There’s a ton of handguns on the market in any number of different shapes and sizes. This vast array of options is great. It keeps manufacturers at the top of their game and innovation rolling. However, it also means choosing has become a lot more difficult.
Assuming you have a general idea of what type of handgun you’d like, such as a compact 9mm or a pocket .380, your options will be narrowed down some. Of what remains, see what fits your hand, feels right, and shoots best. Some shooters may be limited in choice due to natural size constraints. Someone with a smaller stature and hands may not be able to properly grip an HK MK23 .45 or the like.
Why is good hand fit important? Is it necessary?
Proper hand fit is important because it allows for a natural interface between the shooter and the pistol. When using a firearm, especially for defense, you want as few things to mentally juggle as possible. The last thing you want to be thinking about is how awkward the pistol feels in your hand. A proper grip helps you quickly present the pistol on target and get shots off accurately.
Although you may be able to get by with a pistol that does not fit your hand, why would you? With so many great options on the market and features such as interchangeable grip inserts, there’s a solid option for every shooter. Don’t settle for anything less than the best when it comes to your life.
There are a number of factors to consider when determining whether or not a pistol fits your hand. Do you have good control of the pistol while firing? Can you draw the pistol cleanly? Can you operate all controls? Does it have ambidextrous controls? Is there room for your support hand? Does it interfere with any controls or cause any malfunctions?
These will be determined by the dimensions of your pistol, mainly in the grip. Grip thickness, width, length, angle, and trigger reach will all affect how your pistol fits your hand. Any combination of these dimensions can create a completely different feel. Even the slightest differences, such as 0.2-inch difference in width between the Glock 43 and Glock 26, can make a big difference.
One of the main things that will change how a pistol feels in your hand is the thickness of the grip. This has a direct effect on the trigger reach (more on this later). Single-stack pistols in smaller calibers will tend to be thinner by design than other options.
Finger grooves typically make a grip thicker. The old Gen 3 Glock feels much more massive than the newer Gen 5 models with the straight grip. Finger grooves are also hit or miss. If they fit your hand, they can feel great. However, if they don’t, it can ruin the whole gun. I find it best to avoid them altogether if I can, as I’ve never had much luck.
Grip thickness will affect the alignment of the pistol in your hand. If you have to overreach (or underreach) for the trigger, you can twist and shift the gun in your hand and throw your shots off the intended target.
Something you’ll hear a lot of people talk about is grip angle. First, what is it? Grip angle is the angle that the grip is offset from the slide. This can be illustrated by viewing two perpendicular lines crossed at the center of your pistol, just to the rear of the trigger guard.
Imagine another line branching off from the intersection, angling down the length of the grip. The angle between the vertical line and the offshoot is your grip angle. There’s more to this, as both the frontstrap and backstrap angle will cause the pistol to sit differently in the hand, but we won’t overcomplicate things for now.
Some people prefer a steeper angle than others. Pistols such as the M&P, CZ P-10, and SIG P320 are around 16 degrees. Whereas the Glock is distinctly 21 degrees. One of the most famous designs, the 1911, has an 18-degree grip angle.
So, let’s get to the bottom of it. Does grip angle matter? Yes. You’ll likely naturally point and shoot pistols with a certain grip angle better than others. However, it’s not the end all, be all. With training and repetition, you can become proficient with any grip angle. It may become tricky if you try to swap between pistols with different grip angles. You may naturally point high or low as your body adjusts to one grip angle or another.
Grip length can be a factor as well, but arguably less so. Having room for your pinky finger is not as important as most people think, but it can make some more comfortable. However, as your grip length increases, you sacrifice some concealability. A gun with a longer grip is going to print more than one with a smaller overall footprint. Although, a longer grip provides more surface to grab when drawing your pistol.
Trigger reach is another measurement you’ll want to take into consideration. Your hand size and finger length will help determine your optimal trigger reach. This may also depend on where you prefer your trigger finger to land on the trigger, as there are different preferences and schools of thought on the matter. Some want the very tip of the finger, some right in the center of the pad, and others at the distal joint. The trigger mechanism of your firearm could be an additional factor.
Take note of the size of the trigger guard and whether or not it interferes with your trigger finger. Try this both with and without gloves, as they can add bulk that may cause issues.
A Note on Weight
Weight can be just as important as size. You need to be able to shoot the gun well and carry it all day (if it’s to be used as a CCW). More weight tends to be easier to shoot because it helps absorb some of the felt recoil. Lighter weight is going to be easier to carry all day, every day. This balance will depend on your tolerance and requirements in a pistol. If you demand a full-size .45, you’re going to tack on some weight.
In the end, some guns just feel better in your hands than others and this will usually translate to better results at the range too. Go to the range and get a sense of how various guns feel in your hand. Test-fire what feels right, you’ll likely be pleased with the results. Take note of what size and style of handguns you shoot the best, you may begin to notice a trend.
I test handgun fit two ways – first, I pick it up, settle it in my hand, and see how it feels; grip comfort, trigger reach, ease of working any manual safety, operation of mag release, etc. Then I pick it up one handed, focus my eyes on some safe target a fair distance away, close my eyes, raise the gun and point it at what I think is the target . . . and then open my eyes and check where the sights are actually pointing. I do this several times, and if the sights are pretty close to being on target when I open my eyes – the gun fits. If not, I move to something else. (Do I really need to say I verify the gun is unloaded and I’m still careful not to point it at anyone?)
I have admittedly smaller hands for a guy. Carry pieces like the P238 and P365 fit really well and I enjoy shooting them. I was really excited about the new 22mag MWP by Walther as I am a huge fan of this caliber however I was really disappointed in the grip size when I went to try it out. Walther made the grip far too large in my opinion and I believe they missed the mark of the larger audience for this semi-auto pistol. Heck I would have bought 3 on site had the grip been reasonably sized. Yes, apparently size does matter.
I am 90 yrs of age and still a very active shooter. I recently purchased a Beretta Model 21A .22LR because of its small size and has a threaded barrel for my Outback suppressor. Unfortunately I do not have enough strength in my arthritic trigger finger to squeeze the weapon to fire it even with the hammer cocked. I can fire it using the trigger fingers of both hands together, but not very accurately. Is there a way to replace the spring that controls the trigger movement with one having less resistance?
As a former NRA Certified instructor and shooter for over 50 years, I can add that fit and feel are more important to casual shooters than experienced shooters. I found it was very important that the handgun or rifle fit the shooter, so that their shooting experience is positive and not negative. Two basics with handguns, make sure that the pad of your trigger finger lands centered on the trigger naturally. This will keep the shooter from pulling the handgun to the side off-target. Also, #2, which sights are better for each shooter? I have a cardboard handgun with several different sights (white dot, orange front, etc.), which allows for comparison of which sight “feels” right, and it’s amazing how much this can affect accuracy. Get these two right and you are on your way to a fun shooting experience!
would like to identify the aftermarket grips on the Sig Sauer pistol photographs in the article
For my hands and preferences Ive found the CZ 75 compact to be my favorite pistol . It feels like part of my arm and I prefer heft regardless of how or where I carry . And the accuracy is outstanding . Comfort takes a back seat to effectiveness . I know that I can draw and fire and hit my target .
Thank you for your insights, which will be considered by the multitude of us who were born with small hands. Fortunately, gun manufacturers are finally advertising designated firearms to be considered to meet our specific needs, and there is a trend toward making more of these available, since there has been an increase in women becoming shooting enthusiasts. The “concealed carry” category provides us with even more alternatives. Thanks again. LWJ