The Walking Dead Firearms 101 – Handguns

The Walking Dead Firearms 101 – Handguns

All opinions expressed here are entirely my own, as are any errors. There is no expressed or implied liability for the information presented here, which is strictly for entertainment purposes, and only as it pertains to a possible Zombie Apocalypse.

Firearms generally fall into three main categories: handguns, rifles, and shotguns; each with their own advantages. Pay attention, class; today we will discuss handgun basics.

Rule #1: First and foremost: Always treat every handgun as if it is loaded.

Rule #2: Never point a handgun at anyone or anything that you don’t wish to completely destroy.

Rule #3: Keep your finger along the side the handgun, away from the trigger, until ready to fire.

A handgun is any small firearm, available in a variety of calibers, which can be fired comfortably with one hand. With the shortest barrel of all firearms, handguns are good close-range weapons and easily kept with you during normal post-ZA daily activities, but more difficult to aim properly. Frequent practice is a must to develop and maintain the skills necessary for the head shots required to stop walkers at any range over 10 or 12 feet. If you choose to use a handgun in the aftermath of a ZA, your choice should be governed by your comfort level handling guns, what’s available when the ZA occurs, and whether its intended use is for self-defense only or active walker-hunting.

The two major types of handguns are revolvers and semi-automatic pistols; these general terms refer to how each gun moves a new bullet into position to be fired.

A picture of Rick Grimes aiming his Colt Python in Season One Episode One - "Days Gone Bye"A revolver, like Rick’s Colt Python, is so named because the cylinder (which holds the bullets) “revolves” within the gun’s frame to bring a fresh bullet into firing position. It has the advantage of being an older, more rugged, and simpler design with fewer moving parts than a semi-auto. Also, it can withstand being hidden or stored for extended periods with no discernable decrease in functionality, meaning it’ll still work when you need it to. Its biggest disadvantage is the limited number of shots; it will need to be reloaded after only a few (usually 6.) To reload, swing the cylinder out of the gun’s frame, manually eject the fired shells, and insert a new bullet into each chamber – the openings in the cylinder that holds the bullets. (This process can be accelerated with a speed loader.) After the new shells are in, firmly press the cylinder back into the gun’s frame. I strongly advise against using a sideways wrist flip to “snap” the cylinder back into place, despite what you see on TV or in movies, as this can cause greater wear on the moving parts of the gun.

colt pythonMost modern revolvers are double-action (DA), meaning each pull of the trigger will simultaneously cause the cylinder to rotate while moving the hammer back into the cocked position, which then snaps forward and causes the weapon to fire. Classic Western cowboy guns are single-action (SA) revolvers, and cannot be fired without first manually cocking the hammer. Double-action revolvers may be cocked and fired in single-action. Because the action of the SA gun is doing less work, the amount of pressure required to pull the trigger is less than for a DA. I recommend cocking the hammer and firing a revolver in single-action if the walker is at a greater distance (requiring extra care sighting your weapon), or if you have to make every shot count due to limited ammunition.

The other major handgun type is the semi-automatic pistol, like Shane’s Glock 17. This gun “semi-automatically” brings a new bullet into position to be fired while cocking the hammer during the chain of events that occur after each squeeze of the trigger.

In every firearm, the bullet is propelled forward by the rapidly expanding gases resulting from the controlled explosion of gunpowder caused by the firing pin striking the primer in the center of the back of the shell, which in turn was caused by squeezing the trigger … but I digress. In a semi-auto, these rapidly expanding gases also cause the top of the gun, or slide, to move backward. As the gas pressure inside the pistol dissipates, an internal spring then forces the slide forward, pushing an unfired bullet into place. The two important things that occur during this cycle are the opening created in the side of the gun as the slide moves rearward through which the empty shell is ejected (keep this in mind when choosing a handgun, as some find their gun suddenly showering them with hot brass casings to be a distraction) and the hammer is cocked for the next shot.

A picture showing a stripped down Glock 17. This is the same weapon used by Shane Walsh in The Walking Dead.Ammunition for a semi-auto is held in a removable magazine, sometimes incorrectly called a clip, which fits into the gun’s grip. The magazine has a strong spring to keep the bullets at an opening in the top, ready to be moved into the gun by the slide’s movement.

Reloading the semi-auto is fast and easy. After the last bullet has been fired, the slide will stay open in the eject position; remove the empty magazine, insert a full one in its place, and release the slide. As before, the slide’s forward movement puts a fresh bullet in the gun, and you’re ready to put down more walkers. When surrounded by walkers, having extra ammunition can mean the difference between becoming a walker yourself and living to kill more walkers tomorrow. Um, you DID remember to pre-load several magazines before heading out to slay walkers, didn’t you?

As with revolvers, the designation SA or DA will indicate whether or not the hammer has to be manually cocked before the first shot can be fired. Unlike a revolver, since a semi-auto cocks the hammer after each shot, all other shots are single-action. While all firearms should be regularly cleaned and oiled, semi-autos require more frequent care than revolvers to stay at their operational peak.

Shane Walsh aiming his Glock 17 at walkersSo, class, which type of handgun would be best for a post-ZA world?  Well, obviously, one that you can hold. Being able to grip your weapon comfortably is paramount; if it’s too big for your hand, you may not be able to hang onto it when it goes “bang”. Handguns come in all sizes, so try several to find the one that best fits your hand.

Now it’s time to consider ammunition size, or caliber. A number of handgun calibers are available, but in the event of a ZA I feel more consideration should be given to the larger ones for their greater destructive power; simply put, smaller shells like the .22, .25, and .32 just won’t cause enough damage to stop a walker with one shot.

My revolver choice would be a .357 Magnum. One big reason is its ability to also use the lower-power .38 Special shells, effectively doubling the pool of available ammunition. (Although the .38 and .357 are nearly identical in diameter, the .357’s longer shell will not work in a .38 gun.) .357s are popular with police departments, civilian shooters, and collectors, so ammunition should be easy to find. Exotic revolvers like the .454 Casull may have more stopping power in a single shot, but if the ammunition is so rare it can’t be scavenged from Wal-Mart or a local mom-and-pop gun store, the gun will quickly become a useless paperweight.

This picture is taken from a scene in The Walking Dead when gun training is being done.In semi-auto, I’d have to go with .45 caliber. The .45 ACP and 9mm are among the most popular and readily-available, but in a post-ZA reality the faster 9mm bullet can over-penetrate the target, meaning it may continue on into objects (or people) beyond the walker. The .45 doesn’t have this issue, and packs quite a wallop – the sheer force of impact can knock a walker down. The iconic Colt .45 (also known as the M1911 and later M1911A1) is one of the most durable, recognizable, and copied guns in the world, and still hugely popular in the civilian market – they’re literally everywhere! However, if you’re looking for a newer design or a higher-capacity magazine than the Colt’s seven bullets, try a Glock 21, Sig Sauer P220, or Heckler & Koch USP (if available). Any of these would be an excellent choice.

No discussion of handguns would be complete without some attention to the subjects of recoil, proper grip, aim, and how to carry your weapon. If you remember Newton’s Third Law from Physics class, you’ll understand recoil, or the “equal and opposite reaction” created by the gunpowder propelling the bullet forward. How much recoil a shooter feels is determined by a combination of: the size/power of the shell; overall weight of the gun; and to some extent, barrel length. Larger calibers have more power, and therefore potentially more recoil to be felt by the shooter, which is where size and weight of the gun itself comes into the equation. There is more “felt recoil” from a short-barreled (2.5 inch) revolver with a lightweight frame than a heavier police-style weapon of the same caliber with its more robust frame and 6 inch barrel. And while many semi-autos are available in small, light, “compact” versions, the “full-size” pistol will transmit less recoil to the shooter and hold more ammunition. Recoil also affects the shooter’s ability to reacquire their target quickly for subsequent shots, if needed. Also keep in mind that longer barrels are more accurate.

This picture shows you how to grip a pistol with proper form.Now we come to holding the gun. While it may look cool, the “gangster” grip is a bad idea. Using a two-handed grip on your weapon whenever possible allows you greater control over your weapon and your aim. Holding the gun in your strong hand, press it slightly forward into your weak hand (which should cup around not under the strong hand), making sure that the hammer (revolver) or slide (semi-auto) will not come in contact with your hand. This supports the gun through the entire firing cycle, and the “pushing forward” will help reduce felt recoil. Pointing the gun at your target, tip your head down slightly and look at your target, with the rear and front sights of the gun visible – but possibly somewhat blurry – as you line up both sights with your target. This is your sight picture. Begin to squeeze the trigger gently so as not to pull the gun to one side or the other (and off-target.) After the gun discharges, re-acquire your sight picture and fire again, if needed, to dispatch that pesky walker. And if I catch any of you holding your gun one-handed and sideways, I’m gonna send T-Dog over to bitch-slap you!

Quick access to your weapon In the event of a ZA is more important than concealing it. Holsters available for your choice of sidearm can include inside-the-waistband, police-style and Old West gun belt hip holsters, military special-warfare thigh holsters, and shoulder holsters. Personal preference and comfort are huge considerations when choosing one, as well as how easily the gun can be drawn when needed and weapon retention – so it doesn’t fall out of the holster!

Before we dismiss for the day, I’d like to make a point about firearms as portrayed in TWD; I was glad to see the target practice at Hershel’s farm, although I would’ve liked it to have been sooner. To emphasize an earlier point; like any skill you develop, shooting requires frequent practice or the skill deteriorates. Don’t skimp on training and re-training. Oh, and I really wish Shane would have taught Andrea how to very slightly “lead” the moving target with her weapon – but that’s another class all by itself!

  • DoctorAtlantis

    Yeah – I like my zombies slow enough that they don’t need any leading, only lead. ;)

  • NRNS

    Some of this info is wrong. Both a 9mm and .45 ACP (using FMJ ball ammo) will penetrate completely through a human body. And a .45 ACP will NOT knock down a zombie. There is no such thing as “knock down power” – it’s a myth. 

    • jadamatx

      Agreed a “sub-sonic” JHP 9mm will more than take care of business. I’ll take a well aimed shot over a larger caliber any day. Practice, practice, practice. 

    • sir

      different ammunition has different abilities to knock someone down, magnums are better at this, I know from personal experience

      • BeGe1

        If the projectile will knock someone down from hitting them, then it would definitely knock you down from firing it. Something falling dead or injured from being wounded is not the same as being “knocked down”.

  • McManusM9

    why bother mentioning a hk gun. not alot of people have 900-1300 to drop on a pistol. get a cz p07 for 450 and spend the other 600 on bullets!

  • David Givens

    Great article, but I strongly dislike the 2-hand grip shown in the last photo. This is a popular, but wrong-headed style where you instinctively point with your left thumb. This very weak grip will lead to jams due to recoil-motion soaking up the slide’s action, and slow 2nd-shot recovery. Rule 1: A good 2-hand grip starts with a strong 1-hand grip…then some zombie can’t slap your piece out of your hands! Good luck in the ZA folks!

    • BeGe1

      Actually it leads to fewer jams as it is a higher that is much less prone to limp wristing, and is better for follow up shots because of the lesser muzzle flip. That is specifically WHY this grip is growing in popularity: it is a much higher hold grip that ends up with less muzzle flip and very reliable operation.

  • BeGe1

    This is not bad. So I don’t want you to think that I’m slamming you. Good stuff.

    But there are inaccuracies that I’d like to point out.

    1) First one I noticed is referring to the Glock17 recocking the “hammer” each shot. Glocks are striker fired guns that do not have hammers.

    2) Next would be your implication that there are only SA and DA auto pistols. There is also striker fired like mentioned above, which is neither of the above. There are also DAO (double action only) auto handguns where the hammer is not recocked by the slide each shot, and each pull is a DA pull (a lot of very small pistols operate this way).

    3) .45 ACP FMJ ammo actually penetrates further than 9mm FMJ. Both will go through a body easily. As a general rule, heavier/slower penetrates more than lighter/faster of 2 bullets in the same energy range. And .45 ACP has more energy the 9mm too, so even moreso it’s FMJ will penetrate further. It’s larger diameter offsets that some, but not enough for it to penetrate less. Hollow point defense ammo (as opposed to FMJ) is almost always designed to expand an amount that will lead to 12″-14″ penetration. So in defense ammo no caliber typically penetrates more than another, because it’s being controlled by the expansion (with the exception of lower power ammo that can’t even reach 12″ while expanding at all, usually figured to be .380 and below).

    4) .45 ACP is not anything like you describe. It’s not knocking anything down. Equal and opposite reactions: if it would knock something down that it’s hitting, then it would knock you down when you fired it. Not even close. Not even close to close.

    5) the .454 casull you mention actually can fire .45 colt and .45 schofield ammo as well. Not quite as limited as you’d think. Similarly, .44 mag can fire .44 special rounds. .460 S&W can fire .454 casull, .45 colt, and .45 schofield. .327 federal magnum can also fire .32 H&R mag, .32 S&W, and .32 S&W long. In fact, a lot of revolver rounds started with a shorter round that got longer and more powerful as new calibers were released, and the higher power versions can still fire the lower power versions (much like the older .38 special can be fired from its longer and more powerful descendant, the .357 magnum).

    6) The gangster grip does not look cool.

    7) Typical training is to focus on the front sight, leaving target and hind sight slightly fuzzy yet visible, as opposed to your recommendation of focusing on the target and leaving both sights fuzzy. Target is typically a lot bigger than your sight, and objects beyond your focus are easier to track than objects in front of it.