How often in life have you surprised yourself? Maybe you took an unexpected path? Maybe you changed careers late in the game? Maybe you took up a hobby that turned into a passion?
If you’re like me, I can answer yes to all of those. There is something beautiful about change. For some it can be quite frightening and understandably daunting. We are creatures of comfort and routine. It’s safe to have a sense of the road ahead or at least our perception of it. BUT imagine if a caterpillar never received its butterfly wings? Imagine the adventure it would have missed out on?
Sometimes we have to enter the cocoon to find our wings. That’s been the most important aspect of my exploration into becoming “TactiGal”. It’s about taking a chance and allowing for new passions to reveal themselves.
Day 1 on the range could have been very different for me. I could have been less enthusiastic about firearms than I am and that would have been equally OK. We truly never know until we try and by taking that risk. I discovered that not only am I excited about learning to shoot and defend myself, but also even more excited about sharing that with others. My goal is not simply become a better shooter but it’s about encouraging others to give it a try without fear, without intimidation or that placated look that says “Oh you’re a female shooter, that’s cute.”
I’m scrappy, I’m feisty, and I’m full of heart and passion. I’m a woman that loves the idea that I CAN BE and DO anything my soul desires. And so can YOU!
I had a female guidance counselor growing up who said those very words to me and now three decades later I’m thrilled to say them to all the gals out there reading this. I didn’t grow up around firearms, but after thankfully being introduced to them by my significant other (who also just happened to be a skilled firearms instructor), it was love at first shot.
No matter how experienced or inexperienced you might be with firearms, there is always so much more to learn. I’m continuously training, even on the days that seem so much harder to get motivated. Hey, I’m human. There are times when standing in the cold on a muddy range seems less appealing than say, siting on my couch watching TLC’s Property Brothers, but ultimately you get out what you put in. So you dress warmly, put on your big girl pants and get your butt on the line sending shots downrange. If you’re lucky like me, your significant other will let you whine for just a moment and then tell you to snap out of it.
If not, I’ll tell you myself!
For those newly developing their skills, I encourage you to find a local women’s shooting club. You’ll be surprised by how many are out there but don’t be discouraged if it takes a little bit of digging. Call around your local ranges and gun dealers for referrals.
Once you’ve gone through all the necessary state requirements to own a firearm, I’d suggest renting a few at your local range to see what you feel most comfortable with. It’s not about what’s the most popular, or what your neighborhood gun dealer wants to sell you. It’s like a great pair of jeans. You’ve got to find what fits and feels best to YOU!
Many ranges often times have instructors or staff that can go over each rented firearm with you as you test fire them. Try as many platforms as you can. Revolvers and Semi-Automatics come in many variants- striker fired, double/single action, double action only etc. The same goes for calibers…380, 38 Special, 9mm, .40 S&W, .45ACP and on and on.
If you ask my personal opinion I’ll tell you what I prefer and shed some light as to why. As a quick answer, for a defensive pistol, I love 9mm Glocks. I have a Glock 19 Gen 4 and it’s a fabulous firearm to shoot and maintain. The later is also something you’ll want to consider. Maintenance is an important part of gun ownership. Some are less fussy than others. Options for customization are also a plus and important when it comes to sights, barrels and triggers. But again this is all personal preference and what works for me may not be the right choice for you. Further down in this blog, I’ll get more into the nitty gritty of semi-automatic pistols.
WHERE TO BEGIN
Perhaps the most important question to ask when purchasing your first firearm is if it’s reasonably accurate and reliable? Not all guns are created equal as you will see once becoming more familiar which each type and manufacturer. Other things to consider are whether the firearm feels ergonomically comfortable in your hand. Many handguns these days have adjustable grip panels and backstraps to accommodate a range of hand sizes. You should have confidence that you’ll be able to, or at least learn to, effectively manage recoil. This will in turn improve accuracy and allow for faster sight acquisition in between follow up shots. Another important note but often overlooked is your enjoyment with shooting it. You’re more likely to continue training with a gun you actually enjoy shooting. (Training is key).
Lastly, as mentioned earlier, another important aspect to think about is the required maintenance and cleaning. It should be commensurate to your skill level. A little initial intimidation is fine. Trust me, when I first took my Glock apart to clean it, I was petrified I wouldn’t be able to reassemble it… there’s plenty of youtube videos out there if you get into a pinch, but getting a firearm that doesn’t have a huge learning curve minimizes the stress. You don’t want to be the one that has to bring ‘bag o’gun’ to your local armorer.
SO WHAT DO I MEAN WHEN I SAY HIGH MAINTENANCE GUNS?
What comes to mind first are 1911’s. I love my 1911, but would I recommend it for a brand new shooter? Probably not. Why?
Well for one these are firearms that love their pampering and require a bit more end user sophistication. There are a number of parts that will need extensive maintenance and care. Taking down or Field Stripping a Glock vs. a 1911 is quite a different experience and could be labor intensive to the new shooter. Also 1911 triggers by default are exceptionally designed and I think can have a tendency to mask commons mistakes new shooters have like trigger jerk. The trigger is inherently built to pull straight to the rear unlike many more common triggers that have a slight arc to their travel. Trigger control is a skill, I think best mastered without the help of training wheels so to speak. Think of 1911’s as the special treat you’ve earned once you’ve mastered the basics.
I too was forced to learn on the factory-installed trigger. What does that mean? It means it required more pressure to pull to the rear and wasn’t as smooth as what I have now. I’m certain I complained at the time, however in retrospect it was the best way to sharpen my skills. Once I became proficient with the fundamentals by practicing them on a less superior trigger, it came time to upgrade. Thankfully I wasn’t plagued by bad habits that are sometimes hard to spot when shooting perfectly tuned firearms out the gate. I’m not suggesting deliberately buying a gun with a completely crunchy long heavy trigger (aka crappy trigger), but there’s no need to rush installing an aftermarket trigger either. That strategy worked for me and perhaps might be a way to go for you.
INVESTING IN YOUR SAFETY
A key thing to think about and look for when purchasing your first firearm is cost vs. reward. Think of it as an investment in your personal safety. You shouldn’t exceed your budget unless absolutely justified, but that doesn’t mean go for bargain basement deals without regards to quality either. Whether you’re in the market for this to be your home defense gun, your concealed carry or both, spend as much as you can to get the most quality that you can.
THE OTHER 4 ‘C’s
Think of it this way, if you needed a life saving surgery would you willingly choose to go to the cheapest doctor in town? I’m guessing no. There are many affordable firearms out there in an array of price points. Be sure to do your research. Once you’ve decided your budget, look for the other 4 “C’s Caliber, Capacity, Concealability and Comfort”. They say diamonds are a girl’s best friend but a dependable firearm is like her twin sister, so make sure that no matter which you choose, your gun is known to be RELIABLE and ACCURATE.
THE JOY OF SHOOTING
Some might also agree that equally as important is your enjoyment in firing it.
It’s worth mentioning, because many live fire classes can run between 4-8 hours and sometimes throughout the course of a couple days. You’re going to want to make sure that you really love shooting your firearm of choice on the range. If your enthusiasm wanes after only 10-20 rounds, it’s probably not one that you’ll want to train with. And if you don’t want to train with it, you’ll never be able to fully master it nor gain the confidence to use it in those life-threatening situations. Marksmanship is a perishable skill and one that must be maintained on a consistent basis.
So somewhere along the way you probably thought about a revolver as a first firearm option? I get it. There is a perceived simplicity with this type of gun that seems less intimidating to the new shooter. Unfortunately that’s isn’t entirely the case, in fact in reality it can be quite the opposite.
Some of the most notable drawbacks to revolvers are typically very heavy triggers and poor sights (both of which affect accuracy especially at distance), as well as, limited round capacity. There are those that may tell you, that you can modify the trigger but doing so can reduce reliability. For a defensive firearm, reduced reliability is the last thing you want. The other inherent and sometimes unforeseen issue with revolvers is that combat and tactical reloads are slower and require a higher level of skill when compared to semi-autos. Semi-autos involve a simple and swift exchange of magazines vs. revolvers that require opening the cylinder and either hitting the ejector rod or selectively removing empty casings one by one (in the case of tactical reloads). Speed loaders can improve reload times but they only work for combat reloads (when your gun has completely run dry). Are you starting to see what a challenge this could be if you are suddenly under attack and needing to reload quickly?
Another challenge with revolvers, especially for developing shooters, is their action type. There are two traditional types found in revolvers, double action only and double/single. Double only is heavier on purpose, in an attempt to eliminate negligent discharges under high stress situations. However this tends to lead to less accurate shots for most shooters. We are accountable for every round we fire. Even the best shooters can throw a shot from time to time, but having a gun that sets you up for failure hinders rather than helps.
A heavier trigger is also a false sense of security as well. I’ve heard many stories of negligent discharges even with trigger pulls in the realm of 12lbs. It can and does happen under duress, if you are not practicing good trigger discipline. One might ask, “Well what about double/single action?” – yes, manually cocking the hammer and putting the revolver into single action will lessen the trigger pull weight however now you must learn to master two (both the weight of double and that of single action). This is not impossible with quality training and consistency of practice. Unfortunately though, more often than not, there’s no time to cock the hammer in a gunfight.
On a positive note, a hammerless double action only revolver can be fired from inside a pocket whereas one with an exposed hammer can actually get caught up on clothing. Another plus to a revolver is that if you’re fighting for your life in a struggle - you can press the barrel up against your assailant and fire and not endure a malfunction like you would if you pressed a semi auto up against them – With semi autos that action can potentially cause the slide to go out of battery and disable the gun until you can get it back into battery.
As you will quickly see, this is by far my favorite category of firearms for a number of reasons. Once again there are a plethora of variants, so options come plenty and can be tailored to your needs and preference. Semi-Automatic pistols come in full size, mid size & sub compact and just like vehicles each serves the purpose of their primary utilization.
Full size are great for duty use, competition & home defense because they will give you the most real estate for a solid grip than you might sometimes find on a subcompact or single stack pistol. They also have a longer sight radius for improved accuracy and are typically easier to learn on than say a ‘pocket pistol’. Additionally depending on your local laws, they come available with higher capacity magazines or as I like to say ‘life saving rounds’. On the downside, full size guns may not be the best if you have smaller hands unless they come with adjustable grip panels. They are also harder to conceal- especially in the warmer weather months so be sure to factor that in and plan ahead.
Midsize semi-autos, like the Glock 19/23 are a good compromise for size, magazine capacity and concealability. It’s always a wise practice to carry “as much gun” as you can, but be warned you are a bit of a fashion slave to conceal carry. This middle ground provides the best of both full size and subcompact worlds and a wonderful option for those with smaller hands.
Subcompact guns like the Glock 26/27 might be smaller and easier to conceal but you also have less grip to hold on to. One can add a pinky extender to the magazine floor plate to extend the grip but at this point you might as well carry a midsize gun since the extender just increased the grip size to that of a midsize.
Single Stack Subcompacts are also a great option for concealed carry as long as you get a reliable platform say for instance a Glock 43 or M&P Shield. Not all subcompact single stack semi-automatic pistols are created equal so you’ll want to choose wisely. As far as concealability, single stack subcompacts work incredibly well, especially for women with small waistlines and somewhat fitted clothing. Another important note to mention is that guns like the 43 and Shield are chambered in 9mm, which is a respectable caliber for self-defense. Just be aware that these smaller single stack subcompacts tend to be not as accurate as their midsize/full size counterparts but are more than accurate enough to get the job down in a self-defense situation. (typically 7-10 feet).
LET’S TALK SIZE
If you’ve decided on a semi-automatic pistol, it would be my suggestion to evaluate your primary usage and budget. If money is not an issue buying both a mid or full size plus a subcompact isn’t a bad idea. Having both gives you the latitude of training on the larger more accurate mid or full size variant, with its greater sight radius and recoil manageability and then switching to the subcompact for concealed carry. The general operation of both guns will be close if not exactly the same. A Midsize like a Glock 19/23 (or a Smith & Wesson M&P size equivalent) for learning & home defense will prevent the frustration of learning on a smaller (generally less accurate) single stack subcompact like a Glock 43 or M&P shield. You can also carry the larger sibling in cooler weather where your clothing will make concealing them a breeze.
However if you only have it in the budget for one gun and possess a concealed carry license, my suggestion would be to buy the smaller gun for concealabilty since you’ll want to be armed as much as possible. If you are solely purchasing the gun for home defense, than the larger gun is probably the way to go as there’s no need to be concerned about wearing it on your person. I’ll talk more about home defense strategy in a future blog, but it’s also not a bad idea to invest in a small flashlight and possibly even putting Tritium or “Night Sights” on your gun.
More to come on this in a forthcoming blog as well, but in brief, you may hear quite the debate on what the minimum caliber you should carry for home defense and/or concealed carry. My personal preference is 9mm (or minimum of .38 + P with regards to revolvers). A lot of the smaller subcompact semi-autos come in .380 and as such many individuals default to this. However, I wouldn’t necessarily agree that it’s the best option. These days there are so many manufacturers offering sub-compacts in 9mm that it just makes sense to have the ability to fire a heavier bullet at higher velocity. Yes, you must learn to manage recoil, but that is true for all firearms and a skill acquired by quality training.
Having shot subcompact guns in both .380 and 9mm, small guns with small grips are sometimes unavoidably ‘whippy’, meaning the have a marked muzzle whip especially when you get into .40 and .45 caliber. To be perfectly frank the difference in recoil between the .380 and 9mm on those single stack subcompacts is so negligible it simply doesn’t make sense as to why anyone would want to opt for a lesser round.
And if you think that the cost of .380 ammunition is cheaper? Think again. A cursory search will show that with many major brands like Federal, Remington and Blazer 9mm is actually less expensive for your standard box of 50. Essentially you get a higher grain cartridge, with a larger bullet that travels at faster velocity for ironically less money.
My suggestion as mentioned earlier is to find a range that can rent a variety of firearms and calibers for you to try before deciding. There are a lot of factors to consider but they’ll all make more sense if you can actually experience them in your own hands.
Ultimately your best defenses are well place shots and regardless of the caliber the key factors are sight acquisition, trigger control and follow through. A surprisingly high percentage of handgun wounds are survivable and therefore ones ability to neutralize the threat is to effectively land shots to vital organs. The survival rate of gun shot wounds is also an important take away for you as well. Survivability begins with mindset so NEVER GIVE UP in a gunfight.
As you probably have already guessed, selecting your first firearm is an important decision and one that should be informed. Read reviews, talk to fellow shooters and most importantly try some out before committing when possible. Once you’ve found your match, I encourage you to get to the range and learn from quality instructors as much as possible. By doing so you are not only learning the correct fundamentals but also gaining valuable muscle memory and stress inoculation. In life-threatening situations we tend to default to our training, so make sure the foundation is laid.
Alas no matter which firearm you find works best for you, I applaud you for taking a chance and trying something new. Go find those Butterfly wings!