As a gunsmith, shooting instructor and long time shooter, I have had a considerable amount of experience around firearms. I have helped hundreds of people pick their first firearm and trained many of them on how to use it and care for it. Today I am going to try to give you my best advice. I will preface this by saying that each person is different and what works for one person may not work for another. This is just a general guide to help. This article will be very basic and I will try to go more in depth in future articles
First of all, you will need to decide why you want a firearm and what you want to do with it. This is typically broken down into the following categories:
Plinking – This seems to be where most people start when it comes to firearms and it is a great first step. Plinking is a type of target shooting where you are just out to hit targets and have fun. The targets range from dirt clods to steel gongs and anywhere in between. For this category accuracy is typically not very important. The most important part will be finding a fairly reliable firearm with a decent price tag.
Target shooting – A graduation from plinking. The shooter is trying to refine a skill and become more proficient with their firearm. This will require a firearm that has the capability to hold a fairly tight group (so the shooter can concentrate on improving and not be discouraged by random misses)
Competitive target shooting / Long range precision shooting – A true test of a shooters ability to use their skills. Everything comes into play in this category. The firearm must be made to fairly tight tolerances, the ammunition will either be commercial match grade or hand loaded for the firearm and the sights will typically be a good quality scope or precision iron sights.
Self Defense / Home Defense – The firearm will have to have the utmost reliability and should be easy to use. You will be betting with your life if you ever have to use it. Accuracy comes second. The individual’s tactics and their housing situation will decide the best firearm.
Concealed Carry – Again, reliability is the key. The next most important part will be finding something that can be concealed easily. This is typically the perfect job for a small pistol. If you won’t carry it for whatever reason…
Shit Hits the Fan – This firearm will vary widely depending on the individual’s tactics, how many firearms they own and where they live. There are some general guidelines though such as reliability, ease of acquiring ammunition and accuracy
Training a Youth – Remember this should be a good and safe experience for the youth and the teacher. Keep the firearm simple to operate with fairly light recoil and noise.
I Want One Before They Are Banned – With the way that firearms laws change, I have seen this one constantly. New laws go into effect and people want to get a firearm before it is no longer an option. This is particularly true of the AR- 15 and similar firearms.
Collector Value – Firearms have proven to be a great collector’s item. As with any other collector’s item, make sure you understand exactly what you are buying and, if you are planning on selling it later, the possible increase or decrease in its value. Just because something is labeled 1 of 500, etc. it is not necessarily a good investment.
Art Piece – As the name suggests, its primary function is to be a piece of art. There are some absolutely gorgeous firearms out there and there is no reason why you cannot have a functional piece of art (even if you never use it).
Hunting – This firearm should be reliable above all else. There is not much worse than having your sights on an animal and pulling the trigger only to hear “click” especially if you are hunting large or dangerous game. Accuracy is important too seeing as you want to ensure a quick and humane kill.
As a gunsmith, I have a personal bias against or for some firearms. I like simple, proven designs that are easy to work on and get replacement parts for. I have had to tell many customers that it would cost more to fix their firearm than replace it and I always have a hard time delivering that news. On a personal note, I prefer guns with character (steel and wood typically). So with that being said, here is my list of some of the best firearms to buy for a first timer and why.
Ruger 10/22 – An inexpensive semi automatic rifle (starting around $275 currently) that is easy to use, cheap to shoot (.22 Long rifle is about $0.10 a round), easy to modify, has almost no kick, is fairly accurate, and so much more. This is by far my favorite firearm for a first time gun buyer. I have yet to meet someone who didn’t like their 10/22. I have several and each is set for a different purpose. There are a few modifications they all have in common. They all have had trigger jobs done (one advantage to being a gunsmith), they have all been modified to allow the bolt to automatically release when pulled back after being locked open, and they all have extended magazine releases. Other than that, each one is its own creation. I have one that has a shortened stock to fit my son since the full size stock is too big for him. In addition I put a small scope and a bipod on it so the concentration will be learning how to handle the firearm safely, having fun, and building the fundamentals. One is set up with a heavy target barrel and Hogue overmold stock for target shooting and rabbit/coyote hunting. There are a couple that are fairly basic, one with iron sights and one with a scope, and finally I have my new favorite, my 10/22 take down that I will be setting up as a survival rifle (I will post pictures when it is finished).
AR-15 (generic term)– This is the big kids LEGO set. It is incredibly versatile and easily changed to fit any situation. It is not my favorite firearm, but it has certainly earned my respect and a place on this list. They can still be found at a good price, typically starting around $750 for a decent quality one, but they can get expensive very quickly when you start customizing them (as will happen inevitably). The biggest advantages to this firearm are the ease of finding replacement/ upgrade parts, the simple controls, and the light recoil (in .223”/ 5.56mm). In addition it can be converted to a variety of different calibers from .22 long rifle to .50 beowolf.
AK-47 – An absolute workhorse of a firearm. This semi automatic rifle is known for its reliability and ease of use, and it is a fun rifle to shoot. They are typically not very accurate, but ammunition is fairly cheap which makes them great for plinking (although most indoor ranges do not allow the cheap military surplus ammunition in which case, the cost goes up).
Remington 700 – There are many variations of this bolt action rifle, but they are all known for being very accurate right out of the box. There are light weight models for hunting and heavy barreled models for long range target shooting and a nice variety in between.
Remington 870 – This pump action shotgun has a wide range of uses from a hunting gun to a “tactical” shotgun. It is a very solid, reliable shotgun that can easily be modified to fit a wide variety of needs.
Smith and Wesson M&P Shield – One of the best concealed carry pistols on the market. The key benefit to this semi auto pistol is that it is fairly small and light weight, making it very easy to conceal and comfortable to carry all day long. Its main disadvantage is a very hard and rough trigger pull, however that can be fixed with a trigger upgrade kit (such as an APEX kit).
Springfield, Kimber or Sig 1911 – In my opinion, these are some of the finest 1911’s on the market. There are certainly higher end 1911’s, and there are more collectable ones, but for general use these are the best. By design the 1911 typically has a great trigger pull and is a very accurate pistol. I personally prefer the series 70 style of 1911 over the series 80 style (series 80 has an additional safety that adds to trigger weight).
Glock 19 – Glock pistols are known for being very reliable and simple to use. They can be modified for everything from home defense to competition fairly easily and have great magazine capacity. Everyone seems to either love or hate the Glock. Most people who shoot 1911’s have trouble shooting Glock pistols accurately because of the drastically different grip angle.
Sig Sauer P226 – This pistol has some distinct advantages in that it can be used as either a single action or double action pistol on the first round and all following rounds will be single action. The grips can be easily changed to fit most hands.
Ruger Mark I, Mark II, Mark III Pistols – Very accurate .22 pistols. My favorite is the MK II because it has the full 10 round capacity and automatic last round bolt hold open unlike the MK I, and it doesn’t have the loaded chamber indicator or magazine disconnect like the MK III. Just personal preference.
Walther P22 – Great .22 pistol for people with smaller hands and/or less hand strength. Not quite as accurate as the Ruger MK series, but very affordable and easy to use. They can also be outfitted with a flashlight for use as a home defense pistol for people who can’t handle a larger firearm. Some people may laugh at the idea of a .22 for home defense, but remember 1 well placed hit with a .22 beats 10 misses with a .45 ACP.
I hope this list is a good place to start. There will be many more blog posts regarding this and similar topics to come. Be sure to follow TC on social media, and join in on the conversation on our community forum!