We all need to be honest with ourselves when addressing our physical abilities and limitations when looking for the right gun. Any challenges we may have physically will directly impact our ability to handle and shoot a gun safely and effectively. Knowing and considering them is essential to finding the one that can give us the confidence we need.
Women typically have weaker upper body, hand, wrist, and finger strength than men do. With guns manufactured based on the average male, we are already at a disadvantage. This means that any injuries, arthritis, or other physical limitations can seriously affect our shooting and handling of a gun.
Let’s breakdown a few areas where we may have limitations and what to look for in a gun to help minimize the effects of that limitation, big or small.
What do you have trouble with? Click the heading below and you will be taken to that part of the article.
Upper Body Strength
Your arms, shoulders, chest, and core make up your upper body. The strength of these will impact your ability to shoot and handle a gun.
Upper body strength is required to handle the recoil produced when shooting and to get your gun and your sights back on target quickly after each shot fired. It also is necessary for racking the slide and holding the gun in the firing position for extended periods of time. Let’s take a look at how upper body strength can impact your shooting.
Guns that have high felt recoil produce a lot of energy that your body has to absorb and control. You need to have the strength in your upper body to absorb the recoil, bring your gun back on target, get your sights re-aligned and be able to shoot again if needed. If you have injuries, arthritis, or other issues that have weakened your upper body or that limit movement, the amount of felt recoil a gun has should be a key factor in your search for the best gun for you.
Caliber & Gun Weight
The higher the caliber, the greater the felt recoil. Now, caliber alone is not the only thing that contributes to the amount of felt recoil. The weight of the gun plays a key role in how much recoil your upper body will feel when shooting. A very light and small 9mm handgun will have a higher level of felt recoil then a heavier gun of the same caliber. Because you need to be able to hold the gun out straight in front of you, finding the balance between the two will be important to you. You want a caliber large enough to stop a potential threat and the maximum weight of the gun that you can comfortably shoot.
What to look for in a gun:
Look for guns that have a lower caliber but a slightly heavier body.
- Typically, .40, .45 and .357 calibers prove to be too much for those with any upper body weakness. Lower calibers that is powerful enough for self-defense would be a 9mm or a .380
- Remember to use self-defense ammunition when using a gun for your self-protection.
- If you are someone with severe upper-body strength limitations a .22 caliber may be all you can physically handle and the best option for you. If this is the case, using proper self-defense ammunition is a must.
- Look for a gun made of metal or those made with a combination of steel and polymer.
- The heavier weight of the steel can help to absorb more of the recoil than a small polymer pistol.
Hand & Wrist Strength
The hand and wrist also are significantly impacted by recoil. When firing a gun, a weak/loose wrist or hand can interfere with a guns need to cycle, leading to ammunition malfunctions. This can be referred to as “Limp wristing.” It also can make it almost impossible to rack the slide or lock back the slide of many semi-automatic handguns.
Let’s talk about the impact of recoil first. If the wrist is unable to remain strong and straight during firing, AKA “limp wristing”, the energy from firing is “lost” or reduced. This can inhibit the slide of a semi-automatic from fully cycling which is necessary for the gun to expel the spent casing and pull the next round of ammunition from the magazine. This can result in a misfeed and temporarily make the gun inoperable. (Read more on How an Semi-Automatic Works)
Cleary, not something we want to happen in a self-defense situation.
Again, this issue points toward lower calibers and heavier guns. This doesn’t mean a heavy gun, just one that has “some” weight to it to help those with weaker hands and wrists handle the recoil. The same recommendations would apply as given above.
Grip Size Does Matter
The hands also have the important task of holding the gun. It is imperative that those with weak hands (large or small) shoot a gun with a grip that they can completely get their hand(s) around.
The hands must also work the controls of the gun while firmly gripping the gun. This includes the ability to pull the slide back, to engage the slide lock (while keeping the muzzle of the gun pointed in a safe direction), using the magazine release button, and the operation of the thumb safety, if the gun has one. A smaller grip can help you to keep a firm grip and work the controls on the gun.
Racking the slide
If you shoot a semi-automatic pistol, racking the slide is something you must be able to do. Whether you are preparing to carry for the day, clearing a misfeed or cleaning your gun, you have to be able to rack the slide rearwards.
Different gun models have different slide spring tensions that dictate how hard it is to pull the slide back. The lower the tension, the easier it is to pull back the slide. Manufacturers are starting to create guns with lower spring tensions.
The best way to see if you can handle a gun’s slide is to get your hands on it and try it out. There truly is no other way. If hand strength is an issue for you, try or rent any gun model you are considering.
Also, make note that there is a proper way to rack a slide. Doing it this way will make your life so much easier! See the article Racking The Slide for the proper technique.
What to look for in a gun:
You will want a gun that has “some” weight to it to help absorb recoil, a grip small or narrow enough that your hands have a solid grasp around it allowing you to easily work the controls. You will also want to pay attention to the recoil spring tension to ensure you can rack the slide efficiently.
- Gun weight
- Gravitate towards guns made from a mixture of metal and polymer. These usually have more weight to them and will minimize the felt recoil of the gun yet not be as heavy as one of all metal.
- You want the highest caliber you can be comfortable shooting. .380 ammunition would be the recommended minimum caliber. Use a self-defense round when the gun is in use for self-defense.
- Look for models with smaller/narrower grips
- You need a grip where the entire hand fully wraps the circumference of the grip.
- Models with magazine release buttons well within reach.
- Different gun models vary in magazine release location and button style
- Larger, more 3-D controls
- This allows you to get the proper leverage when using these buttons, namely the slide lock. When there is more button to get your thumb under, it is easier to operate without straining. These larger controls may require a bit more care when concealing to minimize snagging during the draw or show through clothing when carrying concealed.
- Find gun models with lower recoil spring tensions as these will be easier to rack.
- More manufacturers are coming out with models to help make it easier to rack the slide.
Be aware that you must be able to shoot your carry gun in all situations, both one- and two-handed. In self-defense situations, you never know what may happen or what position you will be in. You may not have the use of your second hand due to an injury to it or the need to hold or protect a child.
Nothing happens if you can’t press the trigger. Some guns have incredibly difficult triggers to press. A Double Action gun, for example, can have a trigger that is almost impossible for those with weaker fingers to press. Your accuracy with your gun depends on how smoothly and straight rearwards you press the trigger.
The trigger on each handgun model will have a specific “Trigger Pull Weight” (though, press is a better and more descriptive term). The higher the poundage, the harder to press. For example, if you have to press back a 12-pound trigger, it would be like lifting or moving a gallon and a half of water with just your finger.
Revolvers tend to have heavier Trigger Pull Weights as revolvers typically don’t have an external safety. Therefore, the heavier, harder trigger pull acts as a safety feature.
The harder you have to pull, the harder it is to remain accurate. Unless you have Incredible Hulk-like strength in your finger, all of the hard work it takes to pull a 12 lb trigger can cause you to unknowingly pull your muzzle causing you to move off target.
You don’t want to go too light, either. A Trigger Pull Weight less than 4 or 5 lbs is not recommended as it creates a higher likelihood of a negligent discharge.
Grip size will come into play for you here also. If you have weaker fingers, you need to find a grip that you can fully wrap your hand around. If the grip is fat or really wide, you will simply not be able to adequately get your fingers wrapped around the front of the grip leaving you without a solid grip on the gun. The more fully you can get your hands around the entire grip the less the recoil will disrupt your shooting and the more control you will have over your gun.
What to look for in a gun
You will want to look for guns that have a trigger pull that you can handle (not too heavy but not too light) and that have a grip that allows your hand to fully wrap its circumference.
- Pay attention to trigger pull weight on any guns you are considering.
- Likely, if you have severe hand strength limitations, a semi-automatic pistol will be the better choice.
- Try models with narrower grips.
- You need to be able to wrap your fingers well around the grip and be able to reach the slide-lock and magazine release.
As you can see, there are numerous things to consider when looking for the best handgun if you struggle with strength issues. It is encouraging, however, that today, more than ever before, there are gun models available that can help you to minimize these struggles.
Use The Well Armed Woman Gun Finder to assist you in your search. It will walk you through essential questions and measurements and help to narrow down the choices.
It is highly recommended that you try any handgun before purchasing. Only having the opportunity to put that gun in your hand and shoot it for yourself will help to ensure you make the best choice for you.