Handgun Vs Rifle – Which One Should You Get

This is almost like the Chocolate Vs. Vanilla argument, except in this case it’s not about preference but more about the application.

The real question is what you need the gun for, and in this post, I will be breaking down the options and laying it out plain and simple.

The choice of which lies with you, but remember your choice could be the difference between survival and death, so it’s critical you have all the answers BEFORE choosing.

To answer this correctly, let’s start with the various options available in each of these weapons.

handgun vs rifle differences

Rifles, Pistols & Revolvers

Starting with the rifle, there are two basic kinds—the self-loading system, including semi-auto and automatic weapons, and the manual loader.

The self-loading systems include assault rifles in semi-auto and automatic options, and the manual loader is your bolt action and lever action weapons.

With handguns, we have pistols and revolvers.

Handguns VS Rifle – Firepower

One of the first aspects to consider is the amount of firepower capacity each of these weapons has.

A typical magazine for a bolt action rifle has between 5 and 10 cartridges in the rifle category, while a semi-auto weapon may have as many as 30 rounds in the magazine.

For handguns, a medium-size weapon would have anywhere from 7 rounds ( like the Colt 1911) up to 17 rounds (Glock 17) in a magazine.

With revolvers, the typical gun has a 6 round cylinder. In contrast, some of the larger caliber revolvers only have five due to the increased thickness of the cylinder to handle the severe pressure exerted by high power rounds such as the .500 caliber rounds.

Reloading – how fast and how many

The Semi-auto and pistol are probably the fastest to reload and deliver the most rounds per magazine. A standard 30 round mag for an AR-15 would provide more firepower than a 17 round mag for a Glock – but designers have invented 30 and even 50 round magazines for handguns that significantly boost their firepower capacity.

Also, when reloading, especially in a combat situation, the less time it takes, the better the pistol and semi-auto would win hands down.

Most revolvers have speedloaders that carry the total cylinder capacity and require the shooter to open the cylinder, empty the cases and slam in a fresh load.

Reloading the bolt action magazine is equally as simple as the pistol / semi-auto process; you get fewer rounds.

A lever-action requires manual loading of cartridges into the internal magazine, which would be the slowest weapon to reload.

If you need high-capacity firepower fast from this section, the semi-auto or pistol would be the better choice.

Handgun Vs. Rifle –Effective  Range 

Before we get into this, let’s define the effective range. While many bullets, when fired at the optimum angle, can travel huge distances before falling to the ground, it’s the EFFECTIVE range that you need to consider for your weapon.

Even though a 30-06 bullet fired at 45 degrees could cover more than 5000 yards, it’s doubtful that you could even see a target that far away, let alone hit it.

The same is true for handguns. A 9mm bullet fired at 45 degrees in optimum conditions could travel around 2200 yards, but these are ideal conditions and not what the weapon or ammunition was designed to do.

The rifle (bolt action/lever action) weapons are usually used for hunting or long-range target shooting.

Depending on what you would be hunting or the distance you would be shooting, you could decide which rifle caliber to buy based on the effective range.

Handgun Vs Rifle – Which One Should You Get 1

Hunting & Sport Shooting

Most game is shot at distances of around 250-400 yards and ideally taken down with a single well placed shot to ensure the animal doesn’t suffer unnecessarily.

If this is your purpose, then your first stop would be researching the type of game you would be hunting and the best options for both weapon choice and caliber.

If you want to hunt game with a handgun, for example, quite a few guns could provide that for you, and again, researching this before making your purchasing decision is strongly advised.

Remember that by default, rifles are more accurate than handguns over longer distances. Still, hunting handguns do offer a decent effective range, with skilled shooters being able to take the game at 100 or even 200 yards!

The other consideration is what type of game you would be hunting and matching the weapon and the bullet accordingly.

For example, taking on an African Buffalo with a .45 handgun or a .22  is probably not advisable. Similarly, hunting rabbits with a high-powered rifle wouldn’t leave much left after impact!

 If you’re looking at hunting, both handguns and rifles are equally applicable, and it would simply depend on the type of game and the distances you’d want to engage them.

Self-Defense And Combat

With combat situations, the game changes dramatically. Let’s differentiate between combat in the urban sense and the military sense.

For this post, I’m going to focus purely on personal and property defensive options.

For personal defense, the handgun is a far better option for several reasons.

  • Maneuverability – it’s easier and faster to get a handgun on target in a close quarter situation than a rifle because of its size and length. A rifle in tight spots could be challenging to maneuver effectively.
  • Maintain Possession – an assailant could grab the rifle barrel and attempt to wrestle it from you, while it is far more challenging to do the same with a handgun, especially with a trained shooter.
  • Concealability –  handguns (even large ones) are more accessible to conceal than a rifle or semi-auto. Someone carrying an AR under their jacket is GOING to be spotted far sooner and easier than a concealed handgun carry.
  • Lower risk of over-penetration – Rifle bullets are naturally more high-powered than handgun rounds. Shooting an assailant in your home could result in the bullet going through them and through walls and other light barriers, potentially endangering other people in your home. Handgun rounds have much lower power, and ‘carry rounds’ even full metal jacket rounds are unlikely to over-penetrate.
  • It can be fired with one hand – a rifle requires two hands to operate effectively, while a handgun can be successfully used with just one hand.
  • Magzine limitations – some locales have limits on rifle magazine capacity, while most handguns are not limited.

When looking at rural defense (farm/country homestead/ranch), a rifle can definitely offer some longe range advantages, especially where there is an open field of fire.

For personal defense, handguns win this one, hands down.

Accuracy –  Barrel Length, Weight, And Stability.

In most contests, the rifle will win out over a handgun for accuracy.

This is simply due to the rifle barrel being longer and imparting more stability and spin to the bullet, thus keeping it on target longer and consistently, especially over medium to long-range.

In addition, the rifle is held in two hands and has contact points on the body that give it greater stability while shooting.

Compared to a handgun held in either one or two hands only, the longer weapon is also heavier.

Because the rifle is more stable and supported, the recoil is easier to manage and so get the sights on target for the next shot quicker. In contrast, handgun recoil may lead to the muzzle ‘jumping’ off-target and taking longer for the shooter to re-acquire for the next shot.

With long-range shooting, the rifle also has the option of mechanical rests such as tripods and sandbags that further add to stability and accuracy.

The rifle is heavier and has multiple points of contact with the shooter’s body. From the shoulder t being held in both hands, resting on a tripod or a sandbag, the rifle has inherently more stability in the shooting position than a pistol.

Also, the recoil from the rifle is more controllable and allows the shooter to get back on target for the next shot very quickly.

The rifle is a far better choice if you’re planning on shooting long range whether it’s hunting or target.

Handgun Vs Rifle – Which One Should You Get 2

Handgun Training VS Rifle Training

Most kids growing up start with a Daisy, air rifle, or even a .22 ‘plinker’ to get their shooting going. And why? Because these guns are straightforward to shoot and control and it’s a great introduction to guns and guns safety.

Small caliber rifles and air guns are a gentle introduction to shooting, and with little or no recoil, it allows kids to enjoy the sport quickly.

Rifles are simply easier to shoot not only because of their stability, as discussed above, but also because they are more straightforward.

Handguns, especially pistols, require some training so that the shooter knows where the safety is and how to use it as well as the magazine release. These controls need to be found without looking for them, and this is where the training comes in.

A rifle, on the other hand, has those controls easily and naturally accessible.

Becoming proficient with a rifle over its effective range is quicker and easier than the same with a handgun, plus the recoil is easier to control.

If training time is limited, then a rifle offers a faster solution to proficiency.

Rifle VS Handgun – Stopping Power 

Rifle bullets are faster and heavier by default than handgun rounds. A typical handgun round travels between 750 FPS and 1300 FPS while rifle bullets run from 1900 FPS to 4000 FPS or more!

But once again, it’s all about the application. 

As seen from the Self-Defense section, a rifle bullet in an urban location would risk serious over penetration, while lower velocity handgun rounds would not.

Developments in bullet design have led to more effective bullets being offered, whether for hunting or self-defense.

Many manufacturers offer game-specific bullets that are made for the particular species of game you are hunting.

Likewise, with handgun rounds, manufacturers offer various ‘man-stoppers-‘all designed to stop an attacker with lethal efficiency.

In a close-range combat encounter, the ‘hollow point’ style rounds effectively drop human assailants, while hunting rounds over longer ranges achieve the same effectiveness.

Rate Of Fire

In this comparison, there are really only two contenders – the pistol and the semi-auto rifle.

A pistol with a capacity magazine of around 15-17 rounds can deliver a high rate of fire downrange in combat shooting or self-defense situations.

However, most pistols are semi-automatic which means that the shooter can only fire one round with every trigger pull.

Like a semi-automatic rifle, the weapon’s rate of fire is determined by how fast the shooter can pull the trigger and get the muzzle back on target.

One may argue that the rifle might be slightly faster to fire due to inherent stability, but most skilled shooters could empty the magazines equally as fast for both weapons.

The real winner here is the automatic rifle or a ‘machine pistol with a burst-fire option rigged for fully automatic.

A 30 round magazine in an AR-15 on full auto would take just 5 seconds to deplete, while a 20 round magazine in a pistol would take about the same time.

Of course, this is purely dependent on the weapon’s rate of fire measured in Rounds Per Minute (RPM) and no consideration for accuracy.

However, the increase in mass shooting incidents has led to a ban on weapons with this full-auto function in many states in the US, and full auto remains the domain of the military except for a few states that still permit them for civilian use.

Staying with the cause, the fully automatic rifle would win this going away!

Handgun Vs Rifle – Which One Should You Get 3

Handguns VS Rifles – Cost 

This section will look at new prices as 2nd handguns will vary according to age and condition.

 A brand new pistol would sell from about $350 and upwards, depending on what you buy.

While a Glock may sell for $500, a custom 1911 pistol by the legendary Wilson company could leave you around $1500 poorer!

Revolvers sell for about the same prices as pistols, starting from around $300 to $1000 and upwards.

A new centerfire rifle would cost around $600 to $800, but prices on the ‘exotic’ rifles can run into thousands of dollars!

A semi-auto rifle like an M-16 sells for between $800 and $1400 depending on its features and manufacturer.

Another thing to consider would be the potential resale value, which is why it’s better to buy new than second-hand.

In this comparison, both weapons come out even.

Ammo prices – Handgun VS Rifle 

As a rule, handgun and rifle ammo come about the same calculated as cost per round.

Since Covid-19, ammo prices have risen dramatically, as much as 300% in some cases.

Standard rounds would cost between $1 and $1-80 new, and the same applies to both handgun and rifle ammo.

Of course, specialized ammo for any application will always be more expensive. Examples of this are the ‘hollow-point rounds for self-defense, such as the Golden Saber, or HST would be more costly than standard ball rounds.

Similarly, ammo designed especially for a particular type of game may be more expensive than standard factory rounds.

With ammo, it’s always good to talk reloading, especially with the prices on ammo increasing. Reloading offers the committed shooter a massive reduction in costs -almost 80%!

A reloaded round complete would cost around $0.30 compared to $1 PLUS store price bought ammo.

If you are going to shoot a lot, whether it is for sport, combat, or recreation, then reloading your rounds is DEFINITELY a good option.

Handgun VS Rifle – Aesthetics

Aside from all the technical aspects, there is one more element to discuss. The looks!

Yes, it has no actual practical application, but many people find guns strangely beautiful. The Colt Python revolver with its heavy barrel and even the pure simplicity of the Colt Single Action Army appeals to our sense of appreciation.

As a firearm owner, you may be drawn to the sheer beauty of a particular weapon, and if that happens to match your criteria, then that is a bonus indeed!


Handgun VS Rifle – which do you choose?

You now have an excellent guide for what to look for in your weapon of choice based on how you intend to use that weapon.

The next step is to test out some of them, see how they feel in your hand, how they shoot, and ask specific questions about your chosen application.

With all of this, remember that any gun, SAFETY, always comes first when it comes to guns!
Happy Shooting!

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