One of the most important fundamentals of shooting a handgun is getting the proper grip on the gun. I’d say it is one of the top fundamentals out of the eight basics I present in my book. Of course, all of the shooting basics are important. But the grip fundamentals affect several of the other basic fundamentals and functions. And, without a doubt, grip certainly influences your results and accuracy.
Benefits of a Proper Grip
I believe that the grip is probably the most important basic factor for reducing felt recoil and muzzle rise. That is in addition to the stance. But, there are other benefits to a proper grip.
A proper grip will:
- help absorb recoil,
- provide control and stability for getting more accurate initial shots,
- provide control and stability for follow-up shots,
- prevent muzzle rise,
- provide protection and safety from slide “bite” when the action moves the slide, and
- prevent certain malfunctions and stoppages.
NOTE: If your thumbs are in the way, there is a possibility of the slide hitting them and malfunctions occurring. If you exert even minimal pressure on the slide lock lever with your support thumb, it can fail to lock back the slide when empty and cause failure to go into battery and mechanical stoppages. Also, a too loose of a grip, called “limp wristing,” can cause failure to feed, failure to eject, and other operating mechanical problems.
Problems with the Teacup Grip
Many well-informed gun experts and non-experts alike have written about their ideas and the best way to grip a handgun. And there are certainly many fine and varying ideas about how to accomplish this. Some military units previously taught the “Teacup Grip” to military members. But recoil from a gun does not go up and down. Recoil from a gun goes from front to back. So the Teacup Grip was not successful. Thankfully teaching this grip was discontinued by the military several years ago. Partially because only one hand was on the handgun and there was less support for recoil control.
A problem arises when a supposed “support” hand is positioned lower at the bottom of the grip. This allows more leverage in favor of the gun against the shooter’s hands. So the gun is freer to move around. Another problem with the Teacup Grip is that with a lot of gun movement in the shooter’s hands, the slide might not travel far enough to the rear for the ejector to kick the spent cartridge case cleanly out of the ejection port, causing a Failure to Eject (or “Stovepipe”) malfunction.
Recoil Can Cause Hands to Separate
Also, your hands can separate from the force of the recoil when using the Teacup Grip. Often the strong hand rises from the recoil with the gun, while the support hand dangles in midair. But, of course, these problems do not deter actors from using this Teacup Grip on television and in movies. Duh, your call.
I have not solely cornered the market on the world’s best grip fundamentals. But I do have my own ideas that work for me. And I have put them here in a simplified handgun Grip Basics Checklist. More grip details are available in two chapters of my book “Concealed Carry Essentials.” I might add that I do not believe that there is any one “best” or optimal handgun grip for all shooters. There are just too many individual physical variables, pistol and revolver considerations, and operational factors that influence an individual’s grip.
The Grip Challenge
So the challenge for you is to decide on the characteristics of a grip that work for you. And then be consistent using it. I do believe that some basic grip factors must be considered by all shooters to make their grip decision. So what follows are my ideas and tips to throw into your decision matrix about how to grip a handgun. And I offer my Handgun Grip Checklist with key factors to remind you of some grip considerations. And also, to help you make decisions about your grip.
Some Grip Factors to Consider
The wider the gun’s grip on the frame, the larger the area of your shooting hand that is available to absorb recoil forces. Recognize, however, that the width of your concealed carry gun is a major factor for effectively concealing your gun. Also, the grip angle can help with recoil by helping direct the recoil straight back into your hand, so you do not rotate the gun in your hand as you do with some single-action revolvers and certain pistols. Some believe that single-action revolvers are even designed to rotate in the hand to put the thumb closer to the hammer to re-cock it for subsequent shots.
Recoil Should Go Straight Back
Your grip and perceived recoil are very intimately related. Ideally, you want felt recoil going straight back from your strong wrist into the ulna and radius bones of your forearm, through the locked wrist of your strong hand. This helps dissipate recoil and obtain a straight alignment. So, the positions and physical characteristics of your fingers, thumbs, hands, and wrists are important to facilitate this happening. Without a doubt, the handgun must fit your hands and fingers correctly as well as comfortably and be properly aligned. Buy and use a firearm that fits your hand and fingers properly and functions well. Not because your spouse or friend likes it or because it looks good. If it fits your hands properly and you have a correct grip, then you can better handle the recoil. It also helps with quicker follow-up shots and being more accurate.
TIP: Assess not only the overall comfort and subjective “feel” of the handgun to your hands, like most shooters seem to focus solely on, but also how the gun matches the lengths and sizes of your fingers, the size of your hands, and their positions. Comfort is just one consideration for an optimal grip.
TIP: The strong hand grasping the gun should NOT be offset or canted to the left or right of the aligned strong arm and gun, but rather directly in line with the strong arm and gun. Straight alignment of the grip with the gun allows for better control of movement and recoil for better accuracy.
Revolver vs. Pistol Grip
Whether the firearm is a revolver or a semi-auto pistol affects your type of grip and the way you grasp the gun. Some revolver designs do not permit your hand to get very high on the frame of the gun. So when you grip a revolver, make sure that your strong hand wraps around the stock of the frame tightly and as high up on the backstrap as is possible and comfortable, just like your pistol grip. Pistols usually have a beavertail or somewhat extended backstrap that allows you to easily grasp up high for a tight grip. But whatever you are shooting, make sure that you grip the gun up high on the backstrap for better control.
TIP: Do not put your support hand’s index finger on the front of the outside of the trigger guard. Several senior shooters trained this way in earlier days. And some have just gravitated toward this bad habit.
Placement of Support Hand’s Index Finger
For me, a major grip consideration is that applied pressure (either directly or indirectly by you) by the support index finger will pull the gun usually down and to the weak side. This can especially occur if you place your support index finger on the front of the trigger guard. It is a given fundamental that the shooter should eliminate as much movement as possible (you cannot totally eliminate it, but strive to minimize it) when aiming, grasping, and shooting the gun.
So to help get as little movement as possible, only the trigger finger should move smoothly and straight back and not intermittently, while keeping everything else as still as you can. Your grip, overall grasp technique, and finger placement have much to do with this fundamental. You can violate this basic fundamental and end up steering the muzzle subconsciously, whether or not you think you are when you place your support index finger on the front of the trigger guard. Using the support index finger on the guard creates an additional push/pull point on the gun which can create steering issues while shooting as the finger tension changes, affecting the accuracy of course, especially when shooting fast.
Don’t Place Index Finger in Front of Trigger Guard
By placing your support index finger on the trigger guard, its position will force the palm of your support hand away from the frame and mainspring housing and out of the gap. This weakens your grip and can cause several problems, as I discuss in our classes. (The gap is where the heel of your support hand fits in place onto the stock of the frame just below your strong hand thumb, which is held high to make the gap and room for the support heel.) Of course, some of my “senior” students argue that placement of the support index finger on the outside of the trigger guard is a great technique.
Another consideration is that there is a danger and more of a probability of getting high-speed gun powder residue (and maybe flame fire) blown back on the finger & knuckle with that finger placement on the front of the trigger guard, especially with high-caliber revolvers. Of course, this is dangerous, and there is a low but possible probability of this happening.
My Simple Checklist of Factors for An Effective Handgun Grip
1. Grasp the gun high up on the gun’s backstrap or beavertail in the “V” web of your strong hand between your thumb and index finger. Make sure you grasp the backstrap up high enough, so you do not see any gun between your hand and the top of the beavertail. Be consistent with your grip each time you grasp your handgun.
2. Ensure the gun’s backstrap fits very snuggly between the strong hand thumb and index finger, the “V” of the Strong Hand.
3. Hold the gun very firmly in both your strong and support hands. I believe you CANNOT really grasp the gun too tightly unless you see white knuckles and see a wobble or shake. Experiment to find your most comfortable firm grasp. For me, it is like a firm handshake, not a wet, mushy dishrag. Most of the control and pressure comes from your support hand, so support hand and finger placements and strength applied are important.
TIP: The most common cause of malfunctions and stoppages is too loose a grip or “limp wristing,” which causes failures to eject cartridges. Partial ejection from limp wristing causes “stovepipes.” Lock the wrist of your strong hand and have a firm grasp with both hands.
4. Make certain that the gun’s barrel is aligned in a straight line from the barrel to your strong wrist to your strong forearm’s radius and ulna bones. There should not be a curve or bend in alignment between the barrel and the wrist. The straight alignment will allow the force of the recoil to travel through your entire forearm and not just your wrist. This will help dissipate and spread out the recoil to make it more manageable and comfortable.
5. Ensure your wrist and hand are not canted, bent, or angled to one side or the other, but rather are held in straight alignment and locked to help direct the recoil and forces. If your wrist or hand is even partially canted to one side or the other, you will feel the recoil more in the direction or joints where the wrist or hand is bent and directed. One of the most common problems of someone not gripping a gun correctly is a sore and weak wrist or hand. Correcting the grip angle should resolve this.
TIP: If you must grip and rotate your fingers and hand to the left to get the proper amount of your longer finger on the trigger, then the gun is probably too small for you and recoil will improperly go into the inside back of your hand toward your support side, (for right-hand shooters.) If you must rotate your fingers and hand to the right to get the right amount of your shorter finger on the trigger, then the gun is probably too large for you, and you will feel more of the recoil on your strong side.
6. I like the Thumbs-Forward Grip because, for me, it is more natural, intuitive, and comfortable. I have also been using it for about 40 years. This grip technique places both of your thumbs on the frame (not on the slide) of the gun, so they both point down range. The support thumb is NOT pointing down toward the ground and is not blocking or even near the trigger guard and trigger. Recognize that some do not like the Both-Thumbs-Down-Range Grip. You should try various grip techniques and thumb positions to decide for yourself.
Possible Dangers and Malfunctions from Your Grip
For certain, I do not like to lay my thumbs on the slide or even near the slide stop lever. It can cause malfunctions with just a slight touch to the lever. Likewise, I do not like to have my support thumb placed low below the frame, laying on or near the trigger guard or trigger because a slight slip of the thumb can lead to a dangerous result. Competitive pistol shooters Dave Sevigny and Todd Jarrett keep their thumbs laying right along the side of the pistol’s frame. Another competitive shooter Brian Enos, on the other hand, keeps his thumbs away from the pistol.
Some competitive shooters have observed that having the thumbs along the side pointing down range while using a Thumbs-Forward Grip has a higher probability of causing the slide lock lever to be pushed down so that the handgun will not go into slide lock on an empty magazine. Others say that proper and frequent training develops the proper muscle memory and prevents this. I have practiced with the Thumbs-Forward Grip, and it works best for me. By positioning my thumbs forward on the frame near the slide, I create a second sighting aid. Wherever my strong and support thumbs are pointing is where the pistol is pointing. So it helps me get my proper grip quicker and on target, without needing to search a lot for the front sight. You decide for yourself.
The Locked-Thumbs Grip
To assume the Locked-Thumbs Grip, simply overlap your thumbs with the support thumb on top of the strong hand thumb. There is a significant difference between the Thumbs-Forward and the Locked-Thumbs Grips. Many years ago as a new shooter, I found the Locked-Thumbs Grip to be more quickly attained and comfortable. I was not familiar with and had not tried the Thumbs-Forward Grip. After I switched to the Thumbs-Forward Grip, I found my competitive scores were higher. I was also more accurate. Note that I am using a Thumbs-Forward Grip for my pistols only, not revolvers. But, I must admit for me it did take some getting use to and practice to get comfortable with it. But, I am so glad I gave it a try. Try it and decide for yourself!
TIP: Some shooting experts, the NRA, and others do not recommend the Thumbs-Forward Grip for revolvers. There are dangers to the extended support thumb from expelled hot gas with lead particulate under high pressure which comes from the gap between the breech end of the barrel and the revolver’s cylinder gap. Flames may also shoot from the gap.
I agree with the above and advise my students not to use the Thumbs-Forward Grip for revolvers. Just for semi-automatic pistols as desired. I use the Thumbs-Forward Grip for my pistols and the Locked-Thumbs Grip for my revolvers. The Locked-Thumbs Grip can interfere with the Support Hand’s ability to have good solid contact with the grip panel. The presence of the gap makes the gun tend to turn towards the support hand under recoil. So if you are right-handed, for example, you will notice your shots pulling more to the left and low. I experienced this and switched to the Thumbs-Forward Grip for my pistols.
7. Keep support hand fingers and knuckles together, overlapped and on top of strong hand fingers and knuckles. Also, keep fingers and knuckles closed and together. The middle knuckle of your support hand should lay directly on top of your middle knuckle of your strong hand. If the support hand fingers and knuckles overlap and are too far to the right (for a right-hand shooter), the support hand thumb will point up in the air and cause problems. The same problem can occur for a left-hand shooter who places them too far to the left. The fingers of the support hand should touch the bottom of the trigger guard, without any visible space.
8. Keep both wrists close together and not flared out to the side.
9. Nestle the support hand heel in the gap beside the strong hand. The strong hand grip and its high thumb placement near the rear top of the gun create the gap. So, place the strong hand thumb high on the left-side frame to create a gap for the support hand thumb to comfortably rest in the gap.
10. The strong hand and support hand thumbs should rest comfortably on top of each other. Place the strong hand thumb on top of the support hand thumb (as preferred by the author.)
11. 60% of the grip pressure should come from the support hand. 40% of the Grip pressure from the strong hand.
I hope my grip tips, suggestions, and simple Grip Checklist of considerations have helped you think more about the best grip for you and your particular characteristics and concerns. Hey, get a grip friends!
Continued Success and be Safe!
Photos by Author.
* This personal opinion article is meant for general information & educational purposes only and the author strongly recommends that you seek counsel from an attorney for legal advice and your own personal certified weapons trainer for proper guidance about shooting & using YOUR firearms, self-defense and concealed carry. It should not be relied upon as accurate for all shooters & the author assumes no responsibility for anyone’s use of the information and shall not be liable for any improper or incorrect use of the information or any damages or injuries incurred whatsoever.
© 2019 Col Benjamin Findley. All Rights Reserved. This article may not be reprinted or reproduced in whole or in part by mechanical means, photocopying, electronic reproduction, scanning, or any other means without prior written permission. For copyright information, contact Col Ben Findley at ColBFF@gmail.com.