It’s a question we’re asked on occasion, and frankly Ron and I wish more people brought this up with us—because it’s important to show up to class with the right training pistol.
As I mentioned in my post about training equipment, many students want to bring to class what they carry on a daily basis, be it an IWB holster or a very small carry pistol. For a concealed carry class where students are experienced and have many hours of previous training, that may work. But for our Defensive Pistol classes it does not. As far as pistol choice goes, bigger is better for training.
Our reasoning here is simple: It’s easier to learn new skills while using a larger firearm than a smaller one.
First off, the control surfaces (magazine release, slide lock lever, safety, etc.) on a full-size training pistol tend to be larger and spaced farther apart, so they’re easier to get to and manipulate, especially while moving or under stress. And you will be under some stress in class, as you’ll be doing things with a firearm that you’ve probably never done before.
Second, if you’re learning to draw and reholster (or just aren’t used to practicing those skills regularly), a full-size gun is almost always going to make those motions easier. The longer gripping surface on the gun is going to facilitate a positive grip in the holster, leading to a more efficient draw. And a longer barrel will help with getting back in the holster smoothly and safely.
Third, the magazines for these guns are bigger (makes sense, right?)—making them easier to grab a hold of in pouches and for inserting into the firearm’s magazine well for rapid, smooth reloads.
And finally, a larger-framed training pistol will do a much better job of absorbing recoil than a sub-compact or compact gun—that’s just physics. An 8-hour class dealing with the heavy recoil and tiny sights of a small gun is not fun. With the bigger gun, you’ll have a longer sight radius for accuracy and added mass to mitigate recoil, which will help you shoot better longer.
Small concealable pistols are great (I own more than a few); they certainly have their place and are some of the most popular guns on the market. But they’re compromise guns: You’re sacrificing the light recoil impulse, long sight radius, ergonomics, uncluttered controls, and capacity of a full-size gun for something that can be easily concealed.
So if your choice is between bringing your SIG P365 or the P320 to class—go with the P320. Or if you own a Glock 26 and a 17—then come to class with the 17. The skills you learn on the larger pistol can be easily transferred to the smaller carry gun with practice. Train with a gun and gear that will facilitate learning, not those that you’ll be struggling with throughout the day.