Are you new to the shooting sports and looking for the Best Beginner Handgun? We’ve put together some guidance on choosing the best handgun that fits your needs and our best of breed picks. There are hundreds, if not thousands of possible choices out there and buying your first gun may feel like a huge step. Don’t worry! We got this.
What it comes down to is getting a handgun that fits you, so we’ll go step by step to help you choose. Let’s get started.
Before you tuck your hard earned dollars in your pocket and head to the local gun store you should have a pretty good idea of what kind of gun will work for you. Maybe not the specific model, but certainly narrowed down to a general type and features. That way you can tell the gun store folks what you want rather than the other way around. Already know the basics? Skip down to our picks for Best Beginner Handguns.
Some Beginner handgun basics.
There are essentially two major types of handguns, revolvers and semi-auto pistols. Revolvers typically hold five or six cartridges in a revolving cylinder and fire one shot with each trigger pull and advance the cylinder to the next cartridge. Revolvers are usually double action (meaning they cock and release the hammer with a trigger pull) or single action (needing to manually pull back and cock the hammer – cowboy style, before pulling the trigger).
In some models the hammer is internal or shrouded so you can’t pull it back manually, technically these are double action only (DAO). Pretty simple right?
A lot of sites will tell you revolvers are not a good choice for the best beginner handgun. That’s baloney. Revolvers can be great for beginners. I’ll tell you why in a minute.
Semi-auto pistols have many more options and often ammo higher capacities. Some semi-auto pistols can hold up to 15 rounds or more with each removable magazine. It’s possible get a little over the top with mag capacity.
Most older and some modern semi-autos use a hammer like a revolver but the hammer is cocked by pulling the slide back and releasing it which also loads a cartridge from the magazine into the chamber. Pulling the trigger fires the gun and the firing recycles the slide, resetting the hammer and loading another shell. Rinse and repeat until you run out of cartridges.
There’s basically three major types of handguns with three flavors in each.
OK, OK… Before someone says “what about AR pistols?” let’s try and focus on the basics.
There are three variations on this mechanism. First, there are single action semi-autos like 1911s that need the hammer cocked before pulling the trigger. This is a classic and terrific design which often has amazing triggers but not my choice for a beginner. It’s a complex gun and for a new shooter I say keep it simple.
Next is often called Double Action but is really double action/single action and the most common variant. Pulling the trigger can both cock and release the hammer, then successive shots are single action. These variants often have a “decocker” so the hammer can be safely lowered without firing and returning it to a double action state. Many great hammer pistols are DA/SA, like the 3rd generation Smith & Wessons semi-autos.
There are also Double-Action Only semi-autos where the hammer cannot be pre-cocked and a trigger pull both cocks and releases the hammer (which behaves much like most revolvers). These are much less common. For a beginner, if you’re looking at a hammer fired pistol, DAO operation is consistent and simple which is a plus.
The tradeoff is, they typically have a consistently heavy trigger pull which can affect accuracy for new shooters. DAO pistols were popular with many police departments.
Enter the Striker.
Enough choices yet? Wait! There’s more. Most modern semi-auto pistols are striker fired like the legendary Glocks. (And no, Glock didn’t invent the modern striker pistol, they were just the first to do it right.) There is no hammer. Instead there is a spring loaded mechanism (the striker) which integrates the firing pin.
Depending on the model of pistol, the striker spring may be pre-compressed to varying degrees by the cycling of the slide. The trigger pull then compresses the spring the rest of the way and initiates its release. Boom! The pistol fires, the slide cycles, chambers a new round, pre-compresses the striker spring and you’re ready to go again. Check out this great animation showing how that works.
Some folks will tell you striker fired guns are the best for beginners because every shot requires the same amount of trigger effort. Strikers are consistent. Yes, it’s true they are consistent but of course so are double action revolvers and double action only hammer fired pistols. We don’t know yet what’s right for you.
Let’s assume as a beginner this is the first gun you’ll be buying. There are a number of reasons people set out on their search for the best beginner handgun. A huge reason is self-defense, whether that is at home or carried with you. There’s also sport and target shooting, hunting or competition.
It’s pretty much impossible to find a single gun that will excel at all of these uses so let’s narrow the scope down to defensive handguns and basic target shooting.
Self Defense Handguns
Searching for the best beginner handgun, there are a number of factors to consider but a gun’s use dictates which ones are most important. Some considerations are reliability, caliber, accuracy, ease of use and capacity.
In a defensive situation reliability is key – if your handgun is not 100% reliable, nothing else really matters. Caliber is next as low power rounds just won’t stop a threat. Next most important is ease of use. In a stressful situation the more you can process about your situation, and the less you have to process about your gun, the better off you’ll be.
Revolvers are extremely simple to operate and incredibly reliable which is why I am a fan of them for less experienced shooters. With a quality revolver there is very little to go wrong and in a demanding situation simplicity is an advantage.
With semi-auto pistols similar reliability is achievable, but the more complex mechanics of a semi-auto present more things that can go wrong and require more experience to address when they do.
Caliber is next as this roughly determines the amount of force a pistol shot can project. In general terms larger calibers are sending heavier projectiles downrange with more force. The other side of caliber is that the larger calibers generate more recoil and can more difficult to shoot accurately, especially for beginners.
Handgun caliber: The sweet spot.
The key is finding a happy medium. For most shooters .38 Special for a revolver and 9mm for semi-autos are in that sweet spot.
Accuracy is important but less than you might think. Most self-defense encounters occur at distances of less than 10 yards so Olympic competition accuracy is not required. Control and consistency are more important than bullseyes. Most any quality handgun will meet the bar if you do your part.
Then finally, there’s capacity. Six or eight rounds of reliable impact on the target every time are always better than seventeen rounds of maybe. True, it has been said “quantity has a quality all its own”, but capacity should just not be your first consideration.
More rounds also mean a larger gun so if concealed carry is your goal, less may be more.
Make sure it fits
Just a few last minute tips then we’re on to the AMMDOG picks for best beginner handguns in each category.
Make sure it fits. Does the grip fill your hand nicely or do your fingers fail to reach far enough around the grip to feel secure? If you have big mitts, is the grip too small making the pistol feel awkward and unstable? No room for your pinky finger on the grip?
Once gripped, does your trigger finger comfortably reach the trigger? The front surface of the trigger should rest approximately on the first, or distal, joint of your index finger. If it’s more towards the tip or more toward the second joint, you will tend to pull or push your shots, affecting accuracy.
On semi-autos, can you reach the magazine release without drastically changing your grip? If so, maybe a model with a smaller grip or trigger guard style mag release will work for you. If the pistol has a manual safety, can you also operate that without changing your grip?
Finally try this. Grip the (unloaded) handgun in your strong hand pointed at the floor. Imagine a target in front of you, close your eyes and bring the pistol up to point at your imaginary target. Open your eyes. Your hand will be in its natural position and the gun in its natural point of aim.
Where is it pointed? If it’s on the “target” that’s great. If it is more towards the floor or ceiling, the angle of the handgun’s grip may always be fighting your natural aiming tendencies. Practice and training can overcome this mismatch but if you have the choice, why fight it? Find the pistol that fits you.
Finally, the Best Beginner pistol picks!
Best Beginner handguns: Concealed Carry.
Our two top choices are the Ruger SP101 revolver (in either .38 or .357) and the Glock G43 semi-auto pistol. These check all the right boxes and in the right order. Both are super reliable, shooting a powerful yet controllable caliber, accurate at self-defense distances and still being easily concealable. You give up some capacity for the smaller profile package but that’s a fair tradeoff. These are quality handguns that will provide a lifetime of service. (You’re going to need a holster.)
Caliber: .38 Special/.357 Magnum
Barrel Length: 2.25”
Barrel Length: 3.4”
Best Beginner handguns: Home defense.
For home defense we move up to larger framed handguns but still using our same caliber choices or 9mm Luger and .38 Special (but leaving the door open to .357 Magnum). Our picks are the built-like-a-tank Ruger GP100 and the Sig Sauer P320.
Both great choices, here it comes down to a matter of personality. If you want ultimate simplicity for those bump in the night situations you can’t go wrong with the Ruger GP100. If your thinking favors higher capacity over simplicity in a package deemed reliable enough for the US military, the Sig P320 in 9mm is the winner.
Caliber: .38/.357 Magnum
Barrel Length: 4.2″
|Sig Sauer P320|
Best Beginner Handguns: Target
In the target category our criteria changed quite a bit. Our two winners are the Smith & Wesson Victory and the Ruger Mark IV. Both shoot the super economical .22 Long rifle cartridge and you can hone your skills all day without either tiring your body or breaking the bank.
If your first handgun is meant for fun, it’s hard to wipe the smile off your face when you shoot either one of these precision shooters. Stock up on targets and enjoy!
|Ruger Mark IV Target|
Caliber: .22 Long Rifle
Barrel Length: 5.5″
|S&W SW22 Victory|
Caliber: 22 Long Rifle
Barrel Length: 5.5″