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6 Steps In Choosing Your First Handgun

Guns on the counter. Firearms and security

When faced with the challenge of choosing your first handgun, new shooters are often overwhelmed by the numerous choices and decisions they have to make. I’d like to use this blog post to help give new buyers a step by step process to choose the right gun for their needs. I also want to give them an idea of some of the pitfalls and errors that novices tend to encounter when looking for their first handgun.

Step One: Evaluate Intended Use

The first step in any purchase is determining if you even need a handgun or would your intended uses for the firearm be better served with a rifle or shotgun. Many first time buyers are looking for a gun to simply use for self-defense in and around their own home. In this instance I advise everyone to look at purchasing a basic shotgun or modern sporting rifle. These firearms provide a great amount of protection for the money and require a lower level of training to become proficient at typical home defense distances. That being said, long arms are more difficult to conceal, store, and secure around the home than most handguns.

Step Two: Set a Budget

So you’ve determined that you need a handgun and your intended use is for shooting on the range and keeping at home for personal protection. The next biggest decision you have to make is deciding on a budget. There are currently handguns on the market to accommodate all income levels, from inexpensive Hi-Point handguns for $150, to custom competition guns costing several thousands of dollars. You’re the only person who can determine what your budget is, however we have all heard the axiom that “you get what you pay for,” and that is as true with firearms as with anything else in life. That is the reason I recommend that new buyers set their handgun budget in the $400 to $800 range if their finances allow. The reason I start so high and set such a wide range is that within this price point it is easy to purchase a handgun with proven reliability, that is ergonomically well designed, and that has an excellent warranty from a well-known manufacturer.

Step Three: New or Used?

The next consideration is whether to purchase a new or used handgun. This is almost entirely a personal decision and will be dictated by your usual buying habits. However, you will be able to greatly extend your budget by shopping the used handgun market vs. purchasing the same gun new. Many used handguns can be found for 25% to even 50% off of their normal retail price. Shopping for a used gun can allow you to purchase a much better quality handgun for the money. If you have ever purchased a used car you may be thinking that buying a used gun could be a bad idea. While it’s true that there is the possibility of purchasing a problematic used gun, it’s important to remember that if you stay within the pricing guideline I spoke about you’ll be getting a gun from a reliable manufacturer. Most major firearms manufacturers offer a lifetime warranty on the guns they sell, and the warranty Is usually on the gun, not the purchaser, so it is usually transferred to anyone else purchasing the gun.

Steps Four & Five: Size and Caliber

All of the previous questions we asked and answered were probably the easiest to answer. These next two questions are where it gets difficult to give a clear and definitive answer as to which is the best choice. Now we need to decide which caliber to shoot, and what size gun we want to shoot. These two options will be determined by your intended use for the gun. For the purposes of this article, we will assume you are purchasing a gun for defensive purposes, either to carry, or to keep at home for protection. When it comes to ease of shooting, while ergonomics can play a part, the two biggest factors are gun size and caliber. A full size duty style gun chambered in a lower powered caliber will be a very enjoyable and easy to shoot firearm, while a compact pistol chambered in a large caliber will be unpleasant to fire for any length of time. So at one end of the scale is comfortable to hold and easy to shoot and at the other end is comfortable to carry and easy to conceal. If you do not intend to carry your firearm on your person on a regular basis, you would be best served by a full sized, high capacity handgun. This will be a comfortable gun to shoot, and will usually allow for a high ammunition capacity. If you are looking for a gun to carry concealed on a regular basis, you would be better served choosing a compact and lightweight gun. Just keep in mind that your compact gun will have more perceived recoil, will usually have a reduced ammunition capacity, and will usually have less gun to hold on to. If you are looking for a multi-purpose gun, there are plenty of guns out there that try to strike a good balance between the two opposite ends of the scale.

Choosing the right caliber is probably one of the most debated topics in the firearms field, and there are varied opinions and almost all of them have some merit. So here is mine. For the purposes of this article we will only consider the .380acp caliber and higher. I know that there are plenty of guns chambered in smaller calibers and plenty of people have a valid reason to choose them, but the guns are usually chambered in smaller calibers for very specific purposes and do not relate to this article about choosing a first handgun. Recent FBI Protocol testing would suggest that if you are using modern defensive ammunition chambered in .380 or higher you should be well armed to meet most threats encountered by your average self-defense shooter. Going back to when we talked about handgun size and perceived recoil, the same holds true when we talk about caliber. When comparing two handguns of similar size and weight, the one chambered in the larger caliber will have more felt recoil than one chambered for a smaller, lighter caliber. In addition, the handgun chambered in the larger caliber will normally have a lower capacity than the one chambered in a smaller caliber. We can draw several conclusions from these simple facts.

Handguns chambered in larger calibers provide more stopping power than ones chambered in lighter calibers, but are slower shooting due to higher felt recoil, and have a reduced capacity for possible follow up shots.

Handguns chambered in smaller calibers allow for fast multiple shots, provide a higher capacity for those multiple shots, but may not end conflicts as quickly with a single shot.

In my opinion, new shooters need every advantage they can get, which means they should be looking for low recoil, high capacity, easy shooting handguns. As a shooter trains and improves their skill level, they can look to shooting larger caliber firearms.

Step Six: How Does it Feel?

We’ve talked about the following topics: Use, Budget, New vs. Used, Size, and Caliber. All of these are very important considerations, but probably the most important one is Feel. How does the firearm feel in your hands? There’s no right or wrong answer to this, and there’s really no advice I can give you to figure this part out. The best thing to do is to head to your local, well stocked firearms dealer; find a patient salesman. Put as many guns as possible into your hand and when you find the right one, you’ll just know it. Try to find a gun that has the controls within easy reach. You don’t want to have to change your grip on the gun too much in order to reach the safety, the slide stop lever, or the magazine release. Aside from those considerations, find something that sits comfortably in your hand and provides for a natural point of aim when shooting.

There you have it. Six basic things to consider when purchasing your first handgun. I get to see a lot of new shooters coming into the range after having made a quick purchase of a firearm, only to regret that choice shortly after shooting it for the first time. If you follow these basic steps, you are very likely to wind up with a firearm that you enjoy shooting and will give you many years of service.

Hunting with Kids: Tips and Tricks for Hunting Parents

Yong hunter with the spyglass is posing on the forest background.

1. Don’t hunt with a kid (too much)

Let me explain: About twenty years ago, I ate a pound of toffee in one afternoon. I found out that too much of a good thing can potentially spoil you for life (to this day, the mere thought of toffee makes me sick). It can be the same with hunting with kids. A friend once told me the story of his brother-in-law, an avid bowhunter. He desperately wanted to interest his son in the sport, so he tried the “total immersion” method. To the father’s dismay, his young son now has no enthusiasm for hunting. In fact, he despises it. Apparently, dad came on too strong in the early years. I’m thankful I heard that story when my oldest son was still an infant. I’ve been determined not to make the same mistake. In their earliest years, my children are allowed only one or two hunts per season. Do you suppose they look forward to those hunts? For months prior to the hunt I tease them, “Are you sure you want to hunt ducks with Dad?” By the time the big day arrives they are chomping. May 14, 2006tensify their desire to hunt is by limiting their opportunities early on.

2. Equip them adequately

Another thing that can spoil a kid on hunting is not having adequate attire. Don’t tell your toddler to tough it out and be a man. He’s not a man. I’m not suggesting you pamper him to the point that he never experiences the slightest discomfort in the field. That wouldn’t be good for him either. But make sure his boots are warm and waterproof. Invest in a good warm coat, hat, and gloves. I owe this insight to a friend of mine who has a love for hunting and trapping. But as a kid he dreaded hunting with his father because he knew that he would be miserable and would receive no sympathy.

3. Make the duration age-appropriate

Younger kids tend to have short attention spans and less endurance. For a four or five-year-old you might start with an hour-long hunt (try to pick the time when the action is likely to be best). I was recently surprised when one of my sons announced that he wanted to go home after we’d been dove hunting for less than an hour. This was out of character for him and though I was tempted to make him tough it out, we packed up. He already wants to go again but had I not listened when he cried uncle his enthusiasm might not be as great.

4. Exercise patience and understanding

All parents are aware that kids drop things, break things, and lose things. They are loud and they fidget (usually at the worst possible time). A red squirrel can sit still longer than my middle son. It can drive us crazy, especially if we are on a mission to shoot a deer. But shooting a deer is of secondary importance. So, if you get irritated easily, grin and pray for patience. Hunting with your child is a gift you are giving him or her. Make it special.

5. Start small

Small game, that is. I don’t think I know any deer fanatics who didn’t start out on rabbits, squirrel, or some other small game. There are several reasons why deer hunting is not ideal for very young kids. For one, he might be unable to appreciate a hunt that ends without something being harvested. Five-year-olds and under will get more out of an outing if it’s plinking squirrels, catching bluegills, gigging frogs, or blowing a box of shells on doves than if it’s sitting motionless for hours on end. Try to put them in the action.

6. Educate your kid

Do some research together before you hunt to allow your child to learn more about their quarry. This will increase both their anticipation for the hunt and their respect for the animal. Also, discuss how you intend to hunt the animal and what must be done to improve your chances for success. During the hunt itself, use every chance you get to teach and instruct. Kids are curious by nature, so take advantage of it.

7. Allow your child to participate

Your seven-year-old is probably not going to carry his own bow or gun into the field. But he can blow a grunt tube, tickle some tines, or operate a can call. If you allow your child to feel like he is more than just a spectator, the hunt becomes more memorable to him. My four-year-old still talks about the time he called in a duck over a year ago. If nothing else, let junior carry the binoculars. Tell him that he has an important job and must be ready when the binoculars are needed. Of course, the older the kid, the more patronizing that sort of comment sounds. Regardless of your child’s age, let this principle guide you: Look at the hunt through their eyes.

8. Keep them well-concealed

The better concealed a child is, the more likely he or she will see game. The more game they see, the more fun it is for them. I took my oldest son goose hunting in a picked corn field when he was three. He was camouflaged and lying next to me on the ground. We had rehearsed what to do when the geese appeared: He would move his eyes but nothing else. My adrenaline was pumping as a flock of honkers rose above the tree line. They were heading straight to us and would soon settle into our spread. As fate would have it, Titus laid eyes on them just as they started to cup. He leapt to his feet, ran in circles, and yelled, “Geese dad!” Had I put him inside a blind things might have turned out differently. On the bright side, I didn’t have to clean any geese that morning. Rehearse all you want but, believe me, it is just plain unrealistic to expect a five-year-old to move his head slowly when he detects movement in his periphery. Regardless of what you are hunting, good concealment not only improves your chance of shooting something, it keeps the animals you don’t intend to shoot around long enough to allow your son or daughter to observe and enjoy them. You’ve seen a thousand deer but you must relive the excitement of seeing your first one to appreciate the value of maximizing that same possibility for your kid. So spend a few bucks when those ground blinds go on clearance in January.

9. Plan an overnight trip

A day hunt is great but there’s something really special about an overnight hunting trip with Dad. You can bet your bottom dollar that your kid will never forget the excitement of traveling, exploring a new place, sleeping in a tent, the smell of the campfire, the fellowship, and (of course) the hunt. Consider making such an overnight trip an annual tradition.

10. Don’t leave out your daughter

It’s a fact that most hunters were once boys (some of us still are). But, we have to be careful what we conclude from this. It doesn’t mean that your daughter wouldn’t absolutely cherish the chance to go out with Dad and kick a ditch for rabbits. In fact, she probably would. And she might just pick up the habit herself. Any benefit that comes to sons from hunting with Dad applies equally to daughters. By all means, take her along if she wants to go.

11. Safety first

Safety should always be the number one concern for hunters. However, when hunting with a kid safety should occupy an even more prominent place in our minds than usual. Risk often increases with inexperience. You are laying a foundation. So slow down to teach and practice good safety.

12. Practice sound ethics

A while back I found myself in an online discussion on hunting ethics. One individual–I hesitate to call him a hunter–commented that if an action results in a dead animal then it was ethical. Frankly, that was the dumbest thing I’d read in a long time. I hope that guy doesn’t get within a mile of an impressionable child. Ethics are not determined by the results of an action. Rather, they are the standards that guide us before we decide to take an action. We should always observe the game laws whether kids are present or not. Any good you do by taking a kid hunting will be undone if you set a sloppy example. And don’t be so foolish as to think your offenses will go unnoticed. So if you can’t bring yourself to practice good ethics because it is right, at least do it because small eyes are on you.

For more information about Hunting with Kids, please visit

8 All-Time Best Hunting Apps for iPhone and Android

Mock up of bearded man looking in his smartphone in travel

Like it or not, keeping up with the latest trends in technology has become a major tool for hunters. Using smartphone apps can be consider as much of a hunting tool as you would a trail camera or even a rifle or bow.

By learning to use some of the best hunting apps on the market you can increase your chances for a successful hunt. Smartphone apps are tools that can help you easily discover your hunting ground or find new places to hunt. They can teach you how to call in a big buck or a bird and skin them on the spot. It’s also a tool in some cases that can help keep you safe in a hunting party and keep your weapons of choice in check.

No matter if you are a first time app user or an experienced one, these are the best hunting apps we find most useful.  But just remember, they are a welcoming asset for every hunter but also a distraction, so keep your mind on what’s important, the game.

AccuWeather ( iOS | Android ) – Sometimes all you need and want is old fashion weather data. With minute-by-minute precipitation forecasts for the next two hours hyper-localized to your exact GPS location, AccuWeather is the best one.

Hunt Predictor Hunting Times (iOS | Android) – This app is one of the best that utilizes John Alden Knight’s Solunar theory to predict the best hunting times for deer, turkey, and waterfowl and it’s completely FREE. It offers a detailed, location-based, 5 day prediction that’ll help you identify when your favorite game is on the move. iPhone alternative is iSolunar while Android one is Fishing & Hunting Solunar Time.

ActInNature Hunting ( iOS | Android ) – Probably the best mapping, tracking and navigation app for hunters. An app that safeguards your hunting party. You can plan and then navigate either by POIs, distance circle or compass while in action. It also shows GPS positions of other hunters from your party on the map so you know their directions and speed as they move. Finally you can also record your tracks, register observations and hunted animals with pics and videos in the journal for later bragging.

SAS Survival Guide ( iOS | Android ) – With this app you will never be caught off guard when in nature, even if you get lost. It is a manual of the elite training in world-class survival skills from Britain’s toughest fighting force + it comes with a device to signal Morse code, a checklist, sun compass etc.

Hunting Light and Blood Tracker ( iOS | Android ) – A handy hunting flashlight app that provides screen lights of various colors for specific uses in the field. PLUS the addition of a ‘blood tracking’ light filter that enhances the visibility of a blood trail left by your wounded game.

Primos Hunting Calls ( iOS ) – With over 20 fully interactive calls this one will improve your skills for bringing in turkey, elk, deer, duck, hogs, and many more. Best available similar, maybe even better, Android app is iHunt Calls.

ArcheryPal ( iOS ) – First ever Archery productivity tool made especially for iPhone aiming at enhancing your skills not only in understanding correlation between speed and kinetic energy but also in understanding how to balance your arrows the right way and many more.

Ballistic: Advanced Edition ( iOS ) – Ballistic is a highly-accurate ballistic calculator and range companion app. When things get tough you can use this app to help you predict how to take the best shot with the gear you have on yourself. Best available similar Android app is Norma Ballistics.

For more more information on the best hunting apps, please visit

How to Overcome Boredom by Ramping Up Obedience Training for Your Bird Dog

Hunting dog

Do bird dogs get bored? Boy howdy, they do! Howling, digging, whining, fighting, and barking are all evidence of a dog with too much mental free time.

But boredom isn’t limited to lying around in the yard and waiting for the paperboy to ride past. Disobedience, unsteadiness, and inattentiveness are more subtle indicators of a dog that has lost his motivation.

So how do you help him get it back? My theory is that a dog who backslides on his training is like an underachiever in the classroom: he needs more challenges than his teacher is giving him.

If you aren’t fully engaging his mind, your dog might resort to canine spitballs by resisting your commands, or worse. And all of a sudden, you’re back to square one on skills you’d thought he’d mastered. I’ve watched my dogs go off the rails as if we’d never worked on retrieving, “whoa,” or simple obedience skills. Usually it’s me who’s gotten stuck in a rut with relentless repetition of the same skills at the same level. We both end up phoning it in.

So, what’s the solution? Why not try bumping him up a grade level?

Yes, there is risk in raising the bar. Dogs that are asked to perform too quickly and too far beyond their abilities may fail. Whenever possible you want to avoid that. But in certain instances—when you see him losing interest —it’s worth the risk to help him reach for the stars.

Here’s an example. I was working with my dog Manny on the NAVHDA Utility-level “duck search.” Ultimately, Manny would be required to swim and wade a brushy pond for ten minutes, trying to find a wing-shackled duck that is trying hard not to be found. The most valuable skill for this test requires him to use his nose to suss out faint duck scent lingering in the air, on the water, and and in the vegetation. It’s easy for Manny entering a small pond downwind of the duck – that’s his comfort zone right now. But every once in a while, I’ll put him on the upwind side of the pond so he has to expand his search before hitting duck scent. It’s a stretch, literally, but he’s proved up for the challenge.

Wherever you are in your training, there are ways to take it up a notch. Has your dog mastered retrieving from the “whoa” table? Go somewhere else, or have him fetch something different. Working on the “heel” command? Have someone—or someone with a dog on a leash—stand nearby while you reinforce your command. The simplest way to up the ante is to practice previously mastered skills in new locations or with added distractions.

In field skills, proximity is often the challenge. My young dog holds a point well when birds flush at a distance of 15 feet or more. When shot birds drop at a distance, he’s also steady. Putting your dog and the bird closer increases the challenge such that it might require a firmer hand. But eventually your dog will probably rise to it—if you’ve prepared him—one baby step at a time.

In the marsh, there are analogs: holding steady in the blind is easy without gunshots. Maybe you introduce the “big bang” from a distance, closely monitoring his reaction. When he’s rock-solid, bring that gun closer. Then move on to see what happens when a dropped mallard splashes in front of the blind.
What’s the best way to approach all this? Make a list of skills you think you have down pat. Then add a column next to it with ways to make them incrementally harder, and you’ll keep your dog firing on all eight cylinders.

Hunting Dog: How to Use the ‘Law of the Pack’ to Establish Order and Hierarchy with a Puppy

Golden Retriever Puppy with tongue hanging out.

In the world of dogs, as in most other worlds, there is always a pecking order. The question is: who defines it, you or your dog?

What better time to hit the reset button, or start on the right paw with a new pup, than spring? But if you are bringing a new dog into your household, then you need to be aware that it will require a reordering of the hierarchy between your dogs, and between you and your dogs. Here are some tips on asserting yourself, while helping your pup fit the pack dynamic.

All animals, from humans to dogs to cockroaches, function under a “law of the pack.” In so-called advanced societies, it may not go by that name nor be that obvious, but there is always a leader and a hierarchy among all the rest, the subordinates.

Not honoring this order can cause a mess of trouble when it comes to you and your dogs. I learned this lesson the hard way, with two dogs that eventually decided the matter with a fang-and-claw debate.
You can orchestrate the situation from Day One and nip disaster in the bud. Overtly or covertly, you will probably have to stage-manage the human-dog-dog hierarchy throughout your dogs’ lives. Sometimes, it’s easy. Other times, not so much.

“Dominance” doesn’t have to mean you physically lord it over your dog(s), or kick, hit or physically assault your hunting partner. It is as much psychology as anything else. We are supposed to be smarter than our dog, right? But even mind games sometimes require a little physicality. (Emphasis on “little.”)
It starts in the litter. Behaviorist Ed Bailey insists a puppy learns how to “get along”—when to give and when to get—in the last crucial weeks before you pick him up as long as you don’t take him home until the tenth week. Those last three weeks stretching beyond the traditional 49th going-home day are the pup’s finishing school when it comes to getting along with other dogs and ultimately, with people. I’ll let you and your breeder have that discussion about when you should pick up your pup.

Once he’s a member of your family, pup needs to know he is not in charge. Ever. Whining and crying are his principal weapons, and he will use them to train you. If you’re not careful, you will be getting up when he wants out, filling bowls when he wants food, subconsciously petting or jumping off the couch when he craves attention.

If there are other dogs or humans in the house, the newcomer must understand his place on the totem pole: rock bottom.

Horses, dogs, humans, chickens. They all function best and are happiest when they know where they stand, literally and in the pecking order (yep, that’s where the term came from—chickens’ flock dynamics). When you—or the new pup—upset the relationship apple cart, you spill more than fruit.

Some clear indications a dog is trying to get a leg up, so to speak, include: charging out the door before you or more senior dogs, sitting or standing on your foot, laying a head on your knee or his foot on your foot, lying on the couch or chair – especially in your spot. With two dogs, the wannabe dominant one will try to get between you and the other dog, or physically above it (on the couch, while the other dog lies on the floor, for instance).

Be strong, and insist that everyone else in the family resist the urge to give in to a cute puppy’s whims. Give your more senior dogs their due, and maintain psychological reign over all of them, in hierarchical order. Feed, exercise, release to the yard, train, indulge them in that order.

Cuddly little puppies are smarter than they look. They aren’t manipulative, just acting on their natural urges to become the top dog, and ultimately, sire the next generation in their pack. If you persevere and maintain your own leadership status, eventually your dog(s) will accept their role and everyone will get along just fine.

Again, heed my experience: once housebroken, out-of-the-crate time is your decision, not his. He’ll soon adjust to your timetable. Physically subordinate pup to you, family members, and other dogs. My old guy gets to share the couch with me at coffee time. The young one doesn’t. He gets the spot at my feet while I gag down a mug of joe.

Young One gets fed last, let in and out of the house after Old Guy, and even trained after Old Guy. When I hunt, Old Guy gets the first “up,” and Young One is expected to wait patiently for his shift. If Young One comes over for scratches and pats, wheedling his way between Old Guy and me, he’s pushed away. His place is outside the inner circle.

Yes, it’s hard, parceling out attention and affection according to a hierarchy, rather than a “democracy.” But a dog that knows his place in the pack functions more comfortably, and ultimately is a better hunting partner and pet.

For more information regarding hunting with puppies, please visit


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