The 5 Most Most Painful Handguns to Shoot

The 5 Most Most Painful Handguns to Shoot

If you’re shooting for fun, self-defense, hunting or just training for one of those, the experience is more enjoyable without undue pain. Whether you’re hoping to avoid discomfort 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.

The 5 Most Most Painful Handguns 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 those pretty walnut grips.

The 5 Most Most Painful Handguns to Shoot

3) S&W 500

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.

The 5 Most Most Painful Handguns to Shoot

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 from a handgun with a walnut grip? That’s a recipe for pain.

The 5 Most Most Painful Handguns to Shoot

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.

The 5 Most Most Painful Handguns to Shoot

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.


  1. avatar GS650G says:

    Had a taurus 85 I couldn’t stand to shoot. Sold it.

    1. avatar Spitball says:

      Shooting my Ruger Alaskan with +P+ Buffalo Bore hard casts is like swinging an aluminum baseball bat into a brick wall. It takes a second or two for the pain to resonate through your arm and body.

      But it’s nothing you would notice when a grizzly is bearing down on you ( pun intended).

    2. avatar Larry says:

      really ? My daughter the cpa who shoots a few times a year, handles the 85;with ease.
      Maybe try some strength training for your hands / wrists ?

      1. avatar RobinGoodfellow says:

        My wife shoots one with no problems. It is a nice pistol.

      2. avatar GS650G says:

        I probably have bigger hands than your daughter so the small grip dug into my hand with out a decent position to hold it.

    3. avatar frank speak says:

      thought my .44 mag was a load…till I fired a thompson contender in .30/.30…yikes!…

      1. avatar Latemarch says:

        frank speak says:
        November 23, 2018 at 02:09
        thought my .44 mag was a load…till I fired a thompson contender in .30/.30…yikes!…

        Just needs more mass. I put a scope on the TC 30/30 and that tamed it nicely. Fun gun to shoot at night. One shot and your night blind from the unburned powder fire ball which has to be at least 20″ in diameter.

  2. avatar jwm says:

    Bone stock Makarov with 115 grain hollow point loads. That narrow steel back strap felt like the teachers ruler on my hands.

    1. avatar jwtaylor says:

      Just put a Lone Wolf Makarov barrel into my Glock 42. Handloading for it I can get it almost to 9mm energy levels.
      At that point, it is a handful.

      1. avatar jwm says:

        Your mind is telling you,’ it’s just a 9×18. How much kick can it have?’. Your hand is telling you the truth.

        I’m willing to concede that part of that felt recoil is my age and a touch of arthritis creeping in. Spent the morning at an archery range and I have to wear gloves against bow slap these days.

        But that 9×18 punches past its weight class.

        1. avatar jwtaylor says:

          I’m pushing a 95 grain round just past 1,200fps. Seems safe with that barrel in that gun, but I’ll ask LWD their opinion.

    2. avatar Chadwick says:

      I have the production version in 380 and it isn’t bad at all. I guess that shows you how much hotter 9×18 compared to 380.

      1. avatar jwm says:

        Could have been that bullet weight in that particular loading. I’ve never seen a 115 grain .380 load.

        1. Try “Nosler”, they produce a 115-grain .380. They also produce a 124-grain .380 as well…

    3. avatar frank speak says:

      Star pd. is pretty bad too…always leaves a mark in the webbing of your hand….

      1. avatar Rod Mims says:

        I had a pd for twelve years (still kicking myself for selling it). I felt less recoil with it compared to by buddies Colt officers model. Wish I could find one I could afford.

    4. avatar Tec's Dad says:

      The Makarov is steel and has a bakelite grip with no backstrap, do you mean the aluminum framed pa-63? Yes it can be a handful as it is very light

    5. avatar anaxis says:

      Speaking of narrow steel backstraps… I recently retired my Tokarev for a Thälmann Makarov; while I wouldn’t say the TT was painful, the Mak is a bit easier on my bony mitts.

      But…. I got to use a CZ-82 for the first time, and ran it next to my GDR Makarov. The CZ was a bit more violent it felt like, but that may have been on account of the different springs. Picked up my Mak in “issued, never left arms-room” condition, while the CZ (though newer) definitely had a lot of hard mileage on it.

  3. avatar Newshawk says:

    I’m amazed that the Desert Eagle in .50 AE didn’t make the list.

    1. avatar DrewN says:

      Weighs a ton, plus the action soaks up a fair bit.

    2. avatar ChanceMcCall says:

      There are many guns left off this list. Here are a few:

      Seecamp .380
      Masterpiece Arms .380
      AMT Backup .38 Super
      Rohrbaugh .45 ACP
      SIG Sauer P230 9mm Ultra

      1. avatar Ryan says:

        The naa 22mag revolvers are a handful for what it is

    3. avatar Kevin says:

      The desert eagle in .50 AE isn’t that bad to shoot. I rented one just to say I shot it. It’s heavy but remarkably accurate and the recoil isn’t that bad. What got me was that every single round that I shot had the brass eject directly into the lane barrier, which then redirected it so it bounced it off my face.

  4. avatar rosignol says:

    …hold on, someone makes a derringer chambered in .45-70?!?


    1. avatar Chet says:

      Yes. It’s called the wrist breaker.

    2. avatar DrewN says:

      Ultimate last ditch bear gun – after you shoot it once, you won’t mind being eaten.

    3. avatar Geoff "Mess with the bull, get the horns" PR says:

      Yep, in .45 70!

      1. avatar Joe in San Antonio says:

        That’s insane.

  5. avatar possum says:

    PAIN is a polymer framed pistol

    1. avatar Geoff "Mess with the bull, get the horns" PR says:

      I thought for a ‘possum ‘pain’ was getting clipped by a pickup truck and crawling off to the side of the road to die a day later…

      1. avatar Broke_It says:

        I always thought they were just faking it.

  6. avatar Jason A Somers says:

    I had a charter arms .38/.357 magnum with a 1 7/8 barrel. I went to shoot once with a friend and he screamed and I thought I broke my finger with a .357 load. I’ll never forget what he said, “That hurt my teeth!”

    1. avatar Art out West says:

      Charter Arms has a new pug type .41 mag. 23 oz and 2.5″ barrel . It sounds like fun, and isn’t too expensive ($347.77 at Classic Firearms). I’m interested, but also think it might be a bit too much power for that size and weight. It seems like it would make a good backpacking gun.

      On the other hand, a Glock 29 in 10mm might make more sense.

      1. avatar Jake Rogers says:

        I have a 3″ bulldog .44 special with the original wood grips. A 250 keith style bullet over almost 8 grains of unique is more than most would want to shoot. The recoil is too the point that the grips leave their pattern in the palm of my hand after only one or two rounds. Very accurate load but deff bruises my hand. The .41 would be a handful.

      2. avatar Snake Plisskin says:

        A Glock 29SF with full Underwood 10mm loads will remind you to make sure one has a firm grip on the firearm after a few rounds. Believe me, I know……

        Other than that minor nit, it’s a great fun to shoot and I tend to CCW it from time to time.

  7. avatar former water walker says:

    My most painful gat was a Keltec PF9. By far…made 12 gauge fun in comparison.

    1. avatar General Zod says:

      My PF9 is kind of like catching a sledgehammer but it’s a pussy cat compared to just about any .44 magnum.

    2. avatar Chris Dumm says:

      Copy that. My PF9 would leave two bleeding welts in the web of my hand after one magazine. The Ruger LC-9 is far more comfortable, and only minimally larger.

      1. avatar Joe in San Antonio says:

        My second gun was a PF9, never had a reliability issue but man did it hurt. Sold it to a friend, who needed a CCW but didn’t have money. Carry and shoot a G43 often. Same size/weight but handles the round so much better.

  8. avatar Pg2 says:

    SW 340 PD with any magnum ammo. Pain.

    1. avatar kyle says:

      i shoot mine all the time. the trick is to hold that gun with a grip that would crush walnuts. the slightest wiggle in that gun and you’ll know pain. no wiggle, no pain.

  9. avatar Ironhead says:

    S&W 460 for me. Won’t even try the 500.

    1. avatar Dalton Carey says:

      I found the 460 somehow more abusive to my face, nose and ears than the 500…the concussive blast wave off that think sucks, but the 6 inch I was shooting was ported, and I think that probably has something to do with that. The 500 however is the only handgun I’ve ever had to seat back into a fire position between each shot. It would literally wrench itself sideways, with every shot, to the point that I couldn’t have fired a follow up because I couldn’t properly reach the trigger anymore.

      I like powerful handguns and laugh when people say a polymer .40 is snappy, or that .45 1911s kick. I don’t mind .44 mag, as long as it’s not in an airweight, I love .45 colt…but the 460 is punishing, and the .500 would eventually injure me, I just don’t have the hands and forearms for it! There is a limit to what ought to be shot from a handgun, it was the .454. They should have tried the .460, realized it was too much and gone back to the 454. The 500 thus wouldn’t have, and shouldn’t exist!

    2. avatar Ralph says:

      “S&W 460 for me.”

      I’ve shot the 500 and the 460 extensively, and for my money the 460 is the worst. Felt recoil is subjective and the recoil tables say that the 500 is worse, but my hand says something else.

      1. The 500 shouldn’t even be on the list.
        The model 29 is a mofo!

  10. avatar JD says:

    The ruger Alaskan chambered in .454 casull is another fun one to shoot.

  11. avatar Jeff Chosid says:

    Seecamp 380

  12. avatar Sich says:

    That’s the “Trade Off”! Make it Lightweight to be easier to carry, or Heavy to absorb much of the Recoil…

  13. avatar Dave Lewis says:

    Recoil is subjective but a CZ52 seems to be the hardest shooting pistol in my collection. This is from a guy who loves his Super Redhawk, .44 special Bulldog, and officer’s model 1911s. I bought the CZ because of its quirky action and at the time very low price. I also picked up a couple hundred rounds of Czech ammo. The Czechs load that 7.62 x 25 round HOT! I don’t know if it’s the grip shape or angle or the high bore axis, but I’m done with that pistol after one 8 round magazine. I still have lots of ammunition on the shelf. I guess if I cared enough I’d buy a set of dies and try to find a load that would cycle the gun but wasn’t so abusive to shoot. I’m told that the hot Czech military loads penetrate stuff pretty well.

    1. avatar possum says:

      The tt33’s don’t seem to “hurt” like the cz’s? Maybe the difference is in the lockup?

  14. avatar MadMedic says:

    Was waiting to see the Rossi .410 on here how many YouTube videos exist of too young of kids shouldering a too light for gauge (for their age) forearm and having the ever loving crap smacked out of them as a sadistic grown up laughs in the background. Wish H&R would come back and make appropriately weighted single shots again!

  15. avatar Hoodlum says:

    I wouldn’t say it is painful but shooting a Ruger SP101 with factory grips. The full power 357 can become uncomfortable after several rounds.

    1. avatar Southern Cross says:

      By the time you NEED to use a SP101 with full power .357 loads, shooting comfort is not a priority.

      1. avatar Red in CO says:

        I’m not even convinced it’s worth trying to shoot .357 out of a sub 2″ barrel. You only gain a little bit of power compared to lightweight .38 loads and you SIGNIFICANTLY increase the time between accurate follow up shots

  16. avatar Jim B says:

    The S&W 329PD is meant to be carried a lot and shot little. You can shoot it fairly comfortably by simply downloading it or if you don’t hand load shoot .44 Speicals or .44 Russians through it for plinking and it’s very manageable. Also switch the grips to Hogue 500 rubber grips. They make a hell of a difference.

    1. avatar Ardent says:

      My backup used to be a SW mod 36 airweight .38. It was fine, even with a 1.5 inch barrel, 5 shot cylinder and aluminum allow frame, even with +p ammo…but if I didn’t remove my ring before firing 2 handed, my left ring finger would be cut every time.

  17. avatar BC says:

    Not recoil related, but a 1911 with a spur hammer and no beavertail can hurt. Or a Walther PP if you’re not paying attention.

  18. avatar Specialist38 says:

    Pretty much a list of guns I avoid.

    My LCR 357 is stout with defensive ammo but running 25 rounds is doable.

    The same 125 grain loads in a 340 PD……3 rounds is all I can stand.

    And the Heiser….Hell no.

    1. avatar Steve says:

      I sold my LCR 357 before putting a full 25 rounds through it of full defense 357 loads. 38spl wasn’t all that bad, but having the rigid plastic CT grips rather than the factory Tamer makes it a bit much.

      1. avatar Specialist38 says:

        Mine has regular Tamer grip.

        The CT is hard and narrow. I use a high grip but cant with CT grips.

        This cause the gun to pivot amd slam into the thumb joint.

        The Smith and wesson PD just rockets back into the web of my hand.

        Too much for me to control.

  19. avatar ChanceMcCall says:

    Several of once had TC build us 444 Marlin handguns. Of the three two have remained unfired. The other one was only fired once breaking bones in the hand and wrist of a well-known gun writer. None of us have ever had any real desire to shoot these guns and we are afraid of selling them to anyone else.

    We were planning on hunting coastal browns with these in Alaska so we could have the experience of hunting them with handguns. We ended up using rifles instead.

    1. avatar Southern Cross says:

      Considering a 444 Marlin is hotter than +P 45-70 loads, someone forgot to take into consideration the laws of physics.

      Sell them via Rock Island and they’ll make a good episode for Ian at Forgotten Weapons.

      1. avatar DW says:

        I’ve shot a 444 marlin Contender in Missouri. It’s was a monster. I still have the brass from that one shot. Guys were next to us at the range and warned us that it would be louder than what we were used to. As I stared slack jawed the guy asked if I wanted to try it. No backing down. One shot was enough.

  20. avatar Patrick H says:

    Great article. I hope you will follow up with the 5 or 10 guns that do an especially good job of taming felt recoil.

    1. avatar kahlil says:

      Quirky, but I hope the Chiappa Rhino is part of that future list. The angle of the grip and the extremely low barrel tame even the hottest .357 rounds. My 2″ Rhino came with soft rubber grips that also helped, but I swapped them out for the olive-wood grips and it doesn’t make that much of a difference. You’d better watch the cylinder gap though, toasty thumb if you’re not careful.

      1. avatar Patrick H says:

        I’ve had my eye on the Rhino for a while.

    2. Good idea, but I hope they leave out the .22’s and smaller.

    3. avatar Perry says:

      I would like to see that list as well. After 60, it’s all about preserving whatever connective tissue that still works.

  21. avatar Jackass Jim says:

    A TC Contender in 30-30 is not bad at all. I shot IHMSA with one of those for years with great results and no pain. It does, however, have a 14-inch heavy barrel. A Contender in 44 mag with a 10-inch light-weight octagon barrel is much more of an unpleasant beast. One of the guys had a 458 Winchester Magnum handgun that was, indeed, a handful.

  22. avatar Holdfast says:

    I shot an original Colt revolver which had been in my friends family since the 1870s. Never restored. The metal tang was raised off of the wooden grips. It slammed the metal into my hand where the thumb comes off the palm so badly I thought it broke my hand….And this was when I had a super abundance of youth, muscles, and callouses.

    Still painful thinking about it more than 20 years later.

  23. avatar Gerg says:

    I disagree with the Bond Arms being painful to shoot.

    I shoot my Cowboy Defender in 10mm often at the range simply because it is fun to shoot.
    Also have alt. caliber barrels in .410/45LC, .45acp, and .357 so far and intend to buy more.

  24. avatar New Continental Army says:

    3inch slugs out of any shotgun that’s not semi auto is a pretty shitty time.

    1. avatar Southern Cross says:

      00 or SGs out of a farmer’s lightweight single barrel single shot shotgun. Obviously intended to be carried a lot and used very rarely.

    2. avatar bontai Joe says:

      I agree about the slugs. I have a Marlin bolt action 12 ga Slugster that maybe weighs 5 pounds and even with the factory extra thick ventilated recoil pad, it kicks pretty hard. And now that I’m an official old fart, I don’t like recoil as much as I did during my younger days. It makes my arthritic bones rattle.

  25. avatar rt66paul says:

    And I thought my P64 was a stinger. The CZ52 stings a bit, too. I think the combloc handguns were that way so no one wasted ammo. Both pistols are dead on accurate, though….

  26. avatar Hannibal says:

    I get the allure of a tiny, light yet powerful gun. But I’ll take an appropriately sized gun for carry. If I feel like I need a .357, I’ll make room for it and wear a good belt. If I am in a situation where I really need something light and small, .380 is gonna have to do it.

    I don’t want to be in a situation where I don’t practice enough with a gun or am flinching because of the recoil.

  27. avatar Nanashi says:

    Well there’s always those Taurus (and Glocks) that blew up in your hand. I think those would be top of the list.

  28. avatar Jason A Somers says:

    Patterning a 3 1/2″ Benelli Nova with a turkey load is a real blast too!

    1. avatar Red in CO says:

      Been there. Shortly after I got my first Benelli Supernova, I got curious and loaded up to shoot, in order, normal 12 gauge birdshot, normal 12 gauge buckshot, normal 12 gauge slug, and 3 1/2″ birdshot. Probably a 25% increase in felt recoil with each step up; 3 1/2″ 12 gauge rounds are NOT for the faint of heart

  29. avatar stan says:

    Walther PPK in 380 is rather unpleasant. Very small grip. Slide bite and hammer bite galore.

  30. avatar tsbhoa.p.jr says:

    .357maximum is pretty impressive.
    .444marlin (.44max) is kinda rowdy out of a lever. i wouldn’t want to launch one from a pistol.

  31. avatar bontai Joe says:

    When I was a young whipper-snapper, recoil didn’t bother me at all. In fact, the bigger, the better was my thinking at the time. I own two different .44 magnums, a Ruger Blackhawk, and a Dan Wesson. Both are big heavy handguns, especially the Dan Wesson. Fast forward 40 years and I now have arthritis in my fingers, wrists and shoulders. As big and heavy as the Dan Wesson is, I’m shooting .44 specials in it now, because the magnums hurt. Hurt a lot, as in I don’t want to be in pain for several days after shooting 50 rounds. I remember reading of gun writer John Taffin permanently damaging his wrists from shooting many rounds in the most powerful handguns around. I have enjoyed his writings for many years, but I am sad that he now suffers in pain pretty much every day because of testing the super magnums. I have never shot anything bigger than the .44 mag. I had toyed with the idea of getting a Dan Wesson in .445 Super Mag, but finances didn’t allow me to purchase it, probably a good thing.

  32. avatar jesros says:

    Rifles that shoot expensive ammo.

    A few bucks every time you pull the trigger is pretty painful.

  33. avatar Broke_It says:

    My buddy has a .500 and maybe it’s just the ammo but at least once a cylinder some kind of debris gets blasted back at the shooters face, usually strong enough to break skin and draw blood. We always joke about the gun that’s so badass it hurts the shooter and the target.

  34. avatar Tom Worthington says:

    I’ve fired both of my double barrelled 12 gauge barrels simultaneously with heavy loads, many times. However, I find that MUCH less unpleasant than firing a 5 inch barrelled S&W 500 that belongs to a friend. I have no use for one of those.

  35. avatar Forest C. says:

    My dad has a T/C contender in .357 max. That bad boy puts the hurt on ya.

  36. avatar BeoBear says:

    My little Bond Girl Mini .357 magnum will definitely make your hand sting with every shot. I think my record is around 10-12 shots before the pain overcame the fun of it. It was the first time I shot it. Since then 4 shots or so is my max.

    I can live with the recoil but the terrible trigger is really what sucks the fun out of shooting it. The trigger is absolutely horrible. Like just awful. It basically ruins the gun. Bond has since changed the design but they charge a ridiculous amount to upgrade the first generation and there’s no way I can afford it. So my Bond Arms derringer is relegated to being an expensive paper weight.

  37. avatar Tom W. says:

    That S&W Scandium frame snubby with .357 Magnum Ammo.

    The shockwave and bone jarring recoil wasnt pleasant.

  38. avatar Ned says:

    45-70 contender with a 16″ non-ported barrel shooting 350 grainers going 2200 fps is pretty awesome. Just hold it right. You wouldn’t believe what it will do to a coyote.

  39. avatar little horn says:

    keltec PF9 should be on here

  40. avatar Rusty Williams says:

    The S&W Airweight in the #2 spot should have included 38spl in the description. Unless you’ve never shot one with .38spl +P, that hurts just as bad as .357mag.

  41. avatar Humbug says:

    Diamondback DB9. Not pleasant to shoot at the range all day, but you won’t notice it if you have to pull it on someone.

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