J-Frame Accuracy

J-frames are not easy to shoot well, that much we all agree on. The small size, short sight radius, and heavy trigger all combine to create a pistol that is honestly an expert’s gun because of the skill it takes to wring maximum performance out of it. But with some practice, you can do pretty impressive things with these little guns.

caleb and chris shooting the j-frame

At the recent Crimson Trace Midnight 3-Gun, the Crimson Trace reps had a laser equipped j-frame out on the range to shoot. The idea presumably was to shoot it at the close range targets and see the advantages of the laser on the little gun, but that was soon eclipsed by other, more…interesting goals. In the picture, courtesy Tom from My Gun Culture Chris and I are doing what we do best – competing and goofing around. On the range there was an MGM B/C steel target set out at about 70 yards, so of course we decided to see who could hit it more times double action with the j-frame. This was no mean feat, as the steel had been pretty shot up and was about the same color grey as the front sight on the little j-frame. The front sight on the j-frame was also huge, and covered the entire width of the target at 70 yards.

Undaunted by the challenges, we were able to hit the steel on command about 3 out of 5 times over multiple attempts. Shooting single action, strong hand only I was able to put together a 4 out of 5, but I’ll also readily admit that it could have just as easily been a 3/5 if I’d made the slightest error in my trigger press.

Obviously, the point of this post is to tell you how awesome Chris and I are at shooting and why it’s total bullcrap that he didn’t win Top Shot All-Stars. Just kidding. The actual point is that many people are far too willing to write off their equipment as incapable of a task, when it has nothing to do with the gear at all. Would I want to make a 70 yard shot with a j-frame under dangerous conditions? No, of course not. If I need to shoot something 70 yards away, I want a rifle.

I had a similar conversation with USPSA GM and fellow gunwriter James Tarr about why I prefer guns that will shoot around 2 inches at 25 yards. I may not ever need that level of mechanical accuracy out of a carry gun, but I like knowing it’s there. Guns with high levels of mechanical accuracy mean I can get away with a larger wobble zone or a sloppier trigger press if I’m in a hurry to get the shot off. I’m not saying that you should carry a wadcutter gun and slap the trigger, but rather that a gun that is capable will enhance your fundamentals as a shooter.

The ultimate point of all of this? Mechanically accurate guns are cool. Don’t just write off a gun as not accurate enough until you’ve spent the trigger time to really see what it can do. Shoot your j-frame at 25 yards. Push yourself to get better and push your equipment to its limits.


  1. I believe it is primarily the lousy sights that make them hard to shoot, as your laser experiment showed. They are accurate and the trigger while long/heavy is quite shootable. Hamilton Bowen makes excellent sights, although expensive to have installed. Wish S&W did more like what they have on a Pro model, with dovetailed front and rear Novak style sights. Even an adjustable sight like on the 317, makes them much more shootable.

    1. Sorry, should have been more clear. We were using the sights, not the laser. Can’t see a red laser at 70 yards during the day.

  2. What model was the gun? What in particular were you doing to score hits? How fast were you shooting? What loads did you use?

  3. An expert’s gun is a modest understatement. It’s difficult for many to develop proficiency let alone mastery of such weapons despite their inviting carry and CQB “friendliness (another gun shop sale gone bad).

    The gun itself, although extremely compact, with a short sight radius, is inherently accurate and must be shot ACCURATLEY, under duress to be effective.

    It must be shot ACCURATELY and FAST, under duress.

    It must also be shot ACCURATELY and FAST while MOVING, under duress.

    And finally, it must be shot ACCURATELY and FAST while MOVING with SHOT MANAGEMENT, under duress.

    The first three requisites are germane to most hand and shoulder fired weapons. Shot management (capacity vs. tactics) is somewhat more incumbent upon the deployment of pocket pistols and 5 and 6 shot revolvers as primary or back up weapons.

    If you’ve got the first three down, then it would be a good idea to “plan ahead” as to how you would/might handle capacity vs. threat issues.

    Even if your set on semi-autos, anyone would be well served by having at least one revolver in their battery and practice with it often. I’ve found nothing better to teach shot management.

  4. One other thing. As I’ve aged I have more trouble dealing with recoil. Not a problem with 38S&W in a 686. But .357’s and 44mags are out. And I can’t handle the recoil of even .38’s in a snubby.. And most of the time I have to wear a glove and wrist brace. As for accuracy. I’ve alway’s considered my 2″ 38’s belly guns. That said I’ve had many tell me they could hit a cantelope at 100yds with one! I’ve never seen it done past 25yds.

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