Light vs. Heavy

by Bob Londrigan, published in Front Sight Magazine, January 2003


There is an ongoing debate among IPSC shooters as to what is the ideal weight for a competition pistol.  Since there is no easy answer to this question, this sparks a debate. The main reason for the debate is that all shooters are different, and they must each determine what type of gun best suits their individual shooting style.  I will address the factors that will help you decide what will work best for you.  Then I’ll suggest some modifications to your gun that can get you closer to your goal.

There are four different types of weight to consider:

You can vary one or more of these weights in order to match how your gun handles and responds to your shooting style as well as your ability to control recoil. First, determine how well you are presently dealing with recoil. Things to consider are:

All of these factors have to be considered when designing and setting up your gun. In general, the better you control recoil the lighter your gun needs to be.  A light gun will have more perceived recoil but will index from target to target much faster and stop on each target faster. Go too light and you will have trouble controlling the gun.

Reciprocating Mass

First let’s talk about reciprocating mass.  This is going to be mostly in your slide and the bad news is there isn’t much you can without incurring considerable expense and inconvenience.  It is a factor to consider if you are buying a new gun and opt for a custom design.  If so, get the slide lightened as much as possible.  If you are going to a longer slide, make sure it is severely lightened.  Do stay away from adding weight that moves such as tungsten guide rod plugs.

Click here for more information on the Brazos Custom Lightning Slide

Weight Distribution

A muzzle-heavy gun will have a tendency to stay put in the same place. This is good for second shot placement on the same target. If you like this type of feel there are several options available to add weight up front:

If you want to add weight in your hand to increase total weight or to balance the weight out front, consider the following options:

Swing Weight

This will probably not be a factor until you reach the top levels of competition.  A longer gun or one that is heavier at the muzzle will be harder to swing from target to target, and it will be more resistant to movement of the muzzle. 

Total Weight

To give you a reference point for total weight, a limited STI/SV gun with a long dust cover, bull barrel, and tungsten guide rod gun weighs in at approximately 39 oz.  A steel frame double stack such as a Para Ordnance weighs around 44 oz.  A lightened custom STI/SV gun might weigh as low as 33 oz. Before doing anything else weigh your gun on an accurate digital scale to get a baseline reading.  Next, using the general guidelines above, decide what total weight you want to head towards. Then make modifications, evaluate, make more modifications, and re-evaluate 



Cone or bushing barrel

Bull barrel

Short dust cover

Long dust cover

Steel or aluminum guide rod

Tungsten guide rod

Aluminum magwell

Stainless steel or tungsten magwell

Plastic or aluminum mainspring housing

Stainless steel mainspring housing

Light bullets

Heavy bullets

Short lightened comp cone comp

Long multi port bull barrel comp

Short lightened slide

Long full profile slide

The goal is to get a gun that you can shoot fast and accurately.  Most people try to head towards something that has a low level of perceived recoil. A low "perceived" recoil in a heavier gun means you have spread the recoil out over a longer period of time. This is not necessarily the best place to be. If you control recoil well then the quicker, snappier type of recoil in a light gun might be a better way to go. This lets the sights come back on target quicker and allows you to be ready for the next shot quicker. Again, you as the shooter have to decide what works best for you.

There are several things you can do to affect the perceived recoil of your gun – your load, the total weight of your gun, the weight distribution of your gun, recoil springs, etc.  For the purpose of this discussion, we will assume that you have settled on a load that works for you. Just remember that in general, light bullets will have a sharper, quicker recoil impulse than heavy bullets.  

Now you have the basic building blocks to design your gun:

  1. Decide on total weight and weight distribution based on how well you control recoil.
  2. Add or subtract parts until you get the balance and total weight that suits your shooting style.
  3. Keep experimenting to figure out what works best for you (check times and hits).
  4. Play with your loads and start over again.
  5. Keep re-designing as you get better – The better you get at controlling recoil, the lighter you should be able to go.

While deciding on what weight works best for you, decide how the gun will balance. The bull barrel, tungsten guide rod, and long dust cover all weigh about the same and put weight in the same area of the gun. As such, they can be interchanged without affecting the gun balance.  This comes in handy when deciding what type of gun will work best for you. You can set up the lightest gun you can handle with a tungsten guide rod and then as you progress, you can switch out the tungsten for a steel guide rod and the gun will keep up with you.

Click here for more information on BCG Pro Series Limited Guns.

If you look at the guns used by the top 16 shooters right now, you will notice that since the power factor change most use a short dust cover, lighter type gun.  But, there are notable exceptions to this trend.  Several top shooters are doing quite well with longer heavier style guns.  You have to decide what is going to work best for you and design your gun accordingly.