The class of guns we call “Derringer” today started with the Philadelphia Deringers made by Henry Deringer in the mid-1800s. His single-shot, muzzleloading pistol was usually sold in pairs because it was underpowered and unreliable, so a backup was always a good idea.
The Philadelphia Deringer is probably best known as the gun John Wilkes Booth used to kill President Abraham Lincoln in 1865. One interesting bit of trivia is that the barrel of Booth’s Deringer had a counterclockwise (left-handed) rifling twist, rather than the typical clockwise twist used on most Philadelphia Deringers. Why that is or why it’s important is lost on me (but it might be a great icebreaker at a party).
Deringer’s name was later misspelled by adding a third R, for unknown reasons. The spelling “Derringer” came to be used generically to describe this class of pocket pistols. The Derringer typically represented the smallest handgun of a given caliber. Women frequently used them. They are easily concealable, and Derringers designed specifically for women were called “muff pistols,” as they could be hidden in a lady’s hand muff.
Derringers became even more popular after Remington introduced the Model 95 in 1866. This gun had two barrels in an over/under configuration, and that design came to represent the term “Derringer” as it’s commonly understood today.
James West carried three Derringers as backups to his Colt Revolver in the television show “The Wild, Wild West.” The gun’s fame grew in popular culture because they were featured in many other shows during the heyday of the Western—heroes like Paladin in “Have Gun Will Travel” were never without one.
Remington made the Model 95 over-under, double-barreled Derringers until 1935. They were chambered for several rimfire cartridges, all of them underpowered by today’s standards. The most common of them was the .41 rimfire, which used a 130-grain lead bullet propelled by 13 grains of blackpowder. Muzzle velocity was only 425 feet per second, and it’s said that you could see the bullet in flight. Muzzle energy was just 52.2 foot-pounds, only about 2/3 of the energy of a .22 Short; in fact, reports are that the bullet from the .41 Derringer would bounce off a hard object like a tree. Still, the guns were popular because they were small and easy to hide.
Today, Bond Arms makes Derringers based on the Remington 95 concept. The difference is that these modern Derringers are chambered in 25 calibers, starting at .22 Long Rifle and including 10 mm Magnum, .357 Magnum, .40 S&W, .45ACP, or .45 Colt. I promise that none of the bullets from these will bounce off a tree.
They come in a wide range of barrel configurations, and all barrels are interchangeable with each Bond Derringer.
The Bond gun is a double-barrel, two-shot Derringer. You can select which barrel fires first, after which the gun resets so that when you cock the hammer again, the other barrel will fire. A lever on the left side unlocks the barrels; these are hinged on top and are spring-loaded to swing open to reload.
The gun is offered with a removable trigger guard, or in the more traditional configuration, with no trigger guard.
The gun uses a rebounding locking hammer so it’s safe to carry loaded. The older Derringers often had the uncocked hammer resting on the firing pin, and if dropped they would more often than not strike on the hammer and the gun would fire. That problem is eliminated with this design. There is also a redundant sliding safety in the frame that blocks the hammer.
The most popular chambering and the one I have is for .45 Colt/.410. The three-inch barrel guns in this class can fire .45 Colt or 2½-inch .410 shotshells; longer barrels can use 3-inch .410 shotshells. The law requires only ½ inch of rifling, so you can’t expect much from the .45 Colt, but the Bond Derringers are not designed to win long-range matches; they are for defensive use at powder-burn ranges. If you are most interested in .45 Colt it would be best to buy a dedicated barrel in that cartridge. The .45 Colt/.410 chambering is designed more with the .410 shotshell in mind.
The popularity of .45 Colt/.410 handguns, such as the Taurus Judge and S&W Governor revolvers, has inspired most of the ammo companies to make self-defense loads just for the revolvers. The difference with the Bond Derringer is that it is much smaller than the revolvers and is easier to carry in a pocket or holster.
Buckshot loads from the 2.5-inch ammo can deliver as many as four 000, 36-caliber, 70.5-grain pellets to the target with each pull of the trigger. The 3-inch loads have five pellets. If you pick No. 4 buckshot, there are nine pellets. The Hornady Critical Defense load uses a 41-caliber Flex-Tip expanding slug and two 35-caliber buckshot pellets. Or, you can of course use a .410 slug, which delivers a single 86-grain projectile. (For details on .410 performance as a home defense weapon, see “The .410 as a Home Defense Shotgun.”)
Of course the Bond Derringer will also shoot .410 birdshot shotshells, which is what I like best for pest control, hunting, or fun on the range. Spinning the shot column as it passes through the rifled barrel disperses the shot pattern rather quickly once it leaves the barrel. If the range is kept short, this is a formidable gun capable of taking small game or for defense against snakes. For those uses, a high pellet count is the key with a .410 handgun. It patterns No. 9 shot well enough to kill a snake or small game out to about seven yards, or perhaps a little bit more.
One note on the trigger: It’s designed to be pulled down as well as back and takes a little getting used to. When shooting the 2½-inch defensive .410 loads on the range, I found that I could keep most hits centered on the target out to seven yards or 21 feet, which is the distance most experts consider the breakpoint for dangerous situations. It’s also about as far as the .410 is truly effective from a rifled barrel. Just as the Western gunslinger, gambler, and cowboy knew, the Derringer is a great concealed-carry gun, but it is made to use at card-table distances.
The Bond Derringer is a good option as a back-up handgun because it gives you a lot of power in a small package, and can be chambered to use the same ammo as your primary carry handgun. It’s a lot of fun to shoot as well. With the .410 barrel, it’s interesting trying to break hand-thrown clay targets. It’s not easy, but with practice you can do it often enough to amaze your friends.
Bond Arms Texas Defender Derringer Specifications:
Chambering: .45 Colt or .410 2 ½- inch shotshell
Barrel length: 3 inches
Overall Length: 5 inches
Width: .95 inch
Height: 3.7 inches
Weight: 20 ounces
Trigger pull: 5.5 pounds
Sights: Blade front and fixed rear notch