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Women’s hands are different from men’s hands. Our hands are smaller and generally not as strong as a man’s (unless of course you happen to be a masseuse). In fact, our bodies are generally smaller as well. It’s just basic anatomy. While this certainly doesn’t mean that we can’t shoot a handgun just as proficiently as a man can, it does mean we may have a preference when it comes to types of handguns we carry and shoot, especially if your goal is to carry the firearm concealed.

It’s not just a handgun’s frame size and grip style that makes a difference, either. The caliber of the pistol is also a factor. Generally, the larger the caliber, the heavier the recoil and power, but the more difficulty you’ll have making accurate repeated shots.

Calibers

Many women own .380 caliber handguns. While it’s a fine choice, sometimes they purchase them because it’s what the salesman recommended. The .380 is a fine round, but there are other, more powerful rounds available, and models in other calibers that you may find more comfortable to shoot because of the different frame size, or because the weight and design of the gun delivers recoil in a more comfortable way. Here are some common handgun calibers:

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.22 Long Rifle.

.22 Long Rifle: .22s are great pistols to learn on if you’re a new shooter. Both revolvers and semiautomatic pistols are chambered in .22. They hardly recoil at all and are fun to shoot. A .22 doesn’t have much power and so doesn’t make a good choice for a conceal carry pistol, but many popular concealed-carry models in larger calibers can either be purchased with a .22 conversion kit, or have a matching model in .22 caliber. Ammo can be difficult to find these days, though.

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.380 ACP.

.380 ACP: Only semiautomatic pistols are chambered for this round. Many ladies love shooting this caliber because of its mild recoil, and there are numerous full size and compact pistols available.

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.38 Special.

.38 Special: This revolver caliber is a great “middle of the road” round. It’s a great self-defense caliber, but packs less of a punch than its larger cousin, the .357 Magnum. However, a revolver chambered in .357 Mag can shoot .38 Special rounds.

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9mm.

9mm: This is a semiautomatic round (also known as 9mm Luger, 9mm Parabellum, and 9x19mm), and I’m a huge fan. Fairly inexpensive to train and shoot with, the recoil is very manageable. The round has enough of an impact to make it a solid self-defense/concealed carry choice.

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.40 S&W.

.40 S&W: A popular choice in semiautomatic pistols, I find the recoil of a .40 to be very similar to that of 9mm. There are plenty of opinions as to whether .40 or 9mm make a better conceal carry/self defense choice. I am a firm believer of carrying what you’re most comfortable with. It’s a personal choice. A properly placed shot of either will do the job necessary should you ever need to use your firearm to defend yourself.

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.45 ACP.

.45 ACP: The .45 has always been a popular choice. Whether you’re shooting a classic Model 1911 or any of the other wonderful firearms that come in .45 ACP, you’ll have a powerful load. Recoil depends on the weight and size of the firearm you’re shooting, but it will likely be more than that of a 9mm or a .40.

Models

The following are 10 handguns that I’ve found to be popular with women:

Author Annette Doerr is a Certified NRA Pistol Instructor and Range Safety Officer. The married mother of two lives in the suburban New York City area.

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Browning Buck Mark Camper If you’re just learning about handguns, starting with a .22 will help you get the basics down without having to worry about recoil. This polymer-framed pistol is inexpensive and easy to shoot. It’s well balanced and not finicky about what you feed it. The Camper is also perfect to just shoot for fun—everyone I know who has tried shooting a Camper has loved it. In fact, two friends bought one after shooting mine. Unloaded weight: 34 oz. Magazine capacity: 10+1 MSRP: $379.99
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Glock 26 Frequently called the “Baby Glock,” this subcompact 9mm and its twin, the Glock 26 Gen 4 (pictured here), which has some design changes) is a workaholic. Though chunkier and, frankly, less attractive than some of the other choices here, you can’t beat a Glock’s reliability. If you pull the trigger, it will go BANG whether it’s dirty, muddy, or wet. While I wouldn’t call a G26 petite, it is small in size. The polymer grip has finger groves to help subtly guide your hand into the proper placement every time you pick it up. Other subcompact Glocks, such as the G27 (.40 caliber) and G30 (45 ACP), have the same frame size as a G26, so you can choose another caliber if you don’t want a 9mm. (See a review of the Glock 26 Gen 4 here.) Unloaded weight: 21.71 oz. Magazine capacity: 10+1 MSRP: $499
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Kimber Pro Carry II If you’re looking for something you can conceal in .45 ACP, and you love the look of a classic firearm, go no further. Beyond its looks, you’ll also have the extra security of a grip safety, which could reduce the chance of an accidental discharge because you must securely and intentionally grip the firearm before you can pull the trigger. It’s also available in 9mm. Unloaded weight: 28 oz. Magazine capacity: 7+1 MSRP: $810
Ruger LC9s
Ruger LC9s The compact size of this pistol makes it another popular choice for ladies. It’s slim, lightweight, and compact. The rounded edges of this 9mm make it almost disappear when concealed. (See a review of the Ruger LC9s here.) Unloaded weight: 17.2 oz. Magazine capacity: 7+1 MSRP: $449
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Ruger LCR Most of these polymer-frame revolvers weigh less than a pound! You can buy an LCR in calibers ranging from .22 LR through the powerful .357 Magnum, and even 9mm, which is unusual for a revolver. This lightweight gun is a great choice for carry, with its rounded edges that cause it to print very little. Plus, there are no sharp corners to poke you as you go about your daily activities. Weight: 13.5 oz.-16.6 oz. Cylinder capacity: 5 to 8 MSRP: $545-$825
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Sig Sauer P938 Sig Sauer based the P938 9mm on their very popular P238 (.380) in 2012. By adding more muscle, they opened up the market for those who prefer to carry the larger caliber. This 1911-styled firearm is beautifully detailed, solid, and easy to conceal because of its small size. Several friends use the P938 as an every-day carry gun and love it. Unloaded weight: 16 oz. Magazine capacity: 6+1 MSRP: $819
Smith & Wesson Model 638
Smith & Wesson Model 638 Smith & Wesson claims that their J-Frame models have become the most popular small-frame personal defense revolvers on the market. Revolvers are simple to use, and with their longer trigger pull, you’re less likely to have an accidental discharge. The Model 638 chambered in .38 Special is extremely popular. Many women find revolvers simple to use, requiring no fine motor skills to work a safety, making them a good choice for people with limited upper body strength. Unloaded weight: 15.1 oz. Cylinder capacity: 5 MSRP: $469

M&P Shield

Smith & Wesson M&P Shield An excellent choice if you’re looking for an every-day carry firearm. The Shield is small enough to conceal, but big enough to still feel solid in your hand. Smith and Wesson’s reliability and craftsmanship are widely known. I own one in 9mm, which my husband and I both love to shoot. It’s also available in .40 caliber. (See a review of the M&P Shield here.) Unloaded weight: 17.9 oz. to 19 oz. Magazine capacity: 6 or 8+1 MSRP: $449-$589
Springfield XD
Springfield XD Available in a range of calibers, this very popular firearm is a great choice. I own a Springfield XD in 9mm (five-inch barrel, Tactical model) and it’s a dream to shoot. The Ultra Safety Assurance Action Trigger is comfortable, the grip isn’t too wide for a lady’s hand, and I like the grip safety, similar to that on a 1911. I’m limited to a 10-round magazine in New York, but they are available in higher capacities for other states. Unloaded weight: 26 oz. to 33 oz. Magazine capacity: varies depending on caliber MSRP: $493-$629
Walther CCP
Walther CCP Introduced earlier this year, the Walther 9mm CCP (Conceal Carry Pistol) is small, solid, and very comfortable to shoot. The recoil was very minimal when I had the opportunity to shoot one. Walther attributes this to their SOFTCOIL™ gas-delayed blowback system. I also found the slide to be very easy to rack, even on a new pistol. (See a review of the Walther CCP here.) Unloaded weight: 22.33 oz. Magazine capacity: 8+1 MSRP: $469

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