In my last post, I started a guide to help walk you through buying your first gun. We talked about starting small, the merits and demerits of revolvers vs. semi-autos, and determining your first gun’s purpose. However, there are a few more things to consider when preparing to make your first gun purchase. Let’s dive in.
Find a grip that’s right for you.
Selecting a gun that feels good in your hands is no easy task. No two shooters have the exact same hands, so what works for others may not suit you, and vice-versa. If there are features you need to get to, such as a safety or slide release on a semi-automatic, or even your finger’s reach on the trigger, be sure you can manage the gun properly when you need to access it. The last thing you want to do is find out the hard way—after you’ve spent your money—that a particular pistol doesn’t “fit” you.
Since my hands are small, I tend to lean towards single stack type guns and revolvers (a common preference for female shooters, like myself). The stack refers to the magazine capacity and how much ammunition can be held. Single stack type guns consist of a single column of ammunition stacked one on top of the other. It’s counterpart, the double stack type magazines hold nearly (or, in some cases, over) double the ammunition. These style mags fit of two columns of rounds staggered one over the other (see left). Double stacks usually fit those who have larger hands. In essence, single stack guns have narrower handles than double stack ones.
My Ruger SR22, a single stack semi-auto, fits nicely in my hands. I don’t have to strain or move my hands awkwardly to reach any of the firearm controls.
Do your research beforehand.
By reading these articles, you’re already working on this step, but don’t stop here. Research the types of guns you are interested in before going to your local gun shop. Figure out the pros and cons of each as they pertain to your preferences and decide on a few that appeal to you based on what we have discussed so far. For the long term, it’s best to go with a quality gun with great reviews versus a lower quality gun with OK reviews. Note the name, model and type of each gun you are interested in. Make a list and set of questions for each gun on your list and jot them down. The salesperson at the gun shop should be able to answer them all without hesitation.
Examine and try out the guns.
Once you have developed your checklist of guns that interest you, you’re ready to take a trip to the gun shop. Remember, you do not have to buy today. Take your time in your purchasing decision and buy the right gun for you.
Tell the salesperson which guns are on your list and stick to them. Examine each gun and ask your questions accordingly. During your inspection process, you will want to see if the gun fits comfortably in your hands. Can you wrap your whole hand around the gun? Or, are you straining? If there is a safety on the gun? Is it easily accessible? If the gun is a semi-automatic, how does the slide and slide release feel as you manipulate them? Is the gun a good weight or is it too heavy—or even too light? If you are allowed to dry fire the gun (that is, pulling the trigger of a cleared gun—no ammunition), how smooth is the trigger? Is it too heavy, or not smooth enough, etc.? Ultimately, you want to feel comfortable with the fit and feel of manipulating the firearm before you put money down on it.
During the inspection process, the salesperson may make a few other suggestions for other guns available in their inventory. If they do, it’s OK to inspect them. Though, it should only be for informational purposes. If you find one interesting, take a note of it and do more research. Remember why you came to the store and spend the majority of your time examining the guns on your list.
Buying the gun.
Once you have taken all of the steps above, you’re ready to make a purchase decision. Was there a gun you felt more comfortable with over the others? Or, were none of them what you expected? If nothing you first checked out felt adequate in person, you are under no obligation to buy. You do not want to end up buying a gun you will not use. It’s better to hold off until you find one you like and use regularly instead of rushing and ending up with an expensive dust collector.
If possible, I recommend firing the gun before making a purchase decision. In an ideal world, we would all get to test out the products we wanted before we bought them. Fortunately, there are some ranges that may offer to rent some of the guns on your list. However, in order to rent the gun, unless you’re shooting with a generous friend, you will need to purchase ammunition through the range, which can be pricey. However, the expense will give you the chance to try out the gun before you make a costly investment.
Personally, I’ve only used this “try before you buy” technique only after I had gained some shooting experience. However, there aren’t any rules that you have to go about it the way I did. As a new shooter, it may be better to make the decision to buy a good gun you feel comfortable operating so that you can familiarize yourself with it before you get to the range. The experience of being at the range as a new shooter is unlike any other; it is not the same as being in the safety of your own home with unlimited time to practice handling your gun unloaded.
If you make the decision to buy your first gun at the shop, congratulations—you’ve distinguished yourself as a serious shooter. Now you have some money invested in the sport and from there the excitement will only continue to grow.
In the end, guns are like tools—they each serve a purpose. There is not one gun that can do everything. As a beginner, you should choose a gun that makes you feel comfortable. It should be easy for you to handle and fun to shoot. Having a first gun that is enjoyable to use will allow for frequent practice and further interest. And, once you have your first few shooting experiences under your belt, you’ll start to develop your own preferences for pistols with different purposes (home defense, collection, concealed carry, competition, plinking… the list goes on). Enjoy your journey!
In my next article, I will talk about the different kinds of guns including their purpose and use—stay tuned.
Featured image courtesy of contributor cranach via istockphoto.com