Imagine someone gave you "shoes" - a pair of old-school army boots - and told you these are what you have to wear. You have to wear them each day, everywhere, no exceptions or go barefoot. Your boots could be too small and uncomfortable. Maybe they're too large, sloppy and ill fitting. The boots could be so unbearable you decide to go barefoot, hoping you don't have to do the "Die Hard" thing and walk over a floor covered in broken glass.
Now, imagine someone says, "This is the pistol you need," and adds, "I wouldn't carry anything else." The problem is, just like the boots, this pistol doesn't work for you. My hands are small. A large, bulky weapon, such as a double stack .45 caliber frame, is too big for me to get a proper grip. I can shoot it, but I can't fire or manipulate it as efficiently as something like a 1911, a single stack weapon with a slim grip profile. And, with my body build, when I carry a large weapon it's very apparent. The profile of the pistol is clearly visible under my clothing, unless I dress in oversize, sloppy garments.
Compact, or what I call "tiny" pistols, can be too small, especially for people with larger hands. Smaller pistols are easy to conceal, but for that advantage there are a lot of downsides. The smaller platform makes it more difficult to manipulate. A pistol with a short slide and strong recoil spring is harder to cycle, especially considering you don't want part of your hand covering the ejection port. With a smaller pistol your hands may prevent empty mags from dropping free - with tiny pistols I suggest stripping the mag with the support hand to ensure it clears. When seating a new mag ensure your hands don't get in the way or pinched, caught between the mag and frame.
Caliber is also an important consideration. Sure, we want the biggest man-stopper we can carry. But, it has to be a weapon we will carry, and practice with, learning how to operate efficiently and shoot accurately. Large, high velocity rounds have great "terminal ballistics" but are difficult to shoot. I know, "Real men don't care about recoil." The rest of us do. Recoil affects the ability to hit accurately and efficiently, whether it's the psychological effects and anticipation of the force or the time required to recover from the recoil to fire the next shot.
Just like shoes, you must make sure your pistol fits. It's a size you can and will carry. The pistol's size and shape should allow you to manipulate it properly, which means safely and efficiently. The right pistol allows you to obtain a good grip, with finger positioned in the proper place on the trigger, and the ability to press the trigger straight to the rear. The right pistol is a caliber you can shoot accurately and rapidly.
You may start with one type and size pistol, then after learning what you need decide that a different size, shape or design works better. You'll also probably need a few different sizes; sometimes the way you have to dress dictates the "shoes" you wear. Or, for a bedside pistol, which you don't carry, size may not be an issue. One thing I recommend it once you've decided on what type weapon suits you I would stick with that design and operating system. Under stress there's no time to try and remember which type pistol you're carrying that day.
Choose a caliber you can hit accurately and efficiently with. In my opinion, caliber is not as big a concern as the design of the bullet and the ability to fire multiple, accurate shots in a timely fashion.
Find the weapon that works for you. What your buddy, local SWAT or favorite spec-ops unit carries shouldn't be part of the equation. Today, more so than ever, there is no reason not to have a pistol that fits. Find your
pistol, practice, and build the efficiency and confidence in your skills that wins the fight.
Tiger McKee is director of Shootrite Firearms Academy, located in northern Alabama. He is the author of "The Book of Two Guns," writes for several firearms/tactical publications, and is featured on GunTalk's DVD, "Fighting With The 1911 - http://shootrite.org/dvd/dvd.html