No longer are the shooting sports a No Girls Allowed secret club. More and more women are becoming gun owners. A Gallup Poll reports that 23% of women own a firearm. In research done by the National Sporting Goods Association shows that women involved in shooting sports has grown almost 50% from 2001.
Gun manufactures and gun gear companies have started listening. We have nearly 100% more choices in feminine ear muffs, shooting glasses, range bags, grips, and other accessories than we ever did when I first started working at Cheaper Than Dirt back in 2005. Quite frankly, I am happily amused at all the guns available with pink grips and pink finishes, but you cannot just slap pink on a gun and call it good. First of all, not every girl loves pink. Second of all, not all girls love the same gun. Our likes and dislikes are as varied as the shape and sizes we come in. If you compare the guns that come with pink grips or a pink finish, the majority of those guns are small, short-barreled revolvers. It is a myth that a short-barreled, .38 Special revolver is the perfect “girl” gun. In fact, some of those snub-nosed revolvers slap you so silly that a first time shooter could be scared right off. Small does not have to be the automatic choice for a girl’s gun.
I know plenty of women shooters. None of us can agree on the perfect girl gun, but we all agree on two things: accuracy and recoil. We all want to shoot accurately with our weapon, and we all want the recoil on our weapon to be manageable and not painful. In an episode of Babes With Bullets (episode 23), Camp Instructor Sheila Hoekstra interviews some campers on their first experience with shooting. In an all too familiar story, all of the women interviewed said that their first time shooting scared them off. They were all handed a firearm that essentially was too big for them. By this, I mean that the gun was too heavy, the caliber too large for a first timer, the firearm was extremely uncomfortable to shoot, and there was no training in firearms handling beforehand.
When picking out a gun for a girl, fit, feel, and caliber are much more important than what is typically marketed as a “woman’s gun.”
Of course, none of us is the same, and recommendations are just that–recommendations. There is not a one-size-fits-all gun for girls. In general, we have a smaller stature, smaller hands, and less upper body strength than men. These three factors are key in finding a gun that fits you comfortably. When any gun does not fit you properly, your accuracy is affected. You should be able to get a firm grip on any gun, in particular on handguns. One of the biggest things for me when I’m trying out a gun is how easily I can reach the controls and especially the safety. For me to feel most comfortable with a firearm, I do not want to have to shift my finger too much to reach the safety. That is one of the reasons why I chose the S&W M&P 15-22 over the SIG 522. Some guns’ controls do not accommodate a smaller finger spread. However, if you find a gun that fits you in every other way, you can always add on aftermarket parts such an extended magazine release for less manipulating. A little sifting is normal, even for experts. Do not make a slight shift a deal breaker as long as the gun is comfortable and you enjoy shooting it. Quick reloads come with practice and training.
Another important factor in fit is the trigger reach. This is the amount of movement your finger requires to pull the trigger. You should be able to pull the trigger with the pad of your finger, which is the top part of your finger, without any trouble. When you shoot using the pad of your finger, this means that you pull the trigger straight back, keeping your sights on target as the gun discharges. Trigger reach can be too long or too short.
Plenty of semi-automatic handguns come with interchangeable backstraps. These interchangeable backstraps give the shooter a chance to get a better fit out of the gun. The S&W M&P in full size with the smaller grips gives me a good fit and feel. The Beretta Model Px4 Storm sub-compact handgun also has interchangeable backstraps, a 1.4-inch grip width and provides many options for smaller hand sizes.
Your firearm should feel comfortable. It should feel secure when you hold it or in the case of a long gun, when you shoulder it. Shotguns for me are quite uncomfortable. The first time I attempted firing a shotgun it was a long-barreled, very heavy 12 gauge. After three shots or so, my arms were shaking from having to hold it up. Do not let shotguns and rifles in any caliber scare you. All you need to do is find the right gun.
The length of pull on a long gun is extremely important in finding the right one for you. The length of pull is the distance between the trigger and the end of the stock. The shorter length of pull, the more comfortable generally, a woman will be with the firearm. Massad Ayoob found that on average a 13-inch length of pull is quite comfortable for women. There are plenty of firearms offered with an adjustable length of pull. Usually manufactures call these youth models.
Youth models have shorter lengths of pull, shorter barrels, and shorter stocks. The Mossberg 500 Super Bantam and the Remington 870 Express Compact lines of shotguns have an adjustable length of pull.
One of the many reasons why I like the AR-15 platform and AR-15-style tactical rifles is the adjustable stocks. Regardless of your size, or your shooting partner’s size, you both are bound to find one of the six positions to be comfortable.
The gun’s weight matters, too. Is the gun light or heavy? Can you hold it up steady for 20 minutes? You should be able to put plenty of rounds through it while remaining steady and accurate without your arms getting weak and shaky. A lightweight and short-barreled AR-15 in .223 Remington weighing about 10 pounds is comfortable for me, but an SKS is nearly impossible for me to put numerous rounds through unless it is on a bench. A long, heavy barrel really makes a difference in the overall weight distribution of the gun. A heavy, long-barreled gun can feel heavier than it actually is. If you are looking at long guns, a 20-inch barrel or shorter is generally fine.
Recoil is the mix between what size caliber the gun is chambered for, the size of the barrel, the total weight of the gun, and overall design of the gun. The mechanics of the gun are actually beside the point when it comes to recoil, as perceived recoil is more important than the technicalities. If the gun hurts you when you shoot it, then it hurts, regardless of the gun having lessened recoil in the description. Remember those snub-nosed pink guns I discussed previously? My S&W Bodyguard, chambered for .38 Special has a 1.9-inch barrel, and weighs only 14.3 ounces, but it sure kicks like a mule. I cannot comfortably put 50 rounds down range without shooting gloves. On the other hand, I can put hundreds of rounds through a much larger and heavier gun, the GLOCK 19 9mm. Iain Harrison once told me that I was having a problem with accurate follow up shots with a SIG 9mm because I was anticipating the recoil of the gun. The right gun for you is a gun that does not make you flinch before you shoot it.
Girls, do not listen to the naysayers. There is no such thing as a “girl caliber.” With the right gun, any caliber is comfortably shootable. For example, I used to shoot a Kimber Ultra CDP II in .45 caliber. The Kimber Ultra CDP II is a compact 1911 with a 3-inch barrel and is 6.8-inch overall length. Some guys have told me they do not recommend this gun for women to carry. Of all the handguns I have shot so far, the Kimber Ultra CDP II fits me the best and is the one I have found I am most accurate.
There is a correct caliber for each task. Hunting, self-defense, competition, and plinking all require different or certain calibers. A good rule of thumb is to pick the biggest caliber you comfortably enjoy shooting and become proficient with your guns. There is no point in owning the gun if you are not going to shoot it. So, girls, get out there and try out anything and everything you can get your hands on. I know the perfect fit, feel, and caliber is out there.
Have you already found just the right one? What is it and why do you like it?