(Almost) new shooter report

Cherie has done some shooting before. Her husband, John, gave her a .38 Special revolver and a .40 S&W semi-auto. She recently took a NRA class and shot a variety of guns but wasn’t comfortable using a gun for self-defense. This was the main reason for getting the guns in the first place.

I put her on a suppressed .22, checked her grip, and had her do some dry fire. Things looked good so I had her shoot a couple of 10 round magazines with it. She shot slow but with good accuracy.

I asked what she wanted to work on and she said she had never shot the .40 semi-auto and wanted to shoot it. Her first shot from about 15 feet away was dead center:

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But it was obvious the recoil was far more than what she expected and was comfortable with. She fired a few more shots and they were still very good for a while. This was even though I could tell she wasn’t handling it too well. Then there were the two far low and right. I suggested she take a break and she agreed.

She then tried the snub nosed .38. Similar results. The recoil was just more than she was comfortable with. She said she felt nauseous.

I put her on an unsuppressed .22 and had her do double taps and target transitions from a high ready position. At first she said she couldn’t do it. I moved her to about eight feet away and encouraged and coached her. Within about 75 rounds she was doing a double tap in under a second and a transition in about 1.25 seconds with great accuracy. Almost all her shots fit under my hand on the USPSA target in the top of the lower A-Zone. There were no hits on the hostage with its shoulder just below the exposed portion of the bad guy A-Zone area.

John and Barb were doing some shooting as I worked mostly with Cherie. When John tried the double taps and target transitions he had several hits on the hostage including one directly in the center of the neck. Not good. We teased him some about that as we all tried the same exercise and he was the only one shooting the hostage once every 10 rounds or so.

After we wrapped up at the range we went to Barb’s house for dinner and I showed Cherie how to pie a corner and shoot around the corner with a plastic training gun. We talked about where to go from here because the centerfire guns just aren’t working for her.

We should review her notes on the guns she shot in the NRA class and see if we can learn anything from that. And we probably will go back to the range sometime and try some .380 and 9mm guns. But I expect the best approach will be to spend a lot of time with a .22 so that she can feel totally at ease with gun handling and accomplishing various self-defense tasks. I want her to be able to do those sort of things almost “on auto-pilot” under stress and perhaps by then, with only the recoil issue to address, she can work on shooting with one of the centerfire guns she already has.

24 thoughts on “(Almost) new shooter report

  1. KKM makes a drop in conversion barrel for the M&P40 that converts it to a 9mm. Just drop in the barrel and switch to 9mm magazines (the M&P9 mags fit fine) and she can shoot 9mm through it for a fraction of the cost of buying a new handgun.

    • I’d second the conversion to 9mm on the same platform. .40 S&W is just an unpleasant caliber to shoot for many people. Heck, I’d rather shoot my .44 Mag than the .40 (or its obnoxious sibling, the .357 SIG).

      Most snubbies are difficult for beginners to master, and downsizing to .380 is not really all that good of an option either. Small semi-autos in that caliber usually need a hefty recoil spring to make the gun cycle properly, and that’s often a detriment to being able to rack the slide with authority.

      For a new or hesitant shooter, the 9mm is probably the best choice, in a compact (but not micro-sized) package from a reputable company like Springfield, Glock, S&W etc.

  2. I’ve been privileged to work with more ‘mature’ women who can’t effectively handle recoil, realize it, and accept that fact.

    While most people might look down their noses at .22LR/MAG revolvers, when a second shot is problematical with any larger caliber, you train people with what they can handle.

    Accurately using a .22, and getting additional shots off, if needed, beats one round of 9mm, or .38.

  3. If recoil is an issue, but muzzle blast/noise is not, then 22TCM might be the ticket.
    I don’t own one, but the TCM may be the lightest recoiling centerfire handgun I’ve ever fired. Feels like a .25apc in a pocket pistol, and the Armscorp (sp?) 1911 clone has a fairly narrow grip for those of us who can’t palm a glock comfortably.

    It may be worth a look, as the ammo isn’t particularly expensive. Downside is fairly aggressive noise/flash. Since she reported feeling ill, the noise may also be playing havoc with her nervous system and she may be limited to 22lr.

    • Thanks for the suggestion. I’ll look into it.

      I’m pretty sure it’s the recoil. She had excellent hearing protection on. And she shot a few rounds out of my .40 (STI DVC Limited) and reported she liked that better than her guns. It is much longer and heavier than hers. I wished I had that same gun in a 9mm for her to try with some low power loads. The range has a bunch of 9mm and .380 guns which I can “rent” for free. I’m thinking some of my light 9mm loads in my Ruger P89 might be something to work her up to centerfire with too.

      This was mostly a exploration trip to the range. Next time I’ll be better prepared.

      • Light loads in a big P89 would be the ticket, and certainly less obscure than the TCM I mentioned.

        You’re a reloader so you probably already know this, but lighter/faster projectiles recoil less than heavy/slow at the expense of generally increased flash/noise. Witness the strum und drang of the 5.7 – the TCM is similar but a bit more mild in a package that doesn’t require an absurdly uncomfortable pistol grip.

        I recall seeing some ‘reduced recoil’ offerings from factory ammo sources lately in 380/9/40/whatever. They haven’t interested me personally so I haven’t trialed them, but…

        Your post tempts me to pick some up, or at least fiddle with some reduced power loads to keep on hand for new shooters. The subsonic 44mag I plow through in a integral 96/44 has the same recoil as a 22 (and sounds like a Beeman .177) – maybe time for me to expand the ‘mousefart’ philosophy to some of the other cartridges I load.

        PS – major style points if you can get her a .38 Super with a big ‘ol compensator and some really light bullets going so fast they blue-shift.

        Like some 12g nylon solids over a full case of bullseye @3600fps.

        And thanks for the blog, BTW.

        • For an equal Power Factor (USPSA term which is a measure of bullet momentum) light bullets will have more recoil and it will be “snappier”. This “snappiness” is perceived as uncomfortable.

          The reason for this is that light bullets require more powder. The gases from the powder, exiting at (IIRC for a pistol) ~5000 fps make a significant contribution to the recoil. The recoil impulse from the bullet is spread over the duration of the time the bullet is in the barrel. With a fast moving bullet this is a shorter time. With a heavy bullet the impulse is felt as more of a push than a slap.

          In the fast shooting sports (USPSA, Steel Challenge, etc.) the limited division shooters almost all use heavy bullets to get the “push”. The open division shooters have compensators on their guns. The compensators convert the fast moving gases to a downward impulse at the muzzle. If done correctly this eliminates the muzzle flip and removes much of the rearward gas contribution to the recoil. Thus you can get no flip and lower recoil with light bullets going much faster than you can with a limited division gun.

          Typical carry guns do not have compensators. For these guns heavy bullets have more comfortable recoil characteristic. I’ve made the demonstration many times with 147 grain versus 115 grain bullets in 9mm.

          All bets are off if you using max loads for both the light and heavy bullets. You get a higher Power Factor with the heavy bullets and hence more total recoil from the bullet. But with light loads a semi-auto will function correctly with approximately the same Power Factor for both bullets. Thus, with the heavy bullet you get the recoil spread out over time and a more pleasant experience for the shooter.

          • Huh. I try to learn something new every day – mission accomplished.

            My personal – very limited – experience suggested otherwise but now that I think about it the few light vs. heavy bullet comparisons I’ve done while shooting various reloads seem to mostly be on compensated/braked/suppressed firearms. Pistol or rifle.

            I guess that explains why a light, un-braked 7mm mag can be unpleasant to me, while a 500g 45-70 is a big but tolerable push.

            So, in an uncompensated firearm, and given the same projectile energy, a light projectile with a powder charge making up a greater percentage of the total mass will have a faster – thus more ‘unpleasant’ – recoil impulse than heavy bullet & small charge? And this is because the gas velocity is significantly higher than the projectile, right?

            This reminds me of John Ross’ dismissal of the 500S&W compensators as being useless except as sales tools. Extending your amazingly clear explanation, if one were to shoot a JR-700g projectile from a 500, the powder charge contribution to recoil would be puny compared to the projectile, and thus not worth the added blast and discomfort of a compensator.

            Contrary to this, if one were to shoot a 300g projectile with the same energy, the recoil would be rather ‘snappy’ as you put it and thus a compensator would be both effective and desirable. And if a compensator isn’t available for that firearm, you get vicious, fast recoil.

            Scale it down to your 9mm testing and I’m on the right track, yes?

            Damn. I hate feeling ignorant. Isn’t there a school for this?
            And thank you very, very much for the continual education.

  4. I’ve come to the conclusion that the .40sw should be ignored for all new shooters, especially women. The recoil impulse is noticeably sharper than other non +P ammo, and too many people find it objectionable. If they want big holes, go with the .45acp, otherwise stick with the 9mm for most auto applications. If they can tolerate recoil at all, they tend to prefer the .45 over the .40sw.

    I shoot snubbies fairly well, but I would NEVER recommend one for a new shooter. Virtually no one practices with them correctly, even if they can stand the recoil. Every shooter I’ve encountered wants to thumb cock the hammer first, even for close targets. (Mine don’t even have hammer spurs, which annoys everybody.)
    Most snubbies come with very small grips that outline the frame, which help with concealment, but make control very difficult. Boot grips, which have the finger grooves behind the trigger guard, are better, but still limit recoil and trigger control. Best would be grips that you can wrap all three fingers around, that also cover the rear of the frame, and made of some sort of rubber, although properly shaped wood may be tolerated. I tend to cut down this size grip to a two fingered grip length.
    A problem I encountered with the boot grip size is my target pattern is twice as large as it is with the cut down full size grips.
    The other tiny grip size induced problem is the much reduced practice time, as most people won’t shoot more than one or two cylinders worth of ammo at a range session.

    A common bit of stupidity I hear regarding carry revolvers is to practice with standard ammo, but carry +P or magnum ammo. Sometimes this “helpful” bit of advice is due to the gun not being rated for +P pressures. EVERYTHING is wrong about this advice.

    • She mentioned shooting a .45 at the NRA class and that it was better than her guns. I think some low velocity 147 grain bullets in 9mm with a heavy gun might be worth trying too. But a lot more time doing fun stuff with .22s is in her immediate future.

  5. She looks so much like a Cherie I know, I had to do a double-take (but that Cherie was a medic in the Army and I’m sure she knows how to shoot guns).

    Why are you torturing this woman? It seems pretty obvious to me that she really doesn’t want to do this. Get her some pepper spray.

    • As if Joe had dragged her kicking and screaming and forced the poor little flower to shoot under some vile threat. You insult both her and Joe.

      You may not be aware of this, but sometimes people get tremendous satisfaction out of overcoming difficulties or fears. The pain felt along the way makes the successes all the more sweet. Not that the pain is sought for its own sake, but that it is necessarily born in pursuit of the goal.

      I’ve often commented that no food has such savor as that carried at great pain to the top of a mountain.

      • This is more about her needing a gun for her life situation. But your suggestion has a fair amount of merit too.

    • My response is not appropriate for public consumption. Check your email.

      Note to others: The email was about Cherie’s personal situation. Nothing harsh to UBU52.

    • Just because you have an attack of the vapors in the presence of a firearm does not mean that all women are so delicate and dependent on the kindness of strangers.

  6. “I want her to be able to do those sort of things almost “on auto-pilot” under stress and perhaps by then, with only the recoil issue to address, she can work on shooting with one of the centerfire guns she already has.”

    That seems to be just the right plan.

  7. You might check out the Boberg XR9. It’s a compact gun with unusually soft recoil. The XR9-L (longer barrel) is reportedly even gentler but I don’t have one.
    I find that it’s quite civilized with just about anything I feed it, even +P defense rounds. The only thing noticeably harsh is the lightweight Liberty ammo. It certainly is far more comfortable than my short barrel .357 S&W, even if I feed that one .38 special instead. (I don’t have much of a collection, so I can’t compare to the likes of .22 LR — the feel of a 22 mini-revolver is hardly representative.)

  8. Steel framed S&W like the 39 or 639. I am thinking of the single stack guns not the double stacks, not sure if the number listed is correct. Heavy gun in 9mm, with a smaller grip. Just have to get past the single to double action transition. Or look for the DAO version. Might still be able to find some old trade ins.

    Not sure why people insist on snubies for women, I don’t get it.

  9. If she needs a carry gun, and she has the money to spend, a Kahr P9 (the newer models with the double-recoil spring) is a bit of a miracle gun. The approximate size of a Walther PPK, but with a proportionately larger grip for a full-hand hold, even with larger hands, and the double recoil spring and polymer frame tames the recoil amazingly.

    When I got my PM45 I naturally assumed the gun would be a bit of a handful, as it’s a 17oz gun in .45 +P, but the gun amazingly tames recoil, and I image 9mm would be better in every way (note the P series for 9 and 40 are the same size as the PM45)

    Of course there are several newer guns out there that are essentially 9mm guns converted to .380, like the Ruger LC380, and Tam is reviewing the new SIG P250 in .380, and she seems to be quite impressed by it.

  10. Try reduced load “cowboy” loads. HSM in Stevensville MT makes them as do others, or find a SASS cowboy shoot in your area and try one of their guns, they are usually pretty accommodating. Have seen the HSM product at Sportsmans. Recoil is not down to 22

    And congratulations on the effort and thoughtful approach.

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