If you’re shooting for fun, self-defense, hunting or training for one of those things, the experience is more enjoyable without pain. Whether you’re hoping to avoid pain or mix it with pleasure (not judging), here are five handguns guaranteed to hurt so good. . .

1) DoubleTap Tactical Pocket Pistol

No surprise that a 0.666″-thick, 12-ounce gun firing .45 ACP would be unpleasant to shoot. But don’t forget to account for the flat-sided aluminum grip with a shape that drives recoil force into small pressure points. Shooting the DoubleTap feels like getting hit in the hand with a ball-peen hammer. It’s truly horrible to shoot.

2) S&W AirLite .357 or .44 Mag

S&W’s Model 360 PD is an AirLite revolver chambered for .357 Magnum. It weighs 11.7 ounces so it carries easy. But man it shoots hard. At 25 ounces the Model 329PD may sound more pleasant. Fire a heavy .44 Magnum through the gun and you’ll immediately want for mass and begrudge the pretty walnut grips.

3) S&W500

The .500 S&W is the most powerful production handgun cartridge on earth, capable of making over 2,800 ft-lbs of energy (that’s 12 gauge magnum slug energy) via up to 60,000 psi of chamber pressure. Heck, it can fire a 700-grain projectile at supersonic speeds out of a handgun-length barrel.

Assuming you keep your fingers out of the way of the cylinder gap, thereby not blowing any of them off, you still won’t beat the physics of this monster caliber’s brute force — even with a thick, soft grip installed on the frame. The S&W .500 hurts palms, it hurts wrists, it sometimes hurts faces.

4) T/C Contender Pistol

The Thompson/Center T/C Contender Pistols aren’t usually painful to shoot; that depends on barrel and caliber choice. Should you outfit your pistol with a lightweight, pistol-length barrel in, say, .45-70 or .30-30, you’re sure to know you’ve fired it.

A powerful rifle caliber capable of dropping a buffalo dead in its tracks fired out of a handgun with a walnut grip? This is a recipe for pain.

5) Tiny derringers in big calibers

Could be Bond Arms, could be American Derringer, could be Heizer, Cimmaron, Inland Manufacturing or others. Doesn’t much matter who so much as what.

What caliber, that is. Little single- and two-shot derringers are available in calibers like .45-70, .45LC, .410 gauge, .44 Magnum/Special, and more, with unloaded gun weights as light as a barely-there 7.5 ounces.

Light weight and power? Sounds like fun . . . to watch someone else shoot one.

Honorable mention (no longer in production): Taurus View (85VTA)

With room for about 1.5 fingers on its teeny little [curved left] grip and an unloaded weight of only nine ounces, the Taurus 85VTA managed to turn shooting .38 Special into an act of self-flagellation. If it were still in production, it would have made the top five for sure.

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87 Responses to Top 5 Most Painful Handguns to Shoot

  1. In a defensive situation, you might not notice the sting. You just won’t want to ever shoot it unless your life depends on it.

    Who thought of that?

    • Agreed, but the real problem is that the pain strongly discourages practice.

      When I asked a local store owner why Bob was selling his used light-weight revolver, he replied “He shot it.”

      • I got a .44 mag with 2.5″ barrel. Actually fun to shoot with .44 Specials, and interesting with .44 mags. But hardcast bear loads are like swinging an aluminum baseball bat into a brick wall. The pain increases over time after the bang.

        Often shooters expect bad recoil to be the forehead hitting barrel, but in reality it is the high frequency shock wave through your bones that does the real damage. Like the guy in the video. Barely any recoil movement, but a substantial sting. Like slamming your finger in a door.

        • I got a 329pd and the aluminum baseball bat analogy is accurate. Rarely can i get through all six cylinders of .44mag in one go. There is a sweet spot on the gun where the sting is mitigated a bit. ***hint*** it isnt high on the backstrap…. .44spc (even +p) i can do all day out of that gun, but it is a violation of the spirit of that gun’s intended purpose. Which is to cause the shooter as much pain as possible.

        • I bought a Ruger Redhawk in .44 magnum back when, in hindsight, I probably didn’t have quite the experience with large bore revolvers that I should have. The first time I fired it, I was tensing up my arms expecting it to want to jerk back towards my face. I was pretty surprised that the actual movement of the gun really wasn’t much worse than the semi-autos I was used to, but rather it was that shockwave you described that I really noticed(especially given that it was about 20F). I love that gun, but there was a definite learning curve to shooting it properly.

        • “…but rather it was that shockwave you described that I really noticed.”

          Oh, *yes*. Same with mine. I *swear* I could feel the concussion wave traveling, front-to-back, through my teeth.

          Mine was the 7-inch, and the previous owner had a nice, heavy pistol scope on it, so it didn’t hurt to shoot it, but even with double hearing protection the blast wave was truly impressive.

          I tip my hat to those that shoot 44 mag and up for fun, they really let you know when they speak.

          My hand twinged in sympathy pain when I saw ‘Airweight’ and ‘.44 Mag’ on the same gun…

  2. On the flip side , 357 magnum in a Cattleman with a 7.5 inch barrel is butter . Holster up those big boys , shoulder on your breast and go have fun plinking a few 158 grainers .

    • +1, although mine is a Pietta. this is not to say that there is no show. The fire belching out of the end of the barrel and the gap is laughingly impressive, especially compared to the mile 38 spl loads. The .45 Colt aren’t painful to shoot either; I have one with a 4.75″ barrel. but to date, I has only been shot with factory ammo. I suspect that my black powder hand loads will be a bit livelier.

  3. I was at a gun show last weekend and watched a young lady examine a .45 ACP Derringer. A bit of eavesdropping revealed that she has a new concealed carry license and was looking for a carry piece.

    To his credit, the vendor tried to explain that he would not recommend it as a concealed carry gun. But he couldn’t explain what it WOULD be useful for, either.

    • I have a hard time wrapping my head around that since both calibers can be had in totally identical guns except the .500 is more powerful whether you’re talking kinetic energy or momentum or whatever. Obviously there’s a wide range of ammo choices for each, though, so you could easily be in a scenario where you’re firing a particular .500 load that’s weaker than a particular .460 load. I have to assume that, ultimately, the .500 is more painful due to having ammo available in the same weights as .460 but at higher velocities, plus more importantly ammo available in significantly heavier weights (like 700 grain monsters) that are absolutely brutal to shoot.

      #3 could easily be “S&W X-Frame Revolvers” though, sure…

      • Both in a felt recoil and physical sense, the .500 seems worse to me. The worst I’ve shot from the .460 are the 360 grain LFN and the 300 grain JHP, both good for over 2600 FPE (advertsied). The 200 grain Hornady rounds are kind of fun, in a muzzke blasts type of way. Those were about the same as the Underwood 350 XTP in .500. The 440 grain LFN seems worse – kind of like shooting a 1 oz 12 gauge slug through a revolver.

        I haven’t shot the 700 grain Underwood .500 but YouTube indicates they are heroic.

        The most painful gun in my collection is my Smith 340 PD with full power .357 loads. Loaded with Federal 125 or 158 grain JHP, it’s only generating about 360-380 FPE (chrono tested), but abrades the skin off of my palms.

        • Slower powder with bigger bullet could well feel less painful, this is likely the bat vs. the whip difference.

      • The 500 S&W recoils like a baseball bat to the palm. The 460XVR is like a bull whip.

        But I would agree that a 700 grain S&W 500 is a complete mess. And if you really want to test your mettle, shoot that 700 from a snubby. The word “nasty” doesn’t do it justice.

    • I own a S&W 500 Mag with a 10″ barrel. One of the last times I had it out I somebody came up with a 460 and let me fire it. Given that the 460 had a 3.5″ barrel, it hurt like hell to fire it. My 500 is okay to shoot, I max out at around 20 rounds when shooting it, but that is only because it weighs a bloody ton.

      • Tex Grebner didn’t need a fancy Polish Pistol like that to shoot himself…

        God, I feel bad for that guy. He’s never going to live that down.

        • Tex setup his own camera and recorded his unfortunate N.D. Not content with one moronic, life-altering decision that day, he then uploaded the video to youtube.

          He gets no sympathy from me.

  4. The S&W 500 in a non-snub barrel isn’t really that bad. Now that AirLite 357, that has too much recoil.

    • Try the airline 44M. I use only 180 grain handloads (loaded close to minimum) and it’s still somewhat uncomfortable. Factory 240’s are very unpleasant.

      Smith and Wesson actually recommends you test your ammo by firing 5 of the 6 rounds, then pulling the last one unfired. The goal is to see if (or more likely how much) the bullet came unseated from the case. I thought they were paranoid. Nope. The recoil really is strong enough to force the bullet all the way out of the case.

  5. I have a LCR in .357mag. Its shootable with .38 specials, but Magnum defense loads are No fun at all.

      • I put a diamond pro grip on mine and it made 158 grain magnums shootable out of my LCR. For me the combination of pinky grip and extra rubber give did the trick compared to the stock tamers.

      • Yea, the CT grips on the LCR are terrible. The LaserMax laser is the way to go on the LCR. Also added a Tritium night site

      • Compared to any of the alloy framed snubbies I agree completely. Still not as smooth as a nice steel frame IMO, but then again I own 1 steel frame snubby but 5 LCRs.

    • Switch out the boot grip for a fullsize Hogue. Adds about 3/4″ to the butt, so a little less concealable, but wow, the difference it made on mine in terms of felt recoil. Makes .357 110 or 120gr feel like .38 Special.

  6. Bear loads in a compensated airlite .44 snubbie are far, far worse than anything I’ve shot out of my cousins 4 inch .500.

  7. Anything over .380 seems too painful for allot of people on this site. Always whining about .40 being too “snappy” lol.

  8. My old CZ-52 is pretty painful. Its a heavy, full size service pistol but there’s something about the grip angle or the 7.62×25 rounds that make it less than fun. I’m told that eastern European 7.62 loads had the reputation of being very hot.

    • The germans and the russian both made subguns in their respective service pistol caliber. 9 for the germans and 7.62 for the russians. Both countries made rounds loaded to different pressures for their sub guns and pistols.

      This became a supply hassle, especially once the war got under way. Both dropped the standard pistol loads and just used sub gun loaded ammo for the pistols as well.

      My opinion is the chzechs knew this and beefed their 7.62 pistol up to handle the hotter subgun ammo. The cz52 is one overbuilt hunk of iron.

    • Yeah, some of those little steel-framed straight-blowback jobs can be painful. Especially the ones that weren’t machined very well and/or aren’t ergonomic whatsoever. The straight-blowback 9mms are usually pretty darn bad (like the Astra 600).

    • The Vz. 52 pistol was a first handgun I have ever shot and for ten years the only center fire handgun I used. I remember having troubles holding its weight up and pulling the heavy trigger first time. I was 8 years old. It does have a healthy kick, but nothing a scrawny little kid can’t handle.
      44 Mag. out of 7,5″ Super Redhawk is fun, I usually shoot couple hundreds rounds when I finally get to the range. But 5″ non compensated 500 S&W was returned to the owner with many thanks after emptying just one cylinder. To save his expensive ammo of course. 🙂

  9. I had the Doubletap in .45 (ported), and it honestly wasn’t that bad. Slightly less comfortable than shooting cylinders of .38+P in a j-frame, but it wasn’t horrific.

    I ultimately sold it, as I was experiencing light strikes with non-U.S. ammo, and that made me less comfortable with it as a “last ditch, back-up gun”.

    That sucker sure ‘disappears’ in your pocket, though.

  10. Speaking as someone who has an airlight 44, I can say that it is indeed the most painful handgun to shoot. Another good honorable mention would be any pocket 38 ever…

    • Yes, yes it is. My Dad had a 329PD Alaskan years ago and what a miserable bastard it was to shoot. I think he eventually found some poor rube to buy it.

    • I don’t even know why they put wood grips on it. No one uses them (at least not after firing a few rounds with them on). The rubber grip helps a lot, but unless you run lighter loads I agree. It’s very unpleasant.

      Factory 240’s are painful. I’m not daring enough to try 300’s. I usually run 180’s.

  11. My most painful was a KeltecPF9. It made my hand bleed(seriously). Even with a Handall Jr. Not that I’ve shot a great variety of guns but a little revolver and Taurus TCP were nothing in comparison. And I’d rather shoot slugs out my shotgun…

    • I love my Keltec P11, so much I decided to also try their PF9. I could not detect enough difference in size or weight, so kept the P11 (13 rounds) and sold the PF9. The P11 accepts S&W 9mm magazines, so I assume there are larger capacities available.
      I tried a friends large 10mm 20 years ago, and six rounds were enough/all I wanted to shoot.
      I read about 40 S&W having a sharp recoil but reading reports didn’t convince me, so I went for a Kahr CW40. I tried on two different occasions to like it, but my hand felt pulverized after 7 rounds both times. I love my Spgfld Champion 45ACP, and Charter Arms 2″ in 38 Spcl, both for extended range times, so I don’t think I’m a weakling.

  12. I used to work at TCA and had quite a contender collection 44 MAG 16″ barrel, 375 in 16″ barrel and 45/70 in 16″ barrel plush other small calibers

    • I don’t understand why the contender is on the list. Especially the 30-30 mention. 30-30, while loud and flashy, isn’t bad in the contender. My 13 yr old daughter, whom I love to mention during recoil discussions, shoots my 7-30 Imp (7mm GNR, really) contender with 140s. Not much different than 30-30 with 150s.

    • Probably for certain subsegments of preppers who take the “fight your way to your rifle” quip very literally.

  13. I have a Leinad/Cobray single-shot break open .410/.45 LC that blasts the back of the trigger area into your middle finger… but everybody wants to shoot this damn thing! We call it a “pipe bomb with a trigger” but there ain’t much that can go wrong with it!

    • I bought one of those at a pawn shop for 80 bucks, took it out shooting and immediately dubbed it The Stupid Gun, since that is how I felt for buying it. My cousin loved it, so I gave it to him for his birthday a couple months later. He now has a double barrel version as well. Awful fun once or twice a year, though.

  14. The guns that smack hard spots on your hands are hard to shoot much. Taurus Total Titanium in 41 Mag hits your middle finger with the trigger guard pretty severely. Encore in 460 S&W is probably the most brutal – hard on the shooting palm, hits your shooting hand sharply in several places and hits your support hand hard too. I haven’t figured out how to avoid the protrusion on the back of the trigger guard yet. Big handguns with rubber grips wear me out after a while but generally aren’t as painful – I have a BFR in 475 Linebaugh. The 500S&W with the short barrel probably tests that though – I’ll have to find one.

  15. I have to disagree with shooting a Bond Arms Derringer. Those are serious chunks of metal and weigh as much or more than some revolvers. They give you a thump but it’s not painful. (depending on caliber, “Your Mileage May Vary”)

  16. It seems to me that the author is very unfamiliar with the Thompson-Center Contender.

    The TC Contender is NOT painful to shoot. Especially in 30-30. Ive got one and have shot it enough to win a first-place IHMSA trophy in the Unlimited category. A 44mag with a lightweight short barrel is a bit snappy, but they are still not wrist breakers.

    These guns roll very comfortably and are not punishing in the least.

    By the way, the gun in the photo is not a contender. It appears to be an Encore. Encore pistols are bigger and heavier than the Contender and as such recoil is even less.

  17. My dad has a Taurus 450 in .45lc 2″ ported barrel…pain is shooting one round from that with no hearing protection. You will only do that ONCE.
    KABLAM….loud. and then the ringing begins.

  18. Dude had a negligent discharge with a 50 bmg during a ceasefire. I was in the path of the muzzle brake with no hearing protection. I am 80% deaf in my left ear thanks to him.
    Partially my fault too. Shouldn’t have taken my ear protection off until I was away from the firing line.

  19. The 329PD with a Leupold Delta Point is actually my field and hiking carry gun. It stings a bit with 305gr bear loads, but isn’t all that bad with 225 or 240 Critical Defense. I carry it a lot more than I shoot it, and the weight savings is substantial.

    • The 69 (despite the crappy two piece barrel) is inexpensive and a reasonably soft shooter. Alot of folks also swap on the X frame grips which help a surprising amount. Kind of a nice midway point between the PD and a Redhawk or similar.

  20. Say what you will about the Double Tap, but if I ever had to fight my way out of two dimensional space…

    The Taurus View is no longer in production?

    How surprising.

  21. The .454 Casull with full house loads almost made me cry. Course, I had a blown disk in my neck at the time, but still. That friggen hurt!

  22. Why would anybody be surprised that short barreled revolver chambered in magnum cartridges be painful to shoot? Even a J-frame in 38 Special standard pressure can be painful to shoot. Like all conventional wisdom, the belief that a new shooter is better off with a revolver is wrong. Between the trigger pull and the recoil most people won’t practice enough to master a revolver.

    • Agreed. Revolvers are experts guns, snubbies all the more so. I feel the same way about mouse guns, it takes a lot more time and effort to become proficient with either platform. Though both have their advantages, most people are much better served by a compact nine as a start.

    • Every 8 year-old child should be given one shot with a 45ACP or 38 spcl snubbie revolver, just to let them know the power of a gun’s kick, and that being on the receiving end of a bullet hurts even more. I think that would reduce the already rare instances of unattended kids playing with guns. Or would it?

  23. We had a regular customer at the LGS I work at order a S&W PD 360. He is big dude, both high and around. I asked him if he was concerned about the recoil. “Son, I own 44s, 454, and 500 pistols, I am not too concerned about a little.357.” He brought it in to trade it the day he first shot it. A week later, he bought it back, I believe because people saw it in the shop and we’re teasing him about it. Three days later, it came back for trade. I asked him why, and he responded “Son, fuck that gun, the people who made it and anyone who thinks they can shoot that sonofabitch.” To this day, that little fella takes up space in our display case.

  24. I have been shooting 44 magnums for almost 55 years, Cut my teeth with a Ruger 3 screw in 1955 for both fast draw and pig hunting. I had a pair of S&W 629 with 4 inch ported barrels made in the 1990 by the S&W custom shop. Carried one in a sholder and the other in small of the back, never wasa problem . I bought a American Derringer also in 44 magnum and it was a real wrist breaker, i carry it for back up but with 44 spl hp’s in it They all hush up the indoor ranges when i fire any one of them

  25. Yeah, that scandium alloy frame for the S&W 360 is not doing anyone any favors when it’s firing .38spl through it, let alone .357…. IIRC, Mas Ayoob said that he tried firing one once, then decided he never needed to shoot it ever again.

    And with so many easily pocketable .380s that can carry six or seven cartridges out there, I cannot see any good use case at all for carrying a Derringer-style pistol for self-defense purposes.

  26. I bought a Ruger LCP a few years back.. an awful gun to try to shoot with. Avoid gimmicky mouseguns, especially of the two-shot Derringer variety. Carry a proper gun. “Friends don’t let friends carry mouseguns.”

    • My back-up is a “mouse” gun. An NAA mini revolver in 22 magnum. At close “in your face” ranges, this thing is a real attitude changer.
      If the bullet doesn’t do a number on you, the flash will not only scare the shit out of you, but will probably burn off all your hair!

  27. Late 2016 I won a Bond Arms Patriot derringer in 45lc/2.5″ .410, with a 3 inch barrel. That thing is painful to shoot with the 255 grain 45lc. After toughing it out for 14 rounds I was done. The .410, 000 buck shells were a bit easier on the hand. I think I’d still rather shoot a 7 inch 500 magnum.
    OUCH ! ! !

  28. I don’t agree with the 500 being on this list, unless you are talking about pain in the wallet, especially after listing the air weight .44.
    I shot the model 29 right before the 500 and the .44 was much worse.

    I would like to add my own honorable mention.
    The NAA Mini revolver in .22lr.
    That’s not painful, you say? It is when you are fanning the hammer without gloves and you slice your hand open. Ask me how I know.

  29. I had a steel from 357 magnum 2th 2 1/2 inch, I thought that was too panful, sold it. I have no interest in a light weight version.

  30. My Kahr CM40 (5+1) 13 ounce 40 S&W is rather painful to shoot. Adding a rubber Handel Jr. Was a huge improvement.

  31. Guys, could you get rid of the ads that auto play audio? I’d rather not block ads, you have to get revenue somehow, but autoplay ads are like someone coming into your house (or office) with a bullhorn & saying “buy my stupid crap!”

    • I feel no guilt about using an ad blocker, because some sites STILL find a way to make their videos play. Ad Blocker Plus works (mostly) with Firefox. I guess it is just the site’s news video that gets around it, but still annoying in the extreme to start hearing something unrelated to what you want to read, but can’t find the small video window to pause it.

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