Handgun Grips: What Works, What Doesn’t
You might see someone holding their gun like this at the range. It's best to avoid doing the same.
Get a grip. No, I mean get a good grip on your pistol. With the right instruction, the gun will become an extension of your hand and arm and allow for accurate aim. Proper grip also helps you handle recoil and allows you to control each shot and quickly get back on target. I’ve seen my fair share of “what-not-to-do’s” when it comes to holding a handgun, so let’s take a look at a few grips you might see on the range that you should avoid. Bad Grips Teacup Grip
We’ll start with the well-known “teacup.” With this type of grip, the shooters strong hand is on the gun and the support hand is resting below the grip, cradling the strong hand. Often, shooters learned this grip years ago, and many military members were also taught this form.
The downfall of only having only one hand on the gun is less support for recoil. Basically this is one-handed shooting with a platform. The teacup grip is often shown in movies and TV shows (especially in the 90s), however, it’s not the most practical way to shoot.
When shooting a semi-automatic pistol, crossing your thumbs behind the slide is a dangerous move. As the slide blows back, the bottom edge can catch the top of your thumb and slice it open.
My first aid kit is stocked with Band-Aid’s for those unfortunate students who forget to follow my instruction. Instead, stack your thumbs one top of each other, on the same side. Not only does this provide good support, but it’ll keep your digits out of the way of the slide.
If arthritis or other finger mobility is an issue, there are ways to adapt while still keeping your thumbs free from danger, even if it means pointing them upward rather than level with the slide. This grip can be a viable revolver grip, but more on that later.
Index Finger in Front of Trigger Guard
In regards to having the index finger in front of the trigger guard, a student once said, “they have seen some successful competitors doing this at a match and they feel that it gives them added recoil control with smaller profile guns.”
Because the recoil will travel in the path of least resistance, having one finger away from the grip will allow the gun to travel slightly in that direction. Instead, wrap all of your fingers around your strong hand, underneath the trigger guard to form a tight grip on all sides, minimizing the recoil.
Gripping the Wrist
Making your wrists firm while shooting is important, but gripping the wrist is not the way to go about that. Both hands should be on the gun, otherwise the benefit is similar to the teacup grip—nothing. Sadly, the movies have depicted this grip also, but that doesn’t mean it’s correct. Instead, use both hands on either side of the gun to help stabilize the recoil and reduce muzzle flip, as mentioned above. We’re not Dirty Harry!
A revolver grip is slightly different from that of a semi-auto. Place your shooting hand as high up on the back strap as possible while leaving enough room for the hammer to cycle. Your trigger finger should be along the side of the frame, with the remaining fingers wrapped around the grip, under the trigger guard. The four fingers of your support hand cup around the strong hand, while your support hand thumb can cross over on top or sit slightly below your strong hand thumb. It’s important to keep fingers behind the cylinder, not in front, to prevent burns from the hot gasses and particles that are released when a revolver is fired.
Some revolver shooters prefer to rest their support hand thumb between the strong hand thumb and index finger, in the webbing area. I’d caution against this grip, mainly for the reason that habits are hard to break. If someone moves from a revolver to a semi-automatic using this grip, they might forget to keep their thumbs out of the way of the slide, resulting in injury.
Good Semi-Automatic Grip
Get a good grip from the start. The area between your strong hand thumb and index finger forms a V-shape. That “V” should slide up as high as possible on the back of the firearm. This helps control the recoil each time the gun is fired.
Keeping your trigger finger indexed on the side of the slide, wrap the remaining fingers around the grip of the gun, with the middle finger touching the bottom of the trigger guard. With your support hand, place the muscle area of your thumb and the rest of your palm into the open surface on the grip. It should fit similar to a puzzle piece. Wrap your fingers over the top of your strong hand, but don’t interweave them.
Both thumbs should be on the same side, with the strong hand thumb resting on top of the support hand.
At the end of the day, each shooter’s grip may be slightly different based on their physical limits. Adaptations can be made as long as each person is safely handling their firearm, and accurately hitting their target. Striving for the ideal grip is the goal, but developing a way for each individual to continue to practice and improve their skills is key.
Stacy Bright is an NRA Certified Pistol & Rifle Instructor and a Missouri Concealed Carry Instructor.