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My wife and I are on the waiting list to get our NYS pistol permits, so, while on vacation in Park City, Utah, we took the opportunity to do a little "test driving" at the Park City Gun Club.

Before I get into the details, I'll preface this report by stating that I have practically no experience with handguns of any type. Prior to this week, the only time I have handled a handgun is when I fired my sister-in-law's .38 caliber revolver a couple of years ago. So the opinions expressed in this report come from a newbie, not a seasoned expert. No doubt many of you will have different opinions. I invite you to add them to the thread.

The Club
We were very impressed by the Park City Gun Club. They have only been in business about six months so everything is new and state of the art. They've got two indoor firing lanes, laser and live-fire simulators, training classes, a nice gun shop, and - most important for us - gun and equipment rentals available to members and non-members alike. For $25 (plus lane fee and cost of ammo), you can try as many guns as you want from their collection of over 60 handguns and dozens of long guns. The staff was very friendly and helpful, making the whole experience very enjoyable.

Objectives
Our objectives for this trip were twofold: (1) figure out which guns suit us best once we receive our permits, and (2) have fun. Having no experience with handguns, I figured any lack of accuracy was more likely due to me than the gun, so I made no effort to judge the guns we tried based on accuracy. Rather, we focused on how the various firearms fit our hands, the placement of the controls, the amount of perceived recoil, and how easy the guns were to use. We were going for general impressions and how comfortable we were with each platform.

Going to the range, I was primarily interested in three platforms: Glock, Springfield Armory XD, and Smith & Wesson M&P. I was also interested in three calibers: 9mm, .40 S&W an .45 ACP. Finally, I wanted to know which size would be best: compact, subcompact or standard.

Caliber
The club had a much larger selection of Glocks than other platforms, so we started there. We decided to settle the caliber question first. We started with the Glock 19 (compact 9mm). I found the gun fit well in my hand. The controls were few and simple. The 9mm round was comfortable to shoot without too much recoil.

Shoulder Flash photography Cap Sports equipment Baseball cap
Her first time shooting a Glock

Next we moved up to the Glock 23 (compact .40 S&W). Basically the same gun as before, but with a slightly larger cartridge. I've read other people describe the .40 S&W cartridge as "snappy" and I'd have to agree. Recoil was a lot more noticeable. The gun jumped a lot more and was harder on my hand. It wasn't so bad that I would be uncomfortable with the caliber, but I definitely preferred the 9mm round, as did my wife.

We followed up with a Glock 21 (standard .45 ACP). This round was noticeably larger than the 9mm or the .40, and I've heard plenty of people say that it is too large for them (or their wives) to control comfortably. That said, we bit the bullet (figuratively, not literally) and squeezed off a few rounds. I was surprised. While I could definitely feel that the round was more powerful, the recoil was a lot smoother than the .40. I found the .45 more comfortable to shoot than the smaller .40 S&W.

While any of the calibers we tried would have been acceptable, my wife and I decided that the 9mm was probably best for our current needs and decided to stick with it for the rest of our testing.

Size
Next we compared sizes. Using the previously fired Glock 19 for comparison, we moved down to a Glock 26 (subcompact 9mm). It was basically the same as the Glock 19, but with a smaller grip and slightly shorter barrel. In all, I found it too small for my tastes. There was nowhere for my pinky to go and the smaller size made the recoil more aggressive. Given that I'm unlikely to get a full carry permit in Onondaga county any time soon, I couldn't see any advantages to the smaller gun. Even with a full carry permit, I think the Glock 19 would be almost as easy to conceal on my large frame.

After the Glock 26, we moved up to the full-sized Glock 17 (standard 9mm). It felt about the same as the 19, just larger. Since the Glock 19 already felt comfortable in my hand, the Glock 17 just felt needlessly large. Perhaps I just have small girly hands, but I found the Glock 17 to be larger than I needed, but otherwise acceptable.

Platform
Air gun Trigger Wood Gun barrel Gun accessory

Having fired a wide variety of Glocks, we moved on to some other platforms. Next on the list was Springfield Armory. They didn't have an XD, so we fired the similar XDm in 9mm. The specific gun we fired had a mag extension which made the grip much longer (although needlessly so for my little girly hands). As I recall, the gun was slightly larger than the Glock 19, but smaller than the Glock 17. My wife appreciated the extra grip safety and cocked and chambered indicators. While some people deride these as adding needless complexity, I have to say that as a beginner, they make me more comfortable with the gun. I don't view these features as a necessity, but they certainly don't detract from the gun's appeal either.

I liked the feel of the XDm in my hand. Firing felt smoother than on the Glock, although there wasn't enough of a difference to automatically eliminate Glock from the running. I also liked the grip texture more. My wife and I both remarked how the Glocks' grip dug into our hands and left a waffle pattern. Not so with the XDm. In all, the XDm proved to be one of our favorites.

Up next was the Smith & Wesson M&P. The club's M&P9 was already out on loan to someone else, so we used their M&P40 (standard .40 S&W). I had heard a lot of good things about this gun, so I was excited to try it. It looked good. It felt good in my hand. I liked the sandpapery texture of the grip. One squeeze of the trigger sealed it. The trigger felt like crap. I'm no expert on trigger pull, but I know that I did not like the feel of the M&P's trigger. Perhaps it could be cleaned up by a gunsmith and some aftermarket parts. I don't know. But I felt no need to dwell on this possibility when the Glock and XD both seemed to be suitable alternatives without sloppy-feeling triggers.

This concluded the official testing we had come to, but we didn't let that stop us from trying out a few other guns while we had the opportunity. My sister in law (who joined us at the club along with her husband), tried out a Walther .380, which she let us shoot. The smaller .380 round definitely had less recoil, and the gun worked fine, but I personally preferred the more substantial guns that my wife and I were testing.

My brother in law tested out a Sig Sauer 1911, which he really liked. It was very accurate for him. I tried it out and liked the feel of it, but I'm not sure I got quite the accuracy he got (it was hard to tell as all of our targets got shot up quite a bit - my wife and I fired off about 200 rounds and only bought two targets).

My brother in law also tried out a few AR-15s. I fired a few rounds through one of them, but didn't spend much time with them as I already have experience with the AR platform. I did like trying out the EOTech holographic sight and magnifier that were mounted on one of them. This solidified my intent to add those to my AR once I have the funds. I would have liked to test the FNH SCAR he tried out, but he was out of ammo and I didn't feel like buying another box.

A helpful female employee of the club recommended a single stack 9mm to my wife that she said was popular with a lot of female shooters (I can't remember the make or model). It was certainly thinner than most of the guns we shot and functioned fine, but my wife confided in me that she preferred the larger guns we had been shooting.

The last gun we tried out was the Berretta 92FS (standard 9mm). I figured if it's good enough for our military, I could at least give it a shot. It's a large pistol, and felt quite substantial in my hands. I fired off a few rounds and, to my delight, noticed that every round punched a hole exactly where I was aiming. The Berretta 92FS was a pleasure to shoot and surprisingly accurate.

Conclusions
My wife and I learned a lot from our trip to the Park City Gun Club. The first lesson was that, of the calibers we tried, we both prefer 9mm to .40 S&W or .45 ACP, although we could handle any of the three if needed. We were also surprised to learn that .45 ACP has smoother recoil than the smaller .40 S&W, and is more comfortable to shoot.

We learned that we both prefer a gun in the compact to standard size range. We like the Glock and XD platforms, but we really don't like the trigger of the Smith & Wesson M&P platform.

The last lesson learned was that I really liked the Berretta 92FS. For other reasons I might ultimately choose a Glock or XD as my first handgun, but I will be doing more research into the Berretta 92FS, and if it is not my first handgun, it will likely be my second.

After finishing up at the club, my wife and I both agreed that the Glock 19 and XDm9 were our favorites (other than the aforementioned Berretta). All else being equal, at this point I would probably choose the XD9 as my first handgun. Given the much larger availability of Glock parts and the availability of pre-ban magazines, the scales may tip in favor of the Glock 19. Additional research might change my strategy entirely in favor of the Berretta 92FS. I haven't quite made my decision yet. Fortunately, the Onondaga County pistol permit office is giving us plenty of time to decide, and the Park City Gun Club has helped us get much closer to reaching that decision.
 

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Nice writeup! Getting your hands on guns at a range that rents is far and away the best way to come to conclusions about what you want to buy. It is expensive but is nothing compared to buying and selling a few guns before figuring out what you like. I'll add a few comments that I thought of while reading.

First, you aren't the first to be surprised by the recoil characteristics of .45 vs. 40. While the bullet diameters are increasing, other factors are at work as well. .40 S&W is a toned-down 10mm, and it is a very high pressure cartridge. .45 is a very LOW pressure cartridge. Many describe the recoil of .45 as more of a "push", with less muzzle flip. Personally I love .45ACP, but I shoot and carry primarily 9mm. I think 9mm is an excellent first and last choice for all-around range work, HD, and CCW needs.

The Glock 19 has been described as the perfect-sized gun if you could only have one. It's large enough to get all your fingers on, while small enough to conceal. 15 rounds is nothing to sneeze at either. Most manufacturers make something in that size, and most call it a compact, but some do not. For example, the H&K P2000 is almost the exact same size as a Glock 19, but is considered full-size. Look for guns that are about 5" high, and they will most likely feel exactly like the Glock 19 in terms of size.

It's pretty common for people new to handguns to appreciate all the safeties and indicators that many newer models have. My first gun was the Ruger SR9c, and I liked the manual safety and loaded chamber indicator. For me, as for many others, it wears off, and you find yourself preferring the simplicity of the Glock and similar models. Just something to consider.

In terms of ergonomics, this is one of the most important and difficult areas to assess. I noticed you said you finished the day liking the Glock 19 and XDm 9mm, but also that you didn't like how the Glock dug into your hand. Whatever you buy, you will probably shoot a LOT, at least if you have any intention of training or practicing. Sure, you won't notice it digging in when fighting for your life, but of the shots fired over your lifetime, very close to exactly 0% of them will be under those conditions. So, get something you LOVE the way it feels, and don't compromise.

Finally, I would encourage you to try some other, different models. The Glock, M&P, and XDm are all basically the same gun, striker-fired and inspired by the Glock. They are all great choices for sure, but the fact that you enjoyed the Beretta so much tells me something. You may prefer hammer-fired guns. Or you may prefer guns that are not polymer. Or you may just guns that are heavy for their caliber like the Beretta. Next time (if there is a next time), try adding a few guns with each of the above qualities. You will at least be able to narrow down what you do or don't like in terms of features so you have fewer choices to consider when the time comes to buy.
 
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