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Good First Handguns

By Chuck Hawks

Handgun shooting is widely considered to be the most difficult of the shooting arts. Pistols are relatively light, hard to hold steady and, unlike rifles and shotguns, not supported against the shooter's body when fired. Concentration and self-discipline are required to reliably hit the target with a handgun.

Persons who cannot concentrate on the task at hand and who lack self-discipline will never become good pistol shots. Even after a satisfactory level of skill is acquired, regular practice is necessary to maintain that skill. Continuing practice is far more important with a handgun than it is with a rifle.

Any attempt to jerk the trigger is fatal to accuracy, yet the compulsion to "get the shot off" when the sight wobbles toward the target is even stronger with a handgun than with other arms. This is because the handgun is less solidly supported than long guns, so the sight spends less time on the target, and moves off target faster.

With standard patridge type iron sights the eye must focus on the front sight, not the target, which is completely contrary to human instinct. One thing the beginning shooter can do to eliminate that problem is to install a red dot optical sight.

A red dot sight puts the target and aiming dot in the same optical plane, but (unlike a telescopic sight) has no magnification. Telescopic sights should be avoided by beginners as they magnify the shooter's wobbles as well as the target and intensify the tendency to yank the trigger. A red dot is a natural type of sight to use and allows the beginning shooter to concentrate on grip, stance, and the all-important trigger squeeze, without also having to remember to focus on the front sight. After those factors have been mastered using a red dot sight the novice can move on to iron sights, if desired.

To master the difficult art of handgun shooting the tyro needs all the help he or she can get from the pistol itself. The beginning handgunner needs an accurate gun with properly zeroed adjustable sights, whether iron or red dot. He or she does not need to be wondering if the gun itself was responsible for a miss. Confidence in the weapon is important.

In short, the new handgunner needs a good quality revolver or autoloading pistol with easily visible adjustable sights and a barrel at least 4" in length; a 6" barrel is even better. The aspiring handgunner also needs a pistol with a trigger mechanism capable of being set-up for a crisp pull in the range of 2.5-3 pounds. Almost all new guns, with the exception of target pistols with user adjustable triggers, will require a "trigger job" from a competent gunsmith to achieve this. Consider it a part of the cost of that first pistol. A target type revolver or semi-auto is an excellent choice for one's first handgun.

The new handgun shooter also does not need the added distractions of unnecessary recoil and muzzle blast, which inspire flinching. Flinching is natural, but ruinous to accuracy and terribly hard to control.

A good first handgun should be chambered for the .22 Long Rifle cartridge. The .22 LR cartridge combines all of the characteristics most desirable for a beginner's pistol. It is very accurate, low in recoil and muzzle blast, has a relatively flat trajectory, is inexpensive--thus allowing plenty of affordable practice, and more widely distributed than any other cartridge. And no matter how experienced the shooter eventually becomes, he or she will never outgrow the need for a .22 pistol. No other handgun cartridge even comes close to combining all of these benefits.

Handguns that meet all of the requirements above are usually intended for small game hunting or target shooting. Available types include .22 caliber single action (SA) revolvers, double action (DA) revolvers, and autoloading pistols. Such guns may be purchased new or used, as long as they are in good condition. In fact, some desirable models are only available on the used market.

Here are some suitable and commonly encountered .22 LR handguns:

  • In a single action revolver, the Colt New Frontier (used only), Freedom Arms Model 83 Rimfire (new or used), and Ruger Super Single Six (new or used) are top choices.
  • In a double action revolver, try to find a Colt Diamondback (used only), Colt Trooper Mk. III or Mk. IV (used only), Ruger SP 101 (new or used), Ruger Security Six (used only), or Smith & Wesson K-22 Masterpiece (new or used).
  • Among autoloaders, look for a Beretta Model 87 Target (new or used), Browning Medallist (used only), Browning Challenger (used only), Browning Buckmark (new or used), Colt Woodsman (used only), Hammerli X-ESSE Sport Pistol (new or used), High Standard (or High Standard clone by Mitchell or Stoeger) target model such as the Victor, Olympic, or Trophy (new or used), Ruger Target Model .22 Auto (Mk. I, used only; Mk. II, new or used), or SIG Trailside PL 22 (new or used).
  • I realize that some beginning pistol shooters are primarily interested in personal protection. And, of course, no .22 pistol is high on anyone's list for defensive use. But before a person can properly defend himself or herself with a handgun they must first learn to hit the target. That is why their first pistol should be a .22. And, for that matter, in a life and death emergency a .22 slug that hits the aggressor is far more effective than a .45 slug that misses.

    After learning to shoot with a .22 pistol, the person interested in defensive pistol craft will doubtless want to purchase a second handgun in a service caliber like .38 Special or 9x19. But regular practice will remain necessary, and they will find that shooting their .22 pistol is the easiest and least expensive method of maintaining that hard won proficiency. Somewhere along the way most people also discover that shooting is fun, and that shooting a .22 pistol is the most fun of all.

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    Copyright 2002, 2016 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.