How to Evaluate and Choose the Right Pistol

Posted by Rob Leatham

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Oct 29, 2015 10:00:00 AM

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If you’re a gun collector or enthusiast like I am, you know that picking the best firearm to meet your particular needs can be a difficult process to wade through.

When you pit two or more potential models against each other, what should you look for?

Step 1: Prioritize

First things first – you need to identify and prioritize your intended use. If it's only for one specific purpose, then judge by that criteria alone. You may have multiple reasons for purchasing this firearm, but you must determine the importance of any given aspect.

Whether it’s competition, home defense or concealability, pick the intended uses that matter most to you and rank the products accordingly.

How you rank your needs will dictate the rest of the selection process.

Step 2: Evaluate

The apples-to-apples comparison is up next. Put the pistols’ specifications side by side, and declare a physical victor. Take into consideration:

  • Caliber
  • Height
  • Weight
  • Width
  • Length
  • Magazine Capacity
  • Material
  • Cost
  • Availability

Which specs are most important to you? Material? Cost? Weight? Based on that, which firearm is in the lead at this point? Keep that in mind as we move on to the next step.

Step 3: Personalize

Next up is the subjective evaluation.

What matters when it comes to a pistol-to-pistol comparison? There are a handful of performance attributes you’ll want to consider – and then it’s just a matter of giving the edge to one firearm over the other.

In a head-to-head comparison, try these criteria on for size:

Ease of use

  • How well does each model fit you?
  • Can you grip the gun properly?
  • Does your finger easily reach the trigger?
  • Is the trigger pull movement and weight manageable for you?
  • Can you reach and operate the slide stop, magazine release and safeties?
  • Can you easily operate and work the slide?
  • Overall, are you able to operate each gun safely and properly?

Comfort/Feel

  • Which has that "just right" grip?
  • Which allows for the proper, most comfortable finger placement on the trigger?
  • Which offers the more manageable weight?
  • Which has the more comfortable grip angle?
  • Overall, which gun just feels best in your hands?

Accuracy/Sights

  • How does each gun stack up when it comes to accuracy?
  • What is the required level of accuracy? And which pistol meets/exceeds that level?
  • Is it for defensive use in which distances are close and speed is more critical than pinpoint accuracy?
  • Will the gun need to print tight groups at extended yardages for bullseye competition?
  • Do you like the look of the sights? Can you pick them up (see them) quickly and precisely?
  • Are the sights adjustable?
  • Are optional sights available?
  • Do you need a gun with night sights for home defense or carry?

Concealability

  • Which product is more optimum for concealability?
  • Which gun is smaller, thinner, shorter, flatter and lighter?
  • Which gun is the most comfortable in your preferred carry holster?

Versatility

  • How capable is each gun at transitioning from one use to another?
  • Can the models handle second-level priorities well if needed?

Durability

  • How well-designed and manufactured is each firearm?
  • How high-quality are the materials used in manufacturing?
  • Will the material hold up to your intended use and desired lifespan?

Reliability

  • Will the guns work reliably?
  • If your intended use is for personal defense, are they as reliable as a mechanical device can be?
  • Most importantly, do you trust the gun and manufacturer?

New-shooter friendliness

  • Can a new shooter operate the firearm safely?
  • Will a new shooter be able to competetently shoot the model with reasonable training?  (Some guns are more difficult to shoot than others.)

Cost to purchase and operate

  • Which pistol carries the higher price tag, both for initial purchase and for long-term use?
  • Which carries the better value? (Some fantastic guns are available that are not overly expensive, and some that will never satisfy your needs are very expensive.)
  • What is the cost of ammunition in relation to caliber?

Power/Caliber

  • First, do you get a choice of caliber?
  • Which caliber gets the "intended" job done better?
  • Which meets your needs - from punching a hole in a cardboard target to something that requires increased stopping power?

Magazine capacity

  • If you're a competition shooter, does one offer a competitive advantage over the other?
  • If you're a concealed carry shooter, does the magazine capacity make the gun too big, heavy or bulky?
  • Is a higher mag capacity better for your intended use?
  • Does the gun offer an extended magazine that may give you more grip area and/or more rounds?

Compactness

  • If the firearm needs to be small, what size is small enough?
  • If for concealment, which gun better fits your carry criteria?
  • Will it need to be an easy-to-fire, all-day training gun?
  • Does compactness trump shootability, or vice versa?  Can you give up a little performance to gain portability? Or are you willing to have a larger firearm that will probably be easier to shoot?

Controllability

  • Can you control each model and each shot safely?  Or is the recoil unmanageable for you?
  • How much training, experience, skill and strength does each require to operate and shoot well?
  • Which is a better fit for you personally?

Growth potential

  • As you improve and your demands increase, will one model better "grow" with you?
  • Will one of the pistols help you progressively get better over the other?

So what to do now? We’ve put together this evaluation sheet to hopefully help you determine the right firearm for you. Prioritize your needs, and start grading. Add in important factors and your personal impressions and opinions, and you will be able to make an educated choice.

Step 4: Choose

Now it’s time to make that tough final decision. Considering the priorities you set in Step 1 and the evaluation and deep-digging you did in Steps 2 and 3, where do your sights point? At this juncture, the winner should be clear.

It may be close, but you should be able to decide objectively. However, always remember that thoughts like, "I just don't like that one" or "That feels bad in my hand" do matter! Since this is ultimately a personal decision, don't let someone else sway your judgement. Get the gun YOU want!

SA-CTA-Box-EvaluationSheet

Topics: Pistols & Compact Guns


Springfield Armory® recommends you seek qualified and competent training from a certified instructor prior to handling any firearm and be sure to read your owner’s manual.  These articles are considered to be suggestions and not recommendations from Springfield Armory®.