So this is my list of 20 things I wish I had know when I first started getting into firearms. You'll find that some things are pistol specific, and that some of my opinions are controversial, but I hope that it's ultimately of benefit to you. If you are just starting, definitely take the time to give it a good read. Comment if you have any insight or questions that come up!
1) Keep all your paperwork in a folder.
When you buy a new gun it is important to keep all the paperwork that comes with it. In some states you need a pistol purchase permit from the county sheriff. Keep a copy of those. When you pick up your firearms at an FFL keep the transfer papers they give you. You don't HAVE to keep these documents, so don't get bent if you have misplaced them, but they are good to have around in case their is legal confusion or some kind of targeted fuckery.
2) Gun shows are the best places to figure out what you like.
Gun shops have a limited selection of different firearm models and you may be missing out on something that really fits you. A gun show is the best way to put your hands on the largest diversity of firearms. You may come across a feature which you didn't think about before, or a model that you never considered but it just felt right in your hand when you picked it up. Gun shows also offer the unique opportunity for increased price comparison between venues and the possibility of better price negotiation.
3) Some pistol models have very little aftermarket products.
This one is pretty straight forward. There is a ton of pistol models out there, but not all have wide spread consumption and you might find afterwards that it's difficult to find replacement parts and aftermarket products for your pistol without spending a good deal of money. For instance, there may only be a couple of manufacturers that make the magazine or the type of holster for your model. Do a little research before pulling the trigger on a purchase if upgrading and experimenting with your set up is important.
4) Take your time figuring out what you like.
Picking out your first gun can be really stressful and a lot of folks experience FOMO. You may not really know what you like because of inexperience, and there of so many different features on different models, choosing the right one for you can be anxiety producing. I researched for 4 months before I made my first purchase. The best way, in my opinion, to figure out what to purchase is to list out the primary reasons you want the gun and how it needs to function for you. Let the mission dictate the tool. Then spend some time at a gun show, or different shops, actually holding it in your hand. You may be surprised by what you thought you'd like and dislike, and what the reality ended up being. Additionally, if you're not in a rush there are all kinds of deals floating around. Spend some time looking for them - maybe save up some funds and time your purchase around a major holiday. My favorite place to compare prices is gun.deals. Lastly, take your time finding the right gun, because getting one you don't like can really suck. You will likely practice less and therefore stunt your skill growth.
5) Subcompacts are NOT fun to shoot.
A lot of folks who aren't familiar with firearms think that a smaller gun, by which I mean a subcompact, is easier to handle and can better match their concealment goals. In my opinion that is often not the case. Subcompact pistols have less surface area to grip, lesser ability to absorb recoil, decreased ammo capacity, and a shorter sight radius. Altogether meaning that they are more difficult to shoot than their kin- compact and duty (full) sized pistols. I prefer the compact for open or concealed carry. Subcompacts can be "snappy" and hurt your hands, resulting in folks practicing with them less. Their slides can often be stiff, making "racking" a round difficult, especially for folks with less hand strength. The shorter sight radius means it's more difficult to aim, and its lack of natural recoil absorption make follow up shows more difficult. Paired with its lack of ammo capacity, it is a losing combination for inexperienced shooters wanting to use the firearm for carrying/defensive purposes.
6) Stay away from used guns with your first purchase.
If you're an inexperienced shooter, when you are first looking to purchase a firearm you really, honestly, don't know what you are looking for. Just like everywhere else, the rule of buyer beware applies. The seller can easily be dishonest to you about the condition of the firearm because you can't read the signs to weigh out the truth. You probably aren't gunna think through factors like, does the magazine drop freely when I hit the mag release? Especially with guns that can be modded out, like glocks or AR-15 models, there is a ton of dogshit aftermarket stuff people put in their guns, and it can be very difficult to distinguish that off a private sale. It's easier and safer to buy one from the store- you know what you're getting and can read an ass load of reviews that will apply to your purchace. Additionally, laws around private sales can be complicated in the state you live in and that is just another layer to wade through on top of figuring out your first purchase. An FFL will be straightforward in the legal requirements and you will walk away with proper paperwork every time.
7) Keep the box your gun/gear comes in.
This one is pretty simple. Most pistols come in a plastic case with all the extra doodads for your pistol, most people figure out that's a good thing to keep around. On the other hand, lots of folks throw out the cardboard box their rifles and shotguns come in. Simply put, the original box helps when you are considering a private sale. It's also good to keep track of the extra bits that come in it, so when you go to sell, you can offer the whole package and not just the firearm itself. People want the equipment that comes stock with the gun, including instructions. This principle applies to gear as well.
8) Buy more ammo and training courses - concentrate less on gear and upgrades.
When you are first starting it's easy to get into the gear race. Your thinking to yourself that better equipment is going to make the difference in your shitty performance. It's the guns fault that you aren't hitting what you're aiming at. The truth is you probably suck because you haven't practiced enough and are failing to identify and diagnose your shortcomings. If you are honest with yourself, you can't shoot your firearm at the capacity its capable of with just its stock equipment. I can't tell you how humorous it is to see dudes in 3 gun matches have all the slick gear in the world, only to suck shit when they run a course. At first, instead of upgrading your shit, get a basic grasp of the fundamentals - stance, grip, sight alignment, breathing, etc. Also, if you have the funds and time, weekend courses are an excellent way to have an expert identify what skills you need to work on, and you will leave with the drills and exercises to improve on your own.
9) Invest in a good holster and a good trigger.
When you are ready to upgrade and concentrate on equipment there are two things, in my opinion, that people should consider first. With pistols, especially for folks that want to carry, having a quality holster is vital. I could write a whole post on holsters alone, and you should do your own research, but essentially make sure your holster is reasonably comfortable, adequately covers the trigger of the gun, has an appropriate level of retention for your type of carry, and that it doesn't shift around. The short of it is, a bad holster can result in a negligent discharge, or impede your ability to present the gun effectively in the time of need - which could mean your life. Also, as a side note - don't fucking carry with your shit just chilling on your pant waistline. That's Hollywood nonsense and really fucking stupid.
Additionally, and this goes for both rifles and pistols, one upgrade that will actually dramatically improve your performance is a good trigger. This is another tip that I could write a whole page on. There is a multitude of factors that can help you determine what kind of trigger is right for you, and much of that is determined by the mission and purpose of your gun. One factor to consider though, is to not just go for the lightest trigger out there - that could spell a negligent discharge under difficult circumstances, especially when adrenaline is a factor. There is a reason the military and most police departments don't allow 4lbs triggers... I don't have much wealth, so my firearms are multi-purposed for self-defense and sport - the way I approach that particular problem, at least with my AR, is to purchase a drop-in trigger that comes with two springs, one pull weighted near 5lbs, the other weighted at 3.5lbs. Anyways, that's getting into the minutia of buying triggers, but the point is triggers can make a really big difference, just keep the ultimate purpose for the weapon in mind when deciding on what to get.
10) Black Hawk Serpa Holsters and Urban Carry Holsters are abject dog shit.
I see a lot of new folks with Serpa retention holsters and a fair amount of people that are interested in the Urban Carry that is advertised on FB all the time. The Serpa is an affordable retention holster that fits a lot of different models and is available widely online and at physical stores such as Walmart. The Urban Carry seems simple and straightforward, and folks who don't know better can get duped by its convincing advertisement. I understand why they are popular, but they are both dogshit for a number of reasons. I wont write a dissertation on it, but Serpa places its release for the retention feature in a spot that could easily result in a negligent discharge into your leg. You push it inwards with your index finger very close to where your trigger is as you unholster and present the gun to the target. There are other problems with this holster, but that's the biggest one. It's not a fiction either - several people have shot themselves in the leg using this holster. Additionally, many instructors have also banned them from their courses altogether because of that safety issue. Just don't.
The Urban Carry is a concealed carry holster and also has a number of problems. First you draw the holster instead of the firearm, then have to draw the firearm itself. That extra step wastes time, which isn't cool for life or death situations. Also, if your shirt is long enough, you have to clear the garment, then draw the holster, then draw the gun. Second, drawing the holster and then getting a purchase on the firearm takes more fine motor skills, something that is diminished when adrenaline becomes a major factor. Third, being that it is a one size fits all holster, your gun can shift in the pocket, meaning you wont have a consistent purchase, potentially fucking up your draw and decreasing both your speed and accuracy. Fourth, it doesn't have a trigger guard. Many people will disagree with me on this, but not having a trigger guard puts you out of the running of being considered a safe, quality holster. IMO, it's another great way for a negligent discharge. Some folks will argue that with practice you can overcome most of those problems, which I disagree with to a certain extent, but even giving that argument a bone it doesn't deserve - why the fuck do that when there are so many quality holsters out there for the same price?
11) Find the caliber that fits you and your network.
There are a lot of different calibers out there for pistol use and as beginners wade into the heated debate about calibers it can become confusing. 9mm, .45ACP, .380 ACP, and .40sw are the most common. I wouldn't suggest looking at other calibers for the beginner. My rule of thumb is to, again, think about the purpose of the gun and what factors lead to the most success in terms of practice, functionality, and real world application. Is price a factor for you? Then 9mm or .380 is the way to go. Is standardization with your network a factor? Then 9mm may be your best bet, but then again three of your crew might already be carrying .45ACP, so as far as group standardization goes, that might be your new standard. What about overall capacity? Or the ease of follow up shots? Or recoil management? Or StOpPInG PoWeR? What about calibers that LEO have discarded? (I'm looking at you .40sw)
12) Don't carry unchambered or with the safety engaged.
This is another opinion that some folks will disagree with. So let me preface this with saying that there are some situations that I think this is appropriate, but in general I'm not a fan. Safeties on compact guns can be difficult to disengage in adrenaline filled encounters, like a self defense situation. It's also another step to perform, which requires fine motor skills, before engaging your target. Perform it wrong, and it could mean your life. Most polymer compact guns today have a trigger safety or a grip safety which has to be engaged for the gun to fire, meaning you have to grip the gun and pull the trigger to make the banger go boom. These are already necessary steps to engaging a threat, so these guns have effectively been made drop safe and also eliminated adding shit to your sequence. Additionally, you limit yourself by requiring the gun have a safety. A lot of compact models don't make 'em with that feature.
Carrying unchambered suffers from the same problem - it adds a step to your sequence of engaging a threat. Additionally, it has the potential to be short stroked or just performed poorly, which can cost you your life. Some folks make the argument that they are worried about a negligent discharge. I wont argue people into the ground over it, ultimately it's your choice, but IMO, you should be comfortable enough with your gun, and have enough familiarity with the firearm safety rules, that you can handle a chambered gun with the safety off. Adequate holsters with real trigger guards will prevent a ND, and you should index your finger consistently until you are aiming at your threat. If you can't do that consistently, you probably can't disengage a safety or charge the slide in a self-defense situation either. Again, that's my opinion, so beginners make of it what you will, there are exceptions to a lot of things - but I do believe this is solid advice for folks thinking about purchasing their first pistol for defensive use.
13) You need to know your States laws on self defense and where/how you can carry.
This one is straight forward as well. A lot of folks make the mistake of going to a firearm safety class or a concealed carry class and thinking they have all the knowledge they need. The truth is, those classes are meant for a large number of people and the information is generalized in some sense to be applicable for the group as a whole. There are a litany of firearm laws out there and many things may not be covered in your basics course - like the legal thresh holds for force in a self defense encounter, or your local municipalities firearm laws, or how to store your firearm legally when crossing state lines, and a whole bunch of other shit. Also important to consider is being familiar with what is likely to happen if you use your firearm in a defensive encounter. There is a deep lack of knowledge there and you need to familiarize yourself with that end of things. Even if you are completely justified there is a ton of fuckery that can happen afterwards.
14) Store your shit correctly.
This is especially important if you have children in the home or folks who struggle with self harm. ONLY approved people should have access to your firearms. If you own a gun and also struggle with self harm, or someone in your home does, consider developing a plan for getting firearms out of your house or stored in an manner that you or that person might not have access to them when those considerations arise. There is much more to be said on the topic of firearms and mental health, which will be touched on in later blog posts. Additionally, in some states if you don't store your guns properly and someone is hurt by your gun, there are legal consequences which can be severely disrupting to your life. There is a balance between ease of accessibility for home defense situations and adequate security, so take that into account as well. There are lots of quality products that enable that balance to be struck.
15) Walk out your Zero.
I REALLY REALLY fucking wish someone would have clued me in on this tip when I first started to zero my rifle on my own. I wasted a lot of time, money, and ammo trying to zero my rifle at 100 yards without first getting on paper at a closer range. It was so frustrating and personally embarrassing, I almost knee-jerk decided to sell my rifle afterwards. So, there are lots of ways to zero your rifle, but my suggestion is that if you have never actually hit the target with your gun, either because it's new or you're putting a new optic on it, that you start at 15 yards and make some crude adjustments once you hit paper. You can also use a laser cartridge for these crude adjustments, but it's just another thing you have to buy. I've never used one, but lots of my friends enjoy its convenience. Having a backstop in the immediate foreground when you are first trying to get on paper means you can more easily decipher if you are to the left or right, high or low. Once you're on paper stretch out to 25 yards, fire in groups of 3 and get your zero. then repeat at 50 yards, then 75 yards, or jump all the way to 100 yards. Other things that are helpful when zeroing, which you might not have thought about, is to make sure you have a firm platform. Don't try to zero while standing or kneeling- strive to eliminate as much movement as possible so you know the adjustments you need to make are based on the sight alignment and not your trigger pull, body movement, stance, and breathing, etc. Last piece of advice is to go at a time when there isn't a buncha people at the range. At a static, shared, range you will have to wait until everyone is finished to walk out there and see our point of impact, especially past 25 years. Bullets don't make gigantic holes in paper. That's a lot of time waiting around after firing 3 shots. If you have a good pair of binoculars or a spotting scope, that is less of a factor and you might not have to leave the bench but to move your target further out.
16) Dry fire is FREE and AWESOME!
There is a myth out there that dry firing can hurt your gun. That's simply not the case with most firearms. The fact of the matter is, pros dry fire ALL THE TIME to increase their skills and so should you! There is a litany of shit you can do and its all free! Practice reloads, clearing malfunctions, trigger pull, your firearm presentation, acquisition of sight alignment, and target transitions, etc.! I spend about 15-30 minutes every other day dry firing and I've had a dramatic improvement in many of the skills I'm focusing on. Just make sure you research how to do things properly so you don't incorporate training scars into your dry-fire. You might not have 30 bucks to spend on a range day every week, but you can probably dry fire from the comfort of your home, even your chair, for 10 minutes every other day.
17) Incorporate dry fire into your range practice.
On that note, dry fire is an oft forgotten skill to use on the range. If you are working on a certain skill, try dry firing it 10-20 times before you actually do it live. I maximizes your ammo, especially if you are on a budget, and stretches out your practice. Additionally, if you are performing a drill and you're not hitting where you are supposed to, identify and diagnose the problem, then take a break and practice it with dry fire the correct way for 5 minutes. Return to the drill and see what improvements you have made. I started doing this a few months ago and I'm pissed that I wasted so much ammo without improving my skills significantly compared to the progress I've personally seen by mixing dry fire with live.
18) Concentrate on fundamentals before other skills.
This was mentioned somewhat earlier but I want to expound on it. In addition to not focusing on gear when you are first starting, its important to make sure you focus on your fundamentals. The advanced operator shit will come later. You shouldn't practice shooting on the move, moving while drawing your gun, target transitions, and a bunch of other shit until you can consistently perform the fundamentals. Which are:
1. Stance or Platform
3. Draw / Presentation
4. Sight Alignment and Sight Picture
5. Trigger Control
7. Follow Through
All the other skills you perform will build off of these. Once this stuff is second nature you can play around more and find your failure points. Start slow and get focused on these skills, the rest is a distraction at the moment. When you see experts blowing a course out of the water its because they became masters of the fundamentals.
19) Go to the range with a plan and measure your skills.
This is one I see a lot of people struggle with. I do as well. I love just going out to the range and plinking targets. Its a good time and I get to imagine I'm a better shot than I actually am. I might get a hat trick and feel like the shit, but the reality is I can't consistently perform that skill. Ultimately, just showing up to the range and punching lead through paper can end up being a fun waste of money and time. Instead you could be having fun getting better. To avoid this, go to the range with a plan. Figure out what drills you want to perform and a round count. Make sure your drills also have a standard, or a par, so you can tell if you are getting better or not. I like to stack the skills in my drills on top of each-other. For instance I'll start at low ready, then fire a shot. Then when I perform that to standard, I'll add unholstering and fire a shot to a time and accuracy standard. Then move on to unholstering, firing a shot, performing a reload, and a follow up shot or a double tap. So on and so forth. It's really easy to imagine you are good when there is no standard, but that's not reality. I've found that people really struggle with the measurement part. Often times the feedback challenges our perception of ourselves and that can be uncomfortable, even frustrating. I have seen people do a straightforward universal drill, such as the Dot Torture drill, perform it quite poorly from 3 yards, and blame the gun on their failure. "My gun isn't made for this drill!" You can not get better without actual feed back, don't blame the equipment. One that note, allow people to make corrections without getting pissed or defensive, you will be better for it, especially as a beginner. There is a gross machismo and self assurance in gun culture that fights being corrected, and there is a lot of people who shoot like garbage because they are two inflexible, don't be one of those people.
20) 100 round practice is more than enough.
Last tip! This might seem odd, but 50-100 rounds (after getting sighted in) is plenty of practice for the beginner. Each of us has a limit to the cognitive load we can adequately perform under. When you are first starting out, there is just so much you are trying to concentrate on all at once, that you can start to perform skills incorrectly and imprint training scars that might be difficult to overcome down the line. A lot of researchers suggest that most folks can only learn 2-3 new things at once. So give yourself a break. The reason to limit to 100 rounds is that after that round count your ability to concentrate on all these new skills can diminish and you start that negative imprinting process. Your eyes become tired, you become more lackadaisical, you may want to move towards new skills, but you probably wont retain them because of cognitive load restrictions. As you cement your skills and the things you work on become unconscious, as to not take up cognitive load, you can change the skills you focus on and increase the round count.
Alright that's it! Comment if you have any insight or questions that come up! Ill make sure to respond.