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Little Big Shot: Bond Arms Backup Review

by G&A Staff   |  February 17th, 2015 3

bond_arms_backup_FThe word “derringer” tends to evoke images of a Wild West saloon where, at the card table, one gambler hastily draws his hidden pocket-size handgun to settle a dispute with the utmost finality. Derringers have always epitomized the last-ditch self-defense firearm. However, their dimensions, caliber and capacity have relegated them to virtual novelty status in today’s society, where bigger is so often believed to be better. The question is, does the low-tech, minimalist derringer deserve consideration as a modern concealed carry gun? One company, Texas-based Bond Arms, certainly thinks so.

Incorporated in 1995, Bond Arms was founded on the premise that a modernized version of the infamous Remington model 95 over/under single-action derringer would have mass appeal. Judging by the fact that the company is still around 20 years later, it’s safe to assume that America continues to have an affinity for derringers. Of course, Americans also value quality, affordability and innovation.

At a glance, a Bond Arms derringer may look like any other. When you more closely examine and actually handle one, however, it’s apparent that it bears little resemblance to the derringers of yesteryear. The company’s latest release in its extensive line of sturdily built, high-quality derringers is the Backup.

Developed at the behest of current and former law enforcement officers, the Backup sports black rubber grip panels that help mitigate the recoil inherent in firing legitimate defensive loads through such a small handgun. The grip does more than reduce recoil; it adds to the Backup’s covert appearance.

Unlike other Bond Arms derringers, the Backup’s stainless steel frame wears a black crinkle powdercoat and the barrel is bead blasted, the rationale being that a concealed carry gun should have a nonreflective surface in order to avoid drawing undue attention.

The Backup comes standard with a .45 ACP barrel. As an alternative, the derringer can be purchased with a 9mm barrel and will soon be available with a .40 S&W barrel. Like all but the two California-complaint models (the Big Bear and the Brown Bear), which have fixed barrels, all Bond Arms derringers accept all interchangeable barrels.

CNC machining enables Bond Arms to maintain tolerances about one-third the thickness of a human hair, which ensures that interchangeable barrels fit precisely to the frame. In all, there are 14 barrels that facilitate a total of 24 different cartridges, ranging from .22-caliber bullets to .410 shotshells. Best of all, changing barrels requires nothing more than a few turns of the supplied 1/8-inch Allen wrench. Talk about versatility.

Bond Arms Backup Review Continued After Photo Gallery:

Bond Arms’ president, Gordon Bond, said that the Backup is already helping to protect those who serve and protect others. In addition to off-duty carry, he knows of police officers in Texas and Ohio who are carrying the Backup for duty use as a secondary firearm. Some federal law enforcement officers are also wearing the Backup in an official capacity.

Guns & Ammo asked Gordon why a police officer or CCW holder would choose a two-shot derringer over a five-shot revolver that is only slightly larger. We anticipated that his response would focus on the versatility of calibers offered or the fact that his derringers, though robust, are still smaller than a snubnose revolver. Instead, Gordon answered the question with one of his own.

He asked, “For a deep backup gun, would you rather have something chambered in .380 or .45 ACP?” Another viable option, according to Gordon, is to swap the standard 2½-inch barrel for a 3-inch barrel and load it with 2½-inch .410 shotshells. It’s hard to argue with that logic.

Although derringers — or “belly guns,” as they’re sometimes called — are intended to be used as an emergency response to a deadly threat in extreme close quarters, no gun review would be complete without accuracy testing. In this case, G&A staff pulled several chairs up to the metal bench and used a sandbag to create a stable shooting platform. We posted a target 10 yards downrange and loaded two 9mm cartridges to the Backup’s over/under barrel.

After deactivating the crossbolt safety, cocking back the hammer and looking through the rear sight, which is integral to the barrel, we focused on the fixed front sight blade and used the pad of our fingers to press the trigger steadily rearward until it discharged with a resounding bang. Not too bad, each of us thought as we took aim for a second shot.

After firing the second time, you have to depress the lock lever shaft in order to open the barrel. Since there is no extractor, a cut-out at the breech end of the barrel allows you to extract the spent casings with your fingernail.

The Backup’s trigger pull measured 6½ pounds, but at times, either as a result of fatigue or a slightly inappropriate grip, it felt like a 100-pound trigger. For best results, you need to grip a Bond Arms derringer in a very specific manner. As clearly illustrated in the safety and instruction manual, when gripping the Backup, you must ensure that the web of your hand does not come in contact with the hammer. Even slight pressure on the cocked hammer will significantly increase the trigger pull. To keep this from happening, Bond Arms advocates leaving a quarter-inch gap between your hand and the hammer.

With the pad of your index finger in contact with the trigger, it is recommended that you pull back and downward. Unless you’re well acquainted with derringers, the trigger will likely feel pretty awkward, as it’s much different than the trigger on a semiautomatic pistol or revolver. With practice, you’ll get more used to the trigger, and it will get smoother after a break-in period.

We have to admit, after firing approximately 75 rounds of 9mm and 75 rounds of .45 ACP through the Backup in a 24-hour period, the palm of our hands, thumbs and  middle fingers were a little sore. However, if you’re putting that many rounds of 9mm and .45 ACP through the Backup in that short of a time, you’re either a gunwriter or you’ve got much bigger problems than a sore hand.

Five-shot 9mm groups ranged from 4.54 inches with Jack Ross 115-grain FMJ to 7.16 inches with Federal 124-grain Hydra-Shok JHP. Patterns widened with .45 ACP. The tightest group achieved with Hornady 200-grain Custom XTP measured 5.37 inches, and the widest group was 12 inches using HPR Hyper Clean 230-grain JHP.

Although these groups may cause you to write off the Backup as inaccurate, keep in mind that it’s intended for across-the-table distances. That being said, there’s a logical explanation for the rather wide groupings at 10 yards.

The five-shot groups produced fairly predictable results. There was clearly a two-shot group and a three-shot group, separated vertically by several inches. This vertical spread can be attributed to the barrels’ over/under design. The fact that these two subgroups were at times nearly two one-hole groups is a testament to the Backup’s mechanical accuracy. This may explain why Bond Arms has made the world-champion Cowboy Action derringer in both the men’s and women’s division for 15 years in a row.

Shooting off-hand with the target 5 yards away, the vertical distance between rounds fired from the top and bottom barrel was cut in half. As expected, from 2½ yards, the distance was cut in half again. At 2½ yards, when firing from the same barrel, the rounds impacted nearly on top of each other. So, why aren’t the barrels aligned so that the sights work on both?

According to Gordon, the question is, “At what distance do you sight them for?” At 10 yards, Gordon explained that the bottom barrel would be aligned with the sights and the top barrel would impact higher than the point of aim; how far depends on the distance to the target. He added that the faster the bullet, the less the vertical spread. (That explains why the 9mm groups were tighter than the .45 ACP groups.)

Has Bond Arms created a worthy Backup? That’s a question only you can answer. Derringers certainly aren’t for everyone. They are relatively difficult to shoot accurately, especially at distance. Recoil from a derringer chambered in 9mm or .45 ACP is no joke, and no matter how powerful the cartridge, having only two rounds is a very real concern.

So, how has the derringer stood the test of time? First of all, derringers such as the Backup are just plain fun to shoot. From a practical standpoint, you’d be hard pressed to find a more concealable firearm, which means you’ll probably carry it more often than a bigger, heavier handgun.

Unlike some relic, the Bond Arms Backup is constructed of stainless steel using the most state-of-the-art manufacturing processes. As a result, the Backup is ultra-reliable and packs one hell of a punch for its size. Even with its nonreflective finish, the Backup shines as the latest evolution of the time-tested derringer design.
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