By Eve Flanigan
This fourth and final installment of our favorite carry handguns (we’ve previously covered, micro, compact and mid-size CCW handguns), categorized by size focuses on full-frame models. For those who enjoy open carry and for those who can manage to conceal a full-size gun, there are some great choices here, and any will do for range practice and recreation.
Full-size guns offer numerous advantages. When gripped correctly, a full-size firearm will, due to its greater bulk, reduce the amount of recoil transferred to the shooter. For weak or injured hands or in defensive encounters, a full-size slide is also generally easier to grasp as a gross motor action as compared to the slide on a small gun. Additionally, full-size handguns still offer larger ammunition capacity, generally speaking. Here are our top five full-size handguns, in no particular order.
Kahr Arms T9 Elite, K40 Elite
If classic good looks and tight tolerances set your heart aflutter, the T9 Elite is worth a look. Kahr’s T9 is a bit unusual in that it sports a double-action-only trigger. Its pull is remarkably consistent throughout, and the reach from the grip is much shorter than most full-size DA/SA guns thanks to thoughtful grip design. The stainless-steel surfaces are available in matte or polished finishes, and hardwood grips warm up the steely look with their richly grained texture. The T9 Elite is chambered in 9mm. A sister model, the K40 Elite, is available in .40 S&W.
This is a hefty gun. In 9mm it weighs 28.1 ounces unloaded and with an empty mag, even though its 3.97-inch barrel borders on compact length. Its 1911-style magazines carry eight 9mm or seven .40 S&W rounds. (Every new T9 comes with three magazines.) It’s 6.5 inches long and 4.5 inches high overall. Tritium night sights by Novak are included with the Elite models—there are others in the T9 collection without tritium. This is a gun both beginner and advanced shooters can enjoy. MSRP $980 to $1,101 depending on chambering and finish.
Heckler & Koch (H&K) designed the striker-fired platform, then shelved the design for decades while other manufacturers perfected it. When it finally released the striker-fired VP9 in 2016, it became an overnight sensation.
Luminescent night sights set this gun apart from most competitors, as does the extended ambidextrous slide lock. The VP9’s ergonomic, modular grip system to make this a gun that can be made to fit just about any adult hand. While consumers have become accustomed to interchangeable backstraps, the VP9 stands out for both its flat or curved grip side panels.
After the initial production year, VP9 options expanded. Today, this 9mm is offered in black, bronze, gray, and flat dark earth colors, as well as a long-slide version. Another updated option is a pushbutton magazine release that replaced the earlier European-style paddle release. A threaded barrel model is offered, too. In keeping with market trends, the model is also now offered in big .40 S &W (and, accordingly, called the VP40).
Holster choices abound for this popular pistol. Dimensions include a 4.09-inch barrel, an overall length of 7.34 inches and a 5.41-inch overall height. H&K doesn’t publish a suggested retail price, but a web search reveals an average market price of $600 to $775, depending on options.
Dan Wesson A2
No collection of full-size handguns is complete without at least one classically styled 1911 in .45 ACP. Dan Wesson has done a faithful yet modern interpretation of John Browning’s original with the company’s limited edition A2. Functional enhancements include a lower flared ejection port, snag-resistant Novak combat sights, undercut trigger guard and extended safety lever. Dark wood grips and a matte finish make this handgun a handsome tribute to its military predecessor.
The A2 has an eight-round magazine, a five-inch barrel and weighs 40 ounces. Its overall length is 8.75 inches. This is a pistol that can be carried daily, become an heirloom or both. MSRP $1,363.
Smith & Wesson Performance Center Model M&P R8
Smith & Wesson applied the upgrades associated with its Performance Center line to this double-/single-action revolver chambered in .38 Special/.357 Magnum. The stealthy look of this all-black wheelgun is made modern—and aggressive—with the inclusion of a Picatinny accessory rail under the barrel. Its generous cylinder packs eight rounds of ammunition. A rubberized grip with finger grooves offers plenty to hold onto—unless, of course, one chooses to make it personal with custom grips. Its operator will enjoy smooth and consistent Performance Center trigger operation.
The M&P R8 is the longest of these five favorites at 10.5 inches, with five inches of that being barrel. Smith & Wesson doesn’t publish an overall height, but with a full-length grip, it’s surely among the tallest here. Most recoil will be absorbed by the stainless-steel cylinder and barrel and the slim alloy frame that contribute to 35.8 ounces total weight. MSRP $1,340.
Canik TP9 SF
Turkish gun maker Canik has come into its own as a pistol maker in recent years, and the TP9 SF, a 9mm striker-fired, polymer-lower choice, is the simplest of the company’s growing TP9 series.
There are several variants of the TP9, but the SF (Special Forces) model was picked for this list because of its practical design, value and features such as its ambidextrous slide stop and magazine release. With a choice of backstraps and a short distance from the throat of the backstrap to the trigger, it’s a full-size handgun that’s at home in large or small hands. Accurate and fun to shoot, the SF can serve as a home-protection, plinking or competition gun. Its 18-round metallic magazines (two included) offer lots of shooting between reloads. A holster is also included. It has a 4.47-inch barrel, is 7.56 inches long, and 5.71 inches tall, and the TP9 SF’s barrel and trigger are much better quality than expected for the price—under $375 in most markets. Find it in desert tan or black.
Experienced handgunners know the joy of using a full-size pistol or revolver. Most operations can be done without fussing over skinny slides or rice-grain-sized controls. Felt recoil is minimized by the sheer mass of a heavier gun. Many people seek them for training and competition because of their comparative ease of handling—and if you do your homework and find a holster that permits comfortable, safe and regular concealed carry, then those benefits shine all the more.
See earlier articles in this series: