Most women at my local gun store are reverse size queens; they operate under the assumption that smaller guns are easier to shoot. I’ve encountered the same anti-big gun bias at the gun range. Many a new shooter (both male and female) have waved off the opportunity to fire my Smith & Wesson 686, their faces displaying an odd combination of humility and condemnation (i.e., I am not worthy nor as crazy as you). And yet larger, heavier guns are, in the main, more comfortable to shoot than lighter pieces. So it’s time to put down the “toys” and stick up for the heavyweights . . .

As the video above demonstrates, small/light/stunted guns are not without their dangers. For one thing, they can trick new shooters into thinking they don’t need to hold the weapon with a proper grip or assume a suitable stance.

RonJonFMF18’s pal learned the effects of the “small gun does not equal small amounts of recoil” paradigm the hard wayUnfortunately, despite the discomfort caused by shooting small/light guns, many shooters never get the same education. They just cope.

Newbies with small/light guns readjust their grip after every [painful] shot, not realizing that the process inhibits fast, accurate follow-up shots. They curse themselves for their lack of accuracy—not realizing that they’ve saddled themselves with an inherent disadvantage. They soldier on.

Aside from simple comic relief, the video above shows us that a shooter with the right training can still be sunk by firing the wrong firearm. The “wrong” firearm being any gun that creates ballistic aversion therapy: punishing its owner to the point where they don’t want to practice.

Don’t get me wrong: I understand the advantages of a small gun. They’re less psychologically intimidating. They offer considerable carry comfort and concealability; evoking the old adage “the best gun is the one you have.”

But why not have/carry a gun with which you can hit a target safely, efficiently and reliably? Surely, that’s the best gun.

Generally speaking, small guns are experts’ guns. Newbies should own/practice with a [relative] heavyweight until they master the basics. Then they can combine proper grip, stance, breathing with experience and confidence to withstand and overcome a smaller lighter weapon’s inherent disadvantages.

If you’re a new shooter who wants to be good with a gun, and you do, do it the easy way. Make your peace with a heavyweight piece before progressing to more minuscule machines.

27 Responses to Self-Defense Tip: Shoot a “Proper” Gun Properly

  1. Antbody else have this experience? Twice I’ve had new shooters, both women, who I started with a semi auto .22 of decent size and weight. One a ruger mark 1 and the other a browning buckmark. Both had immediate problems shooting the gun and complained of excessive recoil. After watching both fire I got the idea that they were equating the normal cycling of the slides with recoil.

    I then laid out a .38 revolver, a smith model 10, and even after showing them the difference in ammo size they both insisted that the .38 revolver kicked less than the .22 semi.

    I don’t even notice the slide moving on an auto but for these 2 it affected their entire concept of what recoil meant. To this day they both would rather shoot a .38 revolver over a .22 auto.

    • Perceived recoil is strongly affected by auditory and visual input. I frequently set up first time shooters with foam earplugs AND earmuffs to deal with the auditory issue.

      For the visual component, if that’s an issue then they are very often focusing in the wrong focal plane, usually on the back sights. If a student is shooting my Mark II target barrel .22 with the iron sights, that front sight is so far away that the slide reciprocation should be a nearly invisible blur if they’re properly focused on the front blade.

      The only thing left after all that is how they sense and interpret the recoil impulse, which varies considerably even between different guns shooting the same ammo. Some of this is grip, but frankly, sometimes I need to emphatically reset their g-force gauge. I do this by loading a single 155gr .40 round into my USP and have them shoot that at a large target from 10 feet. Very snappy recoil, magnified by the mag being empty so there’s practically no mass below the slide.

      Immediately after that we transition back to the .22 and the comments like “wow, I didn’t even feel that shot” start rolling in. I can’t recall the last time the above techniques failed to get a student back on track.

      There is one other factor I’m neglecting: grip comfort. I have known some shooters whose (smaller) hand and wrist geometry just plain worked better with the curved revolver grip than any semi-auto I tried, even my Mark II with the luscious walnut target grips. For them, having the rounded revolver grip pivot up on the recoil just plain felt better. I still got them squared away on the semi-autos, though. 😉

    • jwm, I can’t say that I’ve heard anyone complain about the recoil of a .22 pistol — ’cause there really isn’t any. A Model 10 with plain jane .38Spls is also a very soft-shooting gun albeit a noisier one, but softer than a Buckmark or a Mark 1? I don’t understand that at all.

      • It’s happened twice and bumfuzzles me. It could simply be that the revolver fits them better. I’m not an expert and don’t claim to be, but for these 2 the revolver in 38 was preferable to the 22 auto.

        Both ladies bought 38’s for their own sidearms even though I tried to steer them to 9mm. They don’t seem to mind the extra cost of ammo and are both good shots with their chosen revolvers.

  2. That is what happened to the poor kid at the machine gun shoot in Mass. Rather than a pistol caliber M4 or MP5 they had had him shoot a (micro uzi? thought it was a MAC-11) because it was small.

      • I see this all the time; they get on their back foot right from the off & instantly place themselves in an unstable stance.
        What’s worse is many instructors fail to address this, leaving the shooter with a bad habit that will take far more to fix than doing so right at the beginning of their training.
        It’s true about firearms weight too – I still dislike the Glock 30 & Taurus Titanium for their light weight & inability to slow down recoil.

  3. This is a VERY valid point and it is not said enough!

    I did not find out the truth of this until I got to compare my S&W 9mm semi to my .45LC revolver.

    Because my 45 is a magnum revolver it can also shoot the 454 casull rounds and because of this the entire gun weighs in at just under 4lbs unloaded.

    When you are shooting .45 calibur – 250gr bullets from a 4lb solid hunk of steel the recoil is LESS than a 9mm shooting 130gr bullets and I would have never believed it until I shot them for myself.

    Yet another great informitive article RF, keep up the good work!

  4. Yep, informative and entertaining, especially when I clicked on the GabeS link, Gabe Suarez or Suave however he spells it might have some airsoft skills, but he definitely is a blow hard, which usually an indicator of severe insecurity.
    Beyond using his skills to beat up on his sycophant followers, he probably hasn’t been there and done that; the ones who have are usually pretty humble people.

  5. I’m a heavy gun fan, and they definitely proved easier for my kids to learn on–I’d say our “tipping point” for comfy shooting is 30 ounces for 9mm-.45ACP, making my DEagle downright mellow despite the amuzing muzzle blast. They have no love for short poly guns.

  6. I learned on a small 9mm and tried an old steel .45 – I was surprised at the difference. That started my love affair with the 1911 but also reinforces RF’s point. Size makes a difference for newbies.

  7. I have two guns that I use to teach neophytes the basics of revolvers. First, they run the S&W 617/6″ in single action. This is a HEAVY .22LR with a nice, long sight radius. Recoil and report are negligible. Students generally don’t freak out. After they’ve had a chance to “settle in” and get reasonably competent with the 617 in regards to the basics (grip, stance, sight picture, breath control, trigger squeeze, follow through, recoil management, flinch, reacquisition of target, second shot, etc.), I then spend a good amount of time working with them on the use of the revolver in double action mode. It takes patience and time on both the part of the student and the instructor. This time and patience is often well spent and generally yields significant dividends down the road for the student.

    Once the students has had a chance to”wrap their head around the whole pistol thing” with the 617, and they have gained a good measure of comfort and skill with the tool, we then move up the hierarchy to the realm of what would be considered a reasonably capable defensive personal firearm. In my case that would be the S&W 686/6″. The physical characteristics and manual of arms for the 617 and 686 essentially identical, therefore the student has complete familiarity with the new tool. The only difference is that the cartridge used is roughly an order of magnitude more powerful than the .22 LR. Starting the student with a lightly loaded .38 SPL, more often than not the student adjusts quite rapidly to the new conditions, having been conditioned and desensitized to this unfamiliar experience with the .22. A couple of boxes down the road in single action and they’re usually ready to start double action. A few more boxes of DA with the .38 and they are often game to try the .357 Magnum.

    Generally, it is more difficult to master the DA revolver than the SA or DA/SA semi-automatic. If the student begins to show grace and alacrity with the revolver, it’s a matter of course to introduce them to the semi-automatic. Of course, one should always start with the .22 until the student demonstrates an adequate level of comfort and competence. Once attained, move them up to a heavy, full size 9mm. Stay with the 9mm for a good, long time before moving up the power scale. The 9mm is an outstanding all-around cartridge that will give the student ample opportunity and challenge to hone their recently acquired skills.

    After a few thousand rounds acclimating to full power, full size handguns, the student should then be reasonably equipped to transition to handguns that are better suited to personal defense and concealed carry. Taking a neophyte from a few rounds on a .22 to handing them a snubbie loaded with full-house, hot/heavy .357’s is not only cruel, it’s seriously counterproductive as well.

    If the object of the exercise is to bring new people into the community of self reliance, there are good paths and bad paths. Be wise, always take the good path, don’t be a jerk. Above all, be patient and constructively analytical with your students.

  8. About 20 years ago I had to disprove the small gun = less recoil myth to
    a female shooter.
    I tried explaining the physics, but even though she was pretty well educated
    she just wasn’t getting it.
    I finally had to load identical .38 special rounds into a snubby and a
    full sized 6 inch .357.

    After firing both back to back, you could see the “AH-HA” spread across her face.

    A part of the problem is simple perception.
    Something big is seen as more powerful,
    and thus harder to handle.

    Another part of the problem is that our
    society, media, and well meaning male friends
    tell women that they want a little, small, cute,
    ‘womens gun’, which short changes women in general.

  9. Any competent/responsible gun owner should be able to
    nullify this problem simply by insisting a new shooter
    experience a wide range of handguns before picking one to own.

    Unfortunately, YouTube seems to show one too many
    jerks who think it’s funny to give a newbie a S&W 500
    or a ultralight 357 snubbie.

  10. There is a really funny scene in I believe the James Bond film ‘Diamonds are Forever’ with a non-trained woman firing a fully automatic gun during the final big fight scene. The recoil of the auto causes her to keep moving backwards so far and fast that she falls off the edge of the oil rig platform.

  11. My (female) partner and I have a successful training business that does a lot of women’s intro to handguns classes. Taught by a woman, the attendees tend to be more comfortable and receptive.
    But we see the small gun thing every week. When the ladies do bring their own guns to class, they are almost invariably small guns- with the exception of a number of Beretta 92s (!).
    This week alone we had a Detective Special and an M&P Shield- in .40 caliber!… on a very petite, older woman.
    We get frustrated as well explaining small gun=hard to shoot well. It just never seems to sink in.
    One thing we can testify to is that the size and weight of the gun does create some fear, as the commenter above put so well.
    Yet another thing my partner stresses every class is that women tend to feel that by being soft-handed and gentle, the thing will be nice to them. False, of course, but despite TD’s blandishments, they still go out on the range and touch the guns like they’re cotton candy.
    This infuriates her: a sponsored professional USPSA competitor utterly in love with the 1911 and it’s double-stack Caspian descendant. It would be humorous but for the frustration we have watching the ladies struggle with soft hands after we’ve spent an hour dry-handling and lecturing about strong hands, even before we take them onto the range.
    And the little snubs keep coming.

  12. My S&W 410 .45 hit where I pointed from its first shot, but I had to learn my LC9 and S&W 642 over a couple hundred rounds.

  13. This got me to thinking about the guns I own. I really only have one “little” gun, it’s an AMT semi-auto Backup in .22LR. I can get about 1 1/2 fingers on the grip, and it bucks pretty good. I can’t shoot it for accuaracy as the sights are essentially a groove down the top of the slide. It’s designed for distances under 10 feet when all else has failed. Well, I guess I do own a 2″ snubby .357, but it’s a Dan Wesson that came with a 2″, 4″, 6″, and 8″ barrel, and probably weighs more than a lot of 6″ barreled revolvers. I’ve never shot it with the 2″ barrel. My wife like the idea of little guns, because they are light weight and her small hands fit better, but I’ve not let her shoot anything bigger than a .32 in a mini or micro sized gun, so she won’t get all the crap that comes with being hurt or scared while shooting. A bad flinch can be learned in just a couple of shots, but can take WEEKS to train out. Shooting at a range or plinking at tin cans should be fun and enjoyable, not something that is dreaded, not something that causes pain or fear. The last time I shot my .44 MAG, I realized that I had not shot anything besides a .22LR for quite a while, and I was not prepared for the experience. I quit after 6 rounds because it was not fun, and I made a mental note to shoot more centerfire when practicing. Unfortunately “life” got complicated and I’ve not shot anything in some time now. Two extended hospital stays in 2 years slowed up my getting back into shooting, and breaking my right thumb this summer didn’t help any.

    • I feel your pain. I dumped a motorcycle and it took a full year for my shoulder to be right again. What little shooting I did was one handed with a pistol for that time. Forget about shotguns and rifles, I couldn’t lift my left arm even with my shoulder and even mild recoil on the right caused pain on the left after just a couple of shots.

      It sucks getting old. Your body just doesn’t heal as fast.

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