Small Guns are Difficult to Shoot

I heard this the other day, and it made me think. I have heard from several friends, over the years, how much they hate shooting smaller guns. I, of course, have a similar issue. For example, we have a Sig P238. It is a great gun, but it is small, and it is really difficult, for me, to shoot it well.

Of course, I like to ponder on stuff like this, and I ask myself questions. The two questions, in this case are:

  • Why?
  • Does it really matter?


As a quick review, remember the three secrets of shooting, accurately:

  1. Sight Alignment – This is the alignment of the front and rear sights, so that the front sight is right in the center of the rear sight and the top of the front imagesight is even with the top of the rear sights.
  2. Sight Picture – The top edge of the front sight should be centered on the target, and you should focus on the front sight.
  3. Trigger Control –You need to maintain sight alignment and sight picture while pressing the trigger. Another way of saying it is, once you have your sight picture, your gun should not move while you press the trigger.

Why are small guns difficult to shoot, accurately?

It is important to recognize that different handguns have many different features and capabilities. For this post, I pulled out four different handguns: The 1911, Glock 19, Smith & Wesson M&P Shield, and Sig P238. All of these four handguns are single stack, except for the Glock 19, which is a double stack. There are clear size differences between the four handguns, and there are also clear differences in how they perform when it comes to accuracy. The 1911, is incredibly accurate, but is probably not what we would all consider the best choice when it comes to a concealed carry handgun.

I chose these four as they are from different manufacturers, as well as being different sizes. Typically, the industry breaks handguns down to these size categories:

  • Full Size – Some examples include the 1911, Beretta 92FS, Glock 17, Smith & Wesson M&P 9, and other full sized service handguns. These handguns will usually be carried in an outside the waistband holster. While they can be concealed, they can be  challenge to conceal.
  • Compact – This would be the next step down in size. This category includes guns like the Glock 19, Springfield XD 9, Beretta 92 FS Compact, and the Smith & Wesson M&P 9C. Every one of these guns is capable of being used as a concealed carry handgun, depending on clothing and body type. Some people, however, have trouble concealing guns in this category.
  • Sub-compact – The next step down is the sub-compact. Some examples  include handguns like the Glock 26, Glock 43, Smith & Wesson Shield, Springfield XDs, and the Honor Defense Honor Guard. Most of these guns are single stack guns. The Glock 26 is a notable exception, as it is a double stack.
  • Pocket-This category is often referred to as mouse guns. Some examples include the Ruger LCP, Sig P238, and the Beretta Nano. There are many others, and they will use .380 ACP, .32 ACP, and .25 ACP. Almost all newer pocket pistols will shoot .380 ACP.

The differences between the four handguns include the following attributes that I feel have the greatest impact on accuracy:

  • Sight Radius – Obviously, on larger guns, with longer slides (or shorter barrels if you are talking about revolvers), the sight radius is longer. A longer sight radius is important when it comes to accurate shooting, which is why target shooting guns have longer slides, like the Glock 34 or 17L.
  • Grip Size – One of the keys to accurate shooting is keeping the sights aligned and the sight picture in place while activating the trigger. Getting, and keeping a good grip on the gun during trigger compression is very important.
  • Weight – Larger guns, obviously, are heavier. Well, in most cases that is true.
  • Ammunition – Of the four handguns, we have the 1911 that shoots .45 ACP, the Glock 19 and Shield shoot 9mm Luger/Parabellum, and the Sig P238 that shoots .380 ACP. Different ammunition creates different levels of recoil. The felt recoil can impact accuracy when the shooter starts to anticipate the recoil and jerks the gun in an attempt to minimize the jerking in their hands.

Note: The trigger and action are significant factors in accuracy, too. There is no doubting that a single action handgun is often more accurate than a double action or a striker fired handgun as it is easier to keep the sight alignment and sight picture with a short and smooth trigger. I am not discounting the trigger and action. While the trigger in a handgun can be improved or replaced, the difference between a hammer fired and striker fired gun can’t really be changed.

While each attribute comes into play, some of them are much more larger factors. For example:

  • The 1911 uses .45 ACP, but the ammunition is not a significant factor as the weight of the 1911 and its single action trigger more than make up for the ammunition’s impact.
  • The Sig P238 uses .380 ACP, but the weight of the all metal P238 and its single action trigger do not overcome the short sight radius and the short grip length.

Full size vs Compact

Compare1If you refer to the picture of the 1911 and the Glock 19, it is clear that the Glock 19 is shorter in length. The longer length of the 1911 provides for a longer sight radius and longer barrel. The 1911 has a longer grip, too. 

Of course, the 1911 is also all metal, and it has a single action trigger. When you add up all of the benefits of the 1911, as a full size gun, you end up with a much more accurate handgun, and it is also much easier to shoot even though it uses a .45 ACP as compared to the Glock 19’s 9mm. The weight of the all metal frame helps absorb the recoil energy and makes the 1911 very easy for most people to shoot. While the grip surface of the 1911 is longer, since it is a single stack, it does not have much girth. Compare7Compare5

While the pictures are not the same proportions, you can see that I am able to get all of my firing hand on the grip of both guns without any issues. The Glock 19 is a double stack, so it is has more girth. The double stack can be an issue for some people with smaller hands.

Note: Yeah, I need a manicure. My hands are far from pretty with the scars and the nicks and scratches. I should have had somebody with pretty hands for the pictures, but I wanted to get this post done.

From my personal experience, I can really shoot the 1911, easily, and accurately. If I had to go to the range with some friends and have a shooting competition, i will use the 1911.

Compact vs Sub-compact

If you refer to the picture of the Glock 19 as Compare2compared to the Smith & Wesson M&P Shield, it is clear that the Shield is shorter in length. The shorter slide, with the shorter sight radius and barrel, means that it is not as accurate as the Glock 19. At least, that is my experience.

Both guns have polymer frames, and, in this case, shoot 9mm. Both guns are striker fired, and have similar trigger behaviors.  Those that are experts will probably notice that I have replaced the Shield’s trigger with the Apex trigger and spring kit because I hated the hinged trigger. Some people will also notice that I changed out the trigger shoe on the Glock. I also did some polishing of both trigger components to smooth out burrs. The result is that the triggers are very similar.

The Glock 19 is a double stack, while the Shield is a single stack. The Shield also has a shorter Compare4gripe. However, the Shield comes with two different magazines, and I use the extended magazine, as shown, so I can get a good firing grip on the gun. I also added the rubberized Talon grips to the Shield to make it easier for me to hold onto the gun. Because of the extended magazine and the Talon grips, I find the Shield easy to shoot, as well. If I were to go with the Shield’s flush fit magazine, I would not be able to get my pinky on the grip, and would not have as good of a grip on the gun. With the flush fit grip, I find that I am not able to shoot the Shield as well as with the extended magazine.

Note: I carry the Shield in situations where the Glock 19 tends to print, too much for my tastes. The single stack of the Shield makes it much easier to conceal. I carry the Glock 19 whenever possible because of its larger capacity, though.

Sub-compact vs Pocket

Comparing the single stack Shield to the Sig P238, shows, very clearly, the Compare3size differences. The Sig’s slide is much shorter and the grip is also much shorter. You end up with a shorter sight radius, and a shorter barrel.

The big differences are that the Sig has a metal frame, uses .380 ACP, and has a single action trigger. While the .380 is not as powerful as the 9mm, and the metal frame of the Sig gives it more heft, the Sig is actually a great deal snappier than the Shield. The reason that a shooter, especially somebody with larger hands, experiences more felt recoil is the  inability to get a good grip on the gun. With more felt recoil comes the susceptibility to “push” the gun in anticipation of the recoil. While the anticipation can be minimized with lots of practice, the grip will still be a factor in keeping the gun steady while shooting.

It is really easy to see the issue with the grip on the Sig when you see how I Compare6can’t get my pinky on the grip. I can barely get my first two fingers on the grip.

Of course, there is another issue at play when shooting this gun. The trigger is much closer, and it is a bit awkward for my index finger to reach the trigger and operate it as well as the other guns shown in this post.

While, I have lots of issues shooting the Sig, and other pocket sized guns, accurately, does it even matter?

Does it matter that small guns are difficult to shoot, accurately?

Yes, it Does – Of course, accuracy is vital. We have all learned that you have to get good hits if you want to stop the threat. So long as you are using good ammunition and of the proper type, good hits should stop the threat. While there is debate about whether the .380 ACP is good enough for self defense, the .380 ACP, and some other rounds in small guns, will get the job done.

No, it Does Not – We are not having a bull’s eye shooting competition. Most conflicts occur at very short distances, and getting shots on target is not as difficult as people have been led to believe when at close quarters. After all, we often teach point shooting and using a close quarter retention stance, when shooting at close contact distances. We probably will not get the chance to use our sights until we have gotten some distance from the attacker and have already shot a couple of rounds.


You have to take into account several factors when selecting your gun, and accuracy may not be the most important concern. Oh, yeah, and practice, practice, practice.

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