Last time, we talked about handguns, rifles, and shotguns.
There are many sub-sections within each category. For example, shotguns are usually single-shot, double-barreled, pump-action, or semi-auto. Rifles are usually be single shot, pump-action, lever-action, bolt-action, or semi-auto. Most modern rifle designs are either bolt-action or semi-auto. Most handguns are revolvers or semi-auto pistols, but some handguns are also derringers, bolt-action, single-shot, or some other uncommon system.
Rifle choices: If selecting a rifle for defense, then semi-auto is strongly preferred. There is a lot of debate about which caliber is best, and which gun design is best. In short, your choice of rifle design and caliber depend on your intended purpose for the rifle.
If semi-auto is not an option for some reason, then (IMHO) the best option is a lever-action chambered in a handgun-caliber such as .357 Magnum, .44 Magnum or .45 Colt (not the same as 45 ACP). With practice, lever action rifles can be fired very quickly. Using a handgun-caliber means the rifle will hold more ammunition, kick less, and be faster to shoot multiple shots. Here’s what a world-class shooter can do with wild-west era guns, including a replica 1873 Winchester lever-action rifle. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F1BwUJ4–Qw
Handgun choices: First, determine your purpose. If target shooting, then a longer & heavier handgun is better. Also, target shooting usually doesn’t require powerful calibers. If you plan to buy for self-defense, then caliber choice is very important. A self-defense gun may also be carried around every day, so small size and light weight will help keep you comfortable when you carry it. Of course, carrying a smaller handgun reduces your ability to defend yourself, but a small gun in your pocket is better than the big gun you left at home because it was too uncomfortable.
Second, determine if you want a revolver or a semi-auto pistol. Semi-auto pistols are often lighter weight and hold more ammo than revolvers. For example, a Glock holds 17 rounds of 9mm ammo, but a S&W TR8 only holds 8 rounds of 357 Manum ammo. However, revolvers are available in some truly awe-inspiring powerful cartridges like 44 Magnum, 454 Casull, 50 Alaskan, and the new 500 S&W. Revolvers are generally simple to use mentally, but physically challenging. They have longer & heavier triggers, hold less ammo, and are slower to reload. Semi-auto pistols can be mentally complicated with multiple steps required before shooting begins. However, a semi-auto pistol will usually have a much better feeling when you’re shooting. They have short & light trigger pulls, and require no extra work after each shot. Reloading a pistol takes several steps, but it is faster to do than reloading a revolver (Jerry Miculek doesn’t count, he’s some kind of superhuman with a revolver).
Oh, a few words of caution with handguns. First, a larger & heavier handgun will kick less than a smaller & lighter handgun with the same ammo. One common mistake is to sell tiny, lightweight revolvers to women for self-defense. These revolvers are difficult and painful to shoot. The #1 lesson those women learn is that they hate guns, or at least they hate their own guns because they kick so hard. A bigger, heavier handgun is better for shooting, but harder to carry. I would rather shoot a full-size 357 Magnum than a small 38 special. However, the little aluminum 38 special is a lot more comfortable to carry around every day for self-defense.
Second, you must be extra careful when shooting handguns. They’re very small & manuverable, so be careful that you don’t accidentally point them in the wrong direction if you get excited or distracted. It’s pretty hard to accidentally point a rifle at someone, but pointing a handgun is as easy as pointing your finger.
Revolvers come in 2 basic designs: single-action or double-action. Single-action revolvers require you to manually pull the firing mechanism back before each shot (cock the gun/cock the hammer). Single-action revolvers date back to the mid-1800s and were used in the Civil War and the “wild” west. These are the quintessential “cowboy” guns. Single-action revolvers are generally slower to shoot and much slower to reload than double-action revolvers. Double-action revolvers can be fired by manually pulling back the firing mechanism before shooting, or they can be fired by just pulling the trigger. Unfortunately, the trigger pull is very long and heavy if you don’t pull the hammer back first. However, they’re much faster to shoot. You can shoot a double-action revolver as fast as you can pull the trigger. Most double-action revolvers can be reloaded much more quickly than single action revolvers. Finally, some small revolvers for personal defense have a metal shield that completley covers the firing mechanism. Since it is covered, it is impossible to pull it back manually before shooting. These are called “double-action-only” revolvers (DAO). To shoot, you must pull the long & hard trigger each time. However, the shielded firing mechanism helps keep dirt out of the gun, and it reduces the chance the gun will snag or catch when pulling it out of a pocket. A DAO revolver is just fine for most short-range self-defense situations where you won’t have time to manually cock the gun before each shot.
Caliber choices: It’s always difficult to choose a caliber for your firearm. If you’re just shooting for fun, I always recommend 22LR (pronounced “twenty two long rifle”). Ammo is cheap for 22LR, the guns are cheaper than more powerful guns, it has very little kick, and is perfectly fine for target shooting at 150 feet or less. For defense, many experts recommend using the largest caliber that you can shoot comfortably. Other experts argue that accuracy matters more than caliber, and therefore you should choose a caliber that you can shoot accurately even if it is a little smaller. Smaller calibers kick less and usually guns in smaller calibers hold more ammunition. A semi-auto pistol that holds 17 shots of 9mm will probably hold about 15 rounds of .40 caliber ammo, or about 13 rounds of .45 caliber ammo. The question becomes whether you should have more shots that are less powerful (but easier to shoot), or more powerful ammo (but kicks more and fewer shots). That is a very personal question. I personally like the higher capacity and lower recoil of a 9mm. Also, 9mm ammo is cheaper than 45 caliber ammo. I want to shoot my guns more, and that means choosing a cheaper ammo. I also like 9mm because it is so common. There are probably more gun designs for 9mm than for 45, so as a gun collector, it’s nice to only need to buy 1 kind of ammo instead of 2.
A similar argument can be made for .223 and .308 rifle ammo. Most .308 rifles are designed to hold 20 rounds, while most .223 rifles are designed to hold 30 rounds. Like 9mm, .223 is lighter, cheaper, and softer-kicking than it’s larger-caliber competition. If you prefer Soviet style rifles, then there is a debate wih 5.45mm vs 7.62mm ammo for the AK system. Again, it comes back to the kind of uses and expectations you have.
When choosing a rifle type, it is important to first choose the type of rifle you want, and the caliber. If you have a good reason for wanting a certain caliber, that will limit you choices on what rifle to buy. For example, maybe you have a pistol that shoots 9mm ammo and you want a rifle that also shoots 9mm ammo to keep things simple. You won’t find any bolt-action or lever-action rifles that shoot 9mm pistol ammo. Your only choice is a semi-auto. Similarly, if you have a 357 Magnum revolver and you want a 357 Magnum rifle, then you will probably need to get a bolt-action or lever-action. Again, I recommend a semi-auto for defensive use, or just for having fun at the shooting range. If your goal is something in the wilderness, like hunting or survival, then you should probably look at bolt-action rifles. Compared to a semi-auto, a bolt action rifle is usually lighter weight, less expensive, and more accurate. A $400 Savage bolt action .223 rifle is more accurate than a $900 AR-15. The light weight is especially nice for people who carry their rifles around in the forest. The accuracy difference is small inside of 300 feet, but it gets more significant at longer ranges. Of course, super-accurate semi-auto rifles do exist, but they’re also super-expensive.
If you just need a rifle for fun at the shooting range, 22LR (pronounced twenty-two long rifle) is cheap and common. It’s very possible to find a quality 22LR rifle for about $200. If you need a rifle to carry in the woods for typical wilderness use (hunting/survival/animal defense), then a bolt action rifle is a good choice. A “bargain level” bolt action rifle like a Savage Axis or Ruger American can be purchased for under $400. They’re available in a wide range of calibers. If you’re looking for a self-defense rifle, the heapest option is probably a $350 SKS or $600 AK. They typically fire the Russian 7.62×39 cartridge, which is widely available and very affordable.