In a perfect world, one where we always get our way, events do not conspire against us and our dreams unfurl before us like a plush rug, we will always be able to carry the gun we want for self-defense. We would never have to compromise. We would never have to part with our favored pistol. We would never be forced into an environment or forced to wear anything that would dictate otherwise.
Cue the record scratch. Back to reality. In the cold, wet, irritating embrace of reality, our on-paper perfect carry rig is often relegated to “want” not “requirement.” Most of us simply cannot carry a larger gun that we desire, at least all the time, year round. So we compromise, and sometimes it really is fine, despite what our laboratory arguments say to the contrary. We can go down to a pocket pistol, a snubbie or a very trim single-stack compact and, really, be just fine. Privately most of us are happy carrying as much and thankful that we can have something that counts as a firearm.
But what about the times we cannot even manage one of those small guns? What are we supposed to carry when we are in a zero-suspicion environment, perhaps even one where it would be a seriously bad turn to be caught carrying a weapon of any kind, to say nothing of a gun? What if circumstances dictate that, for practical purposes, any pistol is too big, too obvious, too likely to be detected? What then?
As it turns out, there are guns for that. Enter North American Arms and their line of Mini-Revolvers. Mini really conveys too much girth for these guns; ‘Micro’ would be a much better descriptor. These tiny wheelguns are so small they look fake, like a pistol a squirrel might strap on when hunting ladybugs. So small, so unobtrusive, so easy to hide, that they make for viable deep, deep concealment guns.
In this article, we will be taking a detailed look at these finely made and Lilliputian revolvers.
A Brief Overview of North American Arms
North American Arms, commonly abbreviated as NAA, is an American firearms manufacturer based in Provo, Utah. Founded in 1972 as Rocky Mountain Arms, it was only two short years before the original owners sold the company to new interests, who promptly redubbed it North American Manufacturing. That did not have quite the ring to it, so the fledgling company was renamed once more to the now well-known North American Arms, a name that has stuck ever since.
North American Arms makes two lines of handguns: the tiny semi-auto Guardian series, and their flagship product, the Mini-Revolver, that was originally designed by Freedom Arms before they sold the design and rights to NAA in 1990. The Mini-Revolver, in all its many guises and variations, is the subject of our interest today.
Despite their appearances and the common state of many tiny guns in this category, NAA turns out mechanically sound and well-crafted pistols, the guns being reliable and durable, and while not the measure of larger and more robust firearms they are certainly one of the best examples in their class.
Overview of the Mini-Revolver Line
NAA makes Mini-Revolvers in a surprising variety of trims and models, but all share a few essential characteristics. All of them are single action with exposed spur triggers, and all but two must have their cylinders removed for loading and unloading, the two exceptions being the Ranger and Sidewinder, which are top-break and swing-out cylinder respectively. Chamberings are .22 Short, .22 LR and .22 Magnum. Believe it or not, even a percussion primed .22 is available! All of these tiny revolvers feature sights of some kind, that being something of a surprise, even if it is only a coarse front blade and insignificant rear notch.
Of most importance, especially for a single action revolver, all models make use of a hammer half-cock position for safer loading and unloading as well as safety notches on the cylinder between the chambers. This allows the all five chambers to be loaded with the hammer fully at rest safely between chambers. The pistol may be carried in complete safety at this point, and can be cocked and fired with no additional steps.
Depending on the model, other equipment could be better sights, longer barrels, even ventilated ribs! Grips vary and can be interchanged across some models, everything from smooth, low profile wood to molded rubber with finger grooves being represented. Some models can even accept a folding grip that nests the bulk of the gun inside itself allowing for carry in a pocket or clipped to a belt. The height of either conspicuous display or ingenious camouflage, depending on who you ask, is large, cowboy belt buckle that safely nestles one of the smaller models in a recess, allowing you to walk around with the gun in plain sight, but (hopefully!) ignored as simple belt buckle.
All of the guns that feature a removable cylinder have no ejection mechanism, and rely on the live rounds or empty cases being plucked out with a fingernail or pushed out by the main pin or some other similarly thin, rigid tool. The top break Ranger and swing-out cylinder Sidewinder both feature an ejector star.
Regardless of the options on any given model, employment of these tiny guns is much the same, which I will talk about in the next section.
Why the Mini-Revolver?
Simply put, when you positively cannot carry anything else. These guns have serious advantages in their niche, but as niches go theirs is very, very small. It might be easier to begin with the drawbacks of these guns as a class.
First, these are not easy guns to use. Single action operation combined with spur triggers on a diminutive frame makes them fiddly to hold and operate without considerable practice. Loading and unloading requires on the majority of models for the gun to be disassembled, and then reassembled following a strict sequence to ensure safety. Firepower is almost laughable; five shots of some flavor of .22 caliber. The sights are either decent or nearly afterthoughts.
Frankly, working with such tiny single action guns with itty-bitty barrels (on most models) and exposed and light triggers, it can be shockingly easy to hurt yourself. It takes very, very little error for a digit to end up in front of the muzzle. They look plenty cute, but a sizzling hole in your hand or a fingertip plopping on the floor in the wake of a .22 Magnum will put that notion to bed with no ceremony.
Once loaded for carry, if you were to forget to place the hammer in the safety notch, you are not carrying the gun safely, and that operation itself requires thumbing the hammer back and easing it forward under control while the trigger is depressed after manually positioning the cylinder; not a task to be undertaken by the untrained and uninitiated.
All in all, these are as a rule, guns for advanced shooters who are willing to put in significant time to extract the sweet from the sour. The good news is the sweet is very nice when these guns are in their element.
The single biggest advantage of the NAA Mini-Revolvers is that they can be hidden and carried nearly anywhere, assuming you do not choose one of the “novelty” models with an overlong barrel. The average model is hardly bigger than a small pocket knife, and even out of a nub of a barrel a .22 LR or .22 Magnum will inflict serious wounds at some distance.
Guns of this type are easier than any other to hide and, with practice, produce as by sleight of hand. Speaking of hands, most folks can palm a gun of this type with very little furtive movement, making them ideal for surprise employment against an attacker. They can also be stashed intact in places and in things that other guns, even pocket pistols, simply will not fit into.
All of the above adds up to a gun that is most at home as either a backup gun or a seriously deep concealment piece, think one that will avoid a frisk and potentially a wanding from a metal detector.
When it comes time to shoot, assuming you have practiced operating the little rascal, they shoot surprisingly well with a good degree of accuracy! The models that feature nice, modern sights are capable of putting down respectable groups and can be shot well on demand within reasonable ranges.
You had better make those shots count, because even with the models featuring easy opening and ejection, you can time the reload with a calendar. That being said, these guns are intended to bring lethal force to bear by surprise, dispatching an unwary assailant or forcing them to either withdraw or allowing you to escape while they deal with their wounds.
Bottom Line: If chosen and carried because no other gun can be, or as a backup or specialized hideout piece, the NAA Mini-Revolvers do what no others can, and well. If you rely on one as your go-to carry piece, they pale next to more formidable guns, and you should really be questioning your decision making process.
Well-made and reliable, these little pocket rockets do what no other gun can, and are definitely not novelties.
The following selections out of the Mini-Revolver lineup represent my favorites for carry. I have not included any of the long barreled models, as they give up their single best attribute, a tiny footprint, for velocity and somewhat better accuracy. They may have even niche-ier application as packable survival guns, but that is not why we are here.
Each model has features that make them worthy of consideration, and each has tradeoffs that its siblings don’t. Give this a careful read and see which one you think may be right for you.
.22 Long Rifle and .22 Magnum – The Originals
The classic Mini-Revolver, and the archetypes by which the others have been made. These guns feature smooth, small wood grips, short barrels of 1 inch to almost 2 inches and have the most minimal sights of all the variants; a plain steel blade and barely-there rear notch. The cylinder main pin is released by means of pushing a plunger directly under the muzzle and pulling it straight out. This makes caution a must, as it is so easy to get your digits in front of the muzzle.
The slick grips and minimal sights on these models do no favors for shooting, but also make these the smoothest and lowest profile of all the variants.
Black Widow Convertible
The Black Widow series functions as the souped-up, tuned-up “carry” version of the classic Mini-Revolver. This version features user-replaceable cylinders allowing you to shoot .22 LR or .22 Magnum on the fly. Upgrades and enhancements are numerous: Oversized and ergonomic rubber grips, 2 inch heavy vent rib barrel, unfluted cylinder and excellent sights that would be at home on a fullsize revolver. Of note is that the cylinder locking arrangement is altered to a block that must be pulled down and rotated from below the barrel to free the cylinder. And of course, a badass red hourglass medallion in the grips, ‘cause you just ain’t cool without it.
While only fractionally larger and bulkier than the classics, those fractions make a big difference in concealment when we are dealing with guns this tiny. The greatly improved shooting characteristics are hard to beat, though. Consider the Black Widow superior for dedicated back-up or pocket carry, but not necessarily superior for true hideout work.
Essentially a leaner Black Widow. The Pug differs principally in the grips, the cylinder and the sights. The grips are low-profile, pebbled rubber with no finger grooves. The cylinder is fluted to save weight, though being chambered in .22 Magnum I would prefer the extra beef conferred by the straight-walled version. The sights are XS brand “express” style, consisting of a shallow, wide open ‘V’ at the rear and a big dot front, ideal for fast shooting up close. A tritium night-sight is available as an option.
The Pug bridges the gap well between the classics and the Black Widow series.
While top-break revolvers are beyond irrelevant today, I have found this one to have merit. If you were to stand any chance of reloading one of these little guns before Christmas, the Ranger variant would make it possible. The break mechanism is easily actuated by a lever at the top rear of the frame, and empties that do not eject can be easily plucked once stood proud in their chambers. The Ranger II is happily available in a convertible model like the Black Widow above, allowing you to shoot .22 LR or Magnum at your preference.
The only let down on this model is the front sight, a tiny bead barely bigger than a pen’s ballpoint, and inferior even to the classic model’s plain blade. If NAA would produce this one with a nice set of sights like the Black Widow and feature a rubber grip as standard this would be the one to beat.
The NAA Mini-Revolvers are quality if highly specialized revolvers. They do not suffer novices, and are far from ideal for most work, but when you need dependable guns that are all but invisible, they suit like few others can. With enough practice and careful planning, they can serve as a constant companion that can slip into places where other guns would be detected instantly.
Charles Yor is an advocate of low-profile preparation, readiness as a virtue and avoiding trouble before it starts. He has enjoyed a long career in personal security implementation throughout the lower 48 of the United States.