Sunday, February 27, 2011

What pistol should I buy?

Of the 300 plus people who have taken my classes, probably close to half don’t yet own a pistol and are taking the class, at least in part, to learn about different pistols so they can make an educated purchase.  Of the many friends and acquaintances I have that know I teach firearms safety, most ask me the question at one time or another—“What pistol should I buy,… what do you recommend?”

I used to give a very quick and specific answer to this question.  Whatever I was carrying at the time, a choice usually based on a cursory analysis and often influenced by marketing,… well that was the pistol I liked best, so that was the pistol I recommended.  I’ve been at this for a while now, having spent over 20 years in the Army and then buy-sell-trading my way through revolvers, semi-autos, plastic guns, wonder nines, 10mm’s, single action only, double action only, single/double action, etc., etc., etc.  As a result, I have handled, fired and possibly carried a very broad variety of pistols, so hopefully from my experience there will be some useful information here for a potential pistol buyer.

For he who is wondering what pistol to buy, a couple of preliminary questions need to be asked and answered.  What is the pistol for—self defense or hunting, fun and relaxation?  How much do you want to spend?  Pistols can be purchased for $100 up to thousands, but a good average rule of thumb is that a quality self-defense capable pistol will cost $500 with accessories.  Are you right or left handed?  Do you have the hand and arm strength of the average male, more or less?  How big is your hand and how well does the pistol fit in your hand?

Handguns were traditionally designed for right handed use by persons with above average hand and arm strength.  Exceptions to this are many, with several models being built to accommodate the needs of people with different characteristics.  Still, far and away the best means of evaluating a pistol is by firing it, and second best is handling it without firing.  For this reason, it’s always best to rent various pistols you might be interested in buying to get an idea of how the pistol fits you.

I always offer my services free of charge to those who complete my courses in the selection of a pistol.  I am usually already at the main gun shows in our area so it’s no trouble to take a look at a specific pistol and help evaluate how it fits the buyer’s hand and intended use.

Cruising the gun boards,,,, as well as the many brand-specific boards, can give you lots of detailed information on specific brands as well as their various models and styles.  So if you’re doing your own research, please take advantage of these great resources. 

My CZ-75 Compact
Now, my recommendations for defensive pistols:  at the moment, my top choice is the CZ-75B, far and away my favorite handgun design.  It’s the pistol I use for competition and general purpose use.  The ‘CZ-75 Compact’ is my carry pistol.  Both of these are steel, relatively heavy, but accurate and very easy to control with the 9mm cartridge in which they come standard.  These CZs are single/double action and can be carried cocked and locked.  They are affordable at $450 to $550, although prices are inching up, and factory 16rd magazines, holsters and other accessories are readily available for them. 

Ambidextrous controls on the 9UC
Next I would recommend the Bersa Thunder Nine.  This is also a larger, heavier pistol, but is accurate and very controllable in 9mm.  A compact version, the Thunder 9UC (for ultra compact) is available as well.  These pistols too are single/double action with a decocker so they cannot be carried cocked and locked.  These are among the best buys on the market at $300 to $400.  The drawback to these is the limited choice of holster and the lack of available affordable magazines, though the stock magazine holds 17rds.

The Smith & Wesson M&P series, the Springfield XD series, and the FNP series like the Glocks, are very popular, available in multiple lengths, calibers and features, and all run in the $500 to $600 range.  I find all of these a little blocky and uncomfortable to carry, though all of these pistols are wildly popular and readily available.  Magazines, holsters and accessories are readily available as well.

Kel-Tec's "small nine" the PF-9
Many people like small pistols for ease of carry and concealment.  The drawback to such firearms is that they are more difficult to shoot accurately than full-sized pistols.  However in this area I recommend the S&W J-frame revolvers or the Kel-Tec pistols, especially the PF-9.

Your questions or comments?

Friday, February 4, 2011

How should I practice?

To complete any of my classes, you must demonstrate the ability to handle your firearm safely, load it and put it into action, quickly and effectively engage your intended target, take your firearm safely back out of action, and store and maintain it for further use later.  So far, so good.  But as I remind every student, skills demonstrated on class day deteriorate, and they deteriorate rapidly.  The only way to retain the skills from any class or training, and to improve, is to PRACTICE.

In every sporting or even work discipline, particularly those involving manual skills, it's obvious that practice is important to maintaining and improving proficiency.  People don't need to be convinced of this--they accept it as a matter of course, even if they don't do it.  But why then, do shooters, as a group, fail to practice often if ever?

I think the answer is simple.  People think the act of shooting is so simple that they don't have to practice.  Lots of excuses are offerred--no time, too expensive, no good place to shoot, and on and on.  But even as these are offered, people know they should practice, especially when they try to handle their firearm again after a period off.

My theory:  It's a mental thing.  Even soldiers and police find ways to avoid shooting, and in the worst cases, of even handling their firearms.  Rationalizations are creative beyond belief.  It's been twenty five years since I was in an armed Army combat unit, so things may have changed, but I remember having to push units to get to the range, shoot, train for combat.  Firearms training is high risk for leaders in a peacetime Army.  I encountered few officers who pursued shooting as an individual passion and sought personal improvement, and frankly, I wasn't that good at it while on active duty.  I have become FAR more proficient since retirement.

So what kind of practice should we have?

First and foremost, practice frequently.  I am now in the unique situation of being able to easily and conveniently practice ever two to three days.  But I realize that most cannot do anything like this.  Still, I think it is worth it for anyone who relies on firearms for any specific purpose to practice at least monthly--more frequent is better and less frequent is worse. Optimum would probably be to shoot 1-2 magazines or cylinder's full every week. 

Second, don't lose bullets.  Use targets big enough that all your bullet strikes are known.  If you have to use a target backing that's the side of a big screen TV box, either do that or bring your target in close enough that you can see where every bullet hits.  It's only when you know where your bullets are striking that you can identify and correct problems.

Third, learn the fundamentals.  Don't just memorize the list, but use the fundamentals as a framework to analyze yourself, how you're shooting and what you're actually doing.  It's only when you know what you're doing that you can adjust if necessary to make the bullet hit where you want it to.  And remember, accuracy first, then speed.

Finally, remember practice doesn't make perfect, practice makes permanent.  Don't do the same thing over and over and expect different results.  Only Congress does that.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

How do you make the Sigma acceptable?

The S&W Sigma series semi-automatic pistols were computer designed for ergonomic comfort and reliable performance at an affordable price.  Unfortunately, when you add the price point criteria, you wind up with a good gun with a trigger so bad it sours the whole experience with Sigma (or smegma, as one wag titled it--look it up, it isn't positive).

I've seen a couple of articles on how to make the Sigma trigger better, and have seen a few specimens that have been thus improved.  Check out  But none seems to me to be any where near the trigger feel and function that I would like.  I understand it is a double action only pistol so it will never be 1911-like is lightness and crispness, but surely it can be better.

I like the feel of the Sigma.  My first carry pistol was a Sigma SW40VE and my daughter's first was an SW9VE.  The low cost--as low as $200 for a good used one--was the big attraction, and we learned to shoot them well despite the crummy trigger.  The easy availability of 16rd magazines for the 9mm version is another big plus.  I've moved on through and to other pistols since then, but I think a Sigma with a good trigger could be one of the best buys around, particularly for those only wanting a single pistol for home or self defense.

Has anyone turned a Sigma into a dream shooting pistol?