Buying Your First Handgun and Learning How to Shoot

But click here first for the safety rules.

It is really impossible for me to tell you everything that you might want to know to buy your first gun and to learn how to shoot.  No "one best gun" exists, and there are thousands of different ones to choose from.  Do not get hung up on just one point - like how many rounds one gun holds over another or how much power one caliber has.  The most important thing is that the gun fits your hand and you are able to use it accurately and safely.  A small weak person might not be able to hold and aim a large, full size 44 magnum but would have no problem with a Beretta 380 caliber with a tip up barrel (just remember that in Canada handguns with barrels less than 105.1mm in length have been prohibited under our latest firearms laws). It really depends on you and what your background is and what you really want to use the gun for.  This is not rocket science so it is not hard to learn the basics of shooting but it does take some practice and knowledge to be a real good shooter. 

For the cheapest shooting please look at WHY YOU SHOULD BUY AN AIR GUN.  With a $50 air gun, $10 worth of pellets and CO2 cylinders and a cardboard box you can set up a safe practice range at your house or in your back yard where you can impress your friends and neighbors with your shooting ability, assuming your municipal bylaws allow the discharge of airguns.  It is also a way to let people who might be interested in shooting learn how easy it is and how much fun it can be. For the latest on which airguns are considered to be firearms under Canadian law check the Firearms Training airguns page.

I would suggest that you buy two books to start for your firearms library.  The first should be "THE BASICS OF PISTOL SHOOTING."  It is published by the NRA and is the textbook that is used for their pistol classes.  The book cover all of the things that a new shooter needs to know.    The book cost about $5.00 + $3.50 for S&H.  You may order the book by calling 1-800-336-7402.  "PISTOL SHOOTER'S TREASURY" by Gil Herbard is the other book you should buy.  It  is more technical but cost only about $6 +S&H.  It is the best in-depth book that I have seen for a new or experienced shooter.  It was first published in 1975 and my copy was the 11th reprint. It has many great articles, but you will cry when you see the price of guns in those days. Order from Gill Herbard Guns, 125 Public Sq., Knoxville, Illinois 61448, Phone 309-289-2700.

    First some simple definitions so that you know what we are talking about.
REVOLVER: The old style with a rotating cylinder in the middle that holds from 5 to 10 rounds.  It comes in 2 major flavours.  The Old cowboy type, single action style that requires that you cock the hammer then pull the trigger and you must unload and load one shell at a time.  The second major type is the more modern double action revolver that allows you to cock the hammer and fire the gun by pulling only on the trigger.  This style normally allows the cylinder that holds the bullets to swing out so that you can eject all of the shells at once and then reload one shell at a time or use a 'reloader' to load all of the bullets at one time.
SEMI-AUTOMATIC:  This style was developed starting in the late 1800s.  Instead of a cylinder to hold the ammunition, this style of handgun uses a magazine or clip to hold the ammunition.  round. Under Canadian law magazine capacity is now limited to ten rounds of ammunition. It fires one bullet every time you pull the trigger and as it 'cycles' when it fires, it ejects the used shell casing and loads the next. As with revolvers, semi-automatics are available with single and/or double action triggers.

If you only want to have a handgun for the home (unless you have major political connections you can forget about getting a handgun for self-protection in Canada), do not want to spend much money and do not plan to practice often then many would suggest a quality used revolver in 357 Magnum or 38 special.  (You can shoot a 38 special in a 357 Magnum but not the reverse.  The bullets are the same size but the 357 case is slightly longer and more powerful and therefore slightly harder to shoot because of the additional recoil.)  If you are a hunter and want to use your new handgun for hunting outside of Canda (yes, since the mid-1960s hunting with a handgun has been deemed to be too much of a threat to public safety to be permitted in Canada) then you might want to get a single shot handgun in a hunting caliber with a 10 inch barrel and a scope.  If you know that you really want to do some action shooting you might want to spend a few thousand dollars and buy a semi-automatic race gun in 38 Super, 40 S&W, 45 ACP or any other popular caliber.  How about an old style single action revolver in 45 LC for some Cowboy Action Shooting?

No matter what you plan to do you will never go wrong or waste your money buying a 22 caliber handgun.  A new basic semi-automatic can sell for $225 to $350.  These guns will be accurate enough for informal 'plinking', target practice and beginning competitions.  Most will shoot a group of five shots within 3-5cm at 20 metres so they should be accurate enough to keep all shots within the 10 ring on a bullseye target.  Ammunition will effect accuracy so it will pay for you to try several brands to find out what shoots the best at the price that you want to pay.  (You might find a used gun cheaper but have it checked by a gunsmith or buy it from someone who will be willing to fix it or take it back if something is wrong.)  New design and manufacturing methods allow many of these cheaper handguns to be almost as accurate as handguns costing over twice as much.  However, balance, feel and trigger pull will not be quite as good.  The main reason to own a 22 calibre is that it is cheap to shoot.  50 rounds of new 38 caliber ammunition will cost as much as 500 rounds of 22 cal. ammo.  All of the techniques of hold, trigger pull, stance, safe handling, positions, and aiming are the same no matter what the gun caliber.  It is just much cheaper to practice and learn using 22 cal. ammo.  The amount of money you will spent learning to shoot using even the cheaper ammunition of a larger caliber will more than cover the cost of a modern 22. (It cost about $9.11 per 50 rounds of the cheapest 9 MM factory ammo or $182.20 with tax  for 1,000 rounds.  1,000 rounds of 22 cost about $21.45 with tax.  $182.20 - $21.45 = $160.70 or almost enough to buy a 22.  A 1,000 rounds is not as many rounds as it seems like to a new shooter.  A ten mile drive was a long way when you first started driving.)

If you know that you are going to be doing lots of shooting with a 22 cal. then you can spend the money to buy a better quality 22 or buy one that you can have worked on later to turn it into a "tack-driver".  Switching to a custom barrel, having a trigger job, having the gun tuned and adding a red dot sight are some of the common modifications that allow that fun gun to turn into a contest winning tack-driver if you have practiced, and can shoot that well.

Learning BULLSEYE SHOOTING will help you in all types of pistol shooting.  It focuses on the basics, sight picture, trigger control, etc.  This page has a lot of the information that you will want to read to get off to a good start.  Bullseye Pistol Shooting is a popular and easy competition and many of the local clubs have Bullseye Pistol Matches and the Ottawa Valley Pistol League holds inter club matches at the indoor ranges in Eastern Ontario.  You will need a 22 cal. pistol to shoot in some of the matches..  (Another good reason to get a good 22 cal. pistol.)  Click on the image to link to the web site, it will take a moment to load. (Also, search ShootersLinks with the keyword, BULLSEYE.)

Another great site is the Army Marksmanship Unit Pistol Training Guide. The United States Army Marksmanship Unit has compiled this guide with the intent of providing assistance to pistol marksmen throughout the United States. Much of the information has been contributed by championship caliber U.S. Army pistol shooters and coaches. The text is designed for ready reference and contains the fundamentals of pistol marksmanship and the most advanced techniques known to these experts. The data presented represents a comprehensive coverage of the many facets of pistol marksmanship and related subjects. Portions of the information contained herein were obtained from the research of authoritative articles, personal interviews and observation of foreign competitions. Noteworthy contributions were received from many experienced persons closely associated with pistol activities not connected with military training.


As I said, no "one best gun" exists and there are hundreds of different ones to choose from.  Every choice will be a compromise so you will have to make several decisions.

  1.   What do you want to use the gun for?  Size, weight, sights, style
  2.   What range will your target be at? 7 yards, 50 feet, 25 yards, 50 yards
  3.   How accurate does your gun need to be?
  4.   How accurately can you shoot?
Changes in the weight of your gun, caliber, size and other variables have a marked effect on how a gun shoots and handles.  I once shot a very small single action 22 caliber magnum revolver.  Even though the bullet was only a 22 caliber, because of the light weight and very small grip, the gun almost flew out of my hand every time I fired it.  Besides not being able to hold on to it, I could not keep the bullets inside a 6 inch ring at 10 feet.  Another time I shot a very large and heavy big caliber single action handgun using very powerful  hand loaded ammunition.  It took me more than a few seconds to recover from the recoil and the gun was so heavy that it was hard for me to aim and hold it steady on the target.  If I had a way to rest the gun and really needed to shoot at something with a very heavy and large bullet and I only wanted to fire a few rounds, (as in hunting,) the gun would have been fine.

Some general relationships:



This page has been modified from one by George Rogero at the ORANGE COUNTY, NY SHOOTERS & PISTOL INFORMATION PAGE to reflect the Canadian legal environment and the local scene for members of the Eastern Ontario Handgun Club.

This page was last modified December 18, 2000

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