Bryco Model 38


I got my Concealed Carry license a few years ago. My primary reason was to be able to legally carry a weapon in my car. When I first started to pack a pistol under the seat, I felt vaguely silly. After all, I had gone through all of my 40 plus years without carrying a gun around; why should I need one now?

I was reminded of why a few months later. In a classic case of “better to have it and not need it…”, I was driving from my South Texas hometown in Corpus Christi to Cuero, about 100 miles away. It was a beautiful autumn day, right after the first cold front of the season. As I approached my destination, I remembered the bridge over the Guadalupe River which lay just a few miles ahead on the outskirts of Cuero. I had driven over that bridge dozens of times in the past but had never stopped to admire the river beneath it. On this particular day it seemed like a great idea to pull off under the bridge and take a few pictures of the autumn foliage.

So I turned off onto a dirt road and eventually found myself driving up under the bridge abutments. As I approached the river from under the bridge, I could see the breathtaking scenery unfolding ahead of me. But then, just as I arrived at the end of the dirt track where the river cut a cliff into my path, I saw an unexpected sight. A dilapidated old pickup truck was parked under the bridge; next to it was a broken down piece of lawn furniture containing an equally decrepit and seedy looking character. The man from the truck appeared to be sleeping off a morning drunk here on the banks of the Guadalupe. My first reaction was to keep on driving. This was bad news. An accident waiting to happen. Although the highway above was a busy and populated place, here under the bridge, I might as well be in the wilderness-and this was not the kind of fellow I wanted to be striking up an acquaintance with in the middle of nowhere.

But instead of leaving, I paused and asked myself why I should have to be afraid. I was on a public right of way doing innocent public business…admiring the scenery and trying to take a couple of pictures. So instead of “fleeing”, I parked the car, picked up my camera, pocketed my Phoenix P22 and proceeded to walk along the river bank and soak in the splendor of nature on an autumn afternoon. When I returned to my vehicle a half hour later, all was fine. The drunk was stilling snoring in the shade of the bridge. My pocket pistol was still where it belonged. My camera had the pictures I had been looking for. I got in my car and drove on.

In retrospect, I found myself slightly annoyed. Why should I, or anyone, have to carry a gun to feel safe while doing nothing more complicated than taking a stroll down a riverbank on a sunny afternoon? But if you are reading this story, I suspect that you already know the answer. It’s a big mean world out there. Your intentions don’t really matter anymore.

To me, this event highlighted why I choose to carry a weapon in the car in the first place. I remembered all the times in the past when I had been stranded by a dead engine or immobilized by a flat tire in strange surroundings. The world is a different place when you lose the security of whizzing past it at 65 MPH. Being converted into a pedestrian in the middle of nowhere can be an alarming experience. Suddenly, all the unsavory characters you can drive past become up close and personal. Maybe too personal. But back to the story of how I ended up with a Bryco 38...

I am a civilian and not a big Concealed Carry Weapon (CCW) guy. After that benign incident on the banks of the Guadalupe, I never again questioned the “why” of carrying a firearm in my vehicle. Just the “what” of the best weapon to carry.

I would argue that a “car gun” and a real CCW are two different pieces of equipment. Super-concealable weapons like the Kel Tec .32 are cute, but impractical for my purposes. What I am really looking for is something that can be concealed if I need to slip it into my pocket, but is otherwise fairly normal. Outside of the car, my favorite is a Walthers PPK in .32 caliber Hydroshock, which I keep (along with a shotgun) for home defense.

I have waffled back and forth on the merits of what that perfect “under the drivers seat” gun should be. That Phoenix P22 semi-automatic mentioned above was my first attempt. It met my “car gun” criteria on several fronts. It was cheap, so there would be no great loss when (not if) it got stolen. It was also small, for those occasions when I wanted to pull it out from under the seat and slip it in my pocket. But to me, it had a maddeningly complicated set of interlocking safety features. Although I took it to the range a half dozen times, I could never develop the needed automatic reflex of bringing it from fully safe to fully firing condition without taking several long moments to think about what needed to be done. The P22 was fine if you had 10 or 15 peaceful seconds to think about it. To me, that seemed an unrealistic expectation for something that would only be relied upon in a highly stressful emergency situation.

Eventually, I replaced the P22 with a snub nose Charter Arms Undercover .32. I argued to myself that you can’t beat the simplicity of a revolver in a pinch. Besides, by then I had convinced myself that a .22 was only going to piss someone off. The choice of a .32 was a trade off between reasonable stopping power and my thoughts of the collateral damage that would occur from an errant panic shot. If you’re a macho guy with a .45, you can stuff your criticisms right now.  As I explained above, I don’t carry a weapon to destroy drug-crazed natives, just to provide a small measure of protection in potentially hazardous situations.

But the revolver eventually worried me too much. Without even a safety, it was the opposite of the Phoenix, in this case too easy to fire and thus a hazard to children who might forage under the seat. Besides, it was actually a .32 Smith and Wesson Long. Where did this piece of shit round come from? But that is another story…

So with this set of conflicting motives, I visited a local gun show last week to try to come up with a better solution. By this time I had decided that a small semi-auto with a simple safety would do the trick. Recall that I live in South Texas, so I knew that anything I bought was going to be stolen. So price, along with caliber and some degree of child-proof safety, was a driving factor in my new selection. This is where the Bryco .380 comes in to the story.

The Bryco Model 38, actually a .380 caliber, is cheap, $99 at this particular show. It has a simple slide safety, and a startlingly obvious loaded chamber indicator-an orange nub that protruded from the back of the slide when the gun was cocked. OK, I thought, what can you lose with something like this?  As it turns out, the Bryco 38 taught me a lesson.

I took it to the range that afternoon and experienced first-hand what it must be like to have a weapon you would rather throw at someone than shoot at them.

Although the exterior fit and finish looked good, perhaps surprisingly good for something this cheap. That appearance, it turned out, was the best thing about the weapon.

For starters, I set up a target at 15 yards, racked the slide, took aim, pulled the trigger…and nothing happened. This was the first quirk I discovered. You didn’t simply rack the slide to load this gun, you have to rack it ALL THE WAY BACK until you hear a “click” at the very end of the travel. THEN you release the slide, and a bullet is  actually chambered-and the weapon cocked.

After some peeking into the chamber and fumbling with the “click” sound, I went through this little ritual and took aim again. And pulled the trigger again. And nothing happened again! This was when I discovered that the plastic trigger was so mushy you had to pull it all the way back, and then keep pulling to the point where it became “pushing” the trigger against the front of the handgrip. Then, finally, it went off.

OK, so I followed through on this second quirk and “fired” two magazines into the target from 15 yards. When I went around to inspect the target, I was shocked. Twelve rounds into a 18” by 24” target at 15 yards and I only hit paper once! And no, I am not that bad of a bad shot. As I walked back to the firing position I noticed the blood dripping from my right hand. Hammer bite from the slide has neatly sliced into the meat behind my thumb and first finger. Geez, I guess I had better pay more attention.

So now I decided to concentrate. I reloaded the two included magazines and took a second chance. This time I cautiously lowered my right hand below the slide travel and took CAREFUL aim; being sure to compensate for the brick-like trigger which tended to pull me off target. 12 rounds later I discovered I had hit the paper three times! Things were improving?

As I went through several more clips, a few other annoyances surfaced. There was no decocker. If you want to uncock the weapon you have to drop the magazine and then clear the slide. And then there was that fancy orange nub. The little plastic “loaded” indicator that protruded from the back of the slide when a round was in the chamber. This was a “safety” feature that had attracted me to the Bryco 38 in the first place. As it turns out, the little orange nub is a “cocked” indicator. After firing the last round in the magazine, the indicator still sticks out, leading to the inevitable (and incorrect) conclusion that you still have a round in the chamber. Whoops, that last one is a dry fire. Oh, and by the way, the slide does not stay open after the last round is fired.

The accuracy didn’t improve at all. I finally moved the target up to 5 yards and, I am not making this up, my hit rate went up from 5% to 50%!

In the end I was flabbergasted. I have seen a lot of products in my life. Some good, some bad, and some just stupid. But I had never seen anything as close to pure crap as the Bryco 38. The only good thing I can say is that, once it did go off, it never misfired. So I guess it has to rate solidly alongside a hammer in terms of making the shells go off. Whoops, sorry for the pun.

If the Bryco 38 were a car, it would go into reverse when you put it in drive; it would accelerate when you hit the brakes; and when you turned right, it would go left. But the doors would open and the wheels would turn. It would look like a car! But it wouldn’t behave like one.

By now I am sure the “gun purists” among you must be rolling on the floor at my idiocy for trying this thing in the first place. But allow me to defend myself. Whoops, I made a pun again.

Up until now, I had assumed that you got what you paid for and that there was a somewhat smooth relationship between price and quality. I naively expected that a cheap gun like the Bryco 38 would simply be a shoddier version of other guns I have owned. And that was my mistake. It is not a shoddier version of a gun. It is not a gun at all. It is a highly reliable cartridge detonator.

I hope there aren’t people out there who have purchased this thing, loaded it, and set it aside for protection without trying it out first. If they ever need a weapon, they will reach for the Bryco 38 in vain. Indeed, my experience with the Bryco 38 has made me an advocate of gun control. There is no way this thing should be allowed for sale to the public. On the other hand, if a bad guy is armed when he comes to my door, I hope he is carrying one of these.

Or did I just have a really crappy sample? Here is a response I got from a reader that tells a very different story of this unit. "I just bought this weapon a few days ago. I took it to the firing range this morning and set the target at 20 yards. Just to let you know, I am a rifle person. I prefer a rifle to a handgun anyday. This gun was purchased for my wife as a purse gun. Like you said, a .22 would just piss someone off. But back to my story. I loaded the magazine, clipped it in and cocked. I had no problem bringing it all the way back. I actually think that is a decent safety feature... most kids can't pull it that far back. I then proceeded to unload all 6 rounds into the target with 3" accuracy. The only thing I don't like about the gun is the massive kick it gives for such a small weapon. I am actually thinking of getting another for my car, but I may get a .45... Delivering pizza can be a bit more dangerous than 6 shots worth.