I’m a big fan of revolvers. I know the common wisdom is that they’re outdated, they’re ancient, they’re old, they’ve been surpassed… but … there’s something about the craftsmanship, the functioning, the mythos and the history of the revolver. Nothing against semi-autos, but the revolver has a certain…soul to it. To me, revolver vs. semi-auto is like Star Wars vs. Star Trek. Han Solo would have carried a revolver. Malcolm Reynolds carried what looks like a revolver. Dirty Harry carried a revolver. So my revolver collection has been growing out of control, but there was always a gap – the North American Arms mini-revolver . . .
We’ve all seen them, we all have marveled at how tiny they are, and many of us scoff at their potential effectiveness, while others overinflate their might. But I never bothered to actually get one until recently. There’s always been some reason or other – first, it was that there were too many models, so how do you know which one you want? The Pug, the Wasp, the Black Widow, the Earl, the Magnum, the Short, the .22 Long Rifle, not to mention the various barrel lengths, whether you want one with a conversion cylinder or not, the grip holster or not.
It’s a fairly well-documented sociological phenomenon that too many choices can paralyze the chooser. We say that we want a choice, but when faced with an overwhelming list, we frequently just walk away. Which is what I’d done, for years. But the fire was rekindled when I borrowed the boss-man’s Black Widow for some .22 Magnum defensive round testing. Spending time with it, it really is a well-crafted, specific-purpose little pistol. And I got the itch again.
But the Black Widow, as fine a pistol as it is, was just too big for what I wanted. To me, if I was going to get a micro-revolver, I wanted the emphasis on “micro”. I wanted a small one. Well, the smallest one, if possible; the .22 Short model would have been fun, but it’s only occasionally made and is currently not offered.
So for just a little tiny increase in size, I could step up to the .22LR model with 1 1/8” barrel. It’s almost as small as the .22 Short (4” overall length, vs. 3.75” overall length, and same overall height and width) but it’s a lot more flexible in terms of ammo; it can fire .22LR as well as .22 Short (and .22 Long, if you were ever to find any of those). Seemed like the most practical choice, for a tiny micro revolver.
Why not the .22 Magnum? It’s a significantly more powerful cartridge, so why not get that instead? A few reasons; first, going to .22 WMR (aka .22 Magnum) would mean a noticeable jump in size. The Magnum revolver is 4.75” long, vs. just 4.00” long for the .22LR. And the Magnum is half an inch taller too (2 3/8” vs. 2 7/8”). Yes you get more performance with the .22 Magnum, but how much more, really, when we’re talking about a barrel that’s barely more than an inch long?
Magnum rounds really need longer barrels to extract their full capability, and in a 1” barrel I doubt that there would be that much difference between the two (other than more muzzle flash and noise from the Magnum, since much of the powder is likely to burn outside the barrel). Of course, the rebuttal is “well, you could get the longer-barrel .22 Magnum, they have one with a 1 5/8” barrel…” True, but – now we’re talking about an overall length, stem to stern, of 5.25”, vs. the total length of just 4”. That’s about 1/3 larger – and the point was to get a tiny pistol, right?
Seriously, if I wanted a more powerful pistol, a pocket .380 provides way more punch, in a more shootable package, for not all that much more size, so – please understand, the driving motivation here wasn’t about getting “the most powerful pistol,” it was about getting a micro-revolver, and the .22LR with 1 1/8” barrel seemed the most practical choice.
Plus, there’s another good reason I didn’t get the Magnum – and that’s the NAA Sidewinder. The Sidewinder is a variation on the Magnum that adds a swing-out arm to the cylinder, making it operate much more like a conventional revolver. That thing has staked a serious claim on my wallet, and I’m stuck forever waiting for it to come in stock. It offers the performance of the .22 Magnum, and is almost the same size (just 1/4” longer). So getting a conventional .22 Magnum didn’t seem to make the best sense, when I could shave off a lot of size by going to the .22LR, or gain a lot of convenience by waiting for the Sidewinder.
So with that decision finally made, I shaved a few dollars off the price at Bud’s with the “make offer” button and had a North American Arms .22LR on its way.
Jeremy S. recently reviewed the mini-revolver and I will echo many of the things he said. I recommend reading his review for a great overview in general. For my part, I’ll just say this – I love this thing. It’s tiny, it’s well made, it’s fun, it’s highly concealable, and it just puts a smile on my face. To me, that’s an across-the-board “win”.
But my main point in wanting to do a review was to focus on the ballistic capability. This is, after all, a firearm. It’s not a toy, it requires an FFL and a NICS check to get one, and it’s capable of deadly force. So…what can it really do? How does .22LR ammo really perform, from a barrel that’s barely longer than one inch? Is it accurate? What’s it like to shoot? How deep can the bullets penetrate? Those were the questions on my mind.
And after a lot of testing, I have some answers. First – shootability. It’s not bad. I mean, considering that your entire grip consists of one finger on the tiny bird’s-head grips. And that it’s a single-action. And that you take the revolver off target to cock it and then have to re-aim. And that there’s no real rear sight. And that it has an incredibly short sight radius.
I mean, let’s be real here – a lot of things were sacrificed on the altar of making it small. It’s not like shooting a GLOCK or Springfield XD-S or even my Taurus TCP. This revolver is focused on tiny size first and foremost, and on making it as shootable as possible while clinging to the tiniest form factor possible.
Have they succeeded? I believe they have. I can shoot it reasonably quickly, with reasonable accuracy. And if I slow down and do careful aimed fire, I can get a 2” group at 5 yards (15 feet). That’s not bad at all! But it’s not nearly as shootable as a modern semi-auto, even a pocket pistol like my TCP or XD-S. If you need to put a lot of lead downrange quickly, it’s much easier to do so with a larger pistol, no doubt. The miracle here is that a revolver can be made this small, and still shoot as well as it does.
The grips are really small. Really small. Bordering on uncomfortably too small. Part of the reason the Magnum is bigger than the .22LR mini-revolver is that the Magnum has a larger grip. Some people advise trading in the .22LR’s grips for the “Boot Grips” as found on the NAA Earl. Others say to go to the Black Widow for its big fat beefier handle. Others say to use the folding Holster Grip.
All of those are viable options, and all of those will make it easier to shoot – but they will also all make the little revolver bigger. At which point, it’s no longer the smallest revolver. Accordingly, I wasn’t really interested in taking those steps – and, if you make any of those modifications, it will no longer fit in the NAA Belt Buckle holster, and hey – if you’re sporting an NAA Mini-Revolver, what could be neater than carrying it in the Belt Buckle Holster, right? Of course, you’ll have to check your state laws to see if openly carrying the revolver in the Belt Buckle Holster is legal or not.
North American Arms makes many models of small revolvers, each of which address (in some way or other) the shortcomings of the original .22LR revolver. They make a .22LR with a longer 1 5/8” barrel. They make the boot grips. They make the .22 Magnum for more power. They make the Pug which has real sights on it. They make the Earl and Black Widow that both have better grips and sights. There are a wide variety of options, but there’s only one original, there’s only one “smallest revolver”. I fully recognize and acknowledge that these different variants may be viewed as “better” by some people, and hey, if you like them, go for it. In my evaluation I was trying to take the .22LR mini-revolver as it stands, and evaluating it on its own merits.
Accuracy can be an issue, and it can be fixed. Quick draws and point-shooting don’t always deliver great accuracy over distance (or, depending on the shooter, maybe it’ll deliver lousy accuracy even at very close range). If you want to quick-draw and point-shoot this little revolver, you’re going to need to be really close to the target which, considering the nature of this revolver, is probably one of the best ways to employ it. This is primarily an emergency/backup/“get off me” gun.
As morbid as it is to think about, this little revolver would really excel if it were shoved into a nostril, or an ear, or into belly, and if you’re in a desperate scramble for your life, this tiny revolver might be the gamechanger that lets you walk away from the encounter. At point blank range, accuracy isn’t an issue. If you want to plink with it or do some target shooting, that’s a lot more challenging. It can be done, but it’s more work with this tiny revolver than it is with any larger gun.
You need to carefully and precisely aim up the front sight with the notch from the hammer. Since there’s no rear sight, I use the notch as a substitute rear sight and really, really work to control any trembles or hand shaking. The tiny sight radius means any minor movement of the gun can result in significant deviation from where you wanted the bullet to go. If you practice a little, you can be rewarded with remarkably usable groups – here’s a 2” group I shot, freehand, from five yards.
It’s fun to shoot in a retro kinda way. It’s definitely a different experience at the range, and the ammo is cheap (when you can find it, but hopefully that’s a temporary situation). And if you want a conversation starter, this little revolver is it. Every time I show up with this mini-revolver at the range, people immediately want to see it, want to ask questions about it, and want to try shooting it.
Is it a serious defensive weapon? Well, that’s a loaded question, so to speak. It is, first and foremost, a gun; and the first rule of gunfighting is “have a gun.” But simultaneously, it’s one of the least powerful guns on the market. It uses a low-power cartridge (.22LR) in a tiny barrel, so…it’s simply not going to deliver the kind of hits that a full-sized weapon would deliver.
But, get this: with the right ammo, it actually is capable of delivering a very deep, penetrating wound. In fact, with CCI Mini-Mag 36-grain hollowpoints, it’s almost capable of meeting the FBI requirement for 12” of penetration. But you really need to pay careful attention to your ammo selection, because with the wrong ammo, it’s remarkably weak. Something like an Aguila Colibri may only penetrate two inches and, depending on how heavy your attacker’s clothing is, I could imagine that the Colibris may not even result in breaking the attacker’s skin.
So ammo selection is crucial if you’re going to be relying on this revolver for your personal defense. I’ve tested 25 different types of ammo from this revolver, and catalogued and organized the results in the following video:
Quick summary: get the CCI 36-grain Mini-Mags, not the 40-grain Mini-Mags. The 36-grain version travels much faster and penetrates much deeper than the 40-grainers do when fired from the tiny 1.13” barrel this revolver has. With CCI 36-grain Mini-Mags, the tiny gun can penetrate well over 11” with each and every bullet, and that’s saying something.
Hollowpoints simply do not expand from this tiny barrel, so any bullet you get is going to deliver a small icepick style wound. Hollowpoints will act like FMJs. And you just can’t predict how the ammo will perform, you have to test the velocities for each and every type of ammo. Sometimes the “high velocity” or “hyper velocity” rounds were actually slower and weaker than “normal-velocity” rounds. High velocity rounds sometimes use slower-burning powders and need a longer barrel to really get up to speed, whereas some standard-velocity rounds use faster-burning powder and result in a higher bullet speed out of the short barrel than some hyper-velocity rounds do!
As an intriguing example, the Aguila Interceptor I tested is rated at 1,470 fps and the Aguila SuperMaximum is rated at 1,700 fps. However, from the .22LR mini-revolver, the Interceptor was faster than the SuperMaximum – despite the Interceptor being a 33% heavier bullet than the SuperMaximum!
I’ll keep testing other rounds as I find them; I didn’t have any CCI Velocitors or Stingers or Remington Yellow Jackets to test. The results of my testing are posted on my blog and I’ll update them as I get new rounds to test.
Now, granted, you’re still only going to be getting tiny little wounds from these tiny little bullets. So even though they penetrate deeply, I still wouldn’t classify the mini-revolver as a manstopper. Then again, all handguns are known to be lousy manstoppers. When you can have a case of someone being shot in the face and neck five times from a .38 Special, and he walks away, gets in his car and drives away – it really puts it into context that handguns, overall, aren’t some ultimate death ray of destruction.
Even so, the bigger and more powerful your handgun is, the more potential it has for causing damage and potentially stopping a threat. I would not want to rely on the mini-revolver as my primary or sole defensive weapon; I think a prudent course of action would be to carry the most powerful, biggest weapon you possibly can. However, sometimes, in some scenarios, maybe the .22LR mini-revolver may be the biggest, most powerful weapon you can carry. And in that scenario, it’s comforting to know that with precise shot placement and the proper ammo, the mini-revolver really does have the capability to punch deep enough to cause an incapacitating wound.
With exquisite shot placement, the .22LR mini-revolver could indeed be a one-shot stopper. After all, a hit to the brain stem or spinal column will drop any person, immediately, whether the hit comes from a tiny .22 or a gigantic expanded .45. The difference is in that the .45, being a much larger bullet, is going to hit and destroy more tissue than the .22 will.
That’s just a simple ballistic fact. So with the .22LR, you have to try harder to hit a vital structure if you are going to count on the bullet itself being what forces the attacker to stop. Then again, many times an attacker will stop just at the sight of their intended victim pulling out a gun, or from hearing a gunshot go off, or from feeling the pain of getting shot and seeing themselves bleed, regardless of the caliber of bullet. And in those scenarios, the .22LR mini-revolver can do as well as anything else.
If your attacker is likely to be stopped by those actions, the .22LR can get the job done. Or, if you manage to score that elusive hit on the spinal column or brain stem, the .22LR mini-revolver will be as effective at stopping an attack as any other gun would. Those scenarios are, however, quite unlikely and probably not something on which you’ll want to gamble your life.
If you’re facing a determined attacker who won’t stop no matter what, and you’re relying on the force of the bullets themselves to destroy the attacker’s vital structures, you’d definitely be better off with a bigger handgun launching bigger bullets than the mini-revolver can. I believe the mini-revolver is best employed as a deep-concealment backup gun. If your mag is empty or your semi-auto jammed and now you’re engaged in a life-or-death hand-to-hand struggle, I can imagine that it would be extremely comforting to be able to pull out and deploy that hidden .22LR mini-revolver.
To sum up, I like it a lot. I do keep in mind what it is, what it’s made for, and I don’t try to make it out to be something better than it really is. I think it’s a marvel of craftsmanship, I think it’s a tremendous collector’s item, I think it’s a great conversation starter, and I think it’s the ultimate extreme-deep-concealment backup gun. I wouldn’t advise it as a primary defensive weapon, but even if you did have to employ it in that capacity, it’s nice to know that (with the right ammo) it may actually be able to deliver the lead necessary.
I wish I could say that finally getting this mini-revolver has slaked the thirst I’ve had for it, but I’m afraid that all it’s really done is ignite a fire to get more of them. Now that I’ve explored this mini-revolver, I find myself REALLY wanting that Sidewinder…
Capacity: 5 rounds
Barrel length: 1 1/8″
Overall length: 4″
Weight unloaded: 4.5 oz.
Ratings (out of five stars):
Accuracy: * * *
The mechanical accuracy of the mini-revolver is surprisingly good. I bet it’d do fine if bolted into a Ransom Rest. But for manual accuracy and the ability of a human to place the shot on target, well, that’s really up to you and your patience level. If you take the time, the gun can do its job, but it takes more time and effort than larger guns would.
Ergonomics: * *
Okay, let’s be fair here — the point was to make the smallest revolver, and unfortunately ergonomics do have to suffer in the quest for littleness. The grips really are just too small, and it’s tough to get a good solid grip on it. And I have smaller hands; for those with dinner plates for mitts, it might be even harder. If you want a more ergonomic experience, spring for some bigger grips.
Reliability: * * * * *
This is a solidly made little revolver. It fired every time I asked it to — and that’s with rimfire ammunition, which in and of itself isn’t the most reliable. But the gun does its part.
Customize This: * * * * *
The mini-revolver has a ton of available replacement grips in different styles and shapes, holsters, even a laser and a bayonet.
Concealability: * * * * *
This is the ultimate in concealability; in terms of overall size and weight it clocks in at about half the size and less than half the weight of a Taurus TCP. The choice for holsters is nearly unlimited, and the tiny size means it can be concealed when other firearms couldn’t.
Overall: * * * *
I’d like to give it five stars, but the ergonomics knocked one off. Within the context of what this is designed to be (a tiny, ultra-concealable gun), I think it hits a home run. As a plinker or as a defensive weapon, obviously there are shortcomings. But I’m not reviewing this as a general-purpose weapon. I’m reviewing it in the context of what it was designed to be — a specialty/niche firearm, and in that context I think it accomplishes what it sets out to do very well.