By Dave Anderson
If you’re enough of an enthusiast to be a Handgunner reader, you probably get asked for advice on selecting a first handgun. Or maybe an acquaintance has purchased a first handgun and is in need of some mentoring. I’ve been wondering, how do people get involved with handgun shooting these days?
It surprises me to chat with handgun shooters at the range, and find they don’t own or shoot rifles or shotguns. Back in my pre-teen days of the 1950s and early ’60s, learning to shoot followed a fairly predictable pattern. We went from BB guns and air rifles to .22 rifles. By age 11 or 12 we could shoot the .30-30 as often as we could afford, which at $4 or $5 a box wasn’t often.
Wingshooting was learned by shooting at gamebirds. Most of us, I realize now, were not very good wingshots, mainly because we started with shotguns completely unsuitable for youngsters. If Dad was an enthusiastic hunter his shotgun would be a heavy Winchester 12 or Remington 31. If not it was liable to be a single-shot or a bolt-action 12 gauge with a long, full-choke barrel.
Handguns were less commonly seen in those days, at least in farming communities where firearms were considered simply as tools. Actually I think there were a lot more .32 and .38 revolvers kept safely out of reach than we kids ever knew about. Handguns in regular use were most often .22s, used to shoot trapped vermin or furbearers.
Learning to shoot a handgun is tough enough with a Colt Woodsman or S&W K-22. In reality the .22 was more likely to be an Iver Johnson or H&R. I’m not trying to put them down, they were safe and serviceable, but they seldom had decent sights or anything like a decent trigger.
Not Dave’s first capgun, but his best. A cap could be loaded in each two-piece cartridge, and the cartridges
loaded into the cylinder. The nerdy looking kid in the photo still owns it — and the hat — 60 years later.
If you were a very lucky kid in the 1950s, Dad owned these guns and used them to teach you to shoot.
High Standard Sport-King .22 and Marlin 336 in .32 Win. Spl.
Nostalgia is all very well, but more to the point what is the situation today? Far fewer kids grow up in rural environments, with the opportunity to hunt or shoot right outside the door. Back in the day we may have had to make do with Dad’s big old 12-gauge pumpgun, but at least there was a gun in the house. Not to mention a Dad.
These days it’s not unusual to meet handgunners who don’t own or shoot long guns, and in fact may never have fired a rifle or shotgun. Often they have little interest in the outdoor life, don’t hunt or fish, and may even be opposed to hunting. Heck, I know a couple of outstanding handgun shooters who are vegetarians.
None of which bothers me. As long as we share a common interest in learning and improving shooting skills — and in preserving the freedom to own and use firearms — we’ll get along just fine. If you refuse to eat the slow-cooked ribs or the almond-crusted walleye fillets, it just means more for me.
Learning to shoot accurately by starting out with handguns has both pros and cons. Handguns are shorter, lighter and less forgiving of errors in hold or trigger control.
It still surprises Dave when he meets new handgun owners who may never have fired a .22 rifle or handgun…
and start right out with a centerfire pistol such as the popular S&W M&P. Even more if they are good shooters.
Long-Gun Learning Curve
Long guns have three points of support: the butt of the stock against the shoulder, the shooting hand at the grip, and the support hand on the forearm. You could make a case for a fourth point of support where the stock contacts the shooter’s face. Multiple points of support help in holding the gun steadily, and in managing recoil. Typical sporting long guns weigh in the range of 6 to 10 lbs. As long as we don’t go to extremes, weight helps in keeping the gun steady. It also helps to reduce movement imparted to the gun by errors in trigger control.
Learning to shoot a rifle first, before taking up handgun shooting, still seems to me as the natural and proper order. And yet …
If handguns are your primary or only shooting interest, you should expect to train more to achieve an acceptable level of skill. In particular, trigger control is more critical than with a rifle, certainly more than with a shotgun.
But also be aware, the skill you develop in handgun shooting will make you a better all-around shooter, if and when you choose to take up long guns. In my experience good handgun shooters are almost invariably good rifle shooters, while the reverse is not necessarily true. I know of rifle shooters who took up bullseye handgun shooting primarily to hone their trigger control and improve their rifle shooting. So I guess we need to keep our minds open to all this then?