Cost-effective intro to handguns in Northern Virginia?


August 30, 2004, 10:46 AM
Hey guys,

First and foremost, I want to say "greetings from Fairfax, VA!". I have read some of the posts on here and I really like the atmosphere. Really seems like there is a nice contingent of locals here, which I really like. I would like to ask you locals about the most cost-effective way to familiarize myself with handguns in this area. Specifically, here's my situation ...

... I am new to guns. Have been doing some research but have never shot a gun. I was considering purchasing a 357 4-inch revolver (S&W 65/66 or Ruger Security-Six/GP100) and heading to a range. However, from reading a few posts on here, I get the feeling I should go out and rent some guns first. Is this the right way to go? If so, how much renting should I do and what will is cost (with ammo, etc)? I want to make sure I purchase the right caliber/model firearm but I am almost certain that it should be a 357 revolver. Unfortunately, since I am a lowly student, I need to be relatively cost-efficient. Any input you have is greatly appreciated. I apologize in advance if this post is non-sensical. :)

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Ala Dan
August 30, 2004, 11:08 AM
First, Welcome to The High Road KONY!:D

You are on the right track, with your thought of renting firearms
to familiarize yourself with. Firearms rentals (with ammo) can
get expensive very quickly; another suggestion would be too
find a friend that was willing to share their handguns, in an
effort to let you see what suits you best.

I like to suggest that students new to the shooting sports start
with a revolver; something like a .22 LR caliber Smith & Wesson
model 18, or a Colt Diamondback. Or even a S&W model 17/617.
You get the"feel" for the weapon as you train; and the ammo
cost will not run you out of the house or home. Once you have
mastered the .22LR, then you could move up to a very nice
.357 magnum target revolver; such as the Ruger GP-100's,
or the Smith & Wesson 13/19/27/28/65/66/686.

The 4" tube is an excellent choice for target work, or home D'.
I prefer the target sighted models such as Smith's 19, 27, 28,
66, or 686. Frames sizes vary, and quite naturally the small
"pocket rocket" .357's will have fixed sights. An exception to
this rule is the S&W 2.5" model 19, 66, or 686; but they are
not designed for pocket carry either.

Ruger's SP-101 is very popular among handgunners; it too,
is also too heavy for pocket carry. The good thing about the
.357 maggie, is the fact that you can practice with the less
expensive .38 Specials (even handloads); and carry the HOT
125 grain JHP's available from most commerical manufactuers.

And your choice should evolve around the guns application;
in other words, what is the gun going too be used for? I
believe if you make a "perfect fit", you will acquire a weapon
that you will be very proud to own. Your shooting ability will
progress with lots of training.

Best Wishes,
Ala Dan, N.R.A. Life Member

Harry Tuttle
August 30, 2004, 11:13 AM
a .357 is a nice piece but learning to shoot with a lower power round gets you further down the road

i would go to Blue Ridge arsenal:

and rent a 22lr pistol and work your way up to the bigger guns.

unlearning a trigger flinch borne from shooting a large caliber handgun can take alot of time.

Another option would be to hook up with some NVA THRers at the NRA indoor range in Fairfax.

August 30, 2004, 11:16 AM
Welcome to THR!!!

Ala Dan is right. It would be a good idea to network with people on THR from VA and try out some of theirs. The "Rally Point" forum is ideal for that... just start a new thread asking for an intro to shooting and trying a variety of guns. I'm sure you'll get many responses, especially from the gaggle of members we have from VA. THR members LOVE taking new shooters to the range.

As a final note, I'll second the suggestion to get a .22 first. It's essential to learn the basics with a manageable caliber (the recoil and LOUD BOOM of a .357 will almost certainly cause bad habits to develop). After that, move on to the .357.

Again, welcome!


August 30, 2004, 11:26 AM
Yet another option is Gilbert's Small Arms Range in Newington, right off 95, across from the big tank farm. All the staff are helpful people. They have many different guns for rent or sale. Go in, explain your situation, and follow their advice. I'd recommend you take a beginner's shooting course at the range so you learn how to handle guns and shoot the right way the first time. Safety is paramount. Your gun choices look good, but listen to the pros before you decide.

August 30, 2004, 11:40 AM
Welcome to the High Road! This is a great group of people here.

Renting a few firearms to see what you like is the way to go. Shooting a lot of guns in a short period of time is a luxury and you can learn a lot in that period of time. I don't know how much shooting experience you have. If you are very new to the lifestyle, getting just a little bit of instruction about shooting grip, technique and of course firearms safety is a really good idea. Start some relationships with folks at your range and see if they will spend some time with you, showing you the ropes. Learn the basics first.

In my opinion a 357 revolver is an excellent choice for a first handgun. You could get a 38 Special or .22, but you would very soon outgrow it. A Ruger GP-100 with a 4 inch barrel is an excellent choice for a first handgun, for general purpose use. It's my favorite out of the ones you listed. The others are outstanding pistols as well, but the GP-100 is the most durable (it's really overbuilt).

Security Sixes can be had from $150-$250 from . Just get it shipped to your local dealer from the seller and do the background check once it arrives. Centerfire Systems currently has some S&W's that are probably well-used but in good working condition for about $260 ( If you call them, talk to Lois. She's great. A Ruger GP-100 will cost you ~$350 used, $400-$450 new.

Good luck.

August 30, 2004, 12:16 PM
Have been doing some research but have never shot a gun.

Like everyone else said - before trying out different handguns, take a Basic Pistol class first. are available in northern VA. You don't need to bring your own pistol - they'll have plenty available.

If you eventually want a CHL, take the Personal Protection course. The time spent with the attorney about the laws regarding the use of lethal force is more than worth the cost of the class.

August 30, 2004, 12:48 PM
Wow, didn't expect such a great number of responses so soon. I will try to post something on the Rally forum soon. I guess .22LR will be my next move. Perhaps I'll buy some ammo and hit the ranges. I was looking at the piedmont basic pistol classes, next one seems to be in mid-October. I will try to avoid buying til then. Also, I think there's a gun show at Dulles around that time. Because of cost, I think I may go used so perhaps I could find someone that knows how to check used revolvers to go along with me to ensure I select a good piece.

Now, I have some more questions. I think I want a revolver but I have heard that auto's are the way to go for .22LR. Any truth to this? Also, I have heard that finding good used .22LR guns are difficult because most folks seem to use them a great deal and fail to properly maintain them. Again, any validity to this?

Everyone, thank you for the helpful suggestions!

August 30, 2004, 12:51 PM
If you're in Fairfax, stop in the NRA range and see what training they have going on. They usually have stuff posted. Anyway, it's a nice indoor range, though they don't have rental guns that I'm aware of.

August 30, 2004, 01:23 PM

First, welcome to THR; I believe your assessment is correct that this is a board where wisdom and civility prevail.

Second, your initial post makes great sense. I have always endorsed (here on THR, on TFL and on S’ville, too) a very high quality, four-inch, .357 magnum/.38 Special revolver as an excellent starter -- AND DO EVERYTHING WELL -- handgun. The models you mention are all excellent (my favorite initial sidearm is a Ruger KGP-141, the four-inch, all stainless, full underlug GP100 revolver). If you review the TFL and THR archives, you will find thousands of posts endorsing high-quality, medium frame, .357 magnum/.38 Special revolvers, and for good reason: they are excellent for a WIDE variety of tasks, fundamentally because they can accommodate a huge variety of loads, from mild/inexpensive .38 Special target/plinking rounds to very potent .357 magnum defensive rounds.

Third, I, too, strongly recommend Gilberts in Newington. I have been seriously shooting for decades and have lived in Fairfax County for 22 years. You will find no better, friendlier, more helpful place to start than Gilberts.

Best regards, and we are here to help.

August 30, 2004, 01:38 PM
I think I want a revolver but I have heard that auto's are the way to go for .22LR. Any truth to this? Also, I have heard that finding good used .22LR guns are difficult because most folks seem to use them a great deal and fail to properly maintain them. Again, any validity to this?

Semi-autos are a whole new ballgame, compared to revolvers. Revolvers are nice and great for beginners because their operation is relatively simple and they are very reliable. Getting a reliable semi-auto isn't necessarily difficult, but there are more factors involved that you need to know about (ammo type/brand selection, quality mags, internal parts function like ejectors and feed ramps and springs, slide looseness), which can all make the pistol unreliable with lots of FTF (failure to feed, fail to fire) and FTE (failure to extract). 22 caliber semi-autos can be especially unreliable, jamming quite often. But it all depends on the individual pistol, and those 22 semi-autos can make great target plinking pistols. Shoot the different guns you've mentioned at a range where you can rent them and you will have a better idea about what you want to do. It's hard to go wrong with a good quality wheel gun for your first firearm. You can do a lot with it.

BTW, if you are going to check out a revolver and possibly purchase it, read this thread. It's great info about choosing a good quality revolver over a lemon.

August 30, 2004, 03:30 PM
definately take the basic pistols class. it's cheap, it's good instruction, and it counts towards a chl.

August 30, 2004, 03:40 PM
Lots of good advice so far, but I wouldn't necessarily go for a .22 first. If you wind up only having the one gun for a while, it's not the best choice in an all-purpose handgun. I'd think in terms of a .357, and start out shooting .38 Spl loads until you're used to it. Cheaper and less recoil.

Welcome to KONY and Titus from a fellow denizen of the Old Dominion!

TFL Survivor

August 30, 2004, 04:15 PM
Hey Leatherneck!

I'll throw in a "me too" on the .357, if you're only going to have one pistol. My first handgun was a 686, and I handloaded at the time which gave me the whole range of loads (of course, you can buy the same stuff in factory form, .38 Spl & .357.) Without knowing the budget here, I think that esp if you're looking at used guns, you could probably lay your hands on both a good .357 and .22 for not too much. I don't know revolver prices these days, but there are definitely inexpensive .22 autos to be had. One thing to keep in mind for your budget are range fees. I get my money's worth out of an annual membership, but on a student's budget, it might sting a little at first. :)

August 30, 2004, 07:40 PM
All great advice. However, I am now sensing a bit of a divide between those that recommend a .22LR vs. a .357 as a starter. I am definitely going to go rent both. The .22LR ammo is cheap anyway. Now, is there such a thing as a good .22LR double action revolver? I know Smith and Taurus make them. Honestly, I would consider the Taurus 94 because of the cost. I'll run some searches as has been suggested and will write back if questions arise.

BTW, is there a NoVA range shoot coming up soon?

David Park
August 30, 2004, 08:00 PM
Definitely check out Gilbert's. They have an introductory class every Monday evening, and you will be able to fire a .38 revolver at the end of the class. There's a waiting list, but they can usually squeeze you in if someone on the schedule fails to show up, and the cost is only $40. That's how I learned, and I also used the class as proof of training for my concealed carry permit.

Second, getting together with fellow THR members is a great way to try out different guns without the rental costs. :) My first handgun was a SIG P239 in 9mm, after trying Mal H's. Don't worry too much about getting a .22 first. With a .357, you can still shoot lighter (and cheaper) .38 special rounds for practice. The most important thing is to get something you like and will practice with. I have a .22 revolver but rarely use it because I find it boring to shoot, although I do enjoy the .22 conversion on my CZ-75. I thought the SIG in 9mm was the perfect first/only handgun for me, because it the ammo was relatively cheap, it's a decent defensive caliber, the gun is small enough to conceal but still big enough to shoot all week at a serious training class (LFI-I (

As you mentioned, there's a gun show at the Dulles Expo Center on Oct. 9-10. I understand that BBSG Consulting ( will be offering training classes at the show. They are good folks.

P.S. My .22 revolver is a Ruger SP-101. It's just like their .357 version, except with a 4-inch barrel and much heavier. I've seen used ones for sale locally (of course, right after I bought mine new), but not that often.

August 30, 2004, 08:07 PM
Rent the .22 revolver, it's usually about $5, and shoot about 500 rounds ($10). By the time you finish the 500 rounds (may take multiple range sessions) basic aiming and operation will be down and familiar. Then you can move up to a .357/.38 loaded with .38 Specials, then .357 Magnums.

What will you be using the piece for? A 4" .357 is a nice home defense or "belt gun" but it's not the best for concealed carry.

August 30, 2004, 08:37 PM
Welcome, pull up a chair.

BTW, newbie buys ammo.

No divide, just difference in emphasis.

You've got the chance to do it right the first time. It is much easier and cheaper to learn it right the first time than to correct ingrain mistakes.

Spend the bucks on Basic Pistol training. You'll learn all kinds of stuff you'll never dream of if you pick up a pistol and blast away. Pistol shooting is a complicated affair and hardly instinctual. A basics class will give you everything you need to get it right. What you learn in training is applicable to a .22 LR or a .357 mag or a .357 SIG, or a .380 or whatever.

The advice you received is sound and based on multiple generations of experience. I think you will be surprised at the number of people to shoot gobs of different calibers but retain a .22LR simply because it is a way to check the basics.

Good luck all over you and keep us posted. We just love newbies at the THR, especially after they buy the ammo and Shiner Bock. :D

August 30, 2004, 09:42 PM
I know 22's can be fun for some, but I also find them boring. Yes it will help with trigger control and aiming. But I always feel I'm wasting my time with a gun I will not be ever using for defense. I don't get to the range as often as I would like to. So, I want to practice with my primary home defense gun.

If I was just starting out I would buy a police trade-in 357mag revolver or a police trade-in semi-auto in 9mm. Shooting both would be really cheap and the gun you get for the money is also a good value. I really don't know if there are cheaper practice calibers than 38spl and 9mm except of course 22LR. And if practice makes perfect, I think you should practice with what you will use the most.

August 31, 2004, 11:00 AM
What will you be using the piece for? A 4" .357 is a nice home defense or "belt gun" but it's not the best for concealed carry.

MrMurphy and the rest,

Good question. I just want a good range/home defense handgun. Open carry is legal here in VA but I am getting the feeling that this isn't being embraced by law enforcement and businesses so that is also not in my plans (for now, at least). Concealed carry is also not really in my plans (again, for now). For that, though, I would really want a different piece anyway. Hope this helped. You guys have been great!

BTW, I proposed (with selfish intentions, I must admit) a NoVA shoot in the Rally forum. Hope I get to meet some of you local THR folks soon!

August 31, 2004, 11:39 AM
Just saw this. I'm going to check out the proposed range trip. If I can make it, I'll be there. I have a GP100 with loads ranging from powderpuff (158gr bullet at 650fps) up to barnstormers (180gr@1200). If I have time, I can load something even lighter (am already working on something heavier with good results so far. :D ).


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