You may have heard these terms used before but what do they actually mean? There isn’t a strict way to determine which side of the fence a pistol might happen to lie on because, much like the sidearms of today’s market, shooters are every bit as different as their neighbors. This line must be drawn by each individual shooter to determine which category a firearm happens to fall within, though there are some key factors to consider between a range gun and a carry gun.
Range guns tend to be larger, such as your ‘full frame’ or ‘combat’ model sidearms. They frequently hold more rounds in the magazine, have longer barrels and slides, have wider and taller grips, better sights, and often have other bells and whistles such as adjustable sights, larger or ambidextrous controls, beavertails, additional slide serrations, accessory rails, or the like. These days a lot of these ‘smaller’ features are also available on pistols which can be used for concealed carry, though they tend to not be as common.
The best way to determine if a pistol is a ‘range’ gun is simply in how well it shoots. If you can shoot it for hours on end without major discomfort, if you can easily hit your targets and manage the recoil, then you’ve got yourself a proper range gun. These are your endurance pistols, they’re easy to operate and easy to shoot well.
Carry guns typically do not fit this last detail. Because of their small size and lighter weight there isn’t as much to hold onto, they hold fewer rounds, there isn’t as much mass to eat up the recoil, and the controls tend to be much more cramped due to their space-saving designs. They may still be accurate, they may still be comfortable to hold, but after a hundred rounds (or less!) it’s very common to feel some discomfort in your hands.
These pistols aren’t intended to be shot all day or to reach out to longer distances, instead heavily focusing on keeping them tiny and light. While it might be possible to use them for other roles they are likely going to feel pretty awkward in short order. (Keep practicing, though!)
Naturally there is a lot of overlap between the two. Some people have no problems carrying full-sized pistols as their concealed option (and some pistol makers have ‘carry’ models which aren’t a whole lot smaller than their full-sized kin.) For many of us however, there is a definite line between carry guns versus range guns. Figuring out the carry guns is easy, you’d either consider carrying one or you wouldn’t. What about range guns, though? For those with more than one pistol this also isn’t difficult to determine.
Which pistol are you more likely to reach for when you’re going out shooting? That’s your range gun.
THE SHORT VERSION
Range Gun: Any firearm which is comfortable to operate and shoot effectively, generally producing lesser amounts of recoil without fatiguing the shooter. They can typically be fired hundreds of times and over a longer period.
Carry Gun: Any firearm which has a primary focus on being small, thin, and lightweight. Magazine capacity is lower, often below ten rounds. Barrels are short, sights are low-profile. Controls are smaller and can be awkward or difficult to manipulate.