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Perfecting Your Handgun Grip

Grip that gun as if your life depended on it, because someday it just might.

July 07, 2010  |  by Michael T. Rayburn - Also by this author

In another incident, an officer recounted that he had "checkering" on his hand. He had squeezed the handgun grip so tightly during his shooting incident that the checkering from the grip had imprinted onto his hand and stayed there for several minutes after the shooting was over.

The second part of this trigger control theory is that it's important to "pull the trigger straight back." Well, the trigger only goes straight backward and straight forward; there is no other way to pull it. If the trigger on your handgun goes in any other direction than backward or forward, have your armorer take a look at it because something is wrong with it.

The other problem with this theory is that your finger does not work like a hinge. It doesn't go back and forth, it curls. The problem is that the phrase to "pull the trigger straight back" is used to teach the all important trigger control theory.

Tons of time and paper have been wasted on teaching and writing about "trigger control." Let me ask you this simple question. Imagine I take your handgun, line it up on target on the range, and lock it into a heavy metal vise attached to a heavy steel and wooden table which is bolted into the concrete floor. Once I've secured the gun so that it can't move, I attach a piece of string to the trigger and slowly pull the string until the round goes off. Where will it go? If you said straight into the target, you are correct.

Now instead of slowly pulling that piece of string attached to the trigger, I jerk it as hard as I can. Now, where will your round go? Again, if you said it goes straight into the target, you are correct. Where else could it go but into the target? So what's more important: how you pull the trigger, or how you grip the gun? Obviously how tightly you grip your gun is going to be more important.

One of the arguments that some firearms instructors bring up concerning this topic is, "Ask a sniper if trigger control is important." Well, if you think that a sniper firing a round out of a rifle from 300 yards away is under the same survival stress as an officer who is getting shot at from less than five feet away, then you should rethink your position as a firearms instructor. We need to train the way we fight, and that is to have a tight, convulsive grip on the firearm, and not worry about "trigger control."

If trigger control is so important, then why don't we care about it when we're doing force-on-force training using SIMS, Airsoft, or paintball? Can you recall during any realistic force-on-force training anyone ever "slowly squeezing the trigger?" Heck no! You pull that trigger as fast as you can to avoid getting hit by the bad guy, because those things hurt when you get hit. You react just like you would in real life, only in real life the stress of possibly getting shot with a real bullet is a lot higher.

My idea of trigger control is to stick your finger in the damn hole and pull the trigger. It doesn't matter how hard or how fast you pull that trigger, as long as you have that tight, convulsive grip on your firearm.

The only thing you have to remember about your trigger is the trigger reset. You have to let the trigger out far enough for it to reset itself so that you can pull it again. You can easily find the trigger's reset point on the range by letting the trigger out a little bit after you've fired a round, then pulling it back again. If it doesn't fire, then it hasn't reset. Continue doing this, letting it out a little more each time until it has hit its reset point.

Getting the Right Grip

Now that we've established you need a tight, convulsive grip on the handgun, let's discuss how to do it. First, take your strong-side hand and form a V between your thumb and index finger. Take that V and place it over the grip of the firearm. Your hand should be as high up on the backstrap as possible. This high on the backstrap grip will allow you to control the gun, especially during rapid, multiple-round firing. Now wrap your fingers around the grip and squeeze it tightly.

To get a two-hand grip, bring your off hand up to the other side of the gun and place the meaty part of your hand below your thumb, come in contact with the grip itself. Your two hands come together like two pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Both of your thumbs should be along the side of the slide. You want to get as much "meat" on the firearm as possible to help you control it and have that tight, vise-like grip on the gun. Once you've gotten your off hand in place, squeeze both hands together as hard as you can.

To have this vise-like grip out on the street when you're involved in a shooting, you need to train that way. Target shooting skills that require you to slowly squeeze the trigger rearward until the round goes off and it's a surprise to you, are not going to save your ass out on the street. Lose the target shooter's mentality, and trade it in for the real-world environment that you work in. 

Mike Rayburn has been involved in law enforcement for more than 30 years. He is a retired police officer and former adjunct instructor at the Smith & Wesson Academy. You can contact him via [email protected]

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Comments (10)

Displaying 1 - 10 of 10

cdswanson @ 7/9/2010 5:35 AM

I teach my students to press the trigger "smoothly," which does not necessarily mean slowly. Most people cannot achieve a smooth trigger press with a death grip on the gun. And, as we are humans and not immovable metal, we might have a vise-like grip, but that does not mean the bullet is going to hit the target. If we are involved in a shooting where the distance is upclose and personal, then sights, trigger, and grip don't matter, speed does, but you still have to hit the target to stop the threat. Oh, and a vise-like grip can be achieved by people with big, meaty hands, but those of us with smaller hands have to find what works for us.

drettenbacher @ 7/9/2010 1:16 PM

I really enjoyed your article and fully agree with it. However, until we change our annual firearms qualification there will be a marksman and the tactical shooting part. I would suggest that most shooters will have a problem getting a passing score from 25 yards if they do not squeeze the trigger. As a firearms instructor, I would like to see more emphasis on tactical shooting and less on long range marksman shooting. However, I don't think we should stop to teach long range shooting skills with handguns.

mwcpd066 @ 9/29/2010 3:52 PM

As a F/A instructor myself we teach students to grip the gun with their non gun hand and keeping a more relaxed grip with the gun hand. This allows for the shooter to actively reset the trigger after the shot. A white knuckle death grip is not necessary and if the shooter doesnt lock thier wrist the gun can still malfunction. Over gripping the gun also causes misses, and we are responsible for every round we send. I do like the notion of having your thumbs pointing towards the target as this grip style is a great aid in combat shooting. The notion of not paying attention to the trigger pull during training is flawed because you should train as you fight. Eerything should be the same. FWIW steve

D Waltman @ 10/19/2013 8:54 AM

I don't know if I've ever disagreed more with a 30 year expect... Most of his points were bits of common instruction and taken to an extreme. If I was in a actual class and this clown was the instructor, I would simply get up and walk out. Not a second of my time would be taken by him any further.

guy @ 2/20/2014 12:57 PM

this is the most retarded thing I have ever read on proper shooting!

Jim P @ 4/22/2014 11:45 AM

This theory should not be an article in Police Magazine. Gripping a weapon the way you present it, is leading people in the wrong direction for proper technique. Your theory that trigger control is not important is flat out wrong. Trigger control is by far the name of the game. Here is a little excercise I do to shooters that are gripping in the fashion you present as correct. Stick your trigger finger and thumb out to make the fake gun like we did as kids. Now squeeze tight with the other fingers. For most people they can no longer hold their trigger finger out straight and loose control of it. Not to mention the burning sensation in the hand and forearm.Now loosen the grip and feel how much more control you have of your trigger finger. Your poor students must have to rub Bengay on their forearms after a day at the range. Trigger contol is 80 percent of the game and grip shoud be 60 percent support hand and 40 percent strong hand.

Iulian @ 5/15/2014 2:43 AM

I may catch some flak but this guy knows what he says. This is the right grip to use under stress. There is no 70/30, 60/40 BS. For your information watch Phil Motzer (who applies the same theory) from Crucible (one of the most respected firearms schools in the world) shooting with this grip. Go to Paladin Press and buy Combat Handgun video and watch it. After you wach it and understand how it works, you will be a believer. Please, don't be close minded, give it a chance. A close mind will kill you on the street.

Majoragencyinstructor @ 4/27/2015 9:04 PM

I have to say that if I read this article yesterday I would have been raising the BS flag. I went through training today from an instructor that teaches this. After running tests I was blown away by the results. The strong hand controls the recoil. Try testing it out yourself I promise you will have a paradigm shift. My shooting improved dramatically. I'm speaking about quick round after round hitting exactly where I want.

KyCountryBoy @ 4/2/2016 3:33 AM

The logic used by the author in this article is reminiscent of that of the ill informed gun control advocates. Poorly constructed and twisted to suit their needs. "Well, the trigger only goes straight backward and straight forward; there is no other way to pull it."....this is a perfect example of the ridiculous and completely incorrect thinking used throughout the entire piece. Of course your trigger shouldn't move any way but forwards and backwards, but you can and WILL pull your firearm off target if you don't practice your trigger control correctly, no matter how hard you hold the weapon. There is no comparison between even the strongest of men's grip and a vise. Teaching that being in a shootout makes it OK to practice improper technique is going to get people killed. If you train enough, the small details will become muscle memory, and you won't need to think. This is what keeps Officers alive in combat situations. Nothing else. Train constantly, then train some more. Not to speak ill of any Officer, but the ones mentioned in this article more than likely only trained enough to pass their forces requirements (which is very common). Otherwise, they wouldn't have reacted like an inexperienced shooter when TSHTF. If you want to do something right, you have to practice. To teach people how to do it the "easy way" and skip all the training is teaching them how to get themselves killed.

Rick Lindsey @ 5/23/2018 2:51 PM

I realize I am responding to an article that's almost 8 years old... Some of us are just slow starters!
Re: the article about tight grip. It's still amazing that so many people will say that you are wrong, or right. The real test is whether you finish with a "right-to-brag" target or your shooting neighbor wondering how he got 11 holes on his target from a ten round magazine. To all of this I say Thank you. I have gone over the wall and now carry a 45 which is demanding a lot more control. The real problem is I am a lefty and in addition to recoil I am faced with a lot of twist out of my hand. Hence my quest to learn more.
Again, Thanks,
Rick Lindsey

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