June 09, 2015
By Brad Fitzpatrick
The increase in issuance of concealed carry permits over the last decade has prompted gunmakers to produce lighter, more compact handguns for the burgeoning CCW market. But shrinking firearms to fit in a pocket, purse or IWB holster generates a whole host of engineering challenges such as mitigating recoil and controlling muzzle rise. Component parts must be lighter to keep bulk to a minimum, yet the gun must be mechanically sound and reliable. Entire firing systems must fit in cramped spaces. So while the boom in CCW permits created a large and growing market for gunmakers, it also presented new challenges.
Some companies had a head start building lightweight, compact carry guns, and one of those companies was North American Arms. The Provo, Utah-based gunmaker has been building "mini revolvers" since the 1970's and had a significant head start when other brands were scrambling to create light, reliable, safe firearms. When the sub-compact boom hit, NAA was ready.
Today, the company offers a variety of different compact revolvers, but most have the same goal: to be as light and concealable as possible. One of their single-action revolvers, the Pug, takes compact concealability to a whole new level. Chambered in .22 WMR, the Pug comes with a 1-inch ported barrel and has an overall length of just 4 ½ inches. Unloaded, the gun weighs just 6.4 ounces, only slightly more than an iPhone 6 Plus. Its overall height is less than 3 inches; its width is less than 1 inch. Place it in the palm of your hand, make a fist, and the gun disappears.
Those miniscule dimensions make things tough on engineers. For starters, the typical cylinder release button found on just about every double-action revolver on the planet was not an option. There simply wasn't enough real estate on the Pug's compact frame for a traditional release and the accompanying mechanical parts. Instead, the first step to load the cylinder requires pulling downward on the underlug and rotating it 90 degrees. This releases the cylinder pin, which can be removed to allow the cylinder to drop out into your hand. After reloading, the cylinder is reinserted into the frame, the pin is replaced, and the underlug is turned back into proper position.
It sounds like a complicated system, and the first two or three times I loaded and unloaded the gun, I struggled. But after shooting half a dozen full cylinders, the system became almost second nature; pull down and rotate the lug, slide the pin out and the cylinder drops into your hand. You won't be pulling off any spectacular speed loads, but it's a simple and ingenious system that works well once you're acquainted with the mechanical steps.
Safety is also a concern with compact pocket pistols. The Pug doesn't have a transfer bar system like those found on larger wheelguns like Ruger's SP101 and Smith & Wesson's J-Frame, and the firing pin (or blade, rather) is located directly on the hammer. If the firing pin is resting directly overtop the rim, a hard blow could cause an accidental discharge.
To prevent this, NAA incorporated a "safety slot" into their cylinders, a narrow depression that firmly holds the firing pin in place. With the hammer in the safety slot, the only way that the gun can be fired is cocking the hammer. Placing the hammer in the safety slot takes a bit of practice, and NAA wisely suggests that shooters practice the steps with an unloaded cylinder until they become proficient in the process.
To fit the hammer in the safety slot, pull the hammer back far enough that the cylinder releases, just past the half-cock position. With the cylinder freed, you need to align the hammer up with the safety slot, which is located directly between the wider slots over the cylinders. With one cylinder on either side of the rear of the frame, the hammer is lowered and the trigger is depressed.
This allows the blade on the front of the hammer to slide down into the safety slot where it cannot move. To be certain it is located in the proper position, rotate the cylinder left and right just a bit. The hammer should keep the cylinder from moving if it is properly located in the safety slot. Again, this takes practice, and it's important to read every step in the manual carefully. But when the hammer is located within the slot, the Pug is a very safe gun because the hammer is locked between cylinders. You'll need to cock the hammer before firing, but this is one of the most secure safety systems, and it offers considerable peace of mind.
The grip, which has sort of a modified teardrop profile, is more functional than comfortable. There are no finger grooves, and it won't fit every contour of your hand, but finding a grip that helped anchor the Pug yet wasn't larger than the gun itself was another difficulty in the design of this ultra-compact pistol. I think NAA came up with a good solution; the grip provided has a textured surface that helps control muzzle rise, and it's wide enough to offer a solid hold on the gun without spoiling the less-is-more design aesthetic. With a 1-inch barrel and an unloaded weight of less than 7 ounces, the Pug needs a stout leash. The included grip, though austere, works just fine.
The gun I tested had LaserLyte Mighty Mouse laser grips, which are made from glass-filled nylon and operate using three 392 silver oxide batteries. The activation button is located on the front of the grip, so the laser illuminates automatically when the gun is held in a firing position, and the Mighty Mouse will work with current NAA .22 Magnum holsters. The Pug comes with a wide vee-shaped rear sight and a large white dot or tritium fiber front sight, both of which are dovetailed in place.
Noticeably absent from the Pug is any kind of trigger guard, and the trigger itself is more of a serrated steel nub than a typical crescent. Because of the single action design and the safety slot that holds the hammer firmly in place, a guard was not necessary, and in fact it would be obtrusive on a gun this small. The long, slightly curved hammer is easy to find and manipulate, and I was surprised by the smooth mechanical operation of the Pug given its price point and diminutive size. Lockup was tight and positive. The gun's stainless exterior helps protect it from corrosion, which is critically important on a pocket pistol like this one which will likely be exposed to moisture on a daily basis.
It seems a little odd to place a revolver that's just 4 ½ inches long on a fixed rest for accuracy testing, but that's what I did with the Pug. With a 1-inch barrel, 10 yards is about the maximum practical range, and from that distance I tested Hornady's 45-grain FTX Critical Defense ammunition as well as CCI's 40-grain Maxi-Mag hollow points. Groups with the Hornady ammunition averaged 2.49 inches, and the CCI fodder averaged 1.94 inches.
Those may not seem like spectacular numbers, but bear in mind that this gun sports a 1-inch barrel, so roughly 30 feet is a considerably long shot. The Pug resists being shot from sandbags because, frankly, it's so small that there are very few ways to secure the gun. Instead, it's a close-range gun, and the vast number of people that carry this pistol could care less what the gun will do off the bench. They want to know how it shoots off-hand, so I spent an equal amount of time testing this gun at a range of a few paces, more typical for a violent encounter.
From four yards, the Pug is plenty accurate for a carry gun. I had no trouble keeping all of the CCI ammo in the black (7 ring to the bullseye) portion of an NRA 25-yard slow fire pistol target. The Hornady ammo performed almost as well, with just a couple shots traveling outside the 7 ring.
LaserLyte's Mighty Mouse laser aids in accuracy, helps deliver quick shots and the unit is so unobtrusive that you barely know it's on the gun, an impressive feat given the Pug's small frame. The large hammer allows you to fire the gun quickly, and although the muzzle rise is relatively snappy for such a demure pistol, it isn't unpleasant or uncontrollable, even for a new shooter. Muzzle blast is dramatic for a .22 because of the short barrel and porting; the Pug has quite the ferocious bark.
Muzzle velocities averaged 889 feet per second (fps) with the Hornady load, 937 with the 40-grain CCI ammo. Those averages mean the Hornady load averages right around 79 foot-pounds of energy, the CCI load just under 78. Some will roll their eyes at those numbers and say that it would never stop an attacker. True, you'll get more energy from a 9mm, a .45 or a 10mm Auto. But the real question is will you be carrying any of those bigger guns when trouble arises? If you own a Pug, you'll probably have it along.
While I tested this gun, it rode in my jacket or jeans pocket and went everywhere I did without interfering with my daily life or making its presence known to anyone. I didn't have to adjust my truck seat, didn't have to worry that the lady at pump seven in the filling station would see my concealed handgun when I stretched to wipe the windshield.
As I was conducting the test, I was simultaneously testing running holsters for an upcoming Handguns Magazine article. It takes a very light, safe, easy-to-conceal gun to carry while you're running. It's much easier to carry no gun at all, but when I rounded a bend in the trail and found myself face-to-face with a very large, very angry stray dog in the middle of a state forest, I was thrilled to have my little Pug close at hand. The confrontation with the stray dog ended peacefully, but it was good to know that I had the Pug close at hand should I need it. It doesn't boast the highest capacity or generate the most energy of any handgun on the market, but you're likely to carry it everywhere because it's so portable. That means you'll have it available when you need it most, and that truly makes the Pug man's (or woman's) best friend.