By Wayne Lincourt
Bond Arms Derringers
If you like small guns, you’ll find the Bond Arms derringer both capable and versatile. Its capabilities stem from the fact that it’s not as punishing to shoot as you might expect. In fact, controllability and shootability are very good with every caliber shot for this review. Its versatility stems from the wide selection of barrels, calibers and grips available. Whichever of the eight models you select initially (nine including their new Backup model), you can add barrels and grips to turn it into any of the other models. Mix and match grips and barrels to customize it to your needs. Bond Arms’ price list shows a total of 21 barrels capable of firing 17 different calibers. Their 3” barrel, their most versatile, is available in .22LR, .22Mag, .327 fed mag, 9mm, .357/.38spl., .40 S&W, 10mm, .44spl., .44/40, .45GAP, .45ACP, .45Colt, and .45/.410 (2 ½” chamber). However, as in most guns that serve multiple needs, it does some things better than others.
I toured the factory in Granbury, Texas, USA, with owner and president Gordon Bond to see just how these guns are made. With the exception of the 400 series stainless steel forgings from which the guns are machined, all the work is done in-house. It may be a small company, but that doesn’t mean they don’t use state-of-the-art equipment to ensure their high quality standards. From numerically controlled milling machines operating down to less than ten thousandths of an inch accuracy, to robotic arms which provide precision and repeatability in surface preparation, to the artistry of individual experts who assemble, polish, and time the function of the finished product — quality is their principal driver.
Our test gun was the Snake Slayer IV, which comes with a 4 1/4” barrel chambered for .45 Colt and 2 ½” or 3”.410 shotgun shells. The gun is 6 1/4” long, 4 5/16” tall, and 1 3/8” wide at the grip. The frame is actually just under an inch at its widest. With the exception of the grip panels, the entire gun is made from high-quality stainless steel. Fit and finish are excellent as you would expect from a CNC machined firearm. All of the components attached to the frame and barrels were robust, including the takedown lever that holds the barrels tightly to the breech face when in battery (closed, locked, and ready to fire). The greater width of the grip is one of the elements that make the recoil manageable in such a small package. The other is the weight of the gun at 23.9 ounces. That’s not light for a pocket gun, but it makes the gun much more comfortable to shoot than some of its competitors. Bond has an
extensive line of grip panels. The extended rosewood grip of this model provides better controllability with heavier rounds than the smaller bird’s-head grip panels found on some of the other models. There is also an extended rubber grip available which provides added security and comfort, especially when firing higher-powered cartridges.
In the .357 magnum configuration using a 2 ½” barrel and smaller bird’s-head grip panels, the dimensions are 4 ½” long, 3 ½” high by 1 ½” wide. The smaller variant weighed in at 20.9 ounces with the trigger guard in place. There’s a shortened frame available, sans trigger guard, which removes the bottom front of the frame where the hole to secure the trigger guard is located. This reduces the weight by about an ounce.
The barrels are held in battery by a spring loaded locking lever. The lever is easy to manipulate for reloading and locks securely. Barrel changes couldn’t be easier. Using a 1/8” Allen wrench (provided), remove the single bolt holding the barrel to the frame, swap barrels, and reinstall the bolt. I swapped barrels many times and each time they lined up perfectly and locked tightly into battery.
There’s an added safety feature which prevents movement of the lever when the trigger is pulled to the rear. This is to prevent inadvertent release when firing should your thumb hit the locking lever. When the locking lever is depressed for reloading, the barrels swing up and a spring loaded extractor lifts the spent casings by their rims for easy removal. For the rimless cartridges, like 9mm and .45ACP, there’s a notch allowing you to extract the spent casings by inserting a fingernail and sliding them out of the honed chambers.
The patented rebounding hammer locks in the half-cock position after firing which prevents it from contacting the firing pin should the hammer be subsequently hit or the gun dropped. There’s an additional cross bolt safety which provides added protection from inadvertent firing when the hammer is manually dropped on a loaded chamber. I didn’t find it necessary, but it’s there if you want it. The cross bolt can be locked in the safe position for storage by tightening a small Allen screw with the included wrench. It can also be locked in the firing position with the same screw, a handy feature for self-defense applications.
The Bond Arms derringer fired a variety of ammo without a glitch. Derringers are obviously close-in guns. Shooting offhand from seven yards, it was easy to put .45 Colt rounds into a 3-4” group for each barrel using the fixed front blade site and rear notch. However, the barrels shoot to different points of impact. At seven yards, the lower barrel grouped 2 ½ “ below point of aim while the upper barrel grouped 6” high. The Snake Slayer comes with a removable trigger guard which some people say gives them better control. I didn’t find a difference regarding control with or without the trigger guard. The low barrel placement is an easily controlled configuration. However, I found the trigger to be marginally easier to manipulate without the guard.
Because the trigger pivots at a point above your hand on the grip, as it moves to the rear it also moves down. The original triggers had a small raised area at the top of the trigger. With the combination of a high grip and a straight pull on the upper part of the trigger, you may not have gotten the shot to break at all. This is undoubtedly where the reputation for a hard trigger pull came from. Bond Arms modified the trigger to eliminate the high spot, thus eliminating that problem. The current trigger is actually quite nice at 5 pounds 11 ounces (average measured with a Lyman trigger pull gauge), with no creep or stacking and a clean break. A little practice with it and you don’t even notice the downward movement. Ergonomics were excellent, with all controls falling naturally to hand, and the curved back strap fits comfortably into the curve of your palm.
I fired 50 rounds of Herter’s 250 grain lead flat nose cartridges and 50 rounds of Federal’s American Eagle 225 grain jacketed lead flat nose bullets. Although felt recoil is subjective depending on your hand strength, physical size, experience level, etc., I found the recoil to be similar to that of a small, all steel, .45acp revolver. It’s enough that some people may not like it, but the majority should have no trouble with it. The low position of the barrels in relation to the grip means the recoil is nearly straight back with moderate and easily controlled muzzle flip.
You can easily determine which barrel you want to fire first, which is especially helpful should you, for example, want to use a .410 round in one barrel and a .45 Colt in the other. When you pull the hammer back to the full cocked position, you can see a small bar on its face. Bond Arms calls it the “hammer head,” and it moves up and down with each pull, showing which barrel will fire next.
The barrel of the Snake Slayer IV may be 4 ¼” long, but 3” of that is actually the firing chamber, leaving only 1 1/4” of rifling to stabilize the bullet. The downside to this was keyholing (making an elongated hole from hitting the target sideways) from about 20% of the rounds fired from seven yards. Still, with an average muzzle velocity of 678.54 fps and muzzle energy of 255.53 foot pounds, even if the bullet hits sideways, it will still do a lot of damage. Firing at the closer ranges eliminated keyholing.
This gun will also chamber either 3” or 2 ½” .410 shells which are, of course, virtually the same diameter as the .45 Colt. The round producing the lowest recoil was the Herter’s .410 one quarter ounce slugs. One quarter ounce equals 109.38 grains, so it’s a comparatively light bullet. The first one I fired clocked at 537.5 feet per second although I wasn’t able to get a good average because the next round took out my chronograph! The good news is that it provided information on the penetration of the slug. The bullet hit the edge of the front opening for the circuit board, was deflected down somewhat before penetrating several layers of glass and plastic, and being stopped by the metal bulkhead in the middle. That level of penetration might be effective on small game at very short range but wouldn’t be a good choice for self defense.
The 2 ½” Federal Premium 000 buckshot shells with four lead shot were comparable in recoil to the .45 colt. In a Winchester test using a 3” barrel Taurus Judge to fire the rounds (http://www.410handguns.com/410_bond_results.html), the shot penetrated four layers of clothing and 9.25” to 13.62” of 10% gelatin. Of course you’re not going to get the same velocity out of a 1 ¼” effective barrel length (4 ¼” minus the 3” chamber) in the derringer. Each 000 Buck lead pellet is .36” in diameter and 72.9 grains. At ten feet, they grouped into a 1 3/8” string. At twenty feet they spread to about a foot with one missing the 10” target completely. At contact distance, about four feet, they blew one big jagged hole. With shot shells fired from these short barrels, the pattern spreads very quickly with increasing distance. In the same Winchester testing, their 3” Winchester PDX1 Defender round, the one with four plated discs and 16 plated BBs, didn’t have the same penetration. The disks penetrated an average of just under 7” and the BBs averaged 3 ½ inches of penetration. Again, out of the derringer barrel you wouldn’t get the same velocity or penetration. The 3” PDF1 Defender is also one of the hottest .410 rounds on the market–the recoil was brutal. In fact, the back of the trigger guard slapped my middle finger with each shot raising a painful bruise. Every time I fired, it hurt a little more, which prompted me to change to the .357 magnum barrels.
Recoil was mild firing Hornady Custom .38 special 158 grain XTP, American Eagle 158 grain lead round nose, and Hornady Critical Defense .38 special +P 110 grain FTX bullets through the 2 ½” barrels. There was a loss in accuracy as you would expect from the shorter barrel/sight radius. Again, this is not a target gun. For use at short range, the accuracy was fine. In a self defense situation with this very short barrel, you would be most likely to draw, point, and fire without consciously lining up the sights. Starting at 10 feet and moving forward a short step between each round, I pointed and fired 8 rounds of Hornady .38 Spcl +P at an 8” Dirty Bird target. As you can see in the accompanying photo, all rounds hit the target. The last
round, fired at contact distance, was in the green bulls eye. The smattering of little dots around it was from the muzzle blast powder residue.
The .357 magnum rounds had a stouter recoil but the gun was still easy to control with any of the grips. However, the checkering on the wood grips is not very aggressive which doesn’t significantly improve on their slipperiness. The rubber extended grip felt secure and was the most comfortable to shoot. If you plan to shoot the heavier recoiling calibers, you should really consider adding the rubber grip panels. Firing the .357 magnum Remington 125 grain semi-jacketed hollow points from 10’, the rounds from both barrels combined grouped at 4 ½”, even though the top barrel grouped higher than the bottom. Three-shot-groups from each barrel individually were actually significantly less. Because of the aforementioned chrono hit, I wasn’t able to get velocity readings. Suffice it to say that they’d get the job done.
The Snake Slayer IV would make a great little trail gun for dispatching snakes and other varmints. I wouldn’t hesitate to put one in my fishing tackle box for those fishing holes frequented by cotton mouths either. The ability to fire .410 loads is a definite plus in this role. The other mainstream handguns which chamber the .410, the Taurus Judge and the Smith & Wesson Governor, are considerably larger. The compact frame Taurus firing the 3” .410 cartridge, for example, weighs 36.8 ounces and is 9 ½” long.
Nothing against the Snake Slayer and its variants, but I couldn’t recommend any single-action-only (SAO) derringer or revolver for the self-defense role. Can you use an SAO firearm for self-defense? Sure, SAO derringers have been used in that role for across-the-card-table distances since their introduction, but there are drawbacks. It takes time and a certain amount of dexterity to draw and thumb back the hammer. On the trail, when you can shoot at your leisure or where a rattlesnake gives you warning, it’s fine. But in the urban jungle, predators aren’t always so accommodating. It’s much easier to draw and pull the trigger of a double action revolver or pistol than to draw, cock the hammer, and pull the trigger of an SAO gun. If you do decide to buy one of these derringers for self defense, you would be well served by taking the time to practice drawing and cocking until it becomes second nature.
The mechanics of drawing and cocking it aside, there are several advantages to this gun for self defense if you’re willing to take the time to practice with it regularly. Given its diminutive size, the little derringer can be easily carried inside the waistband or in an ankle holster. When carrying it as a backup, you can even match the caliber to your daily carry gun. In addition, it’s about as simple a gun as you can find; simpler action means greater dependability. Their newest model, in fact, is called the Backup. The frame is finished with black powder coat and the rest of the metal is bead blasted to produce a low luster finish. It comes with a 2 ½” barrel, rubber grip panels, and is chambered for the widely popular .45 acp. I have a 3” barrel in .45 acp and the recoil was just a tad sharper than shooting the .45 Colt from the 4 ¼” barrel. You can expect other new guns from Bond Arms in the not too distant future. Bond Arms offers an extensive line of custom holsters at reasonable prices. This isn’t a gun where you’re going to have trouble finding a holster that provides a good fit. I bought their driving holster, which attaches to your belt in a cross draw orientation. It fastens easily and securely with a clever strap that goes behind your belt, over the top of the holster, and closes with a large Velcro patch. I found the fastest presentation came from establishing my fingers around the grip with my thumb on the hammer. It was easy to then draw and cock the hammer simultaneously.
All-in-all, the Bond Arms derringer is a robust, thoughtfully designed, and well-made piece of hardware, surprisingly accurate for its size. If you’re a cowboy action shooter, you probably already know that it’s the number one gun in derringer competition, having taken the championship for the past fourteen years. Although tastes vary, it was also a good looking gun to my eyes. The MSRP for the Snake Slayer IV is $519 with a street price that’s a little less. Barrels are available direct from Bond Arms and can be shipped to your door, except in the handful of states that require shipping to a Federal Firearms License holder (FFL). Bond Arms does not sell in California or Massachusetts. The 2 ½” barrel used in this review was $109 plus shipping. They’re also available in 3”, 3.5” and 4.25” lengths. Prices increase with barrel length up to $189 for the 4 ¼”. Guns seem to be available, although not in great quantities. I bought this one from a local dealer, and it was the last one on the shelf. There are, however, a number of guns available on the GunsAmerica.com web site.
Bond Arms moved to a new, larger facility about two years ago. They produced 15,000 guns last year and are on track to produce 17,000 this year. However, demand for their guns continues to grow and they’re investing in people and equipment to significantly increase production in 2014. In the meantime, if you find the gun you want, buy it. I went looking for their Ranger II model and found the Snake Slayer IV. They’re basically the same gun except for the grips, which I planned to replace with the rubber grips anyway. That’s how I ended up with a Snake Slayer. The Bond Arms customer support is excellent, by-the-way. The products I ordered arrived in a matter of days, and they were quick to answer any questions.