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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
This post was written to help those people who are new to pistol shooting to select a firearm, considering several criteria. It is based on practical knowledge gained in pistol shooting competition, and on time spent instructing new shooters on the firing line.

We will start with one basic assumption before making recommendations, and that is that the pistol to be chosen will be a semi-automatic, centerfire pistol with a removable magazine. If you prefer starting with a .22 rimfire pistol, some of the following advice may still apply, but I recommend a centerfire pistol because it can be used for self-defense, whereas a rimfire pistol is not a great choice for that purpose.

In order for this type of pistol to function properly, it must be held firmly in the hands of the shooter. That firmness comes from developing a good grip on the gun, a topic that we have covered in other posts in this forum. A good grip and control of the gun are absolutely essential elements in shooting safely and accurately.

The firearm selection criteria are:

1. Frame circumference fit: The shooter's hands must fit the frame of the gun reasonably well, meaning that the shooter's "strong hand" (the one with the trigger finger) must be able to enclose the grip as shown in this photo. The fingertips of the strong hand should be able to touch the textured surface of the grip as shown. The gap between the base ("meat") of the thumb and the fingertips is important to the ability to complete the grip with the other ("support") hand.

Air gun Trigger Finger Gun barrel Gun accessory


Several manufacturers are now offering polymer-framed pistols that include replaceable back straps, allowing a degree of fitting of the frame size to the shooter. For example, the 4[SUP]th[/SUP] Generation Glock G17 (shown above) can effectively have three frame grip circumference sizes, achieved by installing one of two option back straps. Just leaving the two optional back straps in the box produces the smallest frame size.

2. Frame length fit: Modern handguns are typically available in three frame sizes: Standard or Full Size, Compact, and Subcompact. Frame size describes both the length of the frame from front to back as well as the length of the grips. The grip should be long (or tall) enough for the shooter's fingers to contact the frame firmly: the little ("pinkie") finger should not be out of touch with the bottom of the frame. An adjustment can be made for smaller guns in this case, by the use of a magazine extension that provides additional grip area, as shown in this photo of a shooter holding a compact pistol.

Gesture Trigger Air gun Finger Gun barrel


3. Trigger Reach: With the grip established with your "strong" hand, your trigger finger should be able to pull the trigger when the middle of the fingertip is centered on the trigger face. If you can't reach the trigger when you have your grip established, don't buy the gun. If your trigger finger is too long for the gun, you might be able to adjust trigger reach by adjusting grip circumference using replaceable backstraps, if they come with the gun

4. Magazine Catch operation: You should be able to operate the magazine catch (release button) effectively with the thumb of your strong hand, ideally. If you can't do this without breaking your grip, you are going to find the gun difficult to reload fast, and that might become a real serious problem.

There are two ways around this fitting problem. First, you can always push the magazine catch with the thumb of your support hand, because you've got to take the support hand off the gun to reload it anyway. Installing an alternative magazine catch on the gun might be a possibility worth exploring, too.

The second alternative is only available if your gun has either an ambidextrous magazine catch, or one that can be reversed. The "fix" is to move the magazine catch to the other side of the gun, and to operate it with your trigger finger.
I should mention that I'm left-handed, so my choice regarding the magazine catch has become to operate it with my trigger finger. This doesn't require any extra grip or finger strength (I have neither), and it removes the requirement for ambidextrous or reversible magazine catches for any new guns that might come my way.

5. Caliber: If you are new to shooting, you should choose a caliber that will enable you to afford a good deal of practice ammunition, and that will not be too powerful for you to control. We commonly see new shooters arriving for training class with a compact or subcompact pistol that does not fit their hands well, in a caliber that is too powerful for them to be able to control.

Having to deal with an overpowered pistol while trying to learn the fundamentals of shooting puts the new shooter at an immediate disadvantage, one that can often only be overcome by buying the right pistol in the right caliber.

With all that said, I will make a simple recommendation for new shooters: buy a pistol that fits your hands in caliber 9x19mm, also known as 9mm Luger, 9mm Parabellum, or just plain 9mm.

6. Ammunition: Now that I've ventured far enough to recommend a caliber, it seems fair to follow up with ammunition choices. I will avoid making any brand name recommendations, but I will say that you should start with what is usually called "ball" or "round nose" ammunition because it's usually less expensive and it is less prone to feeding problems. Here is what this ammunition looks like.

Grey Household hardware Gas Cylinder Font


For bullet weight, I would choose 115-grain if I couldn't find 124- or 147-grain bullets. The 115s are far more common, but heavier bullets loaded to target velocities typically shoot a little "softer".

7.
Sights: For a new shooter, learning to establish a proper sight picture and then to align the sights consistently is often a challenge. For this reason, I recommend starting with the standard "combat" sights, either solid black or some combination of white or fiber optic dots and black sights for the new shooter. These are the type of sights that are normally installed on new guns. I would avoid night sights for a new shooter because I think they complicate the process of getting a sight picture, putting too many things in front of you to try to focus on.

Why Choose a Glock As Your First Handgun?

Since this is posted in a Glock.pro forum, I think it's fair to make a case for the selection of a Glock as your first pistol. I decided to add this comment after spending another day training people using a variety of handguns, watching the students deal with unnecessary complexity and extra features as they were trying to learn how to shoot.

Glocks make excellent training guns, because:

1. Glock safety features are all incorporated into the trigger mechanism. As the trigger is pulled, the three safeties are unlocked in succession and the gun will fire. This means that there is no extra safety manipulation needed when handling a Glock. When the gun is loaded, it is ready to go into the holster safely. In a shooting course where the students will "Make Ready" perhaps 75 times, the additional work needed to deal with a decocker or external manual safety is noticed. A notable exception here, other than Glock, is the Springfield XDm, which has a very nice, unobtrusive but effective grip safety.

2. Glock does not have a magazine safety, so the trigger can be pulled without a magazine being present in the gun. When, at the completion of a string of fire, the students are told to clear their weapons and pull the triggers, those with Glocks (and many others) have no problems. Those with new guns with the magazine safety have to endure the instructors' eagle eyes as they perform the extra step of emptying and inserting an empty magazine after the slide is forward (on an empty chamber), in order to confirm that the gun is empty by pulling the trigger on an empty chamber.

3. Glocks are simple and reliable. They are not sensitive to being dirty, and they will feed virtually any ammunition made in the caliber of the particular Glock you are shooting.

4. Glocks, and I believe all other striker-fired guns, have a single trigger pull. This differs from guns with a DA/SA (Double-Action, Single-Action), which will have a heavier pull for the first shot because you are cocking the hammer. After that shot, the gun becomes a Single-Action until you de-cock the hammer. So, a nice new SIG, for example, will pull about 8 pounds on the DA and about 4-5 pounds on the SA. Contrast that with the Glock (and its striker-fired kin) that pull about 5.5 pounds on every trigger pull. For trainees, having a single trigger pull weight just removes one more obstacle to confidence and competence.

5. Glocks need to be handled correctly. A student can often get away with a faulty grip using a heavy, steel-framed pistol. With the lighter Glock, the shooter really needs to develop and use a proper grip in order to get the most from the gun, so a Glock tends to reveal faults in the new shooter which can be corrected by the instructors.

In summary, if you choose a gun that really fits your hands in a caliber that will make it easy to learn how to shoot, you will remove obstacles in the path to becoming a safe, competent pistol shooter.

Chris
 

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Good post Chris,

You're one of the few people I've heard declare a preference for the 124 grain bullet. (That's all I shoot) Usually folks are arguing over the 115 vs. 147.

Ya gotta ease up on suggesting the 9mms though. The price is gonna go up! Dang, they're hard enough to find already! Good thing I planned ahead... ;)
 

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Another great article Chris. For everyone that reads this and finds it useful, don't forget to click on the star badge under Chris' post to tell him thanks!
 

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Very good post. Basically what I did for my 12 yr. old daughter. 9mm would be a bit much for her so the Ruger was selected. I told her in a few years she can step up to the G19. Amazingly, she can grip the 19 already but she's never handled a weapon before.
I would also add that a new pistol shooters first thing to learn is safety. My daughter thought I was a little hard on her but then realized that I wasn't only looking out for her but also everyone around her.
 

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Oh Oooo, I am going to look like the newby shooter you described above with the wrong stuff. I just bought a G23 .40 cal. I am going to train at Front Site next month and can't afford another gun right now. I'll have to check the grain of ammo I have been purchasing to see if it's "hot" or not. Any suggestions?:eek:
 

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I agree Chris. 124 grain is the way to go, if you can find them right now.
I haven't seen any for several weeks, but picked up 500 Hornady 115 grain RN
bullets to reload just today at a relatively normal price. They were just sitting
on the shelf at a LGS. At this point I'll take what I can get. Great post!
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Oh Oooo, I am going to look like the newby shooter you described above with the wrong stuff. I just bought a G23 .40 cal. I am going to train at Front Site next month and can't afford another gun right now. I'll have to check the grain of ammo I have been purchasing to see if it's "hot" or not. Any suggestions?:eek:
Not to worry, if you pay attention to your grip (and if it fits your hands) the G23 should be fine. Try to find ammo with 180-grain bullets, if possible, it's quite a bit gentler than the 165s that I have fired.

That post was intended to make things as easy as possible for new shooters, it's not an absolute. You can make the G23 work for you, just pay attention to your coaching.

Chris
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
I agree Chris. 124 grain is the way to go, if you can find them right now. I haven't seen any for several weeks, but picked up 500 Hornady 115 grain RN bullets to reload just today at a relatively normal price. They were just sitting
on the shelf at a LGS. At this point I'll take what I can get. Great post!
Thanks, I'm happy to see that feedback from you.

The days of being able to select ammunition with a particular weight bullet are coming, someday. Until then, we shoot what we can get!

Chris
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
thanks, i do have all 180 grain so, whew there. I do have experience with other makes of hand guns but mostly revolvers. appreciate the fast input.
Happy to help. You are going to a place where you will have excellent coaching, so I am not the least bit concerned about the outcome. You will do just fine.

Chris
 

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Always fact and to the point. Great advice for new shooters. Another killer post.
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
Reaching the Trigger

I need to add something to this thread, but there's no room in the original post due to the size limit of 1,000 words.

Recently I ran into another factor in finding a gun that fits a shooter's hands: finger length. A shooter whose hands were medium-sized, but with short fingers, was unable to reach the trigger on a CZ 75 Shadow. As it turned out, the other guns he tried (Beretta 92Fs, Glock G17, HK P2000, Sig P239, Browning Hi-Power) were OK, but the CZ certainly was not.

So, I would add another fit factor:

The fingertip (distal phalanx) of the trigger finger should be fully in contact with the face of the trigger (without pulling the trigger) when the gun is properly held by the shooting hand.​

Chris
 

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I need to add something to this thread, but there's no room in the original post due to the size limit of 1,000 words.

Recently I ran into another factor in finding a gun that fits a shooter's hands: finger length. A shooter whose hands were medium-sized, but with short fingers, was unable to reach the trigger on a CZ 75 Shadow. As it turned out, the other guns he tried (Beretta 92Fs, Glock G17, HK P2000, Sig P239, Browning Hi-Power) were OK, but the CZ certainly was not.

So, I would add another fit factor:

The fingertip (distal phalanx) of the trigger finger should be fully in contact with the face of the trigger (without pulling the trigger) when the gun is properly held by the shooting hand.​

Chris
I agree it something we feel for but don't necessarily articulate. Well done Chris!

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Chris the detail of your posts are a great reminder to me to follow the rules. Especially the grip pressure. I tend to become relaxed and my relaxed grip causes errant shots. Thank you again. GSSF in Yolo County in March. I'll probably only be an observer but looking forward to attending.
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
Chris the detail of your posts are a great reminder to me to follow the rules. Especially the grip pressure. I tend to become relaxed and my relaxed grip causes errant shots. Thank you again. GSSF in Yolo County in March. I'll probably only be an observer but looking forward to attending.
Al, if you go to that match without a Glock and some ammo, I predict you'll be sorry. Once you see the low pressure and simplicity of a GSSF match, you will wish you had entered! You can preview the courses of fire here Glock Sport Shooting Foundation. Since all GSSF matches use the same courses of fire (equipment permitting), and since there's zero movement, the emphasis is really on plain old marksmanship.

I've competed in two GSSF matches and helped (as a Range Officer) at two, and I look forward to going back again. They're fun!

Chris
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 · (Edited)
Recently, in training some new shooters, I've become aware of two more fit parameters that should have been included in the original post, things you can check to see if a gun fits your hand.

First, with the grip established with your "strong" hand (the one with your trigger finger attached to it...), your trigger finger should be able to pull the trigger when the middle of the fingertip is centered on the trigger face. Seems obvious, right?

In a class, we had a student trying to shoot a very nice new CZ75, but he was having difficulty because he had very short fingers, and the particular CZ he was using had a long trigger "reach" (for lack of a better term). With a proper grip, he could not pull the trigger. The obvious (and probably only) answer is for him to get a different pistol. So, make sure that you can pull the trigger with your fingertip when your grip is firmly established before you buy the gun.

Second, although this is not a deal-breaker, you should be able to operate the magazine catch (release button) effectively with the thumb of your strong hand, ideally. If you can't do this without breaking your grip, you are going to find the gun difficult to reload fast, and that might become a real serious problem.

There are two ways around this second fitting problem. First, you can always push the magazine catch with the thumb of your support hand, because you've got to take the support hand off the gun to reload it anyway. We've found that this works pretty well for new shooters who can't operate the catch. I guess that installing an alternative magazine catch on the gun might be a possibility worth exploring, too.

The second alternative is only available if your gun has either an ambidextrous magazine catch, or one that can be reversed. The "fix" is to move the magazine catch to the other side of the gun, and to operate it with your trigger finger. If you're set in your ways, you might not like this idea, but it's what I do and I'm seeing more people in USPSA shooting do it as well.

Other than having better reach with your trigger finger (since it's longer than your thumb..), the obvious advantage is that this technique pretty well guarantees that you're going to have your trigger finger OUTSIDE the trigger guard when you're making a magazine change, improving safety and reducing the likelihood of a match disqualification for having your trigger finger inside the trigger guard when it should not be there.

I should mention that I'm left-handed, so my choice regarding the magazine catch has become to operate it with my trigger finger. This doesn't require any extra grip or finger strength (I have neither), and it removes the requirement for ambidextrous or reversible magazine catches for any new guns that might come my way.

Chris
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 · (Edited)
Training Handgun and Equipment Selection for New Shooters

For new shooters entering handgun courses at my Gun Club, I've cobbled together an updated article that covers Training Handgun and Equipment Selection for New Shooters.

Because we handle up to 18 shooters in one of our classes, it's helpful to us as instructors to try to standardize the guns that they use, at least to some extent. So, I try to steer them toward what I call a sporting pistol, one that's a good size and specification for training and beginning competition, but definitely not a carry gun. I also discuss handgun fit, equipment (belt, holster, pouches), and ammo.

This article is too big to be included as a post, so again it's offered as an attachment. Please keep in mind that the intended audience is members of our gun club who are asking us for recommendations. This probably isn't something that would ever be published for the general public.

Chris

View attachment Training Handgun and Equipment.pdf
 
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