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Practical Handguns

Posted on September 18, 2011 at 10:20 PM

The Practical Handgun and the Truth.

 

Have you ever noticed that as one ages, one tends to get wiser? I’d like to say I’ve become wiser but the truth is simpler than that, I’ve realized that my elders were often right and that certain facts and laws cannot be ignored.

Having entered my fourth decade recently, I’ve come to realize that certain truths are just that, truths. You can’t change them, you can’t argue them, they are what they are. Collective knowledge and experience filtered and handed down. Best to pay attention to them as much as you can, as you will be having to come to terms with them later in life.


The first truth is deceptively simple, there is no “Ideal or Perfect Handgun”.

It’s taken me two decades to come to terms with this one. Having been a member of the gun of the month club, buying and selling, trading and horse-swapping for every type of handgun out there over the last 25+ years, I’ve owned, handled, worked on and used pretty much everything that’s come down the ‘pike’. Many were found to be ‘wanting’, others had some great features but were lacking in important places.

It all falls down to this. A handgun must be practical. So what does that mean? It means several things, and the most important part is that the handgun must be reliable, first and foremost. A pistol that jams every magazine regardless of what ammunition is used is nothing more than an annoying toy. A sloppy semi-auto that has little or no finish, rattles when it’s shaken, feeds anything that’s put into the magazine and has proven itself to be able to shoot into 4” from a rest at 25Y is a thousand times better than a 1" pistol that doesn’t work every time and all the time.

After that, the handgun must be concealable. Why concealable? Because you may need to keep it hidden from prying eyes, neighbors that may not believe in handgun ownership let alone CCW, from the gaze of law enforcement officers who are well intentioned but ignorant of the laws and from the little fingers of your children and grandchildren. There is no safer place to store a loaded handgun than on your belt. You know exactly where it is, you know exactly if it’s loaded or not and if you need it, it’s right there. Some models are too large to conceal, this generally means that they are either too large for defense or dare I say it, “too powerful”.

Too large for defense?

Yup, a .454 Casull is a great hunting weapon but has too much penetration and recoil to be used for practical defense. The same applies to the 8 3/8” barreled S&W’s, they’re easy shooting, light recoiling in comparison to the shorter barreled models of the same weapon but are impractical to conceal and hard to handle in a defensive or tactical situation.

The 1911 Colt and full size .40 S&W and 9mm semi-automatics are about the limit for most people to conceal on their person, and they’re also almost ideal in power and controllability for most people. The same can be said for the ‘mid-frame’ .357 Magnum revolvers like the 4” Colt Python and S&W Model 19 (66) and 686’s.

Most of the practical choices are not high capacity handguns, the thinner single stack models are both easier to conceal and easier to fit to a large number of people.  If your spouse has smaller hands than you do, that should also be taken into consideration. Your weapon should fit you like a “glove”, falling into your hand like it was meant to be there. If you don’t have that feel, talk to your gunsmith and see what he/she can do.

Fit and feel are extremely important, if the gun doesn’t fit you, you won’t be able to use the gun as effectively as if it fit you. If at all. For me, there’s nothing quite so well fitting as a 1911 with a few inexpensive modifications. At the same time, if the 1911’s unmodified, it’s painful and impractical for me.

What does the “practical handgun” actually need? Good sights, a decent trigger and to fit the user.

Good sights, most handguns today come with good to excellent sights, if you are using an older weapon with little, hard to see sights, talk to your gunsmith about fixing that for you.

A decent trigger? That doesn’t mean light, it does however mean controllable. A good, crisp, creep free trigger in ‘single-action’ mode is perfectly acceptable in the 4-5 pound range. A long smooth ‘double-action’ pull is fine so long as it’s smooth. Heavy isn’t always bad, having tripped on treelimbs while out and about with a handgun, I was sure happy to have both a thumb safety and a ‘stiff’ trigger pull.

So what is so practical about the ‘practical handgun’? It’s there. If you run into a rattlesnake that’s reluctant to accept that you were there first, or a coyote that wants to chew on your neighbors Pomeranian, it’s there to take care of the problem. Same goes for a defensive situation, it’s there ready and waiting.

In dire emergencies the ‘practical handgun’ can put meat onthe table, signal rescue or any of a hundred simple duties, perhaps without even being fired.

Fed good ammunition, read that jacketed hollow points, the practical handgun is a defensive tool. Fed target ammo, it’s fun practice, a great afternoon with the kids or a newbie and with snakeshot it’s a means to dispose of annoying critters (mice, rats and snakes) with little danger to the shooter as long as eye protection is used and ricochets considered.

So what constitutes the description of a practical defensive handgun?

Reasonable weight, say 30-40 ounces. Too much more than 40 ounces becomes a burden on the hip for most people day in and day out.

A 4” to 5” barrel, anything longer gets awkward to conceal or wear in a vehicle.

.38 Special/9mm Luger (Parabellum, 9x19mm, etc) is a good minimum starting point. Good defensive hollowpoints can be found in both these chamberings,snakeshot and cast bullets are available for inexpensive practice and small game gathering.

At the large bore end of the spectrum, the .45 ACP and .45 Colt are about as big as can be called practical. The .44 Mag is hard to control for many but loaded with .44 Special ammo, it’s a pussycat. All of these have good defensive loadings available, some with “better” defensive bullets than others, some are easier to locate in local gunshops than others. But all will work.

The ‘practical handgun’ is going to spend a lot more time on your hip than at the range for most of us. Think about the cowboys of the late 1800’s,that handgun rode with them all the time. It was there to pot a rabbit, defend against rustlers, put down an injured animal, signal for help, and numerous other activities.

Not all were “Colt’s”, not all were expensive. But they all had to do one thing, go bang when they were needed. If they didn’t, they were replaced as quickly as possible. They were a tool like any other, but an important one. Like fencing pliers, it’s hard to do your job without working ones.

 You’ll notice that I didn’t specify any particular brand, caliber or working style, pistol or revolver.

That’s because it’s not up to me. It’s up to you to choose. Some people shoot revolvers better, some auto’s. Some people have more of a need for snakeshot than defensive hollowpoints, depends on where you live.

Me? I’ve simplified my choices and come up with a few that I almost always can be found packing. They’re well worn, used quite extensively and have proven themselves to be reliable. Do I expect someone to choose what I do? Nope, I made my choices for my own reasons.

Evaluate your own “needs” and come up with a practical choice for you. Be realistic in what you need and can expect to need. If you are having to finish off wounded deer that are injured by vehicles, you need a different bullet than a person concerned with snakes or thugs. The simple answer may be to carry two types of ammo and switch as you need it.

There’s no ‘right’ or all inclusive answer for everybody. And that’s the truth.

 

 

 

 

 

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