North American Arms Sidewinder .22 WMR Mini Revolver

By Randy Wakeman

NAA Sidewinder
Sidewinder photo by Randy Wakeman.

The latest from North American Arms is their one inch barreled Sidewinder. News of the forthcoming Sidewinder project was first hinted at by NAA owner and CEO Sandy Chisolm in his “Sandy's Soapbox” column of January, 2012 and then given a more descriptive mention in his March, 2012, Soapbox. This is what Sandy had to say back then, in part:

"Rather than holding you in suspense for several more weeks, just because I can, there seems to be no reason not to share with you the general characteristics of our new project. The Sidewinder will be a single-action mini-revolver built on our magnum frame, whose cylinder is mounted on a side-releasing crane, just like the overwhelming majority of all the other revolvers out there. This is our attempt to join the fold of “convenient loaders.”

There has been a lot going on at North American Arms, not the least of which is more focus on their “Curious, Custom and Collectible Shop,” which is your chance to own some of the more exclusive editions of NAA firearms. For info on those items, please see the NAA website. For the Sidewinder, let's start with the basic specifications:

  • Part Number NAA-SW
  • Caliber: 22 WMR
  • Capacity: 5
  • Barrel Length: 1 inch
  • Overall Length: 5 inches
  • Overall Height: 2-7/8 in.
  • Width: 1-1/16 in.
  • Weight Unloaded: 6.7 oz
  • 2013 MSRP: $349.00

For an extra $40 of suggested retail, you can have the NAA-SWC “NAA Sidewinder with Conversion,” which includes a second cylinder in .22 Long Rifle for economical fun and practice. While none of the NAA Minis can be considered heavy, the Sidewinder is especially light, lighter than the 8.8 ounce NAA Black Widow (two inch barrel) and essentially the same feel as the 6.4 ounce NAA PUG that sports a one inch heavy barrel.

There are several reasons to own an NAA mini-revolver, not the least of which is their clean, aesthetic appeal. Particularly with any number of the wood stocks, including the set supplied with the Sidewinder, they are easy on the eyes in a Swiss watch sort of way. Perhaps that's one of the reasons they have garnered so much collector interest, and you don't need an airplane hangar in which to store your collection.

I find them extremely safe to carry, with the NAA safety notch cylinder and the operation is essentially self-explanatory. That's a good thing for me, in particular, as it takes me an hour and a half to watch 60 Minutes. There is increased interest in pocketable handguns in Illinois, as it looks like by June of this year, Illinois will become the last of the fifty states to become polite.

As a result, I've spent a lot more time then usual working with concealed-carry pieces. While all are compromises of dimensions, weight and capacity, the appeal of the NAA Mini-Revolver became clear to me from an operational standpoint. Double action only revolvers and pistols offer the benefit of working the same way shot after shot, as do single action only revolvers and pistols. Compared to a single action revolver, however the usual DA trigger pull can seem like it is a mile long. Some shooters can get used to it, of course, but I invariably am more accurate with a single action trigger pull. (As are the entire Guns and Shooting Online staff. -Editor.)

The .22 WMR platform, as applied to short-barreled revolvers, has received a significant boost in performance in the last couple of years with the introduction of purposely designed self-defense loads, such as the Hornady 22 45 grain FTX® Critical Defense® that averages 1000 fps or so from a 1-7/8 inch vented test barrel. Another excellent choice is the Speer 40 grain Gold Dot® Short Barrel® Personal Protection load. Amazingly, at least to me, the folks at Hornady have been able to get penetration in ballistic gel of about 9.5 inches, coming close to .380 ACP Critical Defense levels and markedly better than some generic .380 loadings.

While damage from dry-firing is unlikely (and .22 snap caps are available), it is easy to swing the cylinder out to the right of the Sidewinder; then you can dry-fire to your heart's content with no possibility of damage. Dry firing with the cylinder out is always the best way, for sometimes an assumed "dry" cylinder isn't empty. Removing the cylinder in standard NAA mini-revolvers, or swinging out the cylinder in the case of the Sidewinder, is the sure no-fire way to dry-fire.

The extractor on the Sidewinder is just that. Don't expect it to eject the long WMR brass, it isn't designed to. It does reliably lift the spent brass out of the cylinder, so you can quickly pluck them out from the side, as opposed to knocking them out with the cylinder pin per other NAA mini revolvers. Alternatively, you can invert the pistol and, with a sharp rap, all the empties will drop clear in one brisk motion. The Sidewinder is easy to load and unload.

The tested Sidewinder came with the .22 LR cylinder installed. Switching to the .22 Magnum cylinder couldn't be much easier, as removing one screw is all that is required. With the simple pin front sight that you align with the top of the frame and the one inch barrel, accuracy is similar to the NAA PUG; adequate for 5 - 7 yard intimate self-defense, yet not at the level of the previously tested NAA Black Widow. The Black Widow comes with actual front and rear sights and shoots 2-1/4 inch groups at 10 yards with little effort.

Rumor has it from the Chief North American, Sandy Chisholm, that 2-1/2 inch and 4 inch barreled Sidewinder versions are in the works. Based on the excellent accuracy I've had with both the Black Widow and the four inch barreled NAA Mini-Master, this would be just what the doctor ordered, along with more prominent, adjustable sights. We all have different hands, eyes, grip strength and shooting style. NAA has, historically, been very good about offering a wide spectrum of options, including different grips and holsters, so you can customize your NAA Mini to your personal tastes.

I think that the Sidewinder is the best NAA mini-revolver platform yet, offering more convenience with few negatives. It elevates NAA product to a whole new level, so it can't help but be a strong seller for years to come. Ken Friel and his team obviously took their time with this one, paying attention to detail, so Ken, Sandy and the whole NAA group deserve congratulations. North American Arms has very good distribution, so Sidewinders will be available from the better gun shops across the country. NAA mini revolvers are made in Provo, Utah and come with a lifetime warranty. As with many NAA new releases, there is bound to be an initial Sidewinder backlog, so the sooner you get yours on order, the better. If you are looking for maximum convenience in an extremely small, well-crafted package, the Sidewinder will delight you.

Note: Complete reviews of the Black Widow Convertible and Earl mini-revolvers can be found on the Product Reviews page.

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Copyright 2013 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.