6 Tips to Pick Your First Concealed-Carry Gun

By Dave Dolbee published on in How To, Safety and Training

Do, you have a freshly laminated CCW, CHL—or whatever your state calls it—and trying to decide on your first concealed carry handgun. Even better, perhaps you are looking to buy your first handgun before taking the class for your permit. “Which gun should I buy?” is a common question. I hear it often, which is a good thing. It means more people are carrying, and more importantly they are not just “getting a gun,” they are thoughtfully making informed decisions.

Customer at Cheaper Than Dirt making a legal gun purchase.

Do your homework before making a purchase.

My dilemma is not with question, but making a recommendation. What I carry is not right for many. What you carry will not be right for many. Therefore, making a recommendation for the best model is not only difficult, it may be irresponsible and do the prospective new concealed carrier a disservice.

In addition to specific models, those new to concealed carry have questions about brands, calibers, and action type. Here again, I would hesitate to be specific and instead offer the pros and cons as I see them and help them by relating the benefits and drawbacks to the person in question. I want the prospective buyer to be informed, but just as someone else can’t choose what car fits you best or which furniture would be to your liking, each person needs to take charge of the decision to pick the right handgun, as daunting as that may seem.

Make an Informed Decision

Doing a little homework is never a wasted effort. After all, your decision could literally one day mean the difference between life and death. While the probability of having to use your handgun to defend your life or the life of a loved one is low, we always prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

Man pushing shopping cart carrying groceries

How does your EDC gear stack up every day, say, at the grocery store? Go to the range, and find out.

Know Your Budget

You are likely going to spend a minimum of $200. From there, the sky’s the limit, with most opting for something in the $350-$600 range for a first concealed carry handgun. In terms of caliber, .380 and 9mm are most popular in semi-autos and .38 special or .357 magnum in revolvers. The reason the .357 magnum is typically included is only because you can shoot .38 special loads from it and later shoot something more powerful if desired.

Another reason to stick with these calibers is availability. Most any place that sells ammunition will have plenty of choices for these popular calibers in stock. A wider selection also allows you to tailor your choice to a heavy, aggressive self-defense round, or less expensive ball ammunition for practice. You could even drop to a low-recoil frangible offering such as those offered by Allegiance ammunition.

Don’t Trust the Experts—Even Me!

Okay, maybe I am the exception, but only because I will not try to steer you to something specific. Be aware of the sales person or friend who knows the exact model you need. Your best defense is knowledge and experience. Both of those can be obtained with the research you are doing now and time at a local range that rents firearms. Nothing beats firsthand knowledge gained through experience.

Shop, Shop, Shop

Cheaper Than Dirt! has thousands of guns to choose from and some of the best prices you’ll find anywhere, but don’t afraid to handle a few firearms at a local gun show or dealer. If you have a friend or two with a suggestion, ask them to go to the range with you so you can try out their handgun(s). If you are looking for something in the spring, consider the NRA Show. The latest models will all be in one place, and you can get a feel for them all. Don’t just ask which gun, but why they chose that particular model, caliber, etc.

Rich brown etched leather concealed carry shoulder bag

The stylish pistol-packer not only needs a nice-looking purse she’s proud to carry everyday, but also successfully retains her carry gun safely and allows quick access.

Choose Wisely

Get the gun you really want and works for you. If it costs more than your proposed budget, wait and save up for it. It is better to wait for an extra paycheck or two, or sacrifice a night out and get the right gun. Odds are you’ll be carrying it for a very long time. When you need to deploy it for self-defense, the last thing you want creeping through the back of mind is, “I wish I would have spent a few dollars more for the…

Carry Position

You also need to look at carry options. Will you be carrying your firearm in a holster on your person? Where? Or will you opt for an easy access purse designed for concealed carry, bra holster, or covert diversion pack. What holster options are available for your proposed handgun?


The decision to carry a handgun for self-defense if not the end, it is the beginning. You’ll need to practice regularly to build proficiency and maintain skills. Follow on training is also highly recommended. The NRA has a series of courses as do a host of private training academies. When going through a private instructor, check their credentials closely. There are many private instructors who are simply a waste of money.

And just as important to additional training is getting some insurance though organizations such as U.S. Law Shield. For a few dollars a month, you can cover you entire legal bill should you be forced to defend yourself. Check out the program details to determine whether it is right for you.

Do you have a tip for the new concealed carry person or a personal experience you can share that will help them on their journey toward buying their first concealed carry firearm? Share it in the comment section.


Growing up in Pennsylvania’s game-rich Allegany region, Dave Dolbee was introduced to whitetail hunting at a young age. At age 19 he bought his first bow while serving in the U.S. Navy, and began bowhunting after returning from Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm. Dave was a sponsored Pro Staff Shooter for several top archery companies during the 1990s and an Olympic hopeful holding up to 16 archery records at one point. During Dave’s writing career, he has written for several smaller publications as well as many major content providers such as Guns & Ammo, Shooting Times, Outdoor Life, Petersen’s Hunting, Rifle Shooter, Petersen’s Bowhunting, Bowhunter, Game & Fish magazines, Handguns, F.O.P Fraternal Order of Police, Archery Business, SHOT Business, OutdoorRoadmap.com, TheGearExpert.com and others. Dave is currently a staff writer for Cheaper Than Dirt!

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The mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, "The Shooter's Log," is to provide information-not opinions-to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (24)

  • Joan Mathis


    I myself have small hands and some of the weapons were just too big. My gun range manager took me out with seven different 45’s to try out. I fired 5 rounds through them and as he spotted, I gave him feedback on each one. My the time I had fired 50 rounds, I knew which one I wanted and felt most comfortable with. I also have a 9mm and a .22 pistol that I practice at the range with. I never try to tell someone which is best, because what is good for me might not be for them. I do shake my head watching guys bring in their significant other to teach them and start them out with a big gun that scares the bejesus out of them. It’s all about comfort.


  • Latoya Anderson


    I like that you talked about how you should not be afraid of going to different local gun shows and dealers to handle a few firearms you so you can choose the best gun at a good price easily. This is something that I will take note of because I’m planning to buy a firearm for self-defense and join a firearm class later. It’s important for me to find the best type of gun that I can carry on my firearm class training within my budget, so I will make sure to start shopping around. Thanks!


  • VickyNC


    I have two semi-automatics for target practice at the range, a .38 special revolver that had long been my home protection. When I had completed my CCW course and was awaiting my CCW permit I wanted to buy a new gun for CCW. I did my homework and selected the S & W, M & P Bodyguard .38 Special + P revolver with BG Crimson Trace Laser. It is double-action only, a 1.9″ barrel (S & W Model BG38). I tried different revolvers before selecting this one since I wanted to make sure that the grip fit my hand and was easy for me to shoot. I have a number of CCW holsters for it: purses, fanny packs, belly bands, IWB, OWB and pocket carry (I believe in being prepared!) :) In today’s reality both men and women need to be able to defend themselves and others if necessary.


  • bootman


    The most important thing about concealed carry is to adopt the lifestyle. Make it your number one priority. And read all of the armchair expert warrior opinions and you will see through them. And practice often with all the guns available.


  • Joseph Storer


    The best thing I ever did after purchasing my first concealed carry handgun was to learn about various holsters as I soon discovered that you do not have to buy the smallest frame handgun for concealment as the various holster will surprise you as what you can carry totally concealed.
    The next very best thing I did was join Frontsight shooting Academy and attend a 4 day course where I learned what I did not know I did not know and got repetitive exercises that taught me how to truly use my handgun and most importantly how to avoid ever having to use it. I go back regularly to stay current and relevant.


  • Primo


    the Ruger LCP/LCR are great choices for a beginning shooter. I got my girl a Phoenix HP22LR just to practice the mechanics and getting a better tactical edu on using semi- auto and CHEAP!. It is by no means a EDC but its a great training tool. 3 different safeties to identify, fairly accurate, and SA/DA. Also if anyone recommends the Shield 9mm, I would recommend Honor Guard Defense HG9, less recoil, easier slide, and -$75


  • Old Marine


    After training hundreds of new shooters, women in particular, there is no better first gun for untrained women than the Ruger LCR in .38, just ask them, LIKE WE DID! EVERY woman who showed up at our range with a semi-auto, “girl gun”, ALL traded them in for the LCR!!! It is a VERY manageable gun for a woman, period! Load the LCR with 124 Grain, Federal HST bullets, watch out!!! New shooters MUST “work up” to semi-autos OR they will suffer the consequences!

    NOBODY, in their right mind, buys a gun with a capacity to sustain a running gun battle! If you need more than 5, you are already in waaaay over your head! SHOT PLACEMENT reigns supreme!

    Unless you have EXPERIENCE in training new shooters, everything else is an opinion…


    • Adam


      Assuming new shooters (women in particular) need to start with a revolver and work up to a semi-auto is patronizing at best. Were these “girl guns” tiny pistols on which they could barely get a two-finger grip, or something around which they could comfortably wrap all fingers of both hands?

      Also, I’ve never heard an actual gunfight survivor insist that five bullets was plenty for them. Yes, shot placement is king – but the bad guys don’t stand still like paper targets on the range do (and you really shouldn’t be standing still in that situation, either).

      It would appear you’re projecting a pro-revolver bias onto your students, likely to their detriment.


    • Old Marine


      Thanks for your personal, completely uninformed, subjective, opinion. It would appear that your lack of expertise in the subject negates any useful or complimentary weight to the discussion. However, it is well known that keyboard gunfighters and experts stand as legends in their own minds… Best regards…


    • Adam


      Thank you for validating my points by refusing to address them directly and instead resorting to ad hominem attacks based on your assumptions about me.


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