By David Patterson
Director of Training, Lotus Gunworks, Alamo Gun Range
Gripping a semi-automatic handgun correctly is essential to recoil management, trigger control, aim, and function. If your grip is incorrect or weak it will be very difficult to achieve consistency and accuracy.
Here are a couple of tips to keep in mind:
Let’s start with the dominant hand (shooting hand). The first point of contact begins with the web of the thumb and index placed high and snug on the backstrap of the pistol. Gripping a pistol too low on the backstrap can result in many problems. For one, it may prevent the trigger finger from contacting the face of the trigger properly, causing the shooter to have to adjust their hand each time to pull the trigger.
Secondly, when the pistol recoils it will tend to flip back. This motion can not only contribute to weakening the shooter’s wrist lock, but can hinder quick, accurate follow up shots. Additionally, excess movement of this sort increases the chance of a stoppage (commonly known as a “jam”). Achieving a proper grip and maintaining stability in the wrists and arms provides a stable platform for the pistol to cycle properly.
Space between the web of the thumb and the beavertail (the high curve in the backstrap) indicates the hand is too low on the grip.
Web of the thumb is high and snug in the beavertail allowing for more control.
There are various schools of thought on grip pressure. A good starting point would be to use as much pressure as you would for a firm handshake. Regardless of the description, a few things hold true. For obvious reasons, one’s grip cannot be so hard that it causes the hand to shake, however, the gun cannot be allowed to shift around in the hand while firing. Some beginning shooters tend to “milk” or heel the pistol. This can result from not having a firm enough grip to begin with, then tensing up as one anticipates firing the pistol. Heeling the grip will usually cause shots to break high as the palm pushes into the back strap, sending the muzzle upward just before firing. Milking the grip with the fingers may cause shots to break low as the fingers tense and pull the pistol down. Maintaining a very firm yet comfortable and controlled grip with the dominant hand is essential.
The support hand is vital for controlling and stabilizing the pistol. When adding the support hand, relax the thumb of your dominant hand first to create space between your fingers and palm. Now, wrap the fingers of your support hand around the front of your dominant hand such that the fingertips of the support hand contact or come close to contacting the knuckles of your dominant hand (placement will depend on the size of the shooter’s hand). Make sure your support hand index finger is against the bottom of the trigger guard. The thumb and heel of your support hand should fit inside the space you created with your dominant hand like a piece of a puzzle. Your support hand should contact as much of the grip as possible. Angle your support hand wrist forward. The support hand thumb should rest on the frame parallel with the barrel. Some shooters prefer a more “thumbs up” grip, but I like the thumbs forward grip as it gives the shooter a point of reference for aiming the gun. A thumbs high approach can impede the movement of the slide with enough pressure.
While commonly used in revolver shooting, this two-handed grip does not work well for semi-automatic handguns. The thumb should never be placed behind the slide of a semi-automatic pistol. The powerful rearward movement of the slide will cause injury to the thumb.
This grip commonly known as “Tea-cupping”, is not optimal because the support hand has insufficient contact with the grip providing little support.
Gripping the dominant arm provides little to no support when shooting. Better to just shoot with one hand.
Many instructors recommend roughly a 60/40% ratio of gripping pressure between the two hands, with the support hand having the most pressure. I think this can vary from person to person, but regardless, the pistol should not move in your hands when firing. When you fire a shot, if the pistol shifts in your hands and you need to readjust, you are not gripping firmly enough. Adjust the grip pressure until you feel the pistol is stable from shot to shot.
This article describes what I’d call the standard grip for a semi-automatic pistol, however there are variations and numerous approaches to achieving grip pressure, balance, and hand position. It may take some time and experimentation to establish a grip that works the best for you. Seeking good instruction is always worthwhile and can often get you where you need to be quicker than trial and error on your own. Be patient and persistent. Strong fundamentals are the keys to success!
For more information contact The Alamo at 239-593-0232