Iver Johnson .32 shown in the top break open, ready for loading.
Pocket Pistol and Derringers side events are a part of many Cowboy Action Shooting Annual Matches and occasionally Monthly events as well. The SASS Shooters Handbook defines a pocket pistol as a small frame single or double action revolver of a pre-1890 design, with a barrel of less than four inches in length, and at least .32 caliber. Not included from this definition are Model P Colts (and identical copies). This excludes three-inch barrel Sheriff’s Models, which formerly were sometimes shot in these events.
The fun of pocket pistol events, in part, is in owning these small antique revolvers, each a piece of history. since there are few current reproductions, pocket pistols are frequently originals. They are typically found at gun shows and can be bought without a waiting period because of their age. They are often in near new condition because they typically have spent the last 100 years in a nightstand drawer waiting for an emergency that never occurred.
Merwin Hulbert double action pocket pistol shown at half-cock in the unload position. Note the empty shells will fall out in this position, but the remaining live rounds stay in due to their length. Another release allows all rounds to empty.
Smith and Wesson Model 1-1/2 in .32 S&W is one popular model found. There are also available clones of the model made by Harrington & Richardson, as well as others, all top break and five shot. The .38 S&W “Baby Russian” single actions and “lemon squeezer” safety hammerless double actions with 3-1/4 inch barrels qualify as well. A most unusual configuration is found in the Merwin Hulbert double action .32 with its twist barrel ejector system.
The pocket pistol event usually consists of five targets at close range. Sometimes one or more of these is a knockdown calibrated for light .32 loads. Contestants usually start and shoot seated. Playing cards are often drawn to determine the target order and makes for a more involved the scenario. Time and misses are scored as in main stages.
Shown from top: Merwin Hulbert, Harrington Richardson, and a modern derringer reproduction by American Derringer.
A derringer is a small frame breech loading firearm with one to four fixed short barrels. Derringers may come in calibers as small as .22 rimfire. Most derringers at SASS matches are reproductions of the Remington-Elliot over/under two shot style. These are available from American Derringer in almost all calibers, and from Davis Derringer in small calibers only.
Original Remington .44 rimfire derringers turn up occasionally and Navy Arms sells ammunition for them. The Sharps four-barrel pepperbox is SASS legal but rarely seen.
Derringer side matches have been two target speed contests, four target contests requiring a reload, or accuracy contests. Reload speed matches seem to be on the way out, as fast reloading a derringer presents a safety problem involving rearward muzzle direction of the open gun. As in pocket pistols, derringers are mostly shot sitting with playing cards used to determine target order.
Derringers and/or pocket pistols may occasionally be a part of Main Match Stage, although less frequently then at prior times.