How To Choose A Handgun For A Woman

With the right instruction and technique, a SIG P226 is a quite suitable handgun for a woman.

Every March 8th, the various bodies that declare holidays for things have decreed that it’s International Women’s Day. It’s a focal point for women’s rights, which includes the right to keep and bear arms (and the day ignores!), which we’ve been over in the past. So, if you’re wondering how to choose a handgun for a woman, or you’re a fine lady out looking for her first piece of ballistic hardware, you’ve got a few things to consider.

So, what handguns/pistols are good for a female shooter?

You’d be surprised…

In this article, I’m not going to recommend specific firearms beyond just saying that one should stick to a common caliber such as 9mm, and the major manufacturers such as Heckler & Koch, GLOCK, Smith & Wesson, and SIG Sauer.
In this day and age of the mad ammo and firearms rush of 2021, we’re looking for parts/item commonality, manufacturer support, and (for what it’s worth, haha) ammo availability. Sure, having a sizzling Five-seveN might suit the lucky lady eminently, but good luck feeding it, even in good times.

Anyway, we’ll cover important factors like shooter size, choice of caliber, and some other factors.

Brownells

Size Is A Factor

Much like men, women of all shapes and sizes roam the earth. While on average, a woman is smaller than a man, that doesn’t always hold true. There’s 6-foot volleyball-playing types and petite ladies who clock in under the 5-foot mark. Also detailed features like hand size and strength come into play, though with regards to strength, I can’t emphasize enough the need for anyone who chooses to arm themselves to be in as good physical shape as possible. You don’t have to be a gym rat, but please, exercise.

Safety note: When “trying on” a gun, observe the Four Rules and personally check that the weapon is clear. Even in a gun shop, actually especially in a gun shop - doubly so if there’s an attached range. It’s possible a customer gun or rental gun can get mixed up with the floor models. Practice the utmost safety.

Anyway - the key feature we’re looking at is actually hand size. It’s your hand that holds the handgun, after all.

The important part here is that the palm of your hand should have sufficient contact with the backstrap (back part) of the pistol’s grip, as depicted in the photo of the SIG Sauer P226 below:

Sufficient contact with the backstrap of the firearm is important.

When extending the firearm out, your arms and wrists should be in line with the firearm as much as possible. Remember, we’re trying to present a sturdy platform for the recoil to push back against. If you cannot comfortably hold the firearm in that position, try another gun.

Check again if the gun is clear, then…

Place your finger on the trigger, and see if you can get the center of your finger to manipulate the trigger. If you can’t, see if the gun comes with swappable backstraps and grip panels. One prime example of this feature can be found on the Heckler & Koch VP9 9mm pistol. You can go a size down and still use the same gun. Will wonders ever cease?

If you can’t press the trigger in this manner, you may have to try out another handgun. What you’re looking to do is get a direct and authoritative rearward press on that trigger. In the case of a woman with very small hands, stepping down to a single-stack pistol such as the GLOCK 43 may be advisable. Having more ammo on tap doesn’t mean much if you can’t hold the gun.

Also check for your reach to things like the magazine release, safety (if present), and slide stop.

Protip: Also check your grip in relation to the slide stop/release, if your finger bumps it too easily - adjust your grip so it doesn’t. I’ve noticed it’s easy as heck on some firearms to press up on the slide stop during a course of fire. This can cause a malfunction. So yeah, check that feature.

One thing to note though is that one manual of arms (the method of handling and using the weapon) might not work for one woman, even if it works for another. It comes down to personal preferences and conditioning. For example, my wife prefers a button magazine release as oppose to the funky paddle present on some European pistols like the H&K VP9 and the Walther P99.

In the end, the grip, controls, and trigger all have to be within easy reach of the fingers. Remember, the handgun being chosen is for defensive use, and the operation should eventually progress to almost-instinctual levels. The ergonomics of a handgun that a woman will chose is important.

Fancy

What Caliber Handgun To Choose For A Woman?

Most likely, a pistol that fits a woman’s hand will be in a suitable caliber by default. Unless we’re talking subcompact pistols, a firearm chambered in .45 ACP such as the awesome FN FNX-45 will most likely be way too large for a woman to consider as an everyday carry handgun.

Be that as it may, when it comes to the best caliber handgun for a woman, one will run into a whole host of misconceptions, Fudd-lore, and at the risk of sounding like some weird sensitive new-age guy - sexism.

While women aren’t exactly new to the firearms scene (sidebar - if everything else is equal, women turn out to be more accurate shooters than men!), there’s been decades of well-meaning, but mistaken men recommending all sorts of garbage to the first-time female shooter. Useless calibers like .380, pink guns, .22 LR plinking pieces, and so forth.

Again - it’s all wrong, especially with modern semi-automatic pistol design. The major manufacturers such as GLOCK, FN, Smith & Wesson, and SIG all have to build their firearms, especially their duty weapons, for the widest variety of shooters. With most police forces and military units accepting women these days, that means the gun has to work for them, too. Thus, the benefits of recoil mitigation make it into the common handgun.

Without a doubt, the best caliber for a woman is 9mm in a modern semi-automatic handgun such as a GLOCK 19, a Heckler & Koch VP9, or a Smith & Wesson M&P 9.

With it’s forgiving recoil and commonality of ammunition, even during a panic, 9mm is simply the best choice for a woman (or anyone else for that matter) looking for a defensive handgun. With modern defensive loads from Speer, Sierra Bullets, and Hornady taking the century-old design to the next well, you can’t go wrong. Of course, if one is purchasing additional guns, other calibers like .45 ACP can reliably be handled by a woman - but the primary sidearm should be a 9mm pistol.

That being said, the major calibers, whether it be 9mm, .40 S&W, or .45 ACP are easily operable by just about anyone. When it comes to handgun shooting, much of it is technique and choice of firearm, not the caliber of ammunition. With a proper stance, grip, sight picture, and follow up - anyone, man or woman, can make it work.

Full Size, Compact, Sub-Compact?

Yes - the size of the firearm can come into play. In addition to ergonomics, factors like carry and concealment become important, in some cases, even more so for a woman. Ladies tend to wear more form-fitting clothes, of course, and this does make concealment a problem. And just throwing a jacket on or open carry isn’t always an option or desirable.

In general, it’s recommended that a beginner handgun always be full-size/duty size. Think a GLOCK 17, H&K VP9, or SIG P226. With the right holster and clothing combo, even these pistols can be concealed, but not always. A grip can stick out and print like crazy, etc. In some cases, it may be necessary to step down to a compact pistol such as the 9mm GLOCK 19, the H&K VP9SK, and Smith & Wesson M&P 9c.

Subcompact pistols such as Smith & Wesson’s Shield line can work, but their small size makes recoil management a bit tougher - there isn’t as much mass to soak up the recoil. Plus, the trade-off is magazine capacity, with subcompacts usually topping out at less than 10 rounds per magazine, though the Springfield Hellcat manages an impressive 13 + 1 rounds of 9mm in it’s diminutive frame.

Whether it’s full-size, compact, or subcompact, the choice is up to the individual in terms of fit, and situation. Also, there’s no shame in having multiple guns for multiple occasions, ha ha.

Ladies, The Choice Is Yours

Much like with men, there’s no “one gun to rule them all” for a woman. Factors such as caliber, concealment, physical attributes of the woman, and size of the firearm come into play. Go to your favorite brick-and-mortar gun shop and/or range and try a few on for size. Run a few magazines of your favorite ammunition, and then make a well-informed decision on what will become a vital tool in your defensive kit.

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