RoK recently ran an article, All Men should Own a Gun. I agree. Strength and the ability to enact violence is a defining trait of manliness and, in modern times, strength and violence are measured by firearms. Anybody failing to train with firearms is failing as a man.
A couple years ago I did a fair amount of research on gun ownership, so I’m gonna share the basics of what I found while researching and in my first couple years of gun ownership here with y’all. This should serve as in-depth beginners guide here.
Note: Throughout this piece, I will be ignoring obsolete, black powder, and special use firearms. The use of these can be fun and challenging, but do not belong in a beginners guide.
Another Note: Different jurisdictions have different laws. Make sure to check the legality of any firearms purchases or uses where you live.
There are 2 basic types of personal firearms:
Handguns: This is a gun designed for use with a single-hand, although, bracing with your second hand is usually recommended. Handguns are more concealable and easier to use in cramped quarters, but are less accurate with less range.
Long guns: Long guns are designed to be fired using both hands, often bracing with the body. Long guns are more accurate with longer range, but are less concealable, less portable, and hard to use in enclosed spaces.
These are the parts of a firearm you should know about:
- Muzzle: This is the end of the barrel where the bullet comes out of.
- Barrel: This is the tube the bullet passes through on its way to the muzzle.
- Magazine: The magazine stores ammo and feeds it into the action. It can be internal to the firearm or detachable. A magazine is not a clip; calling it a clip is wrong. A clip stores ammunition but has no feeding magazine. Almost anytime most people say clip, they mean magazine.
- Action: This consists fo the moving parts of the firearm. It’s what loads bullets and makes them fire.
- Trigger: The part of the action you pull to fire a firearm.
- Chamber: The part of the barrel which holds a single bullet or shell in a position ready to fire.
- Safety: When on, it prevents the trigger from being pulled accidentally.
- Stock: This is the end of the long gun which holds the action and barrel together. The butt of the stock is usually braced against the shoulder.
- Grip: This is the part of the handgun which you hold.
- Sights: Most firearms have a rear sight on the barrel near the action and a front sight near the muzzle. You line the two sites up to aim.
- Scope: An attachable telescope which allows for increased accuracy.
There are three basic types of long gun:
Rifle: A rifle is loaded with cartridges and shoots bullets. The long, rifled barrel allows for high accuracy and high muzzle velocity and energy (ie: he bullets shoot fast and hard). Rifles are for when you want accuracy and long-range.
Shotgun: A shotgun is loaded with shells and shoots shot and slugs. Shotguns are usually not rifled. They are not as accurate as rifles and have limited range, but within its, shot, a bunch of pellets, will spread after being fired and will hit an area rather than a point, which is useful for hitting smaller and faster moving targets (ie: birds) or delivering shock (ie: home defence). Slugs (a solid chunk of metal) can deliver a massive amount of force within a limited range.
Carbines: This usually refers to shorter rifles, but the definition has traditionally been rather vague. Nowadays it is often used to refer to long guns which fire pistol ammunition. These are generally lighter with shorter barrels making them easier to use in close combat, but less powerful and less accurate.
There are four basic types of long gun actions: single-shot, repeaters, semi-automatic, and automatic.
Single-Shot: It can fire a single-shot before it need to be reloading. The typical single-shots in use today are the break-action, where the barrel is hinged to the stock and can break open to load, and .22 bolt actions for youths. Single-shots have minimal parts and are therefore very reliable, very easy to maintain, and are generally inexpensive, but, obviously, they are slow-firing. These are almost always outclassed by repeaters for most purposes, but a break-action shotgun can make a dependable, easy to maintain home defence weapon.
Repeaters: Repeaters can shoot multiple times between reloads, but the action has to be manually worked between each shot. These are slower to fire than automatics, but are cheaper, easier to maintain, and more reliable as they have less moving parts. They can also generally more accurate as they can be built to lower tolerances due to fewer moving parts. Repeaters are well-suited for hunting or sniping where initial accuracy is more important than follow-up shot speed, but are less well-suited for “tactical” situations.
Semi-automatics: A semi-automatic delivers one shot per a trigger pull. A trigger pull both fires the weapons and makes the action automatically load the next bullet into the chamber. Semi-auto weapons are more expensive, require more maintenance, and are less accurate, but have a higher rate of fire than repeaters. The magazine size on semi-automatics is usually higher than those on repeaters.
Automatic: An automatic fires continuously as the trigger is held down. Burst fire is a variation of automatic fire where multiple shots are fired each trigger pull. Automatic weapons are generally illegal everywhere, so it’s unlikely you’ll ever own one. Automatic fire is very inaccurate due to recoil and it’s uses are essentially limited to fun, suppression, or hosing down a small enclosed space or a tightly packed group. Burst fire, while still illegal, is more useful. It generally has the same uses as semi-automatic fire, but increases the chance of death or incapacitation at the cost of increased ammunition usage.
Side rant: An assault rifle is a rifle with a selective fire option (ie: it can shoot on both semi-auto and auto). Automatic and selective fire weapons are not purchasable by civilians. (There are a precious few Americans with a license for grandfathered automatic weapons, but they are very rare). You can tell someone is ignorant of firearms if they call an AR-15, or any other civilian rifle, an assault rifle.
There are 3 basic types of repeating actions:
Bolt: A bolt actions is located at the stock end of the barrel. It removes spent ammunition from the chamber by pulling back a handle on a bolt; then loads new ammo into the chamber by pushing the bolt forward. Of the repeating actions, bolt actions are the most reliable, most accurate, and most durable, but they are a bit slower to work than pump- or lever-actions. A bolt action rifle is your standard hunting tool.
Pump: A pump action is located at the bottom of a barrel. It slides forward to eject spent ammunition and slides backwards to load new ammunition into the chamber. It is less accurate and less reliable than the bolt, but cycles faster, pump-action can sometimes match semi-auto cycling speeds. Pump actions are generally found on shotguns and rarely found on rifles.
Lever: A lever action feeds ammunition into and out of a chamber through the use of a lever found at the bottom of the stock behind the trigger. It cycles faster and has a shorter length than a bolt. It can also be used by either hand. It can not be shot from a prone position and lever actions generally use a tubular magazine which can limit ammunition types (pointed ammunition can misfire in a tubular magazine).
There are two basic types of handguns (there are others, but these are generally obsolete, special purpose, or hobbyist):
Pistols: Pistols are your standard handgun; they have a chamber built into the barrel. They have detachable magazines.
Revolvers: Revolvers have a cylinder which is detachable from the barrel and acts as chamber. The ammunition is loaded directly into the cylinder, which turns to cycle ammunition. Revolvers are generally more reliable than pistols, but are usually limited to six shots between reloading.
There are two types of basic ammunition: cartridges and shells. Shotguns use shells, other personal firearms use cartridges.
The major parts of a cartridge:
- Case (brass): This hold the other parts of the bullet.
- Bullet: This is the piece of metal that is ejected from the firearm to kill the target.
- Gunpowder: This propels the bullet.
- Primer: When struck this produces heat which ignites the gunpowder.
The shell is much the same the same, but it case is usually plastic not metal. It has slugs or shot instead of a bullet. It also has an added component, the wad, which prevents the shot from mixing with the powder.
There are two basic types of cartridge:
Centrefire: Centrefire ammo has the primer located in the center of cartridge base. It can withstand higher pressures allowing greater bullet velocity and energy than rimfire. Most modern ammo is centrefire.
Rimfire: Rimfire ammo has the primer located on the rim of the cartridge base. It is cheaper to manufacture than centrefire but can no withstand as much pressure. Low calibers like .17 and .22 are generally the only cartridges that are still rimfire.
There are far more types of ammunition out there than I could possibly list, but I’ll outline some of the major ones. The numbers indicate caliber, which indicates the diameter of the the bullet. Generally higher calibers are more powerful and more expensive, but that does not mean they are necessarily better; they are also more difficult to learn to shoot accurately and can be uncomfortable to use.
.22LR: This is your major rimfire cartridge. It is cheap (~4-5¢/bullet) and common, but not very powerful. This is good for target practice and shooting small critters. It is used in both pistols and rifles.
.257/.357/.44 Magnum: These magnum rounds are for your revolver and hold more powder than normal rounds of the same caliber resulting in higher muzzle energy and velocity. These are the most popular type of revolver ammunition.
.38 Special: A cheaper, but less powerful revolver round that can be fired from a .357 Magnum (Note: The reverse is not true; you can not fire .357 ammo from a .38 revolver; trying to do so is dangerous).
9mm: This is your basic pistol ammunition. It is popular and widely used, but is criticized for a lack stopping power.
.40 S&W: A relatively new pistol round with more stopping power than 9mm. It has gained great popularity among police for being a good balance between the stopping power of 10mm and the ease of use of the 9mm.
.45 ACP: Another of the basic pistol rounds. Which of 9mm, .40, .45, and 10mm is superior is a never-ending discussion among gun folks which I’m not going to get into.
10mm: Another popular handgun load. It’s more powerful than .40 or .45.
5.56×45 NATO/.223 Rem: These are common western military rounds and are what AR’s and similar weapons will generally fire. They take some criticism for a lack of stopping power as compared to the .308. The .223 can be fired from 5.56 guns, but doing the reverse may not always be safe. These are not for hunting big game.
.270 Win: A popular hunting cartridge. Some cartridges are not powerful enough for larger game such as elk or moose.
.30-.30: Another popular hunting cartridge. It is debatable on whether it is suitable for larger big game such as moose and elk.
.308/.30-06: The two main big game hunting cartridges that are suitable for larger game. (Note: .308 and 7.62×51 are somewhat interchangeable). Which is better is an eternal debate among gun folks. The .30-06 is slightly more powerful, but .308 is more available and has lighter recoil.
7.62×39: A very popular Soviet military cartridge used in AK’s and SKS’. It’s relatively cheap and plentiful as there’s lots of military surplus floating round. It’s not powerful enough to be used for big game.
7.62x54R: A popular high-powered Soviet military cartridge. It’s relatively cheap and plentiful as there’s lots of military surplus floating around. Powerful enough for big game hunting.
Shotgun ammunition is measured differently. Every shotgun has a bore diameter measured in gauge; the lower the gauge the wider the shell used and, generally, the more powerful the gun gun and ammunition is. Traditional shotguns sizes range from 10 gauge to .410 (.410 is weird because it is actually measured as a caliber).
Out of all of them, there are two gauges that really matter to a beginner: 12 gauge and 20 gauge. 12 gauge is by far the most popular shotgun size. 20 gauge is commonly used by people who can not control the power and kick of a 12 gauge (women and children). It is also commonly used for skeet and fowl.
Each shotgun chamber and shell also has a length; these will be 2 3/4″, 3″, and 3.5″. 3″ is the most common and is what you should get unless you have some specific need for 3.5″. Longer chambers can shoot shorter shell lengths; so the 3″ can shoot 2 3/4″ (the reverse is not true).
Beyond this there are three types of shotgun ammunition:
Slugs: Slugs are essentially large chunks of metal. They are very powerful within 100 yards or so.
Birdshot: These are shells filled with many small pellets. Pellets sizes range from 9-FF, with higher numbers being smaller, lower numbers being larger, and letters being larger still. The smaller the pellets, the more in a shell. What size birdshot you get depends on the bird you’re trying to hunt.
Buckshot: These are shells filled with larger metal balls used to hunt larger game. They come in varying sizes: 00 (pronounced double-ought) is common. Be aware, despite being called buckshot, it may not be legal to hunt deer or other big game with buckshot depending on where you live.
Now that you are generally acquainted with basic firearms information we can get to your buying guide. You purposes for buying firearms are different so everything said here may not apply to you. Also, you don’t have to buy everything at once; most people don’t have the thousands of dollars a full collection requires, so build up over time.
That said, a basic firearm collection consists of:
A high-powered handgun
A hunting rifle
A tactical rifle
I’ll go over the purchase of each of these below.
.22LR Rifle & Pistol:
The .22LR rifle and pistol are your basic target shooting weapons. They’re relatively inexpensive and .22 ammo is cheap and plentiful, so you can blow through a few hundred rounds without breaking the bank. They can also be used for hunting rodents for amusement.
The Ruger Mark III is an excellent .22 pistol at a reasonable price ($350-650*).
As for the .22 rifle; you have to first decide if you want single-shot or semi-auto. I would recommend as semi-auto, as reloading singleshots constantly can get annoying, but you could save a bit of money. Also note, that single-shot .22’s are usually geared towards children, so they may not always feel right.
The Ruger 10/22 is a popular semi-auto .22LR rifle at a reasonable price ($200-400). You can get the Tapco Ruger 10/22 ($100) if you really need to save money, but it will be lower quality.
If you really want to get a single shot, I’ve heard the Cricket ($130) is pretty good.
The high-powered handgun is for personal defence. If concealed carry is allowed where you live, carry it with you; if not, learn to use it in case a situation ever arises where you need it. It can be used for home defence, but generally a shotgun is better.
You have to choose first if you want a revolver or a pistol (or both). A revolver is more reliable, but has less ammo capacity.
If you want a revolver, get it in .357 Magnum. Pretending to be Dirty Harry may be tempting, but the .44 is too powerful for a starter revolver. .357 is a solid round capable of downing a man. As well, .38 special can be used in a .357 revolver for practice at a cheaper price. I own the Smith & Wesson .357 ($800-1100) and its a good revolver, I’d recommend it. It’s a bit pricy, so the Pietta 1873 ($450) could be a cheaper alternative; it’s reviewed fairly well.
As for pistols, there’s two major camps: the Glock and the 1911. The Glock is more reliable and has more capacity, but some think the 1911 has a better trigger. The debate has been raging for a while and I’m not going to wade into it, so you’ll just have to do some research and choose. Then you need to choose your ammo type as described above.
As for me, I plan on getting a Glock Gen IV ($600-700) in .40S&W.
The shotgun is for home defence and for hunting. Not to mention, the shotgun is by far the most fun weapon to shoot. Unless your main purpose for the shotgun is skeet (or you’re a women or child), get a 12 gauge in 3″. I’d recommend a pump action, but you could get a semi-auto if you have money to burn.
The Mossberg 500 series ($300-350) is generally recommended as a starter shotgun. You can get a pump cheaper, but they won’t be as good quality. I own one and I love it.
This is for hunting big game. You want a bolt action chambered in either .30-06 or .308, probably .308. I bought the .30-06 and wish I had got .308 instead; I’m finding the upwards kick of the .30-06 annoying.
The Savage Arms Axis ($430) was a highly recommended starting rifle. It’s not overly expensive and it’s good quality. The scope is subpar, but you can always replace it if you wish. I own one, it can occasionally jam if I slide the bolt too fast, but other than that works well.
I’ve found though, that I prefer the Mosin-Nagent. I find it easier and more enjoyable to shoot. You can get a milsurp nugget for a fairly good price and ammo is inexpensive. Be careful though, quality can vary. Also it doesn’t come with a scope unless you pay extra for the sniper variant, which will limit your accuracy and range.
Your tactical rifle is the one you keep for potential tactical situations, for example, should law and order ever break down in a natural disaster. It will likely be the most expensive addition to your collection. They start in the $800-1000 range and go up from there depending on what you’re looking for. A really good new one with all the cool doodads could cost $3000-4000.
Two common types of tactical rifles are either a .308 battle rifle or a .223/5.56 AR-15 variant.
AR’s are popular and are the civilian version of the US Army’s M16. They also have the advantage of having untold modification options, so you can look tacticool (not necessarily a good thing; kitting yourself out beyond your skill level can get you mocked silently by others at the range).
Boston’s Gun Bible recommends against AR-15 variants as .223 does not have enough stopping power. He is a proponent of .308 battle rifles and recommends the M1A or the FN-FAL. They have longer range and more stopping power.
The choice is yours. Give it some research and thought.
Given the high cost of even a basic tactical rifle, you might as well skip buying an intro rifle and save up for the good one you really want, but if you’re really looking for a cheap battle rifle, the Soviet surplus SVT-40 can be had for a few hundred dollars. It won’t be as good, but it should be functional and uses the powerful 7.62x54R round.
I am still saving for a tactical rifle and looking for a good one that’s legal in Canada. I think it might be an M1A. For now I make do with an SKS and am planning on getting the SVT-40 this spring.
Other Things You Need
Here are a few other things you should buy for your guns, make sure to include them in your gun budget:
- Cleaning kit
- Gun Oil & cloth
- Something to shoot at (if not using a range)
- Spare magazines (have 2-3 mags per gun)
- Extra ammo
- Trigger locks – May be required by law, I prefer the combination locks over the key locks.
- Carrying cases
- Gun safe – May be required by law, necessary if children are around, optional otherwise.
- Holster – Needed if you plan to concealed carry, optional otherwise.
- Range membership
When buying ammunition, buy in bulk to save money. If you don’t buy in bulk, then always buy a more than you use and save the extra, until you have 500-1000 rounds per ammo type, just in case you ever need it.
You need a place to practice with your firearms. If you live in the country, this should be easy, use your own land, some public land, or a friend’s land. If you live in the city it can be more difficult.
In the city you should be able to find an indoor range for handguns and your .22. Finding an indoor range for higher calibers and shotguns is a lot less likely. Depending on your city, you may be able to find an outdoor range. If you really can’t find anything, then make it a point to drive out to public land once a month for some shooting, but make sure you know the regs concerning the use of public land.
If you’re going to use a range choose one close to you and make sure to budget for the annual range fee. They will often be hundreds of dollars.
Milsurp: Military surplus, especially that from former Soviet republics, can be a good way to get a few firearms for cheap. In Canada, SKS and Mosin-Nagant rifles can be bought for $200, an SVT-40 for under $400. I think the US is more expensive, though, due to import laws. Also, quality can vary so make sure to purchase from a reputable dealer.
Buying Used: Used guns can save you money, but there’s a risk they might not work well. Either buy used from a reputable dealer or, if a private purchase, make sure to test the guns first to make sure they shoot wel. One advantage of used firearms is that if kept in good condition they will rarely decrease in value, and may even increase in value.
Home defence: For home defence, the general recommendation a 12-gauge shotgun. You’ll want a shorter barrel; a long-barreled shotgun will be harder to maneuver with. Load it with 1 or 0 buckshot. If you can’t find them, 00 is more common and will also do. a high-powered pistol, rifle, or slug will penetrate your walls and could go who knows where creating collateral damage. Buckshot lowers the chances of collateral damage while still having the force to put someone down. The pump-shotgun also has the added bonus of a familiar sound, which may strike intimidate intruders. (Some people prefer birdshot to reduce penetration further). Store your shotgun safely near where you sleep; keep it loaded (if legal) but don’t chamber a round. Practice retrieving it and loading it. Make sure to know self-defence laws for where you live.
Cleaning: You’ll want to give your guns a quick wipe down after use and occasionally oil it. You should also dissemble it for a thorough cleaning and oiling on occasion. How often you do this depends on your gun; generally the more complex the gun, the more maintenance it needs. Your bolt action rifle won’t need much cleaning all that often. You’re expensive semi-auto will need it lot more. Your Soviet surplus rifle can be ignored for years fi you’re not using corrosive ammo.
Corrosive ammunition: Beware of corrosive ammunition, especially if you’re buying milsurp ammo. There’s nothing wrong with using corrosive ammunition, but if you do, make sure to clean your gun after every use. Windex works well for this. If you don’t it will ruin your gun.
Survivalism: If you are doing the survivalism route get guns in .22LR, 5.56×45, .308, and 12 gauge and stock up on ammo (buy .223 instead of 5.56×45). These will be the most common ammunition available and the most sought after. Also, it is relatively easy and inexpensive to create large stockpiles of surplus Soviet 7.62×39 and 7.62x54R ammunition.
There you have a starter guide to getting yourself some guns. Now get to shooting.
* All prices are new unless it’s milsurp.