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Choosing The Best Handgun - for YOU

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What Will This Handgun Be Primarily Used For?

The Right Tool For The Job

If you are a person with a large family, a bright red Porsche may not be the ideal vehicle. A farmer may not have great deal of use for a VW Bug, and a beige Mini-Van is not the perfect statement of wealth and status. Horses for courses. And while any gun might be used for multiple uses, different types may excel for one purpose and be ill suited for others. You could stuff a couple bales of hay in a Bug, after all, but it won’t make life easy. If you are already a gun aficionado, you probably have more than one or two. One (or more!) for hunting, target shooting, competition, self defense, every day carry. Hard to stop at just one!

Home Defense

A home defense weapon should be whatever feels best in your hand, is easiest for you to shoot well, in a serious caliber. For most of us that means a full sized pistol or revolver. Full sized guns give you a longer sight radius (The distance between the front and rear sights.) which increases your accuracy. They are also longer and heavier than a compact or smaller handgun. That extra barrel length and added weight help to counter the recoil. Simple physics. Generally speaking, less recoil leads to better accuracy as well as greater enjoyment of your practice time. Hence you will practice more often and become more proficient. Many full sized guns also have a greater capacity for ammunition, which could be a good thing in an atypical confrontation. (Multiple assailants, not easily deterred.) A mounted lite or laser is an option to consider, though there are varying schools of thought on their effectiveness.

NOT RECOMMENDED! - Any of the magnum or extra large calibers. The .44 magnum was designed to penetrate the engine block of a car. It will NOT be stopped by the walls of your house. For the sake of other family members, as well as your neighbors, do not use a hand cannon for home defense. Single action revolvers are slower to fire unless in the hands of an expert. While a Peacemaker replica could definitely stop an attack, it is not the perfect tool for this purpose.

Concealed Carry

Now we enter that murky area of compromise. A concealed carry handgun should be every thing that a home defense gun should be - only smaller. And yet many carry a full sized pistol daily. How will it be carried? Inside the waist band, outside the waist band, ankle holster, shoulder holster? Comfort matters here, folks. If it is not comfortable, it will not be carried. If you are serious about Concealed Carry, it must become a habit. Or is your home insurance only good on those days you feel inexplicably uneasy? Thinner and lighter is better, but remember those itsy, bitsy guns are a bit more difficult and uncomfortable to shoot. Though many of the new, small guns are engineered more ergonomically. If it is too uncomfortable to shoot, you won’t practice enough to become proficient. If you are not proficient with what you carry, you are not really prepared that for that moment we pray never comes.

Target Practice / Plinking

First time shooter

For the uninitiated, plinking is shooting for the the sheer fun of seeing how many times you can make a pop can jump. More a rifle trick, but try a clothes pin hanging from a string, and if you are feeling cocky, set it to swinging before you shoot! Hours of fun for the whole family.

The unassuming little .22 rim fire is king of the plinking world, with a number of long barreled, well balanced, revolvers and semis devoted to that purpose. There are some specialized single shots to extend your range. Cheap to shoot, often cheaper to purchase than a center fire arm. Very comfortable as it has little or no recoil.

Others prefer the challenges of the large bore or specialty calibers, often scope equipped, to enable them to really stretch the effective range of a handgun. Larry Vickers, TV host of Tac TV, has made a 250 yard shot at a silhouette target, off hand, with an iron sighted 10mm Glock! But the .454 Casull, and .460 and .500 S & W Magnum are types more typically shot at long distance targets.

Of course, you should plan on doing some target practice with any gun you own in order to develop and maintain your proficiency. A few hours fun can be had with any handgun that’s comfortable to shoot. Amazingly, the more accurate you become, the more fun you'll have! What’s that bumper sticker? "A bad day at the range beats a good day at work!"


Another world opens when you enter the wonderful arena of competitive shooting. There are more types of handgun competition than I have room to write about. IDPA (International Defensive Pistol Association) can be a very low key, relaxing, shoot what you brought, event. Or a nationally televised affair complete with factory sponsors and custom "race" guns. Based on scenarios designed to roughly approximate the skills necessary for effective self defense, shooters are scored by combining their accuracy and time.

Cowboy Action Shooting features competitors with colorful nick names like "Chisum Charlie" or "Sweetwater Sarah" in period costume, shooting single action revolvers, lever operated rifles, and double barrel shotguns. An experienced operator can make those old style guns sing. Cowboy Mounted Shooting is similar, only from horseback! Three Gun is a hugely popular modern equivalent. Normally shot with a combination of a modern sporting rifle (Scary black "Assault Weapons"), a pump or auto loader shotgun, and a high capacity semi-automatic, competitors must shoot each "stage" with some combination of all three firearms and are again scored by accuracy and time.

Then there are IPSC (International Practical Shooting Confederation - pronounced Ip-sic, sounds like something you would take for an upset tummy, doesn’t it?), The Bianchi Cup, Steel Challenge, and Bowling Pin matches. Yes, that last is just what it sounds like. Shooting bowling pins from a table. Harder than it sounds. There is sure to be some type of competition near you, if you are interested. No matter in which you might choose to compete, they all feature a good time, with friendly people who welcome newcomers to their sport. Additionally, you have a standard against which to judge the progress of your skills and an incentive to improve.

IDPA is excellent concealed carry practice

But What Is Competitive?

Cowboy Action mounted shooting

Like everything on this page, the answer is, "It depends." You can, and are encouraged to, shoot a home defense or concealed carry pistol in IDPA, revolvers shoot in their own class. But even here, a competitive edge is to be had with a gun tweaked for that purpose. Springfield Armory offers a 5.25 inch version of it’s highly popular XDm series to gain a slight advantage with a longer sight radius and longer barrel, the EAA Witness Elite Match is another competition oriented piece, CZ USA, along with many manufacturers, offers competition ready models through their custom shop. These handguns feature smoother triggers with a lighter pull, beveled magazine wells for faster reloading, and custom sights, among other options. Prices range from a bit to a LOT more than a standard model, depending on how much tuning you desire. (CZs range from about $1,200 to nearly $3.000. A IPSC full race STI GM lists at over $3,500. Then for Cowboy Action Shooting, or Three Gun, you need at least three guns (Duh), and they may or may not be dedicated and highly customized tools. And you might need a horse! Still compared to many other hobbies, competitive shooting is not unreasonable. Priced SLR cameras and lenses, bass and ski boats, or RVs lately?

Others prefer the challenges of the large bore or specialty calibers, often scope equipped, to enable them to really stretch the effective range of a handgun. Larry Vickers, TV host of Tac TV, has made a 250 yard shot at a silhouette target, off hand, with an iron sighted 10mm Glock! But the .454 Casull, and .460 and .500 S & W Magnum are types more typically shot at long distance targets.

If you are at all intrigued by the idea of competition to test yourself, improve your skills, or just to socialize and enjoy the fun, I would suggest the following. Find a sport that lets you shoot what you have. IDPA is very accessible to newbies. And yes, you can compete with a smaller concealed carry piece. If you know yourself to be a competitive person, purchase a Home Defense weapon that will give a slight competitive edge, without blowing the bankroll, or having a gun that is unsuitable for a dual role. Then put a toe in the water. As you gain knowledge and experience, you may find you want to save your allowance for more specialized equipment. And I know horses if you need any help with that purchase!


Illinois insists on a revolver or single shot with at least a four inch barrel for hunting. Ethically, though the law is very specific about muzzle velocity, etc., I believe nothing less than a .357 Magnum should be used on deer sized game. Many think the caliber should start with a four. A plethora of choices exist within these parameters. Single or double action revolvers, or a single shot hunting pistol will fill the bill admirably. The option to mount optics will extend the range at which you have an ethical shot. Most hunting handguns are not highly useful for home or personal defense. They tend to be large, powerful pieces. Slightly awkward to shoot one handed. Prone to over penetrate. Mounted optics make them nearly useless in a point-and-shoot scenario, especially in low light. A .357 might be the exception. It may be loaded with .38 special ammo to reduce both recoil and over penetration. See the discussion of calibers for more. A .357 is just more "handy" than a long barrelled .44 magnum.

Hunting with a handgun


My ex-wife used to collect pigs. No, not REAL pigs! (Well, unless you count me. And evidently she did. Did I mention she’s my EX-wife? Sorry - getting off point here. Painful flashbacks.) No, statues of pigs, pig knickknacks, pig pictures, pig salt and pepper shakers. If it had a pig on it, we had it. Why? She thought they were cute. They made her smile. Good enough for me. She didn’t take drugs, or drink her breakfast, so pigs were a minor vice. I have a bit more understanding of people who collect firearms. They are precision made machinery, with a innate beauty in their perfection. They are a key part of history. Guns have shaped our world, for good and ill. And there is no end to the focus your collection may have. Black powder, dueling pistols, civil war relics, World War weapons, the Cold War era. There is always something to add to your collection or to painstakingly hunt down. You may have a modest or extravagant budget. Watch yourself. Many people find firearms like potato chips. Awful hard to stop at just one!

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