Women's Shooting Self-Defense & Target

One For the Ladies - Women's Shooting Self-Defense & Target

By GunsmithG

First of all, I'd like to thank Elaine for suggesting this, for the new female target and self defense shooters.

As I started gathering information for this article, I was surprised by the changing demographic of people becoming involved with the shooting sports, for target, pleasure, and self defense.

In target shooting alone, it breaks down like this.

 Average age  33
 22%  Female  37%
 34%  Live in urban/suburban area  47%
 56%  Hunted in 2012  29%
 Started older than age 18  77%

This is an eye opener. The shooting sports in general and self defense ownership of firearms is growing rapidly, especially for self defense, as more and more law enforcement agencies are overburdened. As response to 911 calls gets slower and slower, more women are owning firearms to protect themselves and their children.

Many women are intimidated by the male dominated firearms environment, but that is changing. More classes for self defense and safe firearms handling and familiarization are being offered for women, and often by female instructors. The old saw about women not being as good as men with a firearm is laughable, and here's why.

First, women have a number of abilities that men do not. Women have "quieter" nervous systems, less unnecessary inputs which can make it difficult to hold a firearm steady.

It's a proven medical fact that women have better eye/hand coordination.

Also, women have the advantage of being very teachable, and tend to listen and absorb information faster and have better recall than their male counterparts.

This one isn't a physical advantage, but women have less ego to get in their way, and less or no bad habits to unlearn from old uncle junior who taught them to shoot.

Ok, let's answer some common questions about self defense firearms for women.

What Type Of Gun And / Or Ammunition Should I use?

These are the big questions, and vary significantly from person to person. There are many variables including size of the firearm, for carry or for home protection, recoil tolerance, physical strength, ease of operation and complexity, ease of maintenance, availability and price of ammunition.

As a beginning shooter, I highly recommend a beginning firearms course provided by a reputable source like the NRA women and firearms classes. There's a lot of valuable information there, often taught by female instructors, the cost is low, and the classes are usually scheduled on weekends to make juggling schedules easier.

As far as the size of the firearm is concerned, there are numerous choices, depending on what your personal issues are. For carry / concealment, you are going to look at something small, light and easy to hide, which limits your options, but I'll go into that more in a bit.

Inside The Home

For home defense, you are going to want something larger and more effective than a small handgun. A short barreled shotgun is an ideal home defense gun, I would advise a pump action for the simplicity and ease of operation for a new shooter, plus the intimidating factor of the cocking sound when a round is chambered and the large diameter of the bore. The recoil of a shotgun can be a problem for some women, but once a person is taught proper stance and using a less powerful ammunition reduces this to very manageable levels.

A side note here on shotgun terminology. Most all shotguns are known by the gauge system, except for the .410caliber. The gauge system is based on the number of round lead balls the diameter of the bore it takes to weigh one pound, so the higher number example: 12 gauge: 12 ball the bore diameter, to 28gauge: 28 lead balls the bore diameter.

Most common, and thereby least expensive, is the 12 gauge. It's used by hunters and military and law enforcement, so the availability is high. The other thing about a shotgun for home protection is the availability of a wide assortment of loads for it. If you live in an apartment or condo, you have to think about over-penetration, going through the walls and injuring or killing an innocent neighbor. For these types of situations, I recommend a very light target shooting load with small pellets, as this load will not penetrate two layers of Sheetrock with enough energy to injure a person.

OK, I hear the naysayers in the background about you have to have the highest power ammo, but think about this: A 12 gauge shotgun with a light target load fires a 7/8th to 1 ounce load of pellets traveling at approximately 1,200 feet per second (FPS). A short defense shotgun usually has no choke, (a constriction of the barrel at the muzzle to control the spread of the pellets), but for a cylinder bore (no choke), the pattern of pellets expand at the rate of one inch in diameter for every three feet. At say 10 feet, the spread will only be around three inches. With one ounce of pellets, traveling at 1200FPS, impacting the target in a three inch circle, the energy is virtually the same as at the muzzle: 1,200FPS= 1,398 foot pounds (ft/lbs). Foot pounds is literally the energy required to move an object weighing X amount one foot (example: 50ft/lbs= 50pounds moved one foot).

The 9 millimeter parabellum handgun cartridge which is a very common self defense, military and police round, generates around 400ft/lbs. With a solid torso hit, the shotgun is devastating to a human sized target.

Before we dive into handguns and pistol caliber carbines, let's look at recoil (or "kick").

I don't know how many videos on YouTube I've seen where the boyfriend, hubby, or whatever thinks it's funny to hand a beginning shooter a heavy recoiling firearm, and laugh when it kicks out of the unsuspecting persons hand, or hits them in the face. Gee, thanks, guys. You just created an unsafe scenario, which at the least will create fear of injury, leading to a flinch (unconscious movement) or at the worst a negligent death, especially with heavy recoiling semi auto handguns. There have been a few times when under recoil, the shooter clenches the grip (and trigger) and fires another round, shooting themselves or another person nearby.

Moving on. Recoil is essentially the movement of the gun caused by the expanding gases and the acceleration of the bullet, perfect example of for every action, there's an equal and opposite reaction. Recoil is usually measured in foot /pounds (ft/lbs), and also by the speed of the recoil in feet per second (fps.) There are a number of variables, including the weight of the projectile, the powder charge, the weight of the gun, and also the axis of the bore in relation to where you grasp it. The higher the barrel is above your hand, the heavier the recoil will seem, because of the leverage applied. As with anything, there are ways to mitigate the recoil.

In revolvers, the action of rotating the cylinder doesn't depend on the power of the cartridge, so you can shoot light loads for target practice. In semi auto handguns, they depend on the power of the cartridge to function correctly. Everyone's recoil tolerance is different, so before you make a handgun purchase, do your homework and find a local range that rents firearms so you can shoot a variety of handguns and see what you like the best and is comfortable to shoot.

A proper fit to your hand size is very important. If too big, you won't be able to maintain a solid grip. If too small, recoil may cause a pinch and or bruising of your hand due to the smaller size of the grip. The reduced area also directs the recoil into a smaller spot on your hand. A good quality set of grips in a soft rubber will lessen the felt recoil by absorbing some of the abruptness of the recoil and slowing the recoil impulse down, tricking your body into believing there's less recoil.

Women are lucky when it comes to recoil. There was a study done a few years ago where they had a petite woman fire several weapons, then a 260 pound man fire the same guns. The man thought that the firearms kicked much harder than the woman did, using the same exact ammunition! This happens because it takes a lot less energy to move a 130 lb woman's body, slowing that recoil down, where the heavier man absorbed much more of the impulse with his body before he started to move.

Learn proper techniques to minimize recoil, and make sure you learn the basics of proper grip, sight alignment and trigger control before you step up to a larger caliber and more complex gun.

I highly recommend the idea of having two guns, one in .22LR to train with, as the ammunition is inexpensive and there's minimal recoil. Makes a great first gun and a valuable training tool. For true novices with little to no experience, it's something that will be enjoyed not only for practice, as the minimal recoil won't hide errors. If I develop a quirk that's affecting my shooting, I'll drag out the .22lr and find it real quick.

With rifles and shotguns, all of the above is true, with some additional things to practice. A solid snug fit to your shoulder and cheek will stop the gun from moving rapidly to your face and shoulder. It's like the difference between a punch to a push, if you move with the gun, it doesn't give it a chance to freely accelerate before hitting you. You move together, and the recoil doesn't feel as heavy. With a little practice and starting slow, you'll surprise yourself how much recoil you can tolerate.

Handguns - For Carry & Concealment

The Revolver

There are primarily two types of handguns that are commonly manufactured today, the revolver, which gets its name from the cylinder where the ammo is carried inside it. As you squeeze the trigger, that movement rotates the cylinder, aligning a cartridge with the bore, then releases the hammer which falls and strikes the primer in the base of the cartridge, firing it. The big advantage of a revolver is that its mechanism doesn't depend on the cartridge to function, which allows you to fire lesser powered ammo with out sacrificing reliability. They are usually less expensive to purchase, have tremendous reliability, and lend themselves to modification better than most semi autos. The downside is you are usually limited to five or six shots,they are slower to reload, and they tend to be a little bulkier, which becomes a factor if you want to carry concealed. A good quality holster will help that, and also for women, the purse becomes an option. I don't care for the purse carry myself, being that is going to be a muggers choice to grab it first, just be aware of that when you choose. On the upside of that, gun and accessory companies are taking heed that there's a vast untapped market in the ladies guns and shooting apparel, holsters and such. It's about time the lady shooter doesn't have to depend on poorly designed gear, or male gear that doesn't take into account the difference in body shape.

Semi-Auto Handguns

The definition of a semi auto handgun is a firearm that carries it's ammunition in a magazine, either a non removable type, or a detachable that is inserted into the firearm. The semi automatic will fire one cartridge, eject the empty case, then chamber another cartridge. It will not fire more than one round with the trigger held back. A fully automatic gun will fire all the ammo it carries in its magazine if you hold the trigger down. Fully automatic firearms are not illegal in some states, but you have to get a rather large amount of background checks done on you, and be federally licensed to own one. That law was passed in 1934, and severely limited possession and sale of fully auto weapons.

There are two primary types of semi autos, based on the way they function. A straight blow-back is a design that when fired, the weight of the slide and the strength of the recoil spring slow the rearward movement of the slide, with no other locking mechanism. Most of the straight blow-back firearms tend to be bulkier and heavier than a comparable delayed blow-back, however they are simpler and usually cheaper.

Due to the limitations of size and strength, most companies keep to lesser powered calibers. A delayed blow-back contains a mechanism where when fired, the slide and the barrel travel together to the rear for a short distance, allowing the bullet to exit the barrel and pressures to drop before ejecting the fired casing and chambering a new round in the chamber. This allows for a much smaller, slimmer design, less weight and usually less felt recoil, as the recoil pulse is slowed down more than the blow back design.

There are an abundant supply of quality semi autos out there on the market today, ranging from extra small light weight pocket guns, to massive firearms like the Desert Eagle. Semi autos are more complex in design, and require full pressure loads to be fired without sacrificing reliability. Being more complex, they need to be kept cleaned and lubricated. A semi auto also needs a firm proper grip. If held loosely, the slide has nothing to push against and will fail to feed or eject properly. Usually there will be a mechanical safety to be used however some semi's don't have external safeties, but have internal safeties which lessen the chance of an accidental or negligent discharge.

The big advantage of a semi vs. revolver is the reloading speed is faster with the semi. When the slide locks open on that last shot, it's easier to insert a fresh magazine than it is to use a speed loading device for the revolver. Good revolver shooters can match semi auto shooters, but for the less experienced, semi autos with detachable magazines are easier to master.

Pistol Class Carbines

A pistol class carbine is a small rifle that fires a cartridge designed for a pistol, simple as that. Advantages of a carbine as a home defense gun are that it's easier to aim than a handgun, compact and light and can usually has a larger magazine capacity. Some carbines are designed to use the same magazines as popular handguns. This gives you the advantage of one ammo to buy, and interchangeability between firearms. The recoil of a pistol cartridge in a carbine is lessened considerably due to the added weight. Using a pistol caliber carbine instead of a larger rifle caliber is an added bonus if you live in a apartment or have houses in close proximity, lessening the chance of a stray bullet going through the walls and possibly hurting someone else.

About Sights

When you wonder why you can't shoot your handgun as well as a rifle, think on this. The distance between the front and rear sights (sight radius), is why. The further apart the sights are, the lesser the effect of small movements in the gun and the operator. The closer together, the more the small errors are magnified.

Good proper sight alignment, catching that sight picture, proper grip, and practice, practice practice! With modern firearms today, you have nothing to fear about dry firing (cycling the gun without ammo). Dry firing can be as simple as a black thumbtack in the wall, your firearm, and NO AMMO in the room!! If you have to step away, even for a minute, check your gun twice before practicing again. Just take your time, control your breathing, hold that sight picture, and squeeze the trigger lather, rinse, and repeat. It's invaluable as a training method, and you don't have to go to the range or buy extra ammo. Your body will remember your training, so make sure you use correct form when practicing. It's a lot like getting in your car and putting your keys in the ignition. After a while, it becomes muscle memory, and you don't even have to think.

Well, ladies (and gentlemen), thanks for reading, and I'll have more articles later.

Be safe!



  1. Anonymous said...
    Thank you so much, your definition of each was thorough and easily understood. And yes, there is a need for women's concealed carry wear. Slender women do not have much options in size unless it's a men's small. I look forward to your next article.
    Unknown said...
    Great article! I would suggest that women check out "The Well Armed Woman" chapters in their area. This is for women only taught by women NRA instructors. I've belonged to the one in my area for over a year and have learned much about firearms. My chapter meets once a month and we have range days every other month.
    Douglas Rossi said...
    Really great post. There are just a lot of information, tips, and guides you pt on this one and it would certainly help a lot of our women preppers out there.
    Damian Ross said...
    Great information. I see that trend happening at our local gun club, more women, more single and recently divorced women as well.

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