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recommendations   does size matter?   Hold it

What kinds of ideas are you considering before you carry a handgun for self defense?

Here is a forum thread with lots of food for thought.


Revolver or semi-auto

Choosing a handgun for protection usually involves some compromises.  Defense against large, dangerous cats, bears, and moose would be better served using the more powerful rifle or a 12 ga. shotgun with slugs at close range.  The rifle should be kept loaded in magazine only and never left beyond arms reach.  Of course this is impossible when one is wading waist high in the Alaska ranges while manipulating a trout rod and reel.



The Ruger 43 oz. 4 5/8 "  Barreled 6 shot Single Action Vaquero Revolver, in  44 Magnum, is simple and economical, a good choice for wilderness defense.




Another big critter gun, the S&W 329PD is a 26 oz. 6 shot 44 mag for those who who like to get a kick out of shooting.



The 56 oz. X-frame Smith & Wesson 500 is the most powerful revolver in current production.  This 4 inch barreled model gives up some velocity, and recoil, compared to its longer barreled hunting versions.  However, it is easier to carry for self defense against dinosaurs.


In the wilderness, a powerful handgun could be carried in a vertical shoulder holster or belt holster.  But unlike the rifle, a potent handgun like this requires a great deal of practice to be effective.  The simple, more rugged single action revolver is recommended in 41 mag, 44 mag, 454 Casull, or 480 Ruger.  The 500 S&W would give bragging rights.  Hand loaders can achieve a good  level of power with the 45 Colt in the older model Vaqueros.  Heavy hard cast bullets will provide the most penetration.  The handgun should be kept fully loaded and reasonably accessible, as long as the holster retains the weapon securely and is not so loose about the body that it impedes a clean draw.

Self-defense against criminals and human predators doesn't require as much power as it does speed of draw and control of follow up shots.  In fact, over-penetration can be avoided by choosing a bullet which expands rapidly, slows down inside the target, and releases its energy quickly.  Again, a great deal of practice is necessary for fast presentation and follow up control.  A large ammunition capacity is not as important as getting the first shot off as fast as possible and placing a couple of heavy, expanding bullets where they will achieve the desired effect.

Both semi-automatic pistols and double action revolvers are excellent choices for urban self-defense.  In semi-autos, choose the 45 ACP or 40 S&W calibers.  In revolvers the 44 Special and 357 Magnum make fine choices.  Good quality and dependability are paramount.  Small size and weight are considered secondary to effective stopping power.   A rough or checkered grip can help wet or slippery hands maintain control.  Other important considerations are the attributes that help one to carry it concealed, to move about in comfort, and to have quick accessibility while both sitting and standing.  Any of these factors, when neglected, may prevent you from having a gun fast enough when one is needed.  Not carrying a gun because it's uncomfortable could negate the whole study of firearm defense and survival, not to mention the lives of you and your loved ones.



Ruger's 25 oz. 2 1/4" barreled SP 101 5 Shot Spur-less Double Action Only Revolver in 357 Magnum will be much more pleasant to shoot loaded with 38 Special ammunition.  The Ruger GP100 is a larger, heavier 357, with a 6 shot cylinder, that will reduce felt recoil even more.  If it's purpose is home defense rather than concealed carry, a 3" or 4" barrel is recommended.  Here is a comparison of 38 Special and 357 Magnum power from a snubby.




The 11.4 oz. S&W 340PD no lock, Double Action Only, 357 Magnum will be exciting to shoot because of it's light weight, unless lighter weight, 125 grain bullets or 38 Special ammo is used.   Felt recoil and muzzle blast can be considerations during practice sessions, but in a real life or death confrontation, they generally go unnoticed due to the mind's concentration with the task at hand.  With ultra heavy,180 grain Federal Cast Core 357 Magnum hunting ammo, it will brain anything in North America, if your wrist is up to it.  Snag free, and super light, it can be carried comfortably concealed all day long.  Be sure to clean the cylinder mouths after shooting the shorter 38 specials before inserting 357 cartridges.  For a lightweight defense against big critters in the woods, see the 20 oz. titanium 41 Magnum on the web page Holsters


This double action only S&W 642 has Crimson Trace laser grips.  It's a few oz. more than the 340PD, chambered in the less powerful 38 Special, but a whole lot less expensive.  Its light weight and small size makes it a good front pant pocket backup.



The double action revolver is simpler to learn.  It's easy to see how it works and how it's loaded.  The long, stiff trigger pull is the only safety device needed.  If the trigger pull seems too hard, a bit of finger strengthening exercise will solve the problem.  Don't worry, in a crisis, there will be plenty of  finger power.  The swing out cylinder is easy to load and unload.  Many grip styles will accommodate different hand sizes.  Short barrels and bobbed hammer spurs aid in comfortable carry and snag free presentation.  New materials, like titanium and scandium,  make the revolver one of the lightest handguns available.  Some consider the revolver to be more reliable than the semi-auto pistol.  However, a malfunction in a revolver is usually serious enough to prevent its operation pending the services of a competent gunsmith.  A bullet can be pulled out of the cartridge case far enough during recoil that it prevents the cylinder from turning.  In particular, the cylinder crane is carefully aligned and there are several small delicate parts and springs which won't tolerate abuse.  Exercise care when handling and cleaning so that there is no torque applied to the crane.  Have any used gun you acquire looked at by a competent gunsmith familiar with that model of revolver.  Never snap the cylinder in or out with a flick of the wrist as they show in the movies.  After loading, gently rotate the cylinder into battery and safely check that the trigger and hammer are not locked up from cylinder misalignment.  The bulge of the cylinder makes the revolver less comfortable to carry near the ribs, and it can hang up a fast draw from the waist or pocket unless a top quality holster is used.  The snubby, as it's affectionately called, has the best shape for a quick draw from a front pants pocket.


One of our favorite Kimbers, the  28 oz. 4" Barreled Pro Custom Defensive Pistol with self luminous night sights in 45 Auto.   A .22 LR Target Slide and Magazine Conversion Kit is available for the 4" and 5" Kimbers.  See the smaller 25 oz. Ultra CDP  3" Kimber on the web page Accessories.


Recent surveys indicate that more pistols are used than revolvers for carry.  I suspect that the people who take time responding to the surveys are predominantly the more experienced shooters.  Although most semi-auto pistols handle and point more naturally than revolvers, they need more time invested getting familiar with their controls and operation.  They are more rugged, mechanically simple, and quick to load.  Most jams are easy to clear and are usually due to the shooter not locking the wrist or not getting a high grip to provide resistance to the recoiling slide.  Their thin sides make them more comfortable to carry, especially inside the waistband, where according to the surveys, the most experienced prefer.  New alloys and plastics make some semi automatic pistols the smallest and lightest handguns which still offer a moderate level of stopping power.  Several safety systems working in concert make the pistol safer than the revolver for carry,  however, those same safety systems must be defeated by the shooter before the pistol will fire. 

Carry a 1911 style pistol cocked and locked with a round in the chamber, or condition 1.  With a grip safety, thumb safety, and a firing pin block, it is one of the safest handguns.  Shorten an ambidextrous thumb safety, especially to accommodate Crimson Trace laser grips, and it won't be knocked off safe inadvertently, while the gun rests in a good holster.  I recommend never trying to lower the hammer on a live round in the 1911 style pistol.  "There's many a slip twixt cup and the lip."  Also, I recommend never allowing the hammer to be at half cock.  The sear is carefully mated to the full cock notch on the hammer, and putting it into the half cock notch could degrade an otherwise sweet single action trigger.   

The pistol's magazine must be handled with care to prevent denting and misalignment of the feed lips.  Acquire several magazines and rotate fresh ammunition into them by shooting them out, so you can count on their reliability. Don't worry about magazine springs taking a set or loosing their strength over time in a fully loaded magazine.  The recoil and firing pin springs should be replaced periodically, as recommended by the manufacturer. 

The Kahr PM40 is perhaps the thinnest, lightest, and smallest of the powerful 40 S&W caliber DAO striker fired autos available.  The trigger is excellent, and small hands find it most comfortable.  Recoil is stout, the pinky finger will fall under the grip, nevertheless it is the only 40 cal that can disappear with a pocket holster in a coat pocket.  With its thin, 5 round, single stack magazine, and 16 oz. weight, it makes a great ambidextrous back up gun.  A PM9  in 9mm is less intimidating for both shooter and, of course, the target.

The Rohrbaugh R9 is arguably the best pocket 9 mm a lot of money can buy.  This is the ultimate deep concealment handgun, because it is as small as the little 380's, but much, much more powerful, yet it weighs a scant 13 1/2 oz.  Since the 9mm is much more powerful than the 38 Special, seven 9mm rounds from the R9 bests five 38's  from a snubby revolver on all counts.  The thin body makes the auto suitable for either rear pants pocket.  A little extra effort for takedown and maintenance is worth the power and size of the R9 for experienced shooters.  A smooth, double action only (DAO) trigger has a clean, accurate release and double strike capability.  Study the manual and see some pertinent facts here.  In a  DeSantis Nemesis pocket holster, it will disappear in the smallest pocket. Photo by Aaron L. Brudenell whose review is here.


Ruger's 5 1/2 " Barreled Target auto, in .22 Long Rifle, gets our highest marks for plinking and fun.  One variant has a less severe grip angle similar to a 1911 style pistol.

The tiny Kel-Tec 8 oz P3-AT double action only, in 380 ACP, represents the pinnacle of power ratio to concealable size and weight.   Limited Availability  For information about this new backup gun see web page More.  The P11 is a 9mm 10+1 round that is just slightly larger for the same price.


An article that appears on the Backwoods Home Magazine website follows.

"How to shoot a handgun accurately" by Massad Ayoob

Other articles by Massad Ayoob can be found in the links listing of the page called More.

YouTube - Todd Jarrett on pistol shooting.

A chart showing common shooting errors

Please call or email for wholesale plus pricing.




See the opinions of others on selecting your first handgun for self defense listed on the bottom of the web page Classes.

        {Colt}      All, especially Gold Cup, Commander, and Defender for carry     

             {Kel-Tec}       P3-AT 380 ACP or PF-9 9mm for backup                                              

           {Kimber}       All esp. Super Match for competition, Pro Carry, Ultra CDP for carry

{N. American Arms}      Guardian 380 for backup, little 22 mag for deep cover or novelty               

      {Ruger}      44mag, 45colt single actions for big critters, 22 stainless for target

  {Smith&Wesson}      All, esp. 4" Scandium 44mag for backpacking, SW500 por lo machismo

 {Springfield Armory}      All especially Micro Compact for carry                                                      

           {Taurus}      All, esp. Titanium 2.5"  or  4"  41mag for backpacking                         


Does size matter?

A civilian self defensive engagement won't likely require high capacity pistols or double stack magazines.  Recent studies of gun fights indicate that fewer shots are fired by civilians than police.  An encounter probably will be so close that instinct and point shooting are sufficiently accurate.  During the few shots that may be fired, recoil and blast will go unnoticed, until afterwards.  Muzzle flash, however can be somewhat disabling in low light.  All calibers 380 auto/38 special and above can be effective, given proper shot placement.  Important practice can be done without the cost of actual shooting, like dry firing, uncovering, gripping, drawing, and aligning the muzzle. Even though it may seem to recoil more sharply and be harder to control for follow up shots, a lightweight, compact, defensive tool on your body is better than a heavier, easy to shoot gun left at home or out of arms reach. 

An advantage of smaller calibers is the availability of smaller, lighter, more concealable guns. There's no "free lunch" however, and they are more difficult to shoot due to less grip surface and more perceived recoil.  Practicing good techniques can compensate for these disadvantages.  One may shoot a 9 mm a little better than a 40 s&w, and a 40 s&w a fraction better than a 45 auto, given the same size and weight of gun.  Nevertheless, the most effective power comes from good shot placement combined with the heaviest bullet.  

A heavy bullet may work best when placed by a single handed instinct shot to the pelvis, then three point shots or a stitch (zipper) up the body, and finally a two handed aimed shot to the brain stem, all in the time it normally takes to raise the gun to two hands and the sights.  There may be a limit to the ability to control a handgun as its size and weight becomes smaller.  As a general rule, to control the recoil force cadence of this five shot string, all three fingers should fit on the grip of a 45 auto, 2  fingers for a 40 s&w or a 9 mm, and 1  finger for a 380 auto.   Magazine extensions that allow for a better grip also make the handgun less comfortable to carry and harder to conceal.  Semi-auto pistols can be held higher and closer to the bore, the line of thrust, so muzzle jump and perceived recoil is less.

Hold it

A consistent, high, secure grip with locked wrist and tensioned shoulder is extremely important to gun control.  Since the forearm is the body's force projector and the thumb is the director, the goal is to unite the forearm with the gun through the locked wrist.  Locking your wrist doesn't take strength, it takes muscle and tendon memory.  Teach your wrist how to lock by tapping the end of your outstretched hand from below.  Lightweight, defensive autos recoil more sharply, and it's important for slide operation that they don't flip up or move back quickly.  Some tensioning of the chest and shoulder muscles can be demonstrated by clenching the fist of the gun hand, holding it out, and lightly hitting it back with the off hand.

Now imagine you are throwing something, like a rock or ball.  You are instinctively projecting force directed at a target.  At the outstretched arm you will notice both your index finger and, more importantly, your thumb are pointing at the target when the imaginary ball leaves your hand.  If you look carefully, you'll likely notice that your eye is looking through the tip of your outstretched thumb at the target.  Actually, it is the thumb, as well as the finger, that concentrates your natural "pointing" energy and directs it to the target.  The thumb is the strongest digit of the hand, and it is the one that most closely aligns naturally with the forearm.  Also, the tip of the thumb is closest to the line of sight from the master eye to the target.  This instinctive hand shape forms the basis of your natural pointing grip.  Your index finger and thumb are kept almost straight, just lightly touching the sides of the gun, in line with the bore, and pointing at the target.  Pointing energy flows from your thumb and finger to the target, and to curl the thumb down would upset that flow.  After you find what you think is a comfortable grip with your shooting hand, point the unloaded gun at a safe direction and curl your finger around the trigger,  without looking at the sights.  Instead look down the tip of the thumb.  When you see the target perched on the thumb, move your gaze to look down that part of the finger aligned with the bore, then move your gaze to look down the sights.  If the gun sights are also aligned with the target, you have found your natural point hold.  If not, try to reposition the gun in the web of the hand, change the wrist angle, or slightly move the thumb, so that both the sights, thumb, and finger will point at the same target.  For a faster first shot, while maintaining safety, the trigger finger may be arched, rather than straight, outside the trigger guard, so less fine motor skill is required to contact the trigger.  Practice your natural point hold until it becomes the only way your hand wants to grasp.  You may practice until you get it right, or continue until you can't get it wrong.   When you focus your eyes on a target, direct force with the forearm, and point with the thumb, or both thumbs of a two hand hold, the sight picture should be correct, too.  If you can put your thumb on it, you can hit it.

When there is time to use two hands, the thumb of the support hand can be pointed at the target, too.  It should be positioned directly under and forward of the thumb of the gun hand.  The support hand index finger can point to the side, forming a horizontal "fence rail," onto which you may set the bottom of the trigger guard.  The support hand fingers will form a comfortable cup around the shooting hand.  A bit of pressure, up and down, and forward and back, will keep the hands together during recoil.  Coming from below, the support hand "cup" can weld to or drop off of the shooting hand without changing the "natural pointing feel" or the "locked wrist" of the shooting hand.  Although competition shooters rely on the support hand for up to 60% of the grip pressure, and they may position the support hand a bit more forward, shooting for self-defense may be an exercise for one hand.  Therefore, the support hand should not alter the grip or consistency of the one hand hold.

Triggers and sights

Shooting a serious self defense caliber in a small, lightweight handgun will be intimidating at the range due to recoil, muzzle jump, and blast.  But on the street, it will be more effective against the criminal.  In a threat focused situation, survival instincts probably will shield us from feeling recoil or hearing the blast. Flinching during practice must be overcome.  Signs of flinching include blinking, shaking, jerking or pulling the trigger, and thrusting in anticipation of recoil.  To be accurate, the shot must be somewhat of a surprise, or else it will surely be a disappointment. 

Avoid disappointment and make every shot a success by starting close and moving back as skill improves.  Use a consistent, firm, but somewhat relaxed one handed grip, as high up as practicable.  It is extremely important that you lock your wrist to prevent the pistol from pointing up too quickly.  A limp wrist is a major cause of semi auto pistol malfunction.  You must keep a light weight semi-auto from moving back under recoil, so the slide can cycle reliably.  To do this, keep some tension  in the arm and shoulder muscles. Let the trigger teach you how it likes to be pressed.  Triggers that are pinned in the frame like to be rolled up in an arc.  Others like to be pressed straight back.  Watch the sights for slight movement when you dry fire until they stay put while you apply a smoothly increasing pressure on the trigger.  As you work the trigger before the shot, focus on the front sight, to the exclusion of all other thoughts.  In an emergency situation, focus on the source or center of mass of the threat instead of the instrument, the gun, or the knife.  Let your gun surprise you how well it can do its job, as long as you donít try to help it too much.  Sharply focusing your eyes on the front sight will prevent anticipation.  A consistent hold and smooth trigger press are the keys to gun control.  Focusing on the threat is the key to survival. Focusing on the front sight is the key to accuracy. 

If you can see the front sight rise and fall, you havenít blinked.  When you can see the front sight fall back down, and itís anywhere visible through the rear notch, the gun is ready for a fast follow up shot.  This is called a flash sight picture.  The sights donít have to be perfect for close range effectiveness.  As the front sight settles down into the rear notch, gently release pressure on the trigger just until you feel the reset click and no more.  This is called ďjust catching the link.Ē  As soon as the trigger has been reset, itís ready for the next smooth press.  Fast shooting and following shots are made using the same techniques compressed in time. 


The fastest shot is called instinct shooting.  Our instincts are remarkably accurate at very close range.  This can be demonstrated by shooting at a soft sand backstop from 10-15 feet away.  The body's natural reaction to surprise, like suddenly being passed a "hot potato," is to drop into a crouch.  The more deadly the surprise, the deeper the crouch.  Focus on a leaf or twig, visualize a threat, crouch, draw, lean forward, and reach out to fire a few quick shots.   You will discover your natural point of aim as the shots clump closer in the sand bank.  For a close quarter threat, keep the muzzle close just in front of any part of your body.  Extensive training with sights and complicated techniques have been shown to degrade our natural abilities for instinct and point shooting, which are valuable skills to practice against that dreaded surprise attack, especially when that attack comes from the rear. 

Many definitions exist for point shooting and instinct shooting, so these ideas should be considered with common sense and safety in mind.  Slow and smooth movements are often faster and more accurate than speedy, snagged, or jerky ones.   Dividing a movement into parts, practicing each, and integrating the whole may be a time saver in the end.  The basic movement in point shooting is to get the handgun centered with the crouched body pointed squarely at and leaning slightly forward toward the threat.  The off hand may be preoccupied by holding a cover garment out of the way, establishing balance, or fending against blows.  A good, safe spot for the off hand would be high and close to the chest or neck.  Shots may be fired from the center belt, chest, or chin.  As the gun rises, the off hand may then come from behind and below to form a two hand hold.  Accuracy increases with the height of the gun until the sights are acquired and two hands form a steady rest.  Shooting from the hip to aimed fire is a continuum.  At the draw, a grip may be frightfully tight, but as the gun rises, the grip eases, and trigger management becomes more deliberate.  Finally, the grip is more relaxed when two hands and focus on the front sight help deliver pin point accuracy. 

The best rest and position for reloading, clearing jams, scanning, and planning is from behind cover.  Always be aware of cover opportunities, so you can get to it before the shooting starts.  If you have good situational awareness, you will have previously noted all exit possibilities, too.  You'll win every fight you avoid.



Gunthorp is a Master Kimber Dealer

Powerful. Dependable. Accurate. Safe.

The Tacoma, Washington Police Department recently completed a testing program to determine what pistol their officers would carry. The test involved nine brands, 39 models and three calibers of semi-automatic pistols. Kimber won, and officers now have the option of selecting a Kimber Pro Carry II or the heavier, all-steel Pro Carry HD II for duty.

The test results were staggering. Other than Kimber, pistols had a failure rate as high as 22%. Kimber had the lowest failure rate Tacoma PD has recorded in over 20 years of testing for any type of firearm Ė less than one half of one percent! They also determined that the Kimber was safer than the other test pistols, even when the safety was in the ďfireĒ position.

Compact and Pro Carry pistols are similar to Custom models. Their 4-inch bushingless bull barrel makes them easier to conceal and reduces weight. Keeping barrel weight forward also reduces recoil, allowing faster recovery from shot to shot. Each one has dovetail-mounted low profile fixed sights with rounded edges to prevent snagging, and some models have Meprolight Tritium three dot (green) night sights.

The Compact Stainless II features a stainless steel slide and frame. The frame itself is .400 inch shorter than the full length Pro Carry but still holds 7 rounds. Pro Carry models are available with either stainless steel or aluminum frames. Kimber aluminum frames are machined from solid blocks of 7075-T7, the hardest and strongest available. Moreover, these frames are run on the same machines and hold the same tight tolerances as steel frames. Tested to 20,000 rounds with no meaningful wear, the weight savings they offer does not come at a compromise.

Kimber 4" stainless 28 oz pro carry

Kimber 3" 25 oz. Ultra Carry 

Add  for Tritium Night Sights for Pro and Ultra Carry


Kimber 5" Super Match, shipped with a 25 yd test target group of 1"or less


Gunthorp is a full line firearms dealer.  Please contact us for prices on any arm you would like to own.

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