What’s gender got to do with it?

Over the weekend, I was musing on Mike’s post on picking a gun for a new shooter.  In the comments on my original link, Tam used her +5 wit to get me thinking about why exactly we spend so many pixels and so much text trying to find out what the best gun is for a “woman” new shooter as opposed to a male.  It’s nonsense when you really think about it.  You’ve got a 12 year old boy and a 12 year old girl that both want to learn to shoot; the gender doesn’t matter they’re both getting small .22s or an air rifle.  I personally would go the air rifle route, but that’s just a preference on my part.

The same thing applies of your scenario is “a 35 year old male and a 35 year old female both want to learn to shoot, what kind of gun should they get?”  The answer in either circumstance is “a .22”.  We can then debate endlessly about whether it should be a DA revolver, an SA revolver, or a semi-auto, but I really have started to believe that if you give a new shooter anything other than a .22 for their first range experience, you’re hurting the odds that they’re ever going to come back.

Of course, then you run into the problem that shoot a .22 at paper targets is boring.  I love .22s, and I could shoot a .22 at paper targets all day long, but that’s because I’ve come to enjoy the challenge of precision accuracy that you can get with a .22.  I started my competitive shooting on the US Coast Guard Academy’s pistol team, which means for a year I shot almost nothing but 10m air pistol – accuracy is my favorite part of the sport.  Not everyone has that background though; so for a brand new shooter they may want something that provides a skosh more feedback than just hitting a bullseye.  There are many options for this, but honestly I’d recommend talking to the person before you hit the range to find out what they like to do in their spare time.  If you’re going to an indoor range, you’re going to be limited in what you can do to provide feedback; but there are some options.

The final thing that I’d say is once they’ve shot a .22, don’t be afraid to give them something different.  Anecdote from my own experience: this last Friday I shot a single stage Tactical Rifle practice match at an indoor range.  On my way out of the range, I was running a few remaining rounds through my Colt Match Target, and a friend had brought his wife and daughter to the range heard the obscene muzzle blast that Miculek style brake on that gun puts out and were curious.  Now, for those of you that have shot an M4 set up with a serious brake on it, you know that it’s loud, but when you’re behind the gun it’s a ton of fun to shoot.  My M4 Match Target is set up with a Crimson Trace foregrip, making it about as user friendly as I possibly can.  Two new shooters shot the M4, and both left with the same ear to ear grin on their face after running a few rounds through it.  The moral of the story is “give them a .22 to start, but don’t be afraid to give them something else”.  AR15 pattern rifles are easy to shoot, and a ton of fun to shoot as well; so when you’re setting up your kit for a new shooter, throw a black rifle in there.

But remember, don’t make weird selections based on gender.  New shooters are new shooters, regardless of what type of pants they wear.


  1. “New shooters are new shooters, regardless of what type of pants they wear.” – well put.

    I’d like to note that even if you don’t have a safe full of guns its more important to take a new shooter out to the range than to have the perfect smorgasboard of guns for them to try. I’ve only got a half-dozen guns in my collection and have brought 3 shooters into the fold. It would have been easier with a few more pieces, but if I spent the money on guns I wouldn’t have ammo to share with people.

    1. I’ll second this. Even if all you have is a snub-nosed, titanium featherweight, dual-action only revolver, you can get some really low-pressure loads for it and try to get people started in the right direction.

      Not to mention that many gun ranges will rent you a .22 pistol for $5-10. You can go twenty times before you break even on buying one.

  2. You know, it does always come down to knowing the individual and that transcends gender. But those posts about “what to get a girl shooter” exist because of experience, not because everyone just decided to be sexist for a day.

    In general, the new shooters who were men I have shot with have a reaction to center fire, large bore pistols that can best be summed up as “RAR! Big gun go boom! With the flames, and the awesomeness!” They may not be able to hit the broad side of a barn, but they’re excited and want to try again just because they made a big noise and flames shot out of the barrel.

    Whereas I have had to very specifically steer women toward what they should all be shooting to begin with (ie, a .22) because shooting just wasn’t fun with the big-bored fire hose that their boyfriend brought along to shoot. There is much more of a “you need to get this person a quieter/softer recoiling gun right away or they will never want to come back” than with most men, rather than *just* the “it will make you a better shooter” aspect of things.

    Now, this may be a biased sample, as most of the guys I have shot with were at least to some degree video game/military nerds who wanted to come because they thought guns were cool, whereas the girls were there because their significant others cajoled them into thinking it would be fun. If you had a less self-selecting group things might be different.

    Also, I’ve still never managed to make practicing accuracy with a .22 pistol anything but boring for myself.

    1. “RAR! Big gun go boom! With the flames, and the awesomeness!”

      YES! This was exactly my experience with the first .357 magnum I shot – a Ruger Security Six. I liked the looks of it, I liked the sound of it and I could feel the shockwave on my face. I remember thinking “Oohh, I want one of these!” And, of course there was the big “Gun Grin,” as well.

      On the contrary, my wife, who is not shy, after shooting my little SR9 said, “I don’t like it.” She didn’t mind the 22 pistol, but the blast and recoil of the 9mm put her off.

      I think it’s mostly down to attitude, though. I have known gals who took to any gun they were handed (and outshot the guys while they were at it, too), and some who wouldn’t even consider shooting at all – said they were afraid of them.

      1. “The final thing that I’d say is once they’ve shot a .22, don’t be afraid to give them something different.”
        Caleb is saying to START everyone on a .22 so they can learn the basics and therefore be SAFE with a larger caliber – after that I am all for letting everyone try whatever they like.

          1. I would point out that the average woman does have less arm strength that the average man, altho there are exceptions to both generalities.

            And I also favor the airgun for a first ‘gun’, it can be shot almost anywhere, even in the home if a suitable backstop is used so frequent shooting sessions is a much easier possibility. My first shooting lessons were in the upstairs hallway with a Daisy bb gun.

          2. I’m a big fan of airsoft or BB guns for a first experience as well, at least until you get past the basic safety instruction.

            A lot of it comes down to whether a .22 provides enough “coolness” factor of a real gun to keep people interested. Personally, aside from their increased accuracy (which normally isn’t an issue for intro handgun ranges), I don’t get anything from shooting a .22 pistol that I don’t get from shooting cans in the back yard with an airsoft or bb gun. I don’t get the “real gun” coolness and fun until I shoot a centerfire.

            Rifles are a bit of a different story as accurate rifles are the only ones worth playing with.

  3. As a Gun Nut with a wife, 4 daughters, and a female dog, I’ll 2nd the “Start with a .22LR” as the first gun. All my girls love the Sig Mosquito as it fits their small hands better. Now they are into the “Black Rifle” with the S&W AR-15-22. They all have a grin on their faces after emptying a 25 round mag at a zombie target! My wife shoots the LCP better than I do with her small hands and now a few of the girls ask to shoot the 9mm pistols every time they come to the range. I also find that using the “Shoot & See” paste on targets helps new shooters with better feedback and enjoyment on their first shoot. And yes, the dog loves guns as well. Every time she hears a slide rack on any gun she comes running thinking its time to play chase the laser!

  4. Caleb, I agree that gender *should* make no difference, but it does. The difference, though, in my experience, is with the shooters, not necessarily with the teacher.

    I’ve introduced some people to guns and have taught martial arts for years, and when it comes to men and women, both endeavors have shown the same things. Women commonly view shooting as a man’s domain, and those who have this view approach it with trepidation. Men also commonly view shooting as a man’s domain, and those who have this view approach it as though they already know how.

    Women will typically listen to what an instructor (who isn’t the husband) says. With a little encouragement, and starting with the mindset that they know nothing, they will learn from the ground up. Which means they learn well and quickly.

    Men will come in with their preconceived notions and what they’ve already learned elsewhere, and they’ll just expect “to pick up a thing or two.” So they often don’t listen, and they frequently have to unlearn more than they need to learn. And some of them let their egos get in the way.

    In both shooting and martial arts, I have found it easiest to teach women and veterans. Women come in without preconceptions or ego, and veterans have been taught to pay attention and not “interpret” what they are taught.

    Now when teaching kids, usually younger than 12, I have rarely noticed a difference in teaching one gender or the other.

    DISCLAIMER: Of course there are exceptions. Please notice that I used words like “most,” “many,” “typically” and “frequently” to indicate that these statements are not meant to be absolutes.

  5. For feedback, get shoot-n-see or dirty bird targets. There’s nothing like being able to see your hits immediately

    Other reactive targets will work as well, but not all ranges will allow plates, &c

  6. Body mass, hand strength & size, general upper body strength… these all make a difference in terms of shooting and there are straightforward anatomical differences between the average male and average female in those factors.

    The bigger issue is that most of the “what gun for wife?” discussions would be better retitled “what gun for someone who is only going to the range because I’ve nagged her repeatedly even though she has little to no interest in it herself?” THAT makes a huge difference.

    1. I don’t disagree that there are anatomical differences between men and women, and when you look at the skill involved at shooting at a high level, those definitely factor in. I’m not thinking at that level though, but strictly at the level of “someone is interested in pursuing shooting as a hobby but has no experience”.

    2. The bigger issue is that most of the “what gun for wife?” discussions would be better retitled “what gun for someone who is only going to the range because I’ve nagged her repeatedly even though she has little to no interest in it herself?” THAT makes a huge difference.

      This statement is Truth.

  7. The Cornered Cat has good insights into gender differences.

    “Guys, please hear me out. Your wife’s or girlfriend’s femininity might be the most important thing about her in your eyes, but it really has no bearing on what she can shoot or how well she’ll learn to do so. There are a lot — I mean a LOT — of other variables that matter far more than the sex of the shooter.

    Now that we’ve dispensed with the ” … for a woman” bit, let’s try to define the question a little more precisely. Here are some criteria that affect gun choice.

    Is she …

    * …. a beginning shooter?
    * … afraid of noise or recoil?
    * … someone who doesn’t want a gun?
    * … not mechanically inclined?
    * … someone who weighs less than __ pounds?
    * … someone with small hands?
    * … someone who has weak hands, or who has joint issues, such as arthritis?
    * … planning to conceal carry?
    * … looking for a gun for home defense?
    * … someone who just wants to have fun on the range?
    * … an experienced long gun shooter who wants to get into handgunning?

    As you will probably note, any of these things might be true of any particular woman, but not one of them is true for all of us. Nor are any of these questions unique to women only.

    Let’s take those possibilities one at a time, and see what we can come up with….”

  8. The first gun my wife shot was my Glock 19. The only trouble she has is that she lacks the hand strength to vigorously rack the slide, but she manages. She also shot my .22lr pistol, which she laughed at because of the lack of recoil. She prefers the Glock, which is a good thing, since it’s our home defense gun. She has practiced with it several times since, but I pretty much have to twist her arm to get her to go to the range with me.
    She is not keen on my AR, as she doesn’t like the controls and is somewhat intimidated by all the sound and fury when she pulls the trigger.

    Personally, I was raised on BB guns, then .22 rifles, and I think that is an excellent route for kids. BB guns are a little “less lethal” if a mistake is made while gun safety is ingrained, and I think long guns are inherently safer than handguns because it takes a little more work to sweep someone with the muzzle.

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