The Best Handguns for Beginners of 2024

If you’re new to handguns, picking one suited for your experience level will help ensure your experience is safe, fun, and productive

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Beginners might feel intimidated when it comes to selecting an appropriate handgun, but with a calculated approach, you can find one that fits your budget and fulfills your needs. There are two challenges a beginner faces when selecting their first pistol or revolver. First, you need to think about your intended purpose. Do you want a handgun for self protection, recreational shooting, or competition? Second, which style of handgun can you shoot most accurately? That last one isn’t as easy to answer. There are handguns of all types, styles, and sizes, and there’s certainly one out there to fit your needs — but it can be tough to decide which one. To help you out, I picked what I think are some of the best handguns for beginners that satisfy a variety of purposes and tastes. 

How I Chose the Best Handguns for Beginners

When trying to pick out the best handguns for beginners, we want to consider qualities like reliability, quality, and features. We also need to weigh everything from the perspective of someone who’s just getting started. For a beginner, the top-end performer isn’t always going to be the best choice. When selecting some of the best handguns for beginners, I chose from handguns that I’ve already tested or have experience with and based my choices primarily on the following criteria:

  • Simplicity/ease of use
  • Recoil and shooting experience
  • Versatility and future usefulness
  • Cost

A beginning handgun shooter needs a reliable gun that will fulfill their needs, but the platform needs to be easy to shoot so they can learn the fundamentals of safety and marksmanship. No one should start with a handgun that recoils excessively or is hard to manage, so larger calibers and less-ideal designs are out. Though it might be your first handgun, you want to buy something that will continue to be useful as your skills improve. Finally, most beginners don’t need to shell out for the most expensive guns. Look for a handgun that strikes a reasonable balance between quality and affordability. 

Ruger Mark IV 22/45
Simple, reliable, and easy-shooting handguns like the Ruger Mark IV 22/45 are best for beginners.

Best Handguns for Beginners: Reviews and Recommendations

Best Overall: Ruger Mark IV 22/45 Lite

Specs

  • Caliber: .22 LR
  • Capacity: 10+1
  • Action: Semi-auto, single action, internal hammer
  • Barrel length: 4.4 inches
  • Sights: Adjustable, optic rail included
  • Price: $575

Pros

  • Reliable and long-lasting
  • Easy to shoot and clean
  • Same grip angle as 1911 pistols
  • Suppressor ready
  • Good trigger

Cons

  • Expensive

The Ruger Mark IV is one of the best .22 pistols ever made, and the 22/45 and 22/45 Lite versions, which mimic the grip of heavier 1911 pistols, is one of the best handguns for beginners to start with. The Ruger Mark series of pistols was originally inspired by the World War II Japanese Nambu pistol, and has become one of the most popular .22 semi-auto designs ever. 

The Mark IV 22/45 Lite is simple to learn and operate, but reliable, and fires the affordable .22 LR cartridge. A new shooter can learn and practice fundamentals with this handgun and not worry at all about recoil. It’s fed from a 10-round single-stack magazine and the round bolt operates inside an aluminum receiver tube. The steel barrel on this Lite version is thin and housed inside the vented aluminum receiver tube/sleeve. The 22/45 is available in a variety of configurations, and beginners should pick one with the adjustable sights. It also has a Picatinny rail installed so you can use a red dot, but most red dot sights sit quite high on this pistol and can be difficult to master. 

The Mark IV pistols aren’t cheap, but this is truly a gun that is great to learn on and will serve you well for a lifetime. This is a handgun that you’ll never want to part with.

Best .22 Trainer: Sig Sauer P322  

Specs

  • Caliber: .22 LR
  • Capacity: 20+1
  • Action: Semi-auto, single action, internal hammer
  • Barrel length: 4 inches
  • Sights: Adjustable, red-dot compatible
  • Price: $400

Pros

  • Replicates feel of larger caliber semi-autos
  • Simple controls and function
  • Great grip texture and ergonomics
  • Red-dot compatible
  • Interchangeable trigger shoes

Cons

  • Not especially heavy duty
  • Some ammo can cause excess leading in the barrel

For the beginner who is looking to get comfortable with a semi-auto pistol, the Sig P322 is an excellent option. The design mimics that of the larger P365 and P365 XL pistols, so both the feel, and controls are nearly identical. One thing I really like about the P322 is that it uses a double-stack magazine that holds 20 rounds of ammunition — when most .22 LR semi-autos only hold 10. The P322 comes with good iron sights, but can also easily be fitted with a Romeo Zero red dot sight. Considering the prevalence of red dot sights on pistols, it’s a great training tool for the new shooter. 

Sig P322 magazine
The Sig P322 magazine (left) holds twice as many rounds as standard .22 pistol magazines (right).

I’ve found the P322 to be quite reliable, but it doesn’t have the same heft that some of the classic .22 pistols have. It might not be an heirloom pistol, but for the beginner, it makes a great plinker and trainer. The only reliability-related issue I’ve encountered is that some types of ammunition can cause excessive lead buildup in the barrel after 50 to 100 rounds, causing bullets to tumble and veer wildly off course. This can be remedied by a little scrubbing with a cleaning brush, but it’s something to be aware of. 

Best Budget Revolver: Ruger Wrangler

Specs

  • Caliber: .22 LR
  • Capacity: 6
  • Action: Single-action, hammer-fired
  • Barrel length: 4.6 inches
  • Sights: Blade front, rear groove (non-adjustable)
  • Price: $210

Pros

  • Simple to operate
  • Great for learning handgun safety and revolver fundamentals
  • Fun to shoot
  • Very affordable

Cons

  • Sights aren’t adjustable
  • Not as nice or durable as good steel revolvers

One of the best handguns for beginners on a budget is the Ruger Wrangler. This .22-caliber six-shooter is a Peacemaker-style, single-action revolver that costs less than half the price of many other .22s. Where do those cost cuts come from? Much of it is in manufacturing and the use of aluminum rather than steel where it makes sense. Steel isn’t necessary for many parts in a .22 revolver, and these aluminum-framed revolvers feature a variety of Cerakote finish options. The Wrangler features the classic blade-style front sight and non-adjustable notch rear sight that’s integrated into the gun’s frame and utilizes Ruger’s transfer bar firing system that prevents unintentional discharge when the hammer is down.

Why is this a great handgun for beginners? Besides being affordable, a single-action revolver (the hammer must be cocked manually before each shot) is great to learn basic handgun safety and fundamentals because it is simple, and these are very fun to shoot and plink with. It’s a great option to practice the basics of gun handling and marksmanship without any excess complexity. Even if you plan on switching to shooting semi-autos eventually, you’ll find this little revolver to be well worth the small investment.

Best All-Around 9mm: Glock G19 Gen 5 MOS

Specs

  • Caliber: 9mm
  • Capacity: 15+1
  • Action: Single-action, striker-fired
  • Barrel length: 4 inches
  • Sights: White dot front, Notch rear, optic-compatible
  • Price: $650

Pros

  • Simple controls and operation
  • Mild recoil
  • Lots of aftermarket product support
  • Extremely reliable
  • Optic compatible

Cons

  • Factory sights aren’t great
  • Some shooters don’t like the angle of the grip

The Glock G19 is one of the most prominent semi-automatic pistols in the world, and if you’re looking to get started with a 9mm, it’s a solid pick. Glocks aren’t flashy or fancy, but they are simple, durable, and ultra-reliable. The G19 is a compact pistol, slightly smaller than the full-sized G17, but it’s an excellent do-all handgun. The standard magazine holds 15 rounds of 9mm ammo, and the short 4-inch barrel still allows it to be a good concealed-carry option. The current Gen 5 MOS model is the best yet, and features Glock’s MOS optic mounting system so you can use one of the best pistol red dots.

The G19 is a great handgun for a beginner because recoil is mild and everything about operating and maintaining a Glock is pretty simple. It’s an excellent basic pistol, but it can also operate at a high level. It’s used by many law enforcement agencies, and the aftermarket options for parts, upgrades, and holsters is nearly endless. The only significant drawbacks of the Glock G19 are that some shooters really don’t like the grip angle and how the gun feels in the hand, and the factory sights could be much better. Any gun range that offers rentals will have one, so take one for a spin before you buy.

Best Budget 9mm: Palmetto State Armory Dagger 

Specs

  • Caliber: 9mm
  • Capacity: 15+1
  • Action: Single-action, striker-fired
  • Barrel length: 3.9 inches
  • Sights: Black Iron sights, optic compatible
  • Price: $350

Pros

  • Simple controls and operation
  • Mild recoil
  • Good ergonomics
  • Optic-compatible
  • Very affordable

Cons

  • Factory sights aren’t great
  • Triggers can be quite stiff

If a good value, the Dagger from Palmetto State Armory is a great option. It’s one of the best handguns for beginners looking for a budget-priced semi-auto. This is one of many Glock G19 clones on the market, and they piggyback off the simplicity and reliability of that platform. PSA offers their Dagger in a variety of configurations, but most are surprisingly affordable with great feature sets for their price. The PSA Daggers have polymer frames that are nicely contoured and textured, and durable Cerakote finishes on the slides. Another plus is that the slides are cut for an optic, but are only compatible with Trijicon RMR-pattern red dot sights. 

I’ve put more than a thousand rounds through a Dagger and really didn’t have any complaints besides the stiff trigger — which I was able to remedy with a couple of aftermarket springs. This isn’t a best-in-class gun, but it’s one of the best handguns for beginners. And like the Glock G19, it’s easy to learn and can be used for many years to come.

Best Revolver for Beginners: Taurus Tracker 627 4-inch 

Specs

  • Caliber: .357 Magnum/.38 Special
  • Capacity: 7 
  • Action: Single/double action
  • Barrel length: 4 inches
  • Sights: Adjustable rear, orange front ramp
  • Price: $506

Pros

  • Simple to operate
  • Ported to reduce recoil
  • Can use both .357 magnum and .38 Special
  • Great for learning, practice, or backcountry defense
  • Affordable

Cons

  • Not as smooth or nice as high-end revolvers

If you’re a beginner who’s in the market for a centerfire revolver, take a close look at the Taurus Tracker 627. It’s chambered for .357 Magnum and you can shoot lighter .38 Special loads through it for training and practice. The tracker is a pretty reliable model from Taurus, and I had one for years. It’s not nearly as smooth and refined as .357s like the Colt Python, but it has what a beginner needs to learn and is practical for backcountry or off-body-carry. 

In addition to holding eight rounds in the cylinder, the Tracker 627 has a ported barrel with a gas expansion chamber to counteract muzzle flip from recoil. It makes this gun quite easy to shoot accurately, even with full-power .357 Magnum loads. That’s an important thing to consider when starting out. Smaller-framed revolvers are more concealable, but not as easy or fun to shoot. The tracker is equipped with decent sights, is made from durable stainless steel, and offers the newbie revolver shooter a lot of flexibility and usefulness for the money. Someday you might want to upgrade to a high-end revolver, but then again, you might just want to keep using this one. 

Best for Concealed Carry: Sig Sauer P365 

Specs

  • Caliber: 9mm
  • Capacity: 10+1
  • Action: Single Action, Striker-fired
  • Barrel Length: 3.1 inches
  • Sights: X-Ray 3-dot night/day sights
  • Price: $660

Pros

  • Ultra compact
  • Simple controls
  • Great ergonomics and grip texture
  • Variety of models
  • Optic-compatible models

Cons

  • Can be more challenging to shoot accurately and learn fundamentals

The Sig P365 is one of the first pistols that started the micro-compact 9mm craze by cramming 10 rounds of 9mm into a tiny pistol with great ergonomics when similar-sized guns only held six or seven rounds. The P365 is one of the best concealed-carry guns on the market, and it’s also one of the best handguns for beginners who want a dependable carry gun. The standard-sized P365 comes with 10-round magazines, but 12- and even 17-round magazines are available. There are also a number of different P365 models, including the P365 XL and P365 X-Macro that have larger grips and higher capacity — those are good options too.

P365 and P365 XMacro Tacops
The standard P365 (bottom) compared to the larger P365 XMacro Tacops (top).

Though there are some differences, the P365 models all have simple controls, feature the same fire control unit, and most of them are optic-compatible. They’re reliable and, for the size, have great ergonomics and grip texture that helps the shooter manage recoil. The standard P365 isn’t the easiest 9mm pistol to shoot or learn on, but it’s not bad at all. Like the Glock G19, the Sig P365 is supported by a massive array of aftermarket parts and upgrades. It’s a gun that you won’t outgrow as your skills improve. 

Best Sub-Compact: Springfield Armory Hellcat Pro Comp

Specs

  • Caliber: 9mm
  • Capacity: 15+1, 17+1
  • Action: Single Action, Striker-fired
  • Barrel length: 3.7 inches
  • Sights: tritium front, u-notch rear
  • Price: $683

Pros

  • Great for concealed carry
  • Excellent grip texture
  • Great capacity
  • Nice low optics mounting system
  • Compensator reduces recoil

Cons

  • Trigger is heavy

Another dominant handgun in the micro-compact market is the Springfield Hellcat. I’ve reviewed other models of it like the RDP, but the Hellcat Pro is a slightly up-sized version that fits more in the sub-compact category. Don’t let that fool you though, the Hellcat Pro and this model, the Hellcat Pro Comp OSP pack a lot of punch. The pistols are smaller than a standard compact like the Glock G19, but come with 15- and 17-round magazines, making them a potent option for concealed carry.

The grip on the Hellcat Pro is good-sized for a beginner, especially those with smaller hands, but it’s not too small for those with gorilla mitts. The grip is covered in an ultra-grippy texture that isn’t too abrasive when carried against the body in a holster. This Pro Comp model has a built-in muzzle compensator that reduces muzzle flip and recoil greatly. Generally the Hellcat pistols have sharp, snappy recoil and this does a lot to mitigate that. The gun comes with great iron sights, but also has an optic cut that caters to micro-sized red dot sights. LIke the P365, this is one of the best handguns for beginners and experts alike.

Best 2011-Style Pistol for Beginners: Military Armament Corporation MAC 9 DS 1911 

Specs

  • Caliber: 9mm
  • Capacity: 17+1
  • Action: Single action, hammer fired
  • Barrel length: 4.25 inches
  • Sights: Fiber optic front, serrated notch rear (adjustable), optic-compatible
  • Price: $950

Pros

  • Smooth and reliable
  • Great accuracy
  • Great package value
  • Good optic system
  • Excellent value

Cons

  • Less refined than expensive 2011-style pistols

One of the best handguns we have tested this year is the Military Armament Corporation MAC 9 1911 DS. It’s a Turkish imported 2011-style pistol that is similar to the Springfield Armory Prodigy and Staccato P. That basically means that it’s a double-stack 1911 that has a removable grip module rather than a full-length frame and grip scales. It’s not as refined as the higher-end pistols, but at $950, it’s less than half the price of many of them. I put well over 2,000 rounds through two of these pistols and both proved reliable, accurate, and easy to shoot well. 

This isn’t going to be the best handgun for every beginner, but if you’re interested in 2011-style pistols or want a pistol that’s affordable but good for competition, the MAC 9 DS 1911 is a great value. It comes with extra magazines and a nice carrying case, as well as extra fiber optics for the front sight. This is a pistol that a beginner competitor could upgrade over time, but as-is, it’s already a step above many striker-fired pistols.

Things to Consider Before Buying a Handgun for Beginners

If you’re a beginner, it can be overwhelming trying to select a handgun that will work best for you. Deciding what type of handgun you want for your intended application will narrow the field greatly, but there will still be lots of options. Pick a gun that will fulfill your needs at a reasonable price. If you want one that will be useful long term, it’s OK to spend more. If you just want to learn the basics, an affordable .22 pistol is a good way to go. Unless you have the extra money to spend, you won’t benefit much from selecting a top-end pistol until your skills have developed.

FAQ

What is the best caliber for a first pistol?

The best caliber for a first pistol is something that’s easy to shoot. A .22 LR is a good choice, but larger centerfires like 9mm or .38 Special/.357 work well, too.

What is the easiest handgun to shoot accurately?

A full-sized .22-caliber handgun is usually going to be the easiest to shoot accurately, but many of the 2011-style pistols like the MAC 9 DS are a close second.

Is a 9mm good for beginners?

Handguns chambered in 9mm are generally good for beginners, but if you have a hard time managing the recoil, a .22-caliber or .380 Auto can be better options.

Should I start with a pistol or rifle?

It depends. Though a rifle is generally an easier way to learn shooting skills, a handgun is OK to start with if you have access to some good training or instruction. 

Final Thoughts on The Best Handguns for Beginners

There’s never been a better time to be a beginner handgun shooter. There are guns of every shape, size, and style, and nearly everyone can find one that will suit them best. The handguns I’ve listed certainly aren’t the only great options, but they are some of the best handguns for beginners that I’ve used or tested. Ultimately, you need to decide what you like best, and this list should be a great place to start.

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Tyler Freel

Staff Writer

Tyler Freel is a Staff Writer for Outdoor Life. He lives in Fairbanks, Alaska and has been covering a variety of topics for OL for more than a decade. From backpack sheep hunting adventure stories to DIY tips to gear and gun reviews, he covers it all with a perspective that’s based in experience. Freel is never one to shy away from controversial topics. He’s responsive to readers on OL’s social channels and happy to answer questions, debate opinions, and squash trolls.

 

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