Lefty with small hands needs handgun suggestions.
August 2, 2011 3:58 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking to purchase my first handgun for target shooting. I'm a southpaw with small hands. What should I be looking out for?

I'm going to take a class and attend a gun show to try some guns out before I buy. I've done a lot of research, including reading the previous AskMe's on this but most advice seems to be geared toward future concealed carry. Right now I'm only interested in target shooting and future competition. I'm interested in a handgun primarily because of portability and ease of finding a shooting range.

I did the eye-dominance test and I'm left-eye dominant. What does this mean for my future purchase? My primary concern is I'll take the class, try a bunch out, and end up with something that sucks for a left-hander. As a lefty, what do I need to specifically look out for?

The only thing I've shot so far is a Sig P226 and that was too big for me. I've heard good things about the Ruger Mark III but I can't get over the fact that it's, well, ugly. I'm primarily interested in a .22 semi-auto. Not a fan of revolvers. Any suggestions for me? I'm 5'1, and female if that gives you an idea of the size issue.
posted by Pericardium to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (20 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
.22 LR, eh? Maybe the Sig Mosquito? Has an ambidexterous safety.
posted by resurrexit at 4:01 PM on August 2, 2011

You can actually have that gun set up at a shop where you buy it (or at a gunsmith) to be left-handed. The more I think about it, the Mosquito seems perfect.
posted by resurrexit at 4:06 PM on August 2, 2011

Be aware now that several companies make .22 LR conversion kits for larger caliber pistols. So, for example, if you like the look and feel of the "ladies' sized" Glocks (the concealed carry 26 in 9mm or the 27 in .40 S&W, etc.), you can buy a 22LR conversion kit for them. It's basically a drop-in barrel and magazine replacement.
posted by resurrexit at 4:10 PM on August 2, 2011

The .22 conversions for the Glock 26 includes a new slide, barrel and mag. I have one and it works perfectly.
posted by JohnE at 4:14 PM on August 2, 2011

You can set up lots of different handguns so the safety is left-handed. The ejection... eh... not so much. On the up side, this isn't likely to affect you. I'm left-eye dominant and have no problems with this. The MkIII is a fine target pistol for beginners. I learned on the MkII, and would to have one again.

The Sig Mosquito is nice, but some people have had problems with them jamming.

The next time you are at the range, use one of the loaner guns to see if you like the feel of it. One caveat: range guns are often beaters that don't get a lot of love, so take this into account. Also see what friends are using. It's my experience that most people at the range will tell you what they think of their guns, and often times will let you put a few rounds through it.

If you have the money, look at a conversion, and consider the newer Glocks--which come with a replaceable backstrap so you can set it up to fit what works for you.
posted by Hylas at 4:19 PM on August 2, 2011

I can't find the most important detail: your budget!

Anyway, what about Beretta's offerings? Those pistols, I believe, all have customizable grips. And the Model 87 is well-used in competitive circles, and certainly has a variety of after-market grips.

I have a Model 87 that I like quite well. My hands aren't tiny, but they're definitely not very big either.

Also, for the sort of competition one can do with a .22LR pistol, you do not want a conversion from a service pistol. Glocks, H&K, Sig self-defense pistols, any of them. The triggers on those will frustrate the ever-loving hell out of you when you start shooting competitively. And they'll teach you bad habits that you'll have to unlearn once you get a pistol with a reasonable trigger.

However, if by competition, you mean one of the "practical" pistol competitions, then of course you want a service pistol firing a centerfire cartridge. But, that's not what you asked for.
posted by Netzapper at 4:22 PM on August 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

A small calibre rimfire cartridge like a .17 or a .22 isn't optimal for either auto feeding, or gas operated weapons. The shape of the brass, the variance in powder burn times a rimfire design creates, and the relatively small amount of gas generated all work against ultra-reliable semi-auto operation. Which is no big deal in a plinking pistol, and you can have a lot of fun, at low ammo cost, if you don't much mind clearing the occasional hang fire or jam in a rimfire .22 semi-auto pistol, particularly if you don't put a lot of rounds through it, before selling it for something better, and clean it well and frequently while you have it. Wear and tear, and dirt are real enemies for any semi-auto, and particularly so for small rimfire versions.

But getting beat in a competition situation because your gun jams or hangs is no fun at all. If you're going to compete, and still want minimized recoil of small calibre pistols, along with small frame size for your small hands, maybe you should look at some .380 ACP semi-autos, like a Sig Sauer P232 or Beretta 85FS. You might want a match grade barrel, and some tuned recoil springs for serious competition, but, out of the box, these weapons are fine for all but the highest levels of competition, where match grade barrels and other such refinements become differentiators in competitive result. You may pay a bit more for the centerfire weapon, and a bit more per round for ammo than you would in rimfire calibres, but you'll get fewer jams and hangs, and generally more predictable target results, particularly after you put thousands of practice rounds through the weapon.
posted by paulsc at 5:01 PM on August 2, 2011

If this is for target shooting (and especially for competition), you'll be best off with a handgun intended for that purpose. That generally means a gun with a long (~6" or longer) barrel -- a snub or even standard barrel won't be as accurate -- and a target-style trigger.

First of all, I'd suggest taking a second look at the Ruger Mark III. It may be ugly, but it's accurate, much more so than something like the Mosquito or a converted Glock (like Netzapper says, the trigger on these is not good for target shooting. Anything DA/SA is a bad idea -- you want a trigger that "breaks" the same way every time).

I see a ton of Rugers at .22 silhouette matches. Browning Buckmarks, High Standard target pistols, and the S&W M41 (roughly from least to most expensive) are also very well-regarded. I've also heard great things about SIG Trailsides, but they're discontinued (they could be a used option). I can't speak as to which would be best for a lefty, though.

If I were you, I'd start by sitting in on a few of the competitions (and/or practice sessions thereof) you're looking to enter. .22 shooters are usually pretty laid-back; around here most would be glad to let you try their pistol during practice or maybe even a match.
posted by vorfeed at 5:05 PM on August 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

My favorite .22 target pistol is the Smith & Wesson Model 41. But you didn't mention what your budget is, and they're not cheap. But used ones aren't impossible to find, and most have been pretty well cared-for.

The factory grips are pretty big and may not be well suited to your small hands, but there are a ton of aftermarket grips available, since the Model 41 is very popular among Bullseye shooters. The frame under the grips is small enough that you'll be able to fit grips that fit you.

But I'll second vorfeed's comment. Go to matches, either .22 silhouette or bullseye. Talk to people and ask if you can try their guns during practice or after the match. Most will be happy to oblige and help a new shooter (and give you their opinions of what's right for you).

As for being left-eye dominant, you have two choices, depending on what feels better to you, you can either shoot right-handed and left-eyed, or left-handed. The former isn't as hard as you might think for some styles. I'm right-eye dominant, but shoot pistol more accurately, (though slower) left-handed. But if I want speed or something with movement like Practical Shooting, I use my right hand because I'm quicker on the target that way. The ejection of most .22 auto-loaders probably won't bother you either way, but some lefties get distracted by the brass crossing their field of vision. Try it at a range and see.
posted by DaveP at 5:30 PM on August 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

How about a used Ruger MK II, the magazine release is at the bottom of the magazine well so it's great for lefties.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 6:01 PM on August 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Confess, Fletch: "How about a used Ruger MK II, the magazine release is at the bottom of the magazine well so it's great for lefties."

Srsly - the Mark II and Mark III are fantastic pistols, so easy to use they're like cheating. The only caveat is that they are an unbelievable flaming pain in the ass to disassemble and clean. I gave up, sold mine and now rent a Mk III when I feel like putting holes in paper... it's a bit more expensive but it's worth it (to me) to not have to clean the thing.
posted by workerant at 6:22 PM on August 2, 2011

Not in production anymore, but the Colt in this post: http://www.thefirearmblog.com/blog/2009/01/15/sig-sauer-p238-380-1911/ is a crazy good gun for small people with small hands. Try and shoot one before you decide.

My 112 lbs partner quit using the sights by the end of her first day on the range. My 4' 11' sister, who had not fired a gun in 20 years, emptied the entire first clip into the bullseye.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 7:09 PM on August 2, 2011

I shot a lot with the Walter P22, and it's a delight. It's also a rather beautiful firearm.
posted by gertzedek at 7:37 PM on August 2, 2011

Sigs are great guns but the 22 conversion often need some tuning to work reliably and do not like "bulk pack" ammo. I would not recommend that for a first handgun. The mosquito may be better but I don't know for sure.

The Ruger Mk II or III are a great choice. The Ruger 22/45 is a variant of the Mk III that has a more conventional (1911) grip angle.

The Browning Buckmark is also great choice and has a better trigger out of the box and in my experience is more tolerant of "bulk pack" ammo. The Buckmark is easier to clean but requires removing the rear sight to remove the slide. Removing the sight means that you need to check your aim after every cleaning. I tear mine down every 1000 round or so for a full cleaning.
posted by IronSurfer at 8:52 PM on August 2, 2011

My favorites, speaking as a fellow small handed (and generally small) person:

Smith & Wesson .38 revolver with a hard rubber grip. This is also an infallible gun that never misfires and is easy to reload with a reloader. Very little recoil.

Almost any 9 mm Glock. Glocks do misfire, as they are semiautomatics, but have big ammo capacity, minimal recoil.

A "James Bond" PK WLther, 9mm. Really a fun gun.

Re your caliber, stay with .35 or 9mm, which is not a pea shooter like a .22 but has reasonable low level recoil.

Don't worry re eye dominance. If you use sights on your gun (and btw Glock sights are particularly nice and eady to use) and squeeze trigger rather than yanking, your aim will work fine. Remember accuracy improves with length of barrel as you get more rifling.

Have fun and remember your eye and ear protection.
posted by bearwife at 9:14 PM on August 2, 2011

Was going to suggest a Ruger MKII/MKIII, but was beaten to the punch. Relatively inexpensive, though yeah, a little tricksy to strip and clean, but not awful.

Ammunition in general has gotten a little pricier lately, so while you'll have a much larger variety in larger calibers, keep in mind that nothing is as cheap to plink on as .22LR. The suggestions for conversion kits are good, but really, go to a show or a dealer and just handle as many pistols as you can.

Everyone's preferences are different, everyone's hands are different. When you find the right one, you'll just know. My favorite pistol is still my H&K USP .45, but for me the first pistol that I ever picked up and literally went Ooh, that's just niiiice was a Kahr K9. The geometery was just absolutely perfect, and it's a joy to shoot as well.

I would suggest sticking with .22LR (either as the native caliber of the pistol, or via a conversion kit) or 9mm, as these are generally your two cheapest, mass-produced pistol calibers. For general plinking, you can buy cases of 9mm from surplus shops at pretty incredible prices. Yeah, it's far from match-grade, but it works well enough.

Glocks are pretty much universally available and accepted, but I actually prefer the feel of the Springfield XD over a Glock. Again, handle (and if possible, shoot!) as many pistols as you can before buying one. Most gun shops with ranges will let you rent for a very reasonable price.

But man oh man, are the Ruger MKII/MKIIIs an absolute joy. When I take new people shooting, even people who "don't like guns" can't put it down, and it's big grins all around.

As a southpaw, the only thing I'd suggest is looking for a model with either ambidextrous controls (a fairly common feature), or some pistols you can have the mag release, slide release, etc on the right side, to facilitate hitting it with your left thumb. And don't worry much about eye dominance, because (hopefully) you'll be shooting with both eyes open anyway!

Don't forget to allocate funds for some other stuff too. Cleaning kit, solvent, oils, proper sized bore brush, swabs. Earplugs or earmuffs (i prefer quality, low-profile earmuffs, to avoid constand in/out of earplugs). Quality, appropriate (shatterproof, impact-resistant) glasses. Most ranges won't let you onto the range without ear and eye protection anyway. A holster is nice so you always have somewhere handy to store your pistol while picking up brass, loading mags, whatever. A small duffel to keep everything together. A pistol rest (sandbag) is a nice thing to have for extended shooting sessions. A lock, and/or secure location to store your new pistol(s?) at your home, especially if you have kids. Just about all new pistols come with at least trigger locks, used guns, not always. Once you've got your feet wet and you're hungry for more, try to get plugged into a local club. Get some tips on technique, stance, whatever.
posted by xedrik at 10:32 PM on August 2, 2011

I've had a Browning Buckmark, and a friend had the Ruger Mk III. They're very similar, and considered the standard in "plinking" guns. The Buckmark is a little better out of the box (especially grip angle) but the Mk III has the lion's share of aftermarket parts. I wouldn't really recommend any other cheap .22 LR pistols - these two have been around forever. There's a big jump to the competition pistols like the Model 41, and you should be shooting higher-quality ammo to match.

Plus with either of the two you can get the fantastic (but misnamed) Ultimate Clip Loader. You will never have to manually load a bullet into a magazine and will be the envy of pretty much everyone else who doesn't have one. Here is a video of it being used.

However, I would rethink starting out with pistols as a new shooter. Compared to a rifle, handguns are more expensive, less accurate, more highly regulated, and harder to shoot. You can scope a rifle and hit bullseyes at 50 yards, whereas you may find it quite difficult to keep shots on paper at 25 yards with a handgun.

Do not consider anything other than .22 LR for target shooting. The cost is drastic - like five times cheaper for .22 LR bullets, even compared to "cheap" 9mm - and there's no benefit to more recoil and noise if you are just shooting paper.
posted by meowzilla at 10:49 PM on August 2, 2011

I am a big fan of the Smith and Wesson 22A (photos of green version here). I own two; one with the short (4") barrel and one with the longer, (5") "target" barrel. I've found it to be a fun, reliable paper-puncher.

Some people have issues with it, but IMO these are mostly related to one of two things: bad (low velocity) ammo or limp-wristing. Its action is much more sensitive to limp-wristing and other bad behaviors than some competitors, which personally I see as a feature. I'd rather have the gun let a new shooter know immediately when they're doing something wrong, instead of letting them develop bad habits that they're going to need to break later.

The grip angle and general layout are very similar to a 1911, which is nice if you want to move up to centerfire shooting later. The magazine release, however, is ambidextrous and located in the center of the grip (if you're shooting it, basically right under where the knuckle of your middle finger would be). The only thing that's not ambi is the slide release, but of course you can just pull back on the slide -- which a lot of people recommend anyway, and is a good habit to get into if you're a leftie, since a great many guns in the world aren't fully ambidextrous. (The safety isn't ambidextrous either, I don't think, but if you're shooting it at a range you'll probably never use the safety anyway.)

The two that I've owned and a few others that I've shot have all had really, really clean, light triggers. Seriously, much better than a pistol in its price range deserves. I am a stickler for a clean break and this is something I find bothersome about other designs. Personally I think it's a bit nicer than the Mk III, but maybe I've just played with some bad Mk III examples.

You can pick them up fairly cheaply used, and I'd have no issues buying one that way so long as the sights look good (not beaten up) and the general condition is flawless. As with any inexpensive gun, I'd shy away from one with any sort of cosmetic damage as it might be a sign that it was abused or owned by someone who didn't know what they were doing. Be sure to check the trigger (on a snap cap or spent casing if the owner doesn't want you to dry-fire) for "creep."

I'd recommend the 5" or 7" model if you can find one; the longer barrels make it handle more like a centerfire pistol and is better for training. Use zippy, high-velocity ammo, too (goes for any blowback-operated 22LR); save the $10 for 500 round stuff for BA rifles.

As for the pistol vs. rifle shooting thing ... I think they're totally different sports. Or at least like baseball and softball. Some of the skills you'd learn shooting rifles are transferable to pistols, some aren't. They'll help, certainly, but I've taught people to shoot handguns who hadn't used a rifle, and it's certainly possible. Do what interests you most.

Just be safe, find a good range, and don't hang around people who are doing dumb things.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:10 AM on August 3, 2011

I am now the proud owner of a Browning Buckmark!
posted by Pericardium at 11:48 AM on August 16, 2011

Fabulous choice! Happy shooting!
posted by Netzapper at 4:46 PM on August 18, 2011

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