8 Most Underrated Personal Defense Handguns

8 Most Underrated Personal Defense Handguns

When looking at the diverse selection of defensive handguns available on the market today, shooters tend to divide the playing field into "good" guns and "bad" guns. The good ones are reliable, shoot well and fill the buyer's needs. The bad ones are inaccurate, dysfunctional or just don't fit the shooter's requirements. But in between these sweeping categorizations we find a variety of handguns that, while often rejected by the masses or shooting experts, have managed to earn a loyal following. These guns may be stars that lost their shine, chambered in controversial calibers or just plain weird to look at, but for one reason or another, the folks that own them would never give them up without a fight. Take a look and see which one of these underdogs you have tucked away in your safe.

Bond Arms Derringers

In the late 19th Century, American gunsmith Henry Deringer became famous for his innovative pocket pistols. His name, eventually misspelled as 'œderringer,' became synonymous with any pocket-sized single or double barrel pistol. These days, the derringer label is usually treated as a derogatory denunciation of a pistol'™s quality. This is because several companies over the years have produced sub-standard replicas of the famous Remington Model 95, resulting in over-under double barrel pistols getting a reputation for being cheap, unreliable, and even dangerous to use.

Bond Arms, on the other hand, has taken the original Model 95 concept and redesigned it to be a powerful, reliable, modern defensive handgun. Unlike some derringers, with frames made of an unidentifiable light-weight alloy, the Bond frames and barrels are built from nothing but sturdy stainless steel. The Bond's safety features include a rebounding hammer, a push button cross-bolt safety and a mechanism to lock the barrel release lever into the closed position as the pistol is fired.

The primary weakness of the derringer platform is its low ammunition capacity of just two rounds. Bond strives to make up for that restriction by offering interchangeable barrels to fire a variety of big bore cartridges, including the .45 Colt, .44 Special, .357 Magnum and .410 shotgun shells. The folks at Bond Arms will be the first to admit that their derringers aren't for everyone, but the company maintains a strong and loyal fan base because of their high standards for quality, excellent customer service and their double-barrel pistol's reliability.

Browning Hi-Power

Mr. John Browning remains"http://www.browning.com/products/catalog/family.asp?webflag_=007b" target="_blank">the Browning Hi-Power 9mm pistol.

FN Herstal commissioned Browning to design a pistol that would fill a French military requirement for a new service pistol which had a capacity over 10 rounds, and would be rugged and easy to service, launching a 9mm bullet. Since he had sold the rights to the 1911 to the U.S. military, he started from scratch. The result was a slim and trim single-action pistol using a 13-round staggered magazine. While the Hi-Power is an excellent pistol that has seen service around the world, it's never really been popular in the country of its maker. Part of the lackluster sales may be due to its relatively high price. Some say it's a matter of shooting market trends. It was"http://us.glock.com/" target="_blank">Glock and Beretta 92 may have kept the Hi-Power from catching on.

Makarov 9x18 Pistols

In the mid-1990s, not long after the fall of the Soviet Union, a variety of inexpensive Eastern Bloc firearms started making their way"http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Makarov_pistol" target="_blank">the Makarov pistol. This all-steel, single-stack semi-auto is usually chambered for the Soviet 9x18 Makarov cartridge. So why was it such a hot ticket item then, but pretty much off of the shooting radar now?

The Makarov sold like hot cakes for the same reasons the Soviets chose to issue the pistol to their forces for 40 years: It'™s simple, rugged, relatively light and compact, and it produces a level of stopping power right in line with the .380 ACP. What made these already affordable pistols even more attractive was the plentiful and inexpensive surplus ammunition with which to feed them.

However, as is common with imported surplus guns, the quality of the pistols varied. Some were excellent performers, while others were boat anchors. This inconsistency in quality control left some buyers loyal for life, while others swore off Russian guns forever. In time, the cheaper guns and ammo dried up along with any general interest in them. Those who got the good ones love them and hold on to them. You can still buy Makarovs, usually from online sources, but you'll pay about the same amount as you would for a value-priced pocket .380.

North American Arms Mini-Revolver

Tucked away in the mountain valley of Provo, Utah, North American Arms (NAA) has been producing some of the smallest defensive handguns available since 1971. After examining a NAA .22 Short mini-revolver, weighing in at a whopping 4 ounces, almost no other handgun deserves the title of "tiny." If you want to take advantage of the supply of its namesake ammunition, the .22 LR frame is also available. To give a maximum boost to this diminutive revolver'™s power potential, a selection of .22 Magnum versions is also available.

Shooters who flip out at the idea of carrying"https://www.gunsandammo.com/2012/03/04/read-react-maine-man-uses-22-for-defense-in-home-invasion/" target="_blank">.22 rimfire pistols for self-defense and stop somewhere around the section labeled "Belly Guns." But as folks who carry these guns"http://brassfetcher.com/index_files/Page1455.htm" target="_blank">test tables and a video that may surprise you.

Ruger SP101 .327 Federal

Ruger has a long and decorated history of providing top quality handguns at an affordable price, but not every"http://www.ruger.com/products/lcr/index.html" target="_blank">the LCR, Blackhawk and Super Redhawk steadily travel out of the factory into shooter's hands,"http://www.ruger.com/products/sp101/index.html" target="_blank">the SP101 chambered for the .327 Federal cartridge.

Released in 2011, this version of the SP101 was the result of a team effort with Federal Ammunition. The .327 Federal cartridge is an update to the .32 H&R magnum. Chambered for this round, the SP101 offers shooters recoil and power levels ranging from the soft shooting .32 S&W cartridge all the way up to lightly-loaded .357 magnum rounds. Best of all, the narrower cartridge leaves room in the cylinder for a sixth cartridge. Reviews were very positive, with folks who tested the gun generally giving it a big thumbs-up.

Unfortunately, this gun and ammunition combination has fallen victim to the same new cartridge issues that waylaid other innovations like the .41 Magnum and 10mm. First, the reception by the general public was lukewarm at best. Why invest in a new caliber that's so similar to the readily available and well trusted .38 Special? Secondly, when the bevy of new handguns chambered to fire the .327 Fed arrived, the ammunition was in low supply and nearly impossible to lay hands"http://www.shopcorbon.com/" target="_blank">Cor-Bon and Buffalo Bore, currently provide factory .327 Fed cartridges.

Smith & Wesson Model 64 .38 Special

If you're new to shooting, or under the age of 40, there's a whole subset of reliable, battle-proven defensive handguns that are going to be underplayed or ignored completely while you're perusing your options at the gun shops. This group is well-represented by the"http://www.smith-wesson.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/CustomContentDisplay?langId=-1&storeId=750001&catalogId=750051&content=11001" target="_blank">Smith & Wesson K-Frame .38 Special revolvers. These medium-frame .38s were once the 'œstandard' by which all other revolvers were judged. The blued Model 10, and later the stainless steel Model 64, could be found on the hips of law enforcement personnel around the world.

In the mid-1980s, police forces began to make the switch over to high-capacity semi-autos. As a result, the K-frame revolver started to fade from view. Much of the hyperbole used 30 years ago to boost sales of semi-autos, "proving" semis are far superior to revolvers in every way, seems to have become engrained in people's minds as facts. The truth is, medium-sized .38s are an excellent option for home and personal defense. Accurate, reliable, easy to operate, certainly enough power to get the job done, and far more comfortable to shoot and practice with than the smaller five-shot J-Frame snub nosed revolvers. The upside to this lack of love for the K-Frames is that they can be purchased second-hand for around $300 dollars. Those who shoot and love these guns say they're perfectly happy to pay more.

Steyr M Series

To say that Americans are picky about what features they like their guns to have would be an understatement. Considering how much guns cost and how broad the selection is, there\'s no good reason for shooters to settle for anything less than just what they want. Unfortunately, this same perspective can result in shooters shying away from the unfamiliar. Even though the design features that are different from the norm are positive, they can cause a pistol to be ignored.

A pistol that falls squarely into this category--in the U.S. anyway--is the Steyr M9-A1. It exhibits many of the desirable features of commonly adopted pistols like the Glock, Smith & Wesson M&P and Springfield XD, including the same price. The latest version of the pistol, including the Styer M-A1, has even been called the "Glock Killer" by some reviewers. But even though the pistol has been in production since 1999, it\'s rarely seen on the American shooting range. So why is the public'™s reception of this pistol so unenthusiastic? Some say it\'s the grip angle, others say they don\'t care for the unusual sight system that uses triangles instead of dots. It also gained a reputation with some for having a poor trigger, which is a problem the manufacturer reports as having been addressed in the latest versions. The shooters who own them are willing to state that this is a pistol that deserves more respect.

Taurus Judge .45/.410 Revolvers

The turbulent story of how the .45 Colt/.410 Taurus Judge has been received by the shooting community reads just like the release of a summertime blockbuster movie. First, rumors that a .410-firing revolver was about to arrive on the scene had everyone all atwitter. Then, the Judge was officially reviewed by various professional gun writers. Just like movie critics, they panned the new gun. Statements of the Judge being useless, a solution in search of a problem, inaccurate, a jack-of-all trades but a master of none, were commonly posted and printed. Few professionals had anything nice to say about it. And what did consumers do in spite of these reviews? They proceeded to buy them by the truckload, making the Judge one of the most successful products in Taurus' history.

Years later, the Judge is still a controversial defensive handgun. One of the reasons is that Taurus has said shooters should load the gun with birdshot for close range defensive situations, like a carjacking. Gun gurus will gladly point out that .410 birdshot loads, while painful, do not produce the penetration needed for successful threat stopping shots. However, loaded with .45 Colt or .410 Buckshot loads, the Judge produces plenty of stopping power at close range. Whether you like it or not, the Judge is here to stay.

Recommended for You

The APX Carry is a 9mm striker-fired, polymer framed single-stack pistol designed for “ultra concealment”. NRA Show

The Beretta APX Carry

G&A Digital Staff - April 29, 2019

The APX Carry is a 9mm striker-fired, polymer framed single-stack pistol designed for “ultra...

Michael Janich of The Best Defense talks about various air guns that and their usefulness during different disaster scenarios. Personal Defense

Air Guns: Useful Weapon and Tool in Disaster Situations

The Best Defense

Michael Janich of The Best Defense talks about various air guns that and their usefulness...

By now, you've likely heard that a report released by the Justice Department's inspector general  Industry

CNN Asking Wrong Question on 'Fast and Furious'

Kyle Wintersteen - September 20, 2012

By now, you've likely heard that a report released by the Justice Department's inspector...

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Black Hills Evolution of Rifle Cartridge: .308 Win. 175 Gr. Match

Black Hills Evolution of Rifle Cartridge: .308 Win. 175 Gr. Match

David Fortier talks with Jeff Hoffman of Black Hills Ammunition about the evolution of the .308 Win. 175 Gr. Match bullet.

All About .300 Blackout

All About .300 Blackout

The .300 Blackout is here to stay, and we take some time to look at new technology surrounding this cartridge. Next, we pit subsonic rivals against each other before stretching the legs of this CQB round out to 600 yards from a short 9-inch barrel.

Beretta

Beretta's New 92X

The 92X Performance model from Beretta was created to satisfy two requirements: Speed and accuracy. Beretta's new competition pistol is uncompromising and aims for top performance.

See more Popular Videos

Trending Stories

Check out these great options for Dad on Father's Day! Accessories

2019 Guns & Ammo Father's Day Gift Guide

G&A Digital Staff - May 07, 2019

Check out these great options for Dad on Father's Day!

How-To

9 Most Misused Gun Terms

Kyle Wintersteen - November 21, 2016

"Assault weapon." Sixteen-round "clip." A box of "bullets." When it comes to guns and gun...

The Taurus TX22 rimfire shoots like no other. Reviews

Taurus TX22 Rimfire Review

Eric Poole - May 23, 2019

The Taurus TX22 rimfire shoots like no other.

See More Stories

More Handguns

Overhauling a Gen 4 Glock 17 with high-end components leads to a pistol with a sight that's faster to pick up and is better shooting. Handguns

Glock 17 Gen 4 Component Upgrades

Alfredo Rico - October 04, 2019

Overhauling a Gen 4 Glock 17 with high-end components leads to a pistol with a sight that's...

In response to the immense popularity of the SAINT Victor and SAINT Edge pistols, Springfield Armory is pleased to announce the new SAINT Pistol in 5.56mm. Handguns

Springfield SAINT 5.56 Pistol: First Look

Guns & Ammo Digital Staff - October 14, 2019

In response to the immense popularity of the SAINT Victor and SAINT Edge pistols, Springfield...

Smith & Wesson's Performance Center enhances a 4-inch-barrel M2.0 Shield and gives us the goods. Reviews

Smith & Wesson Performance Center M&P9 M2.0 Shield Review

Chris Cerino - October 21, 2019

Smith & Wesson's Performance Center enhances a 4-inch-barrel M2.0 Shield and gives us the...

See More Handguns

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

×