A proper handgun grip is the difference between accurate shooting and sloppy shooting. It also helps ensure you’re safely handling your firearm each time you draw from your holster or pick it up from the range table.
If you decide to use Hollywood movies, television shows and cartoons for real world reference when it comes to properly gripping a handgun, chances are you’re going to be gravely misinformed, and you’ll have scattered target groupings to show for it. We know you’re smarter than that, but let’s talk about a safe and efficient way to grip your handgun without making common mistakes you might see while shooting with others.
What Is A Proper Grip And Why Is It Important?
You can ask ten different gun owners or fellow shooters at the range what a proper handgun grip looks like, and unfortunately, you’ll probably get at least three to four different answers. You’ll even see skilled shooters from different military branches grip their guns differently from one another, but I assure you that the one common factor with all of them is their grip is a safe and effective one.
When it comes to handguns, semi-automatic pistols and revolvers require different grips and there are two main reasons for this. The first reason why these grips differ from each other is because semi-automatic handguns won’t expel hot gasses out of the slide the same way a revolver will. Unlike semi-automatic pistols, revolvers have a cylinder central to the gun that holds the live rounds. The round being fired has a gap and isn’t as contained as the slide of a semi-automatic pistol. For this reason, gasses escape through the side of the gun upon firing, and those gasses and sparks can be quite hot if your fingers are in the way.
The second reason why pistols and revolvers require different grips is because of the same aforementioned slide on a semi-automatic pistol. If you’ve never had the pleasure of firing both a revolver and a pistol, revolvers don’t have a mechanical slide that gets blown back with the pressure of each round being fired. Semi-automatic pistols rely on the blowback force from the discharged round in order to chamber another round from the magazine, while revolvers require no such force due to having a cylinder that feeds the rounds and rotates with the cocking of the hammer. Even an internal-hammer revolver doesn't have any mechanical slide that blows back, and therefore your hands can be higher up on the grip than with a semi-automatic pistol.
The main reason why proper grip is important is, at the core of it, to control the firearm in a safe and effective manner. Now, we can break that down into multiple factors, such as trigger control, stability, recoil management and preventing accidental discharges.So throughout this article we’ll touch on all of those and more.
Let’s talk about some of the top mistakes people make when gripping the handgun and how you can avoid making those same mistakes.
Mistake 1: Trigger Discipline
Sometimes the internet can be a blessing with the wealth of information it can provide, including videos that allow casual shooters to learn from other peoples’ mistakes. While that’s a double-edged sword, it can be very productive for you to actually look through the endless videos available when it comes to firearm safety and mishaps.
I’ve linked one of my all-time favorite examples showcasing a lack of trigger discipline above. One of the reasons why it’s my favorite is simply because it illustrates how somebody in a position of authority, like an instructor, can make a rookie and dangerous mistake. It proves that no matter who you’re with, or what firearms you’re around, you should take it upon yourself to always make sure that safe firearm handling is being practiced by all parties involved.
On a live range, everybody is a range safety officer in the sense that anybody can call a cease fire if they witness a potentially dangerous situation. Do yourself a favor and check out the video above before going on to my next paragraph.
How was it? Did you cringe like I do every time I watch it? I feel horrible for the guy standing behind the instructor. Judging by the fact that this person was being filmed, I can imagine that this “instructor” had been doing some questionable things prior to the camera being turned on.
Anyhow, a proper grip is a proper grip when you don’t put your finger in the trigger guard until you’re ready to fire. If you watch the video, this guy obviously wasn’t ready to fire when he pulled the trigger, thus his surprise and the nearly bruised head that almost came of this.
When you practice a proper grip regularly, from either picking the gun up from a surface or drawing from your holster, you’ll subconsciously begin to always have your finger in the proper position. Again, proper grip is keeping your finger outside of the trigger guard until you’re ready to discharge a round from the barrel at a target you’re willing to destroy.
So while many of you may see trigger discipline as common sense, it really is the number one mistake I’ve seen people make when it comes to proper grip. Proper grip should be practiced any time you’re holding a firearm, not just when it’s pointed in the direction of your target. On a personal note, I’ve been to plenty of outdoor ranges that don’t contain any structure of a shooting lane, and have watched people walk with a gun pointing either straight up or straight down with their finger in the trigger guard.
One misstep and the round would have been raining down who knows where, or even worse, would have hit a rock and ricocheted into somebody’s leg. I’ve even seen a round ricochet and hit somebody in the thigh. Thankfully it didn’t penetrate his pants, but just seeing the live round kick back the direction it did was enough for me to get in my car and cordially depart the group I was with.
Ok, enough about trigger discipline, you get the point. Let’s move on to a few other mistakes people make when gripping their handgun.
Mistake 2: Too Firm Of A Grip
I’ll be honest, I went back and forth on adding this mistake to the list, but I know it’s an important one. While the next mistake on the list is the counter to this, and much more obvious, I felt that having too firm of a grip couldn’t go ignored. There are a few reasons for my logic on this.
Now don’t confuse a firm grip with having too firm of a grip, as these are two entirely different issues. A firm grip will control your gun’s recoil effectively, while too firm of a grip will fatigue your hands and (as strange as it may sound) cause you to adjust your grip more than needed.
When I’ve been with shooters where you can obviously see the restricted blood flow in their hands, indicating their grip is tighter than an angry Darth Vader, I’ve almost always witnessed grip adjustments between shots. I find it to be very similar to driving a vehicle where people who grip the steering wheel a bit too hard are the ones that “over correct” their car. This often causes them to bounce between the lane lines like a young child’s ball while bowling for the first time.
When I emphasize having too firm of a grip, the category I think this falls into is more of the person’s overall demeanor being too tense. Tensing up and having a death grip on your firearm will cause tremors and irregular breathing. Both tremors and irregular breathing will cause your shots to not hit where you’re aiming.
You may not even realize the problem is with your grip, which will lead to an obvious waste of money for you to correct a mistake that you’re having a hard time recognizing. So as a reminder, too firm of a grip almost always correlates to a tense shooter and tense shooting almost always correlates to shot anticipation, which we’ll cover further down this list.
While you should always maintain a firm, comfortable grip that obviously isn’t too tense, you need to make sure that your grip doesn’t relax too much to where you can’t manage the recoil of your firearm, which we’ll discuss next.
Mistake 3: Grip Isn’t Firm Enough
A firm grip is necessary to control your firearm through all the stages of shooting, from drawing your gun from a holster, all the way through to firing follow-up shots. Then, your grip needs to remain firm and controllable as you either re-holster or safely set your gun down after shooting.
The obvious problem with the mistake of not having a firm enough grip is simply dropping your gun unintentionally… which should never happen. If you don’t practice having a controlled grip, especially when it comes to drawing from a holster, you risk dropping your gun in the process of aiming. (And yes, I’ve seen it happen.)
I’ve witnessed this in a controlled environment on a range with nearly no stress involved whatsoever. So if you plan on using your firearm in a defensive situation, where stress and timing is a critical component, you really need to emphasize controlling your gun.
Now, aside from dropping your gun in any situation, there’s another reason why not having a firm enough grip can negatively affect your shooting. A loose grip will not control the recoil of a firearm, plain and simple. When it comes to shooting your handgun, a proper grip is imperative due to how your gun recoils between shots. The force of the round being discharged has an equal and opposite reaction, which is to push the barrel of the gun up and back toward the shooter.
A proper grip on both types of handguns ensures that the force of the recoil is managed and minimized with both hands counteracting the blowback and supporting the force of the shot by firming up the pendulum that is a recoiling firearm. That was a mouthful of a sentence, but here’s a good way to look at it.
If you were to put a rod through the trigger guard of your handgun and then have a string to pull the trigger, the gun would spin backwards like a wheel on a bike. The job of your hands (and elbows for that matter) is to be stiff enough to counteract that force. The higher and tighter your grip is in the back, the more manageable that force from blowing back becomes. If you didn’t have any fingers in front of the grip, then the gun would simply flip over your hand and fly back toward your face.
This is why the front of your grip is just as important as the back. The bottom fingers wrapping around the front of your grip are keeping the gun from kicking up while the higher fingers on the back of the grip are keeping the gun from kicking back. The combination of the two is what keeps your handgun as steady as possible.
Mistake 4: Interweaving Fingers
Just because we’re speaking about using both of your hands to stabilize your gun, that doesn’t necessarily mean that one-handed shooting is bad. In fact, you should actually practice shooting with one hand just in case you ever find yourself needing to do so. The reasons for needing to shoot one handed could be anything from qualifying for a competition or sharpshooter certification, or even a real world defense situation where you may not have access to shooting two handed. However, this article is really meant to emphasize the importance of a two handed grip and how to avoid mistakes when shooting with both hands.
As I’ve mentioned before, each hand plays a pivotal role in counteracting and stabilizing recoil between rounds and layering one hand over the other helps reinforce and maintain such stability. But while shooting two handed is the most stable way to fire a gun, there is one very common mistake that new shooters make when gripping their gun with both hands - interweaving your fingers.
Layering your hands on your grip helps stabilize your shooting, but weaving your fingers together compromises the stability by causing less surface area of your hands to actually be touching your firearm. If you put your hands against something with your fingers straight, you’ll notice that you create a sort of “wall-of-skin” that will maximize how much of the grip you’re touching. Once you weave your fingers, a bridge is created between each finger, lifting your hands away from the grip of the gun.
Not only that, but firing a gun with interwoven fingers will likely cause pain once the recoil hits, as the pressure of your fingers squeezing together will feel as if your bones were being squeezed together. I can’t explain the anatomical reasoning behind why your fingers hurt so much when being squeezed tightly and abruptly from the sides, but trust me when I say that the pressure that your fingers will experience will cause your hands to be sore and fatigued very quickly and that pain will linger quite a while.
Mistake 5: Gripping Too Low
Gripping your gun too high is one problem that you’ll correct almost instantly if you find yourself accidentally making this mistake, especially with a semi-automatic pistol. If you’re gripping too high on a semi-automatic pistol, the blowback of the slide will teach you this lesson instantly and will do quite a fine job at clearing your high hands on its own. If you’re shooting a revolver with your hands too high, which is actually kind of hard to do, you’ll risk getting burned by the expelling gasses out of the side of the cylinder, as I mentioned before.
Gripping your handgun too low may not actually be as obvious of a correction at first, and this problem is another one that is far more common than it needs to be. One group I’ve noticed who grips guns too low more than others is people who are shooting handguns that are too big for the size of their hands. Granted, firing guns that are too small for people with big hands is a problem too, but too small of hands for a certain handgun tends to yield many more “low grippers” than any other group I’ve seen.
Positioning your hands too low on the grip cannot manage the recoil effectively and your firearm will blowback further and far more violently than it would if you had kept a high and tight rear grip to counteract the pendulum. If you’re not expecting it, like most people unknowingly gripping a gun too low, you risk having the gun fly out of your hands and possibly hitting you in the head… or worse.
I’m willing to bet that it’s nearly impossible to get off any half decent follow-up shots if you have too low of a grip on your gun, as you’ll be fighting yourself to aim more and more with every shot you take. When you have your gun gripped properly, the recoil is managed better and the amount of deviation from your aiming is minimized, letting you get follow-up shots off quicker.
Mistake 6: Trigger Finger Placement
Yes… trigger discipline is important and yes we’ve mentioned this, but no… at least in the context of this article, trigger finger placement is not the same thing as discipline. What I’m referring to when I mention trigger finger placement is the actual shooting finger that’s pulling the trigger and which “pad” of said finger is actually being used to pull the trigger.
This is actually another problem that I’ve witnessed with people firing guns that are either too large or small for the size of their hand. I’ll also add that this is something that offers best practices, but varies from shooter to shooter depending on the person’s hand health. One example of a factor that tends to dictate how much of one’s finger is actually in the trigger guard is a condition such as arthritis, and there are plenty of arthritic shooters out there. They don’t always keep the same form when it comes to hand position, yet they can make it work just as effectively as a fully healthy hand.
Now, if you’re firing a handgun that’s too big for the frame of your hand, you may find yourself pushing the trigger away from your shooting hand. You can’t get as much of your finger pad within the trigger guard, thus pushing the gun in the direction away from your shooting hand.
Instead of your finger pulling the trigger straight back, it’s yanking it to the side. Counter to that, if your hand is too large for the gun you’re firing, you may have to place too much of your finger through the trigger guard, and you could find yourself either pulling the firearm toward your shooting hand or pushing it away.
Ideally, you never have your joint on the trigger when you shoot. The “pad” of the tip of your index finger should be pulling the trigger straight and steadily back toward your grip. This is something that, again, is a best practice, but you’ll need to find the true “Goldilocks” zone of your firing finger with whatever gun you’re working with. And just because your hand is one size, this doesn’t mean that you’ll never find yourself firing a handgun that’s either too small or too large, at which point you’ll need to adapt.
Mistake 7: Shot Anticipation Flinching
This mistake is far more of a mental mistake than it is a physical one when it comes to your grip. As I mentioned earlier, being too firm and tense with your grip can lead to tense shooting and shot anticipation. Anticipating a shot may seem like something you want to do, but it’s counterproductive.
As strange as this sounds, imagine waiting for somebody to slap you in the face. The moment this person begins to swing their hand, you’ll naturally tense up and flinch away. Yes, I know avoiding a slap in the face is the better outcome, but roll with me here. If you are waiting for a loud bang and a huge recoil of your shot, you’ll subconsciously attempt to counteract this motion. In doing so, you’ll prematurely compensate for such a reaction and find yourself likely pushing your gun forward and shooting low on your target.
So the best thing you can do is to know your trigger, your trigger’s “wall” and the amount of “slack” that your trigger has before hitting the wall (the point at which a trigger has the last bit of resistance before releasing the firing pin).
When you’re familiar with your trigger, yet not necessarily anticipating the upcoming shot, your brain won’t attempt to counteract the motion and you’ll find you’re a straighter shooter in the process.
Using Mantis To Help You Improve Your Grip
It’s no secret that our entire line of Mantis products will help you become a better shooter, even within your first session using our systems. But did you know that the data our suite of products offers you is second to none and will show you how stable each of your shots are, from initial draw all the way through your follow-up shots? You can even use our products for dry fire and bb/pellet guns, which keeps costs down and opens up your training to more environments, such as your home or office.
So whether you’re a new shooter and trying to get a grip on shooting, or you’re a veteran shooter trying to maintain your skill level on a regular basis, our entire line of Mantis products can help you achieve your shooting goals and make or keep your shooting skills sharp.
I hope you either learned something in this article, or at least were entertained enough while reading it. If you want to make the absolute most of your training, then check out everything we have to offer at www.mantisx.com.