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Grip Your Handgun Correctly and Shoot Better

alignment

If you have taken any formal marksmanship class, chances are you have heard the fundamentals of marksmanship mentioned (grip, aim, trigger control, breath control, stance). These are pretty much universally accepted as the five main fundamentals. Depending on the focus of your marksmanship, i.e. marksmanship for competition shooting versus personal defense/combat focused shooting, the list of the five main fundamentals, which are most important, change.

When talking about self-defense shooting, things like stance and breath control are variables you have little control over. However, on a range where the environment is controlled, these are factors you have the ability to control and utilize to your advantage.

The Importance of Proper Fundamentals:

Most instructors, including me, would agree that the two most important fundamentals would have to be aim and trigger control. Basically, if you don't know how to aim your firearm at what you want to hit, and if you can't squeeze the trigger without moving the sights off target, you will never hit what you intend to hit. All this being said, I think there is a fundamental that does not receive its due place as one of the most important fundamentals, and that is grip.

To me, this is where the rubber meets the road, so to speak. Your grip is where you become one with that firearm and where it becomes an extension of you. The proper grip sets you up for quicker target acquisition, natural finger placement on the trigger, better support of the firearm and better recoil management. All these things become much more critical when shooting under compressed time, stressful environment or a less than ideal position. For these reasons, I want to give you all a couple quick tips involving the grip, that can help you in your marksmanship.

Establishing Grip:

First, your grip needs to be consistent and repeatable. Having an inconsistent grip will result in inconsistency in your accuracy, so it is important to train your hand to grip the firearm the same way each and every time, without having to think of where to place your hand. Let’s start by gripping your firearm high up on the backstrap with your dominant/strong hand. This is important for managing recoil.

The higher you can get your hand on the backstrap, without interfering with the function of the slide, the more the motion of the recoil is transferred horizontally back into your arm, rather than allowing the muzzle to rise sharply. This obviously will help drastically with accuracy when it comes to quick successive follow-up shots.

Secondly, your grip should be such that the firearm is aligned as nearly as possible to your forearm. Think of it as an extension of your hand and arm. Think of when you point your finger at something. Your finger is aligned with the rest of your hand and arm. This is how your firearm should be when held correctly. This allows you to have a more natural ability to present your firearm toward the target and have it close to where you are aiming. Think of it this way: you do not have to ‘aim’ your finger when you point at something, right? You merely point, and your mind and body connect subconsciously to guide your finger in that direction.

Try it yourself; pick a point on the wall (a light socket or something like that). Close your eyes, and point to where you think that target is. When you open your eyes, you most likely will be pointing very close to that target. If you try this with your finger bent and not straight inline with your forearm, the result will be much different.

Lastly, your grip needs to be solid and able to control the firearm. By now, most people have done away with the ‘tea-cup’ grip, ‘push-pull’ grip or other grips from a far distant time, but I still see people using them (or some variation) from time to time. These grip techniques are not taught because we have discovered that a proper grip comes from getting as much hand-grip contact as you possibly can.

Ask yourself this question, (and answer truthfully), what percentage of your grip would you say is divided between your dominant/strong hand and off/weak hand? Did you answer 50/50, 75/25 or even 90/10 in favor of your dominant/strong hand? Probably, because that is how most of us were initially instructed, or we developed that ratio on our own.

Why is One Handed Shooting More Difficult?

Now think about shooting one handed with your dominant/strong hand (if you haven’t, try dry firing your unloaded firearm now, using only your dominant/strong hand). How much more difficult is it to manipulate the trigger and hold your sights steady on your target? Much, much more difficult would be the answer you most likely will come to. So, if it is much, much harder to shoot with your off/weak hand removed from the pistol, it stands to reason that your off/weak hand plays a much larger role in getting a solid, stable and consistent grip on your firearm than we typically think.

In actuality, your off/weak hand should account for 75-85 percent of your grip. This will free up your dominant/strong hand to focus on not much more than trigger manipulation. Try to practice this during dry fire at home, prior to heading out to the range. That way, you will get over the initial awkwardness encountered when trying something new. After some time getting over the initial awkwardness, you will find it easier to squeeze the trigger without affecting your sight alignment.

poor grip
Let's acquire a good two handed grip now. Go ahead and grip your firearm with your dominant/strong hand, keeping in mind what we mentioned above. Look at all the surface area of grip exposed for your off/weak hand to occupy. Looks a little like a backward ‘C’ right? You want to trace that ‘C’ with your off/weak hand and slide that hand until it interlocks with your dominant/strong hand.

Keeping your thumbs from overlapping, place them parallel along the frame of the pistol. Try to rotate that off/weak hand forward (think about locking the wrist forward). Now, remember your grip distribution between hands (around 75-85 percent coming from that off/weak hand). If you have never gripped a firearm like this, it is going to feel awkward at first. Practice dry firing in this position.

proper gripOne important thing to note, I do understand hand sizes and guns come in countless variations. It is important to find the right gun for your specific hand size. A lot of manufacturers caught onto this and now manufacture guns that have an interchangeable backstrap to ‘customize’ the size of the grip.

Experiment with different grips and firearms to find what allows you to get a good grip, have your finger fall perfectly on the trigger every time and access the safety or magazine release, etc. Find the right firearm for you. Use a tried and true grip technique and see if your rapid fire target acquisition and recoil management improves after sticking with it for a little while.

Practice and give it some time to sink in. I think you will be pleased with the results. As always, remain vigilant and stay safe. Are you training enough?

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12 Responses to Grip Your Handgun Correctly and Shoot Better

  1. Richard A January 1, 2016 at 8:13 am #

    Reading and studying.Like the web site.

    • matthew May 2, 2016 at 10:28 am #

      Thank you Richard! Glad you are finding useful information!

  2. Ronald Hannibal May 7, 2016 at 1:35 pm #

    I’d like the know where’s the nearest training facility in the State of Pennsylvania. Thank you.

    • Jacob Paulsen May 18, 2016 at 7:19 pm #

      Ronald search on biz.usafirearmtraining.com

  3. Randal Bender February 21, 2017 at 7:56 pm #

    Thank you. Very informative article and nicely written. Great explanations for “fighting” the effects of recoil, which I struggle with. My grip setup is correct to this article but I have never tried the wrist forward technique. Can’t wait to get to range now and work on it. I realize this is an older article, but wanted to let the author know it is still coming in handy.

    • Matthew Maruster February 22, 2017 at 10:52 am #

      Mr. Bender,
      Thank you so much for your feedback on the article. I am glad you are getting some good tips from the information. I would love to hear if any of the tips resulted in improving your recoil management. Don’t lose heart either, that is one of most common things that ALL shooters battle. Even those who have been shooting forever. Thanks again, and stay safe out there, God bless.

  4. Matt N. April 17, 2018 at 12:38 am #

    Matt:

    The left hand (right hand dominant) is the issue for so many shooters I interact with. As you eluded to, differences in hand dimension, type of pistol and even the design of the left side slide release are all factors on how the support hand engages the gun. For instance on the HK guns, placing the support thumb high along the frame will engage the slide release regularly. Something I’ve adapted to and passed on to others is to use the side of the trigger guard as an additional place to “purchase” the gun if putting the support thumb high is not an option. It gives a similar amount of resistance strength without affecting accuracy or activating the slide release inadvertently.

  5. Jeff Johnson April 24, 2018 at 9:49 am #

    In the first picture (strong hand only on the gun), the strong-hand thumb should be pointing up, which increases the area available for the support hand to grip. I would bet that this is how you actually do it because it is consistent with your admonition to have as much hand surface area as possible on the gun to mitigate recoil. Thumb up also promotes getting the support-hand thumb pad higher up along the slide (when gun controls allow). The best shooters often have the support-hand thumb pad above the lower margin of the slide. This has starts with how you grip the gun as you remove it from the holster – thumb up.so that when the hands come together the thumb is out of the way of the support hand. Again, I suspect this is how the author actually does it.

  6. Craig April 24, 2018 at 10:10 am #

    The first illustration I think could have a few caveats added so it is not quite so authoritative. For instance, I am right handed and left eye dominant. So when I look at my shooting stance, my right hand and forearm look more like the right hand ‘Improper’ picture in the illustration. There is no other way to get the sights aligned w/ my left eye and the target.

  7. Bob Hendricks April 24, 2018 at 11:03 am #

    After using the Weaver stance for 30+ years, I’ve been re-programming myself to use the improved isosceles w/ the grip shown. One thing I could use a tip on though: when firing one-handed w/ the strong (R) hand, the gun recoils almost straight up (torques SLIGHTLY to the left) & comes back on target quickly & naturally. However, when shooting one-handed w/ the support (L) hand, the gun recoils back & sharply to the left, and takes much longer to return on target, & also requires some visual confirmation. I’m careful to keep the gun in line w/ my forearm, & I’ve been experimenting with different grips, canting the gun in the opposite direction, etc., with little improvement. Any suggestions on how to overcome this would be appreciated.

  8. Bob Hendricks April 24, 2018 at 11:04 am #

    Sorry, meant to say the gun torques RIGHT when shooting w/ the L. hand.

  9. Gary April 24, 2018 at 7:52 pm #

    Good article, but in the bottom image, the finger is On the trigger. The image directly above it, showing the one hand grip, is proper, the finger is extended and not on the trigger.

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