There has been so much drivel written about female guns that it may be tough to wade through. My experience is weighed by a group of shooters within my family, coupled with observations made during many years of training. While there are good choices among handguns that favor female shooters, all shooters of normal strength and dexterity may handle most medium-size handguns.
Pistols that stretch female hands also stretch average size male hands. The big .45 ACP and 10mm pistols are too much for many shooters. I have difficulty grasping a Glock 20 or Glock 21, and a high-capacity 1911 ruins the 1911s good handling — for me. Short-barrel magnums are poor choices for all but a few shooters.
You may be better armed with a lighter pistol that you can use well. That’s true, but some of the handguns that women and men carry are less than useful. Derringers with a heavy trigger action are slow into action and very difficult to get a hit with. Inadequate handguns may simply make the bad guys mad.
When I was a young peace officer, a nurse was attacked as she walked to her vehicle in a dark parking garage. After the first blow, she was able to jam a pistol into the adversary’s chest. The .380 ACP fired once and jammed. He gave her a beating. Each survived, but the nurse had the more difficult recovery.
On another occasion, a good friend’s twin sister was confronted by a burglar. She had originally thought of deploying her shotgun but decided she did not wish to destroy her house. As he swung for her, she fired a single shot from a .357 Magnum revolver and stopped the attack.
In my shooting classes, many women have arrived with a handgun chosen by their husband or father and done poorly. A compact .40 S&W or snub nose .357 battered the shooters. A young law student turned 21 and attended class with a snub nose .38 Special and heavy handloads her dad had loaded.
Each shot was a blast and roar. However, being female is not the handicap many portray. She graduated at the top of the class. It was a quality revolver from Smith and Wesson with a steel frame with hand-filling grips.
I recall another student who had a hard lesson driven home. A female shooter and her husband used identical Springfield XD pistols, save the young woman’s pistol was a 9mm while the husband’s was a .357 SIG. She had some physical challenges that she took in stride (she was legally disabled but did more honest work than most folks).
She overcame every challenge and graduated near the top of the class. The male shooter barely made the qualification. With every flash and boom of that .357 SIG, he flinched as if he had touched a hot stove. He was very pleased for his wife and laughed at himself.
Another fellow brought his wife to an IDPA competetion. Both shot very nice National Match .45s. She outshot him by a margin despite her inexperience. He did not take it well and began machinegunning the targets dropping his score even lower. We all had a laugh at him (although not to his face, he was a big guy).
Women who come to my class, without exception, have done so without ego and with a desire to learn. Most, but not all, do well. The same goes for the male shooters, save that more come with an ego. A well-developed ego is fine, so long as it doesn’t get in the way of learning. After all, didn’t General Custer have a famously well-developed ego?
Picking the Right Gun
Let’s look at some of the better choices for female shooters. The shooter in each equation is concerned with personal defense, willing to learn and practice, but not interested in sport shooting. The exercise is practical and utilitarian. They will not be shooting the handgun for fun. Nor will they purchase a handgun based on bling, but only on its merits.
And don’t go too cheap. As an example, a friend purchased his buddy’s mom a Rossi .32 for home defense. The buddy was livid. Just how much is my mom’s life worth to you? He traded this 20-year-old pawn shop marvel away and obtained a new handgun for her.
Hidden hammer Snub Nose .38 Special
The advantages of the revolver are many. The manual of arms is simple. Open the cylinder, load, lock the cylinder in place, aim, and press the trigger to fire. A snub nose revolver is a .38 Special revolver with a two-inch barrel. The advantages are that the firing grip offers plenty of room for good leverage.
The two-inch barrel doesn’t allow much leverage for an attacker to grab. Some folks let the bad guy get way too close. As an under-the-pillow gun or purse gun, the snub .38 shines. The .38 Special cartridge is strong enough to do the business, but not so strong that recoil is painful.
A hidden hammer .38 is preferred, as there is no hammer to snag clothing on the draw. The drawback is that these revolvers are difficult to shoot well past 3–5 yards. When the reality of personal defense is considered, this is a fair trade-off.
Taurus Defender 856
This is a three-inch barrel .38 Special revolver with a six-shot cylinder. The Taurus Defender 856 is a revolver that is easy to use well compared to a snub nose revolver and makes for more accurate shooting. Due to the improved grip design and three-inch barrel, the Defender is an improvement as far as shooting goes compared to a true snub nose revolver.
The Defender treatment, including a three-inch barrel and hand-filling grips, strikes an ideal balance between size and weight. The three-inch barrel gives incrementally more velocity from a given load than a snub nose revolver.
Consider the tradeoffs in firing and carry. The snub nose revolver is a last-ditch defensive handgun. The Defender type extends your range. The Defender also features a tritium insert in the front sight. The improvement in handling is real, while the hidden hammer type retains an advantage at intimate range.
SIG P365 .380 ACP
This pistol breaks several rules. It is easy to shoot well. In fact, it is very easy to shoot well. I have fired this newest version of the SIG P365 extensively. It is compact, easy to carry, and light enough that it never becomes a burden. I am not enthusiastic about the effectiveness of the .380 ACP cartridge. However, it has been known to suffice.
The SIG P365 .380 offers excellent accuracy and a fast follow-up shot. The magazine capacity is 10 rounds. Tactically, it is a big step up from a revolver. However, you must be certain you are willing to master a self-loading pistol. This is easily the best shooting .380 ACP pistol in the weight class.
SIG P365 XMACRO 9mm
The SIG P365 9mm is among our most desirable modern handguns. Light, reliable, and chambering a cartridge with a decent reputation as a fight stopper, the SIG P365 is a good, concealed carry handgun. But there is always room for improvement.
The P365 XMACRO features a long slide that is similar to the P365XL, but with a compensator in the slide. This compensator seeps off some of the propellant gas on firing. This results in less recoil as the re-directed gas helps limit muzzle flip.
The P365XL MACRO is more comfortable to fire than pistols in the mid-size class, even the Glock 19 9mm. With a magazine capacity of 17 rounds, the MACRO offers good protection. Trade-offs? The pistol is pricey and the magazines are difficult to load to full capacity. The overall size, weight, and shootability are excellent.
The GX4 is offered in the standard version, an optics-ready pistol, and the new GX4 XL. This 9mm handgun is among the most affordable handguns available with good-to-excellent reliability. The pistol has a good balance of weight and power. The trigger is controllable, and the overall package is very good for a combination of concealed carry and home defense. I own the GX4 (two in fact) and find this compact 9mm a good pistol with an attractive price. It is affordable, which is a big advantage for those of us on a budget.
There are other handguns worth considering. The Glock 43X, Glock 19, and Smith and Wesson Shield Plus are worth your time to investigate. Since The Shooter’s Log recently ran a feature story on the Walther PDP F, I saw no reason to rehash this pistol. However, the handguns illustrated are those I have extensive experience with and would recommend for most any shooter, but for the ladies in particular.
I think my comments mirror yours.
I am a NRA Certified Pistol Instructor and have been since 1977 or thereabouts. I am also Female. I am sick and tired of hearing all of the drivel about firearms for females. Any gun that is reliable for a male is also reliable for a female. Any gun that fits comfortably in a mans hand or any gun that fits comfortably in a women’s hand will work for it’s intended purpose. When talking about concealed carry we are talking a different type of gun, usually smaller and easier to hide. Any gun that a man can hid most likely a woman can hide too. Since we are talking concealed carry it opens up the shopping cart to many different firearms since accuracy beyond 30 feet, which where I live is the max that is considered the distance to engage an adversary. Women don’t need tiny firearms, they need one that fits their hands, is easy to shoot (same as a man’s) and can be concealed. In my case I carry a Kimber Micro 9 with a Crimson Trace laser. I have large hands and it fits quite well and is accurate enough so generally speaking there is a first round hit out to 50 feet. It’s also small enough to easily conceal. I would recommend similar firearms for both men and women. The trick is being able to shoot accurately and that takes practice. With the price of 9mm ammo dropping to more than reasonable prices there is no excuse not to practice. Male or Female, keep in mind that, “The life you save may be your own.”
My wife carried a g3c for awhile and liked it. She now carries the PDP F Series 3.5″ and loves it.
Taurus G2C. Lighweight, inexpensive, accurate, adjustable rear sight (windage and elevation), manual safety, 12 + 1 magazines.
Great article. I always look forward to reading them! I took my wife to a local gun store to pick out a gun. The lady working there sold her a S&W 9 ez. Took it home and fired it using different ammo and it repeatedly failed to eject properly. Took it back to the shop and traded for a Glock 48. She had a hard time racking it until she was shown by the clerk to hold the slide and move the grip instead. Works great! She does it well without effort. Anyone that finds it difficult to pull the slide back should try this method. Now, she is a better shot than I am!
I carry a Kal Tec pmr 30 I have 61 rounds in two clips I shoot Hornady self defense ammo and what they do to flesh is awful and every once in a while I put it in a 40 grain solid for extra penetration. The recoil is tame and for anyone I would have confidence that they could handle it and very accurate. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.
After forty years of carrying all kinds of firearms and helping many woman with their first purchase I’ve noticed very similar things with newbies.
They are told to start with the smallest mouse guns they can find. As if their frail weak wrists can’t handle any chambering above a 22lr.
This of course is nonsense but woman still show up with AMT back ups in .380 or a Seacamp or simply a DB revolver in 22. .
Now I know for a fact the .380 cartridge of today is plenty to drop a would be attacker. I’ve seen it done and it is excruciating to watch. Even a .22 lr or magnum will put damage on an attacker with little recoil.
I’m an advocate , however for the 9mm for SD generally for any type but .380 is great as well as it’s just a 9mm shorty of course with less power but still far more power to poke holes in people than necessary. The difference is internal damage. I’ve seen 9mm go through and through people and they are still in the fight. I’ve seen 9mm hit someone and dump all its energy into the chest cavity and liquifying the guys internals.
I’ve seen .380 poke holes and the person writhes in substantial pain but lives and others hit by one round in the shoulder and they didn’t know it . At least for a few seconds, only realizing it from the feeling of blood leaking down their arm.
Point is the gun must be reliable always. The cartridge needs to go fast enough to puncture through a body but, the specific type of cartridge needs to be designed to dump the energy inside the body and not over penetrate.
The round size isn’t much the issue as the amount of rounds it takes to stop an attacker. They say in training class to unload or mag dump all your rounds into the attacker but in reality, it may be an overkill legal issue.
So for woman I say the same for men. Do not settle for whatever your first gun is if it doesn’t feel perfect. Since there is a NO return policy on all but a couple manufacturers, I’d suggest practicing and trying a few first if possible.
The Walther PDP F (Female) is actually great for men and woman. I love the feel and trigger I’m on this quality firearm. It’s bigger and prints more but it’s spectacular.
The Sig 365 in .380 or the XL is better imo. No woman or man says different. It is the best gun in the market right now in its segments.
The Taurus GX4 /XL is very similar to the 365 and I own the Competition. It’s a very easy to use fast shooter that’s extremely accurate.
The Taurus G3 is elbowing the top shelf manufacturers vying for a place at the top, as it’s just as good for a ridiculously low price and it’ll run for years if not longer.
I own the age old pt111 mill pro which is its G1 version and it’s over a decade old and easilt has ran over ten thousand rounds plus.
That’s my picks and what I know from experience.
I’m over 6′ tall, wife is 5 foot and a half. Yeah, she’s 5 foot nothing, like my oldest daughter who’s 5’1″ and 105lbs… whoop dee doo…
My wife has a Ruger LC9s Pro… hates it. She has a Springfield Hellcat… loves it. I can’t stand it. Wife won’t touch any of my S&Ws in 9mm or .40 as she says they’re all too big. She won’t even touch my .38spl revolver. Personally, the Ruger LC9s is a pain in the b***s to field strip, it carries well but it stays put up because no one wants it. Can I shoot the Ruger, sure. It’s a small piece with 6 rounds and at 7 paces it’s pretty accurate for what it is, a back up piece if it ever needs to be deployed. Daughter loves the Shield and SD along with the cheap a** .38spl RIA M206 snub.
To each their own… I suppose. Regardless, there will be no Glocks in this house. PERIOD.
I have seen no mention here of the Federal .327 magnum.It is a powerful cartridge with several options in a revolver.This little cartridge is a hot one but you can also shoot .32 long .32 H&R magnum and although it is not highly recommended. 32 acp. The Rugers chambered in this caliber deserve a look. They make a 7 round gp100 as well as some easy to carry small revolvers with both a hammer and hammerless.
When I met my wife 38 years ago, she was wearing an officer’s model 45. After surviving cancer 3xs and countless surgeries, she now carries a Ruger SP101 w/3 1/8″ barrel in 357 magnum. She finds that her Ruger P90 45acp is the easiest semi automatic to operate. All of her firearms are self chosen. She has an extensive collection and shoots them very well. The best “women’s” gun is the one that they can operate safely with confidence and accuracy.
I have found my Walther CCP 9mm easy rack, very accurate with no more recoil than than my PPK-S in .380. Not sure why they aren’t more popular.
Good read. I instructed in the military (& wife & kids, civilians) & women were the best students! Once they got over any fears or hangups about guns, they listened, followed instructions, & had as good or better hand/eye coordination than men, AND didn’t think they were John Wayne! Now, military training was with the .45 or later the 9mm & it was what it was. Training civilians who could have anything, for beginners, I almost always found a revolver the best bet. (I carry revolvers most of the time, .357 or .45 & when a auto it’s .45) I have had plenty of women who worked up to big autos with no problem, but as stated above, hand size can be an issue, & hot rods in small, light guns was always a problem. Point is, & always has been, find what you like, that you can shoot well & practice – a lot! I’m 75, been shooting for 70yrs & still go out back to my tactical range & practice several times a month – more if I’ve loaded enough.
As a NRA Certified instructor I have been teaching both men and women to shoot handguns as well as rifles since the early 1970’s. If you want me to teach you to shoot a firearm you will be leaving anything you own at home until you are ready to be introduced to it an only if after shooting my selection of handguns while learning you still want to try yours afterwards. All of my students use my firearms, starting out with .22 caliber target pistols and moving on up to either .38 specials and 9mm as their abilities improve. I provide the handguns as well as the ammunition. This allows me to control things like type of handguns, revolvers or semi autos, the amount of recoil and one of the most important things, the inherent accuracy of the firearm they are shooting. There is nothing worse than trying to teach someone how to shoot with a firearm or ammunition that does not shoot well. Once the student has an idea of what kind of firearm that they like and would like to purchase do we go out shopping. Hubby, Boyfriends and Dads not allowed, and that goes for both male and female students. Someone mentioned revolvers being quite popular among the female students. I have found the same to be true. Many, but not all prefer a revolver, either a ,38 Special or .357 Magnum double action. When all is said and done in the end the student is competent, capable and can shoot whatever they have decided to purchase accurately and can carry it confidently. That is what it is all about.
The Bersa is a first class handgun!
Smooth reliable and accurate.
That babble as you call it is full of experience!
I have fired several Tom Cats. Like all Beretta pistols they are well made.
What struck me is that they are far more accurate than anyone would think.
Sorry for garbled reply, I was driving and talking into phone.
Dictation didnt come out right.
A 9mm with a little weight may kick less than .380 you dont have to have the smallest gun.
Since we are doing a feature on the new Equalizer, basically a high capacity EZ Rack, I did not include the EZ Rack guns from Smith & Wesson in this report. The .380 features only one trigger action, grip safety, and manual safety. Good gun in 380 if you are set on that caliber. So easy to use well!
Best shot with the 1911 I ever saw was a woman, 90 pounds soaking wet, who was an NRA life master rated shooter. Hardest handgun to shoot is a snub nose DA only .38, with the skinny factory grips. Too bad that most women don’t get to start with a good quality .22LR handgun before moving up to a centerfire handgun.
Thanks for another informative article, Bob. One thing I learned the hard way was that many women, my wife included, lack sufficient grip strength to rack the slide on a semi-auto pistol. I was delighted when she asked for a gun for Valentine’s Day ten years ago, and she chose a Charter Arms Pink Lady .38 Special revolver, same size as the S&W J-frame. She likes it fairly well, but was eventually also wanting a semi-auto as well. Based on my recommendation (sadly) we got her a Kahr CW9. We almost couldn’t get the store to release it to her because during the mandatory safe handling demonstration, she almost failed to rack the slide. A far better choice would be the Sig P238, which while being smaller yet than the CW9, is much easier to rack a round in the chamber, and oddly enough, easier to for ME to shoot well. Revolvers are not only simple to operate, they don’t require a great deal of grip strength for older folks or Susie Snowflakes like my bride. Another choice for some, although getting pretty low on the power scale, is the Beretta Tomcat .32 ACP with the tip-up barrel. I bought one of those on a lark this year and I do like the fact that you don’t need to rack the slide to load it, you just tip the barrel up and drop one in. Unloading is the same way. The downsides are many to this pistol, however, including a rather anemic cartridge, the bulkiness for the level of power it affords, and the fact that snapping that barrel back into battery requires a fair amount of grip strength as well. An added irritation is the Tomcat’s well known propensity for cracked frames if you load it with some of the hotter European brands. Well, I’ve babbled enough, thanks again Bob for another great article!
DA SA action requires a lot of practice. While viable there simply are not many viable choices in .380.
While not something like the new Equalizer 9mm with a safety? Only one trigger action to learn, much less complication. A 9mm doesnt really kick much more than a 9mm if you just use a 9mm with a little more weight. Or if you want a .380 SW EZ Rack is at the top of the list.
I very much agree with Bob from my training classes. Letting husband, boyfriend or father pick a gun for the lady is not a good idea. Better to help her get educated and let her pick her own gun, especially if she has the opportunity to shoot some loaners. My wife carries a S&W Ladysmith in .38 Special and I’ve so far been unsuccessful in getting her interested in an EZ-Rack or a P365 or Glock 43X. At least she’s carrying a gun. Also important is to get her to shoot periodically. Shooting skills are perishable.
I have taught a fair number of ladies, some with quite small hands, to master
the 1911….cf SHOOTING TO LIVE.
No reason why a woman cannot master and be exceptionally well protected by a 1911
My thinking is that if a gun is at all hard on the wrist, then there will be less willingness to practice. That is why I want to consider the 380 round for my wife. I would rather her be on target with a 380 than risk off target because of less time on the range. Another thing I would like is a DA/SA so that a round can be chambered but an increased trigger pull makes for a less likely accidental discharge. Plus, a misfire can still be attempted again without having to rack the slide. What do you recommend, or where am I not thinking clearly?
Bob, as more women are learning to shoot and have obtained their concealed carry permits, it’s important for those women to carry a handgun that they can use effectively.
You may recall the study that was published in one of the NRA journals – either American Rifleman or Shooting Illustrated – I can’t recall which one – but the point is that women do have preferences for handguns that fit their hands and are easy to operate. And like you pointed out, women shooters must select their own firearms – not their husbands, fathers, or boyfriends.
My wife is a very good shot. She was trained to shoot back in the day by the NRA using a government .22LR bolt action rifle with heavy barrel. She still has it. She also shoots in the Glock Sports Shooting Foundation matches using her Glock Models 44 (.22LR) and 48 (9mm).
Because she, like me, is a seasoned citizen, she is partial to the S&W Performance Center M&P380 Shield EZ. She finds this firearm very “EZ” to load and operate, particularly racking the slide. She concealed carried her EZ for quite a while but now has changed to the S&W Shield EZ 30 Super Carry. This firearm has more punch than her 380, but does not have an appreciably worse recoil. She shoots this handgun very accurately. Now she may sell the two 380 EZs that she owns.
Two anecdotal stories: 1. I was recently training a woman to operate her handgun – which was a 380 “mouse” gun of some make. This gun was so small – purchased by her husband – that she was having trouble getting any hits on target nine feet away. I then let her shoot my Glock 19 and then suddenly the hits started coming. Afterward, I took her into the gun shop portion of this facility and let her handle the S&W 380 EZ as well as the S&W 30 Super Carry. She has decided to get rid of her “mouse” gun and go with one that fits her hands and that she can shoot well.
Second Story: Some time ago I was training a young woman to shoot handguns. She did not own any handguns so I coached her to shoot several different makes and calibers that I own. She was having a very difficult time with iron sights hitting anything. This young lady had very poor eyesight and had the classical coke bottle lenses in her glasses. Then I got out a firearm with a mounted Trijicon SRO red dot sight. I encouraged her to just put the dot on the center of the target and press the trigger – and whoopie all of a sudden she could hit dead center. I point this out to remind instructors to show new shooters that have eyesight problems the advantages of red dot sights.
My last girlfriend like my S&W Detective model .38, which she could shoot fairly well. But she hated my Astra A70, 9mm, (1911 style) which I introduced her to, due to its weight (heavy, all steel) and light recoil, and very slim, single stack grip. Nothing bigger though.
I think one gun they forgot to mention the 380 Bersa firestorm very easy guns reliable
I have to say my wife has excellent potential in shooting, unfortunately she just isn’t interested in it. So back when the introduction of the “lady guns”, you know the little revolver guns men thought ladies should have, (without asking them), when the little revolvers started showing up in pink, and purple, I thought I would mention it to her, to see if I could peak her interest shooting. Her response was inspiring. She said: “When it comes to guns, I am not interested in making a fashion statement, I WANT TO INTIMIDATE!”! She can pretty well shoot about anything accurately, so I am still wondering, and a little apprehensive, as to just what a “lady” INTIMIDATOR gun might be. LOL
My daughter now in her mid 30s, is 5’3″ weighs about 115 soaking wet, with smallish hands that fit her size. If a woman learns to shoot, she can learn to shoot a .45. My daughter now has her own Kimber which she carries while backpacking or cross country skiing – – we live i Montana – – but she has been shooting my several government model .45s since she was 12 years old (to include the Remington Rand Typewriter Company WW Two surplus that my Dad gave me). I find very little to argue that a woman needs small gun in .380 or .38 only because of what I see my daughter do, and do very well. If a woman learns to shoot, she can learn to shoot a .45.