I met a very nice woman at an all-ladies, new-shooter, firearms training event. She was in a group with four other women. She had never shot a pistol and was a bit hesitant at first. She watched as all the other women took a turn.
They were shown how to safely operate, load and shoot .22 semi-automatic handguns and they appeared to operate them with ease. With the help of an instructor (you can read why we recommend professional help, when it comes to firearms training in this article), the four other ladies were quickly making holes in targets.
The nice woman was more nervous than the other new shooters and, quite honestly, she was scared. After watching the other four, this woman said she didn’t want to shoot the .22 semi-automatic handguns. She was intimidated by their size. She saw a shiny little pistol with a purple grip on the table and said she would prefer to try it. Her instructor attempted to steer her toward the small caliber, longer barreled pistol the other ladies were shooting. Pointing at the compact pistol she shook her head and said, “It’s too big. I want to try this one.”
We have all heard the saying “Bigger is better.” This slogan applies in the shooting world now and again too. Some new shooters are intimidated by what appear to be big guns. A variety of new shooters have heard about “kick” or recoil and are afraid of shotgun, rifle or pistol recoil. Others think a gun is too big, long or heavy for them.
In shooting sports, bigger may apply to a couple of things. One thing can be the size of the firearm itself. Another is the size of the cartridge or shell. This new shooter was looking at the physical size of the firearm. Even though she had done her classroom time, she didn’t completely understand the caliber of a bullet. She learned about pistol and caliber size first hand at the range.
The instructor explained to the novice shooter that the pistol with the purple grip was a .38 double action revolver. He reminded her of what she had learned in the classroom. He explained that the shorter barrel of the gun would actually create a larger amount of recoil and referred to the gas-exchange diagram they had reviewed the day prior. Then he reviewed the action, noting how a double action gun tends to have a harder trigger pull than that of the smaller caliber .22 the other ladies were shooting.
Here is where size comes in. The .22 looks like a bigger gun, but shoots a smaller caliber bullet. The .38, with the shorter barrel would have added recoil. It also has a smaller grip and could be difficult for a new shooter to wrap her hands around. The longer barreled .22 had a full sized grip, combined with the semi-automatic features of a slide and spring, and would provide less recoil from a shot.
As a new shooter, it is important to first take the classroom portion of the course. After classroom time is completed, you then go into the field and work on safety, operation, form and grip. Instructors generally start out with a firearm that is the most comfortable for new shooters, i.e. a .22. They want the new shooter to focus on fundamental skills rather than having a student who becomes frightened by using a gun that may be more complex or uncomfortable.
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The instructor did a very good job of explaining the differences in the guns. He reminded her of the differences in bullet caliber and discussed muzzle length. He then agreed that he would let her shoot the compact pistol once, but afterward, she would shoot the “bigger” (longer) .22. They settled on it and he showed her how to grip the .38 pistol, how to operate it, load it and then fire.
Once this sweet lady loaded the smaller sized gun, she stood at the firing line. She held the gun up, pulled the trigger, letting a bullet fly. The gun nearly jumped from her hand. She was distressed even more than she had been. The instructor settled her down and proceeded to explain the grip and operation of the other, “big” gun. She had seen the other ladies shoot this style without the gun jumping around. She eagerly listened to her teacher.
After she was briefed on the .22 she stepped to the line. Her instructor stood close, giving direction and support. The larger gun was raised, fired, and the bullet flew. The slide moved and the lady’s shot hit its target. She looked over at her instructor with a smile. “Wow," she said, "The bigger one was easier.”
In the end, this new pistol shooter left happy and eventually became a gun owner. It is important to listen to your instructor as you take a firearms course. They are there for you and should have your best interest at heart. Be sure to ask questions. A longer barrel and a smaller caliber can reduce recoil making the experience more enjoyable for a new shooter.