In practice, combat pistol shooting focuses on defensive handgun deployment for personal protection or sport.
Today's crop of quality combat pistols include a combination of designs that are more than a century old, as well as new models utilizing modern polymers.
Many of these guns feature ambidextrous controls, accessory rails and corrosion-resistant finishes. Additionally, the need to accommodate shooters of all sizes has prompted many companies to offer interchangeable grip inserts. Design features vary from one model to the next, but what they do have in common is utter reliability under the worst conditions.
Ultimately, the choice of which one suits you best is largely a matter of taste and preference. Here's a look at 12 of the best combat pistols available today.
1911 & Clones
This is a no-brainer, and a fair number of readers believe we could stop the discussion about combat pistols right here - the John Browning-designed 1911 has been serving the U.S. admirably for over a century. Today companies like SIG, Ruger, Remington and, yes, Browning still produce 1911s, and they remain popular with police and military professionals, competitors and defensive shooting instructors. The 1911 is one of the greatest pistols of all time, and even if you believe the design is dated, it's hard to argue with the numbers.
earned contracts to produce their M9
as the primary U.S. military sidearm in the 1980's, it ushered in a season of change in pistol development. The 1911 was being replaced, much to the dismay of many, and an Italian pistol was unseating it. However, the Beretta M9 and Model 92 pistols have proven to be very effective and reliable
. Easy to shoot, disassemble and maintain, Beretta's pistols have been tested for thousands of rounds before failure. Its wide double-stack magazine offers plenty of capacity, and the Beretta is also an extremely accurate pistol right out of the box.
When the first Glock
pistols hit U.S. shores in the mid-1980's, purists scoffed at the introduction of a polymer-framed firearm. But the Glock didn't just survive in the U.S., it excelled, grew in popularity and eventually became the poster firearm for the polymer pistol revolution. It's also striker-fired — a novelty in the 1980's — some suspected to be a gimmick. That has turned out to be untrue, and a number of the guns on this list are striker-fired models. Now in their fourth generation and serving military, law enforcement and civilians across the globe, Glock pistols have become a fixture among combat pistols.
The SR line
of semiautos was Ruger's
first foray into the world of striker-fired pistols. Since its introduction, it has become one of the most popular semiautos on the market. Its slim grip is comfortable for extended shooting periods, and the SR line features a loaded chamber indicator and an ambidextrous safety. It's accurate and reliable, and it's also priced very competitively in a crowded field with several outstanding foreign and domestic rivals. The SR line is available in three combat calibers (9mm, .40 S&W and .45 ACP), two finishes and a variety of sizes. From deep cover to target and combat shooting, the SR line has something for everyone.
Smith & Wesson M&P9/40/45
When Smith & Wesson
set out to build a polymer-framed semiauto pistol, they could very easily have pieced together something that was merely adequate, but the company designed a handgun capable of competing with the best combat semiautos from other manufacturers. Like so many of the other combat pistols here, it utilizes a striker-fired design and is available with or without a manual safety. It comes with interchangeable grips and an accessory rail that makes mounting lasers and lights simple, and it has excellent ergonomics — just a few reasons why the M&P line
of semiautos have earned a place on our list.
$569 for the 9mm and .40; $599 for the .45
is a name synonymous with military firearms design and manufacturing, and in 2001 the company introduced their own line of polymer-frame, striker-fired pistols. Its grip ergonomics are similar to the 1911, and it even utilizes a grip safety, but the XD
is its own creation — an amalgamation of the best features of pistols new and old. It's available in a wide variety of single and double-stack designs with different barrel lengths and finishes, and it's chambered in every major combat cartridge available today.
has been producing pistols for police, military and fictional MI6 agents for many years. Over the span of that time, the company has produced some fine sidearms. The PPQ
is the current mid-size, striker-fired polymer semiauto offering, and it is outstanding. The ergonomic, well-textured grip is easy to hold onto, and it features a safe trigger design and ambidextrous safety. The M2 model features a standard magazine release button, although Walther imports a few 'traditional ' models with the magazine release lever designed to prevent attackers from dropping the magazine when the pistol is holstered.
has been around a long, long time, and there are still a bunch of Hi-Powers serving active duty from Bangladesh to Botswana. The design isn't new; the single-action, short-recoil design dates back to the 1930's, but the Browning has proven to be effective and reliable
. In an era where the 1911 was king, the Hi-Power offered more capacity and lighter recoil. Even though its design dates back 80 years, the Hi-Power is still a popular pistol that has survived despite generations of new pistol design.
SIG Sauer P226
lineup of semiauto pistols have managed to earn a large market share in this crowded field, and with good reason. The P226
is available in a wide array of configurations and calibers, so no matter what your taste, there's a SIG to fit your needs. The P226
has been thoroughly tested, and its reliability in the face of heavy fire has been confirmed time and again — one of the reasons that it's so popular with military and law enforcement professionals. It's available as a DA/SA pistol as well as a SA only, and its locked-breech, short-recoil operation system has proven to be one of the most robust and reliable designs on the market.
Heckler & Koch P30
pistols are built to exacting standards and have proven to be extremely reliable, which is a must for combat pistols. The polymer-framed pistol
has a one-piece nitro-carburized slide and one of the finest triggers available on any SA/DA pistol on the market. The slide lever and magazine release are ambidextrous, making it easy for left-handed shooters to operate. Interchangeable back straps also make it easy to find a grip that suits you. For all of these reasons, the HK P30
is tremendously popular with military and police agencies around the world.
has been producing military firearms for years, and the striker-fired FNS series
is the company's latest pistol development. It's fully ambidextrous, well built, reliable and drawing the attention of the shooting public. The FNS
is relatively new to the market, having debuted just three years ago, but it is one of the best combat and defensive pistols available today. It shares the same grip design as the FNX line
of double-action pistols, and it's comfortable to shoot and points naturally.
is worthy of a spot on this list, if for no other reason than that it offers a prodigious 19+1 capacity in 9mm (15+1 in .40 S&W). More than that though, the P-09
is a heck of a gun. It has a polymer frame but is hammer-fired and completely ambidextrous. The low-profile sights are excellent in any light conditions, and its decocker can be converted to a manual safety if you prefer. The slide rides inside the frame, and the bore axis is very low, which allows for quick follow up shots and a reduced overall height. The grip is textured polymer and very plain, but it comes with three interchangeable backstraps and it is extremely well balanced. Double-action trigger pull is about 9.5 pounds, and in single action mode it is half of that and very crisp. The P-09 is accurate and easy to shoot well, and the controls are flattened against the frame to prevent hanging up when you draw.