Concealed Carry & Home Defense

Gun Test: North American Arms Black Widow .22 WMR

There are a couple drawbacks to the Black Widow. For one, like most single-action revolvers, it is painfully slow to load. Almost blackpowder slow. You must remove the cylinder pin, then the entire cylinder. Extraction comes by way of inserting the cylinder pin into each chamber mouth and “ramming” the cases out the back. Recharge the cylinder, roll it back into the frame, and replace the cylinder pin. The trick is getting the cylinder and the cylinder pin in the correct positions to allow reassembly.

I put close to 300 rounds through the Black Widow during testing, so I became intimately familiar with the reloading steps. At the end of my third range session, I timed myself. The fastest I could get the revolver reloaded was 30 seconds. My average time was 39 seconds, and this was under ideal conditions, meaning sitting at a bench that served as a stable worktop. The process is simple, but the steps involved make reloading the Black Widow almost impractical in a defensive situation unless you have substantial cover, excellent hand-eye coordination and nerves of steel. The solution: Make the first five rounds count.

The second negative is the sights, or more accurately, one of them. The size of the front sight is actually impressive for such a tiny gun. My complaint is directed toward the notch in the rear sight, which isn’t nearly wide enough to accommodate its partner. It’s so narrow that even under a bright sun, I can make out just the slightest hint of light around its edges, and I have corrected 20/20 vision. Indoors, I’m left with a solid black rectangle sitting on top of the barrel with little clue as to the alignment of the two components.

I realize the Black Widow is meant for close-range, point-and-shoot situations. I’d still like to be able to aim my gun if I had the time. The backup gun could very well become the primary gun in a fight, so I see no good reason to place unnecessary limitations on its effectiveness.

Luckily there’s a fix for that, too. Aaron Moore, vice president of LaserLyte in Cottonwood, AZ, is one of those guys who derives much enjoyment from thinking outside the box. He’s come to depend on NAA’s mini-revolvers, and his business is laser sights, so he combined the two. The LaserLyte Venom is a trim unit that mounts beneath the Black Widow’s barrel underlug and projects a red laser beam to establish point of aim. The Venom replaces the revolver’s factory cylinder pin, requiring no gunsmithing to install. It locks into the notch on the underlug in the same manner as the original pin.

The Venom weighs less than .75 ounce and adds no width or length to the Black Widow. To turn it on, press the activation button that projects from its bottom surface. The laser has a constant-on and a pulse mode. Hold down the button for five seconds when the unit is on to switch between the two.

Given the Black Widow’s purpose, and considering its iron sights are less than ideal, the Venom is a smart accessory. At the 10-yard line, the laser cut my group sizes by more than half. I was surprised to see that much improvement in accuracy, but it’s only part of the unit’s benefits. Another advantage with the Venom is you don’t need to use the iron sights at all to get good hits. In addition, it’s much faster to paint the target with the laser than to align the sights.

North American Arms, mini-revolver, LaserLyte

While the front sight of the Black Widow is substantial, the notch in the rear sight could use a bit of widening to make alignment easier.

All of these aspects could improve your effectiveness with the Black Widow in a self-defense situation. Forced to shoot from an unconventional position, such as from your back or side, you may not be able to get any kind of sight picture at all with the irons. And in low light, or when a split second can change the outcome of an attack, the Venom can make all the difference.

The only thing about the Venom that I didn’t like was the inability to adjust windage and elevation. It comes from LaserLyte already zeroed, and because of its tiny size, Moore said there isn’t enough room in the unit to permit an adjustment system. At 10 yards, point of impact was about 2 inches to the right of point of aim.

Despite this shift, the Black Widow’s accuracy impressed me, especially when I used the Venom to aim. From the bench at 10 yards, the revolver turned in several groups of less than 1 inch. I’ve shot pistols nearly twice its size that couldn’t touch those groups. The only functional issues I encountered were four failures to fire, all from the same box of ammo that had been sitting on my shelf for more than a decade. I’ll chalk those up to the cartridges, as I didn’t have a single malfunction with the other loads during testing.

I have large hands, and it took some time to find the ideal firing grip for the Black Widow. The trigger is so small, the top of my index finger would sometimes drag against the bottom of the frame, making the pull weight seem heavy. Once I learned how to hold the gun, I realized the trigger was pretty good and quite crisp, having a pull weight of 4 pounds, 8 ounces as measured on a digital scale.

Recoil from the Black Widow was surprising. Not in the sense it was painful, but with regard to how much the gun shifted in my hands upon discharge. It was distinctly different than the way a small-frame rimfire revolver behaves, no doubt due to the Black Widow’s reduced size and weight. Here again, when I concentrated on my grip, the gun settled down.

The NAA Black Widow with the LaserLyte Venom will serve well as a second—or even third—gun to go with whatever you happen to favor carrying as your primary. For recoil-sensitive shooters or those with tiny hands, it may even be the first choice. I can also see it pulling duty as a mini trail gun for camping, fishing and other outdoor pursuits. While I’m not giving up my Commander, lately I’ve found myself toting the Black Widow as well—just in case.


North American Arms Black Widow

ManufacturerNorth American Arms; (800) 821-5783
Action Type: Single-action revolver
Caliber: .22 WMR
Capacity: 5 rounds
Frame: 17-4 pH stainless steel
Barrel Length: 2 inches
Rifling: 8 grooves; 1:12-inch RH twist
Grips: Rubber
Sights: Dovetailed rear notch and front blade
Trigger Pull Weight: 4 pounds, 8 ounces
Length: 5.88 inches
Width: .88 inch
Height: 3.63 inches
Weight: 8.8 ounces
Accessories: Hard case with lock, manual
MSRP: $274

LaserLyte Venom

ManufacturerLaserLyte; (928) 649-3201
Output: Class IIIA, 5 mw red laser
Modes: Constant on, pulse
Batteries: 4 type 377, 1.5 volt silver oxide
Battery Life: 5 hours, constant on; 10 hours, pulse
Body: 6061 T6 aluminum
Length: 1.86 inches
Width: .41 inch
Height: .39 inch
Weight: .63 ounce
MSRP: $159.95

Shooting Results:

Load Velocity Group Size
Smallest Largest Average
CCI Maxi Mag 40-grain JHP 1,071 .63 1.51 1.14
Hornady Critical Defense 45-grain FTX 1,037 .99 1.46 1.23
Remington 40-grain JHP 1,052 .99 1.38 1.19
Winchester Varmint LF 28-grain JHP 1,333 .72 1.49 1.26

Velocity measured in fps at the muzzle for 10 consecutive shots with an Oehler Model 36 chronograph.
Temperature: 72 degrees Fahrenheit. Accuracy measured in inches for five consecutive, five-shot groups at 10 yards from a sandbag rest, using the LaserLyte Venom laser.

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