With more and more women joining the ranks of American shooting culture, there is a corresponding resurgence of female-specific firearms questions floating around gun stores and shooting ranges around the country. Perhaps primary among them, asked by both female shooters and men in their lives, is “what’s the best handgun for women”?
This question, while asked with the best of intentions, is inherently flawed for two reasons. First, firearms are universally inclusive. They do not cycle, function, or fire specific to the shooter’s size, shape, skin color, or gender. The “best” handgun for women is not any different than the “best” handgun for men, children, or anyone else.
So…what IS the best handgun for women?
Spoiler alert: there isn’t one! That’s the second flaw in this question. Finding the best handgun, for any shooter, is not a what or which question. It’s a how question. If you’re shopping or researching for a woman shooter in your life, stop asking this:
“What is the best handgun for women?”
And start asking this:
“How do I find the best handgun for this woman?”
If shopping for yourself, simply ask “how do I find the best handgun for me?” because the answer to that question will not have to be adjusted for gender. Now that we’ve established the right question to ask, let’s talk about how to answer it. There are a couple of key factors that go into handgun selection. Fortunately, none of them are complicated and all can be placed into one of two categories: Objective Requirements and Subjective Requirements.
HANDGUN SHOPPING: OBJECTIVE REQUIREMENTS
In the famous words of TV detective Joe Friday, objective requirements are just the facts, ma’am. Foremost among these for any pistol shopper is budget. How much can you afford to spend on a handgun purchase? Today’s market is flush with reliable, accurate pistols at almost every price point. If you can establish a price bracket, plus or minus about $100, that will go a long way to narrowing down the dizzying array of options available to you at the gun counter.
Once you’ve got your budget established, the next most important question in selecting a handgun is: what do you intend to use it for? Is this a recreational pistol? Are you looking to get started in the local competition or match circuit? Are you carrying it on your body every day for self-defense, or stowing it at your bedside for home protection? These questions will likely help you establish the size of handgun that you’re looking for. This is especially true in the case of concealed carry pistols. Men usually have enough flexibility in their daily wardrobe to “dress around” whatever pistol they prefer to carry. That can be as easy as wearing a t-shirt one size larger or throwing on a sport coat to help conceal a full-size handgun. Women’s dress-code norms are often more restrictive, and a specific size or shape of handgun may be required to facilitate daily carry. All else being equal, the laws of physics say that a larger handgun is generally easier to shoot on account of the gun having more mass to absorb recoil. But female fashion staples like slim-cut pencil skirts or form-fitting yoga pants may have the final say on how much pistol you’re able to pack on a daily basis. On the contrary, a gun that’s destined for your nightstand drawer will have no inherent restriction on size. This is why it’s so important to establish what you need your handgun to do for you before you begin browsing. The X-factor to this equation is how the gun fits your hand. This can be especially problematic for women since their hand shapes and sizes generally differ from those of most men. This brings us to our subjective requirements.
HANDGUN SHOPPING: SUBJECTIVE REQUIREMENTS
Once you have hard parameters about budget and role requirements, the quest begins to find that so-called perfect handgun – the one that fits your hand like a tailored mitten and is just downright fun to shoot. (Let’s face it, if you don’t enjoy shooting your pistol, you’re not going to practice with it and that’s no good!) This sensation often gets rolled up into terms like “shootability” or “ergonomics”. This is possibly the most important, and by far the hardest, thing to figure out for women in search of a handgun, and there’s really only one way to do it effectively. Much like clothes shopping, guns need to be “tried on” for fit. At a minimum, you can walk into a local gun store and pick up any handgun that meets your requirements. Feel it in your hand. Dry fire it, if the counter staff will allow you, to test how easily you can press the trigger and cycle the slide. The shape of the gun is sometimes more important than the size – we’ve come across several women who heavily favor full-sized 1911s because their straight grip angle and narrow single-stack frame make them easier to hold than even smaller double- or stagger-stack guns. If at all possible, find a local range that has handguns available for rent, and shoot as many as possible. Lucky for you reading this, Stock & Barrel has just that. Stop into either location in Eagan or Chanhassen and stop by the rental counter to see the assortment of handguns and give them a try on the range. Not only will this help you find a handgun size and shape that’s to your liking but will also allow you to explore your comfort level with recoil control. Despite the infinite posturing of the internet, modern ammunition design has all but completely closed the performance gap between popular handgun cartridges, making the final decision on caliber a subjective personal preference based on recoil and/or personal preference.
A footnote to the above subjective requirements is feature set. Some may have a strong preference or self-imposed requirement for features like additional safeties – in the form of a thumb lever or grip safety. Some may prefer single action, or double/single action, to striker-fired mechanisms. Magazine capacity, or the ability to accept optics or lights, also fall under this criteria. But, at the end of the day, we feel that how a pistol fits in the hand and feels under recoil are the most important factors in finding the ideal handgun for women shooters.
Finding the ideal handgun for women, particularly those new to shooting, can be a make-or-break moment in a women’s shooting career. It will determine how much time she spends shooting and how much enjoyment she gets out of it. It’s not a multiple-choice question to be checked off or filled in, but a deeply personal process that requires self-reflection and careful consideration. If undertaken earnestly, the result will be a satisfied shopper and, hopefully, a newly-minted enthusiast for shooting sports and firearms ownership as a whole.