In continuation of last month’s blog about picking out a gun, we are going to take a further look into the process. By now you should have the fundamentals of firearm safety and operation pretty well under hand. (Remember that TAB+1 is a great and simple way to know how to handle a firearm safely.) So now it is time to think about what exactly you are looking for in a handgun. I started this blog-series with the intention of focusing on a handgun used for personal defense and target shooting, so we will keep on with that. Let’s get started.
When it comes to handguns there are two types: pistols and revolvers. I will explain the two in very basic fashions. A pistol is a semi-automatic handgun that is fed rounds via a magazine. When a round is fired, the casing is ejected out and the next round feeds up into the chamber. A revolver is either a single-action or double-action handgun that stores its rounds in a cylinder that cycle around after being fired. These are typically referred to as wheel-guns. Since typically single-action (think cowboy guns) are not used in self-defense applications, we will not focus on that action. (But, some people do prefer one and there is nothing wrong with that. They chose their firearm for a reason.)
When it comes to choosing a handgun, there is no real “right” or “wrong” reason. The only “wrong” reason I could see for choosing one would be buying a cheap one due to cost. This is not a purchase to be stingy about. If you try out a handgun and absolutely love it but are off-put by the price, just save up. And luckily most gun manufacturers make good guns at decent prices! And what is the cost of a several hundred dollar handgun compared to your life?
You will notice that people have preferences towards brands/manufacturers but don’t let that be the deciding factor for your choice. You are the one that has to shoot it. There are numerous calibers out there, each with their own benefit/drawback. Just understand that the larger the caliber, the bigger the kick. The heavier the gun, the more recoil absorption it has. So a medium caliber in a heavy gun would be a delight to shoot all day long and a larger caliber in a small gun would hurt after a while.
The most common caliber for a revolver is .357 Magnum. It is a solid and reliable round that has been around for years. Any revolver chambered in this caliber can also shoot .38 Special, which has significantly less kick to it. It is also cheaper, which makes it a good option because target-shooting can get expensive quick. There are less expensive calibers than that to shoot, such as 9mm. A few manufacturer’s offer a double-action revolver in 9mm which might be a great choice for someone’s first firearm. The heavy weight and lighter recoil of that combination, along with the vast improvements in defense rounds and relative cheapness to shoot that caliber all work in the guns favor. (I am referring to the Smith and Wesson 986, pictured above.) The thing that most people have against revolvers is their lower round-carrying capacity and the time it takes to reload.
Pistols come in a wide variety of options. Some are metal and others polymer. There are several common calibers for them (9mm, 380Auto, 40S&W, 45ACP) and once again each have their benefits/drawbacks. This is where people’s “brand loyalty” and “favorites” can become extremely apparent. Just remember to do your own research and try out the gun if possible. In comparison to revolvers, most handguns have much higher carrying-capacities and reloading becomes a quick, almost-reflex activity. Take your time, search for any recalls/common issues with specific firearms you are looking at. See how readily available after-market products are. So forth and so on.
One thing that many people don’t think about when it comes to finding their gun’s groove is what their firearm prefers. Each handgun has its own personality and preferences in some ways. Some guns will feed certain brand ammunition better than the other. The best way to test this is to get value packs of several different manufacturer’s ammo in the caliber for your gun. Pick a distance and shoot at it consistently. Have a note pad and mark down how well it groups, any misfires or jams and so on. I would personally suggest picking up boxes by Remington, Winchester and the Hornady American Gunner. (Especially the last option, Hornady makes great products.) After you figure out what practice-ammo to use, then you can start looking at what defense rounds to go with. This is a rather expensive proposition, so maybe connect with a family-member or friend who is looking to do the same. (My buddy Joe and I are looking to do all this with the HK VP9.) Just like ammo, your gun might prefer certain after-market magazines as well.
While this all might seem intimidating, there is no reason for it to be. People who have passion for the world of firearms, love to share it and pass it along to others. Lessons can be learned from just about any source.