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Beretta Mini Cougar .45

Top 10 CCW picks:

There are really two classes of CCW choices.  I'm calling them Duty and Backup.  The relative size of gun isn't the dividing line, but the caliber.  Duty level guns are chambered for duty level calibers; 9MM and .357 Magnum being the marker.  Anything smaller than 9MM or .357  is a backup caliber, such as .380ACP and .38 Special.  You will see as we continue that some guns in the Duty category are smaller than those in the Backup category...  Try to play along with the caliber division, okay?   Now, the other thing you will note is that I am not putting them in any order.  I’m giving you the nominations as I see them, with explanations to follow.  You can put them in your own order as you see fit.

The nominations for CCW Duty:

Springfield XD Sub-Compact. 

SIG P-239 & P245.

Kimber Ultra II series, such as SIS, Covert, CDP... 

Dan Wesson Bobtail Commander


Snub nosed revolver .357 or larger caliber  (3 inch barrel or shorter)

Kahr Arms pistols, any of them...


S&W M&P Compact 

The nominations for CCW Backup:

North American Arms Guardian

SIG 232

Beretta 84/85 Cheetah

Ruger LCP

NAA Mini-Revolver .22 Magnum


Kel-Tec P3AT

Walther PPK


J or I frame sized .38 or .32 Magnum Revolver

There you have it.  My picks.  Now, please don’t be offended if your favorite picks are not on the list.  There are so many good solid choices out there that it makes any such effort to pick the best ones most difficult.  This top 10 for the Duty category could easily be the “Top 40”.   

Most of these choices should not be any surprise to regulars.  I’ve mentioned most of them in the past.  Some selections here are unique... such as the Kahr and Kel-Tec nominations that I normally don’t endorse or even admit to liking… Really I don’t even like the Kel-Tecs, but the new P3AT model is a great example of the breed and it’s reported to be remarkably good for the Kel-Tec line.  The P-11 Kel-Tec, in 9MM is an iffy proposition at best, and I wouldn’t carry it if my life depended in it.  At least not until it has been proven as a performer because some of them tend be just fine and other, well, not so fine.  New to the list are the Bersas.  Some years ago I handled a couple Bersa guns and to be honest, the left me unimpressed to say the least.  Well I don’t know what Bersa did because recently I’ve examined a couple new Bersas of the Thunder line, the 380 and the 45 and they were surprisingly good if not excellent.  So was the Thunder 9… but I have enough 9MMs on the list already.  Bersa really stepped up to the plate.  They impressed the hell out of me.  Not just for the guns themselves but also for the price they are asking for them.  Talk about a value “Bang for your buck”.  Get them while they are hot.

The Steyr S model used to be on my list, but it got bumped.  It is a neat little gun.  I really like it… Just wish it fit my hand better.  It’s the grip angle that doesn’t agree with me.  If I take a normal grip and bring it up to sight plane – the barrel is pointing up above the target, so I have to bend the wrist to bring it down onto the target.  In my opinion this ruins the gun for defensive work.  For a defensive gun, you need to be able to bring the gun up and it be on target.  Because when it comes to crunch time, you might not have even that very slight fraction of a second it takes to make a sight picture. 

Now I’ll admit that I was splitting hairs with the revolvers.  I consider the small .357 Magnum revolvers to be the duty options, and the put the .38 revolvers in the backup… Your results might vary… .32H&R Magnum is becoming very popular in some circles as an ideal backup gun, or a gun for a female shooter, that could very well be your Backup choice, with the .38 in the Duty and that would be just fine. 

The CZ P-01 is an interesting small automatic, but to be honest I have never seen one, but if its as good as the other CZ-75 based guns – then it would be a smashing success, and probably bump some other choice off the list to make room for it.    CZ also has the RAMI and the 83 on the list… very good guns.  In fact, CZ are some of the best in the world and I’ll put them up against SIG anyday as far as fighting handguns go.

The Cougar is an option you can take in whatever caliber you like, they are all good… take your pick.  9mm, .40 or .45... Where is the .357SIG version?  Oh, there is one as well if you like, but they are hard to find.

The NAA Mini Revolver is an incredible little chunk of CNC milled hardware.  It is so small, that I used one as a key chain fob for over 2 years.   (I really don’t recommend doing that, but hey, it’s that small)  Shooting wise, well, 4 shots of .22 Magnum to an aggressor’s belly makes the aggressor much less aggressive.  The proper why to do that is to shove it into the middle of badguy’s gut at an upward angle…  Hitting the liver is good, but if you can hit the heart, even better.  Ideally, if the tactical situation allows it, you screw the barrel into your attacker’s eye socket before you touch it off.  This is one way to insure a higher probability of a one shot stop.  An Ear would do well too, but there is a lot more bone mass to break through that way, where an eye socket has a then layer of bone just behind the ocular orb.   Select a load that carries a heavy slug on a hot charge.  Don’t worry about hollow points… with this little pup you want maximum penetration.

The other NAA gun on the list is the Guardian.  Great gun, extremely well made... and available in 3 calibers.  .32, .32NAA, and .380.  My personal choice would be the .32NAA or the .380.  I really like the .32NAA for its improved reliability and high muzzle velocity.  I reviewed a pre-production example of it and found it to be amazingly effective.

The Mak is an interesting and excellent option.  It could very well go on the Duty side of the list.  Its round is similar to a .380, but much more potent… however the rule was 9MM as the marking point, so I had to stick with it.  The Mak has served as the side arm of the Iron Curtain for pretty much since there was such thing as an Iron Curtain.   You can get a Mak for very little jingle, and the ammo to go with it.  If you like the Mak, but want something more upscale, refined, and in .380, then the CZ-83 is for you.  It is an improvement over the Mak in many ways.  Nice gun, good choice, and they shoot very well.  Check the Weapons section for a full review on the Makarov.

I feel bad about not putting the HK P-7 in here, as it’s a great CCW gun, but like I said, there are so many solid options.  Even worse of me is to not mention any of the fantastic sub-compact 1911 options that are popping up all over the place… The Ultra Compacts from Springfield, Kimber, Para… you gotta be kidding me!  They are all exceptional choices.  Otherwise this list would have been dominated by them.  Para’s LDA system makes for a unbelievably good CCW option and might be the #1 if I was to put them in order.  Another item on the list that could get replaced is the HK USP Compact.  As good as they are, in whatever caliber you like, they are trumped by what is just around the corner, the P2000 and the P2000K.  If they ever arrive.  

One little pistol failed to make it on the list, and I’ll use it as an example of a breed of pistols that are not mentioned.  Downsizer has a little gun called the “Downsizer”.  ( It’s a modern version of the old Derringer concept.  Super small, in full caliber, but with only 1 or 2 shots.  An American President was killed by a Derringer (A cap and ball variety) and some of the most notorious outlaws of the Old West fame have used Derringers as well.  These guns do have a place.  They could be the ace up your sleeve when the chips fall… But I would only put them in a “Hide-Out” category due to the very limited capacity.  They are worth mentioning if you are looking for the smallest of small guns for very deep concealment.  Because sometimes even a very small weapon is too big. 

Also worth mentioning is the value of a good defensive folding knife.  Knives for close in work have been extremely effective since Man Kind figured out how to use the Thumb.  If a gun is not an option, maybe a knife is.  Unless you are going on a commercial airline… then you have ZERO options.  I’d rather fly from a small unsecured commuter runway in a crop-duster than fly a commercial aircraft again.  Seriously.  Or better yet, I’d rather just drive myself.  Don’t tell me all that shit about safety records and all that.  It’s about the principle of the thing.  I love flying, that’s not the problem… but the way passengers are being treated now days… Sorry, I don’t like being treated like cattle to be herded.  

Where was I?  Oh yeah… guns.  No matter what gun you choose, it does you no good if you don’t have it on your person.  This is why I made these two lists.  (that and a lot of people asking me to)  Find a gun that you can have on you ALL THE TIME.  Don’t give me that “I carry a 1911 Government Model all the time” bravado if you don’t really carry it all the time.  If you do – fine.  But really, smaller guns are a lot easier to carry all the time than bigger ones.  If a SIG P-239 is too big to carry all the time, get something smaller… just as long as you have one of them on you.  Even at home.  If you are on the couch watching “MASH” reruns and some thug knocks your door in… your Seecamp .32 in your bedroom doesn’t do you a damn bit of good, does it? Concealed Carry means CARRY.  If concealed carry meant “in your night stand drawer”, hell, you could have anything in there… an MP5, Desert Eagle… anything you wanted.  But you can’t take that with you every day for all day without someone else noticing.  Have the gun with you, on you, at all times.


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Copyright G H Hill 1999-2012

The 4 Rules of Firearms Safety:

1.  Handle all firearms as if they were loaded.

2.  Never point the gun at anything you're not willing to destroy.

3.  Keep your finger off the trigger and out of the trigger guard until you have made the decision to fire the weapon.

4.  Know your target, and know what is beyond the target.

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