It was the late 1960s, and Guy Hogue had a problem: Like so many other shooters and Southern California law enforcement (LE) officers, the grips of his sidearm didn't fit his hands. He solved that problem, as did many others, by making his own grips. Unlike those others, his not only fit his hands but the hands of other shooters as well. And as a bonus, they looked good. Unlike the rest of those personal grip-makers, he had a steady stream of officers at his garage workshop looking for a set of grips for their revolvers.
He soon found that his workshop wasn't large enough to handle the volume of work, so he moved into a dedicated workspace. In rapid succession, he left law enforcement, expanded his new business, and then expanded again.
By the time I began working in gun shops in the late 1970s, Hogue had expanded the line into molded rubber grips. I worked in and around Detroit, and the Detroit Police Department had a smart sidearm policy back then: If you could shoot a passing score, you could carry it. As a result, we had a lot of LE customers who packed .41s, .44s and .45s on the job, and they appreciated the comfort Hogue's rubber grips provided when dealing with recoil.
I met Hogue at the 1984 Second Chance Combat Shoot. He had a trailer with all his products in it; he could deploy the full array of his grips and accessories in a display and offer them for sale. Many of these grips were mounted on actual handguns, not just demo mock-ups. One in particular was a Smith & Wesson Model 58. I picked it up, opened and closed the cylinder, and then dry-fired it. It was beautifully smooth. I looked at Hogue, who was watching me closely, and said, "If you ever want to sell this €¦ "
Smiling, he finished my sentence with, "You'll be the 1,573rd guy in line for it." That .41 Magnum was unfired but had been worn white from being handled by guys like me. It had been dry-fired a bazillion times. It was smooth. And the grips? Hogue's soft rubber, which helped tame the recoil of .41 Magnum loads.
Magnum revolver shooters were not the only shooters back then who appreciated Hogue grips. IPSC and Bowling Pin shooters also sported these grips on their competition guns. IPSC shooters favored his rubber grips on 1911s for their nonslip grip, which is important on hot, humid summer days. Both IPSC and Pin shooters favored Hogue grips in part for the reinforcing panel the molded grips had as a support and stiffening structure. A steel panel inside each side of the grips kept them from warping, but also protected our hands if a case would let go. In the early days of the .38 Super, we didn't have many choices for powder. Some overeager shooters might use their cases too many times or select a less-than-optimal powder (too-fast burning), and they'd have a case blow on them. Pin shooters did much the same in .45 ACP that were loaded hot to broom sometimes-recalcitrant pins off the tables. With Hogue grips fastened to your 1911, not only did you get the nonslip benefit, but also the cost of a blown case was merely a (sometimes) trashed magazine and a bit of embarrassment. With wood grips, you'd risk picking splinters out of your hands.
I liked Hogue grips for another reason: They were affordable commodities. I could snatch a set of Hogue grips off the display, and with knife, belt sander, Dremel or soldering iron, modify them to fit my hands, clear a speedloader or try some other experimental approach. They were rubber, not expensive, and if my bright idea wasn't so clever, no big deal. Doing that to a nice set of wooden grips might be pricey and painful. There was also a psychological advantage: If you stepped to the line with a pair of brutalized grips bolted to a worn-white pistol, the other shooters would wonder just how much practice you'd put in. This could be beneficial in a one-on-one match.
Since that time, Hogue Inc. has expanded several more times and added extensively to the line. They now have four plants making grips and accessories of almost any kind. They make model-specific grips for some 16 different handgun types. They make grips designed for competition, carry, duty and hunting. If Hogue doesn't make grips for your pistol or revolver, then you have something rare. They also make them in colors, not just the run-of-the-mill shades. A veritable rainbow is available for various uses and tastes.
If you don't favor rubber, Hogue makes wood grips, grips of harder synthetics and grips with integral lasers.
They also make rifle furniture in their over-molded line. Here, they take the structural element of rifle furniture, such as an AR-15 free-float handguard, and then mold a rubber covering over it. You get the strength and durability of the aluminum tube handguard (which is nearly indestructible) and the nonslip and insulating benefits of the rubber: A bonded covering that won't slide off.
There are also pistol grips for ARs, and Hogue designers have shaped them to be clones of 1911 grips, right down to the 1911 angle.
They make carry cases, holsters, knives and over-molded rifle stocks; once you see it, the totality of the Hogue line is extensive.
Even in a successful company, there are developments that stand out as clever ideas, hot items or ubiquitous products. The Hogue HandAll is one such item. Brainstormed back when the Glock was new, it solved a vexing problem: The perfect pistol wasn't perfect. The original texture of the G17 was pretty slick, and since it had no replacement grip panels, we couldn't change the grip. So Hogue developed its slip-over grip. The HandAll was more than just a section of inner tube (an approach we all tried back then), and since its introduction, I have literally seen it around the world. The most recent sighting was on a sidearm in the belt of a plainclothes security officer in the Kathmandu, Nepal, airport. Not very hidden, very worn, and no, I didn't take a photo. (There are times when it is best to forget one has a camera.)
Now there are even Hogue smartphone cases for those who keep up in the digital phone wars (I'm still using a flip phone), and the Hogue smartphone case can be had in a choice of colors as well.
Hogue is retired now, but the family business is forging forward. It's run by his sons, Aaron and Pat, and a nephew who is not just a grip maker but also a serious 3-Gun competitor.
Hogue grips are not merely a commodity on the wall of your local gun shop. Hogue Inc. is an American success story. Where else but here could one man start making something so prosaic as a set of grips for his revolver and end up retiring at the head of a successful company, with four plants, hundreds of employees and be a household name to a million or more customers?
That M-58? Lost in the mists of time. I have no regrets — it would have been snapped up a thousand times over before it had ever gotten to me. And all this time, I've had the benefits of Hogue grips to depend on. I still do.
For more information, visit www.hogueinc.com