How To Pick The Perfect Handgun [8 Things To Look For]

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Are you looking for your first handgun or maybe wanting something better than what you already have? This guide will go over how to pick the perfect handgun whether you're a beginner or a seasoned shooter.

We will cover the 8 important things to look for in a handgun for concealed carry, range use, and home protection.

Aesthetics

Streamlight TLR 7 sub profile pic

People gravitate towards looks first, then they look at the features and the cost to feed it. Firearm aesthetics is all subjective, and it's all based on personal preference.

At the end of the day, the heart wants what it wants regardless the logics. No one wants an ugly looking gun period especially for serious gun guys.

Caliber Selection

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The 3 most popular handgun calibers are:

  • 9mm
  • 40SW
  • 45ACP

There are plenty of debates over which caliber is better, and this article isn't about that.

Most viewers who are checking out this content are range visitors with the intent to shoot paper targets 100% of the time, and most are NOT ballistics nerds.

In that case, caliber doesn't matter unless getting involved in competition shooting where heavier bullets can knock down the steel much more effectively, and dealing with over-penetration in personal defense situations. We have a different article that you can read here.

Overall...

9mm

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9mm is absolutely the best for large volume training and the ammo cost is the cheapest. It's the most popular go-to caliber for concealed carry pistols, competition pistols, duty pistols, and pistol caliber carbines. That means it's easier to buy one caliber that can be used for the majority of your firearms.

40W

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40SW is a high-pressure load cartridge, and it yields higher muzzle energy, snappy recoil, and uses a 10mm bullet. While 40SW was popular for a while, however, 40SW is losing popularity due to high chamber pressures that can wear out a gun frame faster than 9mm. In recent years, 9mm technology has improved so much to the point where hotter 9mm loads can do as much as a regular 40SW, and it's less expensive, more bullets to fit in a double-stack magazine.

45 ACP

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45 ACP features a bigger bullet with a much manageable "push recoil" sensation compared to a snappy 40SW recoil. It's much smoother with 30% more energy than a standard 9mm to knock down a heavy popper target and use it against human threat targets. It's great for full-size polymer handguns and full steel frame handguns like 1911.

Fits Your Hand Comfortably

Trijicon sro on fn 509 ls edge

Always apply proper grip when assessing the gun.

Pick a gun that fits your hand is important later down the road as you train. Typically a full-size handgun is much more comfortable with all 5 fingers to grip the gun than a small subcompact gun where the shooter's pinky is dangling on the bottom.

The grip is arguably the most important part of a handgun that directly affects accuracy, malfunctions, and overall control of the firearm, and we will talk about it more in the next section.

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We highly recommend checking out the guns you think you want to buy at your local gun shop or renting the gun at the range to see what you like or do not like. Also, have an experienced person behind the counter to guide you through it.

For the most part, you have to know some of the basics first, so you can appreciate the design of the gun. Otherwise, you don't know what's good and bad.

Glocks, FN, CZ, Walther, Beretta, Springfield...etc are all good brands making top-notch modern pistols you can buy today.

Grip Angle

fnx45 with holosun 507c pov

The grip angle has a direct impact on the natural point of aim angle and fast follow-up shot control. There is a low tang grip and a high tang grip.

Here is the difference:

Glock 19 VS FNX 45 Tactical. G19 features a high tang grip and FNX features a low tang grip.

High tang grip refers to the axis of the barrel sitting closer to the grip angle, and this provides more recoil control leverage like a revolver grip ergonomics, and the shooter can quickly get back on target. These are mostly striker fired guns and the shooter can grip the gun higher.

Low tang grip guns tend to align the sights better than high tang grips. Red dot sight users can acquire the dot much faster on a low tang grip simply due to the natural point of aim angle.

With practice, most people gravitate towards high tang grip guns.

Barrel Length

holosun 507k x2 on hellcat pistol

Barrel length matters when it comes to concealed carry, accuracy, and recoil performance.

A 4.0" or 3.0" barrel is typically the choice for CCW users, which means a smaller profile to tuck under your clothing for waist carry and appendix carry.

A full-size gun features typically a 4.5" or longer barrel for duty use or competition. The benefit of a longer barrel is accuracy, reduced muzzle climb for faster follow-up shots.

As long as the shooter applies good handgun fundamentals, 9mm, 40SW, or 45 ACP performs better on a full-size gun.

The overall shooting performance difference between a long barrel vs a short barrel (Same gun, same caliber) is the slap/numb sensation due to snappy recoil.

Slide & Grip Serrations

springfield hellcat swampfox sentinel red dot

Most pistol slides come with rear serrations to help the user grip the slide without slipping either with gloves or without.

Slides with front, sides serrations typically cost a bit more due to the extra hours spent machining the slide.

Front serration isn't necessary, but it's great for users to perform quick press chamber checks.

As far as grip serrations go, the more aggressive texture means better grip. The better grip helps maintain contact when the gun recoils with minimum grip readjustment.

There are so many different designs out there, but most factory guns only feature "good enough" serrations until the user performs some DIY work on the grip with a soldering iron.

Trigger Action & Trigger Pull Weight [Can Be Upgraded]

range day with hellcat

New handgun buyers should understand that triggers can be upgraded later, so If there is a gun you like, but the trigger isn't exactly what you want, you can change it later.

There are few types of handguns on the market (Not including revolvers)

  • Single action
  • Double action only
  • Double action & single action
  • Striker action

What most experienced shooters want is:

  • Short trigger reset
  • Light, but not too light trigger pull
  • Crisp trigger break without any squisih or dull trigger movement

Single action is super simple, and the trigger system's main job is to release the hammer. This type of trigger lets the shooter immediately feel the trigger wall without pre-travel. When the trigger breaks are when the hammer falls.

Double action features a heavy trigger pull, and the hammer pulls back while the trigger is pulled. It basically operates both cocking and firing the gun. These are people's least favorite.

Double and Single action guns function just like double action only guns, but it transitions into single action until the user returns it back to double action. The user can also set the gun up for single action by pulling the hammer back for a softer trigger pull.

Striker action pistols don't feature hammers on the back of the slide, and it works by pulling a striker bar that directly engages the firing pin. It's kinda like pulling the firing pin back like a bow arrow and releasing (Trigger pull) it by spring tension to hit the primer. Striker action firearms are also called safe action pistols with redundant safety features to prevent accidental discharge. The only way the gun can go off is by the user deliberately pulling the trigger.

Safety Features

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Most modern striker-fired pistols like Glock, M&P, HK VP9, Walther PDP, Springfield XD...etc don't feature external safeties. So please don't walk away from a gun just because it doesn't feature a thumb safety.

The reason is to prevent people from forgetting to turn the safety off in stressful situations. We understand new shooters want external thumb safety so they feel safe knowing they can green light or red light the gun. However, the overarching thing to know is the 4 core firearm safety rules:

  • Point muzzle in a safe direction at all times
  • Treat every fiream as if its loaded
  • Keep finger outside the trigger guard until ready to shoot
  • Positively identify the target and what's behind

Reachablely Sized Slide Stop & Magazine Release Button

streamlight tlr 6 on sig p365 xl

A large slide stop is great for users who may have a hard time locking the slide to the rear or have a big hand. The same goes for the magazine release button.

For new buyers who may struggle to lock the slide to the rear or release the slide, we highly recommend taking some classes so a qualified instructor can walk you through the process while teaching you the mechanics inside a pistol.

For the most part, it's about getting used to the motor skills to work the slide.

Accessory Rail

glock with streamlight tlr 1 hl light

Railed frame handguns can accept most light and laser accessories on the market. We high recommend railed models over non-railed models.