Top Ten Handguns for Self-Defense

The following article was originally prepared as guidance for my brother, who was shopping for his first sidearm.  He lives in a suburban community on the outskirts of Chicago.  Living in ILL-n-NOY(‘d), he’ll not be allowed to carry concealed.  He also may not be able to interest his wife in training.  What should he buy?  
*****Note on the prices referenced in this article (as of 1/17/13):  Anyone who’s been out shopping of late knows that prices have moved considerably over the past several months.  Due to extraordinarily high buying demand, many sources are sold out and most models are now on back-order.  Those with popular items available are, therefore, able to command premium prices well above MSRP.  A couple of (near and dear) examples include the Sig Sauer P220, which appear to be running now in the $900-$1,100 range, while new Ruger SP101 prices have risen to the $600 to $700 range.  These are roughly $100 to $300  (or, say 20% to 30%) above prices you’d have seen only 3-6 months ago.  I expect to be attending a major gun show this weekend and will, hopefully, be able to give a better report on both new and used prices there, including for those scary black long arms.

The following list is not intended to be comprehensive or “definitive” by any means.  It might serve, however, as a useful reference for your consideration.   I’m personally familiar with most of the makes and models listed (except as noted), having owned most of them over the years – or having had the opportunity to shoot them, if owned by others.   All of the companies listed make a wide range of reliable models.  The models selected here reflect my own philosophical bias, hand-size, and a variety of other considerations. 

Part I – Revolvers –  Best applications:  Female, Novice, or Personal Preference.  Smaller models can be great for concealed carry, larger models for field use and home defense.  Advantages over semi-automatic pistols include simplicity of design, ease of use and maintenance, and general reliability. 

Despite having owned quite a few semi-autos over the years, I now find myself gravitating back to the tried-and-true wheel guns.  Why?  Partly, this is a reflection of my desire for reliable simplicity.  We’re also living a more rural lifestyle, spending more time “in the field”, where revolvers make a bit more sense to me.

It also reflects the fact that my wife is more comfortable with revolvers, even though she’s adept enough in the various shooting sports.  I tend to believe that you simply don’t have to think (or practice) as hard to master the revolver for use in high-pressure situations.  Opinions may vary, but that the way I see it at the moment.

Revolver Brands in order of Quality and Value Rating

1.  Smith & Wesson – Quality A+  (Smoothest trigger, refined finish, notable strength)  Value – B+ (Also, usually the most expensive)  There have been reports that the revered S&W quality has slipped in recent years…see Chuck Hawks commentary here, as example.  That would give me pause on buying new, even though they’ve been developing some compelling new models.  So, buyer beware, I guess. 

2.  Ruger – Quality B+ (Usually poor trigger, not very refined, but exceptionally strong)  Value A-  (Strength matters a lot, especially for .357 or larger models).  Newer models seem to have much improved triggers, which may, on balance, give Ruger a significant edge in my ranking.  I’ve never found them to be quite as esthetically pleasing, but that may simply be a matter of personal taste.

3.  Taurus – Quality B  (Better trigger, better refinement, acceptable strength and reliability)  Value A- (A very close 2nd, better prices than Ruger).  Taurus, as noted elsewhere, is a really good “copy-cat”, and that’s true of their revolvers, many of which seem to be reasonably good “knock-offs” of S&W models. 

4.  Charter Arms – Quality B (So-so trigger, middling refinement, acceptable strength)  Value B+  (CA seems, at the moment to be among the best of the bargain brands available.)  Not always “pretty”, but a serviceable bargain.

5.  Rossi – I really don’t know enough to say anything useful about Rossi’s, but have taken note of mixed reviews on reliability and accuracy.  Now owned by Taurus, they are certainly affordable.

6. Hey, just don’t go there.

My Favorite Revolver Models

Notes:  The following are mostly optimized for concealed carry, which might be somewhat pointless for those of you in states like Illinois.  Thus, these are typically:  five shot, .357 magnum or .38 Special +P, short (2″-3″) barrel, stainless steel, not hammerless – personally, I tend to like having a hammer, despite the obvious disadvantages for “pocket carry”.  Use a holster, eh?   

Also:  The gun that saves your life is the one you’re willing to carry, and most of the following meet that criteria for me.  If choosing only for home (and/or field use), you could, maybe should, go to a larger 6 round model.  Still, if choosing a single home defense model, you might consider your wife’s hand size and strength too.

Finally, you should note that smaller, lighter-weight revolvers will kick like a mule with heavier loads like the .357.  My wife, as it happens, seems to have no trouble handling .357 loads in her Ruger SP101.  But, she’s a bit tougher than most and the SP101 is a bit on the heavy side compared to most of the current crop of light 5-shots.  All .357 chambered models, however, can always be tamed with .38 loads, especially for training purposes.

In order of desirability and cost:

1.  Smith & Wesson – Model M&P360, 1.87″ barrel, adjustable tritium sights, scandium alloy frame, stainless cylinder, matte black, exposed hammer, MSRP $980, typically $725 or so.  Would consider a 3″ model.  Virtually impossible to find used at this point in time.  Very light-weight, with corresponding recoil issues.

2.  Smith & Wesson Model 60 – 3″ barrel (some other variants in this line, most of the shorter barreled models are only chambered in .38 special).  Stainless, adjustable sites, slick trigger.  Very nice at MSRP of $850, typically available at around $640.

3.  Smith & Wesson Model 686 – A full sized alternative, stainless, full lug 2.5″ or 4″ barrel, six or seven shots, adjustable sites, MSRP at $930, otherwise $725 or so.  This is what I carry when I’m in a revolver kind of mood.  You can find these used sometimes at around $400-$450.  Born to shoot .357 mag. 

4.  Ruger SP101, 2.25″ or 3″ 3bbl – nice, heavy-ish 5 shot, stout, MSRP at $600, but can be had for $500 new.  Can often be found used for $400 or less.  My wife carries one of these in 3″, it’s her all around town and trail BFF. 

5.  Taurus Models 617SS2 or 605SS2 (maybe others too) –  Don’t know these well really, but they have a good rep and great price new under $400 and, thus, well worth looking at.  Taurus also has some ultra-lite models (like the M85), but these, I believe are only available in .38+P.  I’m giving a lot of thought to one of these myself, to replace the Walther PPK that I traded off.  At the moment, I don’t have a good small concealable revolver…. 

5-a. Honorable mention for the  Charter Arms Model 73520 (Mag Pug) in .357 magnum, short, ported 2.2″ barrel, stainless, MSRP at $450, can be had for $335.  I have to admit, I’ve had a long-term desire for their legendary 74420 Bulldog in .44 Special at $475 MSRP or, more typically,  $360.  Too bad it’s just one more cartridge I’d have to stock when the .357 is just as good, even better.  So there, I still want one.

Update Alternative:  Despite some mixed reviews, S&W is now offering the Model 637 Airweight (and others) for prices that are extremely competitive to the lower priced offerings on this list.  Although only suitable and/or useful in the .38 Special chambering, this is well worth the money they’re asking right now.  See the best price at Cheaper than Dirt.

Go to Part II – Semi-Automatic Pistols


124 responses to “Top Ten Handguns for Self-Defense

  1. Harry, 9/12/16
    I’ve been reviewing the gun sites for practical ideas for the handgun newbie and yours comes out on top. I’m 73, 5’4 and am looking at a semi-automatic for home defense. I had one good practice session with an instructor at a nearby range and found thatI was a reasonable shot with a Glock 19.
    The recoil was perhaps a bit more than I’d like, which is why I’ve been considering a smaller calibre than 9mm, but perhaps the G19 recoil is doable with practice. However, I really need a smaller grip. That’s why I’m considering the Glock 43. But I’m mindful of your comment:
    “Most people (and especially novice, older, and/or women) would be far better off considering a revolver. I’d recommend any serviceable .38 Special revolver (five or six shot) that fits your hand.”
    The issue for home defense I’m concerned about is that either the G43 or a revolver is going to give only 6 shots. Is that enough? I was very impressed with your Ruger SP101 3″ review. I assume you would recommend the DA for the newbie?
    And what about that 9.5 lbs. trigger pull on the Ruger SP101 DA?
    Thank you for your expertise?

    • Art – Thanks for your kind and thoughtful comments.

      Semi-automatic pistols do have some advantages over revolvers, though mostly for more experienced shooters. First, the mass of the slide and spring absorb some of the recoil, facilitating more rapid and accurate second shots. On most models, this benefit is augmented with the second shot being made in single action mode, which has a lighter trigger pull. Many “experts” prefer variants of the old Colt 1911, because in “cocked and locked” condition, the first pull is also single action – after releasing the safety.

      On revolvers, I tend to like variants with a hammer, even if it makes pocket carry more difficult, since it allows single action firing, when appropriate. In most “emergency” conflict situations, I can’t imagine that the potential loss in accuracy due to double action firing (over typical distances) will matter all that much.

      My basic point in the article, is that it (your weapon) needs to be (stupidly) simple, reliable, and easy to carry. Point and shoot simple, reliable, and easy to carry. At distances where finer accuracy could matter, perhaps you’ll have better options than shooting anyway.

      Finally, on to the issue of capacity. First, the vast majority of shooting incidents occur either in the home or business. In those cases, there


      be some advantage to having a larger (service) weapon and/or shotgun. But, again, in the studies I’ve read, the majority of shooting incidents (involving police) result in fewer than 5 shots.

      Obviously, there could be times when more shots might be required, but this is a probability problem. You can’t easily go around with a long gun and service side-arm with extra mags at the ready to serve every contingency. My premise was that you are more likely to have a weapon at hand that is easy to carry and it will serve you well if you are comfortable using it and it is always reliable.

      As far as your age and size, ergonomics are an important consideration. Again, just be sure that you are comfortable with the grip, the recoil, and operation of the weapon. Training can go a long way towards meeting those goals.

      Thanks again for your great questions. – Cheers, HT

  2. Dr J John Portera

    I think this was a most sensible, comprehensive, and informative presentation of handguns. I particularly appreciated the objectivity shown, favoring no particular Maker due to name RECOGNIZATION.

  3. Great information! I’m a beginner shooter looking for a revolver for concealment. I have weakened strength in my hands and its difficult for me to pull the slide, hence my desire for a revolver. I had my heart set on the S&W 637, but my husband believes it will have too much recoil. I’ve only looked at a few revolvers. Can you recommend a few revolvers for me that i should check out that? I saw 2 on this article that im going to look into.

  4. Love the web site and the concept. I don’t think the revolver can be best for safety and reliability.

  5. I have a Taurus tracker and love it to death. And that’s not just pride of ownership talking. I have a huge baseline for comparison. Aside from that I think it’s a great article

  6. Great article. I could add my choices but not needed. I, too, have gone back to the revolver. Living in the Far North predicts large, heavy bullets driven at palm-whacking velocities. And for personal defense I again agree with what I see from experience as a more reliable weapon, the revolver. A whole host of folks will disagree, that’s a good thing. They have needs insights and experiences I don’t. Great article.

    • Hey thanks for that KP. Yup, most folks think that if they don’t have a high-cap semi they’re just not prepared for the Zombie Apocalypse. Alas. I don’t know where in the Far North you might be, but I suspect you already know that the first rule of self-defense is being where the high (human) risks aren’t. Cheers, HT

  7. nice variety of 357 Magnum I wish you given more details of them

  8. Very good articles. I just started shooting last year at age 64. Partly for self defense and partly to learn a new skill to stay sharp. I have a Ruger SR22 that I bought to learn with and for cheap practice. But, now want something with a little more stopping power if the need arises.

    I was leaning towards the SP101. But the first twinges of what looks like arthritis seem to be showing up. Not bad, but sometimes in the trigger finger.
    I noticed in your comments that your parents bought an SP101. Wondering how it has worked for them? Do they have any problems with arthritis?
    What are your thoughts on revolver vs semi-auto for arthritis.? You may have covered this already and I just missed it.

    • Hi David – Thanks for the question. I wish I had an answer, but so far as I can tell, my parents have yet to take the SP101 to the range. From a distance, I’ve tried to encourage them to do so, but it just hasn’t happened. I can’t recall if I mentioned it, but they did take a training course prior to their purchase and, in the class, did have some limited opportunity to try out several different pistols. Although I was particularly concerned with regard to my mother’s advanced arthritis, I understand that she did not have too much difficulty. Sorry, wish I had better info for you. Cheers, HT

      • Thanks Harry. At this point it is just barely an occasional minor twinge, so either one would work now. Just thinking ahead.

        I may end up flipping a coin. My two top choices are the SP101 because of reliability or Glock 42 because of low recoil, nice trigger, and putting a laser on for aging eyes would still be affordable.

      • David – Either way, both are good choices. If I had any serious concerns about trigger pull on a revolver, however, I’d consider having a gunsmith tweak the action a bit…that can make quite a lot of difference. Good luck. – HT

  9. I ccw a Charter Arms DAO Undercover .38 Special , about to purchase another one identical to it for a ” New York ” backup . I also carry a Speed Strip in the pocket for social encounters . My wife bought this gun for me for Christmas in 2001 , great woman my wife , have only had one problem with the gun so far , it was last year the firing pin spring broke , so I sent it back through my FFL buddy , that way shipping is not as high 15 bucks compared to 65 bucks , they fixed the spring put in a new firing pin , went through the gun and tightened it up and even put a new rubber full combat grip on it , I give CA five stars for this , I recieved my gun back in a month . I am very pleased with CA , plan on another after this next one , I want a Pitbull 9mm , but right now you have to get on a waiting list at most dealers even , maybe one day quantity will catch up with demand . Be prepared and ready . Keep your powder dry .

  10. What is your assessment of the 1911 .45 ACP?

  11. My home defense weapon of choice is a S&W combat masterpiece with a k frame set-up for plus P loads. This pistol was owned by my father when he was a deputy in New Mexico back in the mid fifties. It always fires, even with +P loads the recoils it not a problem, my wife is small framed but handles the 38 without any difficulties it is fully loaded at all times with 165 gr half jacked H.P.s I suggest that if you can find them the older. S&W are the way to go. My other home defense weapon is a mossburg 12 gauge with a long tube with the plug removed which allows eleven rounds of 2&3/4 high brass loads the barrel ends just two inches beyond the feed tube which makes it great for close areas. I tell every one that enters my home that all weapons re fully loaded and are to be treated as such. The rest of my weapons are like wise fully loaded and ready for use. The ones not for home defense are locked up in a 900 lb gun safe. If the grand kids come over every thing is locked down until they leave. To all gun owners out there keep your weapons under control because children do not understand what can happen so always keep your weapons locked up when children are around.when my children were young my guns were on a rack and were loaded, back then we lived well out side of cities and there were snakes,coyotes, wolves and even some black bears in the woods where we lived so the guns were always ready and my children being raised up with guns never played with them. But now days it’s best to keep them under lock

    • William – To some folks that might sound like an “antique”. To me, its just a timeless “masterpiece”. I once had an opportunity to try one of the matched sets (with the .22 practice companion) and, truly, was one of the most pleasurable shooting experiences of my life. Good on you. – HT

  12. I have owned and operated a local Gunshop since 1992 and enjoyed your list, but once get passed S&W and Ruger you should just stop. Of ever ten guns I return for customers 8 are Taurus or Rossi! Basically junk

    • Kirk – Thank you very much for that valuable input, which doesn’t necessarily surprise me. For these revolvers, I tend to think of the S&W’s as “elegant tools” and the Ruger’s as “durable tools”. Caveat emptor, cheers HT

  13. I am needing a small gun for self defense as a woman. Any suggestions? I have shot the Sig S P229 in a .40 and liked it. The smaller grip was perfect and it did have a stronger recoil. I do not know what caliber is best. I have also heard of a “lady grip”. What is that? I am inexperienced and unfamiliar with any type of handgun. Thanks for any reply.

    • Melissa: Thanks for the question. As noted in my article, I heartily recommend that you give serious consideration to one of the smaller J-frame Smith & Wesson revolvers, such as the Model 60, chambered in .38 special. Depending on your experience, hand-size, and intended purpose, a smaller, well-made revolver should always be at the top of the prospect list…see my comments on this subject in the article.

      The Sig P229 is, of course, a very fine pistol and may well suite you with time and practice. It is, however, a full-size “service pistol” and, for most shooters will be larger and more powerful than would be considered necessary or convenient for everyday carry….including myself at 6′ and 210 lbs. As I note in the article, I do own a very nice Sig P220 in .45 ACP and, while I’m very comfortable with this model, it is not my choice for concealed carry.

      Ergonomics – the fit and function of the handgun – is a very important consideration and I expect that sampling a number of various models will lead you to one that feels right…but do take your time to investigate the reliability of the make and model before plunking down your cash. If the .40 caliber produces too much recoil (the perception of which is influenced by both ergonomics and experience), I would suggest limiting your search to .38 special revolvers or, if you’re convinced to pursue a semi-auto, something in the 9mm or .380 chamberings.

      Hope that helps and thanks again for checking in. – HT

  14. Harry,
    Great article! I’m a long time gun owner, but first time seeking a hand gun for self defense. It’s been recommended to me to consider a S&W bodyguard or a S&W 642 for both home defense and concealed carry. I’m leaning towards the 642 simply because the bodyguard has some unique features that may take a while to get used to. Didn’t know if you had an opinion on which would be the better choice?


    • Hey Bill – Thanks for chiming in. Interestingly, I had really been hoping that “Santa” might have brought me a nice little 642 (or equivalent) this Christmas. Alas, I’m left to waiting to sell off a few items before I track one down for myself. This one is absolutely on my short list, though I often waffle between it and the 637 or my longer-time favorite the venerable Model 60. Check out TTAG for a great review of the 642….featuring this quote, “Did you know that….◾Revolvers don’t fail to feed or fail to eject. Phrases like “won’t return to battery,” “stovepipe jam” and “this POS sucks” are from an alien language not spoken in Revolverland.” Sounds like something I might have written myself, ha, ha.

      For what it’s worth each and every one of Smith & Wesson’s little J-frame revolvers would be a dandy choice as a daily carry piece. Naturally, you should consider issues of weight, grip comfort, likely carry position (i.e. holstered, pocket, ankle, etc.), recoil tolerance, and required/desired ballistic performance before making your final choice. For most, the 642 would be an excellent choice, providing light weight, reasonable power, and being pocket friendly (no hammer protrusion). If your needs are more unique, others might serve better, but it would be hard to go wrong there.

      Hope that helps. – HT

  15. They kill my friend and I withness the killing

    • Odaine – I’m truly sorry to hear about your friend, but the gun didn’t pull it’s own trigger. Seriously….it’s just an object and a tool, used like any, by good and bad people alike. Best wishes. – HT

  16. Hi Harry, It’s Scott from the Scout Rifle Column. I carry a custom M1911-A1 every day, and my second favorite is the FN Five SeveN (5.7mm). Both do the job really well, however come from opposite spectrums. Slow and Heavy as opposed to Insanely Fast and fairly light. The thing about the 5.7 is it’s a Torpedo, blinding fast and when it hits it more or less explodes.

  17. Just stumbled upon your blog, and I’ve gotta say, it’s great!

    Fantastic list. Another good revolver to consider: The Chiappa Rhino 200D. I own one, and out of all the handguns in my collection the Rhino is my favorite.

    The Rhino is crazy accurate, reliable, is not picky about ammo, and has very, very minimal recoil. I use it as my main carry gun, and although it is in rotation with my XDM .45, most often I carry the Rhino. I’m not recoil sensitive despite being a woman, but at 5’6 and 110lb, at first I was a little concerned about handling a .357 snubbie! But I quickly discovered that the Rhino plays nice. I once took a friend to the range who had never before shot anything besides .22 and 9mm, and even she loved the Rhino. She couldn’t believe how well this revolver performed. For any ladies reading this post who are in the market for a revolver (or, the fellas who are looking for a gun for the missus!) the Rhino is definitely one to consider. A few caveats: Some think the Rhino is ugly or unsightly; the trigger pull may be an issue for those with limited hand strength; and, the price can be a little off-putting for some people.

    • Heya Mel: Well, wonders never cease. These days, I feel fortunate to see and learn something that brings a smile to the face and this might well be cause for further interest. As I’ve recommended in the past, I tend to recommend that more technical information (and expertise) on these subjects ought to be sought from those such as The Truth About Guns and Chuck Hawks excellent websites. And, as it happens, TTAB has a very useful review of this innovative revolver of yours. Check it out. I’m intrigued and thank you for calling my attention to this very interesting revolver.

      Oh, and thanks very much for your kind words. Cheers – TH

  18. I am surprised the Ruger GP100 did not make your list of best revolvers. It is very strong, extremely accurate and with an after market spring kit has a fantastic trigger.

    • Heya Dan: Thanks for that. Yes, the GP-100 is great revolver and, perhaps, might be considered a “sleeper” of sorts. Sometimes you have to pick and choose and I was providing something of a cross-section that did include the SP-101. Appreciate the input. – HT

  19. Hi,
    Thanks a lot on the info. But what do you think of the S&W 686?? Concealability..handling…and the likes.

    • Hey Kenny: Well, I’ve owned several and still own one…that might tell you something, eh? I’ve also had 3 or 4 of the big brother 629 in .44 mag….a bit too punishing for me, but a beauty nonetheless. Actually, I think the 686 is about the perfect platform for the .357 mag. It’s not much for concealability, but it’s really hard to beat for shootability. Cheers. – HT

  20. Thanx for the info..I’ll let you know how it goes..

  21. Just wondering a stroke has left me to one hand shooting, looking for a revolver that won’t kick like a mule. My shooting hand has had 4 surgeries so not real strong when I shoot the 9mm have to aim left for the recoil pulls to the left. Any suggestions would be great. Thanx

    • Rick –

      For someone in your situation, I would have to imagine that some manner of downsizing might be necessary…either caliber and/or platform . I might, for instance, consider a lower-weight revolver in .38 Special, such as the Ruger LCR, weighing in at around 13 oz.

      Your challenge, of course, is balancing both recoil control, overeall weight, and, perhaps, trigger pull. This does make for a complicated solution. With one-handed operation, I’m even more in favor of sticking with a revolver. I’d just shop carefully for your ammo, looking for “moderate loads” that will further reduce your recoil issues. I’ve not tried them, but would consider some of the “cowboy action” loads available, such as these at Cheaper Than Dirt.

      Also, be sure to choose a model with which you can be assured to maintain a positive grip. That might end up requiring that you consider a larger 6-shot model. One that would be very comfortable in the hand and have negligible recoil with reduced load .38’s would be the S&W Model 386SC. (I recently fondled one at a local gunshow…and really wanted to bring it home :)) Though on the pricier side of things, it might serve your purposes quite well if concealment is not a great concern.

      Hope that helps. – HT

  22. Thanks for ur input, helps out a lot, and btw I’m a strong believer in the whole revolver being a reliable handgun, but what would u consider for when sh!t hits the fan, and I need more than 5/6 shots? I was thinking the sub compact springfield xdm 3.8 9mm with the extra round mag, stock mag holds 13+1 n the ext mag holds 19+1, plus I can change the caliber on it if needed, just like short barrel’s..any recomendations on maybe a good tuarus or ruger? I don’t have a lot of $ so please keep that in mind…I know ur probably laughing after saying that n thinking of the xdm but if there’s something out there that idk about, and u would recommend to save $ and still have good reliability I’d appreciate it and I appreciate ur input on revolvers, agree 110%! Thanks

    • Aaron: Your question reminds me of the old adage: “my pistol is what I use to get to my real gun” (which is to say a rifle). The current debate on assault weapons notwithstanding, that is the purpose of a long-gun in a self defense role: to hold off an enemy force, hopefully at some distance. The key notion here being as much the distance as magazine capacity. But, more to your point, sure, there is a role too for a “combat pistol”, typically a semi-automatic. Part II of my article features a number of these. I tend to favor the very reliable and (unfortunately) rather expensive Sig Sauer line, but believe that Glocks offer the greatest value. The Springfield XDM is a perfectly fine choice as well. Cheers – HT

  23. Thanks Harry. I noticed the Ruger GP100 does come in a .327, is that as good as the SP101? Also, on the spec sheet for the GP100 it says that it is not MA approved & certified, what does that mean?

    • The GP100 is a “full-sized” wheel gun, much like my own S&W 686. These, in my humble opionion, are truly better suited to the .357 mag and, in any regard, wouldn’t be my first choice for concealed carry. The “MA Approved” list has to do with testing for approval for sale in People’s Republic of Mass. California has similar requirements, presumably related to safety issues. Right.

      In any regard, I can appreciate your interest in the .327 mag, though I tend to hold the same general reservations noted by Chuck Hawks in this article. I tend to be more comfortable with what is “common, cheap, and effective”. On these scores, it’s hard to beat a .38 +P.

      If your heart is set on it, you might consider the (very nice) S&W model 632, which is apparently still chambered in .327. Also, as noted previously, keep your eyes open and you’ll likely find a used SP101 at a local gun show….you never know. Good luck. HT

  24. In reviewing the Ruger 2013 catalog, I noticed that the SP101 .327 is not listed. I contacted Ruger and they said that they discontinued that model! Any other recommendations?

    • Dave: Ballistic performance of the .327 aside (which looked really good to me), I’m sure you can’t go wrong with a .38 Special variant. Various rumors suggest there were both marketing (sales) and, possibly, case pressure issues with the .327. Hard to say. If your mind was made up, I’m sure you’ll be able to find something on the used market, but really, nothing wrong with a .38. – HT

  25. Good info! My two favorites for carry are a S&W Mdl 360 J-frame .38 spl revolver and S&W Bodyguard .380 semi. Either one carries well in a belt holster or a pocket holster (I cannot handle IWB holsters). For home defense I have a Ruger .44 Magnum Redhawk revolver and Springfield XDm semi in 9mm. Can’t get my wife to carry, but her favorite at the range is her nickel-plated S&W Mdl 36 revolver .38 spl. with a 3″ barrel.

    • Randy: That’s what I’m sayin’!!! Great to hear that. Cheers, HT

      • Willl the Ruger SP 101 .327 also fire .38 or is it only a .357 that will?

      • Dave: Glad you asked. Of course, this is a topic on which any gun-newby should do some reading. Typically, the caliber of a firearm describes the diameter of the barrel and, thus, the bullets that fit that diameter. But, there are a few exceptions, the .38 Special being one. These actually have a bullet diameter of .357 inches, hence the name of the .357 magnum, which merely has a longer case length. The .38 inch designation, oddly, describes the case diameter, which is a legacy of early use of the .38 short colt cartridge in converted cap and ball pistols. So, you can safely chamber a .38 Spc. in a .357 Magnum (not the other way around) and, no, you can’t chamber a .327 in either. Hope that helps. – HT

  26. Great advice! How about a good book for us to further educate ourselves on terminology and other issues relating to our new interest in handguns, perhaps a revolver 101 guide?

    • Dave – Sure thing…glad you asked, actually. My favorite author on the subject is Massad Ayoob, who writes an excellent column at Backwoods Home. His book “The Gun Digest Book of Combat Handgunnery” would likely fit the bill. – HT

      • You think that would be the best for a beginner who virtually knows very little about handguns? Also, on the Gun Digest website is a book about Revolvers. What about that one? Thanks Harry!

      • Dave: Well, there are a number of good sources, but I think that one covers most, if not all, of the “necessary topics”…including some advice regarding the purchase of a used handgun, tactical uses, legal issues, etc. When starting from scratch, as you are, I believe that it would be helpful to cover all of that. You’ll also find quite a few differing or conflicting opinions on the “best” approaches to any and all of that. It’s useful to get a range of opinions, but I do tend to agree with most of Ayoob’s POV. I might note that he leans towards the semi-auto for home defense, but concedes that revolvers are better suited to new shooters. Also, he has written a number of books, but the one cited seems to provide the best starting point. You’ll find that the maintenance and operation of revolvers is fairly simple, but that it never hurts to know as much as possible about any tool on which you rely. Since I have often purchased used firearms, I’ve wanted to understand them as much as possible, often starting with a complete disassembly and inspection. But, hey, that’s my life. Good luck. – HT

  27. Good afternoon Harry,

    I am looking for the best handgun at a reasonable price for my wife and I for home defense. I have been doing alot of research and am very impressed with your knowledge! Originally, I was leaning towards a Beretta PX4 .40 compact. I spoke with a rep at LL Bean who felt that a Ruger .327/.357 would be a better choice for my wife. A rep at Cabela’s, suggested that I go with a 9mm Glock or Beretta 92. After reading your site, it seems that a revolver is the way to go. The more I read the more confused I get. I have alot of experience with shotguns and rifles as I was a member of the NRA and shot competitively years ago however, I am very limited with handguns. Please advise!

    • Dave: Thank you for your very kind words. Rest assured that I try to give an honest opinion – based on my own experience and thinking. I will also defer and refer readers to those who I consider to have much more expertise than myself. Among those, I cite here the very good Chuck Hawks site, though there are other good sources that you might consider.

      Anyway, to the point here, yes, I believe that for most folks, a revolver is an optimum solution…in terms of simplicity, safety, reliability, and value. And, to be sure, the Ruger SP101 is a top pick on all counts. On the basis of aesthetics (mostly) and factory trigger pull, I tend to prefer Smith & Wesson, but recognize that these may not be worth the extra money for many buyers.

      Now, I have no problems, really, with a semi-auto pistol for those who will really and truly take the time to understand, properly train with and maintain it. While Glocks, in my opinion, offer the best value, the Beretta line is generally great. My personal “perfect” semi-auto choice, as noted, is a Sig Sauer P220 in .45 ACP, but this – like the Glock 17 or the Beretta 92 or even the more compact PX4 (unless you’re talking about the sub-compact), is still a “full-sized” carry pistol that may not be is not the most convenient concealed weapon for most folks. Seriously, it is a real hassle to properly conceal a full-sized sidearm and, if you’re honest about it, I think you’ll find that you’ll choose not to carry as often as you might otherwise think. Your mileage (and/or wardrobe) may vary.

      I like the idea of sub-compact semi-autos, but not at the expense of reliability, ergonomics, capacity, or effective power. I’ve tried and/or owned quite a few of the .380 offerings out there, including the typically “well-regarded” Walther PPK. Been there, done that. Most are either too small, or too unreliable, or too chunky, or too underpowered, or – in the end – offer very little capacity advantage over a 5 or 6-shot revolver.

      One more consideration, given the current wave of gun control fever. There is a distinct possibility that we’ll be revisting certain elements of the old (and ridiculous) assault weapon ban, including a ban on high-capacity magazines. You may not recall the high-cost of those 17-round Glock mags ten short years ago, but I do. That, among many other reasons, only strengthened my appreciation for the venerable .45 ACP and the .357.

      Do I sound a bit like Goldilocks? Hmmm. Maybe. But, yeah, revolvers really are generally “just right”. And, I think you’re on the right track. Good luck. Let us know what you end up doing. – HT

      • Thank you Harry for your advice! Since I am leaning towards the Ruger SP101, would you recommend model 5771 with a 4″ barrel or model 5719 with a 3″? Keep in mind, this is strictly for home defense and not to carry. Also, since we are new to handguns and the terminology, could you recommend reading for us to help us educate ourselves on all of this?

      • Also, what about the Ruger GP100 vs the SP101?

      • Hey Dave: I believe that my article mentions that my wife’s trail gun is an SP101 with a 3″ barrel, chambered in .357 Mag. As a side note, this is also the same model recently purchased by my 76 year-old parents as their first handgun, although I expect that they’ll be loading theirs with .38 SPL. This configuration is neither very light nor, due to the barrel length, overly compact. It does, however, serve reasonably well in a number of applications, including concealed carry (sort of “in a pinch”).

        You will find that the .357 Mag can be a somewhat “punishing” round to shoot due to recoil, a problem that is exacerbated in smaller, lightweight platforms. It can also produce significant amounts of muzzle flash. Generally speaking, smaller and lighter five-shot revolvers are best suited to .38 SPL, including +P loads. And, don’t forget that all .357 models can be loaded with .38. Also, the weight of the SP101 can be an advantage, even for .38 SPL loads, for any recoil sensitive shooters (such as my Mom).

        Among her many talents, my wife is not particularly recoil sensitive, however, and does carry with .357 loads. Her hands, surprisingly, are almost exactly the same size as mine (in overall length of pull) and we both find the size of the SP101 to be reasonably well-fit, though as with most five-shot revolvers your pinkie will hang off the bottom.

        The GP100 is much more similar to my S&W Model 686, which is to say a full-sized 6-shot revolver, weighted as it were with a heavier barrel. Mine is a “standard” 4 inch model, typically excellent S&W trigger pull, and nice Pachmyr rubber grips. I would expect the GP100 to fill the very same “full-sized” sidearm niche. As such, it would not be the greatest concealment pistol. I use mine as a “field pistol”, typically carried in a nice leather cross-draw type holster.

        These choices can often be decided on the basis of two factors. First, do you want or need a concealable pistol? If so, the nod would go to the SP101, probably with the shorter 2.25″ barrel. I’d also probably give more consideration to one of Ruger’s lightweight LCR models, assuming I’d be willing to limit the load to .38 SPL +P.

        If concealment is not a priority and, as you expressed, the purpose is simply home defense, feel free to go with a longer barrel length and then to choose on the basis of ergonomics (how well does it fit the hand), perhaps then opting for the full-size GP100. Shorter barrels will help if you imagine ever needing to carry concealed, but at the expense of more intense muzzle flash and some loss of accuracy at a distance.

        Second, how recoil sensitive are you or your wife? Weight helps tame recoil, but so does your load. It might be more appropriate to consider the .327 chambered model (#5759), for instance, or to simply “download” to .38 SPL. Believe me when I tell you that there is a world of difference between the felt recoil of a .357 load in a 2″ or even 3″ SP101 vs. a modest .38 SPL load in a full-sized GP100.

        I do like the fiber optic sites on the #5771 model, but these are intended for improved low-light site picture for shooting at extended distances more suited to that model’s longer barrel length. In other words, it’s not a “belly gun” intended for concealed carry and close contact use. Likewise, the GP100 (like my S&W 686) has adjustable sites and a longer barrel length, making it more suited to target shooting at a distance.

        Interestingly, my father was asking me just the other day about adding a Crimson Trace grip to their SP101. This might be a useful consideration for any low-light conditions, either in the home or elsewhere. Still, I’m inclined to believe that a typical defensive use of a pistol will tend to rely more on instinctive “center of mass” (or, rather, “point shooting“) aiming technique at reasonably close distances. On this basis, for low-light conditions, I tend to prefer a front site with a tritium insert, such as this one.

        Hope that helps. Good luck. – HT

  28. I am a new CCW permit owner. I have a KelTec 380. I know its not the top of the line. I am looking very seriously at a compact sig 45. Just wondering what everyone thinks about the sig. The reviews I read about the sig are very good. I want to buy this gun to carry and have it for a long time. The gun isn’t cheap.I have a Kel Tec P11 beside my bed. Just want some input if the sig would be a good defense weapon as well as reliable.

    • Alby – Nice to hear from you. I may have to defer to others on the KelTec, with which I have no personal experience. There is a very interesting review available at The Truth About Guns (a site I enthusiastically endorse here.) Believe me when I say that I do understand the appeal of searching for the “Holy Grail” of CCW: Small, light, powerful, controllable, well-designed, reliable, cheap. Sadly, you can expect to compromise on several of those. Pick your poison, so to speak. My personal advice is to always, always, always get the best you can afford. One really good tool is better than several poor substitutes. If the KelTec is working for you – and I mostly mean safely and reliably – then great. I’ve had great luck with Sigs, though I’m generally more fond of their full-sized offerings. As I may have noted in other commentary, I’m not a big fan of downsized .45s. This is partly a capacity issue. Whatever advantages you might get from a semi (such as a slim profile and capacity) tends to be greatly diminished in a .45 platform. If I want reliable power in a small package, I’d just rather have a .357 wheel gun. Hope that helps. – HT

  29. I have been an avid shooter/reloader for 33yrs now. I melt and cast my own bullets and I shoot three times a week except in the winter … 2 times a month …. I shoot competition in warmer months. I totally agree a wheel gun is what a novice should use. It has been my experience that the ruger sp101/with a crimson trace is the ultimate carry or home defense … Ruger has a squeeze to single action that is phenomenal… Ruger also did not buckle during the lawsuits that I will not comment on …. Plus p ammo is what they were rated for… I carry two guns … A Kimber eclipse .45 or a glock 23 40. Cal … Neither has malfunctioned after 10,000 rounds

    • Tim: Hey, thanks for chiming in, especially when we agree, eh? Good to hear that affirmation, actually. I hope all of those newbies who are loading up right now are listening. Might we repeat that, but just a little louder? WHEELGUN! I need to add this little detail somewhere, but my 76-year old parents have now completed their CCW training in Ohio and purchased their first handgun (ever), a Ruger SP101. They are considering the crimson trace system too. And, btw, love the Kimbers…would have included them as, possibly, the best of the 1911 variants. And, hard to fault the Glock, of course. But, as you and I point out, semi-autos require more training and experience. Hear that folks? Cheers, HT

  30. I’m female researching my first hand gun. I just wanted say thanks to all of you for the great inputs I’ve read….my decision will be moderately easier! Kate

  31. That is ok Harry as I do get carried away when it comes to guns, it does make me so mad when I see dealers at gun shows trying to sell new gun owners total and sometimes dangerous junk ! If anyone who has never owned or shot a handgun, start off with a quality .22 revolver, a Taurus model 94 or even a Ruger single six then buy a .38 or 9 MM !

  32. I was at a gun show here in Arizona this past weekend and I’ve never seen so much over priced used junk for sale…and the quality weapons such as the Smith and Wessons, Colts ,Glocks were sky high in price… Another comment for what it is worth, be very careful in buying older used handguns especially older automatics, springs sometimes are worn out and safeties can malfunction…For the new gun buyer looking for a decent used weapon I suggest buying a used police trade in revolver from a gun dealer, another suggestion never ever go cheap on self-defence ammo for your weapon, and never buy reloaded ammo from unknown sources…

    • Hey Thomas: Sorry, I had to cut your down your comments to the most essential points, which were well worth making. I’ve bought quite a few used firearms over the years and, as a result, have become fairly adept at disassembly and inspection. Not everyone is cut out for that, however, let alone recognizing and replacing worn parts. Caveat emptor, as they say. Also, I’m afraid that prices might stay high for the foreseeable future, given the recent election results. For any novice, I do recommend sticking with new firearms and/or reputable sellers. Educate yourself. Read Chuck Hawks on the subject (who I’ve recommended before). Thanks Thomas, appreciate your useful input. Cheers, HT

  33. Dollar for dollar one of the best handguns for self-defence is the Taurus model 85 in .38 special, simple and easy to use no levers buttons or magazines to worry about, a smooth trigger pull and totally reliable and much cheaper than the S&W .38’s !

    • Thomas – I tend to agree. I’ve not tried the Model 85 myself and haven’t closely inspected their wheel guns in quite a spell. That said, I recall liking them a bit more than their semiauto line. All in all a fairly good copy of the best of S&W at a fraction of the price. However, with S&W somewhat cheaper offerings….I’m on the fence. Off to the show next weekend, so I’ll be checking them out I think. cheers, HT

  34. hi harry, i have been thinking of owning a handgun for defensive purposes for quite awhile now, but my wife was never on the same side of the fence until recently. i have been pouring over many articles, list, and listened to all kinds of arguments for many handguns. the one thing i keep getting at the end of it all… is just more confused on what is a good choice to make. just wondering if you had any wisdom to pass along that might shed some light on my struggle. ps. not looking for more than a 9mm preferrably under 650. any info would most apreciative. mike-OH

    • Hey Mike:

      Good to hear from you. Your situation is really quite common these days. Unless you or your wife have grown up in a gun-friendly home, it usually takes a little time to work through the propaganda on the subject. This is a human rights issue, however, and even a women’s rights issue, if you think about it. The right to self-defense is one of the most important foundations of what I like to call our “constitutional trinity” (life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness).

      Anyway, on to your question. I always recommend that beginning shooters take somewhat conservative steps into the field, making choices that are safe, affordable, and – as much as possible – “gender neutral”. By that, I mean that if you were to only have one pistol, shouldn’t it be something that your wife is comfortable using also? Just makes sense to me. Of course, there are many legitimate reasons that you may, at some point in the future, want your own (or even several of your own) individual firearms, but the point here is to start simply.

      For beginning (and older and smaller and younger, etc.) shooters, recoil can often be a problem. There are two primary ways to deal with this: 1) use smaller/lighter loads and/or cartridge calibers, and 2) use heavier pistols (more mass). Based on the details in your question, along with the reasoning laid out in my article, I’d be inclined to recommend a small or medium framed .38 Special revolver, unless you have good reason to believe that a semi-automatic would better suit your purposes.

      My parents recent selection of a Ruguer SP101 (the same model that my wife carries) might serve you well too. These are ruggedly built, not over-light, are small enough for concealment purposes, and when utilizing .38 special ammunition, do not present an overwhelming recoil problem. Most are chambered for .357 mag, but you can find those chambered for .38, with used versions often being priced under $400 at gunshows or at retail shops. Even new, these will fit your budget. Here’s a link to Ruger’s page on this very “reasonable” choice.

      Hope that helps. – HT

  35. I have Taurus G2 24/7 pt99 new model Ss , looking very good to shoot cheap 700$ but heavy, Glock ,Bretta pistols here 3000$ it’s triple prices compare to any country , blackmailing , kindly advise light weight pistol cheap 15 rounds semi auto da/SA

    • Syed: Thanks for checking in. My personal favorite for weight, capacity, value, and reliability will always (I suspect) be a Glock. Pick your model depending on your cartridge, but this is a kind of a no-brainer. I understand pricing may vary widely in other countries…frankly, I haven’t a clue what I’d choose within the contraints of the law and import duties, etc. anywhere outside the US. My Glock-of-Choice, if pressed, would be the Model 19 in .40 cal. – HT

  36. Just got my first gun the other day. I tried both the S&W model 60 and the Ruger SP101. The S&W was so uncomfortable to shoot. Painful even, near the thumb crook. So glad I didn’t have it loaded with the .357s. The SP101 was very comfortable with .38 and .357. I’m female too. I agree with your wife. On the semis, I found several of them very nice to shoot, but almost universally had trouble with the slides. Revolver it is for me now!

    • Hey Sunny: That’s really great news. You’re right about the stock grips on the Model 60, by the way. That back-strap can really punch you. I’ve owned three or four of their Model 629s in .44 mag and, I have to say, as nice as they are, I was never happy with the punishing recoil in the web of my hand. For .44’s, I’ve found that I’m just way more comfortable with the old single-action “plow handle” grip. So, it sounds to me like you’re a very sensible gal. Glad you had the opportunity to find one that works and I’ll be happy to pass your comments on to my wife. Thanks for sharing. – HT

  37. My favorite all around self defense, carry (compact) is a Glock 32 chambered for very fast, hard hitting .357 sig. Just about the perfect round.

    • Paul: Nice choice, though ammo availability can be a problem (as with the FN 5.7 noted above). That said, it’s hard to argue with the ballistic performance:) – HT

  38. For self defense, I like smaller, single stack semi-auto’s. My personal EDC is the Taurus 709 Slim. I carry it everywhere I legally can. The 9mm is my preferred round and the Corbon DPX +P 115 grain all copper hollowpoint is a top choice for defensive 9mm ammo. I’ve tested this round on a partially frozen 20 lb. butterball turkey. The wound channel was massive, and penetration was deep (though it did not exit the turkey). I measured the diameter of this hollowpoint at exactly .72″. Recoil is very mild. I can slip the Taurus 709 in my front pants pocket, and I literally forget that it is even there. Extremely comfortable little handgun, and after 500 rounds, no malfunctions yet to report.

    • Chris: Good input. Sort of goes to the point that smaller platforms will tend to be more useful as you are simply more likely to carry them. Sounds like a good solution and it’s good to know that you’re practicing too:) Cheers, HT

    • Thats good to know if I need to go turkey hunting !

  39. My two cents: cost of ammo can be a deterrent to range time. This is why I shoot 9mm. I shoot cheap ammo at the range, 200 rds a visit, at least once a month. The cost of shooting .40 or .45 would be much greater and I wouldn’t shoot it as often. My carry mags hold Glasser Safety Slugs. Reduces the over penetration fear with 9mm, and provides one heck of a wallop. Only thing is they are not meant for all semi autos. I carry a Beretta M92F and it will eat anything I put into it, never had a fail to feed, fail to eject, or stove pipe, and I have owned this gun over 20 years with 10,000 plus rounds through it. The only thing I would change about the M92, I would like a blackstrap safety like colt.

    • Wade: Boy, howdy, you’ve got that right regarding the cost of ammo and, thus, range time these days. Seem like more and more often I’m stuck with wanting to horde my pricier ammo and just stick to shooting the little .22’s, you know what I mean? Of course, I may be having to get a bit more serious about reloading too. Still, I’m hearin’ ya. As noted previously, any choice will benefit from well-designed personal defense ammo and the Glazer Safety Slugs would be an appropriate choice, I think. Also, I do have a weakness for Berettas, as I note in the article. Thanks for your input. – HT

      • I know the feeling about .22 ammo vs everything else. I probably shoot 100rds of .22 for every 9mm round. When plinking and shooting dishes I enjoy my walther P22 just as much as my M92, though even with the best Ammo I don’t think I would rely on the walther’s feeding to save my life.
        To my understanding the primary reason for range time is muscle memory. As such I have been considering trying to get an M96 upper for my 92 frame. I know they will transfer I did it the other day with my shooting partners 96. I’m not sure if the price difference would be all that great though, and can’t fault have two Berettas. Do you think this would be a good idea to minimize cost and maximize caliber?

      • WB: Glad you mentioned muscle memory…yes, that is the point, so long as we’re not developing bad habits, of course. In fact, all of the technical “challenges” that I note in my article can (and have been) overcome with enough range time and the development of proper habits. Most modern pistols will handle dry-firing drills which are the cheapest form of practice…something I try to do when watching the news, ha, ha. Something you might consider is a .22 conversion kit, some of which are offered here. Still, as you said, “can’t fault having two Berettas”. Sounds like a good bumper sticker. – HT

  40. For all the nit-picking over calibers, the real differences in ballistic performance for high quality defensive loads are basically negligible. Most of the criticisms leveled at 9mm Luger are aimed at FMJ cartridges. Pick a defensive caliber that you shoot well and are comfortable with and practice. Put the rounds where they need to go and use high quality ammunition for defense. I shoot 9mm much better than I shoot .40S&W or .45ACP, so that is what I use.

    • Anon: Sounds like the voice of reason. As with most things, technique will triumph over all else, with some restrictions. Good quality (expanding) bullet designs and larger calibers are helpful, but less so than shot placement, etc. Whether or not you can actually trust various ballistic tests (and/or FBI stats), there is little question that proper training and control, as you mention, are vital. Thanks for chiming in. – HT

  41. Rick in the midwest

    I’m a long-time rifle/shotgun owner, but with the kids now almost grown, I decided it was time to get a defense handgun. I’m a big guy without huge hands, so while I prefer a single stack magazine the recoil of a larger caliber does not bother me too much. For me a 1911 in .45acp was the obvious choice. I recently picked-up a Colt Lightweight Commander in stainlessand love it. I’ve been practicing with it weekly, and it is a very natural point-and-shoot gun. I also happen to like needing to “rack” the slide to chamber the first round, as I think (even though it remains locked near my bed) this adds an element of safety that a typical revolver does not have. The lighter and simpler SA trigger pull also adds to ease in shooting/aiming it well. I am comfortable my Colt 1911 will help me get to my Mossberg 500 20 gauge and/or Marlin 336 in 30/30 if/when the SHTF. (The layout of our home makes a 12 gauge potentially a bit risky as our kids rooms are at the other end of the balcony hallway to our bedroom beyond the direct line of fire should I be awakened during the night.) Frankly, I think these 3 weapons along with perhaps a AR-15 .223 (which I do not own) might be just about the best assortment of home protection guns around. (Though perhaps some women/smaller men might prefer to add-in a .410 or 28 gauge with 00 buck for a lighter-kicking shotgut option instead of, or in addition to, a 20 or 12 gauge?)

    • Hey Rick: Thanks for adding your 2 cents, as it were. I can’t really argue too much with your general thinking here. The Colt 1911 is a well regarded personal defense weapon, though only the first line of defense. I also preferred the commander versions (and have owned several over the years). Any real quibbles I might have go directly to the safety issue.

      One of the primary rules of safe gun handling is treating all guns as if they were loaded, regardless of their status and/or safety mechanisms. All 1911 experts would concede that the SA design of the 1911 requires special handling (and, thus, training) protocols. If the weapon is to be operated (even in an emergency) by those who might not diligently train with it, any complexity of operation is a recipe for potentially tragic consequences. For this reason, especially if it is to be the only handgun in the arsenal, I tend to recommend simpler mechanisms, namely the revolver, followed by a DA/SA style semi-automatic.

      Still, the legendary 1911 does have many of the advantages you cite, though I’d not feel inclined to include having to keep it in Condition 3 – an empty chamber – to be among those. (Read this account at The Firing Line for an example of the potential problems with this approach.) Children in the home do pose special considerations, of course, but I’d rather deal with that problem by means of safe (though still accessible) storage.

      Again, appreciate hearing from you. – HT

  42. Scott in Jersey

    Great read, Harry! Thanks for giving your personal insight and experiences on here. It has definitely been of help to me as I decide what to use my next two PP’s on. Going with the S&W 686 and a Beretta in .45!

  43. If you are hit by a 9mm It explodes in side your body leaving fragments everywhere, only problem is going through body armor, never rule out a 9mm

  44. Christos Makris

    Great choices, but you can’t really dismiss the current offering of 9mm ammunition. Some are outstanding and offer excellent effectiveness and importantly, control. The important aspect of handling a pistol is to control it effectively.

    • Christos: Valid points, I think. Even the more diminutive .380, frankly, can be quite effective with the right cartridge. Which, to some extent tends to influence my preference towards skipping the 9mm….going to a .380 for smaller, more concealable pistols or up to a .40 or bigger for full-sized service pistols, deferring to the .40 if/when capacity might be desired. Still, as you rightly suggest, nothing beats proper control, eh? Thanks for throwing in. – HT

  45. I just started looking into handguns for home defense and range shooting. Your list has done a good job of letting me know that for a complete novice, I must have a good eye for quality. Four of the guns on your list were on mine (Sig was a 229 for me though). I’m looking forward to talking with my local dealer using your recommendations and price adjustments. Thanks.

    • Hey Johnny: Glad to be of service. I don’t purport to be an “expert” in the field, but want to help others avoid the mistakes that I’ve made if I can. But, it sounds like you’re on the right track. Let us know what you end up doing, OK? – HT

  46. I own a Beretta M92FS 9mm and its been very reliable and feeds everytime as long as you use good ammunition. Nothing from Wal-Mart should ever be used in a Beretta. Accurate at 25 yards at 4inch stationary clays. As for home defense, this thing will unload a 15 round magazine in less than 2 seconds if you have a quick finger. Reloads a new mag smoothly. With some practice, ypu can unload 3 full magazines accurately in less than 20 seconds.

    • Devin: Thanks for that. As noted, I have a soft spot for the Beretta, beautiful pistol. Call me crazy, but the model I’m “jonesing” after at the moment is the .32 Tomcat. For full sized pistols, I’d much rather be pushing something a tad bigger than the 9mm. By the way, shotguns may well be Beretta’s true strength. I paid a rather stupid price (for a field grade “user”, at least) for an over-under Model s56e they made in conjunction with Sauer for the German market. But, boy, what a beautiful shotgun.

      Thanks for your input. – HT

  47. If price isn’t an issue what would you suggest? What do you think about the Kimber super carry line? Or the Kimbers in general. I do like the colts but the Kimbers just feel great in my hand. How reliable are the Kimbers?

    • Hey J: Well, it would be inappropriate for me to misrepresent my familiarity with Kimbers generally, though I have been impressed with the few I’ve been able to try. But, then, Kimber has been working hard to build their reputation on the semi-custom 1911. Seriously, I really doubt that you’d be stuck with a lemon, though that can happen with any make and model. Still, I would always suggest you track down specific reviews of each and every model you’re interested in.

      I will say this for 1911’s more generally. Despite the caveats noted in my article – notably regarding the special handling, safety, training, and maintenance requirements of the 1911 – they point very naturally and for some (like you and even me) they also just seem to “fit right”. And, ergonomics are a big deal. Just consider the downside of what is, now, basically a 101 year old design. There have been a few improvements in the world of firearms engineering since John Browning first conjured these up.

      Oh, sure, much the same can be said about wheel guns…alas. But, I think I made my point.

      Thanks for checking in. – HT

  48. I want to buy a handgun to shoot on the weekends and for home protection since I now have a newborn daughter I was looking into a glock 21sf w double stack mag what do you think?

    • Heya Mark: Good on ‘ya for looking out for your family. In my humble opinion, just about anything Glock makes is going to reflect good value and will be a reliable home defense weapon. As I cautioned in this article, however, semi-autos take additional training to operate safely. Be sure to get that training, preferably before you make your purchase.

      For most new shooters, however, I’d still suggest consideration of the “lowly” revolver. A simple and well-made revolver will be a better fit for those with less experience or training.

      Still, the Glock 21 is a superb weapon, the .45 ACP caliber being a personal favorite. The double stack magazine may present some ergonomic issues for you, however, depending on your hand size. As you may know, Glock also makes a short-frame (SF) version of the 21, which can be a help with this problem. Here’s a link to a fairly good article comparing the two models.

      I may also have mentioned that, were I to start anew, I’d give more serious consideration to the .40 S&W caliber and, so might you. With either Glock model, you still have 13 rounds, the 22 (in .40) gives you five extra rounds in the standard magazine. Call me old-school, but I still like the .45 ACP, sort of like drivin’ a Cadillac. For what it’s worth, I’ve not tried Glocks .45 GAP round yet, would love to hear from those who have.

      Thanks for your input. – HT

  49. I am 64. Very fit. atheletic. Never owned a gun. Will go to range, practice and obtain licence to include concealed weapon license. What’s you rec.
    for easy, robust, and comfort handle?


    • Jim: Thanks for your question.

      First, congratulations on your decision to purchase a personal defense weapon. It’s never to late to “become a citizen”. Now, I’m a big proponent of training and feel that any beginner should find an instructor or class, often hosted at the local range. You can also check this link to find NRA certified training courses in your area. Either way, even if it’s just a good friend – a retired cop or (as I had the good fortune to know) an ex-Marine-Recon vet – get supervised training and pay attention to what they teach you.

      And, by the way, I’d start this process before you buy your first gun. Many courses will provide a better orientation on the subject than I can provide in this article. But, aside from reliability and cost, which I tend to focus on here, ergonomics is a big deal. In order to shoot comfortably, safely, and accurately, the pistol must fit your hand as well as suit your purpose. I take it, perhaps, that your question regarding “an easy, robust, and comfort handle” may relate to this issue.

      Go to local gun shows and (after asking the owner’s permission) hold different models. You can also try them out (for a nominal fee) at the local range if they have a stock of rentals. If you have smaller (or larger) hands, this should be a singularly important part of your process. Also, know that a number of manufacturers provide slip-on or replacement grips that can adjust the size and fit of the grip. For instance, I use a Pachmayr Slip-On Grip on my Sig Sauer, which improves it’s fit, provides some cushion, and is a bit “stickier” than the hard plastic stock grip.

      Aside from these tips, I still make a strong case for revolvers for most (especially new) shooters. There are, of course, good reasons to consider and choose a semi-auto, but there’s no reason that can’t be done later. I tend to recommend starting with a small, well-made concealable 5-shot revolver chambered in .38 Special with a well-fitted holster and enough ammunition to become truly proficient with the weapon.

      One observation that I might add to the article is the bad habit that “newbies” have of buying the cheapest semi-auto in the display case or at the gun show. As with most things, cheaper is not usually the best value. Remember, we’re not talking about a toy here, but something you’d be willing to stake your life on. Spend wisely and you’ll never regret it.

      Cheers, thank for your question. – HT

  50. If you use it for self defense you at least need a .40, .357, or .45 caliber model for knockdown or home protection. A .22 (and around there) caliber is for target pratice and cheap rounds but not self defense protection. Walther was not mentioned (having) been around longer than other manufacturers above. H&K, Ruger, Kimber and few others could have been there too.

    • Leanne: Thanks so much for joining in the conversation. Sensible advice on caliber, though I’m giving new consideration to the lowly .38 Special. One reason for that is, having rejected the Walther (PPKS) as troublesome (though ergonomically very nice), I believe that these mid-range calibers (.38 and .380/9MM Kurz) have a place in the concealable niche. Love the H&K and the Kimber, though for different reasons. As noted above, not a big fan of Ruger semi’s. For what it’s worth, I love to hear from women who have strong feelings about their semi-autos. Cheers. – HT

    • Don’t forget about the .38 special +P HP. The .357 fired in a home will be excessively loud and painful to the ears and possibly go through your walls into innocent targets. The .38 special +P HP round is almost as effective as the .357 with less flash, noise and recoil.

      • Hey Razz:

        Absolutely, right on, kudos, cheers, and all of that. You’re getting the point here and I’d give you a gold star if we had them.

        Carpenters call it “the right tool for the job”. While it seems that everyone seems to think they need to be ready for combat, that’s just not the typical case. (Note: We might all benefit more from reading books like this, and fewer movies like this.)


  51. U went with safe choices. Plain also. U should look into ruger sr series or s&w series. Berrettas r reliable and so r glocks but very ugly and not enticing. Taurus is overrated and if ur looking to spend big bux with colt why not go with kimber or customize with nighthawk or someone else.

    • Jason: Thanks for your comments. Safe choices, yes, I suppose so. Sorry, never been a big fan of Ruger or S&W semi-autos. I may be leaning toward agreeing that the Taurus is overrated and may modify the list accordingly. Kimbers are very, very nice for 1911 fans…had the pleasure of trying one out quite recently….ahhh. Thanks much. HT

  52. For concealed-carry, I prefer the semiautos just because of the profile. I’m a .45 man and my Glock 36 is my favorite. But when it comes to accuracy there’s no doubt the Wheel is the way to go. I’ve got a Python .357 that is an absolute favorite and shoots like silk. I can hit a golf-ball at 50′ with my eyes closed once I sight in (and sighting is getting tougher at age 50+!). I also love my Dan Wesson .44 with the interchangeable barrels (BTW, never shoot lead rounds out of one of those, molten lead comes out the barrel ports and freezes the barrel to the shroud!) and my two Smith and Wesson X-frames, the .460 and .500 H&H Magnums. Yes, both cannons, but even with the recoil, they reliably shoot 2+” groups at 50′ with open sights.

    • Jim: Thanks for chiming in. Sounds like you have a nice collection. Would love to try out your .500 and, perhaps, a pair of these, ha, ha.

      I would have to concede that, for a concealable pistol, semis get the nod for their slim profile. Wheel gun accuracy, is something of a given, though less critical if we’re talking about “belly guns”. My biggest issue, I suppose, remains that of reliability.

      Here’s an example from a visit back to Ohio over this Christmas holiday. On a shooting outing we had, there were something like 12 semis available, including everything from a bare-bones Springfield 1911, several nice Berettas, and an extraordinary FN-5.7 (which, I have to admit, inspired great lust in the heart of yours truly). Revolvers present: ZERO. One might pause to wonder why, except that well all know that (thanks to Hollywood) that real action heros only carry infinite capacity semis.

      There were many hundreds of rounds fired off that afternoon and, count ’em, six malfunctions, including several failures to feed and a few stove-pipes. (Note: each of the Berettas and the FN performed flawlessly.) Statistically, maybe that’s not too bad, unless you have a zero tolerance for failure policy for anything on which your life depends….oh, you know, airplanes, SCUBA tanks, defense pistols.

      Of course, there is no substitute for training, regardless of the firearm in use. Still, I doubt seriously that we’d have seen ANY malfunctions with a typical wheel gun. More importantly, the average amateur (or part-time shooter) wouldn’t have been faced with figuring out how to clear a stove-pipe on top of remembering what each lever and button on the dang thing was for. Sadly, this is the state of most shooters, defensive or otherwise.

      As noted in my article, I have no plans to sell my Sig and, now, even find myself a little intrigued with the little Beretta Tomcat I fired that day. Still, I’m very pleased with my initial impressions of the S&W 637 and 642, both of which offer rather extraordinary value to S&W line. I believe that these are still among the best solutions for 90% of the shooters out there.

      Let’s face it, few of us – even the most experienced – practice as much as we should (or want). And, even if we do, most of us are married to those who won’t. Most won’t maintain their weapons as they should. Most won’t carry a full sized service pistol. Most can’t afford a decent (and more reliable) compact semi. And most semis – no matter how well you train, won’t be as reliable as the average wheel gun.

      As always, your mileage may differ. But, I do appreciate your contribution. – HT

  53. I am getting older and my hand strength is not what it used to be. I have a Taurus Millennium 40 calibre which I have difficulty using the slide. I am very accurate with it beut I am slightly wary of keeping one in the chamber with the safety on. When was younger I had a Python 4 inch 357which was unbelievable and accurate. If I need more than 6 shots for protection, then I’m in big trouble. I think my question is am I better off with the 357 or the Millennium for close protection?

    • Hey Jay:

      Thanks for chiming in. You bring up a good point. This may not pertain specifically to your own hand strength issues, but some of those with weaker hands and/or wrists – not just women, mind you – will compromise the proper functioning of a semi-auto, which needs a somewhat rigid support. But, this simply reinforces the point that we ought to choose the tools that best fit our capabilities and needs.

      As you may have gathered, I myself am becoming much more inclined to favor wheel guns. This isn’t just about my own advancing age, but – one might hope – an advancement of wisdom. Let’s call it a “less is more” sort of philosophy….with a nod to simplicity and reliability. I’m even inclined to have a more open mind to the old .38 special (ok, maybe in a good quality +p variation), especially if that facilitates the carry of a smaller and lighter revolver, such as S&W’s excellent M&P360, as cited in my article.

      Also, I defer again to Chuck Hawks who states, unequivocably, “My top choice for a home defense gun is a revolver.“. In the linked article, he makes a great case for the .38 over the magnums, in part due to their extreme muzzle blast. I can tell you from first hand experience that some platforms and ammo combinations will suffer this more than others. My wife’s 3 inch SP101 doesn’t (for some reason) seem to produce as much as my own 4 inch S&W686. Go figure.

      There’s a lot to like about semi-autos, but, as you said yourself, if you need more than six rounds, you’re in deeper trouble than you know. Time for the carbine:)

      Cheers, HT

  54. The Colt 1911 .45 used to be my only consideration for a self-defense handgun…….then, Sig came out with the Model 229 .40 cal, with a 12-round magazine. That did it…..perfection. I’ve been using it since 1995, without one malfunction. The balance betwen size, mag capacity, and power is unbeatable.

    • JDB: Thanks for chiming in….and, I can’t argue with your assessment. Lot’s to like about a 1911, but….there are simply better choices for most of us. The Sig, as you may have noticed, is my particular favorite in a semi. Maybe it’s age (or maturity?) but I seem to be gravitating back to wheelguns. In most circumstances, these may prove to be the simplest, most robust, most reliable, most affordable solution for most (especially civilian) people. Just my opinion. Again, thanks for your input.


  55. Good read. Lots of options for discretionary income… too many, I fear!
    One note: isn’t the Beretta in .40 called a “96” instead of a “92?” (When I was deployed with the Marines, I carried the M9 in 9mm… and I’m pretty sure that the civilian version of that pistol was the “92.”)

    • Cugeno:

      Thanks for checking in. Yes, the civilian equivalent to the M9 is the Model 96. So far as I know, the only difference between the 96 and the 92 is caliber (and capacity as a result.) Anyone know of any other differences?


  56. I can’t believe you don’t have H&K on this list.

    • Anon:

      Well, OK now, I did give it an “honorable mention” as an alternative (#1a) to the Sig P220. That’s a “close second”, really, befitting a very fine pistol. My preference for the Sig is, very probably, personal and based, in large part, on aesthetics and ergonomics…meaning it probably fits my hand a bit better. Still, you’re not off-base in thinking that the H&K is everything you’d ever want in a combat pistol. Cheers.


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