The Gun You Shoot Best

A while back, some shooter friends and I were at a party, and the subject came up with what guns we each shot best. It was elucidating for all of us. We got to see ourselves as fellow shooters on the same team, who saw us in action with different guns and perceived us.

For my part, my wife insisted then (and now) that I shoot better with the .45 ACP 1911 than anything else. My buddy John Strayer was convinced I shot best with a Beretta 92 in 9mm Luger. A third team member called BS on both and said that my having won more titles lately (we’re talking about a past discussion, remember) with revolvers meant I shot a six-shooter better than anything else. And a fourth told me that since I had won more guns at matches lately with a Glock, I obviously shot a Glock better than anything else.

And me? My answer was that whatever I’ve been most familiar with lately was what I shot best.

Defining “Best”

During the time of the discussion, I shot on two pistol teams: a local one with friends, and one or another national squad, Team EoTac or Team Panteao.  One focus of any team is to win as many divisions as possible when you “ride for the brand.”  On the local team, since I was something of a gun slut celebrant of ballistic diversity who liked to shoot all different kinds of handguns, I’d enter whichever gun division no one else on the team was competing in.

On those national teams, though, we had Super Squad guys like Robert Vogel and Super Dave Harrington shooting in Stock Service Pistol and Enhanced Service Pistol with 9mm autos, and Mark Redl with the 1911 .45 in Custom Defense Pistol. I was the oldest on those teams and the only one who had started out with double-action revolvers, so I had become, by default, the designated six-gunner. That was why, since that team sponsored me at the major matches, I won those state champion and regional champion Service Revolver titles during that period.

Mas with Revolver and target
I was competing heavily in IDPA Stock Service Revolver when the S&W Model 15 .38 Special gave me this score in Connecticut. This and all the following photos are from 60-shot timed qualification demos shot in front of students, exact same course of fire: note identical scores and very similar group sizes.

Primacy of Training Elements

In shooting, the element of “Primacy of Training” is neither widely nor fully understood. It is most commonly mentioned in the context that what you learn first takes a strong hold, and if it is wrong, you have to burn it out or blast it out like a tree stump and plant something new in its place. When someone says “It’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks,” that’s what they’re talking about.

I started with a Colt 1911 .45 when I was 12 years old. As a young cop in the early 1970s, I carried one on duty as soon as I got permission, and though I went through a lot of duty sidearms in the course of forty-plus years as a part-time, fully-sworn officer, I finished in 2017 with another 1911 .45 on my hip. I’ve always felt confident with that gun, and it has always shot well for me. Familiarity and confidence go a long way toward building and maintaining competence.

Massad Ayoob with Springfield Armory Range Officer 1911 and target
Exact same timed course of fire shot in Tennessee class with Springfield Armory Range Officer 1911 and .45 ACP hardball.

That said, another element of Primacy of Training is recency: What have you been shooting most lately? That builds myelin in the nerve pathways to create “unconscious competence,” the ability to perform when you have to without thinking about it. It is generally accepted that we can perform complex psycho-motor skills – sequences of events that must come together in a fast-moving chain, such as drawing, aiming, and firing a gun – only after three thousand to five thousand repetitions. However, once you’ve performed that many reps with one firearm, the ability to adapt to a new one doesn’t take that many more “reps.” It does take some, though, and that’s why your true national and world champions practice as diligently as they do.

The Question of “The Best for What?”

My days on the “pro tour” of competition shooting are long behind me, but I still compete if only to remain in a “pressure laboratory” as both a firearms instructor and an armed citizen. The pressure of a shooting match is obviously not the same as that of a live-or-die-in-seconds situation, but at the same time, pressure is pressure. I’ve talked to competition shooters who, when they got into a gunfight, felt less pressure there than they did during a tournament. As legendary NYPD Stakeout Squad gunfighter Jim Cirillo explained when we shot together at the first Bianchi Cup in a gunfight, “There weren’t all these people watching you, and there wasn’t all this time to build up to it!”

Time Marches On

Accordingly, in my declining years, I’ve come to determine my primary carry gun based on what matches I’m going to be shooting. When my wife and I are on the road teaching, up to seven weeks at a time, we have some fudge factor built in to occasionally hit a range and get some trigger time. The fewer guns we travel with, the easier the travel is. The first quarter of the year is when our training schedule allows my wife and I to shoot Glock matches, so toward the end of the previous year, I’ll start carrying Glock pistols. The daily familiarity means something. In March, we’re always at the Rangemaster Tactical Conference, so the now-refamiliarized Glocks are with us both there.

Mas with Gen5 Glock 19 9mm and target
Same timed course, shot at a Mississippi class with stock Gen5 Glock 19 9mm.

Next on our match schedule is The Pin Shoot every June in Michigan (, which requires big heavy bullets to knock bowling pins off the table, so I go to my preferred 1911 .45 for the second quarter. Mid-summer I might go to a double-action auto, usually the Beretta by Wilson Custom or Langdon Tactical, returning to Glock at the end of the year. An instructor has to stay up with the different types of guns their students bring anyway, so it all works out.

Mas with Wilson Combat Beretta 92 Compact 9mm and target
…and the same 60-round course shot at a Firearms Academy of Seattle class with Wilson Combat Beretta 92 Compact 9mm.

A Few Parting Words

Once you have the fundamentals down – power stance, high hand grasp, crush grip, aiming index, smooth roll of the trigger – the transition isn’t hard at all.

What’s best will be determined by your particular needs. If there was any “one best gun,” we would all be carrying that one, and all the rest would be in museums.

Massad "Mas" Ayoob is a well respected and widely regarded SME in the firearm world. He has been a writer, editor, and law enforcement columnist for decades, and has published thousands of articles and dozens of books on firearms, self-defense, use of force, and related topics. Mas, a veteran police officer, was the first to earn the title of Five Gun Master in the International Defensive Pistol Association. He served nearly 20 years as chair of the Firearms Committee of the American Society of Law Enforcement Trainers and is also a longtime veteran of the Advisory Bard of the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association. A court-recognized expert witness in shooting cases since 1979, Ayoob founded the Lethal Force Institute in 1981 and served as its director until 2009. He continues to instruct through Massad Ayoob Group,

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