The Guardian And Newest Ranger II Are Here When You Need Them.
Unless every one of your days is exactly like the next, one of anything is usually not enough. Yes, you can live with just one pair of shoes and one suit of clothes, but neither will be ideal for all types of terrain, all weather conditions or all social occasions.
The same goes for a handgun. You can pick a versatile one that’ll serve for most roles, but it won’t be ideal for all situations or more-serious “social occasions.” A handgun used for hunting, for instance, probably won’t be the best for deep concealment.
For that reason, in addition to other handguns I carry for hunting or self-defense, one or more small handguns from North American Arms (NAA) have been part of my survival plans for several years. These tiny, well-built firearms are perfect for tucking into a pocket when I’m pedaling a few miles on my bike.
I’ve included one in a pack that floats when I’m kayaking. I also keep one in a pocket when I’m staying home, knowing I have a larger gun accessible a few steps away. I’ve kept them in small kits and packs as a second tier of readiness for wilderness jaunts, and I’ve carried them as backup weapons around town.
Recently, I had a chance to test two very different NAA handguns. Like all NAA guns, they’re made in the United States. One was the Guardian semi-auto chambered in .380 ACP. That’s right—NAA makes more than mini revolvers. The second is the latest Ranger II model, a revolver with a 4-inch barrel.
Sometimes, my attention is so focused on the latest-and-greatest that I overlook the tried-and-true. Such is the case with the NAA Guardian in .380 ACP. It turns 20 in 2021. Such a milestone anniversary merits a fresh look at this pistol.
The Guardian is a fixed-barrel, direct-blowback design. It’s a hammer-fired, double-action-only (DAO) pistol made of stainless steel. The hammer has no spur; it lies flush with the back of the slide, where it won’t snag on anything. Controls are simple: There’s a magazine release button on the left side and a disassembly button on the right. There’s no slide lock; the slide won’t lock back after firing the last round in the magazine. That’s not a big concern for me on a handgun that I’ll carry more often as a backup.
Likewise, the sights are miniscule and designed to be snag free. When your life’s on the line, you’ll point this gun and index off the top of the slide, using the slide as a sighting “launch pad” with the target at the end of the “runway.” While aligning front and rear sights has been drilled into us, you can be effective without them (during my police academy days, we used to tape over the sights of the recruits’ handguns to demonstrate they could still get good hits without the sights at common defensive distances).
Smooth DAO Trigger
The trigger is smooth, with beveled edges. It’s comfortable. The pull is similar to that of a smooth double-action revolver. It measured about 9½ pounds on my gauge. That’s good for a DAO handgun. More importantly, the pull was smooth all the way through. Get into a shooting rhythm with it, and you can fire rather quickly without pulling the gun off target.
Some currently available small pistols have triggers so light, with so little travel, that it’s like carrying them cocked and unlocked.
If that makes you uncomfortable, you’ll like the NAA Guardian. If clothing were to get into the trigger guard while re-holstering, it isn’t likely to move the trigger enough to make this gun fire. As an additional level of safety, you could put your thumb over the back of the slide when re-holstering. You’d feel a push from the hammer if anything were moving that trigger.
I don’t like fighting to field-strip a handgun when it’s time to clean it. The Guardian is easy to disassemble. With an empty gun (magazine removed, chamber empty), push and hold the takedown button on the right side. Pull the slide back and up to disengage it. Then, let it come forward and off the frame.
How Does It Compare?
The NAA Guardian looks similar to the DAO Seecamp. However, the Seecamp is slightly smaller, uses a delayed-blowback action, has a heel mag release and no sights whatsoever. And, while the Seecamp has a short list of suggested ammo, I found the Guardian will feed just about anything.
The Seecamp is available in .25 ACP and .32 ACP. The NAA Guardian is also available in .25 ACP and .32 ACP, along with two hotrod proprietary cartridges: the .25 NAA (necked-down .32) and .32 NAA (necked-down .380). Yes, the Seecamp .32 was introduced first in 1973, but the .380 Guardian came out in 2001—two years ahead of Seecamp’s .380. NAA also offers the Guardian .380S with Integral Locking System.
More prevalent than the Seecamp is the Ruger LCP. The Ruger LCP is a bit narrower and much lighter (9.6 ounces) than the NAA Guardian (20.4 ounces). I’ve shot many rounds through both handguns. While the lighter Ruger LCP is nice to carry and is completely reliable, I’ve never found it that much fun to shoot.
I can train longer with the Guardian. It still carries well, but it’s much more comfortable to shoot. It, too, has proven completely reliable.
As the oldies radio station DJs used to say, “And the hits just keep on coming.” They could’ve been talking about my range session with the Guardian.
After an initial five shots to become familiar with the gun, the next five—with me firing off-hand—went into the head of a silhouette target at 12 yards. As a matter of fact, all my shooting was done from a standing off-hand position. I didn’t see any point in working from a benchrest: If I can put my shots into the head out to 12 yards, that tells me all I need to know about the gun’s practical accuracy.
I spent the rest of my time putting the Guardian through defensive drills: drawing from concealment, double-taps, target transitions and the like. Especially important were the one-handed drills. At the extremely close distances for which you might use this gun, you might be fending off an attacker with a knife or other weapon with one hand while drawing and firing with the other. You might have been injured. Or, if you carry the Guardian as a backup positioned on the support side, you might have to draw and fire with your support hand.
I selected the versatile DeSantis Gunhide Pocket-Tuk for carrying the Guardian. This leather holster is reinforced at the top to help it maintain its shape for re-holstering. It comes with a clip so that the holster can be used as an inside-the-waistband rig. Nevertheless, the clip is easily removed with the included wrench, which turns the Pocket-Tuk into a first-class pocket holster.
Ranger II 4-Inch
The Ranger II is a break-action, five-shot, single-action rimfire revolver. With the hammer at half-cock, pull the latch at the rear of the top strap, and the action opens, with the barrel and cylinder tipping down along a hinge at the bottom of the frame. Break-action revolvers were commonplace and very popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s because they’re very easy to load and unload: When you open the action fully, the star extractor on the cylinder partially pulls out the cartridge cases.
I’d previously tested NAA’s earlier Ranger II models—one with a 1.63-inch barrel and another with a 2.5-inch barrel. Both were great mini revolvers that were chambered in .22 WMR (Winchester Magnum Rimfire—more commonly called .22 Magnum these days). Both revolvers were great in their capacity as either a hideout gun or placed in compact emergency kits with other survival gear.
But why would you put a 4-inch barrel on a mini revolver? Wouldn’t you be taking away its biggest attribute—namely, its concealability?
And that’s what I thought, until I began shooting the 4-inch model. I found it more fun to shoot than the models with shorter barrels, probably because the longer sight radius on the 4-inch barrel made getting good hits easier.
An added benefit of this longer barrel is some added velocity. Firing Hornady 30-grain V-Max bullets out of the 1.63-inch model, I got velocities of 1,146 feet per second. With the 4-inch gun, the rounds were clocking at an average of 1,286 fps.
The stainless steel Ranger II comes with attractive rosewood grips. The cylinder and frame are polished, while the barrel features a matte finish that helps cut down the glare. The sights consist of a simple bead front and a notch at the rear, located on the takedown latch.
As with the Guardian, I did all my firing standing and off-hand. The trigger pull measured about 5 pounds.
What about accuracy? Well, I took into consideration how I’d probably use this revolver. At 12 yards, most of my shots went into the kill zone of a life-sized paper target depicting a squirrel.
I won’t be using this handgun for deep concealment. But I can see carrying the Ranger II as a sidekick to a rifle during hunting season or putting it into a pack with a box of ammo for some small-game potential or last-ditch camp defense in an emergency. And, long ago, I used a small .22 pistol to fire signal shots to lead a lost hunter back to safety.
Extra Cylinder Models
I’m happy with the .22 Magnum chambering. It’s a powerful little cartridge for its size and weight. However, there are available Ranger II models that include a second cylinder for the less-potent, but more economical, .22LR.
Safe to Carry
In case you were wondering, the cylinders on all NAA revolvers feature notches in between the chambers. With the hammer resting in one of those notches—instead of over a live round—you can carry one of these revolvers fully loaded without worrying about a round firing if there’s a blow to the hammer.
Pick Your Purpose
The NAA Guardian pistol and the NAA Ranger II revolver with a 4-inch barrel are both fine handguns, but I see their missions as being quite different. The revolver will be a lightweight, yet effective, gun to carry on hikes and hunts or to stow in an emergency kit when weight and space are critical.
Naturally, not all survival consists of bagging game in the wilderness. There are survival challenges on any city street these days. Whether it’s used in a backup role or as a primary gun when traveling light and being discreet, the Guardian has key advantages because of its small size, reliability and ease of operation.
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the November, 2020 print issue of American Survival Guide.