Lock It Up: Why a Firm Grip Is So Important

Man with firm grip on 1911 pistol

A friend and I often discuss the life experience we have in common, including training and marksmanship. We see eye to eye on most things.

Not long ago, we garnered some attention at an NRA convention, not because of any celebrity we may have, but because we were yelling at each other to be heard, although we were face to face.

It comes with the territory I suppose. I hope the people three aisles over enjoyed our discussion.

Among friends, the time when the coffee is getting cold, the night deepens and the fire falls together, makes for a great deal of introspection and perhaps a pearl of wisdom is dredged up.

For most of my life, I have used as good a handgun as resources permit. If it were the smoothest Smith and Wesson revolver or a solid Colt 1911, I have mastered the pistol to the best of my ability.

Training is much more important than the gun, given a quality firearm of at least .38 caliber. When training, you first realize that what is possible isn’t impossible and with the proper training and follow-up practice, you will become a proficient shot.

Without talking too much about gun-flashes in the night, I have seen fierce battles to the finish. Only prior training is any predictor of your survival.

In this report, I am going to concentrate on one small part of the picture. I sometimes state that firearms training, like the firearms themselves, is a matter of irreducible complexity.

If one part fails, then they all fail. Failing to master the locked wrist is like having a broken firing pin. Nothing else will work without this part in place.

Racking slide on Kimber 1911
When you are racking the slide a firm grip is needed to provide a stable platform.

The Importance of a Firm Grip

When I am practicing with my personal defense handguns, I have the advantage of long experience and a handgun that fits my hand as an acorn falls into a cup, but sometimes I test other handguns.

They aren’t for me, but they are often very good handguns. I recently tested a small .380 ACP pistol that impressed me with its practical accuracy and reliability, but then with lighter loads, it did not lock the slide open on the last shot.

With the heaviest loads it sometimes short cycled. With the Hornady Critical Defense FTX, it ran all of the time. Naturally, that would be the carry load for this backup pistol.

However, when I clutched the pistol in a death grip, all malfunctions ceased. Had I begun with the proper grip, I would not have wasted so much expensive ammunition. I could have used it for training, and I knew better.

I keep a locked wrist and firm grip with all handguns. I suppose I subconsciously relaxed my grip because this was ‘just a .380.’ I love a light-kicking handgun and you probably do as well, but it is no time to relax the grip when the pistol is a light kicker.

As an example, when running a light handload (Hornady 185-grain XTP/Titegroup powder for 820 fps), I never experience a malfunction in my Commander .45, although this load is some 180 fps below standard or ‘fighting weight’ velocity.

I have not relaxed my grip and the pistol is reliable with this loading.

Man firing 1911
Note the 1911 .45 cycling and a cartridge feeding into the chamber. A strong grip is needed to ensure this reliability.

Hold Fast

In training classes, there are many people that do not quite understand the need for a locked wrist and firm grip. Some hold the pistol as if they were holding a dove in the hand.

The proper grip comes from holding the pistol ever more tightly until your hand trembles, then back up slightly. This will do for practice. This may be the tightest grip you are able to hold through a long practice session.

If you are firing for real, then grasp the pistol as tightly as you are able at all times. A little tremble won’t matter at combat distance. If you hold the pistol just tight enough that it functions every time, that isn’t the best.

The pistol may function, but you will lose both control and accuracy if you do not keep a locked wrist. Muzzle flip and felt recoil is greater with a weaker hold.  Keep a firm grip and the pistol will not batter your hand as much.

Man firing revolver
If you do not get a good hard grip, accuracy isn’t possible.

What About Revolvers?

Some say revolvers do not demand a tight grip, as they are not subject to malfunction. That isn’t true. Some revolvers will tie up during reset if you do not allow the trigger to reset fully forward.

A real problem with a weak grip and revolvers is muzzle flip. The bore of a revolver sets higher above the hand, and muzzle flip is daunting. A common problem is ‘heeling.’

As the revolver is fired, the grip slides up on the backstrap during recoil. A proper firm grip will solve this problem.

While the revolver may not be subject to short cycles, you will never control recoil or properly manipulate the trigger action if you do not keep a solid grip on the revolver.

Man gripping j-frame revolver
The revolver also demands a firm grip for proper trigger reset and accuracy.

It’s All in the Wrist

It is important to lock not only the firing-hand grip, but the support-hand wrist as well. Don’t neglect this important step.

The firing grip, the wrist and to an extent the elbow, become locked solid. It is ok for the elbow to flex a little — recoil has to be bled off — but it is bad news to allow the wrist to flex.

The self-loading pistol must have a solid platform against which to recoil. The slide moves to the rear during recoil and the recoil spring slaps the slide forward.

If the wrist isn’t locked and the pistol isn’t anchored, then the slide may not complete its rearward travel and the pistol may not feed. Short cycles are not uncommon.

The wrist takes a set and doesn’t tremble, it is solid when you are firing. You aren’t running a marathon, practice sessions may last no more than an hour.

If you have to fire in a personal-defense situation, the interval will be measured in seconds.

Man firing from retention
It is particularly important to maintain a locked wrist when firing below eye level.

Some Exceptions

When the GLOCK was first adopted wholesale in police circles, some complained of short cycles. In every case, unrelated to sub-standard ammunition, the culprit was a weak wrist.

The shooters had gotten by with this when issued revolvers, but the GLOCK — and SIG and Beretta as well — told the tale of the weak wrist, and some of the culprits were pretty strong fellows.

I once trained a female cop who was anxious and her hands trembled as she handled the agency-issue Beretta 92. Her grip was solid. She never suffered a malfunction and came to be a fine shot.

While we had work to do on fundamentals, she had the proper mindset and gripped the pistol with all of her strength. You do the same, and the locked grip will be a platform for further development.

GLOCK pistol with malfunction
Even the most reliable handguns may short cycle without a proper grip.

When you grasp the handgun on the draw, the grip is locked on the handle. It isn’t gripped as the draw is completed, and certainly not as the handgun is brought on target.

As soon as the fingers slide around the grip and the palm presses into the handle or stocks, the grip should be firm and solid.

Otherwise, you will be pretty slow and not have a good grasp on the handgun. Practice, grip the handle correctly and practice good shooting!

How do you practice gripping the firearm? Have you ever had trouble with keeping a firm grip? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.

Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Rifle Magazine
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns

Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
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 (7)

  1. When I was at MP school one of the instructors emphasized a tight, firm, equal grip. Equal meaning just that; make sure all fingers are on the same page. For example, if your middle and ring fingers are not equal to your pinky a thumb in regards to grip pressure you will be all over the place. Even a subtle difference can throw you off. At first I had to practice holding the gun to understand what her was referring to. After that it was very clear and my groups greatly improved.

  2. I was told long ago that the only consistent grip is the death-grip. Any looser grip is never going to be the same from shot to shot, especially when you shoot fast and your other fingers start trying to move with your trigger finger. The same guy (WW2 vet) told me that in combat, you’ll be very tense anyway, so you might as well practice shooting that way.

  3. Good article and discussion. I was taught to always grip tight and lock the wrist regardless of what handgun I was shooting (Thanks Dad). If the guns allowed to move around, each successive shot then has a different grip and any consistency’s lost. Just seemed to make a lot of sense 50+ years ago.

  4. Push the gun forward as if you are throwing a punch, as hard as you can, while meeting it with your off hand as you begin to push out. Lock the weapon in by rotating your left “or off hand” so your thumbs are in line with each other pointing at the target. To get your hand high up on the bore, rotate your off hand by swiveling it forward, your off hand should fit in the groove between your fingers and hand on your strong hand. Push with the right annd pull with the left to lock it in place so that it can’t be knocked away even by a good smack. Now shoot by lining up your sights and releasing your breath

  5. A most excellent and informative article. Some people new to shooting also need to learn about trigger pull breathing and determine which eye is dominant over the years I’ve had to retrain myself because I adopted bad habits I now shoot with both eyes open only my fingertip touches the trigger I squeeze gently and I shoot at half and exhale the system seems to work well for me . Can you draft an article with these multiple steps for the new shooter?

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Your discussions, feedback and comments are welcome here as long as they are relevant and insightful. Please be respectful of others. We reserve the right to edit as appropriate, delete profane, harassing, abusive and spam comments or posts, and block repeat offenders. All comments are held for moderation and will appear after approval.