I am frequently asked this question, “What Pistol Should I Buy?” The first thing to decide is what your primary and secondary uses will be. If your primary intention is to defend yourself against grizzly bears, have fun target shooting, or protect yourself against humans, you will make very different purchasing decisions.
Let’s briefly consider these most common purposes.
Grizzly bears: You need a huge gun and excellent shooting skills combined with predator combat training and stress inoculation to have a good chance of success defending yourself against a charging grizzly with a pistol. If you have competed in fewer than 5 IPSC matches in the preceding 12 months, I suggest instead arming yourself with pepper spray. Most experts agree that pepper spray is far more effective that a gun in grizzly protection. Another factor is acquiring your defensive weapon … do some research on how fast a grizzly can cover 50 yards, then time yourself drawing your gun or pepper spray from the place you normally store it as you hike. Can you get the weapon in your hand and discharge it in less time that the bear can cover 50 yards or 10 yards? Yes, I am a gun guy, and if my hike was only 1/2 mile and the chances of a grizzly attack were great, I would take a .44Mag or bigger and pepper spray, but generally, when considering long hikes and weight reduction, pepper spray is probably your best bet.
Fun Target Shooting:
Most guns never have more than 500 rounds fired through them in their lifetimes. Spending 12 hours a day, 7 days a week at my local range allows me to observe many shooters. VERY few people come out to the range every week to shoot 250, or even 50 rounds. To be a great shooter, one must shoot hundreds of rounds every month. Will you compete in local matches just for fun or do you plan to work your way up to the USPSA Nationals?
This is the most often cited reason for purchasing a gun. First, it’s unfortunate that many give the gun more power than it deserves. Like a car, knife or drill, it’s simply a tool; a hunk of metal and wood that will not protect you on its own any more than a knife cuts on its own. Having a gun will not protect you.
There are many other factors that MUST be considered in preparing a personal protection plan, which is a reason the shooting instruction & consultation industry exists. OK, away from philosophy and back to the tool.
A personal protection gun should fire a large enough projectile at a fast enough speed to stop an attacker. It is generally accepted that a 9mm is the minimum appropriate size. On the other hand, the popular advice, with which I agree, is that one should carry the largest caliber gun that they can shoot well. This might mean that a weak-wristed arthritic person cannot handle even a .380. A .22 pistol is better than nothing. The 9mm is considered a minimum, and a movement currently exists saying that the 9mm is not enough. A .40 S&W, .357 Magnum or .45ACP is recommended. There are many more aspects to caliber selection, which we will not discuss in this article. In summary, I suggest 9mm, .40, .357mag or .45ACP.
A personal protection gun should be “handy.” By handy, I mean that it must be handy to carry, practice with and present. How do you plan to carry your defensive gun? Do you just want a gun to keep beside your bed? Having a 12” barreled .357 magnum is fine, but it is not as convenient as a sub-compact plastic pistol in regards to hiding in a purse, on a belt or otherwise. On the other hand, a plastic compact pistol with a short barrel has a lot of recoil and is not “fun” or easy to shoot. Each of us has a different body type and personal preference. I am a big guy and personally dislike plastic guns. I am often beaten in IDPA matches by smaller-framed people shooting plastic guns, so I can not criticize any gun that YOU shoot well and enjoy shooting.
The most frequent mistake I see is the sale of lightweight revolvers to small-framed ladies new to shooting. The gun dealer assumes that the lady is not smart enough to figure out a semi-auto and sells her a small framed .38 Special revolver. This might be the right choice for some ladies, but for most it is not. We can discuss this in greater detail privately.
If you choose a gun that is small, lightweight & packs a big punch it is also wise to buy another similar gun that you can use for fun practice. This practice gun should be fun to shoot so that you will be motivated to get out to the range and shoot lots of rounds! On the other hand, if you buy a .460 S&W heavy revolver for grizzly defense, you can also shoot lightly loaded .45 Long Colt cartridges through the same gun for practice. Smith & Wesson has gone downhill the last 20 years, and while their cost is triple a Taurus, their quality is only slightly better. it is better to buy a high quality gun like a Freedom Arms or similar.
After determining what your primary and secondary uses will be, we might examine cost & quality. For the sake of this article, we will assume that you are not overly concerned about your safety and don’t plan to carry your pistol concealed on your person every day, but think it might be a good idea to have a gun “just in case.” You will keep it in your home, and maybe take it when traveling alone or when camping. You also think it would be fun to get into target shooting for fun, but you don’t plan to compete.
Guns range in cost from under $100 to many thousands of dollars. Depending on your financial situation, I suggest going for the best quality you can find. I purchased a Sig P226 pistol some years ago that had been used by a police department before being retired. I paid $350 and love the gun! Recently, one of my students purchased a Sig P226 from Sig’s Mastershop for about $3,000. His pistol is better, but mine is sufficient. Buying a new Sig P226 for $1,000 would also make a lot of sense. Most gun manufacturers have many levels or price/quality, sometimes for the same model as described above.
The bottom line is that it is wise to spend at least $600 to $1200 for a good pistol. If you are in a financial position to buy the best – do it! There are some very poor quality guns in circulation, but most are decent. Sticking to a recognized brand like CZ-USA, Sig Sauer, Springfield Armory, Kimber or Remington will not guarantee quality, but is a good indicator. Some brands, like High Point, should be avoided at all costs! I like to look at the eBays of guns, Gunsamerica.com and gunbroker.com to determine what particular guns are ACTUALLY selling for THIS week in addition to consulting my Blue Book of Gun Values.
Another factor to consider is the fit and feel of the gun in your hand. If you ask other Top 25 shooting instructors which gun they prefer, you will likely get 20 different answers. Most of us do agree however that while we have our favorites, it is acceptable and advisable that your favorite is not my favorite. For example, my hand does not like the feel of a Glock, but many shooters love them. Gabe Suarez, a Top 20 Shooting Instructor, loves the Glock and shoots very well with it. His arguments for it are as good as mine are for the 1911 or George Phillips for the Sig or Angus Hobdell for the CZ. We are all correct about our personal preferences and that you should choose what is best for you.
My experience has been that few grips feel better than the CZ-75, that few actions feel better than the Sig P226 and that few pistols are better for accuracy than the 1911. The Glock is easier to clean than the 1911, and the CZ is less expensive than the H&K. There are many other factors to consider including availability of replacement parts, availability of ammunition etc, magazine capacity, left –v- right handed, beveled magazine wells and many more. I strongly suggest having multiple guns, with one of them being a good .22LR target pistol.
The bad news is that selecting a new gun can be overwhelming, but there is also lots of good news! Gun enthusiasts love to give advice, you will buy many more guns after your next one and the internet machine has lots of great advice! Speaking of which, this article has some great advice about shooting pistols better.
Following is a list of guns that I suggest including on your list for consideration.
- Sig Sauer P-229
- 1911 costing at least $900
- Heckler & Koch (H&K)
- Sig Sauer P-226 & P-320
- Springfield Armory XDM
- Beretta 92
- Freedom Arms revolvers
- Smith & Wesson M&P (S&W does not stand behind their guns honorably, but they are decent.