Shooters love specialized subcategories of firearms. We have truck guns, pocket guns, bear guns, BBQ guns, and the list goes on until we run out of funds or the ability to dream. In the spirit that there is always room for one more niche to mentally fill, I propose an entirely new category of handgun ... the “Hitting" Gun.
This is separate and distinct from the specialized competition or target pistol, which already has its own niche. The Hitting Gun is the utilitarian piece that is intended for practical usage whose primary characteristic is that in your hands it allows hitting at a greater frequency, farther range, or more precise placement than any other model. There is likely to be spirited debate and many that are infinitesimally close to making the cut but are eeked out by a more worthy contender. My list likely overlaps with yours and others, but is just as likely to be somewhat unique, which is the beauty of individualism. It is also a distinctly American trait and should probably be considered patriotic; I doubt that the Russians or Iranians are perusing the internet thinking through what sidearm lets them shoot to their very best.
To kick things off, I give you my top five “Hitting” Guns.
M1911 No brainer. A properly set up 1911 gives a shooter a view of what is possible with a handgun. When you rest the tip of your trigger finger on that famous trigger shoe and tell it to release the hammer, all of John Moses Browning’s genius and more than 100 years of American tradition combine to push your bullet right through the target.
The 1911 is such a strong Hitting Gun that it can be a crutch. I remember one specialized military course where some salty guys who normally carried the hand-built MEUSOC 1911s and had a reputation as very strong shooters had to use vanilla M9s. They struggled heroically to regain the performance they took for granted with the tuned 1911s.
Signature Shot: What isn’t? The 1911’s been the go-to in Bullseye, USPSA, and so many other venues that there probably isn’t a brag-worthy shot that hasn’t been benchmarked by a pistolero with a 1911. Taking advantage of the large diameter bullets to cut playing cards edgewise is probably as good as any.
Smith & Wesson Model 15 If you can’t hit with the old Combat Masterpiece, you probably can’t hit with anything. There is a beautiful symmetry to the K frame .38 Spl. that melds balance and delightful trigger into a carry worthy wheelgun. Mine has served as a trail gun, house gun, trainer for friends and family, but most often simply a Hitting Gun for me. Stoked with wadcutters there is no impossible shot; only a lack of faith. I’m in the midst of a decades-long debate of which particular style of stocks unleash the most of the Masterpiece’s limitless potential.
Signature Shot: Spent brass cut in half.
Smith & Wesson "N" Frame The N Frame and the Combat Masterpiece have been locked in an epic struggle for years as to which shoots better; on any given range day I am likely to pronounce either the momentary winner. Likewise the distinction between 4” and 6” tubes on the Ns. Every time I think I have given the N Frame more credit than it possibly deserves it winks at its safe-mates and puts on a show. That the Ns wrap around the powerhouse magnums give it a distinct utility that justifies its weight and existence alongside the 15.
Signature Shot: Smallish targets at mid-range.
Ruger Bisley The Bisley does one thing absurdly well: it lets you harness power and launch it like a demi-god at long-for handguns range. Most of my shooting buddies who are phenomenally skilled have N frames for relatively moderate magnum loads and Bisleys for the freight trains. I prefer the balance on the 5.5” model and slightly thicker grip panels, but once the sights settle onto a target way out there the Bisley delivers. If I had to settle a bet with a shootoff at 150 yards, the Bisley would be the probable choice.
Red-Dot-equipped Glock 34 This is a non-traditional choice that might surprise all but the early adopters. This particular set up has a mystique of its own. The base pistol was purchased from a retired Air Force fighter pilot who flew Mustangs in the Korean War and had used the 34 in IDPA competition until his shooting tapered off as he became an elder statesman. The Aimpoint was a gift from a friend and accompanied me on a carbine into some foreign lands. The combination works mild magic. The Glock 34 has a pretty good trigger for a striker-fired gun, not great and downright laughable compared to the previous four entries, but it rolls through pretty well as the red dot hovers over tiny targets.
The optic-equipped, striker-fired semi-automatic is one of the strong trends on the market and for good reason. They allow the shooter to shoot at a 1911 like level of precision with the feature set of the modern service auto.
Signature Shot: Practice golf balls at 20 yards.
There are a baker’s dozen of handguns that could vie for a spot on the list, but when my main concern is simply enjoying hitting or challenging myself to a difficult shot one of these are what I reach for. What are your Hitting Guns?