So you’re getting your first gun. Congratulations! You’re about to join the large community of American gun owners and begin a lifelong hobby.
Here, we’re going to provide a broad overview of the things you’ll need to do to get the most out of your firearm. We’ll begin by going over the basics of guns (how they work, how they’re fired, and so on). Then we’ll talk about the best guns for beginners, before getting into the nitty-gritty of other supplies, and more complex issues like concealed carry, hunting, and a reloading press.
As we begin, the most important thing is to have a clear understanding of how you’re going to use your first gun. Are you planning on joining your buddy on a hunting trip? Or are you buying a home defense gun or personal defense gun? Or maybe you just want to go plinking?
When you know your purpose for owning a particular gun, a lot of other questions become easier to answer.
All modern firearms work in essentially the same way. Bullets are shipped in cartridges, which are brass cases that also contain the smokeless powder and a small primer charge. You load these cartridges into a magazine, which is a metal or plastic sleeve with a spring-loaded feeder that pushes the cartridges towards the top.
The magazine is fed into the bottom of a gun’s chamber. When the user cycles the action — whether by pulling the slide on a semi-automatic, or by cycling the bolt or pump on a manual action — a pusher loads a cartridge from the magazine into the chamber, which is then sealed shut when the action moves all the way forward. At the same time, a spring-loaded hammer is locked back into position behind the chamber.
When this happens, the back of the barrel fits tightly around the front brass rim on the cartridge. When the trigger is pulled, the hammer is released, and strikes a firing pin that ignites the primer. The primer ignites the main charge, which forces the bullet out of the cartridge and down the barrel. The lip of the cartridge expands outwards to seal with the barrel, ensuring that all the hot gas from the explosion continues to accelerate the bullet as long as it remains in the barrel.
At this point, on a bolt or pump action, you manually cycle the action to eject the used cartridge and load a new one. On a semi-automatic firearm, this happens automatically with each pull of the trigger, so you can fire repeatedly without having to cock your weapon.
When firing a rifle or shotgun, always shoot with one hand on the trigger grip, and the other hand on the foregrip for stability. When firing a pistol, there are several popular stances, but most involve holding the grip with your dominant hand, and cupping your non-dominant hand under the grip for stability.
Best Guns to Start Off With
What type of gun to start off with depends on your needs. If you’re on a budget and need something for home defense, consider a pistol or tactical shotgun. If you’re dying to go deer hunting with your friend, ask if he hunts with a rifle or a shotgun, and choose your gun accordingly.
But if you’re looking for a single gun to get started with, a small .22 LR, like the Ruger 10/22, is a good place to start. A .22 LR rifle can be used to learn how to mount and zero in scope and shoot targets at 100 yards or more. It’s also small enough to work as a home defense gun. Not to mention, practice ammo for a .22 LR is cheap, so you can fire hundreds of rounds at the range without the need to budget for weeks in advance.
Alternatively, if you’re dead set on owning a pistol, consider a 9mm semi-automatic, like the Glock 19. You won’t get the same range from this type of gun, but a 9mm is powerful enough to be a good home defense gun, without the wrist-snapping recoil of a .45.
Tools & Gear You’ll Need
There are two types of gear: things you’ll need right away, and things you may want to buy later on. Let’s look at each of these.
Essential Day One Gear
Some accessories, you just can’t get away with not owning. The most important things in this category are shooting glasses and ear protection. Foam earplugs are sufficient on an outdoor range, but if you’re shooting on an indoor range you’ll probably prefer a big set of earmuffs.
Another thing you’ll need to buy along with your gun is a AR carry case. Most states require one when transporting a gun in your car. So if you plan on leaving your house with your firearm, you’re going to need a case.
Finally, you’ll need a gun cleaning kit. Smokeless powder residue is one of the most corrosive chemicals in the world, and can cause rusting in your chamber and barrel if it’s not taken care of. Always clean and use a recommended gun oil on your gun after every trip to the range, or once a year at a bare minimum even if it hasn’t been used.
Of course, there are plenty of fun, practical ways to customize your gun. Handgun owners may want to invest in a tactical flashlight, laser, or red dot sight. If you own a rifle, adding a rifle sling can make your gun easier to carry, or you can install an optical sight for hunting. And don’t even get us started on all the ways you can customize an AR-15.
One thing to be aware of when you’re buying a gun is whether or not it features Picatinny or M-Lok rails. These systems are very popular with accessory manufacturers and should be considered a necessity on any AR. Many pistols also have a short Picatinny rail for sights. They’re rare on hunting rifles, though, and almost nonexistent on shotguns.
A gun is just a tool. But it’s a dangerous tool, like a circular saw or pneumatic nailer. And like these other dangerous tools, it’s important to store it and use it safely.
For example, you wouldn’t leave a circular saw plugged in and laying on a table while a two-year-old is playing. You’d keep it unplugged, in a tool chest. Similarly, if you have any children in the house or any concerns about burglary, it’s a good idea to invest in the best gun safe to protect your firearms. In California, owning a safe is now a legal requirement for purchasing a new gun.
But there’s more to safety than just keeping your gun out of the hands of kids. It’s also important to handle it safely. The number one rule of handling a gun is to never point it at anything you don’t intend to shoot, even if it’s unloaded. In practice, this usually means keeping it pointed at the ground whenever it’s not pointed downrange or inside a carrying case.
So now you’re pointed downrange, or sitting in a deer stand. What other safety rules do you need to follow?
- If your gun has a safety, leave the safety on until just before you shoot. Many hunters use the click of their safety to get their prey to pause long enough to take a clean shot.
- Keep your finger off the trigger until you’re about to take your shot. When holding your gun at the ready, lay your finger along the side of the trigger guard instead.
- Be aware of what’s behind your target. Dozens of hunting accidents are caused every year by hunters who get tunnel vision and aren’t aware of someone on the other side of the buck they’re shooting at.
- When you’re not shooting, leave the chamber open. This will help you ensure that the gun is never accidentally left loaded.
Concealed Carry Options
One of the main benefits of owning a pistol is portability. After all, an AR and a tactical shotgun both have more stopping power, and even a small rifle is equally well-suited to indoor use for home defense. But carrying a concealed AR, shotgun, or rifle is prohibitively difficult. For protecting yourself on the go, a pistol is the only practical choice.
Now, it’s technically legal to carry a concealed pistol in all 50 states. Technically. But permits are mandatory in most states. And while some states, like New Hampshire, make the process easier than getting a driver’s license, other states, like California, make it like getting a kidney transplant from an out-of-network surgeon. Your mileage may vary.
Provided you’ve got your permit, the next thing to do is to decide how you’re going to carry your pistol. There are a few different holster styles. Here’s a quick summary:
- Inside the waistband (IWB) holsters. IWB holsters are the most popular choice for concealed carry because they’re the most convenient for most people. They fasten to the waistband of your pants or skirt and can be positioned on your hip, against your abdomen, or in the small of your back.
- Pocket holsters. These holsters are an inexpensive way to carry a compact or subcompact pistol. They’re generally made from padded nylon and are designed to secure your pistol in your pants pocket.
- Outside the waistband (OWB) holsters. OWB holsters are carried outside your pants, usually on your belt. These are open carry holsters, not concealed carry holsters, but it’s important to know what the term means.
- Belly band holsters. These are flexible holsters that secure your pistol against your stomach, side, or back, and generally have space for extra magazines.
- Ankle holsters. Generally a poor choice for most people, but they’re a good way to carry a subcompact pistol as a “last line of defense”.
- Shoulder holsters. Only useful if you wear a jacket, but they allow for an easy draw and are a good choice for private security.
- Other carrying options. If there’s an item of clothing or a type of bag that isn’t already available with a holster in it, we’d be shocked. Jackets, vests, purses, fanny packs, backpacks, you name it, someone’s made one with a holster.
If you’re getting plenty of practice with your gun — and you should — you may notice a slight drain on your wallet. If you’re firing larger rounds or shotgun shells, this drain can be more of a flood than a trickle. In that situation, it can make sense to load your own cartridges.
Reloading isn’t for everybody. It’s time-consuming and involves a lot of specialized equipment. You’ll need a press, dyes that are sized for your cartridges, a powder measure, a scale, bullets, powder, and primers.
That said, reloading can be a rewarding hobby. Not only is it a pleasant way to pass an afternoon, but it can also save you a significant amount of money. If you’re running through a hundred rounds of high-caliber ammunition in an afternoon at the range, it can run you upwards of $100. For $10-$20 and a few hours of your time, you can reload the same amount of ammo.
One of the most popular uses for a gun is hunting. There are a few options here, depending on what kind of game you’re trying to shoot.
For birds and small game, your best choice is going to be a shotgun, loaded with birdshot. The Remington 870 and Mossberg 500 are popular models, with plenty of variants to choose from.
If you’re hunting deer, you can load a shotgun with slugs for hunting at a shorter range. For longer-range hunting, you’ll need a rifle. You’ll also need a rifle if you’re going to hunt bear, wild boar, elk, or other big game.
An AR will get the job done if you’re looking for a gun that can double as a home defense weapon and a hunting rifle. But if you’re looking for the best long-range performance, you’ll want a hunting rifle that’s chambered in a larger caliber, like .300, .308, .30-06, or 6.5 Creedmoor.
As you can see, what we said at the beginning of this post holds true: the best beginner’s gun is going to be the best one for your purpose. A target shooter has different needs than someone who’s primarily interested in home defense. And both of them will be using a different gun than an aspiring hunter.
Whatever you end up choosing, make sure you’re buying a gun that has well-reviewed performance. By performance, we mean the quality of the frame, the reliability of the action, and other features that are innate to the gun itself. Add-ons like scopes are a nice bonus but can be easily installed or replaced after the fact. As long as you’re happy with the base gun, you’ll be even happier once you start customizing it.
We hope this guide has helped you get one step closer to owning your first gun. No matter what you end up choosing, you’re beginning a lifetime hobby that’s filled with excitement. Have a blast!