Top picks for your first, or fifth, carry gun.
I can hardly recognize the modern world. All of a sudden, everyone wants a gun, everyone wants to carry and everyone wants to buy ammo. It’s hard to remember when we were all loners—the odd ducks even at our own gun clubs.
With that in mind, here’s a few carry guns that you might want to consider, assuming you can find anything to buy. Despite the slim selection at times, the important things to remember are: it fits your hand, it’s common enough that you can find a holster and it’s common enough that there are magazines for it.
Springfield Armory Hellcat
The Hellcat is the current high-water mark of daily carry technology. You’ve got 11+1 or 13+1 rounds, depending on using the flush or the extended magazine. You can have a red-dot sight on top if you wish, or you can stick with regular iron sights, if you’re a retro kind of shooter.
It’s chambered in 9mm, which right now is both good and bad. Good, in that there’s usually a wide, almost expansive selection of ammunition and loadings for it. However, since that’s the first thing everyone wants to buy, when 9mm ammo shows up at the local gun shop, it gets swarmed, bought and taken home.
The Hellcat doesn’t use a magazine found in any other pistol, but Springfield is quite aggressive in making sure there’s a sufficient supply. And because it’s a Springfield product, every holster maker offers something for it.
The Slim Option:
Not everyone wants a 9mm pistol that holds half a box of ammunition. So, for those who want something a bit slimmer, Walther makes the CCP M2. (The M2 means a regular magazine release button, not the europaddle release on the first models Walther USA brought in.)
The CCP also has another trick up its sleeve: their Softcoil recoil system. This is a gas-delayed piston system that buffers the slide in recoil. That makes the slide easier to retract and the recoil softer. The first time I fired one, I had to stop and inspect the CCP, certain that it failed to cycle. Nope, it had. Plus, it has a thumb safety as well.
So, if you want a soft-shooting and easy-racking 9mm, here you go. If you don’t want a thumb safety, then the quality and utility of the Walther might not be enough to overcome that prejudice.
Magazines might be a bit pricey (and maybe not), but one thing is for sure: They’re durable enough to last the rest of your life.
The CCW Revolver:
Not everyone worships at the altar of the 9mm. And, some people want a bit of versatility in their carry gun. The latest K6s is the 3-inch version of the Kimber revolver, and it’s really sweet.
The FBI, back when they were in the headlines for catching bank robbers and such, decided the best carry gun was a .357 Magnum with a 3-inch barrel. The .357 chambering means you have the choice you desire in power, from .38 wadcutter target ammo on the bottom, to the stoutest .357 Magnum loading you can stand to shoot.
For precision, thumb-cock the hammer. For fast shooting, it’s hard to beat double-action (DA). And no, you don’t have to give up accuracy for double-action shooting, you just have to practice.
Revolvers don’t need no stinking magazines. For fast reloads, you use speedloaders, and Kimber makes them for the K6s, of course. And holsters? Holster makers have been making holsters for six-shot DA revolvers since before Teddy Roosevelt charged up San Juan Hill.
When it comes to hi-cap 9mm pistols, you have plenty of choices. One that you might pass over, if you haven’t gotten the word, is the Canik TP9.
Made in Turkey, the Canik, has gotten quite some traction on the competition circuit (well, the bigger models, the one here is definitely a carry gun) for their excellent triggers. That and reliability, which is always foremost in the practical competition shooter’s mind. No matter how accurate, how fast-shooting, how good a trigger it is, if it isn’t reliable, it won’t get a second look from the competition crowd.
The Sub Elite here has a 12-round capacity magazine, but all the Canik TP 9mm magazines will work in it, so you have your choices of 12-, 15-, 18- and 20-round magazines. And that’s even before you use a capacity-extending basepad.
The Sub Elite also has a top plate you can remove and install a red-dot sight in its place. Now, magazines are Canik-specific, but a quick look at the Canik web page shows a wide selection at competitive prices. So, you can readily add to the ones that arrive with your pistol. And holsters? When I went to look for holsters, my computer practically exploded with choices. Don’t have any fears there.
The Compact model of the FN509 comes to us courtesy of the U.S. Army. They decided they wanted a new pistol, but they also decided that they could only pick one. So, when some other company won the military contract, FN got busy making pistols for the rest of us.
The compact version is a lot smaller than the full-sized duty pistol that FN submitted to the Army, but it has many of the same features. There’s the cold-hammer-forged barrel, the replaceable backstraps, the frame-mounted accessory rail, the ambidextrous slide stop and magazine release. Not swappable, as some are, but a button that works to release the magazine, regardless of which side you push on.
The swappable backstraps mean the FN509C actually comes in two sizes, so try both for feel.
Since it’s the compact version of their full-line 509 series, you can use any of the magazines they make for the 509, from 10 shots per, up to 21 shots in a magazine. Yes, a magazine bigger than the pistol you can use it in. And just to be different, FN offers the 509 Compact in black of FDE, also known as Flat Dark Earth. The rest of us call it tan.
As far as ruggedness and reliability go, FN makes belt-fed machine guns for our armed forces. They’d be embarrassed to offer a pistol that wasn’t as tough as that, so they make sure their pistols measure up.
Must Do: Test Drives
The important thing to keep in mind, when you’re looking to invest in a daily carry gun (pistol or revolver), is that it fits your hand. You really should spend some time at the gun counter, handling pistols (don’t be surprised if they only let you have two at a time out of the counter, the authorities frown on losing track of pistols) and seeing how they fit in your hands.
In this, a gun shop with a range and rental guns to try is invaluable. “But it costs a lot of money to rent several pistols and buy range ammo to see what fits,” you say. Yes, it does. Look at it this way: You buy a pistol on the recommendation of a friend and find out that it doesn’t agree with your hands. It isn’t comfortable, it points wrong and it pinches you. Even setting aside the paperwork hassle of buying, then selling and buying again (and in some jurisdictions, the paperwork hassle is monumental), the financial hit can be painful.
Let’s say you bought your 9mm pistol for $600. Now that you’ve shot it and find you don’t like it, what will the gun shop buy it back for? Or give credit on a trade for something else? You could end up with a $100 to $200 loss. That’s a lot of range time, pistol rental and range ammo, to find the one you won’t take a loss on.
Rental guns are good things. And there’s another thing: durability. If you walk into a range with rentals, you can count on what you see in the counter being there for one of two reasons: They’re unbreakable, or they’re so movieland bling-worthy that they’re in the counter even though they aren’t reliable or durable. If you’re interested, ask. “Oh, that one? We have it here because everyone wants to shoot a few rounds out of it. If you want a daily carry gun, try this one over here.”
The guys and gals who run the rental counter know what works and what doesn’t. The ones I’ve listed here all work, so you can be safe starting with these. Check them for fit. But if they don’t fit you, they don’t fit you; move on and try something else.
Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the 2021 CCW special issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.
More On Carry Guns:
- 9 Best CCW Revolvers
- Top Concealed Carry Handguns For Women
- 10 Best Single-Stack 9mm Pistols For Carry
- Top 10 Micro 9mm Handguns
- Best .380 Pistol Options For Deep Carry