A good introductory handgun for someone with small hands?
October 13, 2006 1:38 PM   Subscribe

What's the best beginning target shooting & self-defense handgun for someone with small hands?

I'm looking into getting a handgun (a previous askme thread makes me think that a 9mm might be good for a beginner) for target shooting and home defense. I've hardly shot a handgun before, though I've shot plenty of rifles. I am not very big (110 pounds) and have really small hands (it's 6" from the base of my palm where it meets the wrist to the tip of my middle finger), so something that would fit a person with a small frame is ideal. I'd like something affordable, but of decent quality -- something I won't hate to use for now, and could trade in toward a more expensive model later. I'd be using it for target shooting at the indoor/outdoor range, and possibly in IDPA courses as well. I live in New Mexico, USA.

I'll be taking the NRA basic handgun course in a couple of weeks, but in the meantime, any recommendations for an introductory handgun that would fit a small hand? General advice on starting out with a handgun would also be welcome.
posted by vorfeed to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (28 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Snubnose Revolver, although it's probably not ideal choice as a first firearm. Your instructor would have more ideal suggestions for a beginner, I'd imagine.
posted by prostyle at 2:10 PM on October 13, 2006

Go to your local range or gunstore w/range (where you're doing your course?) and rent a lot of them, try them out. Talk to the range-guy/girl. My guess is they'll give you a discount off the rental fees if you buy there.

NRA basic handgun is nothing, you can do it with virtually any gun, so worry more about what you'll have in the long term rather than what you have for that course.
posted by lalochezia at 2:22 PM on October 13, 2006

The best target shooting handgun is probably something chambered in .22LR. Ruger makes a very nice .22 target pistol that's affordable (and so is the ammunition!)

The best home defense weapon is likely to be a shotgun rather than a handgun.

Defer buying anything until after you've taken the safety course and shot a few different kinds of weapons.
posted by enrevanche at 2:23 PM on October 13, 2006

When you're trying out guns, see if you can spot a Walther PPK (compact, .380) or P99 (has a compact 9mm flavor). Because, hey, it was good enough for James-frickin-Bond. And Hitler. Uh. Anyway, yeah, nice compact guns.
posted by empyrean at 2:29 PM on October 13, 2006

An FN Five Seven?
posted by porpoise at 2:43 PM on October 13, 2006 [1 favorite]

Target shooting and home defense are entirely unrelated and you should NOT get a handgun that tries to be both. For home defense a shotgun is your best choice, as it doesn't require much practice, almost never jams, and you can load it with light shot so you don't have to worry about your bullets going through the wall and endangering others.

If you insist on getting a handgun for home defense, I'd recommend not going below a .40 round, as 9mm and .38 don't have very good stopping power, and with the federal restrictions on magazine capacity they no longer have the ammunition advantage that used to make them so popular. The Walther PPK, recommended earlier, is a great gun. After that look into a compact Springfield Armory XP.
posted by Vaska at 3:45 PM on October 13, 2006

The federal restrictions on magazine capacity have expired, actually.
posted by kickingtheground at 3:57 PM on October 13, 2006

While a .22 is nice for target shooting and a shotgun can be good for home defense, I think you are on the right track. 9mm and .38 have been effective people stoppers for years. Is a .45 better? Yes. But learning to shoot your pistol, getting the correct ammo for home defense and choosing shot placement wisely can even the playing field. You can definitely practice shooting with the gun you use for home defense. We could argue this ad infinitum. If you do a little googling, you will find that this has been argued until every side has won. Hell, Chris McCandless killed a moose with a .22.

If you've never used a pistol before, you may want to try a short barreled .38. Revolvers are easy to maintain and shoot. Very little can go wrong. There a many models out there. Taurus and S&W both make reliable lightweight versions. With small hands, I would suggest staying away from those because what you lose in weight, you gain in kick and loss of control. Not good for the short of finger. Luckily, the regular weight ones are the same size and shape. I have guns from both companies, and while S&W is nicer, I own them both quite happily.

Since you are looking for a home defense pistol, you may want to go with an automatic. 9mm is a better choice than a .380 for that use, though rent a couple and see if you are able to control some of the small 9mm.
The problem with small hands is that frequently they only fit around compact and subcompact pistols. Semi-auto makes them easier to shoot, but smaller size and weight makes them harder to control than a normal sized gun.
I have a pretty small hand, but not as small as your'n.
So here are a couple guns I have used and liked.

CZ-83 - It's chambered in .380 but they also make a 9X19 Makarov version. The gun has a nice heft, is well balanced, and has never jammed on me even in dirty conditions. Gotta love that Czech engineering. It's modeled on that Walther style ypu'll recognize with the barrel fixed to the frame. Because of that, it has always been pretty damn accurate.

Sprigfield Armory XD-9 - Is a sub-compact 9mm made in Croatia. Springfield imports them because they pretty much failed to sell any without an American name and marketing force attached. It is an incredibly safe gun with a trigger safety, a grip safety and a drop safety. They're good guns, reliable and moderately priced. Rent one, try it out, it might be a bit too thick in the handle for you.

Star BM - Star is a Spanish company that is now out of business. The downside is that parts are hard to acquire, not a gun for the revolution. The upside is that they are accurate and sturdy and can be had for a song. They're fun little shooters for someone on a budget. I mention them because they are single stack pistol (tangentially based on a 1911) and they fit small hands wonderfully. Plus the jokes never stop when you're handling your BM.

Taurus Millenium Pro - Moderately priced and reliable (Have I said that about every gun so far? Maybe that's because almost every high priced piece I own has a thick handle. Hmmm...) I love shooting this one. It has stovepiped on me repeatedly during one session, but I blame that on some cheap Greek surplus ammo. This one has a grip I think you might like.

In conclusion, I suggest renting and trying as many that seem to fit your hand as possible. I once bought a Sig that felt good in the hand until I actually pulled the trigger. Now I know that I don't like Sig's grips with my small hands. You live and learn.

Yeah, no mag capacity limits anymore. I just bought a new gun with a 15 round mag.
posted by Seamus at 4:00 PM on October 13, 2006 [1 favorite]

empyrean : When you're trying out guns, see if you can spot a Walther PPK (compact, .380) or P99 (has a compact 9mm flavor).

I'm going to strongly suggest that if you consider a PPK, that you shoot it extensively first. While it's true that they are very small and elegant little guns, because of the way the spring is set up combined with the size, they are an absolute mule kick to the hand.

The P99 is much more along the lines of what I would suggest. It comes in several calibers, and it has an replaceable backstrap specifically to make it more comfortable to people with smaller or larger hands. (it comes with 3 different sizes). My wife, who also has small hands, has a P99.

And while it might seem a little counter intuitive, you may want to look at something like a 1911 styled .45. They seem like big guns, but because the ammunition sits in a single stack, the handle is quite narrow. Because the 1911 style has been around for the last hundred or so years, it's been made into almost every conceivable configuration, so getting one dressed up for target shooting would be very easy. Some target shooters favor them, in fact, because they are single action (you have to cock the hammer before it will fire) and that makes the trigger very responsive.

Someone did make another good suggestion upthread, though I will disagree with them on the snubnosed aspect, you may want to look at revolvers. Because they are just a grip (as opposed to a feeding conduit, like on a semi-automatic) a revolvers grip can be made very small.

porpoise : An FN Five Seven?

Nice guns, really not a good suggestion for someone with small hands though, the grip is pretty sizeable around.
posted by quin at 4:02 PM on October 13, 2006

Comparison of Small Semi-Auto Handguns shows a bunch of semi-autos all to the same scale, with sizes, weight, and price.
posted by Sirius at 4:09 PM on October 13, 2006

Oops, sorry. Comparison of Small Semi-Auto Handguns.
posted by Sirius at 4:19 PM on October 13, 2006 [1 favorite]

Sirius, I think your link is borked.
posted by quin at 4:20 PM on October 13, 2006

Nevermind :)
posted by quin at 4:20 PM on October 13, 2006

quin and Seamus, that's exactly the sort of advice I was looking for! I will print out your suggestions and bring them with me to the rental range this weekend.

As for the target shooting/home defense debate, I will probably get a shotgun for home defense before much longer, but with this thread I am really looking for an all-purpose handgun that I can use mainly for target shooting and, in a pinch, defense. I am very interested in trying IDPA shooting, and I can't do that with a .22 pistol or a shotgun. They require "the use of a service type pistol or revolver of 9mm/.38 Special or larger caliber". I'm unsure about the meaning of "service type" here -- which of the guns recommended above count?
posted by vorfeed at 4:34 PM on October 13, 2006

A couple of points I didn't cover in my previous post: A lot of what is being recommended are basically pocket guns. This kind of makes sense in that they are going to have small handles. The problem is that pocket guns generally make for poor target pistols. The barrels are too short, and longer barrels are more accurate, both because the bullet spends more time in it, and because the front and rear sights are further apart which improves aiming.

Basically I think there are three criteria here that are relevant: you are looking for something for personal defence. This means it's going to have to be a reasonable large caliber. 9mm or above, minimum. You are looking for something that you can target shoot with, this is going to require a reasonable sized barrel for accuracy. I would say minimum of 4 inches. And it needs to have a small grip.

The more I think about it, the more I think a revolver might be the perfect choice for you. Revolvers come in just about any caliber you could want. Personally I'm a big fan of .357mag (because you can shoot .357 as well as .38 special) through them. You can get different barrel lengths (I would suggest 4" - 6"), and as stated earlier, they can be had with really small grips.

Additional things that might help. Revolvers are very simple to operate. There are few moving parts and easy to operate. (Sort of a point and click interface, you might say.) As a beginner, simple is good. It allows you to focus on becoming a better shot. From a personal defense standpoint, revolvers have one other aspect that makes them superior to semi-automatics. You can store the loaded indefinitely. They will never suffer from the spring fatigue that comes with leaving a magazine fully loaded for years.

Finally, it's easy to get a good revolver for cheap. Ruger makes some excellent ones.

Whatever you do decide to go with, make sure you go to the store and handle it extensively. Make sure you can comfortably operate all the controls.
posted by quin at 4:51 PM on October 13, 2006

vorfeed : I'm unsure about the meaning of "service type" here -- which of the guns recommended above count?

Pretty much all of them except the PPK. It's a .380 which is below the 9mm requirement. 'Service' pistols typically refer to the kind of gun a cop would carry. Basically it's trying to rule out exotics and sub-caliber stuff that wouldn't be appropriate.
posted by quin at 4:57 PM on October 13, 2006

seconding quin on the 9mm minimum. you could kill a friggin elephant with a .22 if you shot it in the right place. but you could also empty 10 shots into the torso/limbs of a large guy and he could still be coming at you.

i prefer the semi for faster reloading than the revolver, but to quin's point don't let it sit for fully loaded for years...you should be practicing regularly anyway.
posted by allkindsoftime at 6:20 PM on October 13, 2006

Seamus has it right on, but I would underscore his recommendations of revolver-for-newbies. Get a .357 Magnum, but load .38 special ammunition. You'll get the heft of the bigger barrel, but a smaller kick, and still enough stopping power in the larger revolver ammo.

And yes, I said heft. Small gun for small hands isn't the best idea in the world, as you'll have less weight absorbing the energy of the round. Go as big as you feel comfortable with and no smaller.

Also, most automatics have a decocker, which if you don't have any experience with, can leave you scratching your head at first (e.g. "whaddya mean it's single action on the first shot and double-action thereafter?"), and when it comes to self-defense, you don't want to have to worry about that. Point and shoot.
posted by frogan at 6:41 PM on October 13, 2006 [1 favorite]

9mm Sig 229 or 9mm Glock 26
People talk about stopping power but Ill take quanity of ammo over quality anyday... More rounds equals more chances of actually hitting your target.

A buddy's petite wife likes to shoot my larger 'service type' Sig 226 9mm because the grip is large and she can get both hands around it. Her husband has various sized .40s and .45s and they have too much 'kick' for her when shooting.

She's making him buy her the 9mm Sig 229.. which has a shorter barrel than my Sig 226.

About once a month we head to a free public range in a State Forest 10 miles from home and unload a couple hundred rounds each. THATS FUN!
posted by freeflytim at 6:43 PM on October 13, 2006

The Glocks are crazily reliable and very comfortable for small hands. I haven't met many people who don't like them, especially people who shoot frequently. I carry a SIG P220. Some people are big Taurus fans but a few armorers I know don't really like it for some reason (I didn't ask for details).

I doubt you'll regret Glock in any caliber.
posted by arimathea at 7:14 PM on October 13, 2006

vorfeed, with regard to IDPA, in my opinion, revolver folks at IDPA matches have it harder than semi-auto folks. The rules say that when you set up the course of fire, you should keep the revolver people in mind, but as a beginner, I would prefer to not be reloading. Also, if you buy a pistol for IDPA use, think carefully before having it modified, as you probably may want to shoot in SSP, which permits no modifications. You'll also need a holster and two magazines.

I think 9mm is a good caliber for a beginner. There are lots of them out there, and ammo is cheap. If you want to become a decent shot, get a gun you can load for a reasonable amount of money, and shoot often. You can run 200 rounds through a 9mm for around $20 (worth of cheap ammo).

9mm pistols come in all shapes and sizes, and you should try renting at least a half dozen times before you choose one. No need to hurry. I use a Glock 19, which you may wish to try out. Glocks are cheap, very simple, very light, and foolproof. It has three buttons: slide release, magazine release, and trigger.

I urge you to ignore the people who insist that 9mm bullets will not be able to stop zombies (or people on PCP) until you have some more experience under your belt. If you get a pistol that scares the shit out of you to fire, you won't spend enough time with it to be a good zombie-hunter anyhow.
posted by popechunk at 8:48 PM on October 13, 2006

You should go to several gun shops and handle various makes/models/calibers/barrel lengths. Find what seems to fit in your hand most comfortably/naturally (even though it's a 1935 design, I've never found a better feeling pistol than the Browning Hi-Power, & I have Sigs, H-Ks, etc.). When you've narrowed the field down, find a shop with an indoor range that rents those models and put a box through each. That should answer your question.

The ppk can be rough to shoot for some, & at .380 is a little underpowered, but conceals well. A snub-nose .38 is absolutely worthless for target shooting - don't plan on hitting the target at 25 yards without practice & even then its lame. Choose a 4-inch barrel, which is a good compromise between weight/balance & accuracy. If you pick a semi-automatic, look for ones that have both single action/double action (as opposed to double action only - DBO) as DBO pistols don't make the best for target shooting.

Practice, practice, practice.
posted by Pressed Rat at 11:26 PM on October 13, 2006

Or DAO, as the case may be.....
posted by Pressed Rat at 11:46 PM on October 13, 2006

I haven't owned any guns in years, but used to have a Federal Firearms License and had a bunch.

I am of many minds on the subject of 'what kind', but offer the following observations:

For target shooting... cheap is best. That means .22 with a decent barrel length. Ruger Mark II type is light, fun, cheap, reliable, safe (sic). Needs better sights than the standard iron ones that come with it, but they are fun to plink with. They are too big for routine carry, though.

For self-defense.... small size, large bore. Accuracy is unimportant. Beretta makes a 7.65 that is tiny, has a decent sized magazine, and is high quality. It was my last handgun, and is highly concealable, but has enough projective mass and a larger hole for intimidation factor.


There are two schools of thought on self-defense guns... one is concealment, one is visibility. IMO, it depends on the circumstances.

If you want to proactively deter someone, ...visibility rules. That means Big Frigging Pistola... a la Dirty Harry. Large bore, suitable for distance shooting, etc. Folks can see it and the noise alone will disable everyone. .44 Mag is the LOUDEST goddamned thing I ever heard... by a factor of 2. Jesus.

If you want to have a little more confidence in settings where you are fearful, concealment rules. Silly ass things like tiny derringers will not reliably hit the ground if aimed straight down, but things like a TomCat will. You have 9 chances. The TomCat has a tilt up barrel which can stay permanently empty, a double safety mechanism that will keep you from blowing you own ass, and fit in a purse, a briefcase, or a back pocket without a lot of obvious weight.

What no one here has mentioned is this.... the best way to get shot is to carry a gun. Your probability of hurting yourself goes from 0 to some positive probability, first of all. Second, guns have a disturbing effect not unlike the Ring in Lord of the Rings... they corrupt the owner and you might find yourself more willing to go into places you shouldn't go because of a false sense of security. It's a constant battle.

Last, if you ever have to use a gun in self defense, chances are you will not be able to hit a bull in the ass with it. I am a damned good shot, but can tell you, adrenaline, fear, demand for immediate action, motion, moving target, all speak against hitting anything you are aiming at. THen, if you do, people just don't lie down and die because there is a loud noise. Any shot over 10 feet away will probably miss. Any shot that hits will probably NOT do lethal damage.... certainly not instantaneous. No one will stand still and wait for you to aim and gently squeeze off a round.

I'm not an opponent of guns, nor a proponent. I have carried a bunch. I have not used a weapon against people, but once unloaded 12 shots against an animal, who walked away unscathed and unimpressed with my 9mm Beretta, which which I routinely punched out the centers of targets at the range.

I highly recommend living somewhere safe, acting prudently, avoided places where you would 'need' a gun, and developing situational awareness. Guns won't guarantee your survival, otherwise every soldier who ever lived would have died of old age.

Good luck.
posted by FauxScot at 5:38 AM on October 14, 2006 [4 favorites]

Second, guns have a disturbing effect not unlike the Ring in Lord of the Rings...

I've never heard it put that way, and it's absolutely true.
posted by frogan at 11:52 AM on October 14, 2006

I can obviously shoot better than I can proofread. (I was in a hurry!)
posted by FauxScot at 5:29 PM on October 14, 2006

FauxScot says it perfectly. But barring that, look at the ASP. Designed for special forces, and has some nice features like transparent lexan grips and partsrounded flush for less snags....it's basically the pimp my ride version of an SandW 39
posted by weaponsgradecarp at 9:40 PM on October 14, 2006

weaponsgradecarp, I think you missed this part of the post: I'd like something affordable,

ASPs are nifty and all, but...
posted by quin at 9:13 AM on October 15, 2006

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