Petite wife possibly interested in a small HD pistol – guidance requested

Please read my post before responding ...

  • Bersa Thunder; 32 or 380 ACP

    Votes: 16 21.9%
  • Makarov PM; 9 X 18 Mak

    Votes: 7 9.6%
  • CZ 82 or 83; 32, 380, or 9 X 18 Mak

    Votes: 7 9.6%
  • PA63 Hungarian 9 X 18 Mak

    Votes: 1 1.4%
  • Walther PPK; 32 or 380 ACP

    Votes: 4 5.5%
  • Sig P232; 380 ACP

    Votes: 16 21.9%
  • Other, please suggest

    Votes: 26 35.6%

  • Total voters
  • Poll closed .
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Feb 28, 2006
Somewhere between the Eastern Block states and Flo
Please read before responding to the poll.

My wife came out to the range with me for the first time last weekend, interested in finding out which of my five handguns (see signature line) would work best as a go-to, home defense piece (God forbid she ever needs one). After shooting a few guns, the best gun I own for her is clearly my 5” 1911 in 45 ACP. She is 5’ tall, and has very small hands. The 1911 worked best because of the slim, single stack grip frame. The weight also did not bother her and she performed very well with it. However, it is not ideal: she found the recoil to be a bit too stout for her preferences, and it is a little large for her small hands.

Although she is content with the 1911 for home defense (for now), I know it is not perfect for her. So I decided to do some research on my own that I may use to provide guidance if and when she picks her own handgun for HD.

And I will let her pick it herself, I just wanted to be able to provide good advice if needed.

First, she does NOT like revolvers, so they can be ruled out. Too bad, as I figured a 3” S&W Model 60 or Ruger SP101 would be pretty good for her, given their simplicity and dependability. But she does not like the long trigger pull, and she finds the wheel turning distracting.

As for semi automatics, I would narrow it down further to slim, all steel (for recoil abatement) single stack pistols. Since she is relatively recoil sensitive, I am thinking something chambered in 32 ACP, 380 ACP, or 9 X 18 Makarov.

Here are some of the pistols I was thinking of. BTW, the budget is $350 or less, new or used. Please feel free to suggest more. I know the Bersa Thunder is a single stack pistol, but I’m not sure about the others:

Bersa Thunder; 32 or 380 ACP
Makarov PM; 9 X 18 Mak
CZ 82 or 83; 32, 380, or 9 X 18 Mak
PA63 Hungarian 9 X 18
Walther PPK; 32 or 380 ACP
Sig P232; 380 ACP

For those of you who have shot any of the above, how does the felt recoil compare to a 5” 1911 in 45 ACP?

Thanks for your input!
I would suggest a Sig P225, right around that price range, great for small-handed shooters, has the safety and simplicity of a revo, and shoots a full-power 9mm. Of those you list, the P232 would be my pick due to Sig quality vs. the rest, and cost/availability of ammo...but I'd be surprised you list that pistol given it's typical price, and your self-imposed $350 limit.

Be aware -- this, and the others you mention will be significantly more "snappy" than your 1911, due simply to the weight of the full-sized auto compared to the compacts you're shopping for.

My Bulgarian Makarov recoils more harshly than my P220 .45s, and any of my Glocks. Just an issue of inertia!

The smaller, lighter pistols will have greater percieved recoil, even though the rounds they shoot are "lighter". These rounds tend to snap when fired, and because the barrel of the gun is shorter, they tend to have greater muzzle blast. For me, percieved recoil of a Walther PPK/S and a Makarov is greater than a 1911 in .45ACP. I have owned both of these, and feel that firmly.

The .45ACP in a Government Model 1911, by contrast, has more of a push in recoil, in contrast to a snap or a torque of the smaller pistols. I would recommend your wife work with your .45ACP 1911, with high quality ear protection, and qualified one on one instruction. Look for an instructor who can competently teach the isometric Chapman grip. Chances are, she will end up using the 1911 just fine. Many small women do.

Another thing to consider is these blowback pistols have a heavier recoil spring, smaller slides, and smaller grips. These three factors add up to a pistol that is difficult to chamber rounds in, especially for the neophyte. It is easy for a newbie to get frustrated and give up when they have trouble even loading their weapon.

Many women eschew revolvers. When I find this phenomena, it is commonly a refection of their mate's likes. The man in their life does not shoot revolvers. As a result, the woman sees it as an antiquated, lesser firearm. My wife did not like revolvers either at first........Then I got educated, and formed a love for them myself. She followed suit.

FWIW, if your wife has not perused Pax's site, The Cornered Cat, send her there to read.
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I bought my wife a S&W Aircrew Special Model 37, 38 Special, and she shot it once! Too much recoil. That was over 30 years ago. Last year, I talked her into a Bersa Thunder 380 for personal defense at home and around the property. She loves it. She is 95 pounds, and 5'2".
yeah, I would get the heaviest gun in a .32 or up caliber I could find.

My wife went a few times with me to the range. She started out shooting a .22lr which she was really accurate with and she had fun shooting it.
Then I got the bright idea to get her her own gun. I tried to force her into a 9mm. G17. She didnt like it at all. Didnt like the recoil. I thought she was just kidding. I mean C'mon its a 9mm. I looked at her hands after about 20 rounds and they where beat red and she was ready to leave.
We went looking for something smaller and lots of the gun store sales people would snicker or give me a weird look when I would tell them the 9mm was to much for her.
I would always get the, "well she needs to practice more" line. What people forget is that we LOVE guns. Not everyone does and wants to shoot once, twice, five times a week.
Anyway I bought her a .32 that she liked ok but she still likes the .22lr better.
So I guess the moral of the story is I learned to let her shoot what SHE wants first. Try to get her shooting more so as she gets used to it she can maybe gradually upgrade into a better suited defensive gun.
How about Colt 1911 Commander (4.25") in .38 Super? Or one of the other 4" 1911s in 40S&W? I love my Glock 19! Take her to rent several different, and choose what fits best. God speed! You're a lucky man having a wife who WANTS a firearm! I have to bribe my evening of dancing for an afternoon of shooting. :scrutiny:
A smaller gun and smaller snappier bullet may not be the way to go. Since the frame is "about right" for your wifes hands might i suggest that you find someone with full size 1911 frame chambered in 38 super let her try a few magazines out to see if it has easier recoil for her?

And dont forget Taurus here, they have thier model 945B and model 38 medium frame models based on a slightly shrunken 1911 frame. And Taurus also has the PT1911C which is 36 ounces and only 7386" long compared to the fullsize 1911 at 42 ounces and 8.6" long.
+1 on the P225. My wife also has small hands and finds the pistol fits well. Add a short trigger ($10 from CDNN) and it's a great handgun for those with smallish hands. Another good one is the Kahr K9 and similar guns. Stick with the steel frame as this one has significantly less recoil. In the 380, the Colt Government has an extremely small grip, and because it is a locked breech rather than straight blowback, require less effort to rack the slide.
Millenium Pro PT111 in 9mm. My significant other loves hers as do I. Recoil is not bad, 12rd capacity, easy to conceal, its a Taurus, its inexpensive.
I recently took my wife to shoot a Bersa .380 I bought some time back for her. It was her first time shooting it. She liked it really well. Loaded with 90 Grain CorBons I believe it will do the job nicely for home defense. Also I bought aftermarket rubberized finger groove grips. Well worth the 29.00 or so dollars I paid for them.
Let me try to answer your question in two phases : First the weapon choice and Second the proper instruction for your wife. Both are very closely related to each other as I will explain below.

Weapon Choice: Plain and simple – You want the best and most adequate caliber bullet to do the job and still be manageable by a small handed person. This translates into the world popular 9mm Luger round. From my experience [ as a firearms Instructor ] the 9mm is the smallest cartridge I would recommend someone using to stop an attacker. It is sold in various power charges [ +P, +P+, Sub-gun velocity, etc ] so it can be tailored to the shooter quite easily without getting into reloading [of custom charges ]. Many pistols that shoot this infamous bullet are designed for high capacity operation {17 rds.} – this is always a plus in a struggle to save ones life in a self defense situation. Because I use close quarters combat drills that require 6 rd “burst responses” in less than 2 seconds……….. it is advisable that the weapon be of high quality and “duty” grade. A lesser weapon would have trouble staying in one piece using it through my entire self-defense shooting course [ lasting 15 weeks ]. Taking all the above into consideration, I can tell you that women who are currently taking my training are doing very well using the SIG P-226 or the CZ-75B or the Glock [ several to choose from ]. True side note: One woman started the course of training with a SIG .380 automatic [ I think it was a 232 ? ] when she quickly discovered after week 7 – that the gun got too hot to even hold during the evening’s course of fire at the Indoor Range. She switched to a duty type semi-auto and has become one of the better shooters I have seen.

Training: Extremely important as anyone would agree…….but the quality and type of training is most important. It will decide whether your wife can handle the recoil from most semi-auto’s comfortably …..or NOT. The proper GRIP and technique are all important and not so much the kind of recoil the shooter might experience. I am sure all or most husbands can “show” their wives how to shoot ………. But do they have the skills to “teach” the small important skills that most take for granted. That’s why I recommend that the husband set aside his male pride and seek professional help in getting his wife on the proper road to self defense shooting. Don’t invest in these weekend warriors courses, where they try to cram 4 months of training into 2 days of instruction – a waste of money IMHO for the “novice” shooter. The most important aspect of firearms training………is building “motor memory” reactions of the necessary self defense shooting skills that might be needed during an attack. You can’t do that in a weekend – no matter how good the instruction is ! That is why I train by 1 hour lessons over the course of 15 weeks. At the end of this type of training – women are doing tactical reloads of their semi-autos almost without thought. They ALWAYS start a shooting sequence with an unloaded weapon – just like the condition they might find in their home. Heck, sometimes I will disassemble their pistol and drop it on the bench in front of them and say “GO – engage the target when it stops at the 25 foot line. They have to scramble to assemble the weapon, load and fire as quickly as they can. Another “response” that I teach is what I call overwhelming force.
6 rd bursts from a weapon that is never brought above the waist line. The shooter addresses the target from a shooting platform I call the “shooter’s Triangle”…….. this in response to an attack from 12 feet away. It is very impressive to watch these women blast away 6 rds in about 2 seconds and hit their target [ 12” diameter circle ] with no misses. Most don’t believe they can hit targets without using sights or by at least pointing the gun out in front of themselves. After I teach them the technique, you should see the smile on their faces………. And I might add, a quite of few shooters at the Range will stop to watch. I don’t teach drawing from holsters – not something they will likely be doing at home anyway.

Give your wife the gift of self reliance , when it comes to her safety at home ……hire an Instructor you like ………… for as long as you can afford. ;)

Jad, if she doesn't like the trigger pull on your S&W revolvers scratch the Mak & the PA-63 off the list.

Moving on I agree with XB about getting a slightly larger handgun that will tame recoil better.

A Colt commander or lightweight commander in .38 Super would be awesome, and pretty easy for a gunsmith to convert to 9x19.

The single stack steel or aluminium frame S&W autos are a steal on the used market, and very pleasant to shoot in 9mm.

A CZ-75 Compact or P-01 would be close to CZ-82/83 size in a 9x19 chambering.

In a .380 don't overlook the Beretta 84 Cheetah / Browning BDM either.

She might also like an HK P2000, or a SIG P239.
Hi, my wife has a small grip also.

9mm choices I've found;

I got her a SW MP compact with interchangable grip. minimal recoil, great design, minimal flip

A Sig 239 has a small grip, a bit front heavy though.

may want to look at the Kahr lines, very small, CW9 is a good buy, they also have a micro model.

price is higher than your desired range for new,
used models may be available in your range.
I would say go with at least a 9mm or 38+p...
Just me... I don't think 380 is a great choice.

Berreta makes some great guns with good safe features...
You might be able to get a good used gun at
If she has no problems with a 5" GI 1911, then why not go with a 5" 1911 in say, 9mm?
Find a Star BM. If she likes the 1911, she will like this one. It's a 9mm Parabelum, more power than the .380's etc, and it's a single action with an excellent safety for cocked and locked carry. It's an all s forged steel pistol, holds 8 rounds in a single stack mag and is similar in size to a Commander, but very flat and thin, with one of the best feeling grips I have ever used. They are very easy to shoot well, parts are available again from Sarco, and they should sell for $300 or under if you can find one.
They are my favorite smaller carry pistol, a great buy and a solid, long lasting gun.

S&W 3906

No longer made, but you can probably find one with a bit of searching on GunBroker, AuctionArms, or Guns America. The 3906 is an all (stainless) steel, single-stack 9mm. It weighs around ~35oz. It had a TDA (DA/SA) trigger, is well made, very durable, and accurate.

Also, I have small hands and after 20+ years of involvement in firearms/shooting, I've never found a medium to full-sized 9mm that fits my hand better (and that includes my beloved SIG P225 and Browning Hi-Power). If you can find one, buy it.

Nero, the 3906 is holding on as the 908 - one of the last metal frame TDA autos from S&W.
Kahr K9, or K series. You get a choice a of a larger cal, it's heavey so it will hold down the recoil, plus it's easy to use. After the round is chambered all she has to do is point and shoot.
If opting for a 1911 style and need something for small hands, the obvious solution in the Springfield EMP.
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