The Proper Pistol Grip

By CTD Blogger published on in How To

Many words and much debate has gone into discussing the proper way to grip an autoloading pistol. Some argue that the proper grip is to have your thumbs forward, some that the thumbs should be up, while others insist that the thumbs be locked together. I’ve even heard it recommended that the thumbs be canted away from the gun to ensure they do not interfere with the action or inadvertently hit the slide lock.

Which is correct?

The Role of the Primary Hand and Support Hand

Pair of Caucasian man's hands demonstrating the right grip for a black 1911, barrel pointed to the left on a light gray background

A hybrid of the “Thumbs-Forward” and “Thumbs-Up” grip on a 1911 handgun. Note that there is a gap where the slide lock lever is.

One point of agreement among nearly all experts is the role of the primary hand and the support hand.

  • The primary hand should apply slight pressure to the front and backstrap of the grip
  • The support hand squeezes from the right and left side.
  • In order to maintain positive contact with the gun, the support hand should be such that the heel of the hand is nestled within the gap left by the shooting hand on the left side of the grip.

Your support hand should do most of the work here—your shooting hand has enough to do working the trigger, safety (if equipped) and magazine release. Most instructors explain that your support hand should provide 60% of the grip, squeezing side to side, while the shooting hand provides 40% of the grip squeezing front to back.

While you’re practicing your grip, make sure you don’t have a death grip on your pistol. You want a firm, solid grip to be sure; you don’t want a “white knuckle” death grip. Think of it like holding a small squirmy animal: you’re not trying to crush it, just keep it from getting away from you.

Now, what about those pesky thumbs? What do you do with them?

What About the Thumbs

As far as I can tell, it doesn’t really matter too much so long as they are not interfering with the slide or controls. That said, I don’t recommend using the locked thumb method.

The locked thumb method can interfere with the support hand’s ability to have good solid contact with the grip panel. By wrapping the thumb of your support hand over the thumb of your shooting hand, it pushes the heel of your palm out away from the grip. The presence of this gap makes the gun tend to turn towards the support hand under recoil.

Many competition and tactical shooters recommend the thumbs-forward grip as it is a more intuitive method to point the pistol at your target. The question then becomes: Do you lay your thumbs along the slide, or hold them away to minimize any interference? Here, the experts are split.

  • GLOCK pistol shooter Dave Sevigny keeps his thumbs laying right along the side of the pistol.
  • Brian Enos on the other hand keeps his thumbs away from the pistol.
  • Some Sig Sauer pistoleers have noticed that having the thumbs along the side while using a thumbs-forward grip causes the slide lock lever to be pushed down so the handgun will not go into slide lock on an empty magazine. Conversely, GLOCK pistols can be inadvertently locked back by riding the slide lock lever.
Todd Jarrett, in white ball cap and neon yellow shirt shows off his shooting skills at the USPA Steel Challenge

Todd Jarrett using a thumbs forward grip at the USPSA Steel Challenge.

The Benefits of the Thumbs-Forward Method

The thumbs-forward method demonstrated by Todd Jarrett in the photo is perfect for shooting 1911 handguns. With this method, the frame-mounted safety is positioned directly underneath the shooting hand thumb, making it incredibly fast and intuitive to draw and disengage the safety selector in one smooth motion.

With a gun equipped with a high-ride beavertail making it easier to get a higher grip on the pistol and extended safety lever, the thumbs-forward method is very natural and comfortable.

Shooting semiautomatic pistols using the thumbs-forward method really becomes useful when used in action pistol or tactical applications where speed and accuracy are both needed.

By positioning the thumbs-forward along the slide (or slightly off of the slide) you are in essence creating a second sighting device: wherever your shooting thumb is pointing is where the pistol is pointing.

This makes it incredibly fast to draw the pistol, get your proper grip, and press forward to the target without needing to hunt around for the front sight. As Colonel Jeff Cooper explained, “The body aims, the sights confirm.” If you are watching the target (which you should be) as you press forward using this grip, the front sight should naturally come up into your view, presenting you with a very fast and natural sight picture.

Do you have a preferred grip to get the best results when you’re shooting? Tell us all about it in the comments section.

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