What makes a gun easy to shoot

With Smith & Wesson unavailing the “Shield” on the 12th, which appears to be a 6-7 shot, 9mm, polymer auto pistol from the puzzle pieces, leaked photos and published targets, I thought I would take an extended look at what makes a good carry gun and some of the compromises we make.  Over the next couple days I will discuss small guns, women/smaller shooters and revolvers, and my thoughts on low capacity CCW weapons.

To get started lets look at the factors that make a gun easy to shoot?

Powder Energy

The 2 biggest distractions a shooter needs to learn to over come are the loud explosion they are holding in their hands and the kick of the pistol.

One way to reduce both of these distractions is to reduce the energy available in the explosion and reduce the powder charge.

If you take it to an extreme and reduce the energy to zero you have dry fire practice which is suggested by nearly every reputable trainer.

If you go the other way you have the Smith and Wesson 460/500 which is powerful enough to take any game animal in the world.

There are a number of ways that shooters reduce the energy in order to make a gun easier to shoot…

  1. They chamber it for a smaller caliber like a .22lr trainer
  2. They shoot reduced energy loads like the .44spl/44mag or 38spl/.357mag
  3. They shoot heavy for caliber bullets.  Within a caliber, a heavy bullet typically uses less powder than a light bullet due to the limits on internal pressures and can feel lighter to the shooter.

Recoil Impulse

Newton’s 3rd law states “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction” which means if you hold everything constant if you can increase the length to time that the recoil is felt, the peak amount is lower.  

This works like the seat belt in your car, it doesn’t change the force of the crash only how much peak acceleration you feel.

Semi auto’s help lengthen the recoil be having the energy perform other work, like compressing recoil springs and extracting spent shells.

Some grips can also help by compressing when the gun is fired and then relaxing over next few thousandths of a second.


Newton’s 1st law states “An object at rest tends to stay at rest until a force is applied to it.”  

The heavier an object is the more force it takes to accelerate it and the less force is translated to the shooter. This is why heavy guns tend to feel like they kick less than light weight guns.

Bore Axis

The height at which the barrel sits above the shooters hand is often called the bore axis.  The height tends to work like a lever allowing the force at the muzzle to be multiplied and even worse applied torsionally as opposed to back into the shooter skeletal structure.

This can account for much of the pain felt in the wrist and is the reason for the ultra-low muzzle heights of the Caracal, Smith & Wesson M&P’s and Glock’s, compared to standard revolvers.  

The Chiappa Rhino revolver has attempted to eliminate this issue by using linkages to fire rounds from the bottom cylinder.

Grip Size

The grip of the gun has to fit the shooters hand and allow an appropriate reach to the trigger.  Too large or small and the shooter will not be able to press the trigger straight back to the rear.

However, the amount of gripping surface on the gun can help the shooter control the guns recoil.  A small, slick grip can permit the pistol to rotate in the hand and require the shooter to adjust their grip between shots.

Sight Radius

The distance between the front and rear sights is called the sight radius and it is important in allowing to accurate shots at longer ranges.

As the radius is increased it becomes easier to identify differences in the amount of light on either side of the front blade and the knife edge across the top.  

A shorter radius does not affect the pistols inherent accuracy, it only makes it harder reach; however, it is often associated with muzzle velocity which may have some affect.

Good Sights

Set of sights with good crisp edges in a style the fits the shooter makes aligning the sights much easier.

If everyone were only looking for a gun that was easy to shoot they would seek to maximize each of these attributes and might choose a gun like the Smith & Wesson Model 41.

But that isn’t what everyone is looking for! A concealed carry gun has some different requirements.

A gun that is being used for defense, must be able to stop an attacker and therefore requires more energy. It needs to be able to be carried comfortably all day requiring a lighter weight. And in most cases it needs to be able to be concealed by its owner so it is made much smaller.

While the ideal gun would still have good sights, these are often sacrificed to make the gun “snag free” so that it can be carried and dawn easier.  It would be nice to also still have a long recoil impulse, but the faster moving bullets and short slide lengths make the nearly impossible.  In many cases we also accept a higher bore axis in favor of a revolver, whose organic shape can often be more easily concealed.

At the end we are left with a powerful, small light weight revolver, with a short sight radius and virtually no sights.  Making matters worse we are restricted to fast-moving light weight bullets to ensure that the recoil of the revolver does pull the bullet (Newton’s 1st law) and lock-up the revolver.

I believe the small revolvers and semi-autos that have become so prevalent should be the tools of experts, because while they are handy they can be the most difficult to shoot and train with.  In many cases we do new shooters (especially female shooters) a dis-service by pushing them towards these small guns, because they are unpleasant to shoot virtually ensuring that they won’t train with their equipment and keeping them from becoming “Shooters.”

Written by by Ron Larimer

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