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Choosing The Best Hammer-Fired Handgun

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In a world where striker-fired pistols are becoming increasingly common, carrying or competing with a hammer-fired pistol represents a conscious choice, a rejection of the standard in favor of something different. There’s more to it than just being different, though; hammer-fired pistols offer certain attributes and advantages that striker-fired guns simply can’t. 

The most obvious of these is the increased control over the firearm that an exposed hammer offers. While certain striker-fired firearms allow some direct control over the firing mechanism, such as the P99’s decockable striker or a GLOCK with an aftermarket striker control device, none can rival the amount of discretion having a hammer on a gun allows. 

With so many hammer-fired handguns available, though, it can be easy to become lost in the weeds of trying to choose the best one. Luckily, the truth is that there is no one best hammer-fired pistol—there is only the best hammer-fired pistol for you. 


Hammer-Fired Pistols: An Overview 

For the most part, hammer-fired pistols all follow a similar form and function. They use an exposed hammer situated at the rear of the slide to strike a firing pin, which detonates the chambered cartridge. The exposed nature of this hammer is what allows for the aforementioned control over the firearm; with the hammer exposed, you can manually block it from firing, decock it, or prevent it from being cocked, which some users find adds peace of mind during routine manipulations such as holstering. 

Certain hammer-fired pistols do diverge from this standard, such as those with internal or shrouded hammers, like the Colt 1903 Hammerless, or utilize bobbed hammers that are difficult to manipulate directly, such as P30 LEM models. Both of these guns are technically hammer-fired, but in certain aspects behave more like striker-fired guns. For a more in-depth look at the differences, you can peruse our article on Hammer-Fired vs. Striker-Fired guns. 

Hammer-fired pistols are popular with a lot of different users for a lot of different reasons. Some users appreciate the increased control over the firearm, while others, particularly competitors, appreciate the lightened triggers that are difficult to achieve with striker-fired guns, but easily done with an SAO pistol. 

Double action pistols or DA/SA pistols are particularly popular for concealed carry since they feature certain inherent safeties some feel to be lacking in striker-fired guns. Double-action refers to a pistol that performs two functions with a single pull of the trigger, specifically cocking the hammer or firing pin back, then releasing it. Single-action describes a firearm that performs only one action: releasing the already-cocked hammer or trigger. Double/single-action pistols combine these action types to create a pistol with an initial double-action trigger pull, but a single-action pull for every subsequent shot. 

 DA and DA/SA firearms allow for carry with a chambered cartridge, but without the hammer cocked, necessitating a longer, heavier trigger pull in order to fire. Some users find this to be a comfort, particularly in firearms without manual safety.  

The differences between these types of pistols are reviewed extensively in our article on single-action vs. double-action pistols

Ultimately, there are a lot of good reasons to choose a hammer-fired pistol, even in today’s market with its utter saturation of striker-fired guns. Finding the best one for you, though, can be a bit more complicated. 


The Best Hammer-Fired Pistols 

The problem with trying to select one single best handgun is that there are a multitude of uses for a handgun—the best carry gun will not be the best competition gun, and vice versa. 

Even within a single category, for example, concealed carry guns, the needs and desires of each individual will vary, making it impossible to say that one is the best for everyone. 

Instead, the process of choosing the best pistol becomes a personal one, wherein you need to match your individual requirements to the available options. For instance, those looking for a slim, compact, hammer-fired carry pistols would do well to look at some variety of compact 1911. 

Below, we’ll take a look at some of the most popular hammer-fired handguns on the market. 

Sig Sauer P226 

One of the most iconic Sig Sauer handguns is also one of the more recognizable hammer-fired pistols still on the market. First introduced in 1984 as the P220, it would later be refined into the P226 as we know it today and even selected as the pistol of choice for the Navy SEALs in its MK25 configuration. 

Today, the P226 is a popular choice for professional use or competition, owing primarily to its heavy weight and low recoil. It is available in DA/SA, double-action-only (DAO), and single-action-only (SAO) variants, as well as with a variety of grip scales and materials. Sig’s competition-ready XFIVE variant enjoys a particularly positive reputation, despite varying considerably from standard P226 pistols with its SAO configuration and extended magazines. 

Compact variants of the P226, such as the P228 and P229, are also popular for concealed carry. 


One of the oldest designs on our list, the CZ-75 is a hammer-fired 9mm that can trace its roots back to the original version first made in 1975. The more modern version of the design, the CZ-75b, remains popular to this day both in its standard configuration and in specialized tactical and competition models. 

The CZ-75 is notable for an unusually thin grip compared to most other double-stack full-size metal-framed 9mm pistols, although several modern polymer double-stack firearms have managed to match or even beat its thinness. Most CZ-75 variants are DA/SA, but certain competition models are SAO. 

The pistol also uses an uncommon slide and frame rail design. Where most pistols have the slide wrap around the exterior of the rail, the CZ-75 slide rides inside the rails of its frame, creating a lower bore axis and the appearance of a smaller slide. 

Compact versions of the CZ-75 such as the P-01 variant remain popular for concealed carry. 

Beretta 92FS/M9 

Best known for being the official sidearm of the US Army, Beretta’s M9 pistol began life as the Model 92 in 1976. It would then go through a series of modifications in order to qualify for police and military contracts, eventually resulting in two models that are still produced to this day: the 92FS and M9. 

Despite being two distinct models, these pistols are often discussed together, since they are very similar. The primary difference between the two is the addition of an accessory rail and more aggressive checkering on the front and back straps of the grip. 

Unlike most other pistols on this list, the Beretta 92FS and M9 feature a combination safety/decocker. This single lever allows users to both safely release tension on the hammer after chambering a round and engage a manual safety to prevent unintended fire all within a single point of contact.  

The 92FS and M9 are also available in the “G” configuration, which uses a standard decocking lever in place of the combination decocker/safety lever. Later versions of the M9, such as the M9A3, are convertible between DA/SA with a manual safety or decocker only. 

H&K P30 

H&K has a long history of producing high-quality hammer-fired pistols, but their most recent entry is the P30 series of handguns. Originally developed as a service pistol for law enforcement, the P30 and its variants have become popular for a wide variety of uses, including concealed carry by civilians. 

Unique amongst the other pistols on this list is the P30’s polymer frame; while many hammer-fired pistols stick to more traditional materials, the P30 makes use of a modern, customizable polymer frame with multiple backstraps and side inserts. 

The P30 is available with or without manual safety in DA/SA or DAO configurations. The “L” variant also offers an extended slide and barrel, while the “SK” version features a shorter barrel, slide, and grip for concealed carry. 

1911 and 2011 

One of the oldest and most venerated firearms still in common use, the 1911 was first produced over a hundred years ago. Versions of the 1911 are available from dozens of different manufacturers like Ruger and Springfield Armory in hundreds of different configurations, ranging widely in size, material, capacity, caliber, and more. Unlike many of the other pistols on this list, the 1911 and 2011 are available exclusively in a single-action-only configuration. 

Despite its age, the 1911 remains a very functional pistol for carry or competition, thanks largely to its unique straight-back trigger pull and exceptional ergonomics. However, its single-stack design limits its capacity compared to modern handguns, even with small cartridges such as 9mm.  

The solution to this problem is found in the 2011, a modernized version of the 1911 that utilizes a steel subframe and separate polymer grip, but maintains much of the original design of the 1911, including the straight-pull trigger. 

NRARangeDay Morgan 2035


While some might consider the design dated, there’s a lot to like about hammer-fired pistols, both modern and classic. While none of these models (nor even any of the many others on the market) can be unequivocally called the best, each is a strong contender for the best hammer-fired pistol for you.