Gripping A Handgun
Acquiring a strong and correct grip on a handgun (pistol or revolver) is an important element of accurate shooting. Some argue that effective trigger manipulation is more important than a strong grip. We believe that if your grip is weak then manipulating the trigger correctly won’t help your accuracy. The combination of a strong grip with effective trigger manipulation results in shooting accuracy.
You need to have a firm grip on your handgun. Having a firm grip on a semi-automatic handgun avoids “limp wristing.” Limp wristing happens when your grip and wrist are not firm enough to manage the recoil as the pistol’s slide cycles. This condition usually results in the pistol not cycling properly and results in a malfunction.
Gripping Begins at the Gun Store
Gripping begins at the gun store where you can hold guns in your hands (the clerk should confirm that the gun is unloaded before handing it to you but if the clerk doesn’t do that then you must check it). You also may be able to shoot the gun you are interested in purchasing if the store has an indoor shooting range.
Do not rely solely on the way the gun feels in your hand. You have to pay attention to several specific characteristics of the gun. If the gun’s ergonomics prevent you from operating the gun effectively then you will be unable to shoot accurately. While you are holding the gun you are interested in purchasing check for the following characteristics.
Can You Reach the Controls?
Semi-automatic pistols have several important controls: magazine release, safety lever (on some models), the slide release, the trigger, and a decocker (on some guns).
You must be able to reach the magazine release without altering your firing grip. The magazine release is located in different positions on different guns. We have seen a .22 caliber pistol where the magazine release is part of the trigger guard.
The magazine release on many pistols is on the side of the grip (see the photo of a Glock magazine release button)). It is depressed by the thumb on your strong-hand or, if necessary, by the thumb on your support-hand.
The majority of pistols have the magazine release on the support-hand side of the grip. This is a problem for left-handed shooters because their strong hand covers the magazine release. Some guns like Glocks allow shooters to switch the magazine release to the opposite side of the grip.
If you are a left-handed shooter you must know if the magazine release can be moved to the opposite side of the grip. When the gun runs empty you need to reload quickly. Reloading requires you to release the magazine in your gun and replace it with a full magazine. You have to do this quickly so it is very important to make sure you can reach the magazine release. If you are left-handed shooter with a gun whose magazine release cannot be moved to the opposite side of the grip then you need to develop a strategy for reloading quickly.
Glocks do not have safety levers. 1911 style handguns do (see photo on the left). Some Wilson Combat handguns have ambidextrous safety levers. The M&P Shield, and other guns, have a safety tab (see photo on the right). If the gun you are interested has a safety lever or tab then you must be able to reach and disengage it with your strong hand thumb. You must be able to disengage the safety quickly and safely. If you can’t reach it you can’t release it.
Safety levers also tend to be on the support hand side of guns. This is yet another limitation for left-handed shooters. Some guns, like the 1911’s and the Wilson Combat EDC-X9 can be ordered with ambidextrous safety levers.
The slide lock is also located on the support-hand side of most handguns as shown in the photo below. Generation 5 Glocks have two slide locks—one on either side of the gun which makes them ambidextrous.
It is impossible to engage the slide release on some handguns like the M&P Shield. A shooter’s thumbs may also be broken, or in extreme cases shot off. This is why we teach our students not to disengage the slide lock with their thumbs. Rather, we teach them to use a C-clamp grip across the back of the slide and then quickly retract the slide to the rear and then release it to drive the gun into battery. We strongly recommend the C-clamp method for the M&P Shield pistol.
A double-action handgun is one where the trigger does two things: it cocks the gun by moving the hammer to the rear and then it releases the hammer to fire the gun. It is especially important not to cock double-action handguns when you are handling one at the gun store. Cocking the gun takes out the slack on the trigger which prevents you from feeling where the trigger is positioned when you first pick up the gun.
You need to know how the trigger feels before the hammer is cocked so you can gauge how much strength is needed to press the trigger into a firing position. Once the slack is taken out of double-action trigger it takes less force to press the trigger.
Some triggers have a long-pull, which means it takes extra force to press the trigger into the firing position. Other triggers have a short-pull which means they can be pressed easily into a firing position (sometimes called a hair trigger).
While at the gun store you can test how much force it takes to press the trigger by ensuring that the gun is unloaded, racking the slide, aiming the gun in a safe direction, and then pressing the trigger (a technique called dry practice which means practicing without ammunition in the gun).
Trigger pull is often measured as pounds of force which refers to the amount of force needed to press the trigger into a firing position; for example, you can have a 2 pound trigger which is short-pull (perhaps too light for everyday carry). The standard Glock trigger pull has a pull of 6-7 pounds of pressure.
New York City police officers are required to carry handguns with 12 pound trigger press which is a long pull. Long-pull triggers can be difficult to manipulate quickly when you are in fast-moving gunfight. The standard trigger pull seems to be about 5.5 pounds.
The pad of your trigger finger must also fit onto the trigger. Ideally, the trigger fits between the tip of the finger and the first joint (see the image on the left side of the photo, below). If you have too much finger on the trigger (the middle image in the photo), your shot placement will tend to be right of the target. If you don’t have enough finger on the trigger (like the image on the far right of the photo) your shot placement will tend to be left of the target).
If your hand is too small for the gun you are handling you may not be able to put your trigger finger where it belongs. Many expert shooters believe that pressing the trigger correctly is the most important factor affecting shooting accuracy so you must make sure you can reach the trigger and place your finger correctly on the trigger.
Some handguns have a decocking lever; for example, the Sig Sauer P226 and the Ruger P95 (see the photo below showing the lever on a Sig Sauer P226). We personally train with special operations veterans—Green Berets, Rangers, Navy Seals, Marines—and we learned from them that when a shooter finishes shooting and the hammer is still cocked the gun should be decocked before it is re-holstered. This requirement tends to prevent negligent discharges if the trigger is accidentally engaged while the gun is being re-holstered. Decocking is especially important for new shooters.
The “decocking lever” allows the shooter to return the gun’s short-pull single-action trigger to a long-pull double-action setting. As the decocker lever is engaged the shooter slowly presses the trigger (with the gun pointing in a safe direction). The hammer then moves slowly into a double-action setting as the trigger is pressed. Moving the trigger into the double-action setting reduces the chance of a negligent discharge because more pounds of pressure are needed to press the trigger into a firing position.
The grip is the handle on the gun. Don’t call it a handle, however. People will laugh at you. Grips come in different sizes on some guns. For example, on the Wilson Combat EDC-X9 shooters can order a gun with a small or large backstrap depending on hand-size.
The backstrap is on the back of the grip. It presses up against the web of your hand as you grip the gun. You need a backstrap that fits your hand. Glock handguns come with grip attachments that widen the grip. These attachments are good for people with large hands who need more surface to grip.
While holding the gun pay attention to how the gun lines up with the bones in your forearm. There should be a straight line from the elbow through the forearm into the wrist and then the hand and finally the gun. When the gun, your hand, and your forearm are correctly aligned as shown in the image on the left in the photo below the recoil will go directly into the web of the hand and be transferred along the long bones of the arm.
If your grip and forearm are not aligned it will look like the image on the right in the above photo. The gun isn’t aligned with your forearm when the wrist is bent and the recoil will go into your thumb and hand instead. When this happens your control of the handgun is affected.
The bent wrist can happen by improper technique, but it can also be the result of a grip that is too large for your hand. If you cannot correct the alignment by making adjustments to your grip then the grip is likely to large for your hand.
Many pistol and revolver grips have finger grooves (see photos, below). Serious shooters do not like them. The grooves can be deep or they can be subtle. When you grip a gun with finger grooves it might feel comfortable in your hand. However, the grooves can interfere with a correct firing grip if the hand is placed slightly lower on the grip than it should be.
When the hand sits too low on the grip the shooter has insufficient control of the gun as it recoils. This weak grip is called limp wristing (discussed at the beginning of the article) and can result in malfunctions. If the gun you want to purchase has finger grooves make sure you can grip the gun correctly by placing your hand high on the grip.
Length of the Grip
Some smaller pistols have short grips. The Glock 26 and Glock 36 are two examples. If a shooter has a large hand the pinky finger can’t grab the grip unless the magazine has an extension on it. A shooter needs to have all fingers on the grip to manage the recoil. A short grip might not be a problem if the gun has a light recoil because the middle and ring fingers can control the recoil.
Gripping While Shooting
After purchasing a pistol that fits your hand you then need to take it to a range and shoot it. This is where you need to develop gripping skills to improve your shooting accuracy.
In the images below you can see the proper way to grip a pistol. You first grip the gun with your strong hand with the trigger finger along the frame and the remaining fingers wrapping the grip (see the photo on the left). Then, the support hand is placed on the gun as shown in the photo on the right so that the knuckle of the pointer finger touches the bottom of the trigger guard. Notice the position of the thumbs. Every time you pick up the gun to shoot you must achieve this kind of grip.
There are many opinions about how much pressure should be applied when gripping the gun. The recommendation is usually given in percentages. We find the percentage recommendation to be impossible to measure. So, we follow the advice of Dave Sevigny, a grandmaster shooter (http://www.handgunsmag.com/tactics-training/tactics_training_combatg_100306/#ixzz5NLFJ3UlW)
He says, “…and then there’s the 60/40 theory that you should squeeze harder with the left hand than the right hand. It’s never worked for me to think of it that way. The way I think of it is with both hands gripping the gun equally. When I can do that, I don’t feel like I have a left hand and a right hand; I have one hand, one hand on the gun. I will say that thinking about the two-hand grip like ‘60/40’ does seem to help people not overgrip with the right hand. When you grip the gun too hard with your master hand, you lose the fine motor control in your index finger for precise trigger manipulation.”
Brian Enos, another grandmaster shooter, believes in having a strong grip. He says, “I’ve found over the years that the stronger I grip the gun as long as I’m still able to manipulate the trigger precisely, the better I shoot. In my book I talk about ‘relaxing’ when I shoot, and that’s caused a lot of confusion. I wasn’t saying you shouldn’t grip the gun firmly; I was talking about my overall attitude while shooting. What you want is a really firm, fluid hold on the gun. When most people grip a gun ‘strongly,’ what they’re really saying is that they’re using their arms and shoulders to bear down on the gun, so it just beats them around every time they fire it.” (http://www.handgunsmag.com/tactics-training/tactics_training_combatg_100306/#ixzz5NLG8OrBd)
If you only have to take one shot you don’t have to worry about maintaining your grip. If you need to take more than one shot you must maintain your grip so you can continue to shoot effectively and put rounds on your target. We see new shooters who adjust their grip after every shot. Don’t do that. Get a good grip right from the beginning and maintain it until your gun comes off the target and no more rounds have to be sent down range.
Four Ways To Hold a Gun Wrong
There are four common wrong ways to grip a pistol: tea cup, low grip, non-trigger finger grip, and wrist brace. The image below illustrates these wrong grips.
Some readers might be thinking “why in the world would someone use one of these grips?” The answer is that they have not be trained. When our vice president goes to his local indoor shooting range he always sees shooters using one of these incorrect grips.
Gripping While Shooting One-Handed
Shooting one-handed is a skill that should be practiced. You may find yourself in a situation where you cannot grip the gun with two hands. The strong-hand grips the gun like it would with a two-handed grip. We advise students to grip the gun tighter than when they shoot two-handed so they can manage the recoil. The one-handed shooting grip is shown in the photo, below.
Gripping A Revolver
Although this article focused on gripping semi-automatic pistols we wanted to briefly discuss how to grip a revolver.
The design of a revolver requires a different grip. The revolver has a cylinder that spins as each round is fired. The grip must not cover the cylinder because it can interfere with the cylinder.
There are some gun enthusiasts that use a “thumbs forward” grip on a revolver which looks like the grip for a semi-automatic pistol (see the photo, below). The issue with the thumbs-forward grip is that when a round leaves the cylinder it does so under great pressure from the exploding gases inside the cartridge. These gases escape near the front of the cylinder and if your support hand thumb is near that escaping gas you can be injured. We do not recommend the thumbs-forward grip for revolvers.
Two recommended ways to grip a revolver are illustrated in the photos, below. The photo on the right is similar to the two-handed grip used with a pistol. Notice how the support hand thumb crosses over and wraps the strong-hand thumb. The image on the left shows a cup and saucer or tea cup grip. We recommend using the grip on the right.
In this post we discussed the design of grips on pistols. We briefly discussed how to grip revolvers. We pointed out how important it is to find a gun with a grip that fits your hand, allows you to grip the pistol firmly, and helps you to access the controls (magazine release, slide release, and so on).
Next, we talked about gripping while shooting. If you purchased a handgun with a grip that fits your hand you still need to practice gripping the gun properly so you can manage the gun’s recoil and shoot accurately.
We showed you how to grip a handgun properly and how not to grip a handgun. Gripping the handgun properly is an essential skill to develop so you can shoot accurately.
In our next post, Defensive Shooting: Part 3—Sight Alignment and Sight Picture, we will discuss the meaning of those two terms, why they are important, how to achieve those two conditions, and how to maintain both during a rapid fire gunfight. We will also discuss the issue of whether sight alignment and sight picture are possible to achieve and maintain in a rapid fire gunfight.