy the California sun. And the swing-out cylinder of the Sidewinder is a faster, more user-friendly upgrade.

Specifications (North American Arms 4″ Sidewinder):

Caliber:  .22 WMR or .22 WMR and .22 LR convertible cylinders
Action:  Single action revolver
Barrel: 4 inches
Weight: 8 ounces unloaded
Length:  7.5 inches
Height: 2.875 inches
Capacity: 5 rounds
MSRP:  $508 ($396 in .22 WMR only)

Ratings (out of five stars):

Accuracy: * * *
The post front sight and longer sight radius allowed me to put up better groups than with my 1-1/8″ Mini. However, that rear sight is still a big hindrance to consistent alignment. Mechanically accurate or not, it’s hard to shoot it for groups with these sights.

Ergonomics: * * *
Also one star better than the .22 LR version. Larger size equates to a better grip and more control.

Reliability: * * * * *
It’s reliable. Strong primer strikes, good mechanicals, great machining and fit. Rust-resistant stainless steel construction.

Customize This: * * * *
Lots of grip options, tons of holster options, lasers and other accessories, different cylinders and custom shop finishes, etc.

Concealed Carry: * * * * 
Tiny and light, but not as tiny or as light as the LR-framed versions.

Overall: * * * *
It’s fun, it’s reliable, it’s built very well. The ability to swap between two calibers is always nice, and the swing-out cylinder is a definite upgrade. I dig the Sidewinder.

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