A Beginner’s Handgun Journey, Part 1 by The Novice

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.

Hi-Point C9There 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

Walther P22I 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.

Target Shooting BackstopOn 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

Target StandThe 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

Steel TargetLater, I bought a six-inch AR500 steel target from ShootingTargets7. I fastened screw eyes to the top of the back stop, and used chains with quick links to fasten the target to the screw eyes.

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.

Buying Ammo

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.)




29 Comments

  1. I like to shoot bullseye b16 targets at 25 yards

    PDFs are readily available with a web search.

    I also like to mess around with the NRA rimfire course of fire with an a23 target.

    https://mqp.nra.org/courses-of-fire/

    I like to return to these two targets/shooting disciplines because they have objective standards and by using the same targets you really track your progression. I know many shooters who may or may not be good shots that never actually test themselves to objective standards. I notice that frequently when they get to the firing line they are not as good as they claim.

  2. Good article. I can sympathize with you on hearing that cash register every time you pull the trigger. .45 Auto is like 31 – 32 cents a round at the local wally world, and .44 magnum is over double that; that’s only taking into account non-commie made brass ammo. I alleviated that to a degree by making the pretty big capital investment into reloading equipment, and buying ammo in bulk. Buying in bulk saves you a lot of money.

    1. Thank you, Jim K., for the comments regarding reloading and buying in bulk. I haven’t been ready to make the reloading leap yet, but the buying in bulk has helped a lot.

  3. This makes me so sad, and frustrated. And, it’s my fault and every other gun owners’ even many who work in the industry. I admire the author being open and up front about this, in this, it is helpful.

    1. Faith. “But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.” – Holy God

    All able of attained maturity must be trained and prepared to provide for the defense of Self, Family, Neighbors, Tribe, and Nation. This is the Law of God.

    “In truth, one who believes it wrong to arm himself against criminal violence shows contempt of God’s gift of life (or, in modern parlance, does not properly value himself), does not live up to his responsibilities to his family and community, and proclaims himself mentally and morally deficient, because he does not trust himself to behave responsibly.” – Jeffrey R. Snyder

    2. Take a Basic Handgun course FIRST. If you train yourself, you are making muscle memories that are very likely wrong and you will later have to un-train yourself first before moving on. I don’t care if your uncle showed you how to shoot when you were 12, get trained. It’s not expensive.
    3. Understand that the ONLY thing that matters is whether you can hit with the gun. Rent, rent, rent, different sizes, calibers, and design types of handguns to find the one that you can hit with, and are comfortable with both physically and safety wise.
    4. Know that a trained, disciplined, and organized attacker is very rare and multiple attackers of this profile type is much rarer still. In well over 99% of all self defense shootings the FIRST shot landed ends the gun fight, REGARDLESS of caliber or shot placement. Read that again. Hitting an attacker, anywhere, first, is what matters most. Stopping power is a stupid, internet, faux tough guy, discussion. A defense in depth strategy would indicate to start where the most likely threat lies. You can train for the end of the world later, but not if you die in the checkout line at the dollar store or your home entryway first.

    All of this said, any functional weapon at any training level is better than none at all for those who simply can’t afford to do it right from the start. (In this case watch Love at First Shot. All of the vids of every season. It’s free. And regardless of experience or training level; read the material at Cornered Cat like your life depends on it, it does.)

    I could go on, but it’s not my blog. This article should deeply bother anybody who shoots. But finally, may the LORD bless all of us, on our way, on the defense leaning path. In any situation where your life is threatened; fight like you’re the third monkey on the ramp into the Ark, and brother, it’s starting to rain.

    1. Hi Fred.

      Sorry for making you sad and frustrated. That was definitely not my intention. I was hoping that to some aspects of my article would serve to some extent as a cautionary tale, but I did not want to deeply bother anybody who shoots.

      Thank you for your helpful comments, especially about taking a basic handgun course and renting different handguns to find out what works best for you. I wish I had had that advice when I started.

      Cordially,
      The Novice

      1. It’s not a knock on you in any way. We who carry and have experience should offer better advice and be open, friendly, and available. Sadly, the firearms community is full of brash, know nothing know-it-alls, and phony tough guys. Nobody, especially millennials who are the next generation we should be trying to get involved, likes people with those attitudes or personality. It’s just logic. Most gun people are a huge turn-off.

        One other thing is your presentation on FMJ vs. JHP. In a civil situation or personal defense environment the reason to carry JHP is because, due to the expansion, the round tends to not exit an attacker, thus making “what’s beyond the target” a quicker assessment when faced with a situation. I carry JHP for this reason alone. All other reasons, which I won’t go into that much because the enemy watches this channel, don’t really have an immediate application for regular folks. A lot of things about firearms and ammo don’t apply to regular defense against crime that do apply to the end of the world or combat. ‘Nuff said. And Bravo, for stating that there are exceptions to the standard FMJ – JHP arguments, one of which is big predator country, OBTW.

        The other thing that made me sad (smile, not really), is practicing with a weapon other than the one you are counting on for defense. Not exactly sure what the break-over point is, as everybody is different, but it might be more advantageous to train with the weapon you intend to use. This is not a recommendation to you or anybody in any way, it just bothers me when somebody may be more familiar with the weapon at home in their safe than the one on their hip. Again, this is for regular folks and not competitive shooters or actual gun know-it-alls.

        And, generally, a person should like their gun and most importantly have confidence. If you don’t trust the shooter (yourself) get more training, if you don’t trust the gun, get another. It’s not good when people have an empty chamber while carrying or decide not to carry a weapon at all due to lack of self trust, aka; confidence by proper training and experience.

        Most negligent discharges happen when holstering and un-holstering. Read the article about this at Cornered Cat for proper technique. Stay safe.

        Anyway, I’m always excited when somebody decides to take their moral duty to God seriously. It’s an excellent article. ‘Handled it like a snake’ made me smile. I know exactly what you mean. Those were the days. I look forward to the rest.

  4. “All able of attained maturity must be trained and prepared to provide for the defense of Self, Family, Neighbors, Tribe, and Nation. This is the Law of God.”

    Self-defense has its place, but the above command is nowhere to be found in Scripture. I know wretched pagans who preach the Second Amendment and self-defense. They delight in it. “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church” has been said for thousands of years. I have yet to hear anyone say, “The blood of those killed by Christians acting in self-defense is the seed of the church.”

    1. “According to the sentence of the law which they shall teach thee, and according to the judgment which they shall tell thee, thou shalt do: thou shalt not decline from the sentence which they shall show thee, to the right hand, nor to the left. … And all the people shall hear, and fear, and do no more presumptuously.” Deut. 17:13.

      Please notice the difference between church and state. Self-defense (individual or collective) is the realm of the state. Conversion and repentance is the realm of religion. Christians are both physical and spiritual, and operate in both realms. Christ makes us kings as well as priests.

      To protect liberty of conscience is the duty of the state, and this is the limit of its authority in matters of religion.

      The love of Christ, manifested in unselfish ministry, will be more effective in reforming the evildoer than will the sword or the court of justice. These are necessary to strike terror to the lawbreaker, but the loving missionary can do more than this. Often the heart will harden under reproof; but it will melt under the love of Christ. The missionary cannot only relieve physical maladies, but he can lead the sinner to the Great Physician, who can cleanse the soul from the leprosy of sin.

      1. Uh, your quote started in the middle of a sentence. Go back and start at verse 8. FYI, I have ZERO problem judging between blood and blood in the case of those that would make war on me, or harm me or my own. Context, Sir, context.

        1. OK– I guess the part of your original comment that seems out of character, is: “I have yet to hear anyone say, “The blood of those killed by Christians acting in self-defense is the seed of the church.””

          Nobody here is advocating evangelism through self-defense, are they?

          Under the laws of Israel, the work of the magistrate or king was not for the purpose of promoting religion, but for restraining physical destruction.

          Historically, we see two things that lead to stable societies: (1) For the Word of God to have free course, finding its way to the hearts of the people; and (2) for lives and property to be protected physically.

          These two points are embedded in the first and second (and subsequent) amendments to the Constitution.

          Faith can survive and thrive in martyrdom and the lack of physical defense, but bodies and property do not. Society is the loser when it allows its most virtuous citizens to be sacrificed to the passions of the mob. And nothing sobers the mob quite like the cocked hammer–especially in the hands of the victim.

          And, the other part of your comment: ““All able of attained maturity must be trained and prepared to provide for the defense of Self, Family, Neighbors, Tribe, and Nation. This is the Law of God.”

          “Self-defense has its place, but the above command is nowhere to be found in Scripture. I know wretched pagans who preach the Second Amendment and self-defense. They delight in it.”

          This law is best articulated in Genesis 9:6, and the general narrative. However, it is writ large in the DNA of every man and woman who has not been bereft of reason and natural affection. So, yes, the pagans also have this law written their hearts, and enforced regularly by costly experience.

          “For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another.” Rom. 2:14, 15.

          1. Ok. Now I understand. I may have mistook your original comment as from one who uses the bible to tell Christians they shouldn’t be armed, they should be weak, pacifist sissies. If so, my mistake. Meekness is not weakness. I suffer from a lack meekness, I confess.

            “All able of attained maturity must be trained and prepared to provide for the defense of Self, Family, Neighbors, Tribe, and Nation.”

            As to this quote by me, it does not “appear” in the word of God. It is not a single written command. It is, as you say about Gen 6:9, a more general sense of God’s law. I should have been clearer. It is, when one takes a whole sense of defense and war from among the many verses of both the law and profits, and other books, true, and right, and it is the Law of God.

            “And the LORD spake unto Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tabernacle of the congregation, on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they were come out of the land of Egypt, saying, Take ye the sum of all the congregation of the children of Israel, after their families, by the house of their fathers, with the number of their names, every male by their polls; from twenty years old and upward, all that are able to go forth to war in Israel: thou and Aaron shall number them by their armies.” – Numbers 1

            I offer into evidence that if EVERY male able to go forth to war shall be twenty, that those men must have be training from their earliest “attained maturity”. And war, as we know, was a nasty thing of hacking men to death or being hacked to death usually to die days later. This takes years of preparation to be able at twenty. Although modern warfare has change much of this, self defense and ability to defend your family, tribe, and nation still requires much readiness.

            My greater point is; don’t be found among the unable when God numbers His men. And God numbering His men is another scalable concept with many applications. As the Baptists say; that’ll preach.

            I would that we discuss the things of our LORD but until Heaven we’re not likely to meet.

    2. “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.”

      And when it is not possible? The LORD enjoins all that He commands! What does “Thou shalt not kill” mean? To allow killing with impunity? This is false.

      There are a great many verses in the Holy Bible about peace and indeed Christ preached for his followers to be at peace with all. The question is, when a government or invader has an articulated plan to leave you subjugated regardless of if you are evangelizing for Christ or not, then what? Most bible verses about submission and peace are in the context of persecution of Christians for their evangelizing or just because they are Christian. If it were persecution of Christians for being Christian that’s one thing to which I do say, crucify me in the town square while I shout the glories of the salvation wherewith Christ has made me free. I demanded it! But it’s another thing when your government seeks general gun confiscation or to reduce all men to abject subjugation outside of any belief in God or not? This is not persecution for the glory of Christ Jesus; this is an intent of war upon you.

      And, I’m getting pretty tired of the conflation between dying for your faith to the glory of God and willfully allowing yourself and your family to be a victim of a criminal. Paul going to Rome knowing he would likely die and Peter refusing to be crucified right side up; these died for the LORD that you might hear and believe and be made the sons of God. These men died for evangelizing Christ. I find no account in the Holy Bible or anywhere in antiquity where Christians allowed themselves to get gut stabbed and their purse taken by a common criminal who knew nothing of their faith, or any other such example.

      Study to find yourself approved and preach the whole counsel of God.

  5. Hope you have dumped the Hi-Point by now and purchased a quality handgun. Most who speak the praise of the Hi-Point tend to have little to no proper handgun training or experience. You sound like someone craving knowledge, so keep moving forward. In conclusion, there is a reason no LEAs or militaries of the world fielded the High-Point brand.

    1. Hi Gray Man,

      I have moved on from the Hi-Point, but more because of a problem with me than with the gun. I will talk about that in part 2 tomorrow.

      Cordially,
      The Novice

  6. I’m a longtime shotgun owner who recently decided to take the handgun plunge. I bought a nice Sig Sauer P250 used, private party at a TX gun show for a decent price.

    In retrospect I should’ve gotten a 22LR to start with since 9mm ammo is fairly expensive, even if you get a bulk deal from Academy or cheaperthandirt.com etc.

    I’ve put about 800 rounds through it so far. I’m still a horrible shot. I’m decent with my 12 gauge Mossberg and slugs, able to hit bullseye with them at 50 yards.

    I think after reading this informative article that I should just take the plunge and sign up for a handgun course, though, before I get too deep in potentially bad habits. This is tough for me since I pride myself on self-training for pretty much everything, but I am sick of my inaccuracy even at 5 yards with my P250.

    The P250 is a pretty nice gun, though. I got 3x 21 round clips of the same brand to go with the 10-round that came with it. I’m very careful with it since it doesn’t have a safety. I got 2 inside-the-pants holsters, too. The metal slide is beefy and I feel like if I ran out of ammo or an attacker closed distance that I could easily use it as a bludgeoning weapon. I also feel like as long as I clean it regularly and take care of it that it will likely last my lifetime.

    I went to the gun range with a buddy who is former Army and he bought a Sig P320 with the tritium sight and I really liked the trigger feel of that thing. It’s not quite as good as my P250, though.

    Anyway, thanks for the great article and comments!!

    1. Thanks for the encouragement, S H. Your P250 sounds pretty nice. Have you had a friend who is a good shot test it to make sure that the inaccuracy problem is you and not the gun?

      1. I have not – maybe I can get an instructor to do this. I also suspected the gun itself but I’m guessing it’s me. The last time I cleaned it, the barrel looked smooth and I could see the rifling spirals.

        1. I have run across guns that just would not shoot well or would not shoot well with particular ammunition.

          Bought my son a Taurus 40 several years ago. I knew people who had the 9mm version and loved it. The gun always shot low and to the right or left can’t remember which. Actually sent it back to Taurus and the sent it back to us with a target with a good spread but they were using ammo with bullets 15 grains lighter than what was commonly available. I don’t think the gun would handle the “normal” round for that caliber.

          Son sold it and bought another 40 that shot straight.

  7. I will never knock anyone for getting more training or learning as much as they can but what I will say is it doesn’t matter if you learned how to shoot on your own or you’re uncle or grandfather or you’re father or some instructor showed you how as long as you can effectively hit what you are aiming at that’s the big thing….

    But don’t let that make you forget shooting is a skill that needs constant practice

  8. S H, you are right. Most of the time a problem with inaccuracy is due to us. But every once in a while, it is due to the gun. Having an instructor check the gun is a good idea.

  9. I still like my old Walther P1 (P38). It looks much like one pictured. If one happens to find one for sale, take a look. The old issue Barrette M9 is largely based up on the P38 (1938). The P38 is the most emulated and influential design yet, kinda like Mauser’s bolt action. Variants have been in use from 1938 to 2004. There are pros and cons to any design, but this one a time tested favorite, and still relevant. It is under appreciated by many. It can handle +P, and many hollow point loads, yet not all. The big down side is a 9 round capacity, and European magazine release. Look up reviews on Yutoob. It’s just an old gun, don’t cha’know. Look and learn, and hopefully buy it cheap.

  10. S H – Depending on where you are in Texas, we may be able to help you with instruction. We are in the process of building a firearms training facility in the southeastern panhandle. We are both instructors, NRA, USCCA & Texas LTC.

    Tunnel Rabbit – Being a huge fan of Walther pistols, my EDC is a PPS with the ”paddle” magazine release. The bottom of the trigger guard pivots down with a motion of your trigger finger, releasing the mag. Is that what you are referring to as a “European” mag release? If so, consider a few selling points about it. It is inherently ambidextrous. The size of the shooter’s hand doesn’t matter, it is accessible always. It is NOT accessible when retained inside a holster. And most importantly, the shooter does not need to change his grip in order to reach the mag release, whether right or left handed, whether having a large or small hand, bare handed or gloved, whether having a strong thumb or a not quite so strong thumb.

    Another nice thing about several of the Walther pistols is that they all operate the same way as the P22. That means you can practice and plink interchangeably across a wide range of pistols and the muscle memory translates easily from one to the other. I bought a CCP when they first came out but seldom practice with it and never carry it. It shoots nicely but finding a holster I like for it has been a problem, finding a mag pouch even more so and it has the standard American button mag release, something I have trouble remembering and using. The blowback system is nice for reducing recoil but that mag release is a nuisance. So, it is essentially just part of my collection. I used to carry a full-sized P99 for my concealed EDC, and that is still a wonderful gun to shoot, if you can find one. They discontinued production a few years ago. But the PPS is slimmer, lighter and easier to conceal. If I need something REALLY easy to conceal, there is the PK380 and the P22 and both can use the same holster.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.