The laws of physics can’t be cheated. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. The more muzzle energy your handgun generates, the more recoil you will experience. Citizens looking to carry a handgun for personal protection try to find a balance between compactness and power. We could all carry a small .22-caliber handgun and recoil would not be an issue, but not many of us are comfortable relying on a .22 to stop an attacker.

A large part of the research I conduct is related to the terminal performance of various defensive handgun ammunitions. Generally, this involves shooting into 10 percent ordnance gelatin. Granted, 10 percent ordnance gelatin is not a bad guy, but it is a very consistent medium that allows us to examine the ways in which different cartridges and bullets perform. After many years of doing this type of testing, one thing is obvious: more velocity equals more tissue damage.

This postulate is not something that all agree on. Those that like the big, slow-moving bullets will argue that velocity is not the determining factor in the performance of defensive handgun ammunition. To some extent, they are right; with certain bullets, high velocity can cause limited penetration due to over-expansion. However, few will argue that a .38 Special is more deadly than a .357 Magnum and the only real difference is that the .357 Magnum has higher velocity.

Why is this relevant to the effectiveness of compact handguns and your ability to control them? Partly because compact handguns have shorter barrels and shorter barrels cause a loss in velocity. And, partly because cartridges with higher velocities often generate more recoil and this makes compact handguns harder to control.

It’s easy to sit in front of my computer and pronounce absolute truths based on my experiences shooting various handguns chambered for various cartridges. The reality is that all humans are different. What I might consider controllable others may find objectionable. So where should you start when it comes to selecting a subcompact handgun?

Choosing the Gun

For starters, forget caliber. Also forget all the stories you have heard about this or that cartridge’s ineffectiveness. The first rule of a gunfight is to have a gun. This means you need to select a handgun that is small enough and light enough for you to carry on an everyday basis. A full-size 1911 in .45 ACP might be the best defensive handgun option out there, but if you leave it at home, it’s no better than a personal bodyguard that calls in sick.

Through some experimentation you need to determine how big and how heavy of a handgun you can comfortably carry. The answer is not the same for everyone. Next, you need to determine how much recoil you can withstand and still get good hits, fast. The only way to do either of these things is to actually handle and shoot various handguns. You wouldn’t purchase a new car without a test drive. The same methodology applies here.

Some time ago, I developed a shooting drill that would allow me to evaluate my ability to shoot a particular handgun. I’ve also used it with students in concealed carry classes and when I was a police firearms instructor. It’s an easy drill to set up but one that requires command of your handgun and basic marksmanship principles to master.

Set a silhouette target at 5 yards and draw a 5-inch circle over the kill zone. Then, while drawing from concealment, attempt to fire five shots into the 5-inch circle in five seconds or less. The drill is called the “Forty-Five Drill” because it has four elements of five: five shots at 5 yards, into a 5-inch circle in five seconds.

I use this drill when testing any defensive handgun because it will quickly highlight any problems with the speedy operation or controllability of the pistol. If I run over time, the handgun probably has too much recoil or maybe the controls are not easy to manipulate. If I’m within the limit but my shots are wide of the 5-inch circle, this can be an indication of controllability issues or maybe that particular handgun and I just don’t jive.

To illustrate how this drill can be used to determine your ability to effectively interact with a compact defensive handgun, I subjected five different subcompact defensive handguns to it. I think you’ll find the results interesting, but keep in mind: they are nothing more than how the test guns and I got along. Your mileage may vary.

Pages: 1 2 3
Show Comments