A Beginner’s Handgun Journey, Part 2 by The Novice

(Continued from Part 1. This concludes the two-part article.)

Firing from a Rest

When comparing the accuracy of various ammo, it was usually helpful to fire from rest rather than offhand. This involved putting a couple of dense foam blocks on a table, and resting the frame of the gun just in front of the trigger guard on the blocks. It helped to have my arms extended in front of me just like I was firing offhand, but with the gun resting on the foam blocks for extra stability.

At first, I sat by the table in a chair while firing from rest. Leaning forward over the table made it difficult for me to tilt my head back far enough to focus on the front sight through my bifocals. Kneeling by the table rather than sitting in a chair gave me a better angle for acquiring the sights.

CLP and Hoppe’s No. 9

Decades ago when I took my hunter safety course in junior high, military surplus ammo using corrosive primers was still in common use. As a result, our instructors recommended cleaning our firearms after every outing. Old habits die hard, so I still clean my guns after every range session. Growing up, I always used the Outers gun oil that my Father used. Later on, my father-in-law, who had served in the military, gave me some Break-Free CLP. For a while I used that exclusively. Then I discovered that Hoppe’s #9 bore cleaning solvent was more effective than CLP at cutting through carbon deposits and other dirt during the early stages of cleaning. Hoppe’s No. 9 is also less expensive per ounce than CLP, making it a less expensive solution for the preliminary stages of cleaning. I continue to use CLP for the final stages of coating the bore and other parts that need lubrication and/or protection from rust.

Dry Fire Practice

Although many people shoot the Hi-Point C9 well, I found its gritty double action trigger difficult to master. In retrospect, I should have invested more time in dry fire practice. Dry fire practice involves holding the unloaded gun steadily on target (on a safe backstop) while pulling the trigger.

Note: Dry firing is not recommended with most rimfire firearms, since the firing pin may eventually damage the edge of the chamber. With a centerfire gun, it may be wise to use a snap cap during dry fire practice in order to reduce stress on the firing pin.

One way to test whether or not you are holding the gun steady during dry fire practice is to balance something like an empty cartridge case on the top of the frame while you pull the trigger. The goal is to pull the trigger smoothly enough that the balanced object does not fall off.

Since I did not do enough dry fire practice, I was not able to shoot the C9 as well as I should have. If my goal had been simply to hit man sized targets at home defense ranges, my skill with the C9 would have been sufficient. But I wanted to do better than that.

The Beretta 92S

My son purchased a Beretta 92FS. I found that I could shoot it more accurately than either of my own handguns. With that in mind, I purchased a Beretta 92S through Gunbroker.com.

When the 92S arrived, I found that I could not shoot it nearly as accurately as I could shoot my son’s 92FS. The 92S was worn after many years of service with the Italian Carabinieri. Its point of impact tended to vary based on how well lubricated the rails were at any given moment.

Ciener Practice Kit

Ciener .22 Practice Kit for M92I thought that additional practice with the 92S would improve my performance, so I bought a Ciener 22LR practice kit for Beretta 92. I needed to modify the kit for use with my 92S. The magazine release for the 92S is in a different location than later Beretta 92 models, and the 92S is not equipped with a firing pin block. After cutting extra notchs in the appropriate places in the Ciener magazines and removing the Ciener firing pin block, the kit functioned perfectly with my 92S. It was also significantly more accurate than either my P22 or the 92S in its 9mm configuration. Very soon I was using the Ciener practice kit for the vast majority of my range time.

Social Shooting

I kept my ears open, and took note of which of my friends expressed interest in shooting. I then shared my own interest. They, in turn, told me about still other of my friends who were also interested. Soon, it was not unusual for me to get together with friends to shoot, either at my range or elsewhere.

One of the benefits of shooting with friends is that it is far more fun than shooting alone. Another benefit is that it gives the opportunity to try out friends’ guns. I found out that I could shoot most of my friends guns better than I could shoot my 92S in 9 mm.

One drawback of shooting with friends was that they began to tell non-shooting friends that I shoot. I prefer for non-shooters to be unaware that I shoot.

Coveteousness

God commands us not to covet our neighbor’s house, wife, manservant, maidservant, ox, donkey, or anything else that is our neighbor’s. That would include our neighbor’s handgun. There is a fine line between learning that I might be better served by a handgun like my friend’s, and coveting my friend’s handgun. May God guard our hearts, and help us to make wise decisions about tools without coveting the tools of others.

Smith and Wesson SW22 Victory

SW22After I purchased my Beretta 92S and Ciener practice kit, I rarely shot my Hi-Point C9 and Walther P22. I decided that I did not need them taking up room in my gun safe anymore. I took them to a local gun shop and traded them in on a Smith and Wesson SW22 Victory.

The SW22 was a revelation. Its fiberoptic sights are much easier for my aging eyes to acquire. It has a wonderfully smooth and crisp trigger, a long sight radius, and almost no recoil. As a result, I can shoot it more accurately than any other handgun that I have ever used.

The “Frankengun”

Beretta 92 FrankengunThe accuracy of the SW22 made the inconsistent accuracy of the Beretta 92S even more disappointing. I then decided to see if changing the slide, barrel, or sights would help. I bought a used Beretta 92FS slide and barrel. I then modified the slide to work with the 92S frame by disabling the firing pin block. The 92FS slide and sights were an improvement over the 92S slide and sights, but the gun still tended to fire low. I then bought an adjustable target sight. In spite of all of this work, the point of aim was still significantly influenced by how well lubricated the rails happened to be. I should have anticipated this, since the aluminum frame would be more susceptible to wear than the steel slide. The end result was that I spent more money on the 92S than if I had just bought a brand new 92FS in the first place. And my gun was still not consistently accurate.

The Walther P99

Walther P99I finally decided to replace my 92S “Frankengun” with a used Walther P99 from a reputable gun shop in my area. The double action/single action arrangement of the P99 with a de-cocker made it’s operation familiar to someone used to the Beretta 92. It has a wonderful trigger, and shoots much more accurately and consistently than the 92S. But I have still never found any handgun in a self-defense caliber that I can fire as accurately as the SW22.

Conclusion/Recommendations

Based upon my own experiences, I have some recommendations for those who are thinking about beginning their own handgun journey.

In most cases, I would advise starting your journey with a handgun chambered in 22LR If you are planning to just buy a handgun, throw it in the back of your safe and never train with it, then buy any gun in any caliber you like. Any cheap handgun will function as effectively as the most expensive handgun you can buy, because the most expensive handgun and the least expensive handgun will both be equally ineffective if you do not train with them. But if you are planning to actually train, a handgun chambered in .22LR will help you to master basic handgun skills inexpensively, with minimal noise and recoil to distract you in the early stages of your learning process.

If your ultimate goal is just to be able to hit a man-sized target at home defense ranges, almost any .22LR handgun will be sufficient as a training tool. If your ultimate goal is push your skill level beyond home defense ranges, then a relatively more accurate .22LR handgun will be more helpful (perhaps something like a Smith and Wesson SW22, Ruger Mk IV, or Browning Buckmark).

Another good option is to buy a self defense handgun for which a .22LR practice kit is available, and invest in both the handgun and the practice kit. This has the advantage of using the exact same trigger and grip for both .22LR and higher caliber shooting.

A third option is to buy handguns that have versions available in both .22LR and in a self-defense caliber (for example, the Walther PPQ in both 9mm and .22LR).

When buying a handgun, it may be best to buy it new, test fire it before buying, or buy it from a reputable dealer who will stand behind his product. I have purchased a number of firearms and firearms-related products from online auctions. In most cases I have been satisfied with my purchases. But a few of my purchases have been unsatisfactory. You should consider how risk adverse you are before making any online purchases.

Disclaimer

I have mentioned a number of products and vendors in this article. I did not receive any financial or other inducement from any manufacturer, vendor or supplier in return for mentioning them. This is a simple factual account of my own experiences: good, bad or indifferent.




20 Comments

  1. #4 drywall anchors make good snap caps for dry firing a 22 rim fire. Much cheaper than “official” snap caps for 22 thus you’ll use them more as I destroy snap caps pretty quickly. Dry fire does help with trigger work.

    Do not underestimate the value of air guns for training muscle memory. A quality air pistol has the weight and general handling of the real thing. The lack of BANG is nice for training in your backyard. Shooting moving ping pong balls will get your instinct shooting skills very high. I found this information first on Bayou Renaissance Man site. I tried it. Squirrels never knew what hit them when I am 22 pistol shooting them now.

    Thrown ping pong balls the skeet for combat pistol craft.

    If you doubt the value of shooting moving ping pong balls accurately, take a ping pong ball with you to the mirror. See just how tight a group that object is on your face. Nuff said.

    Air rifles are also excellent for teaching gun handling and safety skills to nearly non-gun people. I’ve snuck in a few anti-gun folks into sports shooting that way without blowing my OPSEC about evil black guns and such nonsense.

    1. Best shot I ever saw was with an air gun.

      My brother in law’s uncle Cliff was practically born with a rifle in his hand and used to practice with a good airgun in his front yard off his porch. He lived in the city though he had grown up in the mountains.

      My brother in law had some chickens that had been let loose on his property and called his uncle to dispatch them and butcher them. I was the runner picking up what Cliff shot. A chicken was running cross wise to Cliff and he shot it at maybe 25 yards. I went to pick it up and the hole was in the head. I asked Cliff if he did it on purpose and he just smiled.

      It should also be noted that Cliff picked up a battlefield commission in the Army doing jungle warfare in the Pacific in WW2. He had probably made a lot of headshots in his time and it kind of showed sometimes.

  2. shooting with friends and friends of friends has been one of the best things for me. I sometime shoot where i am the teacher and they are the students and sometimes it is the other way around. i like to try every firearm i can when there is a group shoot.

    i love the s&w victory in .22lr. whenever there is a new shooter, i have them shoot this. also, when there is an advanced shooter (way above me, i have them shoot it as well.)

    also as stated before, shooting is a skill. shoot often.

  3. With all the money peeps spend on 22 and conversion kits they could have bought a case of 9mm, once you learn to shoot a pistol use your primary 9mm or 45 when the gig is up you will not know your “real” fighting handgun if you only practice on a 22! Wally world has cheap 9 for $10 box for blasting. A couple of boxes a month you can’t pay for for shooting eliminate the beer or smokes.

  4. What does Freedom smell like? Hoppes No 9!

    This old coot’s advice to young guys: Find a gal who prefers Hoppes No 9 over perfume and you’ve probably found ‘a keeper’.

    1. I love the smell of Hoppes #9 but there is homemade stuff that is as good and cheaper and commercial stuff that is better on bores IMO.

      But I will still pull my big bottle of it out and use it once in a while largely for the smell. And my wife does like the smell too. I think it reminds her of her late grandfather.

  5. I clean my guns with a number of things.

    The first thing is just kerosene. Some say odorless mineral spirits are really the original “coal oil” that used to be kerosene and is better and has less odor. Diesel would be fine as well but it stinks even more to me. I dip whatever I can and generally flush out verything I can. Generally soak bolts, pistol barrels and sort of flush out recievers etc. This gets the powder residue, dust, dirt, old oil, grease etc. out. Keeps firing pins free etc. I wipe off what I can and blow the rest out with compressed air.

    Next I use Ed’s Red homemade gun cleaner in the barrel. 1 part each ATF, kerosene, mineral spirits and acetone. Some recipes include a few more ingredients but I have never used them. This makes a cheap bore cleaner and keeps the cost of cleaners down.

    I then go to a commercial bore cleaner to finish getting lead or copper out. Don’t need much after Ed’s Red but I find BoreTech products work good. Lots of others too. I don’t personally think Hoppes #9 does much after Ed’s Red.

    I go back and forth on oils. Used 50/50 ATF/Kerosene for a while but any that leaks stains. I currently use RemOil. Some like synthetic motor oil. Some oil light with just drops in key places. Theory being that excess oil attracts dirt. Some oil heavy with the theory that lots of oil will suspend the dirt and carry it away some. This seems to work for me so I oil heavy but I also live in an area that has more rain than dust. If I lived in the desert I think I would oil light.

    Just did the AGI armorers course for S&W Revolvers yesterday. The instructor used Simple Green and water on everything after a COMPLETE disassembly except the bore and got everything beautifully clean. He recommended drying with compressed air and/or a blow dryer. He then heavily soaks everything with BreakFree and cleans the bore with it wipes off the excess and reassembles. Very effective, cheap and reduces exposure to solvents. I tore my S&W clone all the way down like he said. But I could not bring myself to put it in water. Used kerosene and RemOil. Bore was already clean. Glad I did as I got a lot of stuff out of it that was in wear points.

  6. Interesting articles.

    My biggest dislike about the Hi-Point, is the hulk. Note the weight, and compare.

    I agree with the part about starting with .22. And, focus on accuracy. Speed will come.

    Big calibers are challenging. I consider 9mm to be on the small end of “big.”

    Big guns are easier to shoot than little guns, but they are not likely to be carried daily.

    There is no “perfect gun.” For example, the 1911 is potentially the most accurate self-loading pistol; but it is relatively heavy and mechanically complex. “Cocked and locked” can have issues, especially with poor holsters. The Glock is simple, light, reliable, compact, and high-capacity, but is not super-accurate (as in long-range hunting).

    Revolvers are simple, reliable, can be very accurate, and in single-action mode, have potential for extremely good triggers. But, they are hard on the ears, due to high powder capacity combined with the cylinder gap. In double-action, a smooth trigger is only slightly harder to master than the “gritty crunch” of Glock, Hi-Point, etc.

    High capacity is vital for those who frequently find themselves surrounded by a roomful of thugs; but most of the time, we are better served by one calm hit than by 17 misses.

    1. Glock is far more accurate than most of are capable of. I can hit man size steel at 100 yards with my 19x. It has more to do with developing the fundamentals of shooting a handgun.

      1. “…than most shooters are capable of.” All depends on the circumstances. In the stress of a life-and-death fight, certainly true! On the other hand, I’ve seen my .22 pistol put 7 out of 11 bullets in 3 inches at 75 yards. That is beyond the typical mechanical accuracy of Glocks. And, my best-ever handgun group was from a S&W .38 at 25 yards– 5/8 inch. Again, that is beyond the mechanical capability of most Glocks (which seems to be 2-3 inches at 25 yards, typically).

        So, for combat, most of us are far more concerned with reliability than pin-pushing accuracy. But, when we need to use our EDC weapon for pest control, and have the chance to shoot from a supported position, the only thing that really counts is what works for the individual. On rodents, a hit with a .22 is always better than a miss with a centerfire.

        Technically, my .22 is capable of making effective head-shots at 100 yards+, while my Glock could do torso shots at the same distance. Combat effectiveness? All depends on whether it’s a good day or bad day at the range. At that distance, I want a rifle!!

        “…with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence,” we await the opportunity to inspect our work.

  7. Good ergonomic of a firearm is important when it come to developing accuracy. That’s what you found when using a 92FS. Hence why the High-Point is a poor choice because the ergonomic don’t lend themselves to developing good shooting skills. Glock, SIG, Colt, and S&W have far better firearms. Bottom line is you get what you pay for.

  8. This is a great article. I very much enjoyed both parts. I don’t know if you intended it to be funny and entertaining but it is. I learned plenty and have been reminded of plenty as well. Thank you for that.

    “Another good option is to buy a self defense handgun for which a .22LR practice kit is available, and invest in both the handgun and the practice kit. This has the advantage of using the exact same trigger and grip for both .22LR and higher caliber shooting.”
    I had never heard of doing this. Hmm, I like the idea. (psst, it’s larger caliber, not higher. Grin, I make the same mistake myself.)

  9. If you ever get the chance at using a 1911 5″ barrel .45 I would suggest doing so for me it seems like I have a lot better accuracy with that then any 9mm I have used I dont know if it is because it’s better balanced then a lot of these new polymer handguns.

    The first time i ever shot the 1911 was when I went to the range with my now father-in-law he had a para ordinance 1911 that he let me shoot and I fell in love with and just a few years later he found out I was looking to get a 1911 because my wife had told him and he gave me that para 1911 and to this day that is my most prized gun.

    Just to clarify I am not trying to sell you on a 1911 but just giving you an idea to think about and they are a high maintenance pistol due to the tight tolerance so a little oil in the right spots goes a long way rent one at a gun range if you get the chance

  10. I know it would crazy but shaving cream and a soft bristle brush then running hot water through it and obviously a light coat of oil to keep the rust off. At least thats what my drill Sgt. Had the platoon do right before turning our weapons in at the end of basic

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