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The Everyday Gunslinger: Starting the Path to Pistolero

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I have a confession to make, and it’s rather embarrassing. I’m not all that great with pistols. That’s not to say I’m a bad pistol shooter, but it definitely lags behind my other skills. As much as I enjoy marksmanship and shooting, my focus always trends back towards rifles. This was never more apparent to me than my first review assignment writing for a print magazine.

The assignment was a 1911. In particular, it was an Iver Johnson Eagle LR Special. One of the writing guidelines for the magazine was that a 5″ pistol had to be shot for groups at 25 yards. Without going into details, let’s just say that I had a hell of a time trying to use pistol sights for groups at 25 yards. It was such a challenge for me that I tend to decline reviews for pistols unless I can mount a dot to them. Even then, I’m simply not as stable with a pistol as I am with a rifle- regardless of the position.

In January 2022, I thought I was going to address this. I had a good interview with Josh Shaw (USPSA Grand Master and instructor for Green Ops Training), and I had in my mind that this was my time to become a pistolero. Well, that ended up not happening. Life and interests went elsewhere.

Back to the Training Zones

As a refresher, I recently talked about a Martial Marksman’s training zones. I dubbed the space between 0 and 50 yards to be the “critical zone.” In the grand scheme of capability, it’s this space that a marksman must be absolutely capable. It is, by far, the zone where we are most likely to engage a threat in the real world, whether it’s a home defense situation, concealed carry, or even Scenario-X.

You can cover this 0-50 zone with a variety of tools. Rifles are an obvious choice, especially at the back half of the zone and beyond. Shotguns also stand out as a particularly powerful tool. This zone was also a big driver for my own foray into the PCC/SMG format. The humble handgun seemed mundane in comparison.

But I have to be honest with myself…that line of thinking that pistols are “mundane” is my own bias at play. In fact, when you dig into it, pistols might even be more interesting.

The Case for Handguns

This is every bit a justification for myself as it might be for you, so bear with me. For at least a year, now, I’ve been planning and pining over a new semi-custom precision bolt action project chambered in .223 Remington. The goal of the project is a rifle that works well enough out to 600 yards that I could use it both for competition purposes as well as a trainer for larger calibers. .223 is certainly cheaper to shoot than large rounds, and a .223 bolt action has a huge fun factor to it.

However, I couldn’t get around my current circumstances. The reality is that all of my local ranges only go out to 50 yards, and they’re all indoors with a single lane for targets. If I want to get out to 300+ yards, then it requires a trip over to West Virginia. It’s about a 90 minute trip in each direction, which means I need to plan for half a day of driving and shooting to be worth it. Doing that on any kind of frequent basis is a logistically difficult ask for my family. So I have to be honest and admit that as much as I would enjoy owning a $3k bolt action rifle, it was mostly going to eat up valuable space in my safe rather than see a lot of use.

My circumstances are just about perfect for regular pistol and rimfire training, however. Pistols take up far less space in the safe, are cheaper to practice with than rifles, and have many other practical considerations.

Pistols are the Civilian Primary Weapon

I know, I know. Given the choice of going into a confrontation, just about everyone is choosing the long gun. Clint Smith famously quipped, “The only purpose for a pistol is to fight your way back to the rifle you should’ve never laid down.” I’m not denying that. However, I also can’t discount that you and I are [probably] not active serving military, law enforcement, or any other professional occupation that makes a full time job out of getting into conflict.

For the Everyday Marksman going about life, the thing we’re most likely to have at hand to respond to a threat is a handgun. During the early stages of something like Scenario X, the point of the game is to be ready while not drawing attention to yourself. Once you break out the long guns and load bearing gear, you are signaling intent.

That might be okay later on when you need to actively build a shield of deterrence. Early on, though, signaling intent to fight makes you come across as a belligerent and draws all sorts of attention to you- both good and bad. A pistol is the perfect tool here. With something like a collapsed PCC/SMG tucked in a nondescript backpack as a useful next step.

If the pistol is your primary for 99% of life, then you should become proficient with it.

Pistols Take More Skill to Master

In The Everyday Marksman Discord server (become an email subscriber for a link!), one person put it this way: “Having people consider you a pistolero is harder than rifleman. And even more perishable.”

Josh Shaw said something similar when I interviewed him. To be blunt, it is far more difficult to be excellent with a pistol than it is a rifle. Pistols involve all of the same marksmanship fundamentals as rifles, but they are far less forgiving of mistakes. Even more, pistol proficiency has added complexity to the manual of arms, not to mention mastering the draw itself.

In general, pistol mastery carries over to rifle mastery better than the other way around. If you’re able to perfectly execute a trigger pull and maintain sight alignment when the trigger weight is more than the gun itself (sometimes multiple times more, as with double action) then it’s a trivial matter to demonstrate amazing trigger control with a 3 lb trigger on a 9+ lb rifle.

Cost to Mastery

Let’s purely talk ammo costs, here. While I could argue that pistols are cheaper to get into than rifles, that’s not always the case anymore. Palmetto State Armory, for example, has brought down the price of a serviceable AR-15 to nearly half the cost of many pistols I’m interested in. So it’s a wash when it comes to buying the hardware.

But ammo is a different story.

Of course dry fire is a component here, but let’s do the quick math and say that you want to expend 200 rounds per month in live fire at the range. That’s four 50-round boxes of 9mm or ten 20-round boxes of .223. Back in the day, I could blow through that in a single hour.

Looking up prices today, I can get reasonable practice 9mm ammo for $0.15 per shot, or about $30 per month and $360 per year. For .223, the cost effectively doubles to $0.32 per shot, $62 per month, and $768 per year.

This differential only gets worse as the rifle caliber gets larger for longer range shooting. Basic .308 Win ammo again doubles to $0.70 per shot. That adds up to $1,680 per year to practice.

So from a pure cost standpoint, pistols build those fundamentals cheaper.

Of course, the elephant in the room is rimfire, which costs the same whether you’re shooting it through a pistol or a rifle. Rimfire is a fantastic training tool, and I’m a huge advocate. Keep in mind, though, that the very low recoil of rimfire (especially in rifles) can also teach some bad habits.

Having people consider you a
pistolero is harder than rifleman.
And even more perishable

The Cool Factor

I’ll throw this last point in for fun. The more I’ve thought about it, researched, and considered what projects to tackle in the future, the more I have to admit that there’s a certain level of artistry and cool factor that goes into pistols. I don’t necessarily mean polymer wonder-nines, here. Once you go upmarket a bit into all-metal pistols, the options for customization become enormous.

There’s a reason that the so-called BBQ Gun is a pistol, not a rifle. It’s unobtrusive, but its presence makes a statement. Much like a gentleman’s watch or expertly-shined shoes, a pistol on the hip sends a certain kind of signal. Whether it’s a CZ, 1911, Beretta, Hi-Power, or something else, there is an entire industry of gunsmiths committed to the cause of helping you make it yours and something to be proud of. There’s something to be said about enjoying and carrying a gun that took a real human to personally fit and finish just so.

Such a gun stands in contrast to a market full of utterly utilitarian black plastic and melonited striker-fired guns. Like the difference between a man who wears a piece of mass produced consumer electronics on his wrist to work (i.e. Apple Watch) versus a man who wears an analog mechanical watch assembled by a craftsman.

Snobbish? Perhaps. But it’s not wrong.

So Where am I Going With This?

All of this post to say that my personal focus for the rest of this year and into next year is on pistols and handgun proficiency. That’s not to say there won’t be rifle content (I have a few incoming for review purposes as I write this), but my personal goals center on the pistol. That might even include learning how to tune and modify them a bit- but we’ll see.

For me and my current circumstances, this makes the most sense to pursue.

So what about you? Are you in on the pistol train?

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Matt

Matt is the primary author and owner of The Everyday Marksman. He's a former military officer turned professional tech sector trainer. He's a lifelong learner, passionate outdoorsman, and steadfast supporter of firearms culture.

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6 Comments
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mr_wales
mr_wales
Guest

I agree with your assertion that the pistol is the most likely tool needed by a civilian, and look forward to your analysis on better ways to train.

For me personally, all I need on the pistol front are 2 Glock 19s. One for training and one for every day carry. The consistency of shooting one pistol for the last 15 years has a lot of value to me, but to each his own.

Jobert
Jobert
Guest

$0.15/rd for 9mm cartridges? Where? I can’t reload it for less than $0.20/rd when primers are $0.08 to $0.10/rd and bullets are about the same. Add powder and it is over $0.20/rd.

Colorado Pete
Colorado Pete
Guest

Good for you Matt! I think you’ll like it.

Colorado Pete
Colorado Pete
Guest
Replying to  Matt

Still kicking my friend. Not as high or as fast though…

Pistol is a different game than rifle, especially mentally, so keep that in mind. Some mechanical/functional things transfer over from rifle to pistol but not as much as you might think, especially within the context of intended purpose (if you are intending practical/defensive use). Hard to put into words but if you think of rifle shooting as playing chess against someone, think of pistol as a sudden fight scene from a Chinese kung-fu movie or a bar fight featuring Chuck Norris. Depending on your approach I think you’ll begin to see it.

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