Proper Grip: Guidelines & Techniques for Recoil Control

Proper Grip: Guidelines & Techniques for Recoil Control
Proper Grip: Guidelines & Techniques for Recoil Control

Of the fundamentals of shooting, the stance and grip are the most important for reducing felt recoil. Once you have decided on your solid stance, your grip is the next important key to master for controlling recoil. Individuals usually hold a firearm the way they pick it up, without much thought to how much their grip impacts the way they shoot. An improper physical grip and mental mindset almost always lead to not handling recoil well and poor target hits. Likewise, a proper grip will help absorb recoil, provide control and stability for getting more accurate shots, provide protection and safety from slide “bite” when the action moves the slide, and prevent malfunctions and stoppages. If your thumbs are in the way, there is a possibility of the slide hitting them and malfunctions. 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 grip (limp wristing) can cause failure to feed and failure to eject and other operating mechanical problems. You must recognize that learning a proper grip may feel very uncomfortable and unnatural at first, especially if you have not learned, nor practiced regularly with it, or have been shooting with an improper grip for some time. Also, this instinctive and improper grip might be unsafe, especially on a semi-automatic pistol. So, it is best to learn what is the proper grip for yourself and practice with it for a while to give it a chance for success, even it feels unnatural and uncomfortable at first. Decide on a grip and be consistent with using it.

Instructors usually say that handling recoil is 80% mental and 20% physical, so think positive mentally and get over the anticipation of the “Kick” and sound of the “Bang” to allow your physical body to work naturally with the recoil. Without a doubt, one of the biggest challenges for new (and many) shooters is handling recoil. Ideally, you want felt recoil going straight back from your wrist into the radius bone of your forearm, with a locked Strong wrist. New shooters who don’t have the depth of experience and practice, haven’t yet allowed their minds to accept that a big, loud bang isn’t going to hurt. Shooters need to learn to accept the noise and through practice with the proper grip, ignore it. So, how do you decide the proper grip to control recoil? Interestingly, it is the same procedure you use to decide if any gun is the correct fit and the right one for you personally to select. Recognize that not all firearms fit everyone’s hand the same. A 1911-style handgun, for example, has a thin grip thanks to its single-stack magazine. Likewise, a Glock 21 has a really thick grip due to the .45 ACP double-stack magazine. So, buy and use a firearm that fits your hand and fingers properly and functions well, not because your friend likes it or because it looks good. If it fits your hand properly and you grip it correctly, then you can better handle the recoil. Whether the firearm is a revolver or a semi-auto pistol affects your type of grip. Revolvers usually don’t permit your hand to get very high on the frame of the gun, so when you grip a revolver make certain that your strong-hand wraps around the grip tightly and as high up on the grip as is comfortable. Pistols usually have a beavertail or backstrap that can be easily gripped up high.

Straight Alignment of Wrist and Arm

There should be a straight alignment of your grip from your locked strong-hand wrist back to the radius of your strong arm. The strong hand with the gun should not be offset or canted to the left or right of the strong arm, but rather directly in line with the strong arm. straight alignment of the grip allows for better control of movement and recoil for better accuracy.

Straight Alignment of Wrist and Arm
Straight Alignment of Wrist and Arm

Here is a simple procedure for gripping a pistol or revolver when selecting your personal firearm. Be certain to first safety check the gun properly.

High on Backstrap
High on Backstrap
  1. Grasp the gun firmly and high up on the gun’s backstrap or beavertail in the “v” web of your strong hand (make sure your grip is up high enough so you don’t see any gun between your hand and the top of the beavertail)
    NOTE: Support-hand fingers & knuckles should overlap strong-hand fingers & knuckles at the second joint of the fingers on both hands.
  2. Place the gun snuggly between the strong-hand thumb and index finger- the “V” of the Strong Hand;
    NOTE: Steps 3 through 7 below are presented to help you select your new firearm, based on a proper grip.
  3. Hold the gun firmly in your strong hand, with your strong arm hanging beside your side and the gun pointed down to the ground; (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 best comfortable grasp;)
    NOTE: The most common cause of malfunctions and stoppages is too loose a grip! “limp wristing” causes failures to eject cartridges, e.g. partial ejection from limp wristing causes “stovepipes.”
  4. With the gun hanging down to the ground beside your strong side, make sure the gun’s barrel is aligned in a straight line from your wrist to your forearm’s radius bone and that your wrist is not bent or angled to the side (lock your wrist straight) while pointing it down. (Aligning the gun with your forearm will allow the force of the recoil to travel through your entire forearm, not just your wrist. One of the most common problems of someone not gripping a gun correctly is a sore and weak wrist. Correcting the angle should resolve this;)

    STRAIGHT ALIGNMENT from Locked Wrist to Radius of Forearm
    from Locked Wrist
    to Radius of Forearm
  5. With the gun hanging down to the ground beside your strong side, focus on smoothly pressing the trigger (remember- ensure the gun is unloaded) straight back continuously with the middle of the first digit (pad) of your index finger or near the first joint of the index finger (or your proper amount of finger placement on the trigger), without moving the gun to either side (and without a stop-and-go press), while maintaining a firm grip;

    Misalignment to the LEFT
    Misalignment to the LEFT
  6. If you must turn the gun to the left to get the proper amount of finger on the trigger, then the gun is probably too small for you & recoil will improperly go into the inside back of your hand toward your support side, (this is for right-hand shooters– left-hand shooters would be just the opposite); and
  7. If you must turn the gun to the right to get proper finger placement on the trigger, then the gun is probably too big for you & recoil will go into your strong side, (this is for right-hand shooters– left-hand shooters would be just the opposite).

Where to Place your Thumbs

Where to place your thumbs on the gun is very controversial. Some experts say that the proper grip is most definitely to have your thumbs forward pointed down range. Consider is this optimal for both a pistol and a revolver? Is there a difference in the way a shooter should grip a pistol and grip a revolver? Other proven competitors say that the thumbs should be up, while still others strongly demand that the thumbs be locked together. Some professional associations say that a shooter should use an over-locked thumbs grip for revolvers, but not for semi-auto pistols. There reasoning makes sense, in that if that support thumb is pointed down range and blocks the opening space between the breech end of the barrel and the revolver’s cylinder, there will be serious damage down to that support thumb from the expelled gas and particulate which is under pressure. Something to seriously consider. I know I watch my new shooters’ grips like a hawk when they shoot revolvers. Safety first… always! Some say strong thumb on top; others say support thumb on top. What’s a shooter to do? The main consideration is not to interfere with the slide, slide lock, or controls. I have seen several guns not lock back (and other malfunctions) because of thumb placement on top of the slide lock. To me, the optimal thumb placement is, again, what works for you and what works safely. I do want to caution about crossed thumbs directly behind the hammer on firearms since this grip method can lead to serious thumbs, fingers, and hand injuries from the slide action. Shooters have to experiment with various grips and decide for themselves what gets the best target hits for them in a safe manner. The gold standard test is accuracy. 

Thumbs-Forward Grip
Thumbs-Forward Grip

Many competition and tactical shooters recommend the Thumbs-Forward Grip (shown above) as it is a more natural and intuitive method to point the pistol at your target to help with aiming. Then the question arises: Do you lay your thumbs along the slide, or hold them away to minimize any interference? The experts are divided on this issue. Competitive pistol shooters Dave Sevigny and Todd Jarrett keep their thumbs laying right along the side of the pistol. 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 can cause 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. you decide by practicing both.

Many say the Thumbs-Forward Grip is perfect for shooting 1911 handguns. With this method, the frame mounted safety is positioned directly underneath the Strong-Hand shooting thumb, making it incredibly fast and intuitive to draw and disengage the safety selector in one smooth motion. So with a 1911-style firearm, put your strong thumb on top of the safety. Also with a gun that is equipped with a high-ride beavertail, it is easier to get a higher grip on the pistol and extended safety lever, so I have found for me that the Thumbs-Forward Grip is very natural and comfortable, especially for my 1911s.

I have found when shooting pistols that using the Thumbs-Forward Grip is also very helpful for me in competitive pistol shoots or tactical applications where speed and accuracy are both needed. By positioning the thumbs-forward near the slide (or slightly off of the slide) you are in essence creating a second sighting device. Wherever your strong thumb is pointing is where the pistol is pointing. So it helps me draw my pistol faster and get my proper grip quicker, without needing to search for the front sight.

Locked-Thumbs Grip
Locked-Thumbs Grip

Locked-Thumbs Grip vs. Thumbs-Forward Grip

There is a difference between the Thumbs-Forward and the Locked-Thumbs Grips (above.) New shooters sometimes believe that the Locked-Thumbs Grip is the easiest one to naturally acquire at first and so stick with it, without giving the Thumbs-Forward Grip a chance.  I must admit for me it did take some getting use to and practice to get comfortable with it. The Locked-Thumbs Grip simply overlaps and lays the Support Thumb on top of the Strong-Hand thumb. Some shooting experts and associations do NOT recommend the Thumbs-Forward Grip for revolvers because of the danger to the extended Support Thumb from expelled hot gas with lead particulate (and flames) under high pressure which comes from the gap between the breech end of the barrel and the revolver’s cylinder gap. I agree with NOT using the Thumbs-Forward Grip for revolvers, but do accept this Grip as an alternative for semi-automatic pistols. So, I use the Thumbs-Forward Grip for my pistols and the Locked-Thumbs Grip for my revolvers. I practice this way and am comfortable with this approach. The Locked-Thumbs Grip does maximize hand strength to stabilize the gun on target for a double-action hard trigger press. However, the Locked-Thumbs Grip can interfere with the Support Hand’s ability to have good solid contact with the grip panel. By wrapping the thumb of your support hand over the thumb of your strong hand with the Locked-Thumbs Grip, it necessarily pushes the heel of your palm out away from the grip. The presence of this gap makes the gun tend to turn towards the support hand under recoil. So if you are right handed, you will notice your shots pulling more to the left and low. I learned this the hard way and switched to the Thumbs-Forward Grip for my pistols. This was a very arduous transformation for me and I am still practicing this for improvement.

60-40 Grip Pressure

Contrary to what some believe, about 60% of the grip pressure should come from the support hand and about 40% from the strong hand. Some think the reverse is true, with 60% of the pressure coming from the strong hand. The strong hand should apply slight pressure (40%) to the front and backstrap of the grip, while the Support Hand squeezes more strongly (60%) from side to side on the right and left sides. In order to maintain positive contact or meld with the gun, the support hand should have the heel of the hand nestled within the gap created by the shooting hand on the left side of the grip. You must train yourself to automatically put your Support-Hand heel in that gap below your Strong-Hand thumb. Keep your strong-hand thumb high on the left side of your grip. Practice this and practice some more, so that the muscle memory will kick in.

Remember, your support hand should do 60% or most of the work. Your shooting hand and trigger finger have enough to do pressing the trigger smoothly and correctly, manipulating the safety (if present) and magazine release. Again, your support hand should provide 60% of the grip, squeezing side to side, while the shooting hand provides 40% of the grip squeezing front to back. You want a firm, solid grip for control purposes, but you don’t want a “white knuckle” death grip. I believe if there is any doubt, grip the firearm very firmly.

Proper Grip Checklist

Here is a very basic grip checklist to help you remember my 15 guidelines for a proper grip:

  • The grip must be consistent for each shot.
  • A proper grip directly enhances accuracy by reducing muzzle rise.
  • Grip the firearm high on the backstrap.
  • Ensure a proper grip where your trigger finger adequately contacts and reaches the trigger.
  • Straight alignment of the strong wrist with the strong arm significantly improves recoil control.
  • Lock your strong wrist for better overall control.
  • Grasp the gun very firmly for better overall control.
  • Support-hand fingers & knuckles should overlap & be on top of strong-hand fingers & knuckles.
  • Both wrists should be close together and not flared out to the side.
  • The support-hand heel should be nestled in the gap created by the strong-hand grip & its high thumb placement (thumbs not pointed up in the air.)
  • Strong-hand and support-hand thumbs should rest comfortably on top of each other.
  • Strong-hand thumb placed high on the left-side frame to enable support-hand weld to frame.
  • Fingers overlap fingers and thumbs overlap thumbs.
  • 60% of grip pressure from the support hand & 40% of grip pressure from the strong hand.
  • Decide on thumbs-forward or locked-thumbs grips for your firearm (revolver vs. pistol) & practice the grips.