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Reader Christian writes:

So I’m trying to get my very petite Fianceé into shooting. She’s 5′ 2″, and weighs 100 lbs soaking wet. The term “waifish” comes to mind when describing her. So the .22lr is about right for her, since she has small hands and isn’t particularly strong. I happen to agree with you that shot placement is far more important than caliber size, so I’m looking for a small caliber pistol to be her “go-to” piece if she needs it.

Unfortunately It seems as if all the smaller caliber pistols are built off tiny frames – mouse guns meant for deep/regular conceal carry. I’m looking for a full frame pistol that has decent capacity (12-16 rounds) and uses a round smaller than a 9mm. So far I’ve only found 2 serious contenders; the Bersa Thunder .380 and the FN 5.7 pistol.

The .380 doesn’t have as much capacity as I’d like, and is supposed to kick more than the 5.7, so of the two I lean sharply towards the FN 5.7… except mein gott im himmel that thing is expensive. I’m more than halfway to a PS90 by the time I could buy one.

What gun would you recommend steering my Fianceé towards? I’m starting to think she’s just going to have to learn to deal with the recoil from the 9mm. In which case my CZ 75 is the first gun I lean towards, but I really don’t know.

I have two recommendations for you, but first my rationale.

With new shooters, it’s important to work on the fundamentals of shooting before moving up to a larger caliber firearm. This is the reason that I love my .22lr conversion kit for my Sig P226 — it lets me teach the new shooters the proper shooting technique without having them worry about controlling the recoil. And when we transition to the 9mm cartridge, they are already familiar with how the firearm functions. It’s a great training tool, one that I never leave for the range without.

Following the 2008 Obama election ammo shortage, gun companies started coming out with dedicated .22lr versions of their full-sized firearms. These allowed people to practice at the range while avoiding paying insane prices for then-scarce calibers like 9mm and 45 ACP. They also proved to be excellent training guns for new shooters, providing a lightweight firearm with minimal recoil whose controls mimicked the real firearms they were based upon.

While the new .22lr guns are fantastic on the range, they ain’t no slouch at self defense either. I answered a question a while back about .22lr for self defense, and the conclusion I came to was that it wasn’t the best caliber to use but it was effective enough to get the job done. Especially considering the number of encounters that are ended without a single shot being fired — over 500,000 per year by some estimates — the mere appearance of a firearm is often enough to tip the scales and send the bad guy running. And if he doesn’t stop, then the numbers seem to indicate that a .22lr round can still put bad guys down as well as anything else out there.

In short, my take is that a .22lr handgun is the ideal firearm for a new shooter. Which one specifically? The GSG 1911 handgun.

GSG 1911 .22 5

Joe Grine wrote a fantastic review of the gun not too long ago, and I’ve had numerous people I work with (at the day job) confirm his conclusions based on their own personal experience. It’s a fantastic little gun that provides all the wonderful benefits of a 1911 (single stage trigger, good iron sights, and a manual safety for added peace of mind) at a fraction of the price of the real deal — $350ish.

If you really, really don’t want to go with a .22lr firearm, though, I do have one other recommendation: a Taurus 1911 in 9mm.

Taurus 1911 9mm, c Taurus

There are very few 9mm handguns I would recommend for a new (and small) shooter. Most of the modern 9mm handguns focus on shedding weight and being as slim as possible for concealed carry and other applications. Thankfully, the 1911 design Taurus uses doesn’t differ much from their full sized version. This keeps the handgun nice and heavy, which will soak up a lot of the recoil from a 9mm round and keep the gun manageable. Plus, I just think it looks pretty slick. And it costs about half as much as the next 9mm 1911 I could find.

Why yes, I am a bit of a 1911 fan. How could you tell?

[Email your firearms-related questions to “Ask Foghorn” via guntruth@me.com. Click here to browse previous posts]

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131 Responses to Ask Foghorn: Perfect Handgun for New Female Shooters?

      • True, but some of the ” better” 1911’s cost more. As far as ammo availability…. you got me there.
        Don’t get me wrong, I love the 1911 and just bought my wife one BUT I was also factoring in recoil for smaller shooters

        • My wife is 5’1 1&1/4″ ( you have to include the quarters at these heights or they get angry) and about a hundred pounds. The first time she fired my 1911 she liked it so much she went out and bought a Ruger SR1911.

          She says, and I agree, that the recoil is lower on the 1911 than on the Baretta 92fs or ths Sig P228. Plus the single stack magazine means she can actually grip the 1911 with her stubby little nubs.

          She actually started taking this to the range and leaving her .380 at home.

      • I disagree with the whole premise on smaller caliber and women.

        If it is a home protection weapon a full size weapon in 40 is great. larger weapons provide more grip.

        I assumed revolver and low caliber for my wife. WE went to the range and she much preferred heavier weapons in 40.

        My wife is very petite but has long slender fingers.
        She has a p226 40 reduced reach for home and a shield 40 for carry.

        Women are just like men. some will practice and some will not. If a man or a woman is not going to practice takedown dryfire, live fire then both men and women are better off with revolvers they can put somewhere and not look at for a couple of years and know they will fire.

        My wife had never handled a weapon until a year ago and I would not describe her as a gun aficionado in the least. But she is the type of person who has always concentrated on learning things well. She wanted to take a number of classes (from basic to moderate self defense level), go to the range after that a number of times, learn to take down clean the weapons. She practices dry fire and working quick access safe once a month.

        semi auto vs revolver depends on whether the person is good at learning anything. For home defense going 22 is silly. go 9, 40 or 45. Get a heavy weight weapon they have less felt recoil. the reach to the trigger is the issue there, because if is to far the web of the palm wont be in the right place and that is more of an issue than anything.

        Don’t judge fit by fatigue after firing 200 rounds at the range. See how it feels on the first ten shots.

    • There’s also the ammo itself to consider. The best feature of
      the 5.7 ss190 is the steel penetrator and aluminum core. The
      round is weighted forward allowing the bullet to tumble in
      tissue. Unfortunately, mere civilians such as ourselves, aren’t
      allowed to have this ammo as it’s classified as AP. Instead we
      get rounds with a lead core SS197 or lead free SS195. Rather
      than tumbling, these bullets are more likely to punch a clean
      hole, though with proper placement it’s less of an issue.

      AmendmentNo2 has some good vids on Youtube.

        • This is totally correct. The Five-seveN grip is not for small people. FWIW, my wife is 5’3″ and she really likes my Browning Hi-Power for the same reasons that the Taurus is recommended.

  1. I hate hate hate manual safeties on carry guns. You can train all you want but its one more thing that can go wrong if you ever have to actually use it.

    Aside from that, I think handguns are so subjective she’s best off going to a range that rents them and just shooting a whole bunch to compare. If I was in a similar situation I wouldn’t try to steer my fiance in one direction or another, I’d help her find what *she* likes and not what *I think* is best for her!

    • 1911’s your thumb is supposed to ride the safety when you use a proper grip. Alot easier to get muscle memory for it when its part of actually holding the gun. Took me a while to get used flicking it down when I got it since I was used to M9’s flick up safety. No one to tell me the ride the safety thing at the time.

    • And some people love love love em! It’s sad to hear your a little myopic about the whole issue because you’re limiting yourself only to guns without safeties while some really great firearms exist with them.

      Me? I’m indifferent. The only way to be sure is to train train train!!!

  2. I like the idea of getting my wife to learn to shoot on a 1911-sized pistol. She can learn with .22, then [hopefully] use my .45.

    But what about a carry gun? There’s no way I will ever convince her to carry a full-sized 1911 frame, whether it’s loaded with .22LR or .45ACP. The O.P. mentioned “‘go to’ piece”, so that makes me think of carrying it.

  3. Many shooters also have a problem racking a slide in a semi-auto with a stiff recoil spring AND cannot hold some semi-autos stiffly enough for the slide to cycle. As a small build, middle-aged new shooter I received some recommendations for the RUGER SR22P pistol.

    I bought one — and I love it! VERY well reviewed. Very easy to shoot — small but has a 3.5″ barrel — minimal recoil, easy to clean, easy to operate slide — really fun. If I were ever to carry it for defense — I would stick to my ELEY ammo.

    • Disagree. there are many youtubes and other videos on racking. My wife who is also 5’2″ and 110 lbs could not rack my p226 at all. I found a couple if videos and articles on the web on racking technique. And after about 10 minutes of practice a day for a week she can easily rack it with her eyes closed. she can now easily rack, clear if needed, and pull the slide back quickly or slowly.

      MOst of us with a lot of hand an upper body strength pay not attention to racking technique because we don’t need to. but If you are older have some arthritis or are a woman t is just a question of technique.

      essentially it is all about a good palm grip on the slide and wrist position on the slide gripping hand. It is also about holding your arms in a position to maximize use of stronger upper arm muscles.
      Essentially you train yourself on not being sloppy and if right handed holding the slide still with a good grip and punching the gun down instead of pulling the slide up.

  4. The FN Five-Seven is a fine pistol, but ammunition is sometimes difficult to locate and often spendy. If you’re looking to practice frequently or stockpile a long term supply of ammunition (both good ideas, generally), this is something to consider.

    Also to consider: The Five-Seven has a pretty wide grip, which may not make it very well suited to your petite fiance’s small hands.

    Congratulations on the pending nuptials and on finding a gal who’s willing to arm up.

    • Yeah, the cost for the 5.7 is the most intimidating aspect – though I have hopes that when the ammunition crisis finally draws to a close that it will be cheaper. Amusingly 5.7 and the 10mm round were available at my local gunstore throughout the entire gun rush. No one in my area shoots those rounds apparently.

      And Thanks- I am very lucky to have a wonderful shooting partner ^_^

  5. .38 special or .327 mag or even .22 WMR revolver can have its place. Simple, easy to shoot… hits on all of your points except capacity, but 6 shots of .327 magnum is nothing to sneeze at and has a controllable level of recoil. Ruger’s LCR in .22 WMR has become quite popular among lady shooters looking for a self defense gun in a caliber that barely recoils at all.

    • I am a big fan of the LCR in 22 win mag. only thing you have to worry about is squeeze the bang switch.

  6. I’d recommend the P-01 (9mm).

    But best she learn the fundamentals first.

    I’d start her on a small caliber revolver so that empty cartridges can be inserted in the cylinder between live cartridges to learn trigger manipulation and overcome lateral movement that often occurs with trigger pull.

    Then rent a few different size and caliber handguns to try out.

    She can gauge from there what best suits her hand and recoil comfort.

    • The CZ P-01 has a midget slide that can be hard for full blown lumberjacks to rack under duress, much less a 100 lb woman. That would not be my first choice…

      • Have you actually tried one, or are you basing that off what you’ve read? I carry a SAR K2P, which is more or less a copy of the P07, which more or less shares a slide with the P01. I find the “midget slide” as easy to rack as anything else.

        As for the original question, it sounds like a single stack 9mm (Nano, Shield, XDs, PF9, etc.) is going to be necessary for grip width. However, you might check out the Witness P or SAR B6P, which have about the thinnest grip you can find for a double stack 9mm. I haven’t held the Ruger SR9, but I understand that also has a very slim grip.

      • @ JoshinGA
        Interesting;

        I find my P-01 to be about average in slide resistance, and the slide (and frame) is not particularly small (or large) in girth. A female shouldn’t have trouble leveraging a quick pullback of the slide which is slightly narrower than the frame. The trigger action might however be a little long and resistant to smooth pull, especially for a small female hand.

        It’s about like the CZ 75, but shorter, and since he has a 75, there is an opportunity for a first hand range test of all its features – AFTER she has done some shooting and is comfortable around handguns.

        Bottom line is it is up to the shooter to range test some guns for fit and recoil, then shop and manipulate potential choices at the friendly LGS.

        • The small slide size (IMO) does not allow for a full handed grip to rack the slide to the rear as on other larger slide-ed guns. Racking the slide with such little purchase area requires grip strength to be concentrated in the fingers, something many female shooters lack.

      • I have a 75SA, and I agree, the low profile slide can be a real PITA if your hand is wet at all. There just isn’t as much to grab, esp. if you try and rack it from the rear, as opposed to over the top.

  7. Ruger makes the LCR in .22 Mag, more wallop then the .22 LR. Look up penetration tests on it if you are unsure, it will do the job.

  8. I’ve been teaching a friend who just turned 70 and she has a terrible time racking the slide on any semi. I found the the 22 WMR revolver is perfect for her because of the low recoil and she won’t have to worry about stovepipes or misfeeds. She’s very accurate with the revolver and now she wants me to take her shooting every week. She also loved shooting my Glock 19, but she can’t budge the slide.

    • Try this. Instead of pulling the slide back, hold the slide and push the gun forward sharply. Gives more leverage, and have seen it recommended by female instructors for women.

      • Yes.

        Racking a slide european style as you describe gives very good leverage and is quick and sure. The pinched thumb and curled forefinger has excellent strength and grip. For most small handed individuals I think that push and pull racking action it’s the best way to go.

  9. I like your idea of a .22 conversion for an existing centerfire semi for a rookie. I’m not so sure about the 1911 for a rookie. It’s been a long time since I used one but I always thought of them as guns for more experienced shooters.

  10. I would not be all that afraid of that 9mm cartridge. In a full sized pistol, the recoil is quite manageable even for a small person. (I was training with one when I was 12.) I would go with a Glock 17 or 19. The recoil on those is actually not a lot heavier than on my GSG .22 1911. (Agree with Nick, great gun overall.) Since this is a defensive cary gun and not a toy, I would stick with the core LE / .MIL calibers. (9mm / .40 / .45)

  11. I think some states have a minimum caliber in case you ever want the concealed license route. Ruger lc380, or the Sig p250 in compact 380 if you can find it, is a locked breech option.

  12. I know they carry less ammo than what you want but have you looked into revolvers? Some 22 MAG revolvers carry up to 9 rounds. You might find revolvers with grips that fit smaller hands easier than an auto.

  13. I actually started my wife using 9mm and actually walked back to .22 before moving on. As stated above the .22 allows your better half to learn the fundamentals, practice reloading mags, manipulation of the firearm, and of course have FUN. Now she is always asking to shoot my .45.

  14. I would suggest the Ruger SR9C. It has really low recoil for 9mm and a slim, comfortable grip for a double-stack. It’s also insanely priced for the value. I bought one recently on Grabagun.com for $403. The only problem I could see for a female shooter is whether she has the strength to rack the slide with its double recoil spring. You’d want her to try that out at a gun shop before purchasing. Otherwise, it’s a perfect beginners centerfire pistol I think. Another option – in .22LR – might be the Ruger SR22 which I also own and find extremely reliable. 10 round magazines and a nice grip for small to medium hands without the gun itself being too small or light. You can find that for under $350.

    • I’ll second this, My wife is about the same size as yours, and found the SR9c to be a good fit. I ended up buying a full size SR9 thinking it wouldn’t be much different, but she finds the gun to be a bit oversized and less enjoyable to shoot.

  15. The wife is no giant, but compared to Christian’s lady I suspect she’d look like an Amazon. She can shoot my 1911, but hates it. Says its too heavy and the 45 round is hell on her wrists.

    An idea I’ve been bouncing around in my head for awhile is to get her a Colt 1903. Simple, soft-shooting, and sexy as hell. No new-gun smell though.

  16. I’ve been introducing newbies to 9mm with my Steyr M9-A1. It has such little muzzle flip because of the incredibly low bore axis and the design promotes a very high grip to begin with, so I found it much more controllable for myself, while not being too much for new shooters (especially my small friends) to handle.

  17. I am forced to think that an FN 5.7 might be a good idea. My wife started off with my Walther P22 (loved it) and moved up to my PPK/S. She begrudgingly shot the latter. Anyway, I tried to get her to shoot a Smith 60, Glock 19 and a few others and 380 was the upper end. Had she fired the 380 with my LCP, she probably wouldn’t have gone back. For defensive use, she CAN use the Walther P22 but a 5.7×28 round is a lot more decisive than a 22. A fix: maybe Ruger can come out with a pocket rocket chambered in 5.7. Recoil of a 22 (just about) and lethality of a 9mm.

  18. If she’s going to carry the pistol I’d recommend a Ruger LCR in
    22lr or better yet 22 mag. With time and practice you can ease
    her into shooting the LCR in .38. Something larger would ease
    recoil issues, but it sounds like there may be concealment issues.
    Of course if it’s for the house or car, size is less of an issue.

    The Ruger Mk II/III line is always a good choice for new
    shooters. The 22/45 is also a great gun and can work as a
    stepping stone to using a 1911.

    I’d stay away from the FNH 5.7 for two reasons: cost and
    availability. The pistol, magazines and ammo are not cheap.
    That’s if you can find them. Also the good ammo, the tungsten
    core stuff, is restricted to LE and military. The civilian ammo,
    from what I’ve seen, is only arginally better than 22mag.

    • I have used some LCRs and found it much harder to make an accurate shot than with my SR22P. Between the 1.75″ barrel, double-action only and minimal sights — it is quite a challenge.

      • Another issue with the LCR for those who shoot Weaver is that the grip angle requires the locked elbows of an isosceles stance for the sights to line up like with Glocks. Unlikely to be an issue for a new shooter because they always try to hold the firearm as far as possible from their face in case it blows up.

      • True enough but you have similar sighting issues
        with any smaller/pocket pistol and many dao
        triggers are rough. Laser grips would take care
        of the sight issue and new springs would help the
        action. I recommended a revolver simply because
        there are less parts for a new shooter to worry
        about.

  19. FYI there is a Bersa Thunder .380 pistol that takes a double stack magazine and increases capacity to something like 15 rounds. I personally love them and have helped two people to purchase them. They both love them as well. Their safety features are outstanding including a true de-c0ck position for the hammer which allows you to carry one in the chamber, ready for action with the first shot being double action trigger pull. All subsequent shots feature a single action trigger pull. (Note that the Bersa Thunders also have a de-c0ck lever which safely moves the hammer to de-c0ck without any possible chance of discharge.) Or you can just carry one in the chamber with the hammer all the way back and the safety on. I prefer one in the chamber with the hammer in de-c0ck (first shot with double action trigger pull) and safety off. You just point and shoot in an emergency and follow-up shots are even easier to squeeze off accurately.

    While they are not a full size semi-auto pistol, they are almost all metal which means they are reasonably heavy for their size. That said, they do recoil although the recoil is definitely not punishing.

    • My wife loved my Bersa Thunder 380, and while I sold it to fund another purchase, I’d pick up the double stack Bersa Thunder 380 plus in a heartbeat. To the OP, If there’s a range nearby that will let you rent firearms I’d recommend taking her there. Did that with my wife, rented every gun they had, and she settled on the Ruger SR9C for her EDC.

  20. I bought my wife a Sig P250C in 9MM this past Valentine’s day and that was the first firearm she ever fired. She loved it because she could easily manipulate (i.e. rack the slide, reload, lock the slide, etc). Now she is going with several of her friends (all new shooters & gun owners themselves) to get their conceal carry licenses.

  21. When me and my wife go shooting she’ll shoot her .22lr pistol a few times before getting bored with it then she’ll move on to one of my rifles. together we own but one pistol.
    we went shooting with her youngest brother once and he let her shoot his .40 S&W pistol, not sure on make as i never handled it. she went from shooting 6″ a pattern at 5 meters, to a 2″ pattern. 15 rounds in and she’s hooked. she repeats this accuracy several more times before the end of the day. she said she likes shooting the .22lr out of rifles but in a pistol, “the gun weighs too much for the recoil.” i figured that a 9mm would work best for her. though she wants to try everything bigger than that .22lr.
    as soon as i get some free cash, i plan on taking her to the range to see what she likes best.

  22. The Ruger SR22 Walther P22 are good ones for .22 but in the same form factor and weight is the Walther PK380. The grips on all three are sweet. The PK is also one of the few .380 locked breach which doesn’t require the stiff blowback spring so it also racks as easily as the SR22 and/or the P22.
    The recoil on the PK380 is way less than a 9mm or mouse .380.
    My wife loves it and it is light to carry as well.
    PK Negative: clumsy safety,but it’s double action first shot so you can leave safety off.

  23. Good reason to put the NRA annual meeting on the schedule. NO gunstore can equal the opportunity of handling EVERY handgun of EVERY major manufacturer. It is priceless.

  24. I’ve got an EAA Witness P-Carry in 9mm (CZ-75 clone) that my smaller-framed girlfriend has no issue handling. Another good reason for it is ease of conversions – the small frame models can be converted between 22LR/9mm/40SW, while the large frame models can also go up to 45ACP/10mm (I’ve read about slide issues with the 10mm, but nothing with any of the other calibers).

    You can even get a pistol that already has the .22LR conversion kit in the box – don’t remember if you can get the 9mm/22LR or if it’s .45/.22, but that could be a viable option as well.

  25. +1000 on shot placement! 30 year ER/trauma nurse. Trust me, location, location, location! At least 90% of the job. Hope you find a good weapon for the young lady, wiser voices than mine above.

  26. If he’s already got a CZ 75, why not try out the Kadet conversion kit? They’re tough to find, but they may be the best conversion kit on the market. I’d put it up against my Ruger 22/45 in terms of accuracy. And the CZ 75 is extremely ergonomic and relatively low recoiling because of the steel frame and low bore axis. Only issue that I encountered with my wife is racking the midget slide, but she eventually got it down.

  27. I’ll second the Ruger SR9c. While some may knock the “chicklette” thumb safety, it gives you the option of a flush magazine (with pinky extension if desired), or a full-length mag that adds about an inch to the grip. For you fortunate folks that do not live in the Peoples Republic of California, the extended mag holds 18 rounds of 9mm. Great trigger and very little recoil. I just completed an “action” shoot with it and it performed great. Just add some night sights and you’re good-to-go. The best part is they sell for about $400… No wonder Ruger’s stock prices have soared the last 2 years!

  28. Another option I recommend is the Sig Sauer Mosquito mid size semi-auto in .22LR. They are a joy to shoot and recoil is minimal. I have seen an 11 year old girl who weighed considerably less than 100 pounds shoot one without any misgivings at all. Quite to the contrary that girl loves to shoot a Mosquito.

    The only shortcoming as far as the poster’s requirements is magazine capacity: Mosquitoes use 10 round single-stack magazines. That is certainly better than 5 or 6 shot revolvers and yet short of the 15 rounds that the poster desires. Meh, that is what extra magazines — or additional handguns — are for!

    As far as the caliber is concerned, Mr. Leghorn wisely touched on the point that criminals immediately end about 90% to 95% of their attacks when the victim simply produces a handgun without ever firing a shot. That alone really tips the odds in the favor of the victim. And consider the worst possible outcome. The victim shoots the attacker in the torso (hopefully multiple times) but those shots do not immediately incapacitate the attacker who proceeds to harm and possibly even murder the victim: either the attacker dies later or goes to a hospital if they want to survive and that means the police will capture them. Either way, the attacker will no longer be roaming the streets looking for future victims.

    I say go with a .22LR handgun. After a few years of skill, strength, and confidence building with that handgun, you can consider a slightly larger caliber.

  29. I’m planning on the Ruger SR22 after I purchase a Glock 19 with night sights. The GSG looks to be a solid choice, but I have no personal experience with it. The Sig 239 seems like a great choice as well. The .22 definitely does not have an over abundance of stopping power, but it’s a nasty little round. I’m hoping that the Mrs. will enjoy the Glock 19 as much as me, but I’ll start her off on the Ruger 22/45 so that she has a pleasant and light – recoil experience. Now, to find some more CCI .22 LR…

    Maybe I’m a little twisted, but I kind of like recoil. I know I shouldn’t be leery of the 9mm, but if the chips are down I’d rather have my Glock 23 handgun whilst en route to my 6.8 SPC AR.

  30. First of all, this isn’t a tactical problem, it’s a getting her into shooting problem. If she enjoys it she’ll shoot enough to figure out what she likes on her own. If she doesn’t then she’ll only come shoot when you twist her arm and if it ever counts for real she won’t know what she’s doing no matter what it is you bought her.

    So you need to make it easy and fun. That means a .22 so forget the high cap requirement because .22s aren’t and all that will leave you is 9mm double stacks she can barely fit her hands around. Hand her every .22 on the shelf and see what fits her hands best. Buy her that one. Buy yourself one too. Go make cans dance.

    Trayvons in the bushes is tomorrow’s problem. Today’s problem is in her mind.

    • This right here is the winner. Get her shooting first, then worry about “stopping power” and hi-cap mags later. And for all the grief people lay on the .22LR round, you’d think it was Airsoft. But I’ve yet to find a .22 naysayer who’s willing to take even one CCI Stinger to the face or chest, much less the ten that most pistols hold.

      Get her a .22 (my vote is for the Ruger SR22, like many others here, but let her choose the gun that best fits her hand), and let her work her way up from there in her own time.

  31. If it’s gotta be a .22 I’d go with the Ruger SR22. My wife has one and it is fun as all hell to shoot. It’s very light and the grip is small for small hands. Truly it’s my favorite gun as well as hers. Obviously a larger caliber is better, but only if you can shoot it. The important thing is to get her out on the range having fun shooting. After a while maybe she’ll move up to something bigger, but that’s never going to happen if she’s not enjoying shooting to begin with.

    • This! Bought my wife the sr22 and had her start at the 2 yard firing line. Had a great time shooting because she was successful.

  32. Definitely should start out on a .22, but once the fundamentals are learned and she’s looking for more powerful weapon she might run into issues with having small hands. You might look at the single stack, not quite pocket 9mms like the Ruger LC9 or Taurus PT709.

  33. Here are a few I have looked into for new shooters-
    Revolvers-Ruger LRC 22 Mag, Taurus M380, Ruger LCR 38
    Semi-Ruger SR22, Browning 1911-22, Ruger Mark 1/2/3, Ruger LC380/LC9
    These are all available and should fit every need out there.
    REMEMBER-Pick one she likes not the one you like for her!

  34. I have a GSG 1911 under SiG cover. I can testify as to it’s reliability having put close t0 10,000 rounds through it and it’s still going strong. I have been known to carry it while walking my dogs during the day. (loaded with CCI stingers.)

    I don’t buy that your girlfriend can handle a larger caliber. My wife isn’t all that much bigger then 5’2″/100lb and she can handle any gun in the safe and deliver competition level accuracy. When I first handed her my 1911 I asked her about the recoil when she was done and she said jokingly “what recoil?”

    I am not suggesting that your girlfriend should carry a 1911 only that she should find a handgun that she is comfortable with. With proper technique she should, like my wife be able to handle anything.

  35. Um… kel-tec PMR 30? 30 rounds of 22WMR in a semi-auto pistol that is both light and slim-ish (well, I like a good M9A1, so everything is slim to me). Its the poor mans Five-Seven.

  36. I have a Sig P250 Compact in .380. It holds 15 rounds and my 5’1″ wife has fired it and my Ruger SR22. She prefers the Sig even though it has a D/A trigger similar to an S&W revolver. I know they are not exactly widely available but I think the Sig might be a good choice. Also don’t forget the Bersa Thunder .380 Plus another 15 rounder.

  37. Depends on your woman’s skill and size a unskilled shooter needs to start on 22lr. A small woman may need a small handgun like a Ruger LCP. if you get a BIG hand woman a regular .45 or 9mm will do fine.

  38. You almost said it at the beginning when you mentioned the Sig option.
    I’ve been where you are when trying to suggest a gun for a petite woman.
    Though not what you would call inexpensive, or easy to find, my friend
    finally decided on the Sig 228. It’s a full frame 9mm w/13 rounds +1 in
    the chamber. It fit her small hands, had the capacity, but one thing sold
    her on the 228. It has one thing that no other gun had…a decocking lever.
    An ability to safe the gun from being cocked and ready to shoot was it.
    I don’t know if it is a “woman thing” but safety was a very big point for her.
    Admittedly, this also was when the 228 was readily available everywhere.
    She still thanks me for it, and it’s still her favorite gun. The Pachmayr grips
    and Trijicon night sites she added on her own. If you go this way, look for
    a made in Germany model with the 13 round capacity. I’ve found a few
    online for decent prices, but it’s still more than most will spend on a gun.
    However, you do get what you pay for in this case. One bonus of the 228.
    It does accept the 15 round 226 magazine. Best of luck on your quest.

  39. If I were tasked with this challenge, I’d have my waifish SO try my 9mm Walther PPS and “dial in” the bullet weight, starting light.

  40. Just because she’s a girl doesn’t mean she can’t shoot a 9mm, in which case there are really no shortage of steal and polymer options.

    If she practices and can be proficient with that 22, there’s no reason she can’t then take the next step up to a Glock 19. I don’t think using a .380 in between is necessary, and definitely not necessary just because she’s a girl.

  41. An EG Makarov in 9×18. relatively heavy (all steel) yet soft shooting for a 9. Germans have beautiful bluing on them, so there is that too.

  42. Used to have the SIG 22lr but it is not the best 22 conversion. It had tremendous wear issues. Most Sigs have an anodized aluminum frame with a steel slide. This is a great combination of metal WRT friction and wear. In order to make the 22lr work they had to use an aluminum slide. This is aluminum on aluminum friction and wear. After about 3K rounds the frame had an extraordinary amount of wear on it and I didn’t think that it would reach 10K. I sold it while I still could. A shame as I would have liked a Sig P series in 22lr.

  43. Step 1) Teach her to shoot with a 22.
    Step 2) Allow her to pick the more powerful (minimum caliber .380ACP) EDC handgun. My 2 cents: manual safeties on a carry firearm are best reserved for enthusiasts, but to each his/her own. Try a Walther PPS; single stack, heavy-ish for its class (which means less recoil).
    Step 3) Practice
    Step 4) Goto step 2 until comfortable.

  44. I would suggest a Browning Hi Power in 9mm with VZ Pro Slim grips. The thinnest gun I ever had, you don’t even feel the 32 oz of weight that hold down the recoil.

    • I agree with the Hi Power. I’ve never shot any 9mm 1911’s but I’ve heard that most of them out there aint to swell. I do really like the Browning Hi-power. Tried and true, just they way JMB would have liked it.

  45. I haven’t met a girl yet (even ones who are about 100 lbs.) who couldn’t handle the recoil of a (now discontinued) CZ-83 in 380.

  46. Why no love for the Colt 1911 22? Of the 1911 in .22 it seems to rate the highest. The Browning 22 also seems like a good choice especially for size.

  47. Walther PK380. 8+1 capacity, SA/DA, 22 oz., medium size (it’s not a pocket piece, which is the reason it hasn’t caught on), locked breech design and not straight blowback (so recoil is very pleasant), and the force needed to rack the slide is the lightest of any pistol in or near its class.

    It was recommended by a guy with severe arthritis who can’t manage anything else but the PK380, including revolvers with their heavy triggers. Women who have trouble racking a Glock will have no trouble with this.

    Friends don’t let friends carry a .22 for self defense.

    • +1 on the PK380, it is the gun I got for my wife.

      Slide is super easy to rack and recoil is nothing.

      For the OP, the 8 round mag maybe a negative. And the tool needed to break down the gun would be a negative for everyone.

  48. Wow, all those recommendations, as a trainer and LEO, I would not recommend any firearm for her until she has been properly trained. Part of that training (without the partner) would also be weapons selection where the new shooter finds a weapon that they are comfortable with and can handle. I tell people that selection a handgun is like buying a car. Make a wise selection that fits you, not your boyfriend.

  49. No mention of the Beretta PX4 Storm Compact? Rotating barrel gives it very low recoil. 15+1 in 9mm. Small but not too small. My wife’s favorite gun.

  50. If you want to rule out the Five-seveN, don’t ever let her try one. I love it. I have smaller hands and the long grip is no issue, especially since there is so little recoil. Yes, it is pricey. Yes, ammo is hard to find at times (recently got a 2000rd case of 197SR for $900 at the LGS). It is ridiculously light fully loaded and so easy and fun to shoot.
    Might also want to consider the XD-S 45. Recoil is very manageable for my small hands – straight back, not snappy. Good luck.

  51. My wife is two inches shorter and the same weight as the girl in the OP, and she loves .45ACP. I guess she’s just a size queen (And that’s why she’s with me!)

  52. How about a suggestion for a woman shooter FROM a woman shooter.
    Find an outdoor range (indoor ranges tend to be too loud)
    Call ahead and make sure they have a Ruger SR .22 (10 round mags) Ruger SR 9mm and Ruger P95 9mm (15 round mags)
    Buy her a Butler Creek LULA Universal Pistol Magazine Loader and Unloader, 9mm
    Have her look in the gun case and handle whatever appeals to her. Minimum 3 to 3.5″ barrel. These are guns I use for Ladies Shooting League and my sister-in-law loves to shoot mine as well. Yes, these all have a safety on them, rarely have them on the saftety anymore, FIND her a local ladies shooting leauge (guys are allowed if accompanies by a woman) Ruger pistols in the .22LR & 9mm have very little recoil/muzzle flip – very pleasant to shoot. Am I a fan of the Ruger brand? Absolutely! Well made, durable, reasonable price, lifetime warranty . To loosen up new magazines, load as many rounds as possible, unload next day, reload next until you can load to full capacity

  53. My wife & I both started on 9mm. My wife is about 5’2″ also, but about 120 lbs. She tried every handgun she could at the range that she could rent. She eventually decided that the Smith & Wesson M&P 9C was the best fit for her hand after trying Glocks, Sig Sauers, Berettas, Rugers, and H&Ks (all semi-autos). At first she tried a revolver, but didn’t like it. Funny thing is, her first gun purchase was a Smith & Wesson Bodyguard 38. It felt even better in her hand, but once she shot it (she bought it before trying it) she wasn’t thrilled how 38 Special felt when fired, but she got somewhat used to it. She used it this past weekend to qualify for a CCDW, although brought out the M&P 9C (that I bought her as a wedding present) for some fun at the end of class.

    Advice for the OP: Have your wife try every handgun that she can to see what SHE likes. It can take some time, but well worth doing it that way.

  54. I bought a Ruger LCP380 for my mother (72 YO, 5’0”, issues with “trigger finger” that has weakened her grip), thinking it would be easy for her to handle. Racking is a chore, the trigger almost takes both hands to pull, and she really hates the “flip” it makes (comparing it to my Bersa Thunder 380CC and Bodyguard 380, the bore axis seems significantly higher, which would explain why she had less problem with those respectively heavier- and lighter-weight options).

    So I’m thinking a Ruger LCR in .22LR would be optimal, since the trigger’s actually easier to manipulate than the LCP and the recoil and report would be radically easier to deal with. And since most confrontations don’t involve 6-1 odds and are resolved most often without needing to pull the trigger in the first place, I’m not quite as concerned about capacity as I was beforehand.

  55. took a tiny female new shooter out shooting recently who was pretty much in line with the writer’s wife – about 5′, 100 lbs – and a P229 with a .22 conversion kit was a very big hit with her. the P226 was actually too large for her tiny hands to shoot comfortably.

    really, everyone i know who wants to shoot a .22 seems to enjoy those SIG conversion kits.

  56. Here are a few things that I — as a new (middle-aged) shooter really like in a gun:

    1- A visible hammer. There is an inherent “safety” to seeing that the hammer on a weapon is down.

    2- Any sort of “round in the chamber” indicator — I found it odd that many semi-auto guns do not allow knowledge of what is in the chamber — without pulling a back a slide.

    3- A “decocker” While it is easy to decock my RUGER GP100 — it would be trickier to decock the SR22P — if there were not such a function.

    4- HEFT. My GP100 (which weighs almost as much as I do) has near zero recoil with .38 special — and even +P is pretty benign — and I like the progression possible with .38SP> .38SP +P and then on to .357M.

  57. For 99% of new shooters period, my 686-1 with .38spl. The other 1% my G19. The revolver is easier to teach basic marksmanship with and is a suitable defense caliber. People feel confident shooting it. The G19 although easy to shoot, might be a bit daunting for people without basic marksman skills (as would most semi autos). If they are feeling REALLY confident I let them touch off a few rounds of .357 mag to make it more exciting.

    • Much agreed — a revolver is a device that is no harder to understand than a pair of scissors. As the method of operation is obvious — one can concentrate on other issues.

      There is also the choice of SA/DA with many revolvers — which I think is a plus.

      Pointer: We beginners are so focused on this new skill we are trying to develop — we sometimes can’t count to 6 (or whatever is the rev capacity). Make sure your newbie understands that there may STILL be a live round somewhere in that cylinder.

  58. Thanks for all the input; some additional details if anyone’s still paying attention.

    Proper training with the .22lr is where I’ll start her out, since that’s where I started. For her main handgun, I’m looking for something that isn’t a .22lr. I’ve had a few problems with .22lr ammo that makes me hesitant to trust my life to it. Even though I know that if you buy the good brands you’ll probably be fine, it’s still a possible variable that I don’t want. Even if it does make me seem excessively paranoid.

    I found a range that’s a bit of a hike but that will let us use (no rental fee!) every gun in the store. So we’ve got a range trip planned and I’ve noted all the guns mentioned on this page, and I’ll make sure she gets to try them all even if it does mean visiting 2-3 different ranges. At least now we’ll actually know what guns to ask for. It’s been my experience that most gun store clerks will steer newbies towards the glock or the XD, even if a different gun might suit better.

    Unrelated, I must admit that now that I know it exists I’m sort of tempted to pick up a CZ 83 just for me.. hmm.

    Once again, I appreciate all the input – who says TTAG isn’t friendly to women?

    Thanks guys!

    Christian

    • Pretty much describes my wife. After shooting a Walther P22 she was pretty hooked on the feel of the gun and now loves her Walther PK380. The mag only holds 8, but the recoil is light, the slide is easy to rack, and most importantly, she shoots it well and LIKES shooting it. I was a little concerned when she wanted the PK380 because of reliability issues that I’ve heard of with them, but she has about 600 rounds through her gun with plenty of different brands of ammo and has had zero issues. I guess we got a good one. You can also pick up a matching P22 for practice with .22lr. Happy hunting! BTW, she does want a gun right?

      • Brandon:

        Thanks for asking “she does want a gun right?” The Walther P22 is a favorite of many ladies and men because it offers the feel of a compact semi-auto, is easy to operate, has sights that are user friendly, and it has virtually no recoil — 🙂

  59. Don’t know if this comment will be seen =D
    I’ve found the CZ83 to be a great gun for the recoil shy. It’s relatively compact, but it’s all steel construction manages recoil well. And it’s only available in .380 or .32 ACP. Problem is finding one since they’ve been discontinued.

  60. If you’ll consider a revolver the S&W Model 617 loads 10 rounds of .22LR. It is available in both 4″ and 6″ variants.

  61. Perfect timing for this post. Before I took the handgun safety class at work, I asked my husband to take me out shooting for the first time. The slide on his .45 Beretta was difficult, but manageable. The recoil the same. But I don’t think he was too disappointed to learn that I thought we needed to get another gun for me. 15 rounds and my wrists were aching. I did get a chance to load/unload several models from our gunsmiths inventory in my class, and I wish they had a .22 to try. The 9mm & .38 were still tough for me to rack the slide, and the particular .45 they had was impossible for me to properly rack. I may have go ask they guys if they have any .22s that I can try… I know we sell that conversion kit…

  62. A heavy .380ACP semi is the way to go for self defense. No way 22lr (though, good for practice while getting used to .380).

  63. How about a tried-and-true S&W Model 10? Granted, it’s a revolver, but I’d rather have six shots of .38spl than a dozen of .22 in a self-defense situation. The .38 has an acceptable amount of stopping power, is fairly cheap to shoot and practice with, and isn’t as snappy as 9mm, so I’d think any girl could handle it in a K-frame. Revolvers are far less daunting for new shooters, I’ve found, due to their point-and-shoot ease of operation and lack of safeties, slides, slide releases, mag releases, etc. They aren’t finicky about ammo, are drop-safe, tend to be very reliable, and can’t really be limp-wristed. There is, of course, no slide to rack or go out of battery. Smith double actions on older guns (can’t vouch for the new ones as I’ve never shot one) are beautifully smooth, and can be lightened by a gunsmith if necessary.

    I’ve thought long and hard about this question, as I often take girls shooting. I used to just let them shoot my 1911, but that always seemed fraught with difficulty. The Walther PK380 is intriguing though, and I will definitely be looking into it further, though I can’t say I’m a huge fan of .380. Most of the girls I meet have some difficulty racking the slide on a 1911, and few can manage it on a little Kel-Tec pocket pistol.

  64. My contribution is that you get her trained by anyone else but you. While it may seem great to teach your fiancee to shoot, the dynamic between you may interfere. It would be better to have her take a regular class, preferably taught by another woman. As far as what gun, I have found that almost all the women I have shot with can handle 9mm with no problem, although I really like the Sig P238 in .380 as a carry weapon. (especially here in Texas in the summer) Just my 2 cents.

  65. Ive seen quite a few recommendations for a revolver but one thing I’ve noticed when taking women to the range in the past is that the muzzle “flip” of a revolver makes it feel like a heavier recoil to people with weaker wrists. My mother likes shooting my dad’s .357 mag ported revolver better than her own stainless .38 snubbie(both taurus mid size) because she says it doesn’t kick as much. I’ve tried them back to back and guarantee that it’s the opposite. They have the same grip, the same frame, only the barrel length and porting are different. The only thing I can guess is that she sees her snub rocking up higher and translates that to “feeling” more recoil.

    I’ve seen the same thing in .380 with a Bersa thunder(low axis) and a Llama mini 1911 in .380. The Llama is heavier but has a higher bore axis. They feel almost identical to me but quite a few people have said the Llama kicks “way harder” back to back.

  66. What is with you folks who insist on picking out guns for other people? It is their gun so it should be their choice. Bring the person out to the range with a few small caliber and easy to use firearms and let them plink away. Gradually introduce different types and calibers so they acquire experience. Once they have gained proficiency and want a gun of their own, go to a gun shop with a range that has rental guns. Let the person fire a few so they can get a feel for what they like. Then go home. Help them find information on the gun THEY want and allow them to ponder which firearm they want as well as how/what they intend to use it for. Once they have it figured out, go to the gun shop and help them with THEIR purchase. There are many gun choices out there because people have different needs, wants, and desires. What is right for you may be wrong for them. So let them make their own choices.

    • My Fianceé and I are both like to research, and we enjoy making sure we know what we’re looking for before we go shopping. Having a checklist of guns that we KNOW smaller framed shooters prefer helps us make sure she gets to try all of them. I have no intention of forcing her into a gun that I want.

      However time is a factor since she’ll be relocating to a state that requires pistol purchase permits, and registration of handguns purchased by residents. I believe that registration is followed inevitably by confiscation, so I’d like her to get one BEFORE the move. Which is why having a list of guns to try is more helpful than simply walking in to the range and thinking whichever one you like most there will be “good enough” when another handgun might be a better fit.

  67. In case anyone’s reading this looking for suggestions, the list of suggested/female preferred handguns so far..

    22LR:

    Colt 1911 22
    GSG .22LR 1911
    Ruger SR22P
    Ruger LCR .22lr
    Sig Sauer Mosquito
    S&W Model 617
    Walther P22

    CZ 75 Kadet Kit
    Sig P229 22lr Conversion

    Intermediate Calibers:
    RIA .22TCM 1911
    Ruger 22WMR LCR
    FN 5.7
    CZ 83 .32 ACP
    Walther PPK .32 ACP
    Ruger GP 100 327 Fed Mag
    Makarov in 9×18

    .380/38:
    Sig P238
    Bersa Thunder 380
    Walther PK380
    CZ 83 380
    S&W Model 10
    Chiappa Rhino .357/9mm

    9mm:
    Bersa BP9CC
    Beretta PX4 Storm Compact
    Browning Hi Power
    Taurus PT709
    Ruger LC9
    Steyr M9A1
    Taurus 1911
    Glock 17/19
    Ruger SR9c
    Sig SauerP250C
    Sig Sauer 228

    45:
    Ruger SR1911
    XD-S 45

  68. My dainty wife purchased a Walther P22. She is at the range weekly with it.
    It is a very comfortable gun with easy working mechanism.
    She absolutely loves this gun. It is dependable, sleek, and economical.

  69. Wow! Where are the ladies responses? Selection of a firearm for a woman should be done by the woman herself. It is great that men are supportive of ladies in their lives having a firearm of their own. Please find a female firearms instructor to help her. Guys, your women love you and trust you and thus end up shooting small calibers that limit them in the fight or shooting guns that are “guy’s” preferences because women are overcommers and will find a way to succeed even if it hurts or is uncomfortable because they are “women”. None of the guns mentioned are favorites of mine and I of course am a woman. When presented with a bunch of “guy” options, women will gravitate toward the best choice of the bunch. Often it is because they are relying on the guy they love to lead them in the right direction in an arena they know little about other than “i dont like THAT one!” SFWA will have a publication available in a few weeks that actually addresses the issue (for both genders) which outlines what handguns specifically should be included in the selection process. Please understand that i feel the pain of both sides of this issue and in the end it really is the woman’s choice to make on an individual basis and her life to save. The wrong gun can cost the life of the one you love. I really appreciate seeing the attempts listed to help empower women with the benefits a handgun can offer. There really are models of handguns in all calibers that offer women comfortable and effective options. (Having taught more than 10,000 women and a lot of men since 2008 about firearms safety, personal protection w a firearm and precision shooting for defensive purposes, etc, I can assure you that women prefer being the decisionmaker and they need all the facts — which include those options that do not HURT and that most often are NOT lightweight guns that feel good in their hands at the gun counter. ) Thanks to all the men who are encouraging the women in their lives to learn about guns. I continue to pray daily that women will have posititive experiences in the process.

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  71. For large hands and a full size pistol I highly recommend the S&W MP 22. I have one with several thousand rounds of ammo through it and hardly any problems at all, just FTF with cheap ammo which is not the guns fault. For small hands I have rented the Ruger SR22 several times, and my 14 year old daughter loves shooting it, and even I like it, and my hands are pretty big.

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