One thing I noticed while working in a retail gun store, was that many people disregard ergonomics for new shooters. This was especially evident regarding carry pistols. I will state for the record, the best way to determine a good carry gun, is to personally handle the guns. This first step will immediately tell you which guns do not fit your hand. Once the list has been narrowed down, rent the remaining guns and let the mechanics of shooting tell you which is best.
Another thing I noticed, men failing to take into account the smaller hands of their female compatriots. I have average-sized hands for a man. They are not huge by any stretch of the imagination. Many women have hands my size, but they rarely have as much hand strength. These two items have a huge impact on the ability to control a gun, especially when having to overcome a poor fit.
The size of a grip is not as simple as small, medium, and large. Each grip has a shape that can complement or hinder good feel. There are also areas on the grip that have a much larger impact. For example, Glock grips are a very square shaped. In the full-sized family, (G17/22) this makes it very difficult for people with short fingers to get a complete grip. In the Glock single stack family (G43, 42), this is much less of an issue. However, people with long fingers like the large block shape as it reduces excessive overwrap of the fingertips.
In contrast, the rounded grip sides on the SIG 938 / Kimber Micro families tends to create a more positive grip feel for those with small hands. The rounded contour provides for less total circumference and has the bulges in less hindering places.
Kel-Tec P3AT, Ruger LCP, Smith and Wesson Bodyguard 380
The progenitor of this category is the Kel-Tec P3AT. It is usually the least expensive and definitely the coarsest, and most heavily recoiling, option in the group. That is partly because it uses a heavier recoil spring and partly because it has the lightest weight. The original Ruger LCP was a P3AT clone.
Subsequent iterations provide an improved trigger, better ergonomics, and sight options. The Bodyguard 380 has the best sights, easier to rack slide, and for many people, has slightly less felt recoil. All three of these guns (and their variants) are very small, very light guns and are quite difficult to shoot accurately. Almost no one shoots these guns for fun. Anywhere beyond 20-30 rounds is punishing. The good news, capacity is limited to 6 or 7 shots and for defense, recoil-induced hand pain is a very low priority. These guns make it fairly easy to fulfill the first rule of a gun fight, have a gun.
SIG 238, Kimber Micro, Glock 42
The next step up in size is not that much bigger, but it makes a world of difference in recoil control. By many measures, the Glock 42 is the largest of this group. It is also the lightest and usually the least expensive. This is accomplished by using a polymer frame and polymer magazines. It keeps the weight down and with the slightly longer grip, gives the hand better leverage to fight recoil.
The SIG 238 and Kimber Micro are very similar guns, being based on the same earlier gun, the Colt Mustang .380. These two are smaller than the Glock, but being mostly metal construction, are heavier. This added weight helps to reduce recoil without the need for a heavy spring. The softer spring makes racking the slide easier for most people.
The Smith and Wesson J Frame and the Ruger LCR
The S&W J Frame and Ruger LCR are a completely different manual of arms and a different kind of small. They are significantly wider than any of the auto loaders; but, with the shorter grip, in many ways they are smaller. These options have the fewest shots on board and are slow to reload. Having said that, the average self-defense situation is done with two (or less) shots fired (FBI statistics). This means the difference between 5, 6, or 7 rounds is not likely to matter. The manner in which they are compact is a great fit for some people as the grip to trigger distance and manner of providing leverage is different. For others, they don’t fit at all.
The other aspect is they cannot suffer from many of the loading issues of a semi automatic. There is no slide to rack and they simply cannot have a failure to feed or failure to eject malfunction. If a cartridge does not go bang!, another trigger pull rotates the cylinder to a fresh case. With factory ammo, the odds of having two duds in a row is pretty close to the chance of winning the lottery jackpot. That doesn’t mean they can’t malfunction; they just do it differently and less frequently.
Glock 43, Smith and Wesson Shield .380, 9mm or .40 S&W, and Walther CCP 9mm
All of these semi autos are similar in footprint, but have very different attributes.
The Glock 43 is a smaller by a tad. The grip is slightly shorter and has the typical Glock blockiness. This is partially a result of choosing polymer magazines as they need to be significantly thicker than steel to not bulge under spring tension. The Glock also comes with two magazines, but the second one does not add an additional round. It only adds additional purchase with a “pinky extension.”
The Shield family has an organic shape to the grip. It also comes with two magazines, a flush and an extended magazine. The extended magazine provides more grip surface and at least one extra bullet. This makes the gun a fair amount less easy to hide. In this family, the .380 variant has significantly less recoil and the .40 S&W has significantly more. I would suggest the guns chambered in .40 S&W only for practiced shooters.
The Walther CCP has the most organically-shaped grip and is the narrowest where the thumb wraps around. This offers the ability to close the hand more at the strongest point of the hand and provides much better recoil control. This gun also has a built-in recoil compensation mechanism. It tames muzzle rise quite effectively and makes it feel more like the recoil impulse of a bigger, heavier gun.
All of the above mentioned firearms are good quality units from great companies with stellar reputations, customer service and warranties. The real deciding factor, beyond price, should be how well it fits the shooter and works for the desired purpose.
Do you have a favorite carry pistol for small hands? Share yours in the comment section.
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