Safety and Training

Get a Grip and Don’t Lose Your Thumb! How to Correctly Grip Your Revolver

Cylinder Gap Explosion

S&W 460XVR blew my thumb off today! No joke, about 1/2 of my left thumb is gone … what’s left is a friggin mess.

This urban legend really is no joke. The escaping gasses from a revolver can seriously injure you. Due to the higher pressures in the round, the bigger the caliber, the higher your risk for injury is. When your fire a revolver hot gasses and particles released will come out of the cylinder gap. If your fingers are near or covering the cylinder gap, you can be severely burned, cut, or worse. The cylinder gap is the gap between the cylinder and the barrel. The back part of the cylinder, closest to the grip will not hurt you.

In 2008, a man named Todd Brown shot his S&W model 460 revolver, chambered for .460 S&W Magnum, and blew off the top of his thumb. He filed a frivolous lawsuit against S&W saying he “placed his support hand under the trigger guard to support the weight of the gun.” Brown and his lawyer attempted to sue S&W for negligence on not warning the shooter on how to hold the gun properly. S&W puts a warning in their revolver manuals to keep your fingers away from the cylinder gap.

There is a correct way to hold a firearm. Rifles, shotguns, semi-automatic pistols, and revolvers are different in the proper way to grip them. If you have been shooting a semi-automatic pistol for a while, you might think that the grip on a revolver is the same, but it is not. Most likely, your grip on your pistol is what we call “thumbs forward.” This is when you have both your dominant thumb and support thumb along the side of the gun’s frame, pointing forward and away from the back of the slide. If you were to grip your revolver the same way, your thumb can be in the danger zone of the cylinder gap.

To properly grip a revolver and avoid an injury, take the grip in your dominant hand and place the top of the backstrap directly into the web of your hand. This will place your hand high up on the grip. This helps manage recoil. Then cup your support hand over your dominant hand. Point your dominant thumb down under the cylinder release and cross your support thumb over your dominant thumb. Both should be pointing down and nowhere near the cylinder gap. This grip is the “thumb over thumb” grip. Julie Golob in her book, Shoot describes it as, “The thumb of the support hand hooks over the thumb of the strong hand.” The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) reported in the year 2000 that there were 23,237 firearm-related non-fatal accidents. The best way to prevent any accident is to make safety your number one priority. Training and practice helps a lot, as well. Before cleaning, dry firing, target practice, transporting, or any time you are around your gun, follow these basic firearm safety rules:

  1. Make sure the gun is unloaded. Check it twice to make sure.
  2. Always keep the barrel pointed in a safe direction. Never point a gun at something you are not willing to shoot.
  3. Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot.
  4. Know your target and what is behind it.

Do you own a revolver? How do you grip it? Talk about it in the comments section.

To read about how to grip a semi-automatic pistol, read our blog post “The Proper Pistol Grip.”

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 (16)

  1. I just purchased a Ruger single six .22 convertible, this is my first revolver so finding this article helped me a lot, thank you

  2. i have never owned a revolver but plan to buy one soon so this post was very insightful on how not to blow your thumb off when shooting a revolver thanks CTD always making us better shooters

  3. I tried many different techniques before adapting my own modified combination of the ‘fist grip’ and the ‘cup & saucer grip’ techniques with applied isometric tension: As defined in U.S. Army FM 3-23.35. It’s not completely either technique but somewhere in the middle of both. It’s almost the same (and probably is) as Jerry Miculek’s example above, especially that on the right.

    I use this grip with both revolvers and semi-autos and it works just fine that way and has for many years now. I’m sure someone here will try to tell me that I’m doing it wrong but save your bandwidth – I know what works for me.

  4. Any firearm you pick up can do a number on you. If you aren’t familiar with it, and are too much of a ‘know-it-all’ to find out how to properly deal with it, you will be the first to know where you screw up.
    And I’ll keep my Rugers and Tarus’ in .357 over 99% of pistols, thank.

  5. I have a Ruger Super Redhawk 44Mag, 9.5in. You can not take this relvolver lightly,or the 460 smith&wesson,and so on. If you do not know the fire arm you have to get proper instruction before handling and shooting it.And read the dam book for it first. These magnum revolvers are no joke. I’ll take a revolver over a semi auto anyday, they are far more accuate. I had my revolver to close to my gun rest(bean bag)and it cut right threw the cover. Never did that again.But i will say better that then my thumb. I’ve handled firearms for a long time now, you’ve got to pay attention.

  6. If they have trouble learning about where to hold a revolver then have them look over a Ruger in 357 MAXIMUM. After looking at the Top strap where it is flame cut
    from almost any use they would know. If it can cut steel then flesh is not a problem.

  7. I use a thumbs forward grip on my SP101. My support thumb is nowhere near the cylinder gap. I can’t imagine anybody holding a revolver in a way that would injure their thumb. If so, they should get the Darwin award.

  8. Thats like a buddy of mine(or was:) was holding his new auto hand gun and had his other hand on top of the hand that was holding it. 10 stitches.

  9. @ voice of have good points but for pin point accuracy and reliability I would go with my model 67 revolver over. Any semi auto hand gun anyday..including my beretta 96d 40cal.. (verified kill shot with this pistol at 230 yards USMC IRAQ 07′ )

  10. This is a big reason I don’t like revolvers. I wonder how many of them come out of the factory with misalligned cylinders, not to mention that you never want to fire one after dropping it on a hard surface without having a good gunsmith check the cylinder allignment and correct it if needed.

    I’ll take a good automatic over a revolver any day.

  11. If you cant maintain control shooting a revolver one handed, the gun is way to big for you to be shooting. Excellent & informative article

  12. I made the mistake of shooting “thumbs forward” with my Taurus Raging Bull (in .44 Magnum). I was wearing gloves at the time because it was quite cold out that day. While i did not “blow my thumb off,” i did scare the crap out of myself. When the tip of my gloved thumb shredded and i couldn’t feel my thumb, i literally felt the pucker. Turned out my thumb tip was a little scorched from the blast. Lesson learned big time!



  13. I shoot revolvers and enjoy doing so. I use a thumbs forward grip but have pretty small hands. I have shot everything from J frames up to N frames, and the new .45/.410 revolvers with no ill effect.

    A loose grip which allows a lot of movement of the “support” hand can often lead to problems, and those with extra large hands may also have problems, but for the vast majority of shooters, if they do nothing stupid, it is a non-issue.


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