What Is Best?

16-Jun-11 – 16:02 by ToddG

The answer does not end with “… and to hear the lamentation of their women.” Because you know that’s what you were thinking.

Every three point six minutes, someone on the internet asks, “Which pistol should I buy, a Brand-X or a Brand-Y?” A slew of generic responses are put forth, many of which are either outright poor advice or at least woefully incomplete. Here are some examples.

Buy the one that feels best in your hand. Wrong. The one that feels best in  your hand at the gunshop might not feel so great after you shoot it. Your super-comfortable grip might have you interfering with controls or unable to reach things like the mag button or slide release. Obviously, the way it feels in your hand cannot tell you anything about its accuracy, reliability, or durability.

Buy the one that (insert name of LE agency or military unit) uses. Unless you know what the selection criteria were and what guns were tested, this is useless. Even if that information is available, the raw test results probably are not. The gun that got rejected by a certain unit because it had problems working in talcum-like Afghanistan sand might work just fine for you in Kansas.

Buy the one you shoot best. This is dangerously tempting. But it’s also just plain dangerous. How do you define “shoots best” to begin with? Is it the gun with which you shoot the fastest F.A.S.T. or best Hackathorn Standards score? Those are fine tests of shooter ability, and the Hackathorn in particular is a great way to evaluate a broad range of skills from close to long range in different positions as well as testing both SHO and WHO shooting. But neither of them really does much to test one gun against another. Neither of them puts enough rounds down range to assess reliability and durability, either.

Furthermore, the “one you shoot best” argument fails to consider that over time, with practice, you’ll most likely learn to shoot either gun better than you can today. When I picked up the P30 with its LEM trigger after more than a year of shooting a custom Smith & Wesson M&P trigger, I couldn’t shoot it better. But a few months later I was shooting it better than any gun I’d ever tried before or since.

The simple reality is that there is no such thing as the best pistol. There isn’t even an answer to which pistol is best for one particular person. Some guns are easier to shoot fast. Some guns are easier to shoot accurately. Some guns are more reliable. Some guns are more durable. There are just too many factors to declare one gun the best.

You can learn to shoot just about any gun well. All it takes it dedication and effort. You might be better at one-handed shooting with one gun and faster with another by some tiny percentage, you might be slightly more accurate with one and reload faster with another. Personally, I wouldn’t let those small differences have a lot of influence. You’ll probably find that your day to day variation with any one gun is at least as great as the difference between your “best” performance with one gun as opposed to another.

Finally, the simply reality is that no serious shooter sticks with his first gun forever. Everyone experiments. Everyone goes through phases of trying something new and different. Sometimes we end up right back where we started. Sometimes we find something we like better and stick with it… for a while, at least.

Just don’t make the mistake of jumping to something new because it shot better for you one afternoon on the range when you borrowed a buddy’s Brand-X compared to your Brand-Y, or because The Internet Said that X was faster/better/cooler than Y. The Internet isn’t shooting the gun, you are. The Internet isn’t paying for a new gun, sights, holster, mags, etc. either. So before you invest hundreds and hundreds of dollars on that “better” gun, carefully consider whether that same money could be better spent on professional training, ammo, and just plain old practice.

If you really want to shoot better, the person behind the gun makes a lot more difference than the gun in his hands.

Train hard & stay safe! ToddG

  1. 36 Responses to “What Is Best?”

  2. I agree that there is no such thing as the best pistol, and that asking “Which is best” or “Which should I get” is a pointless endeavor.

    However, the question of “Which SHOULDN’T I get” or “Which is worst” could be a moderately more fruitful, eh? You won’t see many people recommending a Hi-Point or a Lorcin, nor will you very often see folks saying “get the pistol that jams the most and you shoot worst”. 😀

    By T. on Jun 16, 2011

  3. Cool blog again. Agree, no such thing as the best. But if a person has to pick one; doesn’t have much personal experience to draw on; IMO they could do a lot worse than selecting a model that has been long vetted by demanding LE or Mil organizations and then working hard to learn to shoot it well.

    By JoeC on Jun 16, 2011

  4. This is a fantastic article Todd and some of the best advice for anyone who carries a gun everyday. Nothing could be more true than that last statement. Never has a person came out of a gunfight and said I wish I would have had a hammer fired gun or short reset trigger. But I am sure alot of them wished they would have spent more time practicing, or were glad they did.

    By DonW on Jun 16, 2011

  5. Whatever, my HK45c is the BEST gun ever… no, wait… my Ed Brown… AAAAHHHH…

    Good article Todd, great advice. I only recently finally started spending money on ammo and training as opposed to every new shiny gun I could find. It has made all the difference. Now I can shoot ANY gun much better than I could shoot my favorite gun last year.

    Now my decisions are more like, “well the 1911’s get really hot outside in the sun, so my HK’s must be better”… :)

    By James on Jun 16, 2011

  6. Next thing I know, you’re going to tell us that there is no secret ingredient in the Secret Ingredient Soup. Whatever.

    By SLG on Jun 16, 2011

  7. This blog entry is ludicrous. The Taurus PT1911 is the best gun ever, and the guys with the leg holsters all know why. You just don’t hear about it much because those guys are in special forces and they can’t talk about those things. Kinda like I can’t talk about the time I was working in a mall and our mall security team saved the Mayor’s son from being tea-bagged in the bathroom – which coincidentally is why we now have a PSG-1 in our arsenal.

    Seal Team 6 uses the Taurus PT1911 because it is the BEST, hands down. You just don’t know that because they can’t talk to the press. I know it because my best friend is on Seal Team 6. I was once a Seal too, but I was on Team 5 so they forced us to use Glock 40s. That way, if we were captured, they wouldn’t know that the best gun is actually the Taurus PT1911 and the enemy wouldn’t be able to buy the best guns and therefore be as good as Seal Team 6. Also, if they tried to use our Glock 40s, they would either fail to feed (Gen 4) or they would Ka-boom.

    Enough said about that.

    By Billy Ng on Jun 17, 2011

  8. I wonder if someone makes a “bad humor” filter for WordPress that works like Akismet does for spam…

    And SLG, the secret ingredient in Secret Ingredient Soup is multicam-flavored water. Don’t tell anyone, though. It’s a secret.

    By ToddG on Jun 17, 2011

  9. Billy, you crazy! Everyone knows that the REAL Sooper Seekrit L337 Gun is the C-GAAAAKK-CHOKE-GURGLE
    [/ninjaattack]

    By Joe in PNG on Jun 17, 2011

  10. If I have learned nothing else from the internets, it’s that My Gun Rules and Your Gun Sucks. If you don’t believe me, just ask anybody on MyGunForum.com.

    By Tam on Jun 17, 2011

  11. You’re right, I immediately though “…and to hear the lamentation of their women.”

    Great post. I try to articulate this to people when I’m in a gun store and the clerk is telling them that Brand X is awesome for whatever reason.

    By Jesse on Jun 17, 2011

  12. I’m not a big fan of the what “feels good” or it “all comes down to personal taste/preference” approach. Some guns are good, some are crap. I’d rather people ask “what are some good guns?” Because some guns are better than others. In the end it comes down to what you intend on using it for or what are your expectations in a new pistol. Sometimes expectations need to be adjusted for reality. Other times, the person may not be able to handle a full size (blank).

    By Isaac on Jun 17, 2011

  13. Once again Todd hits it out of the park.

    By Bill Lance on Jun 17, 2011

  14. @Isaac – I agree that is definitely a more useful list, but on the other hand, you’re going to get a ton of argument around the edges anyway (for a very local example, does CZ make the list or not?)

    Is there a gun review site that does comparison buying guides, like you see on edmunds for cars? Something that would go like “Buy the Glock 17 if you want something cheap and reliable, but the P30 if you want to appendix carry”, only in more detail, and look at a set of competing, similar guns?

    Nearly every gun review I have read seems to exist in isolation, and to determine that “This is indeed a fine gun, with some minor caveats.” It tells me nothing about why I should consider one or the other, of if it does, it’s more on the level of “should I get a full-size 1911 in .45 or a compact 9mm”, which is more like asking whether you should buy a compact car or an SUV.

    By Mike on Jun 17, 2011

  15. Mike — No one does that to the best of my knowledge. The difference between the auto industry and the gun industry is that the auto industry generates far more revenue from far more customers each year. Advertising for auto magazines and sites is thus much greater. Consumables for most car tests are less, as well.

    Imagine if we wanted to put, say, three each of five different guns through a 2,000 Round Challenge. First, we’d need guns from, for example, Beretta, Glock, HK, SIG, and Smith. Getting three guns from some of those companies is going to be difficult or impossible. But if we did just one of each model — like the car mags do — people would scream that a sample size of one was inadequate, etc.

    Next, we need at least thirty thousand rounds of ammunition. Again, not easy to come by without spending a lot of money out of pocket. And of course you also need to create similar conditions for shooting all the guns, which means manpower and range access, etc.

    Then, just as with car reviews, people who think they know more than the reviewers who dislike the results will just make excuses anyway. Do you have any idea how many people have written off this year’s Glock test malfunctions as “he probably limp wristed?” 8)

    Your idea has tremendous merit, don’t get me wrong. It’s just logistically difficult enough to make it highly unlikely.

    By ToddG on Jun 17, 2011

  16. Yet another honest, truthful, ego-less post from Todd. I love, maaaan.

    I would contend that there are some guns better for beginners. “Starter pistols”, if you will. Like motorcycles. (Many similarities.)

    I’ve seen newbies struggle with a 1911 or Sig and others progress further faster with a Glock or Springfield XD. Granny doesn’t need a .38 revolver if she isn’t going to practice every day. Let them start with a simple-to-operate handgun, THEN progress to more “complicated” guns when they are ready.

    Although [justification] … I tell my wife I have to buy one of EVERY gun so I know what fits me best. :-)

    By GhettoSmack on Jun 17, 2011

  17. To answer Mikes question, there is something sorta like what you describe. The publication was called Gun Tests. When I was a newby I subscribed to it because I got a free Z3 and found it useful for a little bit at least. After awhile I got old and predicable, like all gun mags do but essentially they took 3 9mm’s or something and put them head to head. This was years ago and if you google it you can find it? Don’t know if it’s worth the money but you can decide for yourself.

    By Emanuel Plotnikov on Jun 17, 2011

  18. I used to read Gun Tests back in the ’90s. I still have a few issues around here someplace.

    On the one hand, they tried their best to be unbiased and accepted no advertising. On the other, their testers knew so very little about firearms that it made me sad. So I stopped reading.

    By Tam on Jun 17, 2011

  19. @ToddG

    Oh, I realize that a true scientific sample is a very difficult… but then, no car mag does long-term reliability testing on a whole fleet of cars, either. They do user samples for that, and based reliability largely on a) if it was so unreliable it actually broke during their testing (rare), and b) user surveys. No review is going to be the end-all-be-all, but still… it would be nice to just have a feel of why you would pick one or the other.

    By Mike on Jun 17, 2011

  20. My opinion of Gun Tests mirrors Tam’s. Lots of well meaning but poorly informed “writers” who got published primarily because they were willing to spend the money to do the test. S.W.A.T. continues to be the only gun periodical I subscribe to.

    Mike — Understood. Perhaps it’s something we need to consider instead of a normal test next year…

    By ToddG on Jun 17, 2011

  21. One of your best, EVER.

    By Jon on Jun 17, 2011

  22. Oh, and not saying *you* need to do it. Your tests are, honestly, pure awesome, and something I haven’t seen anywhere else :) Just rambling.

    By Mike on Jun 17, 2011

  23. Certainly a good article, but the question then remains: how does someone who is new to shooting select the right handgun to start out with (even if it isn’t the best)?

    I think that it’s fair to say that there’s at least as much ego tied up in gun ownership as there is in car ownership. I see just as much irrational brand loyalty, misinformation and posturing, that’s for sure. That makes the search for ‘the best’ almost an emotional imperative that’s hard to ignore.

    By Nik on Jun 17, 2011

  24. I have an interesting problem in that I live in a rural area, where lots of people have guns, but not very many people sell them. Thanks to the internet, everything is available as long as there is an FFL to do a transfer for you. The nearest range where a gun can be rented and tried out is nearly 300 miles away. I partially remedy this by handling as many guns as I can when I travel other places so that I have some ideas about what a particular gun is like if I find a good deal.

    This situation also led to a shift in attitude for me. For a while I was concerned with getting the perfect set of guns for me. Now I am more concerned with being proficient with any gun I happen to pick up. The main focus is now on my skills, not on my tools.

    By Gabriel Webb on Jun 17, 2011

  25. I’ve take a lot of grief over the years for trying different brands/models of pistols to see what works best for me. I’ll admit buying/selling/trading is a fun hobby but what folks that poke fun tend to not notice is what is actually in my holster (and generally has been all along) is the same trusty G19. They also fail to notice the improvements I’ve made during this time. I’m an example of your statement about ending up right back where you started, for me it was GLOCK.

    My point is you can’t try different guns out and know what works best for you without spending considerable time behind the trigger. Like you said, you can’t get that in the store or by meeting a buddy at the range that has one you can try out. Don’t be afraid to buy something and put a few thousand rounds down range before you write it off/adopt it. You owe it to yourself. You really don’t know what might actually work “better” for you than what you are using now.

    No, I’m not talking about getting into a full scale equipment race. I’m just saying don’t settle on one thing without trying the others too.

    By VolGrad on Jun 17, 2011

  26. It may be possible to get a group of dedicated shooters across the country (including Canada) who would be willing to do tests for a group sampling for next year. Each person would buy one of their own guns, and ammo for either a 2,000 round test, or larger. All tests could be video taped, and modifications made to the gun could either be a complete “No” or only within certain approved parameters. I’ve got a new Shadow right now, and another at the shop. I’ll probably be getting two more next year as well, and would have no problem running both of them for such a test.

    By Rob Engh on Jun 17, 2011

  27. Rob Engh,

    One of the major advantages of major LE testing is that they’ve done that grunt work for me.

    I’ll be buying a plastic 9mm bullet-launching appliance at some point this year. I know that if it’s an HK USP/P30, Glock, or M&P9, that somebody’s already beat the stuffing out of more examples than I could afford to buy. (Ditto with an older M92 or P-22X, but they aren’t plastic.)

    Why would I go buy a different gun? Just to prove how cool and eclectic I am? This isn’t a tattoo I’m getting to show how individualistic I am (if I wanted that, I’d just stick with my two-kilobuck custom 1911s): It’s a self-defense appliance.

    By Tam on Jun 17, 2011

  28. No need to buy a different gun Tam, if enough people were to participate there could be a variety of guns bought resulting in a few different test groups. If a specific set of drills/tests were to be completed each week, with footage and results turned in each Sunday (shouldn’t be hard to setup a site for people involved to submit directly to), I’m sure we could drum up a few people, plus maybe some industry support? Not trying to step on Todd’s toes with the 50,000 round test, but supplement it with maybe 500,000 rounds being tested by 50 people around the globe. 10 Glocks, 10 HKss, 10 CZs, 10 Berettas or what have you.
    just an idea.

    By Rob Engh on Jun 18, 2011

  29. Nik,

    Unfortunately, choosing the “right” handgun is largely dependent upon the person doing the choosing. I will also say that a little bit of luck goes a long way towards making that right decision. When i say luck i simply mean, what is the persons background? Do they know anyone that shoots, what is their level of exposure? The truly NEW gun owner is at the mercy of their own intelligence and their willingness research, learn and then make educated opinions. You can lead a horse to water but…well, you know where that one goes. Ultimately, the end user must determine what is good information and what is bad information and then form their own opinions ideally backed with personal, first hand experiences.

    By ChicksDigIt on Jun 19, 2011

  30. Lately the best handgun would be one that actually works, or at least has the least numbers of recalls from the factory.

    By Chuck on Jun 19, 2011

  31. I like Rob Engh’s idea! Kind of like “Groupon” meets “Gun Tests”. “Mass testing”. Several bloggers already do some sort of short testing reports. They could participate.

    I have thought for quite a while, now, that sub-compact, pocket, back-up guns could greatly benefit from volume testing. A way to make carry guns more reliable.

    By GhettoSmack on Jun 20, 2011

  32. I understand and agree with no such thing as a general best but could you reasonably successfully recommend items to start with? For instance, me, a newby with concealed carry. What do you recommend for a holster? I understand there is no “best” but I don’t want to search the entire face of the earth and finally the last item I buy and check out is the right one.

    By luvjetz on Jun 20, 2011

  33. Guns are hard enough. Declaring one holster “best’ or even suggesting something as a starting point is next to impossible. There are so many variables in terms of body type, environment, gun selection, where/how to carry, etc…

    By ToddG on Jun 20, 2011

  34. I actually went with one that felt good…figure if it’s too small or too big it would just magnify any problems the gun may have by not being able to handle it comfortably….Kind of like the old saying “if the shoe fits”.
    I have not been disappointed with my choice.

    By Gene on Jun 21, 2011

  35. I’ve been in the fortunate position of not being able to afford new guns often; the last one I chose personally was a S&W Model 686—-with no dash! I have received a couple of hunting revolvers as gifts over the years, but have learned to :make do” with my Airweight Bodyguard I bought before the 686. No, I can’t shoot Plus-P ammo out of it, or at least only a few rounds yearly. What I can do is make it disappear, split a bullet on an axe, handle any appropriate ammo, and we have grown older together; I have 99.999 percent confidence in her, and that is where I believe many folks fail. I’ve seen friends buy gun after gun, chasing that elusive dream gun, endlessly disappointed. I have shot some of theirs, managed them well, but finances and familiarity put me gladly where I was. Can I handle a zombie mob? No; I stay away from such places. Can I beat the auto’s reload time? No, I put round 1 in a really good spot, and go from there. I haven’t had to shoot anyone, not has anyone I know outside of LEO’s in my corner of the world. I am comforted and comfortable; where I am, there goes my .38, except work (ER nurse). My wife and kids are the only ones who know; it’s nobody else’s business. Much more than my 2 cents there, so I’ll hush now. God Bless, and Happy Belated fathers’ Day to those it applies to.

    By micko77 on Jun 21, 2011

  36. Oh, one other minor point: my old revo is at around 35k rounds, just getting broken in. Bye now.

    By micko77 on Jun 21, 2011

  37. For several years now I’ve promoted the position there is no such thing as ”best”, there is only “different.” Given the right setup I think you can probably show that the NAA Mini-Derringer is the best, or with another setup that the S&W .500 is best….for that particular situation. So the question itself becomes somewhat of a problem, as the answer is on a sliding scale subject to numerous outside factors. Sometimes the best gun for me to have is an Airweight S&W, another time the best gun is a Glock 17, another time it is a S&W Mdl 65.

    By David Armstrong on Jun 30, 2011

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