Handgun FAQ

E-mail questions with answers by Chuck Hawks

Gun values

Q: I have a ________ (make and model) gun. Can you tell me what it is worth?

A: Unfortunately, it is impossible to accurately estimate the value of a gun without examining it. I would recommend that you look up the make and model of the gun you own in Fjestad's Blue Book of Gun Values. Fjestad's includes a great many makes and models of guns, and rates them by condition. You should be able to find a copy in most gun shops and bookstores.

Gun identification and history

Q: I inherited an old gun, the serial number is 12345 . . . can you tell me something about its history, when it was made, what ammunition is safe to shoot in it, etc.?

A: No. It is impossible for me to tell you about your gun without examining it. And, in any case, not being a collector it is unlikely that I could help you very much. Take it to a local gun shop and let them have a look at it, they can probably answer at least some of your questions after inspecting it.

Calcualting recoil, trajectory, etc.

Q: I shoot ________ (make and model) gun. What is the recoil? What is my trajectory like and for what distance should I set the sights?

A: Please do not ask me to compute your recoil or trajectory for you; these are things that you can figure out for yourself. GUNS AND SHOOTING ONLINE includes information to help you do this. Take a look at the relevant lists and tables on the "Tables, Charts and Lists Page," they are there for your benefit.

The Member Side of G&S Online

Q: I am very disappointed to see that you now require a fee to access your articles. I thought you were posting out of love of the sport ...only to conclude that it was about money. Bummer.

A: You might take time to notice that the Main Site of Guns and Shooting Online as well as my Photography and Astronomy, Naval and Military Affairs, Travel and Fishing, and Motorcycles and Riding sites remain totally free. (Well, not free at all, but paid for out of my pocket.)

The fact is that I am, or was before I got so involved in my web site, a retired guy on a diminishing income. Couple that with the expense of supporting the bandwidth some 2.5 million hits on chuckhawks.com require every month and something simply had to be done. My web sites are so popular that I have had to become a domain, buy my own server, pay for a 1.5 Meg. DSL line, hire professional support people (I am not a computer person, just a writer/photographer!), and so forth.

If there is to continue to be a chuckhawks.com, it has to pay for itself. Not to mention the unpleasant fact that maintaining and expanding it has become a full time job, and I can't live on good wishes alone. That is why there is now a Member Side to Guns and Shooting Online. I'm sorry that you are disappointed, but I am gratified and humbled by the success of the Member Side and its acceptance by the great majority of my readers. Also by the recognition that Guns and Shooting Online has received from so many of the fine companies that comprise the shooting sports industry.

Sending photos or attachments

Q: I sent you a neat picture of my gun, but I never heard back from you. Did you get my e-mail?

A: Please do not send photographs or attachments of any kind without prior authorization. Due to the volume of mail I receive I automatically delete all e-mail containing attachments or graphics.

.22 conversion kits for centerfire pistols

Q: I've learned alot from your website, thank you. Are you planning to review the advantage arms .22 LR conversion kit for Glock and 1911 pistols?

A: No. I have found that conversions are too expensive and not that satisfactory, even if they function correctly, which in not guaranteed. It is much better to simply buy a decent .22 practice pistol.

You don't need to practice with your service pistol; that is an old wives tale. What you are practicing is focusing on the front sight, sight alignment and trigger control and those principles are the same for all pistols. What you gain from shooting a real .22 pistol will transfer just fine to shooting your centerfire pistol.

.22 pistol

Q: Would you recommend a good .22 autoloading pistol for recreational shooting?

A: The current models I have the most experience with are the Ruger Mk. II series and the Browning Buckmark line. They are accurate and reliable guns, available in several variations including target models. I also like the old Colt Woodsman models, which are classics. High Standard target models are also very good guns.

My personal .22 target auto is a High Standard Victor II, made by Mitchell (now defunct). Right now I favor the Browning Buckmark line. I feel the somewhat less expensive Ruger's generally have inferior triggers, and to get that corrected by a gunsmith brings the cost up to that of the Browning.

.22 revolver

Q: Would you recommend a good .22 revolver for recreational shooting?

A: My all time favorite .22 revolver is the DA Colt Diamondback, now discontinued. Unfortunately, good used Diamondbacks command a premium price, but they are worth it. The Diamondback was a target revolver with adjustable sights (a necessity for any good recreational .22). Both the discontinued "Old Model" Ruger Super Single Six, and its replacement the "New Model" Super Single Six are fine SA revolvers with adjustable sights. Ruger SA revolvers represent some of the best buys available in new or used revolvers. Ruger Super Single Six models usually come with interchangeable .22 LR and .22 WMR cylinders.


Q: I'm curious regarding the absence of any review regarding the 5.7X28mm technology?

A: It is, at best, of very limited general interest and application, since the BATF has ruled that 5.7x28mm guns and ammunition not be made available to civilians or even individual police officers. They may only be purchased by legitimate law enforcement agencies. Since the 5.7x28mm cartridge is classified "non-sporting" and cannot be sold outside of law enforcement, there does not seem to be much reason to devote a lot to time to it in Guns and Shooting Online, which is dedicated to the civilian shooter and the recreational use of firearms. We are not a law enforcement web site.

.380 ACP for defense

Q: I recently purchased a top quality .380 pistol. My concern is now, after reading all of the �experts� reports, I feel under armed. Could you give me your opinion on the effectiveness of the round?

A: We have reviewed several .380 pistols and written articles about the cartridge itself. In my opinion, with good loads/bullets (such as Federal Hydra-Shok and Hornady Critical Defense) it is a good defense caliber and I sometimes carry a .380 myself.

.40 vs. 10mm

Q: What is the .40 S&W hype all about? Doesn't the 10mm Auto get the job done as well or better?

A: Yes, it does; that is why the FBI originally adopted the 10mm. The "Light" 10mm load is identical to the .40, and the full power 10mm load is quite a bit more powerful. The popularity of the .40 seems to be based on the fact it will function through many pistols designed for the 9x19 rather than its ballistics.

1911 pistol

Q: A friend is considering a full size, steel, 1911 pistol. He has looked at several brands; I was wondering what brand you would buy?

A: I would buy the original, Colt. My second choice would be Kimber.

Expanding bullets

Q: Will JHP bullets expand at handgun velocities, or should I use FMJ bullets?

A: Properly designed JHP bullets do expand reliably at handgun velocities, including the relatively low velocity of a .38 snubby or .380 ACP. I can remember reading articles back in the middle 1960's claiming that only big bore handguns were satisfactory for defense or hunting because bullets could not be made to expand reliably at handgun velocities. At that time I was shooting jack rabbits in the Mojave Desert using my .357 with Speer 146 grain JHP bullets at about 1200 fps--and the bullets were expanding in the jacks! Bullet design has come a long way since those days, and today it would be hard to find a name brand bullet that doesn't expand properly at the velocity for which it was designed.

This nonsense about bullets not expanding at handgun velocities has been sold by the big bore guys to a gullible public for decades now, and it simply is not true. JHP bullets are definitely the way to go for defense or hunting in any handgun caliber, including the big bore autos. FMJ bullets are suitable only for practice.

Favorite cartridge

Q: What is your favorite all-around pistol cartridge?

A: I assume you are referring to centerfire cartridges, because if I could only have one handgun, it would be chambered for .22 LR. My favorite "all-around" pistol cartridge is the versatile .357 Magnum. Using ammunition of various power levels, especially handloads, in appropriate pistols it can be a fine cartridge for target shooting, personal defence, and hunting animals up to the size of deer.

Getting started in reloading

Q: My question is, if I decided (or needed) to start reloading, what can I expect to spend for the equipment? Also, how does someone learn to do it?

A: Go to your local gun shop or sporting goods store and take a look at an RCBS starter set. They are pretty much complete and come with a Speer Reloading Manual and all the information you need to get started right. Price varies by retailer so you will have to check that out for yourself. Midway USA (online) can also help you and has generally good prices.

Glock 26 vs. Glock 27

Q: The baby Glocks are among the finest of CCW weapons, but why did you recommend the Glock 26 (9x19) over the Glock 27 (.40 S&W) for concealed carry? While the penetration and recovered diameters of bullets shot into gelatin are similar for both, the .40 has the advantage in energy and bullet diameter in the event expansion does not occur.

A: What you say is true. I prefer the 9mm over the .40 because it is more widely distributed world wide, because 9mm pistols usually carry an extra round or two, and most of all because the 9mm has considerably less recoil and muzzle blast, and is therefore easier for most people to shoot accurately. Both calibers have a more than adequate percentage of one shot stops with good ammunition, according to Marshall and Sanow.

Glock .40 "kabooms"

Q: I have a question regarding concerns raised about .40 Glock pistols blowing up. I have the Lee manual for reloading and have fed my 10mm nothing but handloads and have had great fun. BUT, the Lee manual instructs not to use reloads with .40 S&W caliber and I recently bought my wife a Glock Model 22. I noted elsewhere online pics and data on Glocks blowing up. They make notice that this can happen to other guns as well. Please let me know what the concerns are as I have already loaded some new brass for the .40 S&W and have got some reconditioned ammo from a reputable guy whose ammo I and many others at our club have used before in other calibers. I know of other Glock 22 owners who've used reloads.

A: I don't understand why people spread these sorts of rumors. I have not heard anything from responsible sources about Glock .40 pistols blowing-up. Glock pistols are as strong as any others. Virtually every reloading manual includes data for the .40 S&W cartridge and as long as you stay within permissible pressures and specifications with recommended bullets it is no different than any other cartridge. The Speer Manual says, "Reloading the .40 S&W is simple, straight-forward and much like the .45 Auto." Most firearm "kabooms" are in fact caused by IMPROPER reloads or an obstructed barrel, and that is true of every brand of firearm and every caliber.

Glock NY trigger

Q: Why avoid the New York trigger on Glocks? I would think that it would make the gun safer to carry.

A: The NY trigger makes it much harder to precisely place your shots. That is very bad because it means an increased possibility of a shot going astray and possibly hitting an innocent person--something that you absolutely must not allow, even to save your own life.

Then ask yourself why a NY trigger would be safer to carry. Remember that the Glock pistol has 3 automatic safeties, all of which are completely independent of the trigger pull weight. A Glock can only be fired if you fire it. If you are an unsafe gun handler you should not be carrying any gun. If you handle your Glock safely it will never fire accidentally. So I repeat the question: why would a NY trigger make a Glock safer to carry?

Handgun killing power

Q: In your article "The Killing Power of Big Game Bullets" you have a few paragraphs on kinetic energy and killing power. You state 800 ft. lbs. as a minimum. Why doesn't this 800 ft. lbs. "minimum" apply to handguns? In another article, "Handgun Hunting," you list the .357 Magnum, .44 Magnum, .41 Magnum and several others as suitable for hunting deer. You then state that all of these cartridges have the power and trajectory for shots out to 100 yards. I can not find any loading of the above cartridges that packs 800 ft. lbs. of energy at 100 yards. If hitting deer with less than 800 ft. lbs. from a rifle is ill advised, then why it is not ill advised to hunt deer with any of the standard magnum revolvers?

A: Your question is a valid one, although the article you cited pertains only to rifle bullets. The bottom line is that handgun hunting is not directly comparable to rifle hunting in terms of the reasonable level of kinetic energy required to achieve humane kills at normal handgun ranges. For much more information on this subject, see my article "Hunting Handgun Killing Power" on the Handgun Information Page.

Handgun vs. rifle killing power

Q: Iam very new to rifles, but I did notice that most rifle bullets in defensive and military rifles, such as the 55 grain .223, are small compared to most handguns bullets, although they do have twice the velocity. Velocity vs. bullet weight is always debated among handgunners, but I don't know if you can really compare rifle and handguns cartridges.

Rifles have an advantage in range over handguns, but I was wondering how some of the smaller calibers (such as the .223) compare in defensive stopping power to typical handgun cartridges (9 mm Luger, .45 ACP) at very close range (such as 5 yards). If the rifle (even the .223) has more destructive power at close range, why?

A: Handgun killing power is greatly over rated by those with little understanding of ballistics. With appropriate bullets a rifle cartridge, even the wimpy .223 (which is a varmint round, not a big game caliber), is far more effective and deadly than a handgun. The rifle bullet is generally superior in kinetic energy and sectional density and this translates to a quantum improvement in stopping power.

Velocity vs. bullet weight may be a favorite topic of discussion among handgunners, but the differences are usually relatively small (.45 ACP/230 grain at 987 fps vs. .357 Mag/158 grain at 1235 fps), as is the difference in kinetic energy (391 ft. lbs vs. 535 ft. lbs.). This allows the big bullet crowd to cloud the issue with antecedental and theoretical "evidence." On the other hand, the energy difference between a .45 ACP pistol and a .223/55 grain rifle bullet (3240 fps, 1282 ft. lbs.) are huge. Even greater is the difference between a handgun and a big game cartridge such as the .308 Winchester (180 grains at 2620 fps and 2743 ft. lbs.). Compare handgun killing power with rifles, at any range, and it is just no contest.

High pressure loads in S&W .45 revolver

Q: I have a large frame S&W revolver chambered for the .45 Long Colt cartridge. I saw a S&W Model 29 (.44 Mag.) and realized that it is the same size as my gun. Can I use "souped-up" handloads that essentially duplicate the pressure and velocity of the .44 Mag. in my S&W .45? I have read about heavy .45 LC loads, but they are said to be for Ruger SA revolvers only. Why can't I use them in my S&W?

A: Your .45 may look like a M-29, but in fact the .44 Mag. Model 29 uses special steels and receives special heat treatments to allow it to withstand substantially higher pressures than your gun. Also, the .45 Colt cartridge is larger in diameter than the .44 Mag. cartridge (which is really a .42), so there is less steel left in the cylinder of your gun. If you want magnum performance you should buy a magnum revolver. In any case, the M-29 is about the weakest .44 Mag. revolver on the market, and they are infamous for their short life span if used continuously with heavy loads, so a resemblance to the M-29 is faint praise at best.

In addition, the .44 Mag. case was designed to handle pressures beyond what the .45 Colt case was designed to withstand. .44 Mag. brass has a thicker wall and web, and is therefore stronger than .45 Colt brass. Read my article High Pressure Loads for the .45 Long Colt for more information on this subject.

Use loads no hotter than the standard loads published in the various reloading manuals and which are designed for your gun. The Ruger Blackhawk SA revolver is much stronger than your S&W and you should NEVER USE LOADS PUBLISHED SPECIFICALLY FOR RUGER REVOLVERS IN ANY S&W!

Magnums for home defense

Q: What is your opinion of full power magnum revolver loads for home defense?

A: I think the full power magnum loads have too much muzzle blast and flash for use indoors. They also have too much penetration for use in urban settings. You certainly don't want to chance killing or injuring your neighbor. I would recommend the Glaser pre-fragmented ammunition for these calibers in a home defence scenario. If you want to stay with a conventional hollow point bullet for your .357, consider using the Remington Mid-Velocity 125 grain JHP load.

Pocket holsters

Q: I own a Beretta Tomcat and a S&W Titanium .38. I recently purchased pocket holsters for both from a reputable firm. When I carry either gun in its holster in my pocket, the pocket "gaps," expands outward from the gun. Were I to go out in the street, the butt of either gun would be quite visible from behind. I am not overweight or unusual in shape. What do you suggest?

A: Your problem is certainly not unique. The basic answer is that the guns you describe are simply too bulky for practical pocket carry. Pocket holsters simply make the problem worse by adding bulk. This is why I have never found pocket carry to be practical. Really tiny guns like a baby Browning .25 auto, or a mini revolver, may be the exceptions. All I can suggest is to find some other method of concealed carry, such as a fanny pack or photographer's vest. See my article Some thoughts On Concealed Carry Methods for other suggestions.

Protection in the field

Q: I live in the Canadian north and require protection from black bears when hiking. I own a .357 Magnum, but I carry a 9x19 when hiking the bush as the 6" S&W Model 686 .357 Mag. is too heavy for long hikes. Is this a good choice?

A: Dangerous animals are an entirely different matter than human criminals. Due to their heavier bone, muscle, skin, and fur they require a heavier bullet (for better penetration) and more energy to stop. Any time protection against bears is a rational consideration, you had better learn to carry that 6" .357 Mag. with 158 grain slugs. That is the lightest gun that most experts would advise. A .41 Mag. or .44 Mag. would actually be more common recommendations, but in the only self defense bear shooting I have personal knowledge of a 6.5" .357 worked fine.

I have carried a 6.5" Ruger Blackhawk .357 many, many miles in the field--and I am a medium size guy who never goes to a gym--so I know that with a good holster and belt it is not that difficult. I like a high cross draw position, which allows normal body movement and sitting without interference. I mostly use a Hunter leather belt and field (pouch type) holster, or a similar Uncle Mike's synthetic rig.

Recommended autoloaders

Q: Which 3 brands of service style autoloading pistols would you look at if you were buying a new service type pistol?

A: Glock, SIG-Sauer, Beretta.

Recommended revolvers

Q: Which brands of revolvers would you recommend?

A: Ruger and Colt; also Freedom Arms if you are looking for a specialty hunting revolver, or North American Arms if you are looking for a mini-revolver.

Revolver vs. semi-auto accuracy

Q: Which is typically more accurate out of the box, a revolver or a semi-automatic pistol?

A: Specialized target autoloaders, especially .22's, are among the most accurate of all handguns, and probably slightly more accurate than .22 target revolvers, for reasons I don't have space to go into here. Suffice to say that the intrinsic accuracy of both types of target gun is excellent. Comparing service guns, and centerfire handguns in general, I have found revolvers to consistently be more accurate out of the box. For example, my 4" .38 Colt Diamondback will shoot tighter group than my 9mm Glock 19, or a .45 Long Colt SAA will usually shoot tighter groups than a .45 ACP Colt 1911A1 autoloader. This includes concealed carry guns. For instance, a 2" snub-nosed revolver will usually out shoot an equivalent size .380 or 9x19 autoloader.

Single shot hunting pistols

Q: What do you think of single shot pistols for handgun hunting, and which do you prefer?

A: I think they are very efficient, but most of them are too big, too heavy, and too clumsy. My personal choice for most hunting purposes would be a scoped Thompson-Center Contender.

Smith & Wesson .22 pistol

Q: I have a Smith & Wesson Model 22A .22 LR pistol. It is a piece of junk. It jams constantly regardless of ammo type. The new round in the magazine blocks the way of the empty cartridge to be ejected. Even the plastic grips are cheesy. What is your opinion of this gun?

A: I was able to inspect this pistol when it was introduced at the SHOT Show. I thought it looked like a shameless cheepie then, and I have heard nothing good about it since. Doom on S&W!

Stopping power of heavy bullets

Q: I always thought that a heavier bullet was better when handgun stopping power was required, which is why I went with the SXT 147 grain 9x19 ammo. It is supposed to penetrate cover better than the 115 grain JHP loads. I look upon cover as branches, drywall, hollow doors, heavy coats etc. Also the fact that police departments were using it back when it was called the Black Talon. I assumed they would have studied ammo and stopping power. Am I right?

A: Penetration is actually counter productive in most civilian self defense situations. Drilling a hole through a bad guy wastes most of the bullet's energy on whatever is behind him, delivering little stopping power. You want a bullet that goes in and essentially blows up inside of the bad guy, delivering all of its energy to his body. Which is why pre-fragmented loads like the Glaser Safety Slugs are so effective in typical frontal shootings. Also, what you don't want (or have a right) to do is endanger your neighbors or other bystanders with bullets that penetrate dry wall, doors, windows, etc.

The police want more penetration because they may have to intentionally shoot through car doors, windows, and so forth. Civilians almost never have to worry about a siege situation, but police do.

Taurus guns

Q: What is your opinion of Taurus handguns? Are they worth the money?

A: Well, some are better than others. Most Taurus revolvers are based on copies of the S&W action, and most Taurus semi-autos are copies of various Beretta actions. Personally, I don't usually have a lot of respect for products which are cheaper copies of something else. Years ago I would have classified Taurus guns as "junk," but that is not necessarily true today. I think some of their revolvers are actually better made than the equivalent S&W models they are derived from--a sad comment on the state of the contemporary S&W product. So, I guess the answer to your question is that in many cases I would say Taurus guns are worth the money, but I do believe that a higher quality gun, like a Colt revolver or genuine Beretta semi-auto, is better VALUE for the money, even though they cost more.

Tritium vs. laser sights

Q: What do you think of the Tritium night sights as compared to a laser sight?

A: I prefer the Tritium sights as general purpose sights, because they are more versatile. There are too many situations where the laser sight is hard to use, although when it is appropriate it is easier to aim. Also, most laser sights add undesirable bulk to the gun.

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Copyright 1999, 2016 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.