Range gun vs. Real gun

From the email box, a reader asks a question which boils down to “what do you mean when you say ‘hobby gun’, and how is that different from any other gun?”  It’s actually a great question, because it helps create an understanding of how the opinions here on Gun Nuts get framed.  I personally have talked before about how I see the shooting sports through tunnel vision that often excludes activities outside my interest in competition shooting and defensive training.  That focus has created two distinct categories of firearms in my mind, which I’ve taken to calling “Range guns” and “real guns”.  “Range gun” is also interchangeable with “hobby gun”, because they both represent the same thing.

What’s a Range Gun?

When I think of a range gun, the guns that come to mind are fun guns, but not guns that I’d choose to win a match, defend my life, or take to a Pistol-Training.Com class.  I have a couple of these myself, my single action .22 Magnum revolver comes to mind as a really good example of a range gun or hobby gun.  This category is also where I tend to drop guns that don’t have a proven reputation for reliability; even if they’re from a reputable manufacturer I like to wait until they’ve been on the market for a bit before I give them the Gun Nuts Seal of Approval.

What’s a real gun?

Real gun or range toy?

A “real gun” is basically a gun I would depend on to save my life.  These are guns that have proven records of reliability, are in common use in competition, law enforcement, etc; this is a gun that I would pick up out of the box and take to a 1500 round class and expect to be absolutely stone reliable for that class.  For example, my S&W M&P Pro in .40 is a “real gun” – I’ve run over 1300 rounds through it so far, including a grueling 501 round 2.5 hour practice session.  Most of the ammo has been BVAC 180 grain FMJ, and the gun keeps on ticking.  Bottom line, a real gun is a gun that you can buy, get some mags for, and shoot 1000+ rounds out of in a class or match and not spend half the time trying to fix malfs to your gun.

Now, there’s a lot of cross-over depending on what you use your guns for.  For example, for someone that uses a .22 rifle for varmint control, a Ruger 10/22 might be a “real gun” because it’s ready to do what you need it to do right out of the box.  That’s sort of the defining factor between a real gun and a range gun.  A range gun is essentially an expensive toy – it’s primary use is going to the range and converting money into smoke and noise, and I want to be very clear that there is nothing wrong with that.  In fact, that’s totally awesome.  I would imagine that the great majority of the guns that are owned in this country are “range guns”, and that’s awesome, because it helps proliferate firearms ownership.  But a real gun, a serious gun, or a working gun – whatever you want to call it, must be ready out of the box (I’ll make an exception for changing the sights) to do whatever it is you need that pistol to do.  Whether it’s run during a defensive pistol class, win a trophy, ride in a radio car with you – that’s a real gun.


  1. That’s a great description, thanks.

    I would add that some range guns are more than converting money into smoke and noise – particularly those guns we might use to introduce someone to shooting.

    Out of my collection, I would include my Ruger Bearcat SA .22LR revolver, Walther P22, and M&P 15-22.

    I would never rely on them to save my life or function without malfs (well – the Bearcat doesn’t malf! – but still). I would also not choose to be without them.

    1. Well, and like I said there is a lot of “gray” in those definitions. I’d say that a gun that brings someone into the shooting sports is a “real gun”, because that gun is doing exactly what you need it to do.

  2. I have one 1911, because I wanted a 1911. It is a plus $1000 production gun. The gun new wouldn’t fire more than 5 rounds without a stoppage. After about two years in a gun safe I ran into a company rep who recommended I return it to them for repair. Since then the gun has functioned flawlessly. However, most of the time I use a 22lr conversion kit, which works OK when heavily lubed.

    I had never offically classified the gun as a Range Gun, but that’s what it is, to me anyway, A RANGE GUN.

  3. This is a tough one. I own a Walther PPS and a Kahr P9. They are both fun to shoot but I prefer the P9 for carry. The Walther is the “range gun” of that particular pair, but I know some folks that carry the PPS and call that their “real gun”.

    The other pair comparison is my XD9 and Sig P250. I have been doing drills with both and the Sig is growing on me. I know it doesn’t have the best rep, but I am liking the results. Which of those is the “real gun”.

    I think results are the key. If it runs well, and helps me improve my score then it is a “real gun”.

  4. So, Caleb… I can’t help but wonder; Cup of Starbucks, real gun or hobby gun?

    1. Hobby gun of course.
      Starbucks plain coffee is nearly undrinkable. Once you add the barrista’s work, steamed milk, sweetener, whip cream and chocolate you have a delightful confection.
      Sounds like a 1911 to me!

  5. “Bottom line, a real gun is a gun that you can buy, get some mags for, and shoot 1000+ rounds out of in a class or match and not spend half the time trying to fix malfs to your gun.”

    Good definition. A little wiggle room for a break in period or no?

  6. Just to muddy up the waters further….

    Three of my HD guns would probably fall into your “range gun” category….a Taurus 94 .22lr, a Stoeger 12ga Coach Gun, and a Ruger Blackhawk .357Mag. While I have plenty of fun with them on the range, I also count on them to back up my K-38, Firestar 9mm, and Springfield XDsc 9mm as HD guns. And, in some ways, my “range” guns outperform the “real” guns…the Blackhawk handles snakeshot loads better than the 9mm’s (we do have snakes here), and the Coach Gun…it’s a 12ga., what more do you have to add? I’m not a rich guy, so the guns I can afford have to do double duty. I don’t have the time or the funds for finicky toys.

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