Kit Gun

OK, so I’ve been ignorant. Laugh and make fun of me and get it out of the way. Tam posted about a “Kit Gun” recently. I’d seen that term many times, and it’s always been used as though everyone understood what it meant and there was therefore no point in trying to explain it. Kind of like the high school meetings I missed because, well, “We told everyone” they said (meaning they told a few people and assumed everyone else would hear it from them. I was always out of the loop because I only attended half days my senior year. It was a good excuse to avoid pep rallies anyway.

I searched “kit gun” some time ago and came up with nothing helpful, but doing it just now I found it! A kit gun means it goes with you on hiking and camping trips, and the term comes from the “kit bag” that a hiker or camper might carry. Well I’ve hiked and camped all my life and never heard of a “kit bag”, so the term “kit gun” has been not at all obvious to me. I somehow missed that memo. I suppose everyone knew about all this but me.

That makes just about every gun I own a “kit gun”, technically, since I would take most any of them along on a camping trip or a hike, and have done so in most cases, but I guess the term refers to one that’s generally more handy (smaller and/or lighter) than some other similar gun in a similar caliber, kind of how a “carbine” is a relatively shorter and lighter version of a particular rifle. As far as I can determine through observation of usage though is that a “kit gun” refers to a handgun only, not a long gun, even though I do have what might be called a “kit bag” that holds a long gun. So a relatively light and handy rifle equals “carbine”, while a relatively light and handy handgun equals kit gun. Is that about right?

Does this mean that ANY service pistol is a “kit gun” simply because soldiers tend to hike about and are known to camp?

Just learned this today, so it may be flawed. I’ve ordered “gun kits” before but apparently those do not necessarily qualify as “kit guns”, though there may be such a thing as a “kit gun kit” from which you build your own kit gun.

OK, so there MUST be a term for a light or small and handy shotgun that I’ve never heard. “Coach gun” maybe, but that’s a side by side with exposed hammers, in my mind anyway, which would exclude many other light and handy shotguns.


19 thoughts on “Kit Gun

  1. Also, a 32/22 kit gun refers to a revolver originally chambered for a .32 caliber but then made as in .22 rf .

  2. A soldier’s “kit” was his personal gear, aside from the normal military issue equipment. A kit gun means one that would be a small, light weight pistol suitable for back-packing trips and such, where a “real” gun would either weigh too much or be excessive for some reason. Something like the S&W Airlites in 22, or maybe 38 spl. Compact, simple, and lightweight, it’s a backup in the “emergency kit.”

    • That’s what I always thought it meant. I had thought it originated in the 1800’s with the meaning “part of a soldiers kit”.

    • And soldiers and even cops have been known to refer to their “kit” but that didn’t help me understand the defining characteristics of a kit gun. By that usage an AR-15 and a Glock 19 qualify. Mattie Ross carried a Colt’s Dragoon in a bag on her quest with Rooster Cogburn to apprehend Tom Chaney, but that’s no kit gun, apparently.

      A Deringer or pocket pistol might qualify, but we call them pocket guns or hideout guns. Or do they not qualify as they’d not be so great for taking small game? So is a Ruger Mk II a kit gun? Maybe not, since it’s not a Smith? See where I’m goin’?

      I’ve heard the term for years and years, so of course it’s not new. It’s just that in the hundreds of gun magazines and books I’ve read, to say nothing of the internet, I never saw a definition other than, “check out my kit gun”. One Mike Beliveau, I believe, once referred to a 44 cal 1858 Remington Army percussion revolver he turned into a “kit gun” and so the term, so far as I could see, could refer to just about anything.

      Anyway, it seems to be as much a marketing term as anything else (or a statement on intended use) and being as S&W claims it as a trademark I’m going with that for now.

      “Scout Rifle” on the other hand, has been well defined by the guy who coined, or at least popularized, the term and so I know what that means, and as Cooper would often say, “what it doesn’t mean”.

      • But I didn’t use the term “kit gun”; as you noticed, I used the term “Kit Gun”. Why did I call it that? Because that’s what it’s called. The question caught me off guard because, while there is etymology behind it, it’s also become the proper name (registered, even, as you noticed) for a specific firearm. I’m sure there’s a reason “Kleenex” is called “Kleenex”, even though everybody calls small, soft facial tissues “kleenex” these days.

        • Kinda like an “AR-15” is technically a rifle based on Armalite’s/Stoner’s patented/copyrighted design, manufactured by Colt, who owns/owned the patent. Anything else is just an “AR-15-pattern rifle”.

          But the common use of the term “AR-15” now includes all rifles of that design, regardless of manufacturer.

          Is that a decent parallel?

    • Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag and smile, smile, smile.

      My understanding was that a kit gun was a personal purchase, not Government Issue, but back in the day when a British Officer purchased his own hand gun, it was also a gun that was not worn like the service revolver. But used for plinking, and varmint control.

  3. I’ve heard the term since the 60’s. in my family’s circle it referred to a .22, .32, or possibly .38 cal. revolver – often carried in a fishing tackle box or other gear box or pack.

  4. During the Civil War, foragers would be issued short smoothbores, refered to as forager’s guns, to take any game they came accross.

  5. I’ve always used it to refer to stuff that I generally leave in a kit. I have a little pack that I leave all boxed up and ready to roll. It usually don’t have much clothing or such, just durable goods that I want when I’m going to be away from the house for a bit. It seems I can never get enough to get ready for the misc camping outings, road trips, etc. Having all the little stuff from binoculars to toothbrushes already packed means I can just throw clothes, sleeping bag, and tent in and know I’ve got it covered.

  6. Sawn off, or pistol-grip shotguns would seem to fit the role of kit-shottys. NFA certainly limited their potential for ‘common use’.

Comments are closed.