“In all events, the shooter is a much more significant element of marksmanship than his equipment. I suggest that you take the low-cost route until you become pretty good. Then you will know what you need.” Jeff Cooper, April 1973.
Colonel Jeff Cooper was the founder of the Gunsite Academy; he also was probably the foremost 20th century authority on handgun self-defense. Let me give you my take on what Cooper’s “low cost route” might mean today.
Over the years I have worked with hundreds of new, novice, or inexperienced shooters. Many came to class with recently purchased new guns. Quite a few of these students had never even fired any type of firearm, yet they decided to buy a gun without really knowing what its intended use might be. In many cases these students purchased firearms that didn’t fulfill their needs nor fit their lack of experience. Too many had guns that were either too large or in some cases too small, were of a caliber that was too powerful for a novice, or just didn’t fit the student’s body type. Finally, in nearly every case, the students spent much more on their guns than they really needed to.
Here are a few suggestions for new and novice shooters and even for the experienced shooter who might be trying a new discipline (e.g. an expert rifle shooter who wants a concealed carry pistol). First, find someone with a lot of experience and expertise with the type of firearm you want to try. Longtime hunters, competitive shooters, and certified instructors will likely be happy to aid you in finding a firearm. Beware of the gun counter “dude” who acts like an expert. Many gun retailers have very good experienced people behind the counter, but unfortunately many also have people selling guns whose only experience is reading what is on the box and the “urban myths” they followed since childhood.
Before you buy a gun, try as many as possible. Friends, relatives, and shooting instructors will most likely be more than willing to take you to the range and get you started. A good basic shooting course whether it be pistol, rifle, or shotgun is really the best place to start.
When the time comes for you to purchase a new firearm, I suggest you go the new gun route. If you are intending to hunt big game, one of the new entry level bolt action rifles will fill your needs without breaking your bank account. These are extremely accurate rifles, many come with a one inch group guarantee, and the cost is about $ 400 or less. Some of these guns can be purchased with a decent scope in combination for under $500.00. Good caliber choices would be .243, 25-06, .270, .260 Remington, and 7MM-08. All are capable of taking Montana’s big game and offer low recoil for newbies.
If you want to pursue upland game, waterfowl, or perhaps the clay target sports, I recommend one of the many great pump shotguns on the market. The venerable Remington® 870 is a great choice. Buy a 12 gauge 28 inch barreled gun with interchangeable chokes and you will be set for life. These guns can often be found for less than $300.00.
There are literally hundreds of handguns that can be purchased for less than $350 and will fill most every need one can think of. A simple .22 revolver like the Heritage™ line of single action guns makes a great plinker and small game gun. If you are interested in self-defense one of the many polymer 9MM pistols is all you might need. The SCCY® semi-auto guns are a great value and are extremely reliable examples for around $300.00.
I suggest that you buy a low-cost gun and learn to use it safely. Work on your marksmanship. In time you will discover and refine the little performance and handling nuances that you want in your gun(s). As you gain experience you’ll find that either the inexpensive gun you own does everything you want it to, or that maybe a more expensive gun with all the “bells and whistles” is just what you need. Either way, the most important thing is that you become a safe and responsible gun owner.
Be safe and good shooting.