The term tactical pistol is used a lot without real understanding. A tactical pistol is a different breed than some, and to earn the term tactical, a pistol should show good performance. I think a good definition is a pistol that features certain enhancements designed to give the user every advantage. When we call a pistol tactical, we should use that term in roughly the same way as when describing handgun classes.
A defensive handgun class focuses primarily on the likely scenario and defensive situations while covering the laws and situational awareness. Combat training focuses primarily on running the gun. We are concerned with the students being all they can be. I am a great believer in handgun competition for its own sake as well as training, and a good combat training course prepares you well for running a gun in IPSC or IDPA. Tactical training involves shoot-and-don’t-shoot drills plus firing from cover and working over difficult courses. An important part of tactical training is learning to shoot the other guy without being shot. The better the gun, the better a good shot will run the course.
History of the Tactical Pistol
There is little point in debating which tactical pistol was the first, and much profit in studying why there was a need. The Gene Autry museum houses a Colt single-action revolver with a special squared-off-post front sight. That revolver belonged to Tom Threepersons, a noted lawman. The implication is that Threepersons wanted to hit what he was shooting at, and the sight gave him an advantage.
After World War I, Colt introduced the National Match. The original National Match featured a superbly fitted barrel and high-visibility fixed sights. Not a delicate target gun, the National Match was the finest self-loader of the day. About the same time, service-grade revolvers with adjustable sights became popular. The Colt Officer’s Target was a 6-inch-barrel Official Police with special sights. Arguably, it is among the finest revolvers of the period. By the 1960s, officers wanting every advantage carried a Smith & Wesson K38, a 6-inch-barrel revolver with adjustable rear sights and a ramp front sight. When tactical teams first assembled in the 1960s, the K38 was a common sidearm.
Today, the tactical pistol seems defined by a rail for mounting a combat light or laser. The handgun usually has extended controls, high-visibility sights and textured grips, offering enhanced adhesion and abrasion to keep the pistol solid in the hand. Considerable development of the tactical pistol resulted in a high level of reliability. The tactical handgun is built on a solid base, making it a handgun of proven reliability. The 1911 SIG P-series CZ 75 and GLOCK are likely candidates as tactical pistols.
Previously, I have discussed the SIG P226 Navy Model at length. The P226 is a great service pistol, and with the addition of tritium sights and an accessory rail, makes tactical status. Some tactical pistols follow the tradition of the K38 revolver, with a longer barrel and adjustable sights. The GLOCK 41 is among those; it is a hard-hitting, accurate handgun offering easy acclimation for those who have fired standard-grade GLOCK pistols.
The 1911 is my favorite handgun and makes a first-rate tactical handgun for all uses. The SIG TACOPS is among the best all-around, go-anywhere, do-anything handguns. With tritium night sights, a rugged accessory rail and SIG reliability, the TACOPS is a first-rate tactical handgun.
An overlooked, usable handgun is the tactical version of the CZ 75 which is easily one of the best shooting and most reliable military handguns. The original pistol was a bit short on sights, although they are comparable to other 1970s military designs. The CZ 75 tactical model features a light rail plus much, much more.
- High-visibility sights with tritium inserts
- Elongated grip tang for a better hold and control
- Slightly extended magazines with bumper pad, giving it an 18-round magazine capacity (as in my example)
- Proven, brilliant accuracy with the Winchester +P+ 127-grain SXT (the service load I deploy)
- Easy control and excellent handling in rapid-fire drills
Overall, you would be hard pressed to choose a better tactical pistol.
While the combination of light rails, self-luminous iron sights, magazine wells and extended controls make the pistols more formidable in trained hands, the trick is training the hands. There is little point in expecting state-of-the-art handguns to perform well if the you are not also state of the art. These handguns invite practice, and it is a challenge to shoot up to their accuracy potential. Tom Threepersons recognized the need for a better handgun almost 100 years ago.
Today, we have a great crop of superior handguns.
Feeding the Tactical
If you are deploying a tactical handgun, practice ammunition is just fine—use whatever works. For personal defense, make no compromises. Law enforcement widely uses the Winchester PDX line; it strikes a good balance between penetration and expansion. The 230-grain .45 ACP is a particular favorite. However, the highly developed 9mm loads provide a measure of confidence in that caliber. The Winchester 124-grain JHP +P is widely available and accurate.
Do not ignore the necessity for personal research when making an ammunition selection.
What is your personal preference for a tactical pistol? Tell us in the comments section.
Bob Campbell is a former peace officer and published author with over 40 years combined shooting and police and security experience. Bob holds a degree in Criminal Justice. Bob is the author of the books, The Handgun in Personal Defense, Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry, The 1911 Automatic Pistol, The Gun Digest Book of Personal Protection and Home Defense, The Shooters Guide to the 1911, The Hunter and the Hunted, and The Complete Illustrated Manual of Handgun Skills. His latest book is Dealing with the Great Ammo Shortage. He is also a regular contributor to Gun Tests, American Gunsmith, Small Arms Review, Gun Digest, Concealed Carry Magazine, Knife World, Women and Guns, Handloader and other publications. Bob is well-known for his firearm testing.
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