Buying your first handgun is no easy task. The sheer number of options available can make it an overwhelming decision. You want to make sure that the handgun you select is easy to learn how to use and you also want something that isn’t going to scare you off from going to the shooting range on a consistent basis.
The trick here is finding a gun and caliber that you feel has enough stopping power at the same time of being easy to shoot. The same type of handgun won’t suit everyone and everyone has a different tolerance for recoil and overall ergonomic feel for a handgun. It’s always recommended to shoot a few different types of guns and calibers to see what you are most comfortable with when testing your first handguns.
Below we are going to break down some basic terms for those of you that might be just starting out, and give you a few caliber choices to test out if this is your first trip to the range.
What Exactly is Caliber & what does it mean?
Caliber is perhaps the single most important aspect of a handgun for beginners to look at. Most gun magazines, forums, websites, and reviews make a big deal out of large caliber guns that provide more stopping power. But these same resources typically don’t talk about caliber from a beginner’s perspective. In fact, many newcomers to shooting don’t even really know what the word caliber means.
To put it simply, caliber is the measurement of the diameter of the bullet a handgun uses. The bullet is the portion of the cartridge (or round – the terms are used interchangeably) that actually goes out of the barrel.
What is Recoil?
Without getting technical, recoil is the “kick” that you feel of backward momentum when you shoot a gun. Recoil is more manageable in rifles as they are longer, more stable, and built for long-range purposes. This is not the case with handguns which is why caliber choice is important in order to manage that backward inertia when you fire a handgun.
The more powerful the caliber, the larger the amount of force exiting the barrel and the larger the amount of recoil.
The Different Calibers
So let’s talk about caliber sizes and handguns for beginners.
While you have several options to choose from, we are going to look at four primary options for beginners. These are the .22, 9mm, .40, and .45.
The .22 LR caliber is traditionally used in rifles and is not only the smallest caliber that we’d recommend starting out with, but it is probably also the smartest caliber you can learn to train with. The problem is ammunition can be scarce.
If you have access to large quantities of .22LR ammunition, then you can pretty much stop reading now because, for your first trip to the range, this is the caliber we’d recommend. You can pair this with a Ruger SR22 (which is small enough to fit in even the smallest fingerprint recognition vaults) or one of several other .22 caliber handguns out there including several revolvers.
The .22LR has a leg up on everything else only because the ammunition is used in rifles as well as handguns and has the lowest amount of recoil of any of the calibers we’ve mentioned on our list making it a top choice for women or people that need quick access to a gun that may not be locked up inside a full-size vault.
The 9MM is probably the popular choice. The 9mm is more widely used than just about any caliber out there between law enforcement agencies and individuals in the military. The standard-issue pistol for servicemen and women in the US military is the Beretta M9 (which is a great choice for a beginner) and you can also pair it with a CZ 75B which is the widely used service pistol in Europe.
We haven’t even mentioned the American favorite, the Glock 17 which also uses 9mm caliber ammunition. Overall the 9MM carries as much stopping power as most people will need while being on the lower side when it comes to Recoil. The 9MM is a choice for anyone that feels that a .22 just isn’t enough stopping power.
The .40S&W is a good caliber for beginners but not quite as good as the 9mm in our opinion. The recoil is slightly higher and generally comes with a little bit more muzzle flip than its slightly smaller cousin, the 9mm. If you feel you want to test this caliber out, we’d recommend picking up a Ruger SR 40 or a Springfield XD 40. Both are fine choices in a polymer frame and will get the job done if you decide you want to move to this size caliber for more stopping power.
The .45 caliber handgun is the ballistic choice with the most stopping power out of the group. The recoil can be described as “jarring” and it is not recommended for someone just starting out. If recoil management isn’t as big of an issue for you, then it may be worth giving it a test run.
If you choose to go that route, we’d recommend you look at a full-size nonpolymer pistol like a Remington R1 1911 which not only shoots straight but is easy on the pocketbook. It’s not the smallest handgun on the planet which makes it less ideal if you plan on keeping it secured in your vehicle.
As we said above, the best caliber handgun for you will vary depending on your needs and preferences. However, nearly all beginners would be better off selecting a .22LR or 9mm pistol in place of a .40 or a .45 caliber handgun. It’s that simple.
You want to be able to shoot frequently when you are just starting out and buying .45 ammunition is much harder on your wallet than it is to purchase 9mm or .22LR (again, if you can find it).
If we had to narrow down to only two handguns on our rack that are fun to shoot and fall into the .22LR & 9MM category, it’d be the Ruger SR22 and the CZ 75B. The Ruger is a polymer gun but handles the recoil very well and the CZ 75B does a great job mitigating recoil with its all-steel frame.