Most of us grew up shooting a rifle of some sort, whether it was your first Crosman 760 pellet rifle being used to wreak havoc on the local barn swallows, or, for you highfalutin guys, it may have been a Ruger 10/22 with 25-round banana magazines and all the trimmings. Most of the shooters I know had a pretty sound rifle repertoire, but their pistol skills were picked up later in life and may not be quite as refined.
I know for a fact I had a jacked-up pistol grip when I finally made it to the dark side of Special Forces. I had cut my teeth on a Ruger MK II .22LR, and I also had a Ruger New Model Blackhawk in .357. When I joined the Army, I quickly acquired a 9mm Taurus, which made me an official gunslinger.
While trying to build my self-proclaimed skill set, I was fortunate enough to be transitioned into a Special Operations unit where I was shown the way. My first true pistol sensei was a fella everyone called “Ray Bob.” He was a gunslinging son of a gun. The first thing he taught me was a better grip for handguns. I had worked years to perfect a very poor grip that worked well at the beginning of the firing sequence but degraded rapidly once I made the pistol go bang.
He didn’t explain the specifics; he just told me I was holding onto my 1911 as though I were a Girl Scout and I needed to change a few things. He had me change from a “cup-and-saucer mixed with a front-of-the-triggerguard rest” to a more modern position. I resisted initially, but after a brief try, I quickly saw the benefits of the grip he’d demonstrated.
Over the last 20 years, I’ve not only refined that pistol grip, I’ve had to learn to teach it to quickly get my students on the right track. There are some really bad examples of pistol shooting grips out there, and I’d like to discuss what truly works.
First and foremost is ensuring that your shooting hand is as high on the pistol as possible. This helps fight recoil, since the barrel and slide will be sitting as close to your hand as possible. Not all pistols are created equally when it comes to shootability.
I prefer a pistol with a very low bore axis, or, in other words, how the slide and barrel fit in relation to how high you are able to establish a grip on the pistol. I press the web of my hand as high as I can on the pistol’s backstrap. Some pistols have a beavertail that will allow you to get even higher without causing the slide to bite the web of your hand. Slide bite is prevalent with many semiautomatic handguns, but after a while, you’ll adapt your grip to work with this system.
The myth I hear most frequently is that you should grip the pistol equally with both the strong and support hand. If speed and accuracy are any indicators of the correct technique, then a 50/50 grip for the pistol is incorrect. The top shooters in the world use a 40/60 strong/support-hand ratio. I go even a step further when I teach combat pistol marksmanship and push shooters to attain a 30/70 strong/support-hand percentage.
The point is that the support hand needs to grip tightly while the firing hand relaxes slightly to allow for a controlled, smooth trigger squeeze. If you have additional tension in your firing hand and arm, you won’t be able to move your trigger finger quickly and independently of the rest of your firing hand. Trigger control becomes jerky and taxing if you are not able to relax your firing hand.
Sticking with the mantra of the support or nonfiring hand doing all the work, next we need to add some recoil management. We can’t entirely stop recoil with a good support-hand grip, but we can have a grip that allows us to drive the pistol quickly back onto the target and immediately be ready to shoot again.
As I’ve often said, “Anything worth shooting once is worth shooting 17 times.” Of course, we won’t always shoot 17 times with every pistol presentation, but we should maintain a grip that allows for this to happen. We shouldn’t just shoot it; we should hit repeatedly and quickly without having to think too much.
Since the support hand is planning to hold 60 to 70 percent of the pistol, we should make sure that we have as much of the support hand contacting the grip as possible. Even if you have hands the size of your local yard gnome, you can get a secure grip on the pistol with the support hand. Fill the space left open on the support side of the pistol with the meaty portion of your hand as best you can. It is also a good idea to use the tips of your firing-hand fingers as a ledge to grip against as you are shooting. Once the hand is in this position, a couple of key movements need to take place.
The first and most important part of your support-hand grip is that you cam your nonfiring hand forward to create a tightened position. Don’t overcam; this position should not be painful. Cam forward with the wrist to create a stopping point for the recoil sequence. As you fire the pistol, you will still have felt recoil, but the support hand is there to push the pistol back onto target and stop it right where it started. This process is the sole responsibility of the forward-cammed support hand.
As you cam the support hand forward, you must clamp the firing hand with the support hand. Your grip should not be a twist but a clamping action. If you feel like you are peeling your firing-hand fingers from the pistol, you may be twisting the clamp rather than clamping directly from left to right or vice versa. Try to feel the clamping equally on both sides of your firing hand.
I also point my support thumb toward the target. This helps to cam the wrist and point at the target. If you must, let your thumb touch the slide or frame, but use minimal pressure. Too much force with the thumb can push rounds to the right for a right-handed shooter and in the opposite direction for a lefty.
If your hands come apart every time you shoot, there are a couple of tricks that will help. One is to wear shooting gloves that are thin enough to allow you to feel the pistol, the trigger and all of the necessary parts. Another trick is to use Pro-Grip. This goo works well, but it and shooting gloves should be used sparingly until you can proceed without shooting aids.
If you are a military or law enforcement shooter, you may be able to use gloves. If this is the case, I would highly recommend shooting with them frequently to build your gripping technique. Manipulating safeties, magazine releases and slide stops is not as easy with gloves on. If you’re a civilian practicing for concealed carry, gloves could become a crutch that may not be available when the turd hits the fan.
Many instructors want to tell their students exactly how much finger to put on the trigger. Shooters come in all shapes and sizes, so I say place as little or as much trigger finger as you need to get the job done. I use more trigger finger when shooting accurately and less when attempting to shoot fast.
I feel the trigger better with more finger (accuracy) and can move the trigger finger faster with less finger (speed). Play with finger placement until you find what works for you. When I squeeze the trigger, I try to prevent my finger from rubbing on the frame of the pistol. This is unneeded friction and resistance that will only cause you to shoot poorly.