Having a consistent grip is the foundation of shooting. I believe it was famed firearms instructor, Colonel Jeff Cooper, who said that if he had an hour to spend training someone with a pistol, he’d spend 50 minutes of that hour teaching them how to consistently obtain a proper grip.
After going through the safety steps I mentioned, grab the firearm that you want to start training with and take a couple of minutes to REALLY pay attention to how it feels in your hand(s). Take note of how every square inch of your hand feels and what it’s touching. You don’t even need your firearm in your holster right now. Just hold it in your hand(s) using whatever technique you have been taught or adopted.
This may seem kind of “touchyfeely”, but if you’re training for the possibility of using a firearm to defend yourself in a lethal force encounter, it makes sense that you take the time to “get to know it.”
In general, I’d tell you that you want to have a “natural” grip on the firearm. Here’s an example of what your natural grip would be when firing one handed.
- Bring your hands up to your face and make two fists.
- Pick a target to punch.
- Very slowly, go through the motions of throwing a punch with your shooting arm. Stop the punch when your arm is outstretched and is perpendicular to your body (making an “L”). Rotate your fist so that if you were holding a pencil or broom, it would be at a 45 degree angle to the ground.
If you were to release your fist, put your firearm in your hand, and make your fist around the firearm so that your sights are lined up with your target, you’d have your natural one-handed grip. By rotating your hand so that if you were holding a pencil or broom it would be straight up and down and bringing it together with your support hand, you’ll roughly have your natural two-handed grip.
Instructors differ on the nuances on the best grips, so I’ll simply encourage you to get competent instruction and train what they teach you. I’ve done formal training with numerous Spec Ops guys, local and federal SWAT operators, mercenaries/ security contractors, and one notable champion speed shooter, and their techniques are all slightly different based on their experiences and biases. In their common quest for efficiency and effectiveness, most of them have ended up with VERY similar techniques, so don’t get too hung up on minor differences from one instructor to another.
Your grip will be slightly different from firearm to firearm. My grip is different with my Glocks, 1911s, and with my revolvers. Grip angle is different, the girth of the grip is different, and the shape is different, varying from a square with Glocks to a rectangle with 1911s to an oval with revolvers. That being said, my grip on my Glocks is exactly the same every time. I know the feel of the grip against my hand and I know when it’s off slightly without looking. The reason I’m able to do this is that I took the time, several times, to consciously pay attention to how the firearm feels in my hand(s).
I pay attention to what each joint of each finger is touching and how it feels. I pay attention to the pressure on the webbing between my thumb and index finger. I know how far forward the thumb on my shooting hand goes and what it is touching. I know where my index finger will touch the trigger and I know what the side of the gun feels like when my finger is off the trigger.
On my subcompact, I know that my pinky slides under the grip with my subcompact mags and touches the front of the mag on full size mags.
As you’re holding your firearm, take a minute to identify these same specific feelings on your firearm.
Now move your hand slightly, figure out what’s different and what you will do to fix the situation if you feel the same in the future.
As an example, if you grab your firearm, the webbing between your thumb and index finger should be as high up on the grip as possible. If you recognize that you don’t have the right pressure against your webbing, you know that you need to move your grip up on the pistol.
As another example, I know that when I grab a 1911, my first knuckles are all straight in front of the front strap and I know how that feels. If my hand is wrapped around the grip too much or not enough, I know what I need to do without looking to correct my grip.
Besides acquiring a bad grip during your draw stroke, one of the most common corrections that you’ll need to make if you’ve got shorter fingers is during the process of reloading. On a semi auto with a thumb side mag release, most people can’t touch the mag release button with their thumb when they have a proper grip on the firearm.
To fix this problem, people generally “cant” their firearm or rotate it in their grip so that their thumb can reach the mag release button. At some point between when you depress the mag release button and when you get ready for your next shot, you’re going to need to reacquire a proper grip. Most people do this without thinking and have poor muzzle discipline during the procedure. I want you to focus on making these changes in your grip while maintaining proper muzzle discipline.
Take a couple of minutes and move the gun back and forth between a good grip and a grip that needs to be fixed. Make sure that you maintain proper muzzle discipline. Specifically, work on your response when you find yourself grabbing the firearm in the following ways:
- Too low of a grip.
- Too high of a grip.
- Web of your hand away from the grip.
- Bottom of your grip away from the butt of the grip.
- Two handed grip with your support thumb on top of your shooting thumb. (Leads to a “snake bite” or two slices across the top of your support thumb when your slide flies back during recoil.)
- Firearm turned too far clockwise.
- Firearm turned too far counterclockwise.
After you have gotten comfortable with the difference between the feel of a good grip and a bad grip, grab your firearm a few times while looking at it and then look away or with your eyes shut. Finally, following the dry fire safety rules, lay your firearm down on a table or the ground within arm’s reach, shut your eyes, grab it and pick it up 20 times in a row. Each time you pick it up, evaluate whether or not you are holding it correctly. If not, identify what’s wrong and adjust it until it feels perfect, open your eyes to confirm, then set it back down.
You’ll want to get similarly familiar with any weapons that you might use for self-defense. For now, let your brain focus on training with one particular firearm until the grooves in your memory are worn deep.