compact handguns vs full size

Are Full Size Or Compact Handguns Better To Carry?

The debate between full size or compact handguns is really one of what compromises a person is more willing to live with for a carry gun. Do you want to sacrifice the ease of shooting? Or would you rather give up a little comfort?

Really, you should carry the gun you like the most and shoot the best. If you like to carry it, and can use it well, who cares? But with that said, for those that wonder if they should just belly up to the bar and carry a big duty handgun or size down for comfort, let's get into some specifics.

Compact Handguns Can Be A Little More Difficult To Shoot

compact handguns

The compromise when it comes to carrying a smaller gun is that compact handguns CAN be more difficult to shoot...though you'd be surprised by how well-mannered many compact and subcompact pistols are.

The truth is that compact and subcompact pistols are capable of every feat a full-size gun is. They can be just as accurate for practical shooting and indeed even for target shooting. Shoot one from a Ransom Rest or bench rest and you'll see. Accuracy can be affected by barrel length, to be sure, as can velocity. However, not that much at typical combat distances.

What actually makes people worse with compact pistols has nothing to do with barrel length, sight radius, ammunition velocity and so on. It has more to do with the grip and the recoil. If you can't grip a pistol properly, it will throw off the aim.

Recoil anticipation can result in wristing or tensing the shooting hand before pulling the trigger and that will foul shots.

With that said, there are ways to reduce recoil and adjust grip, so these "problems" are totally surmountable.

A Service Pistol Can Shoot Great...But Can Be A Hassle To Carry

service pistol

For the average person concealing and carrying, toting a service pistol can be a real pain. The length, width and weight makes concealment outside the waistband difficult unless wearing a jacket at all times and problematic inside the waistband.

Or at least uncomfortable. At the very least, you need a good gun belt to provide the necessary support. You'll also be fully aware of the goiter between you and your belt, at all times. You'll feel the weight at all times while carrying it. You can even develop lower back problems from it.

Granted, there are some full-size pistols that are actually not bad for concealed carry. 1911 pistols, for instance, tuck very easily into the waistband due to their slim width, being less than an inch wide at the slide. Browning Hi-Power and CZ-75 pistols are rather slim at the slide; it's the grips that fattens them up. A pair of slim panels and they're easy.

Some of the plastic fantastics are slim enough to conceal and light enough to carry a bit more comfortably. More people carry a Glock 17 on a daily basis than you might think and other striker guns, such as the M&P9 or Heckler & Koch VP9 are quite totable as well.

In previous eras, there were too many compact pistols of high quality. Snubbie revolvers, the S&W Model 39 and the Walther PPK were about the most you had to work with for a long time, and the Model 39 didn't get really good until the 39-2 model in the 1970s. However, the game seriously changed with the Glock 26 in the 1990s.

As a result, there is a lingering distrust among some people for compact guns. Additionally, some people feel the need to have as many rounds as one can possibly carry at any given time.

Additionally, larger pistols are easier to be accurate with and tame recoil much better. They also tend to get better performance out of ammunition due to the longer barrel length. Naturally, people want to be competent with what they do and especially with their shooting if they're going to conceal and carry.

So...easier to shoot, but harder to carry. More than once it has been said that a carry pistol is supposed to be comforting but not necessarily comfortable. After all, you need to know that it will work at the moment of truth.

Carry What Works, Be It Compact Handguns Or An N-Frame

compact pistols vs full size

The thing is that you should carry what works for you, whether that's a big 'ol N-frame magnum revolver or one of a number of compact handguns.

Something to bear in mind is that too much can be made about target shooting at longer ranges. A truth about defensive shootings is that they usually happen within 10 yards. Some do occur at longer distances but for the most part you will be up close and personal with an attacker. Your ability to cloverleaf at 50 yards isn't, in all likelihood, going to come into play; your ability to get that first shot on target with accuracy quickly will.

If you find you can group decently, but don't fully enjoy shooting a smaller handgun, there are some tricks to reduce recoil. Extended magazines, grip sleeves, swappable backstraps or comfort grip panels can help significantly. Plenty of people also use low-recoil ammunition or a smaller grain weight. If 230-grain .45 ACP gives you fits, try 185-grain instead. If you usually carry 147-grain 9mm, try the 115. Since mass of the bullet directly effects recoil, that will also take a bit off the top.

Then again, carry whatever you like! If it works for you, it works for you and it just doesn't matter what it is.



Sam Hoober 

About The Author


Born in southeastern Washington State, Sam Hoober graduated in 2011 from Eastern Washington University. He resides in the great Inland Northwest, with his wife and child. His varied interests and hobbies include camping, fishing, hunting, and spending time at the gun range as often as possible.

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