Best Pistol Grip Techniques for Self-Defense

Two-handed pistol grip

There are as many pistol grip techniques for shooting as there are people who shoot, but many of these choices group together in recognizable patterns.

We will review the major grip methods today to show the positives and negatives for each method.

One-Handed Pistol Grip Techniques

Before we dismiss the one-handed grip, it has a definite place and needs to be practiced. You may have an arm in a cast, a child may be in tow, or the off-hand may be in use gaining standoff distance.

That being said, a proper two-handed grip is almost always preferred.

The proper one-handed grip is much like a proper two-handed grip, minus the off-hand. The web of the hand should be as high up as possible on the pistol backstrap.

The index finger should index across the frame along the barrel until such time that a shot is required. The remaining fingers should wrap the grip tightly.

If you are not sure how tight, grip it as hard as you possibly can, then relax about 10-15 percent. The thumb should wrap around the top of the grip and provide pressure on the top of the lateral portion of the grip.

This keeps the web of the hand and the thumb out of the way of the rearward motion of the slide and aids with recoil control.

For revolvers, the grip will be a little lower as the grip design is lower. The thumb will also wrap lower.

This often requires the shooter to ride with the recoil through the wrist, as opposed to fighting the recoil.

For large/magnum calibers, this riding with the recoil often extends to the entire arm.

One-handed pistol grip technique
A one-handed grip is sometimes necessary when firing from retention.

Two-Handed Pistol Grip Techniques

The Teacup

This is currently the most popular grip used by the know-nothing people in Hollywood. There are some variations to this manner, but essentially the pistol is placed in a firing position with the shooting hand.

The off-hand is placed perpendicular to the grip and used to hold up the firearm and primary grip hand. The name comes from the fact that the off-hand looks like a saucer under your firearm, the teacup.

The best thing that can be said about the teacup grip is that it keeps your off-hand out of the line of fire. What it doesn’t do is help mitigate recoil or maintain a firm grip on the weapon.

Teacup Pistol Grip Technique
The teacup pistol grip technique is not the best way to mitigate recoil when firing your handgun.

Wrist Grip

This is the predecessor Hollywood-favorite grip. I have no idea where the idea came from that this was a great way to shoot, but it was very popular in the ’70s.


Clint Eastwood utilized it in the Dirty Harry movies when he did not have to do a quick-draw shoot.

As with the teacup grip, it does keep the off-hand out of the way of getting hit, but it does nothing for firearm retention or recoil mitigation.

If you have seriously weak wrists, it does act a bit like a tight ace wrap.

Wrist Grip Pistol Grip Technique
The wrist grip pistol grip technique keeps your support hand out of the line of fire, but is not the best way to control the handgun.

Pistol Grip Tips

The modern action sport, the two-handed grip is as follows:

  • Grip like defined above in the one-handed grip. Grasp the top of the grip as high as possible with the web pressed firmly into the grip.
  • The index (trigger) finger should be free to reach down the length of the barrel and reach inside the trigger guard with ease. The remaining fingers should wrap around the grip, with the middle finger in contact with the trigger guard.
  • The thumb should initially point up. The off-hand should be placed firmly on the off-hand side of the gun. The thumb rests just under the strong-hand thumb and runs down the barrel, pointing towards the target.
  • The strong-hand thumb drops down to rest on the off-hand thumb. The remaining fingers wrap over their friends from the strong hand as a secondary grip.
  • The off-hand thumb applies slight, steady pressure against the frame. This helps to offset trigger-induced movement to the left, as well as helping to stabilize the sight picture.
  • Do not cross the thumb, especially with the off-hand thumb reaching across to the strong-hand side. This will often place the thumb into the space where the reciprocating slide will travel upon firing. Being in this position can cause “slide bite,” a situation where the bottom of the slide bites out a bit of skin. It can also trap the thumb between a rapidly-moving slide and the pressure of the strong-hand thumb. This can result in a strained, dislocated or broken thumb.
  • The off-hand should grip slightly less strongly than the strong hand, but it should be a solid grip. The goal is to make both hands one with the gun. This adds at least 50% strength to your grip and thus reduces recoil movement by a similar amount.

Such a grip almost makes it almost impossible to limp wrist the gun and greatly reduces malfunctions caused by poor recoil control.

There are slight variations to this method, but the goal is to conform both hands into an overlapping grip that is strong and repeatable.

The high placement of the hand forces the recoil down the length of the arm, as opposed to primarily being rotational at the wrist.

By overlapping the thumbs instead of crossing them, you allow for easy release with the off-hand if needed and you save the underneath thumb from recoil-induced damage.

As mentioned earlier, pressure from the off-hand thumb acts as an aim stabilizer. The most important aspect of this two-handed method, is both hands are active in maintaining grip and fighting recoil.

This increases grip significantly, increases fine control of the weapon and decreases recovery time between aimed shots.

Proper two-handed pistol grip
A proper two-handed pistol grip technique allows for fast and accurate follow-up shots.

How do you grip your firearm? What are your favorite pistol grip techniques? Let us know in the comments section below!

About the Author:

John Bibby

John Bibby is an American gun writer who had the misfortune of being born in the occupied territory of New Jersey. His parents moved to the much freer state of Florida when he was 3. This allowed his father start teaching him about shooting prior to age 6. By age 8, he was regularly shooting with his father and parents of his friends. At age 12, despite the strong suggestions that he shouldn’t, he shot a neighbor’s “elephant rifle."

The rifle was a .375 H&H Magnum and, as such, precautions were taken. He had to shoot from prone. The recoil-induced, grass-stained shirt was a badge of honor. Shooting has been a constant in his life, as has cooking.

He is an (early) retired Executive Chef. Food is his other great passion. Currently, he is a semi-frequent 3-Gun competitor, with a solid weak spot on shotgun stages. When his business and travel schedule allow, you will often find him, ringing steel out well past 600 yards. In order to be consistent while going long, reloading is fairly mandatory. The 3-Gun matches work his progressive presses with volume work. Precision loading for long-range shooting and whitetail hunting keeps the single-stage presses from getting dusty.
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (6)

  1. SHOOTING TO LIVE: With The One-Hand Gun Paperback – June 2, 2017
    by W E Fairbairn (Author), E A Sykes (Author)

    Still in print and still the foindation of ALL successful combat shooting!

  2. Photos can be deceiving, but the one at the top of this article seems to show the left hand of the shooter to not be contacting the grip of the pistol. The easiest way to control recoil is to have the entire grip of the pistol covered by the hands. And, the NRA basic pistol course states that the weak hand grip should be stronger than the strong hand, not weaker, as this article contends. This also helps prevent the pistol from pushing to the left if the shooter does not perfectly press the trigger straight to the rear.

  3. The grip that I was first taught in the Navy in the ‘60s is similar to the “tea cup” grip except that the grip is cupped in the support hand with the fingers and thumb vertical and the bottom if the grip in the palm of the support hand.

  4. Years ago, I tried the Hickok45 grip, liked it and locked it into my muscle memory and reflexes. Watch one of his pistol videos. Note the position of his support-side thumb.

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