Firearms

How to Completely Evaluate a Range Rental Pistol in Just 50 Rounds

Box of Armscor ammo and the grip of a Ruger pistol

Whether you’re seeking a new carry gun, a ranch toy, or the perfect home defender, renting several handgun at your local range can give you a great taste of what’s out there. Rather than spending hundreds of dollars on a pistol that turns out to be not quite right, you can “test drive” pretty much anything on the market. However, in the end, it’s just a test drive. You can’t put thousands of rounds through it in a single day, unless you’ve got that kind of time and money. Sure, you could take some bulk ammo and just start blasting away during your rental. But what will you have learned about the gun? A more intelligent approach is needed when making these kind of decisions, so I’ve outlined a simple road map for taking a single box of 50 rounds and evaluating that pistol you’ve got your eye on.

Once you’ve selected your gun of choice, it’s time to pick out some bullets.

Which Ammunition?

It can be tempting to purchase the most inexpensive bulk ammunition that the range has to offer, especially when just trying out a pistol to see if you like it. But, if you’re going to adequately evaluate the gun in just a single box, you owe it to yourself to spring for some high-quality match ammo.

Match bullets can be pricey, but remember what we’re trying to accomplish here. It would be a shame to go through the test and declare the pistol “not for me,” when it was simply because you chose to save a few dollars with inferior ammo. The pistol deserves the best chance possible in making the cut!

Box of Armscor ammo and the grip of a Ruger pistol
If your gun will run Armscor .22, it will run anything. Get something better than this for testing a pistol

After all, if you end up purchasing the handgun based on your range test, the amount of ammunition you’ll put through the pistol over a lifetime will make that initial trial run seem pretty cheap in comparison. And if you decide not to buy the pistol, purchasing quality ammo just saved you potentially hundreds of dollars.

Accuracy Testing: 10 Rounds

Whether you choose to test the pistol’s accuracy capabilities at the beginning or end of your 50-round box of ammo is completely up to you.

Some shooters, myself included, find that we shoot our best after having a few rounds through the gun, to get a feel of how the sights and trigger work. It’s also helpful to use a few rounds to get accustomed to the recoil impulse and trigger reset. Of course, dry firing a few times costs you nothing.

Others find that they shoot their best at the beginning of the range session, before their flinch really starts to show up. Just do whatever works for you. Two precision five shot groups are enough, at whatever distance you’re comfortable with.

Sight Picture Presentations: 15 Rounds

If you’re going to use the pistol as a hunting or carry piece, it’s important to do several repetitions from the low ready (or if possible, from a holster). This can tell you quite a bit about how the pistol handles, and how fast it takes you to pick up the sights.

Recoil Impulse: 10 Rounds

Does the pistol hang up at the top of the recoil arc? Does it want to rise to the right or to the left when firing? Paying special attention to how the gun moves during the recoil cycle can allow you to either adjust your grip to make it work, or simply decide that it’s not for you.

Reloading: 5 Rounds

Doing five-slide lock reloads can tell you if your hand is going to get pinched by inserting a magazine, and if you’re going to have issues reaching the slide release lever. Speaking of the release lever, keep an eye out for inadvertent activations during your range session.

If you have a compatible magazine pouch, that’s great. If not, just picking the magazine up off the shooting lane table will work almost as well.

Ruger .22 pistol
The Ruger .22 pistols are accurate and reliable, and definitely worth renting at your range.

Multi-Shot Drills: 10 Rounds

These rounds really put everything together. You’ll get an excellent feel of how the sights, trigger, grip and recoil impulse play together when doing double taps. These tests can really burn up the ammo, so it’s best to just spend 10 rounds doing it. Pay close attention to what the gun is telling you!

Time to purchase?

Perform these simple tests with your box of 50 rounds, and you’ll have an excellent, generalized idea of how a particular pistol performs. It might seem like a lot of work, but you’ll be much better informed when it comes time to lay out the cash.

Everybody loves to try new guns on for size. What are some of the specific things that you look for when putting a limited number of rounds through a pistol? Let us know in the comments!

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 (17)

  1. Slide lock reloads. I usually stick with full size pistols, I wear a 4X glove. A year ago I picked up a used XD Mod 2 Sub Compact .45 3.3 inch at a good price. It had two of the short 9 round magazines and two of the longer mags. Short ones were no problem but for some reason about the first ten times I slammed a long mag in it bit my hand something fierce. That was something I didn’t test before I bought it. No a game changer, but something you need to think about.

  2. Unless I am looking to buy an expensive target pistol, I want it first and foremost to digest anything I may have to put through it. If it can’t take the low priced stuff, I would not rate it very high. More important would be if it is a semi-auto, and I want it for defense, it best take the defense ammo, which is more likely to not feed. Here we are not talking brand name, but design. This article makes no sense at all.

  3. A lot of this sounds more like advertising high dollar ammunition. The comment on armscor 22 ammo made it sound like it was junk ammo. The armscor 22 I’ve used is better than a lot of the old name brands out there until you get into the match grade ammo. All of my 22s are completely reliable with armscor but not with most of the lower grade federal, American eagle, etc. There are many practice drills you can do to get acquainted with a firearm and never send a shot down range. Accuracy can change between every gun in the same model line so accuracy test on a rental can be a waste of time. Accuracy and reliability is better done by reading owner reviews so the test is of a larger lot. Renting in my opinion is mainly to see if a individual can operate and handle their chosen firearm.

  4. I am an experinced shooter but each time i shoot a new pistol i am a new shooter. Thats because each one is different. The first thing i do is feel how comfortable it is in my little hand. If thats good, then i shoot it and i dont care about where the bullet hits. I check it for recoil, does it hurt my hand because the grip is too agressive, is it quck obtaining the target for the next shot, do I like the feel of the trigger, do I like how it racks, drops the mag and reloads. If I like all these things then I test it for accuracy. My first concern is how many bullets does it hold. I love the 1911 but today with home envasion and gangs, it doesn’t have enough fire power and please don’t tell me about if I was a good shot, I wouldn’t need so many bullets. Suppression fire may be your first few shots and i dont want 10 bad guys and 4 more shots before I have to reload.

    1. “Suppression fire” in an urban gunfight? We are not talking here about a machine gun on a battlefield, we are talking about defensive shooting in a home, apartment, parking lot, etc. In a civilian’s potential self defense shooting scenario, there will likely be innocent persons in the area who could be injured or killed by “suppresive fire.”
      In a typical civilian situation, any shots fired better be designed to hit the bad guy.

  5. I took my son to a local range to determine which handgun would be best for him. He had some experience shooting one of my 1911’s and discovered he wasn’t comfortable with the recoil (yet). That pointed us toward a 9mm.
    We bought a box of 9 mm range ammo, and ‘rented” a gun for him to try out. They had a variety of 9mm pistols and for that $10 rental fee, and a box of ammo, he put about 10 rounds thru one, then go exchange it for another. After shooting about 7 different models of 9mm pistols from a variety on manufacturers, his 10’ group was running around 8″ diameter. Then he shot a Ruger SR9 and his group shrank to less than 4″ dia. We found the gun that fit him!
    I have suggested this method of finding “your gun” to a number of new shooters and all have seen similar results. It is definitely a money saver!

  6. If I want to rent a gun, I’m NOT going to break down a box of 50 rounds into multiple categories. I’m going to ENJOY the rental and see how I feel about it and see where it goes. As I shoot it, I will dynamically decide what kind of things I want to do with the gun.

    I’m certainly NOT going to be worrying about how many rounds I shoot, and I NEVER will rent a .22 caliber gun.

    1. @ ss1.

      I AGREE! It’s a STUPID “Concept”!!
      1. Rent the GUN
      2. Buy a Box of Bullets.
      3. If I can Easily Load Gun, Easily Aim Gun, Easily Shot Gun, Easily Hit Aimed Target, with a Decent Grouping of Bullets Fired.
      4. SOLD, Buy Gun…

  7. I have to say I totally disagree with some of this. The author says to evaluate a gun with expensive ammo because it might shoot the good stuff but not function with the cheap stuff.
    Guess what? I practice with the cheap stuff and carry the good stuff. I can’t afford to practice with expensive ammo all of the time, and a lot of other people can’t either. So my guns have to be able to digest cheap stuff or else I won’t get to practice nearly as often as I want to and need to.

    1. Agree on the cheap/expensive stuff. But, if you are gonna try a gun to decide if it’s gonna be your defensive carry gun, you gotta know if it will shoot the good stuff. Shoot both.

  8. First, let me say this is a useful article because it makes people think about different aspects of how any given gun feels/performs especially for new shooters. Second, let me say that I have never rented a gun in my life. My situation and experiences have usually meant that I have had access to lots of different guns for “test drives,” as he puts it, so maybe I’m not the best person evaluate this article. But, here goes, anyway.

    Many of the technical comments, such as “Does the pistol hang up at the top of the recoil arc?” aren’t going to make any sense at all to new shooters, although they might to more experienced shooters.

    New shooters need to know what they are looking for, which means simply renting a gun and going through the drills will probably not tell them a lot.

    Experienced shooters will shoot a gun, and very quickly determine its idiosyncrasies and decide if they are worth adapting to or not.

    Finally, what is his preoccupation with the Ruger .22 pistol? He goes through all these reasonably technical descriptions of how one should evaluate a gun, and then keeps mentioning a Ruger .22 in the side boxes. This is not a gun someone who is considering buying a carry or hunting gun should be considering, it’s a gun that pretty much all pistol shooters should own simply because it is a primo target pistol and one of the best “starter” guns for teaching new shooters. Consequently, although you can indeed rent and shoot these guns at a range, they really aren’t a barometer for the next gun you should buy.

    So, and sorry for being long winded, but this article contains several very useful tests for choosing a gun, the way it is contextualized is not helpful. A new shooter isn’t going to understand all this stuff, and an experienced shooter already knows it.

    If I’m missing something, I wholeheartedly invite all of you to please point it out to me.

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