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Palm-Size Two-Shooter: The Heizer DoubleTap Review

by G&A Staff   |  August 21st, 2012 39
Heizer-Doubletap_004

Both 9mm and .45 ACP versions are the same width. Note the discreet, flush-fitting lanyard loop near the base of the butt.

The newly announced Heizer Defense DoubleTap combines elements of several previous types of small, palm-size personal defense handguns into a configuration that is truly original, bolstered by seven pending patents and a hitherto unseen trigger design. It looks different and is different. Most people’s first-look reaction to the Double-Tap is a double-take.

In essence, the DoubleTap is a small break-open two-shot pistol with vertically stacked over/under barrels atop a frame that is configured to resemble and fit in the hand like a small semiauto. It is available as either a .45 ACP or a 9mm, and is offered in either aluminum or titanium frame construction with a variety of finish options. There are no steel versions.

The three-inch .45 ACP and 9mm dual-barrel upper units (both barrels in each unit are the same caliber) are interchangeable on the same frame. Two pulls of the trigger will fire first the top barrel, then the lower barrel. It is really small (only 3.9 inches tall), really slim (only .665 inch wide) and really light (only 12 ounces in the aluminum version) It’s the smallest and lightest .45 ACP in the world, in fact. And before you ask, yes, it is definitely a handful.

Is the DoubleTap a derringer? Actually, that’s what most people in the crowds standing around the Heizer booths at this year’s SHOT Show and NRA Conventions quickly went to calling it. Heizer doesn’t. Heizer calls it the DoubleTap. The term “derringer” is actually a universally generic misspelling of the last name of Henry Deringer, the famed 19th century maker of small pocket pistols. So many copies were made of his original 1852 “Philadelphia Deringer” pistol, and his name was so often misspelled, that the term “derringer” soon became standard for any pocket pistol.

The original Deringer was a single-shot muzzleloader. With the advent of cartridge technology, such pistols began to be offered in two-shot break-open form, and most people today think of a “Derringer” as a small over/under two-shot gun. The famous .41-caliber Remington Derringer (in production from 1866 until 1935) is the archetype of this pattern, which uses a cam on the hammer to alternate ignition between the top and bottom barrels. The basic design is still employed by several modern derringer makers in calibers up to .45 Colt and .357 Magnum. In the 1970s and 1980s the now-discontinued High Standard .22 WMR derringer was a very popular law enforcement backup gun, and many are still in use today. So if to you a “derringer” is a pocket-size two-shot pistol with no upper limit on its bore size, I guess it’s OK with me if that’s what you call the DoubleTap.

High-Tech Heritage
But it’s a derringer with a difference. Several, in fact. For one, it’s manufactured by Heizer Aerospace, in a factory just south of St. Louis that spends its spare time making Boeing’s advanced new 777 airliner wings. (Heizer Defense is a separate company, partnered with Heizer Aerospace.) I recently visited that plant, and I have to say that you don’t really appreciate the concept of precision manufacturing until you see a one-piece 20×145-foot slab of aluminum being laser-gauge machined to meet the tolerance standards necessary to go into an aircraft designed to fly nearly 500 people on long hauls around the world. So precise, in fact, that the system even has to adapt on-the-fly to different metal-expansion effects due to air-temperature differences between one end of the wing and the other while the continuous uninterrupted shaping is done. Cutting small pistol frames and barrels to firearms standards is a walk in the park by comparison. Henry Deringer would have been speechless.

As for the design details of the DoubleTap itself, those features are equally high-tech. Foremost among them is the trigger, which utilizes a patent-pending roller-cam mechanism to provide one of the smoothest straight-back double-action pulls I’ve ever felt on any handgun this size. As shown in the cutaway image, the backward movement of the trigger rolls the bearing smoothly up an incline to the release point while compressing a wire-type hammer spring. Pull weight is a consistent 10 to 11 pounds, about the same as a smooth-tuned medium-frame DA revolver. Every time the concealed hammer falls, the firing mechanism alternates between barrels. When you first load the chambers and close the action, the top barrel is always first to fire (so if you loaded only the bottom barrel, you’d have to pull the trigger twice to make it go bang).

The spring-loaded barrel mechanism breaks open via a joined pair of grooved ambidextrous thumb-latch release panels on opposite sides of the frame. Slide them forward, the barrel pops open, the fired cases pop out. Switching barrel/calibers takes all of 10 seconds (if that). Barrels in both calibers, incidentally, are available either ported or unported. There are no grip panels, just the metal grip-frame itself, which is fully “checkered” both sides with the HD (Heizer Defense) initials, done as part of the overall exterior CNC manufacturing process.

In the hand, the DoubleTap feels like a small auto, and the grip angle mimics classic 1911 ergonomics. The base of the grip holds a two-round polymer “speed strip” speedloader (for either 9mm or .45 ACP, makes no difference), allowing remarkably fast reloads. The sights are rudimentary. Which brings us to the question: What was the purpose behind the concept and development of the DoubleTap pistol in the first place?

So What’s It For?
The DoubleTap is an up-close point-and-shoot gun. DoubleTap developer and Heizer Defense president Ray Kohout makes no claim that this pistol is intended to be anyone’s primary personal defense tool. It is a backup gun for when all your other chips have gone in the pot and a last-ditch moment is right up in your face—just as all modern derringers are intended to be. Two shots are simply not enough for a primary weapon. At the same time, two shots are a lot better than nothing if that’s all you have, and many people will doubtless carry the DoubleTap alone due to its weight, convenience and power.

Ray says the basic idea in his mind was indeed something like a serious-caliber derringer, but shootable. “Real” derringers have very small grips and frames, and are hard to grasp and control, particularly when you’re in a hurry, particularly if they’re chambered for a powerful cartridge. Plus, he felt the triggers on such guns “sucked.” (Ray’s somewhat direct.) So what he wanted to build was a backup gun that was as slim and small as possible, that was at least as easy to grasp and hold on to as a small 9mm or .45 ACP autoloader, with a good, controllable trigger pull. He took his basic ideas to Heizer Aerospace, and the DoubleTap is the result.

Yes, the gun is a handful. (I might have mentioned that already.) But it’s not meant to be a pistol that you (or your spouse) take out to the range and shoot all day for fun. It’s for those times when the last thing in the world to worry about (or even notice) is recoil. Nor, with its three-inch barrel, does it give much up at all in ballistic effectiveness compared with any of the many three-inch 9mm and .45 ACP semiautos on the market. When Ray brought a pair of preproduction samples up to PASA Park for a live-fire session, we chronographed it with a pair of popular commercial personal defense loads on my tried-and-true Oehler M35 Chronotach. Hornady’s 115-grain 9mm Critical Defense ammo averaged 1,042 fps, and Hornady’s 185-grain XTP .45 ACP load averaged 867 fps (standard deviation: 11). Compare those to “standard” catalog ballistics.

As for hitting the target in a hurry? We set up an IPSC target with a silhouette Shoot-N-C center at seven yards, and I double-tapped the DoubleTap, just point-and-shoot, fast as I could. The shot pairs typically were about three inches apart, in a vertical string, essentially center-mass. In slow-fire you can get them closer together, even with the rudimentary sights, but a three-inch spread at 21 feet in a real hurry is good enough for me. Besides, you need to remember that the first round out of a DoubleTap is always from the top barrel, which means it will always print slightly higher with a true double-tap delivery.

It’s been a long time since I’ve regularly carried a backup in addition to my primary concealed carry pistol. The thought, quality and design features that have been put into the DoubleTap have led me to seriously reconsider my posture. Base retail price for a nonported anodized aluminum-frame DoubleTap is $499 for either caliber. A top-of-the-list ported titanium model with MIL-STD finish is $799. Additional barrel “conversion kits” (either caliber) are available for $249 nonported and $319 ported and come with two extra Heizer speedload strips. Ray’s gonna sell a million of these guns. Probably one to me.

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