Choosing a pistol for ISSF events – some things to consider


There are a number of criteria that you need to consider when choosing a target pistol for any of the ISSF pistol events; these include (with the important factors first):

·         Which ISSF events/s you want to shoot

·         Do some research

·         Coaches as a source of information

·         Compliance with the ISSF rules

·         Reliability

·         Fit

·         Overall weight and balance

·         Accuracy

·         Trigger

·         Sights

·         Ease of maintenance

·         Suitability for the event

·         Warranty and Availability of spare parts

·         Looks, and

·         Cost (probably the least important)


Similarly, there are a number of criteria on which you SHOULD NOT base your selection:

·         Just because the top shooters are using a particular make/model.  While this can be taken as a guide, also remember that:

o    most of the top shooters have ready access to expert gun smithing to maintain, update and modify their pistols; often with unlimited factory support

o    Sometimes, factory sponsorship is tied to the brand of pistol used, or the brand and model of pistol is dictated by their National Federation

o    Just because a given brand/model is used by the world champion does not automatically mean that you will shoot the same scores if you use the same brand/model – the top shooters are at the top due to their hard work and would probably shoot the same scores with another brand/model of pistol

·         Because it is available (like busses, if you miss one another will come along)

·         It seems like a bargain.  Caveat Emptor


Which ISSF events/s you want to shoot


Step #1 is to seriously consider which event/s you want to shoot with the pistol;

·         10m Air Pistol – the multi-shot copies of ‘military-style’ pistols will not have a trigger suitable for target events: air pistols specifically designed for the ISSF 10m events are the way to go:.

o    Single-shot events – while you can shoot this event with a 5-shot Air Pistol, a single shot Air Pistol will normally have a better trigger and be more accurate

o    5-shot events - a dedicated 5-shot target Air Pistol is the way to go. 

·         25m events:

o    ISSF Rimfire – the good news is that for all the 25m events, the pistol requirements are the same.

o    ‘Sport’ (25m Pistol Womens & the mens and junior versions): a low barrel line and any recoil absorbing system are of no advantage for these events.

o    25m Standard Pistol: a low barrel line and any recoil absorbing system are an advantage but not essential for the 10-seconds series in this event

o    25m Rapid Fire Pistol: a low barrel line is an advantage for this event, any recoil absorbing system less so.

o    Centre Fire

o    a quality .38 or .357 revolver (using the single-action mode) and firing mid-range wadcutter ammunition is a great way to start. 

o    While centefire semi-automatics can be great, they usually are more ‘complicated’ to maintain and unless you are familiar with this type of pistol perhaps not for the beginner.

·         50m Pistol – to get the style and feel of this event you can use an ISSF rimfire pistol: if you find that this event suits you, a single-shot pistol specifically designed for the ISSF 50m event is the way to go.  Single-shot pistols designed for metallic silhouette events will have the desired accuracy, but typically are far too ‘nose heavy’ for use in the ISSF 50m event.


Do some research


Even if you are a member of a pistol club with a large membership, it is unlikely that you will get a fully representative view of the range of new and second-hand pistols available (compliance and suitability for the event/s, fit to your hand size and shape, reliability, etc.).  This is not to underrate first-hand experience/s of your fellow club members, merely to recognise that there is a much wider resource available – i.e. the internet!


An hour or two ‘researching’ the make and type of ANY pistol you are considering is time well expended. 

o    Take manufacturers’ and agents’ claims with the same grain of salt as you would for any other product – no sales blurb is going to expose any deficiencies or defects!  However, it is amazing what information is available on forums devoted to target shooting.

o    While any manufacturer of any product can produce the occasional ‘lemon’, some brand/models of pistols have earned a (justifiable) reputation for faults, and it is better to find this out before you become another unfortunate owner.


Coaches as a source of information


Often overlooked (and unfortunately sometimes avoided?) as a source of information on the selection of a pistol are the coaches.


Compliance with the ISSF rules


Why is compliance important?


It is pointless buying a pistol that will not be permitted in competition.  If you are buying a pistol for an ISSF event, make sure it complies with the rules for that event!


Note that ‘compliance’ is not the same as ‘suitability’!  Just because a pistol complies with the rules for an event does NOT mean that it will be suitable!




Why is reliability important?


There are few things more frustrating than a pistol that is unreliable.


While unreliability may be due to the pistol/ammunition combination (cured by changing the ammunition), some pistols have a deserved reputation for reliability; others do not – unfortunately, many of those in the ‘proven reliability’ category are no longer in production.


For the 25m events reliability is CRITICAL – malfunctions in competition can cost you points!


Fit (to the size of YOUR hand)


Before knowing if a pistol fits your hand you will need to know:

·         how you SHOULD be holding the pistol – get advice from a qualified pistol coach, and

·         how your finger should contact the trigger

Get the advice on these aspects from a qualified pistol coach BEFORE you buy a pistol.


Grip size


Building up the grip of a pistol to suit a shooter with a long hand and fingers is not rocket science – for a shooter with shorter hand/fingers the only realistic option is a pistol with a small grip and for the 25m events usually this will require a pistol which has a grip frame that does not include the magazine.


Reach to the trigger


While ‘fixed’ triggers can be modified a small amount to accommodate the shooter’s fingers, this is a job for a pistolsmith.  Modern target pistols usually have a degree of adjustment for trigger position, but even then, ensure that YOUR finger will reach the trigger correctly.


Grip angle


There are good reasons why most target pistols for the ISSF have a comparatively greater grip ‘rake’ than most USA produced pistols – the USA produced pistols are made with a lesser rake angle to mimic the grip angle of the 1911 Model .45 Colt; which in turn is due to the difficulties (over 100 years ago) in getting reliable feeding of magazines with increased rake.  By contrast, the rake of pistols designed for ISSF events relates to the ergonomics of target shooting.


Overall weight and balance


How heavy is too heavy?


For any able-bodied shooter over 100lbs/50Kg, the overall weight of the pistol up to the maximums allowed for 10m (1500g) and for 25m (1400g) should not be a problem: if you find an ISSF target pistol is too heavy for you then your general fitness is in need of attention.


For any smaller-framed and some disabled shooters the overall weight and the balance of the pistol can be a major factor. 




As with the weight of a pistol, any able-bodied shooter over 100lbs/50Kg should have little problem with the balance (weight distribution) of any target pistol for ISSF events.  Again, if you find any pistol designed for 10m, 25m or 50m ISSF events is too nose-heavy for you then your general fitness is in need of attention.


Suitability for the event


Can you turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse?


Q – Can it be done?

A – Yes, BUT!:

·         you could spend a lot of time and money modifying an unsuitable pistol to make it suitable for a given ISSF event


Air Pistol


For the 10m Air Pistol events, any of the target Air Pistols can be expected to comply with the event rules (but check) and deliver excellent accuracy.


If you think a compensator on an Air Pistol looks nice, by all means buy a pistol so equipped (it is not likely to make any difference to your scores)


10m – Gas or lever-type?


While the ‘hand-cranked’ pistols have the advantage of not needing a supply of high pressure gas, they do require considerable effort prior to each shot.  For a reasonable fit shooter this is not a major problem, more an inconvenience: but there has been more development of triggers and pistol design for the PCP types over the last 10-20 years.

Generally speaking, both 200bar compressed air and CO2 will be available at most competitions, but you will often need your own supply of the appropriate gas (or a hand pump for PCP pistols.


10m – Compressed Air* or CO2? (*also known as PCP or CA)


All things being equal, for typical climate conditions in Australia it does not matter which you choose – there is no inherent advantage for either propellant type: in fact, the recently set World Record was set with a CO2 pistol.

As noted above, there has been more development of triggers and pistol design for the PCP types over the last 10-20 years.


Single-shot or 5-shot


Unless you are specifically intending to shoot the ISSF 5-shot Air Pistol events, then go for a single shot pistol (even if you are going to shoot both ISSF event and the ISSF 5-shot Air Pistol events you would be best advised to get one of each type than to use a 5-shot pistol for the single-shot event)


25m rimfire – Semi-automatic or revolver?


While technically a revolver can be used, there is no doubt that for the rimfire events a semi-automatic is the best choice.


25m Standard Pistol & Rapid Fire Pistol


While any quality ISSF target rimfire pistol will be suitable for these events.  For Standard Pistol and Rapid Fire Pistol there is an advantage in having the bore-line of the pistol as low as the regulations allow, but for 25m Womens and 25m Juniors (when there is no worry about recovering from recoil before the next shot) this is not a consideration.


25m Center fire – Semi-automatic or revolver?


All factors considered, a revolver is better for a new/er shooter:

·         While a semi-automatic does not require re-cocking for subsequent shots, a revolver is more reliable and the needed technique is easily mastered (you were not seriously considering shooting the Precision or Rapid Fire Stages using double action?).

·         You will undoubtedly consider reloading your centre fire ammunition: a revolver is more tolerant of minor variations in load energy and will be reliable with quite ‘soft’ loads that would lead to cycling problems with a semi-automatic pistol.

It is interesting to note the resurgence in the number of revolvers being used by top shooters for the ISSF 25m Center Fire event.


If buying a revolver for the centre fire event, be aware that there are good reasons why some brands of revolver will noticed being used by the top shooters.


25m Center fire: .32 or .38 Special (or .357, loaded down to the .38Special ballistics)?


While the .32 S&W Long calibre is fashionable, the .38 Special is easier to reload (and I believe, inherently more accurate).  There are not a lot of semi-automatics in .38Spl available on the market.


Neither 9mm nor .38Super semi-automatic pistols are really suitable for the ISSF Center Fire event; further, the bark of these pistols will not endear you to other shooters on the line.


50m (Free) Pistol


To get the style and feel of this event you can use an ISSF 25m rimfire pistol: if you find that this event suits you, a single-shot pistol specifically designed for the ISSF 50m event is the way to go.  Single-shot pistols designed for metallic silhouette events will have the desired accuracy, but typically are far too ‘nose heavy’ for use in the ISSF 50m event.


If you think a compensator on a ‘Free’ Pistol looks nice, by all means buy a pistol so equipped (it is not likely to make any difference to your scores)




Inherent accuracy is the outcome of a combination of the pistol and ammunition:

·         a quality target pistol in good condition can give excellent accuracy with some brands/types of ammunition and not with other combinations

·         a quality target pistol should be capable of excellent accuracy with the right ammunition; whereas a ‘service-grade’ or back-packer pistol  is designed to operate with almost any ammunition of the calibre (i.e. sloppy tolerances) at short range

·         even the best pistols will not deliver good accuracy if the ammunition is ‘iffy’


How accurate is accurate enough?


In reality, any pistol/ammunition combination that is inherently capable of grouping the size of the inner-10 ring (25mm) for the applicable event is good enough.


What is important is how bad the grouping is; not how good a small number of shots can be!

E.g. for 25m Precision Stage with a 10-ring of 50mm, a pistol/ammunition combination that consistently delivers groups less than 40mm (which should be easily achievable) will be far better than a combination that delivers most of its 5-shot groups less than 20mm but with the occasional ‘flyer’ that is 60mm from the centre of the group.


How is accuracy established?


For .22LR try a number of different brands and types of ammunition: the old adage that any target grade ammunition will deliver good accuracy in a well maintained target grade pistol is a furphy!


At the simplest level, a couple of sandbags and a steady hand will give you a fair indication, but best is a machine rest. 


You can forget about three, or five-shot groups – any realistic testing of the pistol/ammunition combination needs to be of 30 (or more) shots. 




Trigger ‘feel’


What makes a good trigger ‘feel’ is very subjective: however there are a few factors common to all good triggers:

·         no noticeable creep. 

The term creep is used to describe:

o    the feel in some triggers that are such that if the shooter relaxes the pull on the trigger before the shot is released then recommences the triggering action, the trigger engagement does not release as much, and there is a noticeable lighter trigger pull up to the point where the trigger was before the relaxing of the pull, and/or

o    the closely related amount of travel of the triggering action between the point at which the sear is engaged and when it is released

o    movement of the trigger engagement against the sear even though the trigger pull is kept constant., and/or

·         Reproducibility.  The triggering action releases the sear with a constant pressure on, and position the trigger’s travel from shot-to-shot.


First stage movement refers to a lighter ‘take up’ of the triggering action – the triggering action has two distinct stages; a lighter movement, and the full triggering pressure.  This first stage movement is essential to the operation of semi-automatic pistols, but may be missing (or adjusted out) on single-shot pistols and is not present on most revolvers.


Over-travel refers to the amount of movement of trigger past the point where a shot is released and the point at which the trigger reaches its stop.


Electronic triggers


Electronic triggers are appearing on more makes of pistols, but for most shooters are of no real benefit.  Early versions of electronic triggers were notorious for problems.




Almost all target pistols will have at least some degree of adjustability for one or more of:

·         Trigger ‘length’ (i.e. the trigger blade can be adjusted fore and aft to suit the shooter’s hand and length of trigger finger

·         Amount of first stage movement

·         Amount of over-travel

Trigger weight and first stage movement are not readily adjustable on S&W revolvers nor many older (but excellent) semi-automatic pistols.


The more sophisticated triggers on some target pistols will have the adjustment listed above, plus:

·         Amount of first stage tension in relation to the overall trigger pull

·         The trigger blade angle/s


In reality, for most shooters once the pistol and trigger is set up for them will rarely (if ever) change its settings – non-adjustable triggers often can be modified to fit  by a competent gunsmith.




Target pistols need target sights: i.e. adjustable for windage and elevation.  The adjustments should be positive and the ‘clicks’ should click.


Adjustable rear sight notch width:


How wide should the front sight be?


Ease of maintenance


I have placed ease of maintenance fairly low on this list as for most targets pistols, most of the time, all that is needed is cleaning the barrel, the bolt face and the breech face, and wiping the exterior metal parts lightly with a quality gun oil ; and all these can be carried out without stripping the pistol.  For CO2 and PCP Air Pistols this is even simpler: fire a felt cleaning pellet through the barrel and wipe the exterior metal parts lightly with quality gun oil.


Disassembly of 25m pistols has two levels: field stripping, and total disassembly.

Field stripping (into the major assemblies) is the disassembly encountered by most shooters.  This can be fairly simple (e.g. push a button and a High-Standard pulls apart to the barrel, slide and frame) to moderate (e.g. the rear sight carrier needs to be removed on a Hammerli 208 before the other parts can be field stripped) to complex (many highly modified pistols can take several minutes to achieve the same level of stripping).

Total disassembly of a 25m pistol is something best left to the experts.




One advantage of purchasing a ‘brand new’ pistol should be that there will be some level of warranty – if nothing else, there is always  sale-of-goods acts relating to merchantable quality and an implied condition that the goods shall be reasonably fit for that purpose (i.e. a target pistol should work)


Availability of spare parts


Think twice about buying an ‘orphan’ – even for pistols still in current production the supply of spare parts (if needed) can be notoriously bad.




Are ‘looks’ important?


This will depend on you – some people take great pride in the look and style of their pistols, and there are those who produce top scores with pistols that look as if they were put together by a group of dyslectic primary school children on a bad day.


A great-looking pistol that does not fit the shooter’s hand, is unreliable or lacks accuracy is only a great-looking pistol – a rough-and-ready reliable pistol that you can shoot good scores with would be a much better proposition.  The ideal would be a great-looking pistol that fits, is accurate and reliable – the compromise is up to you.


Cost (in the long run, this is probably the least important factor)


There is no denying that a new top-of-the-line target pistol can be a major expense, however:

·         Quality target pistol hold their value fairly well over time provided they are well maintained.

·         There are a number of good pistols around on the second-hand market


New or second-hand?


If buying a new pistol, check on the warranty provisions and get some basic spares (e.g. firing pin, and for a semi automatic, firing pin spring, recoil spring and at least one spare magazine) .


If buying second-hand, have someone (other than the seller) who if familiar with the brand/model check the pistol thoroughly.


© 2011 Spencer Tweedie


ST        30/08/2009

            01/09/2009        added ‘do some research’

05/03/2011        minor changes

30/03/2011        minor changes