This series of posts is all about guns. Not just about guns, but which ones are the best in each category. This category is “pistols.” Remember, as I said in the opening post of this series I pick the best tool for the job. And as is the case with all the “jobs” that I speak of, I refer to it in terms of “mission.”
So I just ask three simple questions:
- What is the mission for that pistol?
- What pistol fits that mission?
- Can you effectively use that pistol?
Yes, I know that there are some very well intentioned folks that will say, “The best pistol is the one in your hand.” However, I completely disagree with that statement, as well intentioned as it is. Sure if you are in a life or death situation, if you are a Special Forces operator or maybe or maybe a law enforcement officer I would agree. But you probably don’t fall into any of those categories. So I say the best plan for putting the best pistol in your hand is clearly defining the mission for that pistol. Then define any specific requirements or limitations. Then you can clearly identify the best pistol based on that well thought out plan.
For the purposes of this discussion I will only refer to two missions: 1) conceal carry, 2) SHTF (Sh*t Hits The Fan). There are plenty of other missions that could be discussed and I will let others write about those if they so wish. But I will keep focused on what I feel are the two main missions for a pistol.
That being said, a couple folks that I have discussed this with have commented that the “SHTF” scenario is almost, if not completely, identical to a military situation. Yes, I can clearly see the relationship but I am no longer in the military, I am not planning on rejoining the military and I don’t advise the military. Others are welcome and invited to go there if they want, I am not qualified to advise the military.
I won’t get into a huge discussion about ammo, especially the caliber. Bottom line is pretty simple; the research shows that all calibers kill, all calibers can inflict serious injury and sudden death. However, it is mostly about shot placement more than anything else, but not much more.
Also, FBI report shows that no matter the shot placement, no matter the caliber; not even the type or brand of pistol matters when trying to stop an attack. Almost every attacker stops their attack on a non-law enforcement person after being hit by the first shot. Seems that if instant death doesn’t stop them, the idea of metal penetrating their body has a pretty significant deterrent to continuing their attack.
For the two missions I mentioned above I only suggest semi-auto pistols. I DO NOT think that revolvers are the best (or even acceptable) choice for the missions I have mentioned (conceal carry & SHTF). For you revolver fans, sorry, I don’t think they are a wise choice IMHO.
That being said I would concentrate on the three most popular pistol calibers: 9mm, .40 caliber S&W, and .45 caliber ACP. All are effective, all are readily available, all are easy to reload, and all should be in plentiful supply even in a SHTF scenario.
There is always plenty of discussion available on which type of bullet is best, I won’t get too far into that discussion but I will give some examples and my personal preference of bullet types based on serious research by experts with real life data and my own personal testing. You have to have two primary things taking place with a bullet to incapacitate the attacker; it has to penetrate sufficiently into a body, and then it has to create a large enough wound channel. Create enough wound and the attacker dies immediately (i.e. central nervous system), goes into incapacitating shock or bleeds out quickly. Typically the better the bullet expands the better the result of incapacitation (providing it penetrates deep enough) and the higher the instance of instantaneous death.
Note: Yes, a single shot to the central nervous system is an instant kill. But that kind of shot placement with a pistol in a high-stress encounter is tough at best.
These bullets that have proven most effective to get the job done (according to real life data & multiple research sources that I reviewed plus personal experience):
147gr Hornady XTP
147gr Remington Golden Sabre
147gr Speer Gold Dot
.40 cal S&W –
180gr Speer Gold Dot
180gr Remington Golden Sabre
.45 cal ACP –
230gr Winchester Jacketed Hollow Point
230gr Remington Golden Sabre
My wife and I personally carry the Golden Sabre and Gold Dot of each caliber as well as the Hornady XTP in each caliber. The Hornady has similar characteristics as the others I have mentioned plus it is an easy and affordable bullet to reload.
Couple last thoughts on ammunition; 1) There are plenty of good rounds out there in each caliber. Remember two points that I mentioned earlier it is all about shot placement and the attacker stopping after the first round hits them. 2) I practice with much less expensive full metal jacket (FMJ) rounds in the same weight/caliber as their more expensive cousins. 3) I do reloading to drive the cost down even more. Through reloading I can afford to shoot 200 – 500 rounds per month.
And therein is a VERY important factor – shooting. Get out and shoot your pistol whatever the caliber. I try to shoot once per week. But I never fail to shoot twice per month. Each time I shoot I never shoot less that 100 rounds and often shoot 300 – 400 rounds. I use human silhouette targets and track my score. At least every two months I ask one of my shooting buddies to watch me shoot and look for faults or ways to improve. The feedback is valuable and has led to improvement in my scores. I try to take a formal pistol shooting class at least yearly.
Mission #1 – Conceal Carry:
Robert A. Heinlein said, “An armed society is a polite society. Manners are good when one may have to back up his acts with his life.” I wholeheartedly agree with and support that statement. And conceal carry is a way to implement that piece of sage advice.
I think conceal carry is the best deterrent to criminal activity. If criminals begin to realize that most people are carrying a gun, the person knows how to use it, and they are willing to defend themselves and others I think the crime rate drops dramatically. That is especially true if only about 5% of violent criminals would get immediate & permanent justice. The word would get around rather quickly that a life of crime could be cut short with considerable regularity. The other 95% might think twice.
The whole idea with conceal carry is the concept of being able to defend yourself, your family or those around you with the pistol that you have on your body. Next to that is the “conceal” part. If it isn’t well concealed you give an advantage to the criminal, possibly a deadly advantage; deadly to you. So the pistol must not be easily or readily seen. If it can be seen by an untrained eye (i.e. the bottom of the holster or the butt of the gun) then you are probably breaking the law in most states. Most lawmakers don’t want the average citizen to freak out if they see you with a gun, so they want it well hidden from plain sight.
Now, even if no one can see an obvious part of the gun you may still be showing you have a gun on you; that term is called “print”. Printing in when someone can still see the outline or impression of a gun through the clothing you are wearing. Printing also gives away the conceal advantage and can make law enforcement personnel very uncomfortable.
So far we have established that:
- You must have a clear mission for the gun.
- The gun should be of a semi-automatic of a standard caliber.
- The ammo you carry should be able to stop an attacker (with a single shot whenever possible).
- You must have a gun that you can safely operate.
- You must be trained with that gun and regularly practice.
- The gun must be concealable.
MISSION: Conceal Carry – Wife:
My wife has a CCW and almost always has her gun on or with her. She is an excellent shot. She has two issues that drive what gun she carries. First, she has a hard time “racking” the slide of a semi-auto. Racking is when you pull the slide back to load/eject/clear a round. Finally, she also has some control limitations when she is shooting. She has tried to shoot my .45cal but finds the kick too much for her; she simply isn’t comfortable with it. After considerable discussion and trial and error at the local gun store she settled on a 9mm STI Escort. The STI Escort is a compact 1911 style pistol. It meets her mission for a conceal carry pistol.
Her requirements were:
- Could safely handle it.
- Could easily conceal it.
- Sufficient stopping power to stop an attack.
Cost: about $1,000
We purchased her Escort in 2009 from our local gun shop. The gun is absolutely beautiful and draws the attention of gun lovers wherever it sees the light of day. It is very compact, lightweight, easy for her to “point & shoot”, carries 8 rounds, easy-to-see night sights, and extremely accurate.
However, the gun malfunctioned far too many times right out of the box. The problems were failure to feed (FTF), failure to eject (FTE), stove piping, and premature slide lock-back. I ran almost 300 rounds through it trying to break it in but the problems persisted. I did not send it back to the manufacturer although the warranty would allow it “…we unconditionally warranty our products for their intended purpose, when installed properly. As with any product, abuse and normal wear are excluded.”
I took it back to the gun shop that we bought it from, they have an on-site gunsmith. He worked on it, I had it back within four days, and he did an outstanding job on it. For about $145 he got the gun running perfectly. I ran another 300 rounds through it to finish the break-in period with very few problems. My wife has probably run 3,500+ rounds through it with only a rare FTE; maybe once per 800 rounds.
She is totally satisfied with it, can safely and effectively operate it, has 100% confidence in it and can hit center mass all day long. The 9mm STI Escort meets all her requirements for the mission.
MISSION: Conceal Carry – Me
To cover my conceal carry needs I will go over several options depending on the specific needs and/or restrictions of the Conceal Carry mission:
Scenario #1 – I carry every minute of every day when I leave the house. When I am at work I leave my weapon in the truck since by law I am not allowed to have it in the building. But other than that I carry. My EDC requirements are; 100% reliability, 1 shot stopping power (that assumes I hit them), and easily concealed. For this I have chosen the Sig Sauer 1911 Ultra Compact. Length 6.8″, height 4.8″, width 1.4″, barrel length 3.3″ and weighs in at just under 2 pounds when loaded. The grips on are outstanding; they are clean and will not fail you when wet. it has a very natural feel to it and is easy to shoot. To help with “printing” I use a forward canting holster. With 1 in the chamber and 7 in the magazine you have plenty of rounds to get your business done with the bad guys. This is an excellent conceal carry pistol with the reputation and reliability of the Sig label.
Scenario #2 – When I need or want significant stopping power with a single shot, extremely accurate out to 60+ yards and I am not anticipating large numbers of attackers I go with my Sig Sauer P220 .45cal ACP. The P220 is a full-size large frame .45cal pistol. It is a handful, and that is why I love it, it fits my hand perfectly. I was a 1911 fan since joining the military a long time ago. I would carry nothing less for a long time. When I was looking to upgrade my then current 1911 .45 I stopped in the local gun shop looking for options. The owner asked me to put a Sig in my hand to see how it felt; I steadfastly refused for 15 minutes, and then I finally gave in. I am glad I did! As soon as I picked it up I knew it was for me. It fit my hand perfectly; I was immediately feeling a far better point & shoot capability than any 1911 I ever fired. I bought it on the spot without any discussion. The Sig P220 carries 8 in the magazine and 1 in the chamber. It is a single-double action pistol so I can carry it “cocked and locked” (yes, with the safety on). The night sights are easy to pick up and easy to line up (although, I rarely use my sights, I prefer point & shoot).
The P220 is flawless in operation, has NEVER failed to operate with commercial ammunition, it required no break-in period, and shows minimal evidence of wear after 6,000+ rounds. It’s simple to clean and maintain. I have run 500 rounds through it without cleaning it and it still function perfectly. Carrying the P220 with a full mag in the gun and 1 in the chamber, plus my 2 spare mags gives me 25 rounds to deal with threats.
The P220 is a full size frame pistol and is not the most concealable gun without a jacket or bulky shirt over it. I use a canted holster to help hide the gun’s butt. This is my “go to” gun, PERIOD! I can hit the “credit card” for an orbit shot out to about 40’ every time. I can hit 6” plates at 60 yards 90% of the time. When my life depends on it, or my wife’s life, I want this gun in my hand; it will do the job with perfect results. A .45 round packs a HUGE punch and can stop a NFL linebacker at a dead run with a single shot to center mass.
Scenario #3 – When I anticipate the potential for a large number of attackers I carry a Sig Sauer P229 in a .40 S&W. It is a nearly a full-size frame that is exactly like the Sig P220 that I reviewed above except a shorter barrel. That gives the exact same grip which is important for consistency in shooting results. The P229 is a flawless pistol that is absolutely reliable and dependable. It fires every time, period. The P229 is a double-single action pistol. Meaning you don’t carry it “cocked & locked”; actually you can’t, there is no safety for that. I was first leery of it because I hate double action triggers (and that includes Glocks). But the trigger pull on the P229 is perfect, smooth, and allows for you to change your mind during the pull. After the first shot the hammer locks back and you are now in single action mode. The trigger is absolutely flawless and perfect.
I chose the .40 S&W caliber for two basic reasons, larger magazine capacity that the P220 . So I carry the P229 with 1 in the chamber, 12 in the magazine plus 2 additional magazines giving me a total of 37 rounds. That is a lot of fire power for taking care of a lot of bad guys.
Remember that I carry ammo that has proven to be a very effective round against attackers. So there maybe there is a little less punch than my .45 Sig P220, but I can carry more ammo.
Scenario #4 – When I need ultimate concealment of my weapon I have chosen the Sig Sauer P938. This pistol carries the punch of the 147gr 9mm XTP round, fits in your hand, and can be concealed under almost any circumstances. The 938 is a single-action only pistol packing 1 in the chamber and 6 in the magazine. This pistol looks and feels like 1911 that was shrunk down to an amazing size for conceal carry. Under 6″ in length, barely 1″ wide, 3″ barrel length and slightly over 1 pound when loaded. This is a fantastic, very concealable option.
Note: If I only had a choice of one conceal carry pistol for myself it would clearly be the Sig Sauer 1911 Ultra Compact. It meets all the basic requirements I have for a conceal carry pistol.
MISSION: SHTF – Wife & I
My wife shot her first gun 6 years ago and qualified for and acquired her CCW 4 year ago. Prior to that she was scared of guns and really didn’t want one in the house let alone lying around. As a result of many long conversations about the fact that we see criminal activity increasing and we see the country headed for disaster of epic proportions she decided that she needed weapons training. She also agrees with our two basic missions, including the potential for SHTF. In that case she knows that carrying a higher capacity pistol might be very advantageous.
The single issue that finally motivated her was me. She couldn’t bear the thought of me carrying and willing to defend her, family & friends alone. She felt that if she also carried then she could have my back while I took care of business. Now that is an incredible wife!
My wife has practiced with and likes my Sig P226. It is the same 9mm round that she normally shoots but since the gun is larger and heavier, there is less felt recoil. She is 100% comfortable with it and deadly accurate as well. The Sig Sauer P226 is my wife’s choice of SHTF pistols.
So read what I had to say about the Sig P220. Now replace the .45 round with a 147gr Hornady 9mm round. Then add in Mec-Gar magazines and you have a flawless pistol with 1 in the chamber and 18 in the magazine! And you simply can’t beat the quality and reputation of a Sig.
Final Thought – If we see the ultimate SHTF “grid-down”, specially if my wife and I were on the road relocating we would both carry the Sig Sauer P226 in 9mm. My wife’s ability to shoot very well with it and its large magazine capacity makes it my weapon of choice for SHTF for us. Why? Standardized readily available ammunition, large magazine capacity, same magazines and great second shot capability make it hard to beat.
So that concludes my review and opinion of the pistols that my wife and I personally use and why. There are plenty of good pistols out there, and lots & lots of pathetic pistols out there. I will conclude by making a few comments about those I did not review or recommend.
- Any good quality 1911 model .45 pistol is a good choice. This is what I learned to shoot with, what I shot in the military, and what I carried until I held my first full frame Sig Sauer. I will never own another full frame pistol other than Sig for tactical life-dependent shooting and carrying. But, that being said, there is a significant advantage to owning a 1911, standardized parts. There are whole lot of 1911’s out there, almost all have interchangeable parts of one kind or another. So in a SHTF scenario, should your 1911 pistol break, you can probably find repair parts rather easily compared to other guns.
- Glocks, oh boy here goes. I personally HATE Glocks; not just coz there are the ugliest gun ever designed but I am just not real accurate with one. They don’t fit my hand well at all. Also, I hate the trigger; it feels clumsy and cheap. I have heard of many accidents with them, especially when they are in a pocket. In their defense, Glocks are tougher than nails, shoot every time you pull the trigger and can eat almost any kind of ammo. But I think they are clumsy, they are ugly, they don’t fit my hand, the trigger is horrible, and they are accident prone.
- I am not a polymer gun fan; I like pistols made from metal.
- I don’t worry about rails on a pistol; I like to carry my flashlight. I don’t like the weight change when you attach a flashlight to a pistol.
- I don’t use laser sights on a pistol; something else to break or fail when you need it.
- I don’t get into extended magazines for pistols; it changes the balance. If you need more ammo for a bad situation you should have been carrying more magazines or a carbine.
- A .22 is not for defense. It is kind of cool to practice with and ammo is cheaper but it is not a critical defense weapon that I want to bet my life on. I do have a 22.LR upper for my Sig 220 to train with. I like it!
- A .380 is not a good option for a defensive gun. But it is better than no gun at all.
- A .25 or a .32 is worse than no gun at all. Ok, maybe not exactly but I would not carry a .25 or a .32 as my primary weapon. If I had one I would sell it and buy a Sig P938 if a small sized gun was needed.
- Shooting 250 rounds a month to keep your skills up will cost you $70 – $90, even if you buy the cheap target rounds in the Mega Packs. I learned to reload to reduce my cost to 1/2 of that. But, what is your life worth? Yeah, thought so; the practice rounds are worth it, ESPECIALLY if you conceal carry.
- If you can’t afford a $1,000 pistol but it is the best one for you, then save up, sell something, sacrifice. It will be worth it and your family’s life may depend on it.
- Revolvers, there is one instance I can see carrying a revolver – bears. Yup, when you are in bear country there is nothing like a .44 revolver. But even then a .44 auto-mag is better. But man they are expensive.
DISCLAIMER: This was all just my opinion. We all have different needs, likes, etc. Get the pistol that meets your mission and fits your hand.
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