If I had to pick one key that will give you the single-biggest measurable improvement in your handgun shooting, I would pick a proper grip, hands down. Managing the trigger, while important, does not make a significant difference if the grip is wrong. Managing the sights, while very important, is not the key, as long as we are talking distances at which the handgun is best used in (3 to 25 yards). But developing a proper grip—now that is the real secret!
I would guess that about 95% of all of the students I have trained are not gripping their handguns as well as they could to maximize their shooting speed while maintaining a measurable level of accuracy.
So how do we obtain a high level of control on a handgun? Simple, pay attention to the physics that actually cause recoil, and then work on minimizing it with proper leverage and friction.
High-Performance Grip Definition: “The method used to hold the gun with both hands to create positive, neutral, maximum control.” So we’re talking the same language, the important terms in that sentence mean this:
- Positive = We control the handgun; it doesn’t control us.
- Neutral = The muzzle recoils and returns to the exact same spot it started without us pushing it in any direction.
- Maximum = The most control possible that leverage, friction, and our current level of strength can achieve.
- The gun hand should grip high on the back strap directly underneath the tang of the weapon, giving the advantage of having more leverage against the weapon. The key to getting the hand (very) high on the back strap is not just by placing it there, but instead driving the gun hand high up on the grip during the draw process by coming onto contact with the handgun from slightly behind it. The web of the gun hand should be almost pinched by the back strap area of the gun. As a side note, when placing the strong hand on the gun, the hand should be positioned to allow the shooter to press the trigger straight to the rear during trigger manipulation.
- The support hand should be positioned so that it is pressed firmly against the exposed portion of the grip not covered by the gun hand. Most important, I try to get my support-hand palm in as much contact as possible with the rear corner or the grip. I start my support-hand index process by “judi” chopping under the trigger guard. Then, to get your support hand in the right spot, you will have to flag your strong-hand thumb after the draw process. This allows the support hand to completely engage that part of the grip. All four fingers of the support hand should be under the trigger guard, with the index finger pressed hard underneath the trigger guard. The support hand should also be as high as possible, with the thumb pointing forward toward the threat. If you look at your support-hand thumb, a good visual is to see it roughly below where the slide meets the frame. There should be a distinct fit, like the fitting together of two puzzle pieces with the gun and support hand. Make sure that you get the support hand on the back portion of the grip panel, or at least as much of it as possible. Those of you who have been taught to roll your support hand forward [“to lock the wrist tendons”] and that the fingers must absolutely point down at a 45-degree angle when the hand is open should consider that rolling the support hand too far forward will take the palm away from the rear portion of the grip. In addition, you can lock your wrist tendon in any position. By rolling the hand too far forward, you actually pull your support-hand palm away from the back of the gun. Think about that for a second. If the gun recoils that direction (to the rear), would it not make sense to have some pressure there?
- Lock the wrist tendons. Locking the wrist tendons is a critical component of controlling recoil. Failure to lock the tendons will result in the gun “bouncing” above and below the line of sight (like the movement a dolphin makes when it swims). Lock the wrist tendons in both wrists to maximize recoil control. Additionally, lock the elbow joint in one place, but make sure you keep a slight bend in them to allow recoil to travel to the rear, rather than up. Hyper-extended and locked elbows will only allow the recoil to travel straight up (bad).
Applying pressure on the rear (back strap) of the grip will be the most effective way to control recoil, and this area should receive as much pressure as possible from the heels of the hands. I focus on applying pressure to the left rear part of the grip with my support hand. Another way to practice this is to imagine that your fingers on the strong and support hand are glued together in your final grip, and that the fingers of your support hand cannot slide. Now, think about squeezing your palms together, increasing the pressure on the back of the gun as you extend it toward the target. This automatically increases pressure against the back of the gun.
The combination of having both hands high on the weapon and applying force to all available gripping surfaces allows the synergistic effect of leverage and friction to work together to control the weapon.
Simply gripping the gun hard with both hands gives an immediate improvement in recoil control. To improve upon this more, focus on putting grip pressure slightly greater with the support hand, allowing the gun hand to remain more relaxed for smooth, quick operation of the trigger.
Don’t forget that a really important part of the process is the amount of pure hand and wrist strength you possess. Anyone can improve his or her hand and wrist strength.
In season, simply shooting a bunch is my primary grip-strengthening exercise, but I do work to improve my strength in the off-season. I focus on pure gripping strength by using different load-hand grippers such as the ones made by Captains of Crush.
For overall forearm, tendon, and finger strength, I use two exercises, both done with a 10-pound sledgehammer.
- Tire slams: Get a big tire and beat on it with a proper swing, tightening your grip as you make impact. If you doubt this method, find an old-school blacksmith who uses a heavy hammer all day and see if you can outgrip him in a handshake. I doubt you will win.
- Pot stirrers: Suspend a sledgehammer with the impact portion in the air, and then rotate the whole thing in circles like you are using the handle to stir a pot. Try the rotations in both directions. These are great for building wrist strength, and they actually helped cure tendinitis that I was getting from shooting.
These grip tips and exercises should help you maximize your ability to control the recoil of the handgun—which will lead to improved shooting speed and accuracy.