Choosing a Handgun – A Firstimer’s Experience

The Preamble

I should state up front that although I am not new or inexperienced with firearms, I am however new to the world of handguns.  Ever since I can remember I’ve had a distinct fascination with guns in general and pistols are no exception.

I had the privilege of growing up around firearms, primarily rifles and shotguns.  I remember the first time I heard the report of my Dad’s .30-30 Winchester Model 94 lever gun…I was probably five years old and was hooked!  I shot .22 short as a young kid at camp and had a .177 cal AR-15 style air rifle from about 10 years old.  I had toy guns galore and I used to shoot my air rifle with great enthusiasm as a young fella.

The Wants vs. The Needs……………….

I have always wanted a pistol but never really knew what style or make I wanted.  In truth, I like ’em all and would be pleased to have just about any handgun added to my very humble collection of long guns.

The cowboy in me drools over revolvers and all the varied models from the mid 1800’s onward.  Some of those Colt Cavalry or Navy sidearms…sigh…yup, I wish!  Both saw service as military issued weapons and as sidearms for gunfighters.

The modern GI wannabe in me loves the automatics.  I love the 1911’s, I had a toy Colt .45ACP as a kid.  Always been a fan of the Beretta and Sig styles too.  I would have gladly accepted a Glock into the family, but never really cared for their look.


So what’s a fella supposed to do?  How do you decide?

Well, if I had more time I would have gone to my local gun range where I could have shot some of the more popular models and gave them a test run.  But, alas I don’t have that kind of time these days.

Unlike 20 years ago, we now have the internet and Google (hear my snickering?) which is a powerful tool for research as long you can read between the lines and the BS.  So, I have been looking at various models for the past year or so.

I settled with myself that an automatic chambered in 9mm would be most advantageous and prudent for my first handgun purchase.  Why?

1) Affordable auto models are readily available

2) 9mm most prolific caliber = cheaper & plentiful ammo

3) 9mm packs enough wallop to be very effective

4) Autos have larger capacity mags when compared to revolvers

5) Autos are typically more compact and lighter than most revolvers

6) 9mm recoil could be handled by most women (wife & daughter)

From a self-reliance / security / SHTF perspective, the automatic is the natural choice.  With that in mind, it comes down to function, cost, reliability and reputation.

Here’s where it gets complicated because function and reputation go hand in hand as do cost and reliability (usually).  Most of us have found out that in life “you get what you pay for” is often very true.  In a situation where your life or the life of another may depend on your purchase…cost becomes less of a factor.  However, we can only afford what our budgets will allow.

For me, I knew anything over $700 was really out of my price range at this time.  I also know there is a “saw off point” between paying for quality and paying for a name.  I can’t afford designer clothes…I can’t afford a designer gun either.

I felt that I only had a few realistic options.  For a potential SHTF or a stand alone firearm, an eastern block surplus model or cheaper reproduction was out of the question.  They are attractive for the low cost buy in and I did consider them, I won’t deny that.  And, I may go there in the future to bolster my collection.  But not right now.

There are several really good auto’s on the market that fall into my price range.  Of course, prices vary and buying over the internet was never a serious consideration on my part.  So, I stuck to looking where I knew I could actually purchase in person.


1) Ruger SR9 9mm / $460-ish range

A modestly priced and really nice looking firearm with fair to good reviews. However, I held it and its too small for my hand and the design can lend itself to “slide bite” just look at the tail section of the slide and the frame…not much between your hand and the slide.

2) Girsan Yavuz 16 9mm (Made in Turkey) / $500-ish range

A great price point and a smart looking pistol…looks like a Beretta and is apparently some sort of clone.  I found it difficult to get a concrete feel for the gun in reviews; though most seemed favorable.  Didn’t get a chance to hold one so I can’t say what the comfort or fit might be like.

3) IWI Baby Desert Eagle II 9mm (Made in Israel) / $600-ish range

This pistol has been marketed under the older IMI name or Jericho as most of the world knows it,  A beefy, tough looking pistol.  I really like the look and feel of this gun.  The price point is good also. It felt rock solid in my hand and very comfortable.  It has a great pedigree too, it is a clone of the very famous and reliable CZ 75.  It is usually available in steel or polymer frame.  Both versions review very well.

4) Smith & Wesson M&P 9mm w/ Range Kit / $650-ish range

Again, a really beefy and handsome looking pistol. Overall, good to great reviews.  Price point is also good considering the included range kit.  This model of pistol has a long history with law enforcement and the military as indicated by its name.  Also felt solid and comfy in my hands.

5) Steyr M40 .40 S&W / $650-ish range

An awesome looking piece of hardware…not an unusual thing for Steyr.  I like most of their stuff.  Felt very good in the hands and comfortable too.  Unfortunately, my local gun shop did not have a 9mm version in my price range.  Reviews on the M series are outstanding.  Would have likely been my first choice for a pistol.


Decisions, decisions………..

I had a tough decision to make and was sorely tempted with the Steyr M40 chambered in .40 S&W.  I went back and forth in my head between the Smith & Wesson M&P, the Baby Eagle and the Steyr.  I couldn’t decide.  All were nearing the top end of my price range once tax is figured in.

For me, the Girsan was too much of an unknown quantity and the Ruger SR9 just didn’t fit me but the price was sure right.  I was stymied…the Baby Eagle had my eye…loved the look and feel.  Same with the S&W. The Steyr awesome…but wasn’t 9mm…it didn’t fit my own criteria.

Still unable to make a confident decision, I fell back on something my Dad told me years ago.  He said that usually somewhere in the middle is where your best bang for the buck lies.  Lower price…lower quality.  High price…paying more for a name.

It came down to the Smith & Wesson and the Baby Eagle.  For about  50-60 bucks more the Smith & Wesson came with a range kit which includes a speed loader, holster, double mag pouch and an upgraded case.  Agreed, a great deal.

The Baby eagle comes with 3 mags, and a cheapo case.  A range kit only comes with the steel frame versions and they have none in stock and won’t in the foreseeable future.


So, what did I decide?!?

I decided on the IWI Baby Desert Eagle II 9mm for numerous reasons.  Some will make sense to you, some may not.

1) The reputation and reviews are very good

2) The gun is solid and is very comfortable in my hand

3) The price was manageable – with no debt

4) Falls in the middle of the price range  – like Dad always said

5) Design is based on the legendary Czech CZ 75 combat pistol

6) CZ design taken and modified by the Israeli’s

7) Gun is stamped “Made in Israel”…is significant to me personally

8) The Baby Eagle model has been carried by Israeli military forces and police for 20 years or more

9) Local gun store says that they aren’t aware of any of the Israeli made arms they sell coming back due to flaws or failure

10) It just looks awesome

11) If its good enough for the Israeli’s, its definitely good enough for me

I am now confident that I made the right choice for me.  I hope that my experiences with my new firearm will bear out that confidence as well.

When I pick up my new purchase and bring it home in the next month or so I will attempt to do a “First Look” video or at least pics with some commentary.  Of course, then a range report to follow up.

I am seriously considering enrolling in a general handgun safety and handling course.  Maybe in the spring or summer.  I have been through the PAL/RPAL and CORE courses, but feel I could use further instruction.  No point in owning a quality firearm that you intend to rely on if you are not confident in how to best capitalize on it’s and your own strengths.

Active, responsible and safe gun ownership will only further our endeavors to retain, purchase and continue using our restricted and non-restricted firearms in Canada.

I hope my processes of choosing a handgun has helped you.  Which ones did you consider when you were researching and shopping?






3 thoughts on “Choosing a Handgun – A Firstimer’s Experience

  1. Sovereign Canadian

    Thank you for sharing your decision dilemma Cal. What mdd it more difficult is that there is no wrong answer. Anything related to the famous Desert Eagle is a serious consideration and carries some substantial cachet.

    Me, I am leaning towards the M&P9, mostly due to reviews and suggestions from people I trust. Of course I am talking about the range kit.

    I agree with the training comment. There is no sense to have such a useful and high quality tool without understanding the safe use of it. This helps to prevent the bleeding hearts from calling us cowboy wannabes for having a pistol.
    But to them I must say: GUNS ARE COOL
    We are so trained to be afraid of saying that we enjoy shooting, or – heaven forbid – of calling our gun a weapon.

    After and M&P 9mm I am seriously considering a Tokarev in 7.62X25. Cheap gun, cheap ammo, a bit of a story, and fun to shoot – a very hot and fast round.

    I would seriously appreciate a post or video from unboxing, first impressions, first range visit, or anytime you have a comment on your investment. I hope it’s a quality piece that performs flawlessly for you for life.


    1. Sovereign Canadian

      I forgot to add that there is some good training to be had around Vancouver.
      There are other companies that I haven’t had any experience with, maybe you could share what you do.
      But I have had experience with Silvercore. I took the CFSC and CRFSC in Delta (Tilbury). Also, in a couple weeks I am taking the CORE hunting course the the Justice Institute in New Westminster.

  2. Mike

    Enjoyed your article. Eerily similar to my situation. I ended up picking up the same gun. The baby eagles are called the IWI Jericho 941F (steel) and 941 RPL (Polymer). Great minds think alike. Like you said in your article, if it’s good enough for the Israelis, it’s good enough for me…

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