Competitive Shooting

How to Find the Proper Handgun Grip

Top down view of a proper grip angle when shooting a semi-automatic handgun

The term or phrase “get a grip!” has at least two meanings. One meaning is to keep or recover one’s self-control by making an effort to control one’s emotions and behave more calmly: “I just think he ought to get a grip on himself.” The other “get a grip” can refer to gaining an understanding of something, or how to deal with something that is obviously not right, and you must get a grip on the problem. For example, getting a grip on your finances.

For those in the shooting sports — especially those new to handgun shooting — getting a good grip has yet another interpretive meaning. In the handgun shooting disciplines, a good grip can refer to the portion of the firearm one holds on to or (more importantly) the way one secures a firearm in their hand. The most important aspect of a good grip (as in grasping the firearm) is ensuring that the firearm and hand size are compatible.

Custom wood grips plates on a 1911 pistol
A nice, but unusual, set of grips adorn this custom 1911 pistol.

Hand Size

The firearm/hand size discrepancy is most often seen with ladies who are new to shooting than it is with men. Men are more often seen with a proportionally-larger hand size. However, once the basics of a proper grip are understood, the best way to ensure size compatibility is for the prospective shooter to try as many handguns as possible.

Whatever you do, don’t buy simply because the salesman recommends a particular model, it is the least expensive, or simply available right then. For the ladies, this can be termed ‘shopping’ and should be something they will enjoy as it aligns with their genetic predisposition for shopping nicely. So, for the ladies, think of it as trying on dresses or even better… Shoes!

As important as the fit is to a lady’s feet, so it is with the fit of a firearm to her hand. A good, firm grip is necessary to control your firearm, for a steady aim, and recoil absorption. In other words, the hand needs to fit the handgun like Cinderella’s foot fit the glass slipper. See how much fun this is already?

Continuing with the “trying on shoes analogy,” try this procedure. First, ensure the firearm is unloaded and in a safe condition. Then, secure the handgun by picking it up from the muzzle end with your support hand while making a “Y” with the thumb and fingers of your strong hand. Next, place the back strap of the firearm into the “Y,” so it is centered in the web of your hand and forms a straight line down through the forearm of your strong hand.

Additionally, try to place the hand as high on firearm as possible. The self-check (to see if you did it correctly) is to point your arm straight down. If you can trace a straight line through the front sight up your forearm (as in the illustration), your grip is correct. Remember, your hands are the primary interface between you and your handgun. The grip you establish is the primary arbiter of how fast and accurately you will be able to shoot, so a correct grip is a must.

Top down view of a proper grip angle when shooting a semi-automatic handgun
The straight line that the correct grip on a 1911 pistol looks like.

Once the correct hand position is established, it’s necessary to determine whether the fit is correct by ensuring you can comfortably reach and operate all the controls (trigger, safety, slide, and magazine release). On a semi-automatic pistol, the index finger should touch the trigger with the center of the finger’s distal pad touching the center of the trigger.

With your grip centered and your finger placed correctly on the trigger, look at your hand and gun from the top. You should see a slight C-shaped curve in your finger, with some space between your finger and the frame of the gun, to operate the trigger correctly. Finally, and most importantly, can you safely and comfortably retract the slide to load, unload, and clear malfunctions? If all those operations can be performed without needing to readjust your grip, the gun fits Cinderella style.

top down view of a proper grip showing a 'bent c' shape made by the trigger finger
Notice the slight “C” shaped curve in the trigger finger indicating a good fit and a correct grip on a 1911-style pistol.

With a revolver, the most important aspect of the correct grip (once established) is to be able to fire the gun double action without rotating it in your hand to gain more leverage. Operating the cylinder release is also important, but some movement and grip change is permitted, because the correct grip can then be reestablished correctly after the reloading process has been completed.

Defensive Shooting

It must be understood… when the goal is defensive shooting and the target must be hit multiple times in rapid succession, having the correct grip becomes critical. The defensive handgunner must achieve the proper fit so the elements of a proper grip can all be mastered — especially hand placement and gun alignment.

When a pistol is too big, there is a tendency for the shooter to rotate his or her hand inward to reach the trigger with the index finger. This rotation also occurs when a shooter doesn’t have sufficient hand strength to press the trigger rearward.

side view showing how to measure gun fit and trigger finger length for a semi-auto handgun
A good pistol fit (from the side) showing enough index finger length to comfortably manipulate the trigger on this 1911.

This rotating of the hand enables the shooter to position the trigger deeper on the finger for more leverage. It also tends to feel more comfortable. I tell my students, “If the grip feels comfortable, it is being executed incorrectly. If it feels uncomfortable, they may have it correct.

The other issue with rotating the hand for more leverage is that the recoil of the firearm is now absorbed on the joint of the thumb which does not have the strength of the web of the hand. This can result in a number of problems occurring, including flinching and malfunctions.

For an easy test to see whether your grip is correct, return to the “trying on shoes analogy.” Start by clearing and checking the firearm to prepare for dry fire practice. Stand in front of a mirror. Grip the handgun and raise it up, sighting down your arm, through the sights, at the reflection of your eye in the mirror. If your grip is correct, you will be precisely on your eye’s reflection.

If the firearm is not straight in your hand, (pointing to the right or left) your grip is off. If your hand is too small for the handgun, it will be pointing to the right (right-handed shooter). If you are not looking straight at your reflection and are instead off to the right or left, it is your stance that needs to be corrected. That should help you determine whether the handgun fits.

Fortunately, having a handgun that is too small is something that can be corrected. However, a handgun that is too large will always be a problem. Also, be aware, there are some instances where an individual’s bone structure, injury history, or medical conditions may create conditions that are much more difficult to work around. However, a good instructor should be able to help with those kinds of handicaps.

side view showing how to measure gun fit and trigger finger length for a double-action revolver
A good revolver fit showing enough index finger length to comfortably manipulate the double-action trigger on this Smith & Wesson Model 686.

This column was not meant to be a complete explanation of the proper grip but was instead intended to provide the information necessary to determine whether a handgun is too large for an individual’s hand size. In conclusion, my final “trying on shoes analogy” reference, “If a woman can’t have too many pairs of shoes, a man can’t have too many handguns.” I rest my case! Stay safe, train often, and practice, practice, practice!

Do you have a tip for a proper handgun grip? Share it in the Comment section.

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 (3)

  1. This is one lesson I wish I had years earlier. This technique has made a huge improvement for me. Much appreciated Ed, nice to see another great article from TRMIMITW.

  2. The web of the hand between the thumb and trigger finger has little padding, so I recommend to students and customers that they use a grip that transfers the bulk of the recoil into the palm of their hand. This is not always possible, which makes the placement of the fingers along the front strap of the grip important. Sometimes finger-groove grips help and sometimes they are a hindrance. Other factors that can assist include soft recoil absorbing grips and checkering or dimpling. Those with sensitive skin may prefer smooth grips.

  3. Another fantastic article by my favorite author ! I look forward to each and every one of your articles and wish you could write more often. I have gained A wealth of information from you and I appreciate the firearms education . I also would like to think you’re publisher encourage him or her Talk you into more articles

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