About three years ago, I decided to buy a handgun. Rifles and shotguns are useful tools in many situations, but in some situations a handgun works best. The decision to buy a handgun led me on journey of discovery. The things I learned may be useful to those who are beginning a similar journey. They may also be entertaining to those who are already farther along the way.
The Hi-Point C9
As I evaluated various handgun calibers, I decided that 9mm would best meet my needs. The round is powerful enough for self-defense, reasonably priced, and readily available.
Out of all of the many 9mm handguns available, I decided to seek a A Beginner’s Handgun Journey, Part 1 by The Novice. Although reviled by many, the C9 seemed to have a reputation for reliability, durability and reasonable accuracy among those who actually owned one. It’s chief virtue in my eyes was that it was inexpensive. Another advantage was that Hi-Point firearms have a lifetime warranty. I bid on C9s on several different occasions at Gunbroker.com. Finally, I won one of the auctions.
Holding the Gun
When I first picked up my “new” C9 from my local FFL, I handled it like a venomous snake or some other dangerous creature. I was comfortable with shotguns and rifles from a lifetime of use. I had seldom held or fired a handgun.
I knew that the basic rules of firearms safety applied: always treat the firearm as if it is loaded; always keep the firearm pointed in a safe direction: always keep your finger outside the trigger guard until you are ready to shoot; and always be aware of your target, what is in front of it, and what is behind it. It is also advisable to wear hearing protection and eye protection while using firearms.
The used C9 that I purchased came without a manual. I wanted to learn more about it, so I found a manual online. After reading about what the various parts of the C9 were designed to do, I felt more comfortable with my new purchase.
There were also a number of helpful articles and videos on the Internet about how to hold and fire a handgun. One good way to hold a handgun is to grasp it with your dominant hand high on the grip with your index finger parallel to the barrel outside the trigger guard. Then place the heel of your non-dominant hand in the exposed portion of the grip. The thumb of your non-dominant hand should be under and slightly ahead of the thumb of your dominant hand. Wrap the other four fingers of your non-dominant hand around the grip just under the trigger guard, and over the fingers of your dominant hand. Extend your arms, aim through the sights, place your finger in trigger guard, and gently squeeze the trigger.
With all of this information in mind, I went to Walmart, bought a couple boxes of ammunition, and went to the sand dune behind my barn to try things out. My initial accuracy was pitiful. I realized that I was going to need a lot of practice.
That was a problem. Being somewhat thrifty, I could hear a cash register ringing in the back of my mind every time I pulled the trigger. Knowing that 22lr ammo is much less expensive than 9 mm ammo, I decided that I needed to find an inexpensive 22lr handgun. This would make practice less expensive, and allow me to develop the basic handgun skills I needed.
The Walther P22
I had recently inherited a shotgun from my Father. My Dad’s gun was better than my own and held more sentimental value for me. So I took my old shotgun to a local gun shop, and traded it in on a Walther P22.
The P22 was great fun to shoot, and shooting it regularly helped to develop my basic handgun skills. I bought small amounts of many different kinds of ammo to see which kinds the P22 liked best. Securing 22lr ammo was somewhat difficult at that time due to a shortage, but it gradually became more available.
The P22 was a bit finicky, preferring high velocity ammo. I tried a number of different lubricants to see if I could coax the P22 to reliably cycle a wider variety of rounds. It remained ammo finicky in spite of my best efforts.
I then purchased a Galloway Precision stainless steel guide rod assembly for the P22. The new guide rod was another attempt to make the P22 a little less finicky about ammo. That was also a failure. The only benefit of the new guide rod assembly was that its captive spring made the process of reassembling the P22 after cleaning much simpler.
My initial goal was to be able to put 10 out of 10 rounds into a 4 inch circle from 10 yards in at least five out of nine sequential attempts. I eventually achieved this goal with the P22, and then moved back to 15 yards to begin polishing my skills from there.
Building a Backstop
A sand dune behind my barn served as a fairly effective initial backstop. Since I was shooting a fair number of rounds, I decided that a extra level of security would be good. What if there was a rock hidden somewhere in the sand, and a ricochet bounded off at an angle and injured someone who happened to be walking in the woods nearby? I did not want to take any chances.
On Craigslist, I found a couple of crates measuring approximately six feet by four feet by three feet. I took the bottom out of one of the crates, laid them on their sides end to end, and fastened them together with a number of 2X4s running their length. I filled the conjoined crates with a bed of wood chips sloping down from the top of the crate at the closed end toward the ground at the open end. Then I threw sand on top of the wood chips and let it filter into the spaces between the chips. I leaned my target stand against the open end of the backstop, and marked the distances from the target every five yards out to 25 yards. The wood chip/sand bed proved effective at stopping everything up to .223 (I have not yet tried anything more powerful).
Later on I reinforced the sides, back, and top of the backstop with deck boards that someone was giving away on Craigslist. Later still, a friend gave me some leftover scraps of steel roofing, and I covered the top of the backstop with that material.
The Target Stand
The target stand was made from a panel designed for separating office cubicles. Someone was throwing it away, and it appeared to be reasonably light and sturdy. I cut it down to a little over 4 feet high and about 30 inches wide. It is easy to attach targets to the stand with screws that can be turned in by hand. You need to be careful not to leave the stand out in the rain or the glue holding the various layers of the panel together will fail, allowing the layers to separate. You can guess how I found this out.
I downloaded a pdf of a pistol target from the web site of a local gun club. I then printed targets on standard letter size paper using a laser printer. I taped these targets together using masking tape in three rows of three targets each. I reinforced the corners of the targets where the screws would be fastened with masking tape.
The Steel Target
The paper targets are good for situations where I would like a more permanent record of how shots group (for example, when testing various types of ammo). The steel target is best for immediate feedback on which shots are hitting the target and which ones are not.
Steel targets should be shot from a minimum of 10 yards away to minimize the danger of being injured by shrapnel. They come in a variety of different sizes and thicknesses for various uses.
FMJ and JHP
In general, full metal jacket (FMJ) ammo is cheaper for target practice, while jacketed hollow point ammo (JHP) is more effective for self-defense. There are exceptions. The cheap JHP rounds I tried at first had a tendency to fragment after hitting their target. This reduced their potential effectiveness. Remington UMC jacketed hollow points, on the other hand, were able to expand reliably without fragmenting, and were still reasonable priced.
Winchester USA Forged ammo seems to be a reasonably priced FMJ round. It is a steel-cased cartridge with a copper jacketed bullet. I did have one round which was defective. They forgot to coat the casing with whatever material they use to keep the steel from sticking in the chamber after firing. That round failed to extract. The hundreds of other rounds of Winchester USA Forged that I have fired have all worked well.
I purchased ammo from a number of different brick and mortar and online establishments. Academy.com usually has a good selection of ammo, reasonable prices, and free shipping on orders over $25. As a result, they became my primary source for ammo.
(To be concluded tomorrow, in Part 2.)