5 Reliable Guns Female Shooters Can Trust By: Bob Campbell

Woman shooting a SIG-365 handgun at an outdoor range

There has been so much drivel written about female guns that it may be tough to wade through. My experience is weighed by a group of shooters within my family, coupled with observations made during many years of training. While there are good choices among handguns that favor female shooters, all shooters of normal strength and dexterity may handle most medium-size handguns.

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Pistols that stretch female hands also stretch average size male hands. The big .45 ACP and 10mm pistols are too much for many shooters. I have difficulty grasping a Glock 20 or Glock 21, and a high-capacity 1911 ruins the 1911s good handling — for me. Short-barrel magnums are poor choices for all but a few shooters.

Smith & Wesson 642 and 640 revolvers
The two Smith and Wesson revolvers, 642 and 640 Pro, are excellent all-around defensive handguns.

You may be better armed with a lighter pistol that you can use well. That’s true, but some of the handguns that women and men carry are less than useful. Derringers with a heavy trigger action are slow into action and very difficult to get a hit with. Inadequate handguns may simply make the bad guys mad.


Anecdotal Observations

When I was a young peace officer, a nurse was attacked as she walked to her vehicle in a dark parking garage. After the first blow, she was able to jam a pistol into the adversary’s chest. The .380 ACP fired once and jammed. He gave her a beating. Each survived, but the nurse had the more difficult recovery.


On another occasion, a good friend’s twin sister was confronted by a burglar. She had originally thought of deploying her shotgun but decided she did not wish to destroy her house. As he swung for her, she fired a single shot from a .357 Magnum revolver and stopped the attack.

In my shooting classes, many women have arrived with a handgun chosen by their husband or father and done poorly. A compact .40 S&W or snub nose .357 battered the shooters. A young law student turned 21 and attended class with a snub nose .38 Special and heavy handloads her dad had loaded.

Each shot was a blast and roar. However, being female is not the handicap many portray. She graduated at the top of the class. It was a quality revolver from Smith and Wesson with a steel frame with hand-filling grips.

 I recall another student who had a hard lesson driven home. A female shooter and her husband used identical Springfield XD pistols, save the young woman’s pistol was a 9mm while the husband’s was a .357 SIG. She had some physical challenges that she took in stride (she was legally disabled but did more honest work than most folks).

rear slide serrations on the Springfield XD-M Elite 10mm pistol
The slide serrations are aggressive without being bothersome. Pair those with a beefy Hex Dragonfly red dot, and you should have no problems racking the pistol with ease.

She overcame every challenge and graduated near the top of the class. The male shooter barely made the qualification. With every flash and boom of that .357 SIG, he flinched as if he had touched a hot stove. He was very pleased for his wife and laughed at himself.

Another fellow brought his wife to an IDPA competetion. Both shot very nice National Match .45s. She outshot him by a margin despite her inexperience. He did not take it well and began machinegunning the targets dropping his score even lower. We all had a laugh at him (although not to his face, he was a big guy).

Women who come to my class, without exception, have done so without ego and with a desire to learn. Most, but not all, do well. The same goes for the male shooters, save that more come with an ego. A well-developed ego is fine, so long as it doesn’t get in the way of learning. After all, didn’t General Custer have a famously well-developed ego?

Picking the Right Gun

Let’s look at some of the better choices for female shooters. The shooter in each equation is concerned with personal defense, willing to learn and practice, but not interested in sport shooting. The exercise is practical and utilitarian. They will not be shooting the handgun for fun. Nor will they purchase a handgun based on bling, but only on its merits.

Taurus Defender 605 revolver
The Taurus Defender — with its hand-filling grips and heavy profile, three-inch barrel — is a good shooter.

And don’t go too cheap. As an example, a friend purchased his buddy’s mom a Rossi .32 for home defense. The buddy was livid. Just how much is my mom’s life worth to you? He traded this 20-year-old pawn shop marvel away and obtained a new handgun for her.

Hidden hammer Snub Nose .38 Special

The advantages of the revolver are many. The manual of arms is simple. Open the cylinder, load, lock the cylinder in place, aim, and press the trigger to fire. A snub nose revolver is a .38 Special revolver with a two-inch barrel. The advantages are that the firing grip offers plenty of room for good leverage.

The two-inch barrel doesn’t allow much leverage for an attacker to grab. Some folks let the bad guy get way too close. As an under-the-pillow gun or purse gun, the snub .38 shines. The .38 Special cartridge is strong enough to do the business, but not so strong that recoil is painful.


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A hidden hammer .38 is preferred, as there is no hammer to snag clothing on the draw. The drawback is that these revolvers are difficult to shoot well past 3–5 yards. When the reality of personal defense is considered, this is a fair trade-off.

Taurus Defender 856

This is a three-inch barrel .38 Special revolver with a six-shot cylinder. The Taurus Defender 856 is a revolver that is easy to use well compared to a snub nose revolver and makes for more accurate shooting. Due to the improved grip design and three-inch barrel, the Defender is an improvement as far as shooting goes compared to a true snub nose revolver.

The Defender treatment, including a three-inch barrel and hand-filling grips, strikes an ideal balance between size and weight. The three-inch barrel gives incrementally more velocity from a given load than a snub nose revolver.

Taurus 856 .38 Special revolver, right profile
The Taurus 856 .38 Special is offered in several configurations.

Consider the tradeoffs in firing and carry. The snub nose revolver is a last-ditch defensive handgun. The Defender type extends your range. The Defender also features a tritium insert in the front sight. The improvement in handling is real, while the hidden hammer type retains an advantage at intimate range.

SIG P365 .380 ACP

This pistol breaks several rules. It is easy to shoot well. In fact, it is very easy to shoot well. I have fired this newest version of the SIG P365 extensively. It is compact, easy to carry, and light enough that it never becomes a burden. I am not enthusiastic about the effectiveness of the .380 ACP cartridge. However, it has been known to suffice.

SIG P365 .380 semi-automatic pistol
The author was impressed by the SIG P365 .380.

The SIG P365 .380 offers excellent accuracy and a fast follow-up shot. The magazine capacity is 10 rounds. Tactically, it is a big step up from a revolver. However, you must be certain you are willing to master a self-loading pistol. This is easily the best shooting .380 ACP pistol in the weight class.


The SIG P365 9mm is among our most desirable modern handguns. Light, reliable, and chambering a cartridge with a decent reputation as a fight stopper, the SIG P365 is a good, concealed carry handgun. But there is always room for improvement.

The P365 XMACRO features a long slide that is similar to the P365XL, but with a compensator in the slide. This compensator seeps off some of the propellant gas on firing. This results in less recoil as the re-directed gas helps limit muzzle flip.

SIG P365XL Macro 9mm semi-auto handgun
SIG’s P365XL Macro is a very effective handgun.

The P365XL MACRO is more comfortable to fire than pistols in the mid-size class, even the Glock 19 9mm. With a magazine capacity of 17 rounds, the MACRO offers good protection. Trade-offs? The pistol is pricey and the magazines are difficult to load to full capacity. The overall size, weight, and shootability are excellent.

Taurus GX4

The GX4 is offered in the standard version, an optics-ready pistol, and the new GX4 XL. This 9mm handgun is among the most affordable handguns available with good-to-excellent reliability. The pistol has a good balance of weight and power. The trigger is controllable, and the overall package is very good for a combination of concealed carry and home defense. I own the GX4 (two in fact) and find this compact 9mm a good pistol with an attractive price. It is affordable, which is a big advantage for those of us on a budget.

Taurus GX4 9mm semi-auto handgun, left profile
The GX4 is a good performer at a fair price.

There are other handguns worth considering. The Glock 43X, Glock 19, and Smith and Wesson Shield Plus are worth your time to investigate. Since The Shooter’s Log recently ran a feature story on the Walther PDP F, I saw no reason to rehash this pistol. However, the handguns illustrated are those I have extensive experience with and would recommend for most any shooter, but for the ladies in particular.

In the end, there is no such thing as a “Ladies’ gun”, but some are certainly better suited than others. Ensure you have enough gun for the task, without going so big accuracy is sacrificed. Which guns have you or female shooters you know had the best experiences with? Share your answers in the comment section.

  • .22 LR caliber Astra Cub pistol
  • Smith and Wesson Model 642 concealed-hammer snub nose revolver in .38 Special
  • SIG P365XL Macro 9mm semi-auto handgun
  • Taurus 856 .38 Special revolver, right profile
  • optics ready GX4 9mm with a Holosun red dot
  • SIG P365 .380 semi-automatic pistol
  • Taurus GX4 9mm semi-auto handgun, left profile
  • Taurus Defender 605 revolver
  • SIG P365's compensator
  • Smith & Wesson 642 and 640 revolvers
  • Optics ready pistol, top-down view
  • Woman shooting a SIG-365 handgun at an outdoor range