In my search terms (search engine queries that landed on this site) the other day, I saw “how to start a gun collection.” My flippant first response was “buy a gun,” but this is a serious question. Since I get at least a dozen hits a day on my post “The must have gun list,” a lot of people are looking for advice on this topic.
If you are a first time gun buyer, the first thing I would advise you to do is sit down, and figure out why exactly you want to buy a gun or guns. Many people want to buy a gun for personal or family protection, some collect them for history, or because they were in books or movies (a PPK is on my short list, and yes, it is purely because of James Bond,) people want to hunt, or just feel like it is something they would like to understand more. I am not saying you need to determine this because there is a “wrong” reason (other than crime,) but because your reasons make a big difference in what you would buy.
Guns for Protection:
Before I get into details, there is something that should be addressed. If you are going to own a gun for protection, whether that is a primary or secondary reason, you may have to make the decision to seriously injure or kill someone that is threatening you someday. The heat of that situation is not the time for a moral dilemma. You need to be certain before you have the gun that you will be willing to shoot, or you may end up having the gun taken from you, and maybe used on you. I am NOT saying you have to like the idea, I certainly don’t, but you need to be at peace with it. I have guns for protection because I want to get home to my wife, and if someone takes their life in their own hands by attacking my, being there for my family is going to win.
The other factor is training. This can be formalized, or in the form of your own study and practice. Make sure you are comfortable with your weapon before you need it.
Guns for protection fall into two categories, guns for carry (Open or concealed) and guns for home protection.
Carry guns will be a handgun, and should be something that you are comfortable with, and can comfortably conceal on your body.
Semi-auto vs. revolver: both have benefits and drawbacks. Semi-autos (normally) have more rounds available, and are easier to reload. The downside is that it is easier to have one jam, and you should make sure you do drills clearing jams. Revolvers normally carry fewer rounds, and can be more difficult to reload quickly. However, if a round misfires, pull the trigger again, a new round is cycled into firing position, and is fired.
Caliber: The bottom line, as Caleb says, any gun you are carrying is more useful than one in your safe. That said, the generally accepted minimum as .380 in semi-auto, and .38 special in revolvers. Once you get past those, the terminal performance is going to be acceptable from any common caliber in the situations you are likely to run into.
Bottom line: you are going to need to go into a gun shop, and look at a number of guns. If possible, rent some and test them. You also need to look at holsters, to make sure that you can get one for your preferred carry style for that gun.
Home Protection: There are several options here. The same guns you carry for protection will work for inside the home protection as well, but without the need to be able to carry the weapon, more options are open to you.
Handguns: Look at some larger frame options, which are easier to control, and can accept a larger magazine. Also consider night sights, like tritium, which glow in the dark and make aiming easier.
Shotguns: Despite what Joe Biden said, a double barreled shotgun is probably not your best option, and certainly don’t just fire randomly like he suggested. My recommendation would be a pump or semi-auto in 12 gauge, or 20 gauge for slightly less recoil. Semi-autos dissipate some recoil cycling the action, so they can have less recoil than a pump. A pump is usually cheaper, and I like the fact that you can muscle through most problems you might have, like a shell that doesn’t want to eject.
Buckshot is the best home defense ammo, with terminal performance, and less over-penetration than slugs.
Rifles: In most cases, a rifle wouldn’t be my first choice for most home defense situations, because of over-penetration (bullets passing through the target or walls, potentially hitting something behind it.) The two major exceptions would be serious civil unrest (think the Rodney King riots) or another situation were you might have to engage multiple armed threats. In one case, I had armed robbers who crashed not too far from my house. They had been apprehended by the time I got home, but if they hadn’t been, the AR-15 would have been out.
If you are going to use a rifle, an AR-15 or AK-47 style gun is going to be the most effective.
This is a little harder to make specific recommendations on, since it is going to be up to you what you want to collect. My recommendation here is to do your research, and even if you are not planning to shoot the guns, learn how to use them.
Also, be realistic about guns from movies and books. These mediums are not renowned for their accuracy. In other words, make sure that if you are using the gun for more than collecting, it is actually suitable for what you want.
These are normally going to fall into two categories, rifles and shotguns. What you choose will be based on what you plan to hunt.
Birds are hunted with shotguns, small game like rabbits and squirrels can be hunted with either shotgun or small bore rifle, like a .22 long rifle or .17 hmr.
Deer and larger game can be hunted with a rifle or shotgun using slugs. Some areas only permit shotgun, with it’s shorter range.
If you are starting to hunt, you are probably going to be with a friend or group. Talk to them, and find out what they are using.
For sheer versatility, my recommendation is to start with a 12 gauge pump shotgun like a Remington 870 or Mossberg 500 (my preference is the Remington,) and then look at others from there. I have a vintage Ithaca 37 which I love, and the new ones look very nice, but on the pricy side for a starter gun. Both those and the Browning BPS are bottom ejection, which makes shooting left handed easier, although if you are buying a shotgun as a lefty, you might want to look for one designed as a left-handed gun.
If you are starting with a medium to large bore rifle, bolt action is usually the best place to start. The Remington 700 and Winchester Model 70 are two classic guns (Although the Model 70 has been reworked recently,) Savage and CZ are also good brands to look at.
For most hunting in North America, 30-06 or .308 are probably the most common calibers, and can be used on anything in the country, although I might want a little more punch for Alaskan brown bears. Start with one of those, unless you know you need something bigger.
For shotgun sports (Trap, skeet, sporting clays, 5-stand,) the Remington 870 is used by a lot of beginning shooters. I would start there, then research the higher end options. One problem with starting on a really high end gun is that they are often tuned to a specific sport, and may not cross over well. A single barreled trap gun is going to be useless for disciplines where you need more than one shot.
Rifle shooting: start with something like a Ruger 10/22 in .22 long rifle, unless you have your sights on a specific competition. Even then, if you don’t have experience shooting rifles, start with the .22. Many of the skills you learn will carry over to the bigger guns, and you will pay for the gun in ammo savings.
I hope this has given you some insight, but your best option is to talk to someone you trust. Most gun owners are more than happy to help someone new get started. Just remember, though, that everyone has their prejudices (including me) and a hunter may not see the point in shooting clays, and a clay shooter might not have any use for killing animals. If you run into this, thank the person, and find someone that can help you.
When you go to a gun shop, try to find a time when they are a little slower. They should be able to provide you the help you need at any time, but you will have the best luck when there isn’t a line out the door.
The most versatile option to start with is a 12 gauge pump shotgun. Everyone should have one. However, it may not be ideal, or even usable for your specific requirements.
Once you decide on that first gun, take a look at my post “The must have gun list.” That should help you cover all the basics, and by the time you are done with that, you will have a good idea where to go next.
I hope this helps you get started, I am sure you will enjoy it.
If you have any specific questions leave them in the comments.