The problem is as old as the concept of concealable personal firearms: The smaller a handgun is, the more difficult it is to shoot. Whether it’s a single shot derringer or a polymer-framed pocket .380, handguns that are easy to carry sacrifice their utility in other respects. This can be an acceptable sacrifice if the convenient size of a small gun means that we’re more likely to actually have it close by when we need it. On the other hand, the small pistol might not do us any good if we can’t shoot it accurately enough or quickly enough to fend off an assailant.

Check out the video below for a couple of tips for overcoming some of the challenges of shooting small carry pistols.

Video: How to Shoot Small Pistols Better

The small, single stack 9mm semi-autos that we’ve talked about frequently here on the Lounge are among the most popular carry guns today. They are appealing self-defense tools for many reasons, and among their fans are the large segment of the gun owning population who are simply not inclined to expend the effort required to carry a larger pistol. That’s not so bad in itself, but unfortunately, this same crowd also tends to be unlikely to expend the effort to learn how to overcome the challenges inherent in shooting a small pistol well. And what’s worse, most of these folks are blissfully unaware that they can’t shoot.

What do I mean by “shooting well”? Good question — the 5×5 Drill is a pretty good litmus test, which you can find on this post. If you have any trouble clearing that drill with your carry pistol, then you’re among the majority of small pistol owners who are in desperate need of practice. But practice isn’t helpful unless you start with solid technique.

In addition to the advice regarding the grip that I outlined in the video above, keep in mind that no matter how much your shooting improves with small guns, you’ll always shoot larger pistols better. If you’re comfortable running a full size pistol quickly, that means you have to slow down when you’re shooting small guns. This is something I have to constantly remind myself of. If I try to run a small single stack gun at the same speed I would a full size or compact pistol, my accuracy falls apart. The small guns are not nearly as forgiving in terms of imperfect sight picture or sub-optimal trigger control. They can still be run quickly, but slowing down just a fraction of a second will go a long way toward improving accuracy and consistency.

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  • Would love a 4.2″ or larger barrel on an alloy frame, with 7 or 8+1 rounds. xdM comes close, but ehh…

    • Canadian? Assuming you want a 9mm, the only thing I can think of that would come close is an alloy Commander length 1911 pattern pistol in 9mm. The Dan Wesson Guardian is a nice one, and moderately priced as far as 1911s go.

      • Hmmm… While DW 1911’s are as legit as they come in reliability, I may wait to see if Glock’s aftermarket will start making long slides for the 43. (Imagine glock 17 or 17L/34 length!)

  • Uncle Buckshot

    If I’m cross dominant, should I align the sights with my left eye or turn my head to the right a little? Please help.

    • I’d suggest using your dominant eye and just turn your head slightly.

      • Uncle Buckshot


        • Ed Schrank

          This post is a bit old, but I had the same issue. Right handed, left eye dominant. I was surprised how easy it was to make the change and I have been shooting that way (right eye) for 30+ years . Lots of dry fire practice and a moderate amount of range time over a couple months. Now it feels totally strange to bring the sights up in line with my right eye. Totally changed.

          • Uncle Buckshot

            The notification kinda caught me off guard. Shooting with my left eye has since started to feel natural. Shooting rifles left handed is what takes some more getting used to.

          • Ed Schrank

            Yah. I was referring to pistols. Not sure I can make the change with a long gun. I still out shoot my (near adult) kids though. I tell them imagine how good I would be if I could SEE the target.

  • Ann Wendt

    As far as small guns go, I’ll stick to my Glock 39 for carry. In my airsoft collection for backyard practice, I have eight different guns of all different sizes, and I can practice with any of them and get the same results with, say, a Colt 1911 as I do with a Glock 33. Good replicas weight about the same as a real gun, but don’t kick back when you shoot, so that may make a difference; however, I think the comfort factor and keeping the correct stance, as well as pulling the trigger correctly will go far to shrink the performance gap between a full size and a subcompact model. That being said, I’m not the expert here but am speaking only from my own experience.

  • John D

    I shoot a S&W M&P 40c. I also live in the communist state of Ma. where in order to buy this gun it has to be sold with a 10 pound trigger pull. I have a hard time hitting my target and friends who have shot it say I should have the trigger worked to bring it down to around 6 pounds that the gun is normally sold with.Will this help or is it a waist of money?

    • Dan Lester

      If you can do it without breaking the law I would say do it. I am not sure how your state would look now unless they had reason to test it. I live in a different state and my SHIELD 9 has a 4.5lb trigger, I love it.

      • John D

        This is what I don’t understand about my state. It’s legal to have the trigger worked to a lighter pull but can’t be sold that way. Just don’t make sense. I will definitely have the trigger lightened. Thanks!

        • Dan Lester

          Excellent decision!

  • Jay K

    Enjoyed the article / video. Would love to see a video explaining this principle and significance of front sight focus accompany if.

  • TnrzMom

    Excellent information! Thank You for this. When practicing with my LCP .380, I struggle with a good grip / aim with the smaller pistol. This information should help me out a lot when I hit the range next.

  • David

    Dang Chris, nice explanation and walk-through….. I was about to give up on my P938, but now I’m thinking it may be “Drill Time”.

  • Sid Sunny

    I bought an XDS couple of weeks ago and I’ve just about given up on it! I can shoot (relatively) well with my 3.8 XDM but for some reason just can’t hit the target from 7-10 yards with the XDS. I was about to sell it after 150 rounds through it and tons of dry-firing and get another single stack but I think I’ll give it another try at the range concentrating more on the grip.

  • A. Tsai

    Love the tips. Gotta try them out with my M&P Shield. Thanks

  • DeplorableMeanGranny

    Thank you! I learned a lot from watching this video. I have the Ruger LCP 380, and while I do OK with it, I could really stand to improve. My hands are weak, due to carpel tunnel syndrome, so I can only shoot about 3 magazines worth before I have to stop for the day. Just can’t hold the gun steady after that. But I think concentrating on my grip will make a lot of difference.