Choosing the Best Handgun for You

For the ladies, and the guys too: Deciding which gun is best for you.

How many times have you walked into a gun shop only to be greeted by a gun store Rambo with too much testosterone and not enough common sense? It’s happened more than once to my wife and I. Most of the time they have a personal agenda and try to steer you to this gun or that gun regardless of how it fits you personally. If you want a compact gun it has to be this Glock or Sig Sauer and if you want a full sized gun it has to be this 1911 or a Heckler & Koch. This may be because they have the most mark up on this weapon and get more cash when they are sold or it may be because they just prefer this brand or that the other. The truth is far too few people know or understand the basics of purchasing a weapon for a specific use.

English: A Smith & Wesson Military & Police ha...

Smith & Wesson M&P(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My wife and I recently purchased her first handgun. We looked for a very long time and to be honest, I got rather frustrated doing so (one of the reasons for our consulting service). She is tiny and wanted a tiny gun to go along with her tiny frame. The problem is that she also wanted an effective fighting sidearm that would protect her and our family. Things got difficult very quickly when she had her heart set on several guns that simply didn’t fit her. We looked at a lot of guns from sub compact Glocks to smaller caliber guns like the Walther PPK and PK 380. Nothing seemed to fit her and accomplish the end goals we both had in mind.  One of these guns was a Walther PPQ. This is a great gun, but it didn’t fit her hand well and the ergonomics of the frame didn’t disperse the recoil well through her upper body. It was actually painful for her to shoot it. She went through a few others and even shot my Beretta 92 several times. This process turned into several weekend trips and visits to almost every reputable gun shop in the Raleigh/Durham area.

Credit: LampostCCW

Credit: LampostCCW

One thing that most first time buyers don’t consider is that the smaller the gun the more recoil it has, even in a smaller caliber. It’s simple physics, and a compact .380 will have as much or more recoil than a larger 9mm on a full sized frame. The smaller the gun, the less ammunition it will also carry. So think about the purpose of your handgun. My wife is of the same mind as I am. If either of us has resorted to using a gun, then the situation has gone terribly wrong and we want as much firepower as possible. So after shooting many guns and having several long discussions with both myself and the owner, Rob, at Clayton Guns, she ended her search with a Smith and Wesson M&P Pro in 9mm. Yes this is a full sized gun, but with careful consideration it can be concealed easily.  Fortunately, after dealing with the general bravado from many gun shops, we met Rob who is a wealth of information and had no agenda other than to get my wife the right gun for her.

This brings me to my first point; find a shop you can trust and have someone with you that really knows  their stuff when it comes to the basics of handgun manipulation and control . Just because a gun looks cool and comes highly recommended by a magazine article doesn’t mean it will fit you and be the best gun for you.  Shoot or at the very least hold as many guns as you can to test fitment to your hand. Many of the newer polymer guns have interchangeable back strap panels. Try them out and get a feel for the guns.

Then decide on the purpose of the gun. Are you carrying it in a holster, purse or pocket? Do you open carry or do you always carry concealed? Will this be your only gun or will you have multiple guns for multiple situations. Only after you decide how you will use the gun can you purchase a weapon that will fulfill its main purpose.  You then need to make sure it isn’t what I call an orphan gun. Orphan guns are more unusual or unpopular guns that don’t have huge aftermarket support. If you buy one of these guns then accessories will be difficult or impossible to find. In the best case scenario you will pay top dollar from a custom holster maker so that you have equipment that fills your needs. The only other option is to build your own holster system with Kydex or use a one size fits all nylon holster that isn’t what you really want or need.

9mm-357sig-40sw-10mm-45acp-45gapThe caliber of your gun is the next thing that you really need to decide on. For the guys, buying the largest caliber possible to compensate is just plain silly and really dangerous. Male or female you need to choose a caliber that you can easily control, especially if you are not an experienced shooter. If you can’t make quick follow up shots or you need to adjust your grip after shooting several rounds, then it isn’t the gun for you. I’ve said this before and I will say it again, there is no magic caliber. The “one shot stopping power” of a particular round is somewhat a fallacy that causes people to make decisions that hinder their ability to learn the basics and become competent marksmen. I’m a really big guy and can handle anything you put in my hand, but I choose to carry a 9mm due to the fact that I am at my best when shooting this round. I can cut the 10 ring out of a target and transition between multiple targets quickly and it has more than adequate stopping power when using modern ammunition.

So now you have a gun that fits you, you know how you intend to use it, and you’ve decided on caliber; what’s next? Now it’s time to train, try different holsters and modes of carry. Make your weapon an extension of your body. Your life depends on your ability to be proficient with your new purchase, so get to work!

Hammered Knifeworks

I’ve always loved knives. I carry one or two every day, and I’m sure you do as well. As far as I’m concerned they are one of the greatest tools mankind has ever created. Finding a quality knife is fairly easy these days, a simple hop on the web and a little research will find you a few outstanding and budget friendly blades, one of my most favorites is the CRKT M21-14G.

Horseshoe Tanto

Buying an off the shelf knife is great and all, but that’s boring. I’ve been wanting something more, something special. Enter John Buck and Hammered Knifeworks. Hammered Knifeworks is a small one man operation located in Burlington, NC. I contacted John and arranged to get my hands on a couple examples of his work. John is an artist and knifesmith, his blades are great to look at and feel great in the hand. Beyond being pretty, they also work. John makes blades that are made to be used and used hard. These are true “working man’s” blades. It’s difficult to really pin down a type of blade he makes or specializes in because of his versatility in styles and materials. One of my favorite examples of his work is a tanto blade made from a horseshoe. This blade has a heft to it that is almost hard to explain, it’s heavy for it’s size and the curve of the handle fits very well in the hand. Being a mild steel, the blade does tend to dull faster than a harder steel blade but that also means it will take an edge faster as well. He does harden all of his blades which makes this less of an issue though. I discussed with John a few different options to finish the handle off and he suggested a paracord wrap, which can be easily done. John is able to make leather sheaths for his blades as well, we also discussed using Kydex in the future as well.

Railroad Spike Blade

Railroad Spike Blade

Materials available for blades is about unlimited, he prefers to use carbon steel and tool steel in the 1095 and A10 varieties respectively however, if you have a specific request for a blade he is very willing to accommodate. John is able to 3D model custom  blades and cut them out to customer specifications. He also does extremely well at re-purposing material into blades. As shown above a blade made from horseshoe is a beautiful thing, another example is a very utilitarian blade made from a railroad spike. The railroad spike blade features a standard drop point blade that offers a great cutting surface and plenty of power into the material to be cut. Much like the horseshoe, the spike is made from a milder steel but goes through a lengthy hardening process to ensure it keeps a razor edge. He can even work with materials that you provide, as long as it is a steel that lends itself to hardening and forging. I have a bayonet for a Mosin-Nagant that I will never use in it’s current form that will soon be getting the Hammered Knifeworks treatment to be turned into a modern and usable blade. John is also working on creating his own billets of damascus steel. There is also some discussion about hand forged camp axes and tomahawks in the future.

Japanese style "katana" knife made from a file, with hand carved wooden handle.

Japanese style “katana” knife made from a file, with hand carved wooden handle. This blade took John a couple weeks to make due to the hardness of the material.

John hand forges, hardens and polishes every blade he makes. It takes him a fair amount of time to produce a blade, but his attention to detail is worth every man hour he puts into it. The end result you get is a fine hand crafted blade that won’t cost you a fortune and will serve you well for years to come. Currently he doesn’t have a store front website up and running. He does however, take orders through his Facebook page and is very prompt in contacting his customers back. So head on over to his page and shoot him a message and he will make you the blade you’ve always wanted. As for now stay safe, train and have a good un’

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Holsters on a Budget 101


If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it…my gear, my way.

It’s kind of humorous if you ask me, but people want the “right” gear so they look cool at the range, while carrying concealed or during training. While I can absolutely understand this feeling, this isn’t high school people! This is real life and what works well for one person may not work well for you. Body types, personal styles and budget vary and you have to do what is right for you. Mr. Ingersoll touched on this a few posts ago and pretty much said that what you can afford and works for you is what you should buy. I’m just expanding upon his observations in this post and sharing my personal set up. I’ll share links for the makers of my gear and let you look around for yourself.

My personal preference is to have a holster for each specific purpose when carrying my Beretta 92FS. To this end I have two outside the waistband holsters (OWB), one inside the waistband holster (IWB), and one trigger guard style holster. Mr. Ingersoll has at least that many holsters for his Beretta 8040 to include a Safariland duty holster and a few others. I personally prefer a paddle style holster over belt holsters as they are easily removed when needed and are very stable on my frame. Speaking of frames, I’m over 6ft and pushing 300lbs. I am a very big guy, so my set ups may not be the perfect set up for you.

blackhawkYou may ask why I have two different OWB style holsters. That’s a good question and I will explain my logic and how it came to be. The first holster is an Uncle Mike’s paddle set up with no retention of any kind other than friction. I have had it for years and it was cheap. I have used this holster for concealed carry and training only because it has no retention level protection in case of a gun grab situation or fight. The second OWB holster I have is a Blackhawk! SERPA.  I carry in this holster in situations when it’s appropriate to open carry. The SERPA is an affordable holster with lots of options. It comes with both a paddle and belt attachment when purchased and it’s designed to work with both a shoulder rig and tactical thigh rig with no modifications, just a few screws. There is a lot of bang for your buck with this holster. Is it the end all, be all holster that some say it is? Not by a long shot, I would definitely prefer several others but just can’t justify spending the money. It ‘s a level 2 retention holster where a button must be depressed to release the handgun and the tension is adjustable so it meets my need for open carry. It’s minimal protection, but it is protection from someone walking up and pulling your gun out of the holster or it falling out during a struggle.

OldFaithful-Empty2When it comes to inside the waist band (IWB) carry I carry an Old Faithful that I built from a kit. This is a hybrid style holster that has a leather backing against the skin and one side of the gun combined with a Kydex shell on the other side. It makes for a very durable and comfortable holster. There are quite a few of different companies that are making this style of holster these days since it gained so much popularity in the CCW crowd. I’m not sure who started the design but certainly the first one I heard about was the CrossBreed Supertuck however, this is a far more expensive and their lead time is fairly long. So by buying this easy to assemble kit form Old Faithful, I saved a ton of cash and now have an intimate understanding of my gear. Without a doubt I recommend trying the kits on the market.

Now I may have failed to mention this, I carry every holster in the appendix or modified appendix position. So make note of that if you plan to order a similar holster. This particular holster is cut for that positioning and is very comfortable for all day wear with only slight adjustments when sitting or getting in and out of a vehicle. Some people may ask why I carry in this position when so many other positions work well and  are more comfortable. The answer is simple, I don’t want people to see my gun (if it is printing) when I can’t see them. In other words if you know I have a gun, I want to know that you know! Secondly I have much more control over the weapon in this position during a struggle or just in general.  I even carried in this position while on duty as a police officer and kept the duty holster tension screws on my belt loose enough to adjust the location as needed.

Credit: Aegis Armory

Credit: Aegis Armory

The final holster I have for my Beretta is a trigger guard style holster from Aegis Armory. This an absolute minimalist style holster that only covers the trigger so that it isn’t engaged accidentally.  This is my T-shirt, shorts, and flip flop gear. You basically stick it in your waistband and go, another word for this is “Mexican carry” but with this holster there is some retention on the firearm. It comes with a lanyard that you attach to a belt or belt loop. When drawn the holster just pulls away because it is only held on with a small amount of tension. On a smaller weapon this would be a great pocket holster or even a neck holster. This also makes a great “car carry” holster. Wrap the lanyard around your emergency brake handle or whatever you have available and tuck the pistol between the seats.

So there you have it, my gear for my needs and on my budget. Would I love to have several Raven or G-code holsters? Oh yes I would, but I just can’t justify buying the high dollar gear when what I have fits my needs rather well. I’ll upgrade one day but for now I definitely don’t care what others think about my choice of holsters or even my beat up old Beretta. The guy wearing all the latest gear and shooting the H&K SOCOM 45 at the range the other day couldn’t hit the ten ring to save his life. I on the hand tore one big ragged hole with 50 rounds in the target.  Buy what works for you and save the money for ammo and training!

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The Beretta/Stoeger Cougar

Good Day All,cougar

Today I’m going to tell you about a firearm that is near and dear to my heart, the Beretta Cougar my first handgun. This Particular handgun was brought to the market in 1994 and received a slightly less than stellar reception. This can be attributed to two things in my opinion, Beretta‘s famously understated advertising and the Glock craze that was going on at the time and still continues today. Don’t get me wrong, the Glock is a fine firearm, but it is far from the only game in town.

English: This is a picture of the rotating bar...

Beretta Cougar Rotating Barrel Lockup (Credit: Wikipedia)

The Beretta Cougar was brought to market with several different models (F, G, and D) and calibers (9mm, .40S&W, .357Sig and .45ACP). Those of you familiar with Beretta’s more commonly available models the 92/96/M9 the Cougar will have a very familiar form factor and controls. The profile from the operator perspective of the handgun is identical to the 92 making it a very comfortable pistol choice for prior military personnel like myself. The cougar operates on a rotating barrel locking system where the barrel does not tilt up like on most other pistols. The barrel instead rotates to unlock the barrel from the slide when it recoils then extracts the spent cartridge and loads the next into the chamber. This method, in theory, is more accurate than the other more common system that is used in most other handguns. It keeps the barrel on the same plane throughout the entire operation cycle. Personally I’m not aware of any other firearms that use this same system other than the successor to the Cougar, Beretta’s PX4.

The Beretta Cougar holding it's own next to more "modern" handguns in a large round count class.

The Beretta Cougar holding it’s own next to more “modern” handguns in a large round count class.

I purchased the .40S&W model from a fellow police officer friend of mine quite a few years ago who had bought it and never shot it. I have put several thousand rounds through it since, without much issue other than replacing the extractor and extractor spring as they had worn out after a significant period of time where I was shooting hundreds of rounds on a weekly basis. When you shoot a lot, parts tend to wear out. This is true of any firearm even the precious Glock.  This pistol conceals as well as any other large frame semi-auto with the correct holster selection and is as reliable and rugged as its bigger brother the 92FS/96FS/M9. Shortly after returning from my second tour to Iraq I signed up for a class from a local training group. The class was a one day defensive handgun class with a 600 round count for the day. My Beretta was pitted against Glocks, Springfield XD‘s, S&W M&P‘s, and of course the expensive and very awesome Sig. My Beretta did not experience any malfunctions other than the ones we purposely induced for training purposes. I definitely had the most different handgun on the line that day and it performed flawlessly. Later on I wound up using my Cougar as a duty weapon while working a private security job with the NCDOC, I shot a perfect 100 on both day and night qualification and later as a police officer I qualified with it again as an off-duty gun and shot 100 day and night. This pistol in my hands is far more comfortable and accurate than the Glock 23 I was issued as my duty weapon as a police officer.

English: Beretta 8040 Cougar Pistol disassembl...

English: Beretta 8040 Cougar Pistol disassembled to show parts. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Several things are important to consider with this particular pistol. It is a little lacking in the accessory department. Holsters are available but usually require special order, the choice of sights are a little limited but both Trijicon and Meprolight night-sights are available. Grips are available from Hogue in the aluminum and wood variety and of course you have the option of using the universal grip sleeve from Hogue as well. Another important note is that Beretta is no longer manufacturing this pistol, it is now being made by their subsidiary Stoeger. Stoeger is based out of Turkey and makes mainly shotguns similar to the models already made by Beretta and Benelli. Stoeger does not manufacture the .357Sig model, but I personally don’t really see this as a great loss. The .357Sig cartridge is an expensive and difficult to find round and as far as I’m concerned the merits of it’s ballistics don’t outweigh it’s cost and difficulty to procure. It is also important to note that the .45ACP model is actually a larger pistol than the .40S&W and the 9MM models so holster selection is made a bit more difficult for that particular model. The offering from Beretta did not have an accessory rail available on this pistol. I don’t see this as a shortcoming personally. Adding a light/laser on a handgun makes it bigger and harder to conceal. I carry a Flashlight with me all the time anyway and I have trained using my support hand to use a flashlight in low-light shooting situations. There are Stoeger models that do have an accessory rail on them if that is a necessity for you. The best part about this pistol? you might ask, well it’s very budget friendly. My father and brother both just bought Stoeger Cougars in .40S&W and 9MM respectively. The total bill for both handguns came in at under $900 out the door from a local dealer here in NC, and that is during the current buying frenzy going on. I’ve given you quite a few things to consider here, take the knowledge and run with it. As always stay safe, train and have a good ‘un.

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The Importance of Quality

Springfield XD Sub Compact (with Galco ITW Hol...

Springfield XD Sub Compact (with Galco ITW Holster) (Photo credit: jeffgunn)


Good Afternoon All,

Today I wanted to get into something that I find to be a very important but often disregarded habit. The habit of seeking out quality over convenience or price. This is a particularly common theme over at The Art of Manliness, which is an excellently written and maintained blog that I’ve been following for a few years now. Too often we will need an item and simply go to the nearest Wal-Mart and pop on in and get whatever it is that we wanted. The question however, is what you bought going to serve you well for years to come or is it just going to get you by for a little while? This isn’t to say that this particular retailer doesn’t sell some quality items but I’m sure you’re seeing my point. The philosophy is simply that I’d rather buy something that is “expensive” once than buy a cheaper item many times. Too often these cheaper items will give you the illusion of saving money, but in the long run is that really the case? With a cheaper, lower quality item the propensity to go wrong is usually going to be higher, thus forcing you to replace that item an unfortunate amount of times. This dismal event could possibly have been avoided if you had simply just spent the little bit of extra money on the front end and perhaps had some delayed gratification but ended up with a far superior product that will last a lifetime. Very simply the old adage “you get what you pay for” rings very true in our world……most of the time of that is.

This philosophy brought into the tactical/outdoor world will often times make for a very expensive investment and drive many to make poor decisions when it comes to gear. One thing I have taken notice of for some time now is cheap holsters. Many people are quite content to purchase a $500-$700 handgun and then put it in a $15 holster or one they got for free when they purchased the firearm. I’ve never really understood this practice. If you have a firearm that your life or the life of another may depend on and you carry it around in a cheap floppy nylon or plastic holster with an awkward and flimsy Velcro strap as your only means of retention. Do you really think that is going to serve you well? What if you have to run and evade with that weapon holstered? What if you are engaged in a struggle with an attacker and that flimsy holster gives way because it offered zero retention qualities? I could play the “what if” game all day but as I said before, I think you see my point. A good quality leather or kydex holster is a fairly inexpensive piece of kit these days. Manufacturers like Don Hume and Gould & Goodrich (a local to me NC company) produce fairly inexpensive and high quality leather goods that have served me well for years. Kydex holsters can be found all over the place these days and can even be made at home by you with a little care and time invested at a reasonable cost investment. Just remember that when carrying a holster on your hip, a good quality belt is of the utmost importance. Simply using a standard leather dress belt won’t do the trick. I find myself using my Blackhawk! rigger’s belt that I’ve had for the last ten years and it is still very sturdy and quite serviceable. The kydex option is particularly attractive if you own a handgun or other gear that isn’t exactly a standard. Everyone makes holsters for 1911’s, Beretta 92‘s, Glocks and the like but if you aren’t in that mainstream then you may want to take the time and make the investment in crafting your own gear. YouTube videos abound for making kydex gear to hold everything from your favorite handgun to AR magazines and even your iPhone. Bearing this philosophy of  quality vs. price in mind, I am not confusing price with quality. There are many items out there that fall into the quality category without breaking the bank. These items require a little research and determination to find but will often times be quite worth the effort. Craigslist and eBay have become great resources for good quality tactical/outdoor gear and will allow you to find what you need at a reasonable price, particularly if you opt for purchasing used equipment. Gear that has been well maintained or used very little will often times be an excellent bargain with a little cautious buying. A very cursory search on my part found some excellent deals on tactical gear from Blackhawk!, 5.11 Tactical, and Condor. It also produced some excellent deals on quality flashlights and knives so some searching on your part should prove fruitful, just take your time. Realistically it will still take a somewhat significant amount of time to build your kit, this is just how it works. We don’t have a large supply depot to draw our items from.  It will take a little ingenuity and patience, but if done correctly you’ll have a high quality set up that will serve you well when the time comes to need it. For now stay safe, train and have a good ‘un.

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