Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Equipment And The Point Of Diminishing Returns

One of the most common questions I get is, "What gun should I get?"

I used to spend a lot of time responding to these inquiries because I genuinely love helping people. I loved being in gun sales. I love finding guns that fit people and I love helping them find that good fit. I love taking them to the range and helping them take their first shots even more.

Through the years, however, I've come to the conclusion that internet-based advice is more-often-than-not a waste of everyone's time. I have nothing new to add to what has already been written about what kind of gun is ideal for any number of different specific situations; be it jogging, home defense, deep concealment, etc. Without seeing someone shoot and seeing them with the firearm and having the opportunity to assess them in action, it's nothing more than a best-guess anyway.

That being said, it's still the reigning question for a few reasons:

1) The volume of options is overwhelming and people want to have it narrowed down for them, presumably by someone they consider to be an authority on the subject.
2) People generally overestimate the role of equipment in performance and therefore want to get the "best" gun, ideally at the lowest cost.

I'm going to skip over the first point for now and just hit you with a few general truths regarding the second:
  • What gun you choose doesn't make as much of a difference as you think it does. 
  • Your first gun will likely be the wrong gun, purchased for the wrong reasons.
  • You'll more-than-likely not put enough rounds through it to figure out whether or not it is right/wrong for you. 
  • You'll go on your merry way possibly advising others on what they should get based upon your limited experience training/shooting with a gun that probably isn't the right one for you.
The end.

You may be thinking that what I said was contradictory. How can your gun choice not make a difference but be wrong?

Allow me to explain...

A gun is a gun is a gun and even an ill-fitting gun put in the hands of someone who is skilled in shooting will perform adequately. He will get accurate hits at a good rate but he would perform better and more comfortably with something that fit him better. So also, if your skill were the same (or as it increases) you would be able to better assess the fit and feel of your firearm and what makes it right or wrong for you and adjust accordingly.

Skill is far more vital to performance than your equipment (presuming, of course, your equipment is quality enough to last). And eventually, as you get skilled enough, you can better gauge whether or not your performance will be augmented by your equipment and through what change--a small-handed person having better control with a single-stack firearm or having the grip reduced, a cross-dominant shooter getting better sight picture with a red dot, an individual with arthritis getting a trigger job, etc.

Most people do not seek out enough skill to where their equipment choice matters that much. There are exceptions, but that's the general truth. They buy a gun, they put maybe a box or two of ammo through it a year (if that) and whether or not it is the right one for them is irrelevant compared to their lack of skill.

So what does that mean for you? 

Well, it means nothing if you aren't committed to gaining skill. If you are committed you've likely already purchased a firearm, trained with it to the point where you've figured out what is working and what isn't (or your about to) and you might even be on your way to your next gun or a modification of the one you already have. Or you are lucky enough to be one of the few who bought a good fitting gun the first time but found you have a preference you'd like to change (sights, a cleaner trigger, an extended magazine release, etc).

I caution you! There is a point of diminishing returns. It happens all the time. A new shooter buys a gun. As he gains skill he finds what he doesn't like about his firearm and he changes it or modifies it. He gains more skill and changes or modifies his gun again. He often attributes his increase in skill to the modifications or new firearms he's purchasing. Then one day he finds out that a modification or new gun doesn't help. In fact, it hinders or he improves slightly in one area but worsens in another. The new gun doesn't shoot the way the old one did. He had better sight picture with the last sights. If he's not careful he can get stuck in a rut of cycling through gun after gun, throwing hundreds and thousands of dollars of equipment at a skill problem.

The solution? Find the gun that fits you best, make any modifications you have to (if any) and then leave the gun alone. Work on gaining more skill.

Now, there are a lot of people out there who say you should never (ever, Ever, EVER!!!!!!!) modify a carry gun. A lot has been written on that subject so go read it and make up your own mind on the matter. If you make a modification to your carry gun make sure you have a good, logical explanation for why you did it. If you have the disposable income, time and inclination to go nuts on a competition or range gun? Go. Be wild, my friend! But keep your carry gun as close to stock as feasible and avoid the equipment rut.

Finally, there are reportedly those out there who get lucky. They go into carry and shooting with a committed and realistic mindset. They wisely choose a stock firearm that fits them well, they train with it extensively and they gain in skill until they perform masterfully with the first and only gun they've ever bought. I have yet to personally catch said unicorn. Though I have met many who have been issued firearms for duty and gained skill to a very proficient degree with that duty gun that they apply to a personal firearm that fits them better when off duty. Even the best of the best out there have their stories about the guns they started out with and the changes they've made along the way.

In summation, if you're serious about this gun/carry thing, put the effort into getting a gun that fits you well. Take a class, rent, shoot with friends, ask for advice and (please, I implore you, FOR HEAVEN'S SAKE!!) listen to what that person tells you. Purchase a firearm and then commit yourself to gaining skill. Make note of what you like or don't like about your firearm as you train with it, talk to others about it, have an instructor critique you and make an educated decision as to whether or not it is an equipment problem or a YOU problem.

Adjust accordingly.

PS... If you are somehow misguided into thinking I have it all figured out, let me assure you that I am still struggling with my own likes, dislikes, frustrations, biases, stubbornness, changes, adaptations, learning curves, etc. If I ever figure it all out, you'll be the first to know.


  1. I agree, Lima. But there have been many cases where I have had to radically change equipment because of certain issues: such as the S&W .38spl Stainless Centennial having too brutal a recoil, cracked chamber, and a massively heavy trigger; a Python jamming up due to metal machining flotsam being left in the action and jamming it up, as well as having too large a grip; a S&W Airweight with (insanely) brutal recoil and a crazy-heavy trigger pull; a Tanfoglio 9mm Witness with a through-and-through cracked slide after only 2000 rounds.

    All of this made me finally settle on a 9mm Taurus PT1911 and a 9mm S&W M&P, and I'm glad I did -- after 40 years of shooting, I have finally found my lifetime carry and competition guns…

  2. I've been a shooter since I was five, started seeking good professional classes in defensive shooting starting in the late 70s and that continues through the present. I was flattered and honored to be asked to become an ass't instructor with an extremely good pair of head instructors in the early 80s after taking tons of their classes, often repeating each level and platform until I felt competent (including taking entire courses left handed). I instructed and re-took all platforms and levels. I am confident of my teaching abilities and have been thrilled to see my own students learn, increase their competency while trying to get them habituated to mechanics and thinking which would work at the next levels.

    If I were only able to say one thing which would help, it would be: Find a way to really enjoy shooting! It not only entails everything you've said and because it is something fun and rewarding. In the 80s people were often getting pistols only for defense without looking at it as another activity for entertainment, socializing etc. Women especially would listen to the 'experts' and get a light frame .38 Special revolver which as Cotter pointed out, has a sharp recoil. They would throw an avg of 12-18 rounds downrange and put it away in the nightstand. Enjoyment and positive feedback as well as getting a student to relax and be conscious of the rewarding feelings and excitement is self perpetuating. The most promising students of all ages and sex often suddenly realize that they get into a calming and almost meditational state while trying to line up all those degrees of freedom. They actually drop into the Bubble and realize it. I always try to get them not to get absorbed where everything is tunneled out (which is something a little beyond a rank beginner) to where they're focusing and more aware of everything which I may or may not say at that point becomes situational awareness.

    Thanks for the terrific article and keep the girls away from the guys (although that attitude has changed a lot in two decades) who feel threatened and them hand them the biggest meanest kicker they have :_( sniff.