Whether you’re completely new to the shooting sports, or an ardent enthusiast finally ready to make a purchase, buying your first gun can be overwhelming. With the wide array of choices, we, as consumers, sometimes do not know where to begin in the gun selection process. With a little bit of preparation and research, however, you can have the information you need to choose the right gun for you. Here are a few tips, in no particular order, to help you along your journey to buy your first gun, with a focus on choosing a handgun.
Disclaimer: This beginner’s guide is only a recommendation—a starting point for your research. The Arms Guide heartily recommends personal research, first hand experience, and, if possible, professional training as you learn more about your firearms and the shooting sports world. This how-to is meant to be a guide to help you get started, not a set-in-stone rule book. As with all new endeavors into the gun world, you’ll have to find what works best for you, but, hopefully this will get you pointed in the right direction.
Know your gun’s purpose.
Before taking a trip to your local gun store, make sure you know for what purpose you will be using your first gun. If you’ve never fired a gun and are just starting out, you may want to look into a range gun. A range gun generally will have a longer barrel than a smaller, conceal carry gun. Usually, range guns are quite comfortable to shoot. In general, they are larger and heavier than their smaller, concealed carry, counterparts which results in less perceived recoil. At the very least, a range gun will help you to learn the basics of shooting, enabling you to become more comfortable handling firearms. As the name suggests, it’s ideal to use it at the range for target practice.
Many new shooters make the mistake of buying a small, conceal carry handgun as their first gun. Their plan is often to use the same gun for carry as well as for plinking at the range. Unfortunately, smaller guns are less comfortable to shoot and tend to have much more recoil than larger ones due to their weight and size. Beginner shooters who start with these guns often quickly find themselves frustrated when trying to shoot them, partly due to intense recoil, which results in an unenjoyable shooting experience. My recommendation for first time shooters is to learn the basics with a larger, more comfortable gun with less recoil before moving on to a smaller one. Learning how to use a small gun can take some adjusting. It helps if you’ve already had some experience.
My first gun was a Ruger SR22. As a range gun, it’s comfortably large with a long enough barrel to use for target practice. As a beginner, I found it very enjoyable and comfortable to shoot. It felt good in my hands and with it, I began to learn the basics of shooting and handling firearms.
Start With A Low Caliber
If you are a beginner, it’s widely recommended by professional shooting instructors, and seasoned shooting enthusiasts alike to start with a low caliber (such as a .22) to help you learn the fundamentals of shooting. Usually, lower calibers will have less recoil than larger ones. Less recoil often results in a more pleasant and fun shooting experience. With less “bang,” it’s easier to have fun (instead of being intimidated, as some new shooters are) and focus on fundamentals. There’s a practical component to starting small, too: it’s generally cheaper. And, any lessons you absorb while learning to shoot with a lower caliber can easily be applied to shooting a larger caliber, once you’re ready.
Revolver or Semi-Auto? What Suits YOU?
Both revolvers and semi-automatics use a different manual of arms for firing and loading a gun. During your selection process, it’s best to choose a first gun with a system you feel comfortable using and handling.
Revolvers are often recommended for beginner shooters because they have few parts, and are easy to operate. Cartridges are loaded into the cylinder, and, voila—the gun is ready to fire. All you have to do is pull the trigger. Some revolvers have the option of pulling a long, heavy trigger without needing to touch the hammer (double action or DA) or cocking back the hammer, which offers a shorter, lighter trigger pull (single action or SA) to fire. Other, older styles of revolver are more reminiscent of the guns from the good old cowboy days; they only fire after the hammer has been cocked first (SA).
However, just because sem-autos have more components doesn’t mean they can’t still make good first guns. Semi-automatic guns just work differently. They require a magazine which holds the ammunition. Semi-autos are sometimes referred to as “auto loaders” because their design feeds a new round into the chamber after the round before it has fired. In large part, semi-auto pistols require a magazine to be loaded into the gun’s grip to fire. From there, the slide on top of the gun will need to be pulled back and released. This action allows the slide to “slide” forward, which strips a round from the top of the magazine and feeds it into the firing chamber. This is often referred to as charging the gun or chambering a round. Once the cartridge is in the chamber, the gun is ready to fire (though, with some semi-autos, a safety mechanism must be disengaged as a last step before firing).
Additionally, semi-automatics have several different options for firing mechanisms. A double action semi-auto may be DAO (double action only). Or, DA/SA, in which, the first shot pulls back the hammer, but every subsequent shot is fired in single action. My Ruger SR22 pistol uses a DA/SA firing system. Some guns, such as the 1911 pistol, are single action only. The hammer must be pulled back before the gun will fire. Fortunately, guns like the 1911 cock the hammer during the process of chambering a round. Some guns may feature a double action only style trigger pull, but the gun lacks a hammer. These guns are “striker fired.” (Check out this post to learn more about how striker fired guns work).
Both revolvers and semi-automatics have their pros and cons. Revolvers are very simple guns to shoot while semi-automatics tend to be more involved. Some semi-automatics have external safety mechanisms. Whether such a feature offers peace of mind, or just one more thing to remember is up to your preferences. In general, handguns with detachable box magazines offer higher capacity than revolvers. Some pistols, especially those little “mouse gun” options on the concealed carry market tend to have comparable capacity to a 5 or 6 shooter wheelgun. The advantages these types of semi autos have over revolvers is generally size, specifically, ease of concealment. Revolvers tend to be heavier and bulkier than semi-automatics. Their lack of recoil spring also can mean that wheelguns kick a little harder. You’ll just have to find what is the right combination of features for you.
We’ve covered three important elements to consider when planning to buy your first gun, but before I send you on your way, there are a couple more things to look at… next time. Stay tuned!
Featured image courtesy of contributor UltraONEs via istockphoto.com
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