A good and proper handgun grip can make or break your shooting experience. Too loose of a grip, and you’ll surrender control. Too tight of a grip, and you’ll leave yourself subject to movement and tremors. How to grip a pistol is one of those topics that will garner a thousand different answers if you ask a thousand other people. There’s a good reason for that.
First and foremost, your grip is going to be exactly that, yours. How you grip and hold a handgun, where you arrange your thumbs, how tight you grip a gun, it’s all going to depend on you, your shooting style, and the firearm. Once you’ve mastered gripping a pistol, you’re more than likely going to have to adjust that grip to different makes and models.
One thing to be aware of that is essential when gripping either a semi-automatic pistol or a revolver is making sure you’re keeping your fingers/parts of your hands clear from any potential danger.
Semi-automatic pistols have slides that articulate back and forth when they fire. That slide movement can cause injury if you’re not careful where you place your fingers. I have a couple of “I know a guy” stories about this, like one individual that had a portion of a thumbnail getting caught in the takedown notch of a .50 caliber Desert Eagle. As the slide continued rearward, it took with it a part of the nail, leaving him bleeding. He probably should have been more mindful of where he was resting the thumb of his support hand and should keep on top of maintaining well-manicured nails. Another guy I know split open his thumb from gripping a tiny .25 ACP pistol because his thumb was up and behind the hammer/slide of the gun. From closely witnessing “this guy’s” mistakes, I can tell you that it’s vital to watch hand placement. Experience and proper training, as well as situational awareness, would have adverted these events.
Slide bite of the top of the shooting hand is possible if an individual is gripping their semi-automatic too high. If your hand is full-figured and a good deal of meat extends upwards, pay close attention to whether that slide is going to greet the top of your hand as it’s coming rearward. If it does contact your hand, it’s going to hurt.
On revolvers, you need to be aware of the cylinder gap. Because of hot gasses escaping at the opening, you can and will get burnt if your fingers are next to that area when the gun is fired. There are some excellent videos you can check out if you do a search looking for such material. One such video obliterates a piece of paper, and another destroys a hotdog—no need to cook the digits. Be mindful of this space on revolvers.
For semi-automatics, a thumbs forward method is best employed. This will give both a high level of control/stability to your grip and aid in keeping the thumbs out of harm’s way if done correctly.
As noted above, when gripping a revolver, it’s crucial to stay away from that cylinder gap. The best way to do this is by crossing the thumbs on the top side of the grip.
How much grip pressure you should employ needs to be discussed. Again, different people, different pistols are all going to render other gripping pressures. You want a firm grip with decent pressure applied to the frame of the gun with the thumbs. You don’t want the handgun to be able to jump out of your hands, but you also don’t want to white-knuckle it. I’ve heard the best possible explanation on how much pressure to use when gripping a handgun is to imagine squeezing a lemon. You want to grip it firmly, but not so hard that you squeeze out all the juice. Use that as a starting point and adjust accordingly.
With practice and experimentation, you’ll master your grip. Training with an instructor is something that should be done to have them walk you through the process if you’re unfamiliar with it. Monitor your success and watch those digits! Gripping a handgun properly is conceivably one of the most important fundamentals when it comes to the overall control of your firearm, especially in a self-defense situation.
Be safe out there and think before you do!
John Petrolino is a US Merchant Marine Officer, writer, author of “Decoding Firearms: An Easy to Read Guide on General Gun Safety & Use” and USCCA certified instructor, NRA certified pistol, rifle, and shotgun instructor living under and working to change New Jersey’s draconian and unconstitutional gun laws. You can find him on the web at www.johnpetrolino.com on Twitter at @johnpetrolino, and on Instagram @jpetrolinoiii