What is the right handgun to own?

Students routinely ask this question in our classes and the answer is “it depends on what type shooting you intend to do with the handgun.”

The vast variety in handgun size and calibers is overwhelming to the novice shooter.  We recommend not purchasing a handgun until after you have taken some formal training.  We rent handguns to students for live firing exercises and the gun ranges offer rental handguns, eye protection, and ear protection.  If you are interested in target shooting and defensive shooting then it is likely you may need to own multiple pistols.

Here are some things to consider:

[tabs tab1=”Types of Handguns” tab2=”Sights” tab3=”Weight” tab4=”Fit”] [tab]Let’s start with describing the different types of handguns and how they function.  If you are interested in cowboy shooting then naturally a large single action revolver will be your choice. The old “six shooters” from old western days are single action revolvers.  Single action in a handgun means that the only function of pulling the trigger is to release the hammer or striker to fire the gun. You have to manually cock the hammer of a single action revolver each time between shots to shoot it again. 

A double action/single action revolver, which most modern revolvers fall into this category, can be fired by simply pulling the trigger to both cock and release the hammer or striker.  Handguns without hammers have a striker that is released by the trigger and strike the center of the ammunition round in the chamber.  In revolvers the hammer may also be the firing pin or may strike a firing pen in the frame of the handgun.

Double action/single action handguns have a longer trigger travel when you fire in double action mode and a heavier pull than when it is fired from the single action mode.  The long and short of this is a double action/single action revolver can be fired by pulling the trigger in double action mode or by cocking the hammer and then pulling the trigger in single action mode. 

A double action/single action semi automatic handgun works a little different in that once you fire the first shot from a loaded magazine the slide action automatically re-cocks the hammer or the striker and the gun is then firing single action until the magazine is empty or the hammer is de-cocked.

Single action semi automatic handguns work by the striker and trigger being reset each time the slide ejects a spent round and loads the next round in the magazine in the chamber.  Double action only semi automatics work by the action of the slide resetting the trigger and then the trigger re-cocks the striker as the trigger is pulled.

There is a lot of “gray” in describing double action only and single action semi automatics.  For the average shooter you will never notice any difference in shooting a double action only or single action only semi automatic other than one that has a manually operated safety versus one that does not have a manually operated safety.[/tab] [tab]The distance between the front sight and the rear sight is called the sight radius. The longer the barrel and sight radius the more accurate you can shoot the handgun, as mistakes in sight alignment affect the striking point of the bullet and the shorter the sight radius the greater the miss on the target is from bad sight alignment.  Longer barrels and longer sight radius is why rifles are far easier to shoot accurately for the average shooter.[/tab] [tab]The weight of the handgun also plays a large role in how easy it is to shoot the handgun accurately. A Smith & Wesson, Ruger, or Taurus lightweight revolver, weighing +/-15 ounces, may have a 12 to 13 pound trigger pull.  The law of physics tells us it is much harder to hold a 15 ounce revolver steady when it takes 12 or 13 pounds of energy to pull the trigger and make the gun fire. 

The small revolvers also often have just a small V notch in the frame of the revolver for a rear sight and this presents a big challenge in aligning the sights on the target.  While these small revolvers are very popular with women because they are easy to conceal and simple to operate, they are really a “point and shoot” handgun that is hard to shoot accurately beyond 5 yards.  Because of their light weight they are also often painful to shoot. 

The heavier the handgun, the longer the barrel and sight radius, the easier it is to shoot accurately at greater distances.  The heavier the handgun the less recoil (backyard motion) and flip (rising of the front of the barrel) the handgun will have, adding to the ease of shooting accurately and making follow-up shots quickly.[/tab][tab]The next consideration in selecting a handgun is finding one that fits your hand. 

You want to be able to grip the handgun with the web of your hand as high on the backstrap as you can get it and be able to place the index finger on the trigger with the contact point being half way between the tip of your finger and the first joint of the index finger.  This is called “trigger reach” and is very important to being able to shoot a handgun accurately. You also do not want the rest of the trigger finger rubbing on the frame of the pistol as you pull the trigger, as that can cause you to move the handgun off target as you pull the trigger.  You want a little bit of clearance between the index finger and the frame of the handgun.

You also want a handgun that has a grip (handle) narrow enough that you can wrap your hand around the front of the grip so that the tips of the other fingers are covering at least half the side of the grip.  Many semi automatic handguns with high capacity magazines have fat grips that cause problems with shooters with small hands.  If you can’t grip the handgun with the proper trigger reach and the barrel of the handgun is not aligned in a straight line with your forearm bones it does not fit you and you will likely struggle with accuracy. 

Another consideration is whether you can get three fingers on the front strap below the trigger guard.  Small guns where you can only get two fingers on the front strap below the trigger guard are much more difficult to control the recoil and flip of the handgun, leading to inaccurate shooting.[/tab][/tabs]

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