I learned most of whatever skill I have with a handgun by shooting targets, and most of that was in practice for matches we once had at the Uvalde Gun Club.
Back in the 1970s the UGC was very active. We held several kinds of monthly matches in rifle, handgun, and shotgun. Our handgun matches were of two types: standard bullseye, using one-hand for slow-, timed-, and rapid-fire at 25- and 50-yard targets; and a very simple combat match based very loosely on the old Border Patrol qualification course fired at 7, 15, 25, and 50 yards.
The handguns I used in these matches were a High Standard Citation .22 cal., an Ithaca-made 1911 A1 in .45 ACP, and a six-inch Smith & Wesson Model 19 .357, in which I shot .38 Special wadcutters. I won’t say I won many matches, but I will say that I was competitive. And I truly loved the competition. Not only that, but I learned to shoot, really shoot, in those little monthly club matches.
Today far too many people go to the gun shop, buy a high capacity 9mm and a couple of boxes of cartridges. They shoot one box in “practice” and keep the other for carrying. They probably don’t shoot a hundred rounds a year in practice. They learn nothing. During the time I and my friends shot in those club matches we probably shot a hundred rounds a week in practice in each of our handguns.
That is how you learn to shoot a handgun. If you are serious. If you practice intelligently, you learn trigger control. And you learn that you cannot hold a gun completely still, but that you must line up the sights and squeeze the trigger until the gun goes off. If the sights are properly aligned and you don’t jerk the trigger, the shot will be close. If it is not close, you probably jerked the trigger.
To feed my shooting habit, I learned to cast lead bullets from scrap tire weights to shoot in the .45 and .38. Twenty-two ammunition was relatively cheap in those days, so I shot a lot more .22s than the others. A buddy and I would spend a couple of nights a week reloading .38 Specials.
By all this I mean to convey the idea that you don’t have to break the bank buying high priced ammunition, but you can learn to shoot using cheap handloads and relatively cheap .22 Long Rifle ammunition. If you are smart you will do the practice and learn to shoot a handgun.
There are plenty of good, accurate .22 handguns on the market today. Almost every major manufacturer that makes handguns makes at least one such .22, and many make several models.
Some are relatively inexpensive and some are very expensive. Two examples are the Smith & Wesson Model 41, which is quite expensive and very good, and the various models of the Ruger semi-auto, which is not very expensive and is still very accurate.
High Standard is back in business. Browning also makes a fine .22 semi-auto. Ruger even makes a .22 with the same grip dimensions as a 1911. Also available are kits that allow you to shoot .22s using your 1911 frame. In addition to these semi-autos, there are a number of high quality .22 revolvers available, so you can take your pick.
If you carry a handgun you would be wise to use a .22 for practice. You will gain much in the experience and save a lot of money as compared to what you would spend buying centerfire ammunition. Even at today’s prices you can find .22 Long Rifle ammunition priced at $25 for 500 rounds. That is 500 rounds of practice for the same price—or less—that you would pay for one box of centerfire ammunition.
Almost since the beginning of self-contained ammunition, the .22 rimfire has been the teacher of shooting skills. The first Smith & Wesson handgun was chambered in .22 short.
Every kid who grew up in the country, or whose parents or grandparents were hunters, had a .22, and most hunters and fishermen had a .22 handgun of some kind. Today the .22 is still the best teacher of shooting skills that has ever been invented. You would be wise to take advantage of its qualities.
The market for small handguns has grown with the legalization of concealed carry throughout the country. Folks want something small, concealable, and comfortable to carry.
Although I do own a few of these myself, the more I shoot these small handguns and train others who bring them to lessons, the less I care for them and the more I prefer a larger pistol. This isn’t to say that all small handguns are bad, for they certainly have their place. But if you are serious about defensive handgun use, you’ll want to find the best tool for the job.
Many times I find that husbands have purchased their wives these tiny pistols because it’s “cute,” and they can carry them in their purses. Off-person carry is a different subject, and even though a small size is advantageous, there is a point when the firearm is too small to shoot, manipulate, and control skillfully.
And that’s my first point—recoil control. Heavier guns recoil less. It’s physics. Also, heavier guns are inherently larger and have more surface area to spread the perceived recoil across your hands.
Shooting a single-stack compact gun with a thin backstrap, such as the Bersa Thunder—even in a smaller .380 caliber—can be downright uncomfortable, and it delivers a shocking jolt to your palms.
Even if you find the recoil doesn’t cause pain, smaller guns are difficult to grip correctly. Without a proper grip, your follow-up shots can miss their mark. Fit and feel are extremely important in a handgun, and I highly recommend actually shooting the pistol before you purchase it.
The next disadvantage of smaller handguns is difficulty of manipulation. Racking the slide is only one of the main requirements of running a pistol. However on tiny guns you have a very small grip area, and if you have a weaker grip it will be even more challenging.
Compound that with sweaty, muddy, or bloody fingers and charging the slide of something like a Ruger LCP becomes next to impossible. In a worse case scenario, you might have a double feed malfunction where you need to rack the slide vigorously. With a small ejection port added into the situation, it could be problematic getting your pistol back in the fight.
Further, magazine reloads can be quite slow due to the tiny magwell, magazine release, fingers in the way of the magazine well, and lack of slide stop on several super compact models.
Even on larger compact guns such as the Walther PPS I’ve pinched my fingers below the short magwell when slamming a magazine home. When you can only fit two fingers on the pistol grip, pinching a finger easy to do. Nevertheless, training to reload is very necessary when you consider the diminished magazine capacity of an ultra compact handgun.
And finally, the triggers on these tiny peashooters are difficult to master. Some triggers might be smoother than others, but the majority have a long and heavy double action pull that requires thousands of rounds in training to place shots as accurately as you would with a shorter, more crisp trigger.
Once again, this isn’t to say these belly guns don’t have a place. However I would think twice before having a compact pistol as my primary defense weapon.
—BY DUSTIN ELLERMANN