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Bite The Bullet

How To Grip Your Pistol (2002-10-01)


All pistols have different grip shapes and sizes. Modern day pistols are becoming ever more ergonomic, with advanced designs that mould grips to fit the human hand. One good example of an evolving pistol is the Glock. Two generations of improvement started from the "grenade grip" checkering that began in the 80?s to the finger grooves of the late 90?s have only made the gun easier to use. Other pistol manufacturers have come out with winners in brand new designs, such as the Walther P99 and the SigPro series. Of course, if you have a relatively old design, a host of aftermarket slip-on and replacement grips are available to enhance the feel of your favorite pistol. I for one installed a set of nice Pachymr grips on my Sig P226 for optimum performance.

However, no matter how good a grip design is, one gun cannot deliver the the best fit to every hand and every purpose. The target shooter may prefer one grasp, the competitive IPSC player shooting against the clock may need or want a different grasp entirely, and a third "hold" on the gun might be best for a serious skirmisher who un-holsters his pistol to squeeze off 5 to 10 rounds in a high adrenaline situation. Oh and lets not forget those cowboy-style shooting competitions that are ever so popular in Japan.

It?s not so much how we re-configure a pistol?s grip to our hands, but more about how we adapt our grip of the hand-gun. In this article, we?ll explore the elements of the pistol grasp, step by step. Note however that we will not explore the physics of stance, which is the total body position of the shooter from head to foot. Here we will only explore the single element of grasp, which occurs between the hand and the pistol.

Strength of Grasp
I will present this discussion in four schools of thought, each of which has an application for the various ways you might use your handgun. We?ll go from the lightest to the heaviest.

Trigger fingers at ready outside trigger guard Light Grasp
Some target shooters prefer a very light grasp. Only the encircling middle finger of the firing hand is actually applying any pressure at all, for fear that muscle tension can move the front sight from its tiny point of aim. The pistol is more or less resting on top of the middle finger on the web of the hand as, ever so slowly, the tip of the index finger gently draws the trigger to the rear.

This type of grasp is for slow speed target shooting only and cannot be used for any other situation. The light grasp accentuates the blowback recoil and this hold is normally used only in slow-fire scenarios with target bull eyes, where the rate of fire is only 3 ? 4 rounds per minute. Only the first joint of the index finger should be on the trigger (as permitted by the size of your hand). Giving the trigger "too much finger" might again deviate your delicate aim and you trade off muscle dexterity.

I?ve personally found this grip to be the most accurate and allows me to pinpoint a coin from 15 feet. Optimally, this works best with pistols that have a short trigger travel (and a light trigger at that), such as the Infinity SV Colt 1911 variants. Remember to use this grip only for precision shooting. Also remember to place your trigger finger at ready against the side of the pistol until you are ready shoot. A rule to remember is that your finger should never rest on the trigger unless you are prepared to fire your weapon. I can't tell you how many times I have picked up a new airsoft pistol to inspect it, and instinctively pulling the trigger and discharging the pistol as I absent-mindedly rest my finger on the trigger. This rule applies to any grip type and should be remembered at all times, and applies to all weapons types (not only pistols).

Medium Grasp
By its very definition, "medium" is a subjective word that is defined by an individual?s ability to give a maximum and a minimum. To add measure to our definition here, some expert shooters have been known to call this the "quail" grip. Imagine yourself holding onto a quail and your grip must be strong enough to prevent it from flying away, let gentle enough so you don?t kill it. In fact, this grip has been very popular with IPSC shooters who sometimes describe their grip as "40% hand strength from the firing hand, and 60% hand strength with the supporting hand.", or for short, the 40/60 grip. When shooting real steel pistols, this can be greatly complicated by the weight of the gun relative to the weight of the trigger, which is the determining factor in how hard you grip the pistol. Most airsoft pistols have fairly light triggers, which do not require a heavy grip. Unless you are working with an extremely light weight pistol, then it might make sense to grip the gun a little harder for fear that pulling on the relatively heavy trigger will move the gun in the palm of your hand.

A slip-on grip sock can enhance your grip especially on older model pistols Medium Heavy
A grip that is often used by shooters firing rapidly, this grasp resembles "holding a hammer and pounding nails", or like "shaking hands with a man you want to impress but not injure". In relative terms to maximum grip strength, this clocks in at around 85% and can be achieved by grasping the gun as hard as you can until your hand starts shaking, and then backing off gently until the shaking stops. This grip is the best for one-handed shooting in a high adrenaline situation such as close quarters skirmishing. The strong grip keeps the pistol generally aligned in your firing direction despite the blowback recoil, which gradually throws your aim off with each cycling. Firing with this grip pressure will take practice and one way to tell if you have developed this as second nature can be told with the following test. Using a pistol with checkered grips (e.g. Infinity SV, Glock 17, 18C) and load a full magazine of rounds. Fire them off in a string at around 1 round per second and then holster your gun. Wait one second and then check the palm of your firing hand. If you can?t see the checkering of the grip impressed into the skin of your palm, then it probably means you were holding the gun at something less than medium-heavy level force.

Heavy
This refers to the maximum force grasp, or the "crush grip" as referred to in the real-steel world. Critics of this grip sometimes call it the "gorilla grip". Whatever the name, the technique is simple: hold the pistol as hard as you can with both hands. Obviously significant downside comes with this grip since you develop hand tremors almost immediately, and muscle tightness affects the ability of your trigger finger to pull back in a smooth non-interfering motion. The upside is that the blowback recoil is minimized and subsequent shots are grouped in the same general direction even in rapid-fire modes. In high adrenaline situations where you are applying 200 pounds of force on the trigger, this grip will less likely throw off your aim. And more importantly, the gun is less likely to jam since it is relatively stationary and is able to operate like it was designed without any external forces applied that may affect the slide movement. Under stress, this is the best grip to use since you don?t have to worry about applying precise grip strength before firing. You just grab as hard as you can and squeeze off your rounds. Incidentally, this grip is also best when shooting full-auto pistols such as the Infinity SVF, Glock 18C, and Beretta 93R. Owners of these guns will probably have experienced "climb" during full-auto firing. Using the crush grip greatly reduces this and allows you to better control your "bullet hose". Some advocates of this grip also suggest starting in medium-heavy mode, and then clamping down into heavy mode just before firing to reduce tremors. This can be complicated since your timing has to be impeccable to prevent from losing your aim as you squeeze down on the gun.

Newer airsoft pistols have relatively controllable recoil and the heavy grip can be left to full-auto firing. Some older model airsoft pistols such as the MGC?s, which did not sport a delayed blowback design, would actually dip the barrel just before recoil, lowering your shots if the pistol were not held firmly. One example is the Omega Glock 17, which had a strong tendency to dip and only by grasping the gun with maximum strength was I able to maintain consistent accuracy.

It is important to note that the grip strength you choose to apply should not be predicated on how strong you are. It is all about the relative strength you apply (ie. What percentage of your maximum you are applying).

The Wedge grip on the Sig P226 Seating Your Pistol
There is much less debate among experts about how to seat your pistol. Almost all agree that the higher up the grip you hold the pistol, the better. This theory is dictated by the laws of physics; momentum equals force multiplied by distance. Momentum in this case refers to the ability of the gun to raise its barrel during recoil. Distance refers to the distance from the point that force is applied to the fulcrum (pivot). In our case, the force is the recoil of the pistol and the pivot is the point which we grasp the pistol grip. With the blowback power being constant, the farther down you hold the grip, the stronger the recoil is going to feel as a result of increased momentum. Therefore the higher up the grip you hold the pistol, the less recoil and blowback will affect your ability to keep the barrel leveled. One way of telling whether you have an optimally high grip is to check if a little ripple of flesh appears against the edge of your pistol?s grip tang. The middle finger of your firing hand should also be positioned as high as possible smack up against the trigger guard. Airsoft pistols were designed in an engineering environment where the frame was clamped down and the blowback and cycling tested. The closer your replicate this environment, the more reliable your pistol will be.

Support Hand Grasp
The position of your supporting hand is partially dictated by the size of your hands and by what works best to stabilize the pistol during aiming and shooting. By inspecting guns like the Glock and the SV Infinity series pistols, you will notice the checkered edge of the front trigger guard, which invites you to place your supporting index finger over it. However you will rarely see people using this position in real shooting scenarios. Unless you have unusually large hands, this position is difficult for many people and introduces the possibility of misaligned aiming if your supporting hand pulls on the trigger guard in a surge of adrenaline. On smaller framed pistols that have equally small trigger guards, this position may be possible but again if you watch real-steel shooters, this is a position rarely taken. One exception is cowboy pistol shooting, where many shooters seem to prefer this. That is the exception though rather than the norm.

For most people, a stronger and more consistent grasp is achievable by putting all four fingers of the support hand under the trigger guard. This is generally referred to the "wrap-around grip". In this position, the supporting index finger will no longer be slipping, or pulling the gun off target in one direction or another, as generally happens when the index finger is on the front of the trigger guard.

A variation of this grip is "the wedge", which involves moving the supporting middle finger up flush against the trigger guard and in front of the middle finger of your firing hand. You then cram your supporting index finger in front of your supporting middle finger as well so that all three fingers form a straight line under the trigger guard. This grip works especially well on double-action pistols that require a vice-like grip to maintain aim while shooting. It is a difficult grip to master and may not work with all hands on all grips, especially if your have thick fingers.

An alternate grip that I find very easy to use in conjunction with the light grasp is what I call a "platter grip". For lack of a better name, it resembles your support hand holding the butt of the pistol like you were holding a platter of food. It is a grip used more predominantly by people with weak arms. This grip allows you to lower your support hand elbow and prop it against your rib-cage for support. This grip can best be used when you need to train your pistol on a target for a long time (such as in a skirmish ambush situation) and want to minimize fatigue and tremor.

If you own an older model pistol that has very non-human friendly grips, you might consider investing in a grip-sock that enhances the grip of your pistol. This practice has been quite popular among police officers across the world.

High Thumb Position where thumb rests on slide lock safety on the SV Thumbs Up
Where to place your thumbs is probably one of the most frequently asked questions by new shooters. On some pistols like the Colt 1911 and variants, right hand shooters naturally find it easy to place their firing hand thumbs on the safety lever. This is known as the "high thumb position" and actually detracts from accuracy, as your thumb is prone to apply pressure and push the gun aim to the right. Many sharp shooters prefer the "straight-thumb position" which involves pointing the tip of your thumb forward to your target. This position actually gives you finer control of your trigger finger. The thing to watch out for in this position is for long thumbs to ride the slide lock lever. If you inadvertently hold down the slide lock, then the slide will not lock back on an empty magazine.

A third variation sees the thumb cocked 90 degrees at the joint and pointing down towards the ground. The good news is that the design of the human hand actually allows maximum grip pressure to be applied in this manner. The bad news is that shooters with large thumbs will find it obstructing the trigger finger as you pull the trigger back.

What about the support thumb? In all honesty, the supporting thumb does little to help aiming and recoil management, but it must be placed in a manner that least interferes with the operation of the pistol. Some shooters just stick it out so it doesn't get in the way. If you are using a straight thumb grip with your firing hand, you can choose to point your support thumb forward as well and slip it right underneath the firing thumb.

If you are using the "thumbs down" position, then you can either place your supporting thumb over the bent joint of the firing thumb, or over the thumbnail of the curled thumb. This combination offers the maximum gripping force and should be used by shooters favoring a crush grip. A more extreme version of this grip can be achieved by tilting the support hand forward and down to exert even greater grip pressure, but you may need to raise your shoulders a bit to compensate for this peculiar position.

No matter how big your hands are, and what size pistol you carry, it is important to master the grip that works best for you. Like a car and its driver, a gun is only as good as its shooter and mastering the interface between you and your pistol is the first step to better shooting.


SUBMISSION FROM STAR FLEET CAPTAIN - OCT 2005
I often enjoy your stories in your Bite The Bullit section, and had a bit of a remark on your "How to grip your pistol". In the section describing the 'support'-hand you were talking about a "platter grip", supporting your gun by grabbing the butt of the grip. Well, in the real-steel world, this is NOT the way to grip your pistol, unless it has no magazine place in its grip ( i.e. revolvers). If you take for example a Desert Eagle, which uses a free-floating magazine and hold it "platter" style, you're asking for jams, because you put pressure upwards on the magazine, which was ment to be 'loose' according to its design. Perhaps a funny side note, the Desert Eagle was developed as a target practice gun, which I think is funny when you see the intimmidating size of this canon.
But the fact remains, if you put too much pressure upwards on a grip-seated magazine, it results in more jams. This grip style is OK for most guns, but because of the exceptions it is wise not to adopt this technique. When I was in the military service my personal weapon was the Glock 17, which was also quite some time ago (about 10 years) and I was tought the same technique (platter-grip). It was only later when I heard about pistols jamming because of this technique.
It is true there are only a few weapons with which this is the case, so you could remember which guns and when using one, you make sure you don't grip these like that. But I find it easier to not use the platter-grip at all, so you won't make a mistake in the heat of the moment.
I do have to say that this is not the case with the airsoft counterparts, I never heard of an airsoft gun jamming beacause of the platter-grip.


SUBMISSION FROM HEATH BRADSHAW - DEC 2007
For your bite the bullet article how to grip your handgun, not only is gripping essential for shooting but how you position your arms is important too. One of the things for arm positioning is keep your arms loose, elbows bent so they can absorb the recoil. If your firing arm is pushed into the socket and you are using a high caliber handgun, it can cause injury. The support hand arm should be loose too since this will help with steadiness when you are using the wrap around grip. With your support hand for optimum support, its alright to keep your firing arm a bit straightened out, but make sure the elbow is slightly bent to absorb recoil for quicker recovery between shots. Of course with the limited recoil in airsoft, this isn't really a problem, but its a nice tip to know for real world shooting. Another topic of interest is how to rest your firing finger on the trigger, because most people tend to miss when they pull the trigger incorrectly, and its all too common that the pull and not press the trigger. For target shooting, its best to press the trigger with the tip of your finger around the trigger. For other stuff that's pumping adrenaline, its best to just pull the trigger.