How to (Successfully) Choose Your First Gun

Choosing your first gun is exciting. New gun owners often enter the gun store with some idea of what they want but little else. Between dealing with the opinions of sometimes pushy salesmen and what the internet screams, it can be tough to find exactly what you want and, more importantly, what you need. Today, I hope to help you make your first purchase a successful one. By “successful,” I mean I hope to help you find a quality gun that works well and fits your needs. It’s easy to just go buy a gun, but it can be hard to get the right gun. 

I have seven tips to guide you in the right direction of obtaining the perfect first gun for you! These aren’t universal answers to finding the right rifle for shooting out to 1 mile. I doubt many first-time gun owners are aiming that way. This is a bit more generalized for first-time gun owners and their typical use cases. 

Finding the Perfect First Gun 

Identify Its Purpose 

What do you intend to use the weapon for? For most first-time gun owners, it’s typically one of three answers. Each of those answers is its own discussion. 

Self-Defense – The most common reason a new gun owner goes gun shopping is for self-defense. Self-defense can be broken into two categories: Home defense and concealed carry. If you are concerned with home defense and do not want to carry it, then a rifle or shotgun is the better choice inside the home. They are better fight-enders.

If you want one gun that does both, then you want a handgun. I would prefer something mid-size, like the Glock 19, SIG P320C, or even as far as the P365XL. These guns can be used for home defense and carried rather easily.

Compact pistols: Glock 19, Sig p320, and CZ P10C
Compact seems to be the Goldilocks size of a pistol.

Hunting – New hunters are born every day, and in most cases, they have a more experienced hunter guiding their choices. The big question you have to ask here is, what am I hunting? If you are hunting deer, then a rifle or shotgun is the typical answer. A rifle gives you an excellent tool for short, medium, and long ranges. Your rifle caliber will determine the size of the game.

If you’re hunting birds, then a shotgun is your only choice. Shotguns do tend to be the best “do-all” hunting weapons within 100 yards. Something like a 12-gauge shotgun can take anything from birds and squirrels to deer and bears.

Just For Fun – Shooting is fun. The just-for-fun gun can really be anything. I tend to point to rimfire handguns or rifles. The famed .22LR is ultra easy to shoot and very cheap to shoot as well. A good, reliable .22LR handgun or rifle can be a blast, especially for a new shooter just learning the ropes. 

Understand Cost and Value 

In the gun world, the idea that you get what you pay for is very real. Cheap guns are cheap for a reason, and guns from companies like Cobra, Raven, Phoenix, and more are junk. They are not a value purchase. 

Value brands like Taurus have had a spotty reputation historically, but Taurus has also turned itself around quite a bit. There are plenty of great budget guns, but you must do your research. The difference between cheap and affordable is huge. A lot of classic shotguns like the Mossberg 500 and Maverick 88 are affordable options, but that super cheap Turkish shotgun is likely crap. 

Shooting the Stribog SP10A3
Shooting the Stribog SP10A3 on the range. [Photo: Jason Mosher]
At the same time, if you spend as much money as possible, you might get a gun with features you’re paying for but will never use. Do you plan to compete at a high-level PCC competition? No? Well, the JP5 is a great gun, but you’re unlikely to really experience its high value as a casual shooter. Guns like the Benelli M4 are truly awesome, but that doesn’t mean you need to spend $2,000 on a shotgun to defend your home. 

What Support Does the Industry Offer? 

If you are looking for a concealed carry gun, you need to research the gun and your ability to obtain holsters, ammo, maybe a light, and more. Popular guns get industry support, but not all great guns are popular. Mossberg makes a great pistol, but holsters can be tough to find. 

Swampfox Centinel II on the Glock 45.
Swampfox Centinel II on the Glock 45. [Photo: Jason Mosher]
When you research your particular gun, look at the support that’s out there. Can you find replacement parts for your expensive rifle or your cheap shotgun? Can you customize the gun to fit you with an adjustable stock? Are magazines available and affordable? There are tons of guns that I like that I often won’t suggest to new shooters for these very reasons. 

Does the Gun Fit You? 

One of the most common pieces of advice I see online is, “Just go to the gun store and see what feels good in your hand.” That’s stupid advice. Guns do need to fit, but it’s not necessarily about feeling good. 

When you grip a gun, you want to be sure your hand can easily reach the trigger. You also want to be capable of reaching the gun’s various controls. This could be the safety, magazine release, slide lock/release, charging handle, etc. If a gun is too big, these controls might be very difficult to reach. 

Shotgun benelli M4
The Freedom Fighter Tactical Magazine tube brings it back to full capacity.

You need to make sure you can properly manipulate the slide or bolt of the weapon. Do you have the strength to work the action of the slide? If it’s a rifle or shotgun, when you place the stock in the shoulder, how does it feel? If you have to lean backward, it’s too long. It should feel comfortable, and you should be able to hold the weight of the weapon up with ease. 

Common Calibers Are a Big Deal 

I really love shooting M1 Carbines. They are lightweight, low-recoiling weapons that are accurate and just fun all around. I wouldn’t suggest one to a new shooter because .30 Carbine is pricey and can be tough to find. It’s not a common caliber. Common calibers are affordable, easy to find, and plentiful in a variety of loadings. 

Auto Ordnance M1 Carbine magazine
The Auto Ordnance M-1 carbine 15-round magazine looks as good as it functions.

For automatic handguns, the most common caliber is 9mm, but for revolvers, it is .38 Special and .357 Magnum. For intermediate rifles, it’s 5.56/223 Remington, and for full-powered rifles, it’s still going to be .308. The most common shotgun caliber is 12 gauge, and the most common rimfire round is .22LR. 

These aren’t the only options, but they are the most common. 

Try Before You Buy (If Possible) 

If you can, go to a range that offers rentals. It will give you a chance to try out a multitude of different firearms. You can experience what fits and what doesn’t. You can experience different levels of recoil and find what hopefully works well for your needs. This isn’t the cheapest way to do your research, but you’ll get a great experience. 

Go To the Gunstore More Than Once 

My final piece of advice is to go to your gun store of choice, even an online gun store, and write down the names and model numbers of guns that interest you. Take those models and search “X GUN Problems” on the internet machine. So, for example, if you’re interested in the S&W Shield. Search  “S&W Shield problems.”

Need a CCW gun?
Shooting the M&P Shield 2.0 on the range. [Photo: Jason Mosher]
This will present you with the experiences of actual users and give you an idea of real-world problems. You might follow it up with S&W Shield Problems Reddit” or other forums with gun-related boards to get more specific problems. Once you’ve narrowed down the problem guns, you can go back and make your purchase if and when you’re ready to do so. 

A Successful Experience 

It can be tricky to give advice on a multitude of guns. I hope what I’ve offered will give you a good jumping-off point to getting a good gun for your purposes. If you have any questions, feel free to ask below, and remember, the absolute best place to find magazines for your gun is and always will be GunMag Warehouse!

Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine Gunner and a lifelong firearms enthusiast. Now that his days of working a 240B like Charlie Parker on the sax are over he's a regular guy who likes to shoot, write, and find ways to combine the two. He holds an NRA certification as a Basic Pistol Instructor and is probably most likely the world's Okayest firearm instructor. He is a simplicisist when it comes to talking about himself in the 3rd person and a self-professed tactical hipster. Hit him up on Instagram, @travis.l.pike, with story ideas.

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