S&W airweight .38

I recently came across an article at Water n’ Woods called The Overall Best Handgun For Women. The post claims that a Smith & Wesson .38 special snub nose revolver is the best gun for women. Wow. Um. No. No way. That is far from the best handgun for a woman. In fact, I wouldn’t list it in the top ten. I’ve got some alternatives, but first . . .

I get it. Small revolvers seem like they’re great for women. They’re so cute! So unintimidating! So pink! Hammerless versions seem especially attractive. Sadly, many of the comments underneath the original Water n’ Woods post were to the effect of “OMG! I can so totally, like, put this in my purse and stuff! [tag boyfriend]”.  While many of you are probably aware of how I feel about purse carry by now, let’s recap: do not put a gun in your purse.

I know, Dana Loesh does it and I respect her and I like her a lot. But should we ever meet face to face, I will tell her what I tell all other women – putting a gun in a purse is irresponsible. If your purse is stolen, so is your gun. It could be difficult to get to it when you need it. Digging it out under any circumstances can cause unintentional discharges (even when properly holstered). Guns kept in purses attract lint and dust.

Most important, we’re talking about a firearm that weighs less than one pound. (The Smith & Wesson Airweight above clocks in at around 15 ounces.) With a gun that size shooting a .38 special round the recoil is . . .intense.  It snaps. After not many rounds, the recoil begins to take its toll on a woman’s hands.

As women and men seem to constantly forget, women don’t like recoil. It’s by far the number one complaint from ladies I teach to shoot or women who are frequent shooters. Like many women, I have the hands of an elf. All that said, I can handle a snubbie’s recoil, but I choose not to.

I’ve refrained from listing my suggestions for women who want to be armed in self-defense and defense of their loved ones before because they are merely opinions. But in my humble opinion, as a woman, based on other input from women, the best gun for a woman is a GLOCK 17 or a Springfield XD.

Glock_17C_cropped

Sprindfield XD 9mm

In 9mm — my recommended caliber for newbies — both guns have easily-mastered recoil and a [relatively] long sight radius. While aficionados diss the GLOCK’s aesthetics, both guns have excellent ergonomics, courtesy their full-size grips. All of which makes them inherently more accurate than a snubbie for the average shooter (Jerry Miculek fans need not respond). Even better, there’s a wide selection of 9mm self-defense ammo, and practice ammo is relatively inexpensive.

Practice. That’s an important element of firearms selection. If a gun is uncomfortable to shoot, as stubbies are, a woman will shy away from practicing with it. The lack of trigger time will further degrade a woman shooter’s accuracy, or at least prevent her from improving.

Their most common argument against a woman carrying a full-size semi-automatic pistol: size. Or, as I like to call it, intimidation and a lack of commitment.

The intimidation factor has to do with unfamiliarity. Many women assume that bigger guns have more recoil than stubbies. They also worry about being able to run the gun. This is easily overcome in a few minutes on the range. (Many women buy snubbies without ever having fired one.) The lack of commitment has to do with the fact that few women take the time to find a proper holster (or two or three). I’m 115 lbs. and have no problem concealing my Springfield in a wide variety of clothing. Again, this has to be demonstrated.

S&W .357 K frame

If a woman prefers a revolver because of its simplicity or aesthetics (yes, style), I suggest a .357 Smith & Wesson K-frame revolver. The larger frame tames recoil and offers a proper grip. And yes, it’s still concealable. Again, I’m proof that even a small woman can wear almost anything she wants and conceal a decent sized gun on-body.  It can be done, and done comfortably.

Shocker: I own a Taurus .357 snub-nosed revolver. I carry it when there’s no other way to conceal a larger firearm. In that case, it’s not the best handgun for a woman, but the best handgun for a woman when she can’t carry the best handgun for a woman. As they like to say around here, there are times when your mileage may vary. But that’s no reason to let the good be the enemy of the perfect.

115 Responses to Guns For Beginners: The Best Carry Handgun(s) For Women

  1. +1

    The only issue I have seen is where some women have a difficult time chambering a round, but that is easily fixed with alternative techniques.

    I know too many who carry snubbies and don’t practice because it is too much. Never carry what you can’t practice with.

    • Weird. I’m not big – and I noticed this actually when I was at the shop – “Go ahead and try to rack the slide” (me: cha-chunk) “Huh well I guess that won’t be a problem.”

      Don’t get me wrong, I guess it is a problem because the guy behind the counter expected me to have trouble, but i’m not sure it’s so much ‘strength’ as it is knowing how much force to actually apply (or expect to apply). I have no problem racking my p227 and 1911 either. That could also be an experience issue.

      • I have notice lots of newbies (not just women) seem afraid to put their full strength into racking the slide, like they’ll break the gun if they’re rough with it. Then they try to gently ride the slide into battery. Once I show new shooters nothing they do is going to break my gun, they usually chamber with gusto and start smiling.

        • I *really* think you’re on to something there. A lot of newbies don’t “rack it like they mean it”, and admittedly I might have done that (I don’t remember) when new, as well.

          But this is why, when introducing someone new to guns, ‘buying it and storing it’ is not acceptable. Not getting used to the gun, how it feels and operates, is almost as bad as not having it at all.

        • Tactical shooting class. Instructor Rocky (retired SEAL) grabs his pistol and violently racks the slide five or six times to show that it is unloaded and nothing in the chamber.

          “Don’t be afraid to work the slide as hard as you can. These pistols were designed to take the recoil of a full power round for thousands of cycles. Nothing you can do with your bare hands is going to hurt this gun.”

      • It’s usually when someone tries to just pull the slide back with their support hand while their other arm is fully extended. I have only seen older women have this problem before, but that’s easily fixed with pulling it close to your center mass and pushing while pulling.

        • Don’t care if you are talking about a woman or a man, young or old, strong or frail. Racking a pistol is not about strength, it is all about technique. Arms close to body, push frame of pistol with off hand, pull with strong hand. when slide is all the way back, just let it go, slide spring will load a round on it’s own. Trigger finger indexed along the frame, never ever in trigger guard or on the trigger. If you are not a good teacher, and some, otherwise fine people are not. Get someone who is a good teacher to demonstrate racking the slide to load first round.. I keep my Ruger SR22 pistol is my range bag, just to help people understand the mechanics of racking slide. There is a lot of satisfaction of watching a new shooter start racking the slide with authority.
          I do love short barrel revolvers, heavy all steel 3 to 4″ barrel revolvers, D/S and Double action only revolvers. Also, love my CZ 75 clone 9mm pistol, it what I shoot most accurately. You sometimes have to kiss a lot of frogs to find that prince of a handgun

      • Well, I have seen it myself: stood right there at Collectors Firearms in Houston while an average/slender sized woman broke into a sweat trying to rack the slide on the 9mm Glock her know-it-all boyfriend (sorry, Sara, but that’s exactly what he was) told her was the only gun she should consider. She eventually made it, after a couple of tries and much gnashing of teeth. So I expect the guy at the gun counter with Michi wasn’t just being a sexist ass or some such. Just to put in some perspective: across a couple of aisles, another clerk was telling an average/slender elderly gentleman that, what with slide-racking issues, he might want to consider a revolver. And no, I am not making this up.

        • I don’t think you’re making it up at all, And I don’t think the guy at the gun shop was being sexist..

          I’m sure it happens and in such a case a revolver would take care of that problem..

          I just personally was a bit surprised it was as prevalent as it is… I rack my “men’s guns” all day long, and I’m a small female, I just am wondering if there’s something else going on there besides raw strength and maybe technique is a factor…

          … Or I’ve unknowingly buffed up my arms in the last few years *from* racking slides. Wouldn’t that be nice…

        • I’m sorry, I really didn’t mean to imply that those remarks were aimed at you, but it did kind of look that way I guess. There are lots of folks out there who would fit those shoes, tho. The bad part was that the know-it-all boyfriend (who naturally was doing all the talking) was telling the clerk that the lady had to get a gun tonight (it was about 7pm or so) that she would be able to use immediately, like tomorrow. I don’t know what kind of situation was at play, but that’s what he was saying. And the clerk watched her struggle with that slide and just kind of smiled and said “you’ll get used to it”. Well, maybe so–but by tomorrow?

        • I’ve seen similar situations.

          My sis is a good shooter and has been for many decades. However, she’s never had much hand strength. The Glock 19 and 26, even with good technique, were too hard for her to rack comfortably. Thus, a Gen 1 Glock 17 has been her carry gun for about 20 years. When she’s hanging out in the back yard smoking, she tucks a J-frame .22LR with a Clip Grip inside the wasteband of her pants; a rabid raccoon or possum is about the only threat she might reasonably face.

          However, she’s disabled and slowly deteriorating. The G17 is about to become too hard for her to rack. I’m having a Beretta 86, the .380 with the tip-up barrel, restored for her. She likes it, the chambering is sufficient (IMO), and if her condition deteriorates much further she’ll have an alternative that will rarely require her to rack a slide.

          Reasonable?

    • I wouldn’t own any kind of “ultralight,” just not willing to put up with the snap. My first carry gun was a Ruger .357m that came with a 7 pound trigger. I could fire it, but was not accurate. I put a 5 pound trigger on it and can shoot small groups with it all day, both hands or either hand alone. Yes, it has more recoil and the trigger is harder to pull than my current EDC XD 9mm. The Ruger is a great CC gun, but I have no problem concealing the XD either.

      The perfect gun for a woman is the one she likes, can handle, can shoot accurately and will practice with. It took me a few years to find that gun, and I’m always open to finding another one. But nobody is ever going to be allowed to choose it for me or tell me what that should be.

      And Sara, I completely agree with you about “purse carry.” It’s a disaster just waiting for a place to happen. And that is true even with the best and most expensive purses made for that purpose.

    • I gave my Airweight to my mother (89 years old). Loaded with Hornady Critical Defense .38 Spcl +P. I took her to the range to fire the gun and she tugged hard on the trigger, finally asking me if the gun was broken because it wouldn’t fire! After some coaxing she got enough pressure (@12 pounds for this stock trigger, I’m told) and put 5 rounds in “minute of bad guy” at 7 yards. Good enough since she doesn’t carry outside the house and I am always with her when she needs to go out.

      This pistol is probably okay for her I don’t worry about negligent discharges and she is only concerned that she has something for when I am out working that will make a lot of noise and maybe either scare the BG away or get a lucky hit.

      While at the range I gave her my Ruger SR9c to try out. THAT was scary! On the first shot she limp-wristed and the pistol, which did cycle and chamber the next round, nearly flew out of her hand and over her head. As I was nearby behind her I was a bit concerned, but able to reach out and push it back down to the shelf. (She was sitting in her travel chair.)

      So, the right pistol for a female shooter? The one that they can actually use with reasonable safety and that will get the job done if and when it becomes necessary. Given an adrenaline rush I expect she will muster the strength to squeeze that Airweight trigger and as the rooms of the apartment are small I pity the fool she points it at.

      • Cliff H,

        Get a trigger job on your mom’s snubbie. That 12 pound stock trigger is just plain nuts. A simple trigger kit/job will reduce that trigger to around 9 pounds which is a WORLD of difference.

  2. The best carry piece is one that you’ll actually carry. These pocket pistols pack a strong recoil, but manageable with some practice, and much more likely to actually be carried.

    • The gun you’ll actual carry is not the best gun, anymore than the best car is the car you can afford…

      Nothing wrong with carrying what you are willing to lug around all day along; I’ve been there before. But, don’t lie to yourself and say its the best.

      Just run what you brung; even if it’s not the best, it’s what you have.

  3. Hmm. Disadvantages of the Ruger LC9? (which I carry) – I’m I no way intimidated by recoil, and I do like my G17 a lot, but the LC9 to me is just a lot easier to conceal. Sure you don’t get as many rounds but — I suppose it depends on how you carry — it’s not size so much as weight.

    • Ruger’s SR9 or SR9c has always been high on my list for semi-auto pistols to recommend as options for anybody who’s a bit smaller in stature and/or just has smaller hands and/or has limited grip or arm strength for slide racking purposes, etc. It’s a very easy to manipulate, easy to shoot pistol. And the SR9c is pretty concealable.

      Another decent option is the Walther PK380. Although I’m not a fan of the slide-mounted safety, in many cases we’re talking about somebody’s first and only handgun here and if you learn on it and train on it there’s nothing inherently wrong with it. Since this is a large gun for a .380 it’s a super soft shooter, and the slide is very easy to manipulate and the controls are easy to work, etc. Plus a small grip circumference, etc etc… great pistol for petite folks.

      I’d also consider the Walther CCP, which is a fairly soft shooter despite it’s easily-concealable size, and its slide is very easy to rack (esp when the striker is partially cocked).

      But revolvers are still a GREAT suggestion. Simpler to use, more reliable in the case of somebody with low wrist strength or who might be shooting through a bag, and they can be plenty soft shooting depending on size/weight and caliber and/or particular loading. Hornady makes a low-recoil .38 Special made pretty specifically for women carrying small revolvers, and it’s a pussycat on recoil yet still a decent self defense round. You could also go with an LCR in .22 WMR or various revolvers in .327 Fed or 9mm or whatever other non-standard caliber that’s light on recoil. But, since there’s no slide to cycle, .38 Special can be loaded with a huge range of bullet weights and powder charges and there’s lots of room for super low recoil rounds in there.

  4. Sorry. Purse carry makes fine sense, if you’ll allow your purse to be stolen, you’ll allow your holster to be stolen, too. A hammerless revolver (as pictured) eliminates the crisis of drawing, just shoot through the purse. Do that with either semiauto you mention and you have a jammed gun after one round. For practice, leave the airweight at home and fire a heavier revolver to handle the recoil, forget +P+ and stick to .38 Spl, I like the Lehigh ammo but there are plenty alternatives. In a purse, you also have the possibility of getting something with a 3″ barrel, probably giving you better power with straight .38 than a .357 out of a 1″ barrel. There is no absolutely “wrong” answer, including a pink hammerless 1″ .38 in your purse, except remaining unarmed.

    • If the firearm is not on your person, you’re not in control of it. If you aren’t in control of your firearm that leaves the door open for somebody else to be in control of it. Like your toddler, who shoots you by accident in Walmart.

      A gun belongs on you or in a safe. Not in a pack, not in a purse, not in a glove box (unless you have to disarm and are out of options). Carrying in a capacity that invites room for mistakes is irresponsible.

      We don’t shoot through objects without looking unless you’ve done significant amounts of training in kinesthetic shooting. Furthermore the situations where you simply are unable to draw from your purse, but still have to fire more than one shot from it are extremely few and far between.

      • How is in a bag strapped on your body any different than in a holster strapped on your body?

        By that logic, you’re not in control of a long gun on a sling, because it’s not on a belt holster.

        • Because a purse is designed to be easy to take on and off. A holster is wrapped around your body using a secure belt, and the design does not lend itself to be easy to take on and off.

        • So, you advocate only retention holsters then?

          The holster is designed to stay put on your belt, not the gun.

        • A purse is a target for thieves- ever heard of a purse snatcher? In a struggle over a purse, she can let the purse go and draw. When the purse has her gun in it, they’re struggling over the gun itself and she has to rely on open handed defense.

        • If she shoots at a fleeing thief on the streets, the purse will be the least of her worries.

          She’ll be the next Georgia Zimmerman.

        • “If she shoots at a fleeing thief on the streets, the purse will be the least of her worries.”

          That’s a leap of logic. They might be struggling over the purse and once he gets control over it, he proceeds to beat the snot out of her for daring to fight him for it. Stranger things have happened. In THAT case, on body carry would at least still afford her the possibility of defending her life.

          So, it’s not about shooting a fleeing thief at all. It’s about maximizing odds of success if DGU to protect life ever becomes necessary.

          I suggest a simple experiment with a training gun or whatever. It’s a force-on-force experiment, so find someone willing to help you out. Try getting a gun out of a purse while engaged in H2H close quarters with an attacker. Repeat with a gun IWB or OWB.

          Let us know which works better. I know where my money would be.

      • “We don’t shoot through objects without looking”

        Did somebody say “without looking”? If a woman is grappled by a man with unpleasant intentions, all she has to do is get her hand in her purse, “without looking” is not a player, if you couldn’t figure that out you’re not trying. At that point, trying to get loose to draw and take careful aim, remove the safety, rack the slide, whatever, while your assailant is twice your size, is impractical! Work on that. I don’t know if there is any such thing as “kinesthetic shooting” or if you just made it up, but in that situation my wife will put a couple holes in the prick and see if she can handle him after that. If you insist on assuming that a woman just puts her purse down anywhere and leaves it unattended, you know a different brand of women than I do, and I assume they do not carry money in their purses, either.

    • I’ve never understood the “shoot through your purse” idealogy.

      Why not pull the out and shoot it, same as you would with a holster?

      The method of carry shouldn’t dictate how we handle the weapon, only how we get to it, get it out, and get it into the fight.

      • As long as the bad guy is 20 feet away, fine. If he is in your face with his arms around you and attempting to steal your purse, not so much. If you’re going to carry in a purse, you should be able to fire from the purse. There is no “attraction”, but the possibility should be recognized, just like shooting one-handed or weak handed.

    • So much error. First of all, a purse is a high value target for thieves because it usually contains cash. It is hanging, and easy to grab and rip off, especially if the woman is smaller in stature. A holster is much closer to your body and is secure to it using either just a belt (OWB) or a belt and the waistband of the pant (IWB). Both are much more secure then a dangling purse designed to easily be taken on and off.
      Second, shooting with a different gun then your carry gun is not directly translateable to your carry gun. A heavier gun would have less recoil. Practicing with your carry gun and with similar ammo trains you how to compensate for the recoil.

        • Insightful. Off-body carry gets a bad rap but, then again, lots of people do it badly. There are a ton of poorly-designed carry purses out there. Done right, though, I have no quarrel with off-body carry.

    • I used to purse carry. I called it a man bag, gun bag, tactical bag, and various other names to differentiate it from a purse. It was a masculine and fashionable bag. It’s not bad. You can fit a bigger gun and more ammo when you don’t have to fit it under your pants and there’s no printing or discomfort. Draw times are fast. I usually left it unzipped so I could just grab at it when needed. I’ve seen a lot of self defense videos on Active Self Protection’s facebook page and I can’t remember any where the armed responder would have been disadvantaged by having their gun in a shoulder bag versus on their hip.

      • I’ve used the “man bag” before, too. Unfortunately, the only one that was properly designed (IMO) I managed to lose during a move. It was essentially two bags sewn together with a velcro-closed pocket between them. You attached a short lanyard loop to the firearm, put the loop around the wrist, inserted the firearm into the pocket, and closed the velcro. If someone grabbed the bag and ripped it from you, they *automatically* put your gun in your hand with it pointed at them. If you chose to unholster by yourself, it was simply a matter of using the off hand to pull the bag away from the dominant hand. Once again, the gun was instantly in hand. It was fast and I loved it.

        Now that I’ve lost it, I’ve spent years looking for a replacement. Apparently no one makes anything like it anymore.

  5. The .38 revolvers may be for some women out there, but the best overall gun for women, I seriously doubt. Every single gun owning female I know of, sans two, hates revolvers.

    Men ranking the best gun for women would be akin to men ranking the best brassiere for women.

  6. I’m working holiday temp at one of “Those” stores, and I handle the S&W 642 every day. Husbands and boyfriends push their SO to like it. There’s no hammer. It’s so light. Both of those are disadvantages to me along with the 5 round cylinder. And, truth be told, they just feel sort’a micky mouse.

    +1 on the S&W K Frame recommendation. Hammer, heavier, 6 rounds, and some versions shoot .357 Mag. I have an M66 4″, and it’s a great revolver. I don’t carry it anymore because P239, but it’s not going anywhere either.

  7. My aunt almost wanted to rent one of those S&W air weight models before I told her that they were gonna kick the crap out of her hands and that she probably couldn’t pull the trigger back anyway cause of her arthritis. I forget which one she ended up actually shooting. In my opinion I think that an introductory gun into those J- frame revolvers is a model S&W model 60, my uncle had one that he let me shoot a few times and it wasn’t horrible but I wouldn’t have wanted to shoot something any lighter than that especially since alls he had left were his .357 loads.

  8. I place the snubbies in the same class as the 1911. These are guns for people who are into guns and will joyfully put in the time and effort to learn them well.

    • I love 1911s (really think they were ahead of their time) but for some reason I can’t get into snubnose revolvers. Standard revolvers – great. Cowboys and America. No problem.

      Snubbies for some reason make me think of a hairy-armed Italian guy in Brooklyn in 1973 telling “yous guys” to hand over “the goods, or else”. I can’t get over how little barrel there is.

      But then I’m one of those kids who like the plastic tacticool anyhow. Snubbies – Maybe I just need to own one to know one to love one. Was the case with Glock. Order up, maybe.

      • I love snubbies and can’t get into the 1911. Variety is the spice of life. As long as we own guns, it don’t matter much which exact gun we own.

      • “Maybe I just need to own one to know one to love one.”

        There’s recoil, and there’s *recoil*.

        Ask one of your gun buddies for a snubbie to borrow one for a bit, and go through a few boxes of ammo.

        I thoroughly enjoyed the recoil on the SuperRedhawk .44 mag I had, but the recoil on my Taurus .357 snubbie was of a different character altogether.

        If possible, try before you buy…

        • I actually went from my LCP to an LC9 because the LCP would make my hand bleed.

          I have a Glock 29sf… That’s a small, light 10mm and have shot it with Buffalo Bore loads… That might be in the same category, but maybe not.

          I’ll admit I’m a little confident about my ability to handle recoil, but I do know the feeling of a concussive shot leaving your hand numb..

          A snub revolver is definitely in the realm of try first..

        • My LCP was a piece of cake compared to my wife’s Airweight with +P ammo, I fired 2 shots and sat down. Elder son (41, 6’2″, 200 lbs) asked if I needed help, so I handed it to him. He fired one, said “holy shit”, and handed it back. Younger son, 6’4″, fired one shot and handed it back. I finally owned up to my responsibility and fired the last one, then tried the new Lehigh, MUCH better. In a 12 oz gun, Critical Defense +P seriously hurts. Not surprises, not snappy, HURTS. Like pain. The wife said that when I had her try one before I bought it, but when I assumed she didn’t want it she said she DID want it, she intended to carry it, not shoot it. She has many hundred rounds through the Colt Detective Special I bought new for her in 1973, and she doesn’t enjoy guns much anyhow, she just learned early that a woman needs to be armed.

        • “My LCP was a piece of cake compared to my wife’s Airweight with +P ammo,…”

          -snip-

          “Not surprises, not snappy, HURTS. Like pain.”

          You put that much better than I did, Larry.

          She has no problems with the Glock 29SF and full-house loads, but the mass of the slide and the spring mitigates a lot of that.

          As you mentioned with the Airweight, there is no negotiating with Newton’s Law.

          It absolutely is an ugly “concussive shot leaving your hand numb”.

          My total experience with an Airweight was *one* round, it was enough for me.

          I didn’t mind the razzing for not finishing the cylinder.

  9. My sister is barely 100 lbs. and she bought one. She hates it because of the recoil. It was one of those I told you so moments for me afterwords when she went and bought a Taurus TCP.

    • Montana Dan,

      My spouse and I both shot these handguns and bullet weights in this order:
      (1) Ruger SR9 9mm semi-auto pistol, 27 ounces, shooting 115 grain
      (2) Ruger GP100 .357 Magnum revolver, 45 ounces, shooting 158 grain
      (3) Taurus Raging Bull .44 Magnum revolver, 63 ounces, shooting 240 grain
      (4) S&W .38 Special revolver, 15 ounces, shooting 125 grain

      We both agreed without any hesitation that recoil was greatest and most unpleasant shooting the 15 ounce revolver. That’s right, the 63 ounce, .44 Magnum revolver had much less apparent recoil than the 15 ounce, .38 Special revolver.

      Update: we have both since concluded that the 17 ounce Ruger LC9 9mm semi-auto pistol is much more pleasant to shoot than a 15 ounce revolver.

    • As for all the comments about horrendous recoil from airweight J-frames, I generally disagree. Ammo choice counts.

      Yes, I once fired 180-grain Buffalo Bore .357 hunting ammo through a 340PD on a dare. After two rounds, there was enough blood and fingers that appeared to have new joints in them that I demurred from further experience.

      However, with the same gun I find that standard 148-grain HBWC loads are completely comfy. As self-defense ammo, that particular load was a common standard 50 years ago and worked pretty well. It’s heavy enough to adequately penetrate and it cuts a full-diameter hole the entire way. Now, it’s not modern and not ideal but it’s a defensible (pun intended) low-recoil choice in a snubby.

      If someone feels they’re “stuck” with a snubby, I suggest people try a box of that old standard target load. It’s not ideal but it’s not a stupid choice.

  10. Sara you’ve got to admit though — there are different kinds of ‘female gun owners’ and really, I mean no insult by this — of course you’re going to carry something like a G17. You’re an experienced POTG.

    As are, most likely, most of the female commenters here on TTAG.

    When you throw “beginner” in the mix though, there’s an intimidation factor that probably has to be gotten over. And, as loathe as I am to say it, an “ewww that looks ugly” factor too. (I… see nothing wrong with Glocks, honestly my XDm looks like more of a ‘bus on a stick’ than a Glock does.)

    “Beginner” always modifies it a whole lot… I think often, the guns that beginners in general will want to carry are probably not the optimal guns to carry.

    • Spot on. There is no universal “best gun” for a woman any more than for a man. I also carry an LC9s for the same reason you do. I also don’t live in California, like Sara does, so I don’t have to “register” each carry gun. If had to do that, I might choose a bigger “catch-all” gun, too.

    • I beg to differ. Smoothed edges, articulate slide serrations, smooth finish with excellent texturing. The XDm is more artistically pleasing to mein eyes. However beauty in the eye of the disintegration ray wielding floating eye monster.

      That being said, I agree completely that there is an UGLY factor that many women have to overcome. I’ve introduced many women to firearms and with only one exception, I’ve had to let them all feel what a snubbie feels like to get them past how cute it is.

    • Guns are not that complicated…

      Load: Put the mag thing into the gun thing, and rack the slide thing.

      Unload: Pull out the mag thing, pull back the slide thing, and check the hole for shiny bullet looking things.

      Shooting: Hold the grip thing, align the sight things over the target thing, and squeeze the bang thing; repeat as needed.

      Malfunction (click noise instead of bang noise): Slap the mag thing, rack the slide, and remember the “shooting” thing? Do the “shooting” thing.

      Still get a click noise instead of bang noise. Remember the “reload” thing? Do the “reload”thing. Then do the “shooting” thing again, at this point, I know you remember the “shooting” thing.

      Children have been taught to run AKs.

        • That’s why your suppose to turn the weapon on to its side with the enjection port facing the ground.

        • +1.

          I had issues with chronic stovepiping once and had to learn the rack the slide partially because it was generally doing so after the next round was already in the chamber.

        • @Steve: I’ve had good success with just running the edge of my hand across the ejection port to clear a stovepipe–the article I picked it up from called it “karate chopping” the stovepiped casing.

        • @Another Robert
          That’s what I do when I see a stovepipe as well. And after that I would tap the back of the slide, then rack it. The notion is that there may or may not be a round partially feeding. If there is not, I need to rack a round in. If there is, well, the travel of the slide after I’ve chopped off the stovepipe may not provide enough authority for the extractor to be over the rim. If I don’t tap the back of the slide, it’ll go stovepipe on me. The correct response to a stovepipe is always chop — tap slide/forward assist — rack.
          Same goes for a click on an apparently closed slide/bolt. The response should be tap mag — tap slide — rack. Because there is no time to discern between a dud and a slightly-out-of-battery.
          If you cannot observe the gun, default to a reload, not tap-rack. Because the gun that you take to combat malfunctions less than once per mag, right?

        • I don’t know what guns y’all are running, but I can clear stovepipe a “tap, rack.”

          If you are having issues with double feeds, you might want to angle your ejection port to ground; let gravity help you.

          If you are holding the weapon up right, then yes, the malfunction will just fall back into the clock work.

        • @Rock. We’re talking about semi-autos. I don’t know what y’all are reading…but in many cases a stovepipe happens with a round already in the chamber (or mostly in). Tap and rack, which you suggest, is the worst thing to do here (though it might work OK in combination with another step). It will simply attempt to feed another round in, at which point you’re in worse trouble with a double feed.

  11. I would recommend revolvers only to those who purse carry, as the purse is usually the first thing that gets grabbed, and people have all kinds of craps in the purse that gets in the way. Being able to reach the gun is lucky enough, so the gun needs to function inside the purse. And those people who can’t rack the slide with authority.
    Other than that, for the same weight and size and almost definitely less width, go with an autoloader.

    • We are apparently talking several languages here. If your lady has a purse, and decides to stuff a pistol in it, I suppose that qualifies as “purse carry”, and is still better than being unarmed, but it is not the same thing as deciding to purse carry and going to buy a carry purse, maybe you can find one for less than $350, gun not included. There is no shit in with the gun, it’s in a separate compartment, when your spidey sense tingles you slip your hand in the purse and your gun is in your hand, although you can not be called “brandishing”, because you’re the only one who knows it. Find an equivalence with your IWB retention holster for your double stack .45, or whatever operational operators are operating with these days. Someone grabs at the purse, whether he yanks you off your feet or not, the gun is pretty much pointed at him when the purse is between you, just surprise the jerk with a present. Or 2. Meanwhile, the strap will not break, the seams will not separate, it will last until you’re tired of it.

      • My lady used to just stuff a revolver into a designer bag with all the crap. Lucky she never had a lipstick in the trigger guard. After getting married I gave her this brainwashing that now she dresses around the gun and IWB a G21 same as me.

  12. Woman can shoot the same guns as men. My wife isn’t very big but still can deal with an M-9. She can outshoot almost anybody I know with it when she puts her mind to it. She recently sustained an arm injury that makes it painful for her to rack the slide. We ended up getting her a Browning 1911-380 because it is easy on her arm and is light weight, long barrel and easy to carry. It probably has more punch than an LC9 or Airweight.
    She considers it an insult when someone tries to sell her on small purse gun. She calls them girlie guns for girlie men.

  13. Women are so weak. They need small and underpowered firearms. There’s no way they can handle 9mm or .45 like men do.

    Just kidding. I think there’s a little misogyny in marketing guns to women. The best guns for men are going to be the best guns for women so long as they can still be concealed by the woman. My 8 year old niece can shoot 9mm and .45s just fine. There’s no reason to give in to the mythos that women have trouble controlling normal guns.

  14. I might catch flame but the tangfolio 9mm and 40s can be bought with a sparkly frame (with color options) and are full sized cz75 clones. Decent guns at a decent price with potential aesthetics make for a good starter gun for the ladies among us.

    • Try this for a flame; I like sparkly guns, too! Particularly in purple! I don’t own one, but the year ain’t over yet.

    • The Tangfolio Pavona is actual not a full sized frame, but rather slightly scaled down. They say it is geared towards women, with a reduced recoil spring (not +p rated), large serrations on the slide for an easier grip and style that only the Italians can master. It has a better trigger than the CZ75 that it is cloned from.

      My wife DOES NOT have the strength to rack the slide. Everybody and their sister has shown her some “great” technique. She still struggles. While shopping for a handgun for my wife, the gun store owner said he had just the gun she was looking for. I rolled my eyes and thought, not another pink revolver… Instead he produced one of these gems in “charcoal” a greenish-grey with silver sparkles.

      She bought it on the spot and ordered another in Royal purple! The store owner’s wife has one in sapphire blue and he has one in black with gold sparkles in 40s&w as his daily carry! Two of them cost only $100 more than my CZ. It is THE best bang for the buck! It’s only fault is the only reason I don’t have one. It is not not left-hand friendly.

      BTW, the only other semiautomatic she has no trouble with is my Bersa Thunder Pro in 45acp! Go figure…

  15. What would you recommend for an older woman who has major trouble with racking a slide? My mother is not inexperienced, is fine with recoil on a 45 xdm, 9mm shield, and a .38 special full sized revolver. She’s accurate and safe, but what with age, repeatedly broken wrists, and yes nowhere near the time on pistols she could have, she just *cannot* rack the slide. Yet doesn’t find the weight of an xdm unpleasant. I honestly don’t really get it. Still she wants to carry and so do I. Closing up a shop downtown by herself at night… For that reason I figured revolver. Hands small even for women, but then mine are barely bigger. Just try out that K frame?

    • Google “handi racker” might be the ticket. Otherwise, anything she can manipulate. A 22lr is a gazillion times better than rude words.

      • Thanks for the tip on the hand I racker. While I don’t think it would be much use for reloading in a heated situation, it would provide a way for her to load and unload, while still requiring some strength. Perhaps after doing that many time a day with dummy rounds with either hand it would improve her abiity. And it would allow her to have a semi. On the other hand, if she really needed to reload, the revolver may still be easier until she got it down. Decisions. Well….I suppose I could get her both…

      • My wire’s first gun, .25 Beretta Jetfire, tip-up barrel was selling point, you had to cock the hammer to fire, then how do you render it safe again? Tip up the barrel, pull the trigger, and snap the barrel back down. You NEVER have to rack the slide. Of course, first thing I did was put a soda can on a fencepost, stand back 6 feet and empty the mag, never made the can wiggle. But contact shots would hurt, guaranteed. And, of course, bought it new for $25, dumped it at a gun show for $90, 30 years later.

  16. These discussions are so tiring. Nobody would ever think to write an article called “The Best Gun For A Man”. It’s ridiculous on its face – what does that man want to do with it? How big is he? How strong are his hands? Does he have arthritis? What is his experience level with guns? What’s his budget? And on and on and on.

    There’s no “best” gun for every scenario, and the answers to all those questions will modify the resulting choice. So can we stop with the “guns for girls” baloney already? I’d give a female shooter the same gun I’d give a male shooter: the one that they, as a unique individual, are most comfortable with.

    • Yeah! A better question would be “If a woman shoots a man with a .45, does it still kill all his ancestors, as it obviously would if a man was using it?”

  17. Massed Ayoob would beg to differ with Sarah. He recommended revolvers for women at least he once did in his book “In the gravest extreme.” He had many good reasons why.

  18. It didn’t really dawn on me how much more recoil sensitive women can be until a friend of mine told me she didn’t like her full sized 9mm because it recoils too much, and prefers her 380. I have reached a point in which I am barely aware of a 9mm’s recoil. The point remains, though, that whatever gun you have WITH YOU is the best gun. I’m glad you wrote this article, because it is counter-intuitive that a big heavy gun might be better for a person with a smaller frame.

  19. I’m the world’s biggest fan of the S&W Airweight, but it’s a gun for experienced shooters only. It would be a poor choice for anyone, man or woman, unless they practice with it and practice and practice. And practicing with an Airweight is no fun at all.

    There’s no “best gun” for a woman or anybody else, but an Airweight might be the worst gun for any newbie irrespective of gender.

    • My biggest +1 for the snubbie is that I’ve never found any other gun type that comes out so easy or fast in a close encounter of the worst kind. And in a situation like that you’re firing at or near contact range.

      It’s basically a knife fight with an upgrade. That’s why I like the snubbie.

      Now in the reality of todays world if it was legal for me I would carry a glock 19 and a snubbie with a shotgun in the car.

      • Snubbies (all revolvers) have another advantage -if you are in such close quarters the barrel is pressed up against your attacker.

  20. Snub nose revolvers aren’t the best, obviously, unless in a pinch and you’ve practiced (a lot) with them. Air weight revolvers are even worse. That said, I’d say the best carry guns for a woman that wants to easily conceal is a single stack semi, such as the 9mm XDs, Shield, or the Glock 43. I like my XDs 9 because it’s lighter than a full size pistol, but still has decent heft (23 oz unloaded vs. 18 oz for the G43) to help with recoil. If any women have trouble racking those slides or for an alternative to those pistols, the Walther CCP is great. Racking the slide is much easier. It feels like a great gun in the hand, and it has gas delayed blow-back to reduce felt recoil. If my wife ever decides to carry, that will be one of the first guns I have her hold.

  21. A friend of mine owns a Ruger SP101, and practices with .38 special ammo. I was with her one time at the range, got a wild hair, and rented a GP100…and bought a box of the range’s .357 for it. I let her shoot it, and she was flabbergasted by the amount of recoil it had. Now…she keeps .357 in that SP101 for defense, so my thought bubble was “boy is she going to be surprised if she ever has to shoot a BG with it.” I asked for permission to shoot some 357 out of her SP101 and it hurt me like hell. I seriously doubt she’d get more than one shot in, herself, in a DGU because she’d be VERY surprised by the amount of recoil. She’s now talking about .38 special defensive ammo.

      • jwm, I hear ya. I think that has always been true. But I am not certain that things haven’t changed. I have been brought near to my knees just firing a 12 oz gun with .38 +P ammo, with a 1 1/2 inch barrel, and now we have guns like the LCR at 12 oz with a 3″ barrel, in .357 mag. I am a big boy, I guess I would shoot one a time or two if someone was paying me, but my guess would be that you would notice that recoil, even in a gunfight. It might break your hand.

  22. If you watch the video at that link, the woman has a 637 and tells/suggests to the viewer that you keep the chamber under the hammer empty. She doesn’t seem to realize the hammer on modern S&W’s are blocked from going forward unless the trigger is pulled. And if the trigger is pulled, the cylinder rotates anyway. So no need to keep an empty chamber.

    Also, she shows a grip where her support thumb goes around the back of the grip. Bad place, in my opinion, because it can get in the way of double action trigger pulls where the hammer will potentially hit and bind up against the thumb. And if the shooter tries that with a semi-auto, the slide might take most of the thumb off.

    As to small revolvers for women, same issues as for men. They are great guns, but somewhat difficult to be accurate at distance with. Low capacity of 5. Somewhat slow to reload. In double action mode, those with weak fingers may find it difficult to pull the trigger. And as mentioned, the recoil can be stout. None of that means that a newbie shouldn’t get one, but just that they should compare the pluses/minuses. On the plus side, they are easy to carry, easy to see if loaded, easy to operate, and generally more reliable than most semi-autos.

    • I agree, she does give some sketchy advice in that video (encouraging single-action hammer thumbing on a self-defense gun, for example), but that crossed-thumb grip works very well on revolvers with smaller grips (though, yes, you have to watch where the thumb goes in relation to the hammer). If it comes recommended by Jerry Miculek, I figure there must be something to it.

      http://www.shootingusa.com/PRO_TIPS/MICULEK2/miculek2.html

  23. My 5’3 girlfriend loves my HK USP .45 more than I do. She found it easier to rack and shoot than any other gun I own. If I were helping a new woman shooter choose a gun, I’d have her shoot a few and wouldn’t push her towards anything in particular.

  24. Yeah one size doesn’t fit all. My wife has no problem racking a semi. The only thing I disagree with is the choice of something as large as a GLOCK 17. I’m thinking Taurus 709, Glock 43 or Shield(or lots of other non-tiny nines) MIGHT work better for most gals. I sure don’t believe in purse carry-and a revolver will work in a pinch. I think the whole malfunctioning semi-auto is wildly overblown…But I’m a big OFWG and the whole chick gun thing seems bizarre to me.

    • My 709, which has long since been sold, would only run 124 +p reliably.

      As a previous owner, I would not recommend one, unless you aim have your wife get really good at clearing malfunctions.

      • Oh MY wife likes revolvers-despite what I recommend. Part of being married 26years. And my 4 Taurus’ all worked perfectly-including a tiny TCP. Never heard of anyone not running 115grain. I know some small guns hate hollowpoints-I’ve had great success with Pow’Rball.

  25. Lady friend and I are both over 70, both have arthritis. 2-3 years ago she went to buy her first handgun, and against my advice got sold, (by her CCW “trainer”, who also just happens to own a gun store and is an IDPA wannabee), an XD(M) and a Ruger Mark II, (theoretically for practice). Fact is that she cannot rack either one of them without wincing in pain, if she manages it at all. So they sit in her sock drawer, so to speak. Don’t try to tell me again that “anybody can rack a slide”. I’m sick to death of hearing it. IT IS NOT SO. I wish she would go trade in those two almost-unfired paperweights for a decent .38 K frame, but she’s afraid to confront that jerk who sold them to her and tell him he wasted her money. Maybe my next trip West I’ll hold her hand at get it done.

    I also have only revolvers. I CAN rack a modern plastic 9mm semi-auto on my best days. Murphy’s Law guarantees that the day I actually NEED my firearm will not be one of those.

  26. I taught the NRA Basic Pistol to a college girl this week. In the range portion of the class she progressed from a Ruger Mark II to a H&R 49’er, Ruger LC380, LC9S, SR9C, LCP and finally a Kimber 1911 in .45 ACP.

    In the end she thought the SR9C was great, the, the purple LCP was a pain and the 1911 in .45 rocked!

    I guess that covers it.

  27. My wife has been very happy with her SW 442 for close to 4 years now. I tried getting her to switch to an auto. She tried an LCP, a Shield, and my full size g17. She preferred her 442, has never complained about recoil, even with 125 grain +p loads. Every one is entitled to their opinion, and for home protection, my wife has a glock 19 in her nightstand, but she has zero interest in strapping it on in a holster. She has a concealed carry purse. All the folks above just demanding their way is the ONLY way are sounding a whole lot like liberal nanny staters. Revolvers have been getting the job done for a loooong time.

  28. I think this idea that “women don’t like recoil” is a stereotype and generally false. Few people like recoil the first time they experience it, but if you stick with it and learn to “ride” it, it should not be a problem for a man or woman. Three cases in my life: 1) I witnessed a female Ensign in the Navy, about 110 pounds, who had never fired a gun of any kind before, shoot expert with a .45 after a one hour lesson from a Senior Chief, Small Arms Marksmanship Instructor (SAMI). She did not complain about the recoil. 2) There is a grandmother who is a range officer at the NRA Range in Fairfax who competes in IDPA with a 1911 and it’s her EDC. 3) The lady who taught my Utah course carries a Glock .45 and she claimed she could teach anyone, including any woman, to shoot a .45 and like it so much that would be all they would want to carry.

    I’m not saying .45 is the choice for everyone. It’s not even my EDC, although I used to compete with one. I just reject the notion that women are any more recoil-adverse than men. I think it is a self-fulfilling prophecy caused by instructors who don’t know how to teach people to deal with recoil.

  29. After multiple guns my wife had found gun happiness with Walther CCP 9mm. Always on body often in kydex aiwb holster. She has turned 2 other women that we introduce to handguns on to the CCP. It breaks my heart only because I carry Glock 19 or 26 and wanted better capability between us , but my wife ccw a Walther is better than no gun.

  30. Lots of good input here. Someone’s already recommended the Ruger SR9C, but another one is the SIG P239 in 9mm. It’s a compact gun– not tiny– and the perfect fit for most hands. It’s all steel, and the slightly extra weight helps tame recoil. Put Hogue rubber finger groove grips on it and it takes up pretty much all the recoil. Shoots like butter.

  31. Any Gun whose only safety is it holster Is a bad idea for anyone. A Glock is a very poor choice for anyone’s first gun.

  32. My 65 year-old mother cannot rack the slide on my Glock 19. Well, maybe she could, but she’d really have to try. And she isn’t going to do that. She has weak arms and hands. And a small frame. I recently looked at a Smith 642. Held it against a Taurus Poly Protector. There was no contest in fit and finish, but the Taurus felt sooooooo good in my hand. And it was so easy to acquire my target. I could barely find the front sight in a hurry on the Smith. Long story short, I bought the Taurus. I’m going to try to get mom to the range, or at least get her to squeeze off a few rounds in her backyard. The point and shoot simplicity can’t be beat for someone who isn’t going to spend a ton of time practicing with their weapon.

  33. What do you do when your a Christian woman & don’t want to wear a pair of pants? a thigh
    holster? What do you recommend for that type of carry? Thanks Jim

  34. Nice article, and you make valid points, but I disagree on your selections of pistols. I have long suggested that women with smaller hands should lean toward pistols that they can grip comfortably; the XD has good recoil control due to its mass, but the grips on that thing, especially that knobbly model shown, is not at all the best piatol for a person with small hands.

    My youngest daughter has very fine and small hands, though not overly so, and she cannot handle the XD. Instead, the pistol for her is a Bersa .380 or a CZ PCR in 9mm (she’s fired both) because of the contours of the grips and the fact that they still have enough mass to help with recoil.

    My next oldest daughter has less slender hands and struggled with the XD almost to the point of refusing to fire it after only a few rounds. I corrected her grip and her stance and she eventually became comfortable with it. She actually challanged herself to do well with it but, as with my younger daughter, smaller pistols would be better choices.

    That said, I do appreciate the fact that you are addressing something important, and that is to give thought and to be smart when helping a new shooter develop an appreciation for shooting sports. I HAVE seen a couple of lunkheads at the range try to impress their female companions by attempting to have them shoot weapons that they had no business shooting. The second time I observed this I said something to the dude and was told to mind my own business. I leaned against the table and watched them, and the girl didn’t try to shoot the weapon (it was a large caliber revolver.)

  35. I have a Smith and Wesson .38 Special Revolver snub nose. Recoil depends a lot upon the bullet. I use a 148 grain lead wad cutter. I can fire off 100 rounds easily, and I shattered my wrist two years ago. The key is to find something with low muzzle energy and fps. My accuracy is spot on. If I fire it. I will hit you. You will be incapacitated.

  36. I’m legally blind and can’t drive. I can run a Canik 55 TP 9 autoloader with the big dogs. Women incapable of using a Glock-pattern pistol? NONSENSE! The Polish Eagles were boy soldiers, many of whom adeptly wielded the Mauser pistol c/96 ‘Broomhandle’. Primitive natives in both Pacific and North Africa were trained by the OSS to use 1911s and German Handguns. In the pre-WWI days, many U.S. women successfully used the 1903 Colt .38 acp variant. for self defense. Today’s Glock pattern handguns are hyper-easy both to use and maintain. If you’re a new shooter, get a Walther PPX M1 9mm. Second is a Canik 55 TP9 9mm. Third is Sccy CPX 2 9mm. Fourth is keltec P11 9mm. DAO means no external safety to toy with, too.

  37. I qualified with a Glock 9mm, but racking the slide, even in the correct posture, was difficult. I also couldn’t load the magazines. I am 70, disabled, and have a trigger thumb on my right (gun) hand. I’m thinking revolver, but I am open to tips.

  38. I am not fond of the two .38’s I own. Shot one a couple of weeks ago, and felt like I developed Carpel Tunnel Syndrome for about a day. Actually, I am fond of the one I shot, just don’t need to shoot that many rounds.

    I am now 59 years old. Started learning to shoot with a full sized semi-automatic 380 three years ago. I did need to increase my arm strength at the time. So I watched T.V. while racking an unloaded gun. 380 became easy, borrowed my husband’s and son’s 9mm and .45’s.

    Now I regularly shoot both. Plus a pocket sized 380.

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