Get a Grip


One of the most common errors I see among both new and experienced shooters is poor grip technique. In my opinion the ability to shoot well starts with the gripping the handgun correctly and is what makes us shoot consistently. A good grip allows us control recoil more than any other aspect. It is what allows us shoot fast and accurately. A weak grip, inconsistent grip or just a bad grip in general will cause us to shoot badly. This article not only covers the fundamentals of a good shooting grip for a semiautomatic pistol, it gives the “why” and shows readers what not to do.


Four Absolutes
Building a Grip
Grip Errors

When forming a grip there are four things that are absolutes:

  1. Be consistent – Grip the gun the same way every time. Being inconsistent with your grip will cause the gun to track unpredictably and it won’t point naturally. You will have to fight the gun when aiming, especially when shooting quickly.
  2. Get high on the gun – The closer we can get to the bore axis the more control we have over muzzle flip. I know I’m high on the gun when I can see the skin pucker around the beaver tail.
  3. Grip the gun hard – I mean it, grip as hard as you can without losing dexterity in your trigger finger. There are a lot of misconceptions about this, but the bottom line is a wimpy grip will not help you control the gun.
  4. Cover the entire surface – Your hands should make contact with the grip around the entire circumference of the grip. Leaving gaps is just wasted energy. If you can’t do this try different grip panels, backstraps or a different gun.

Building a grip:

Get as high on the gun as you can with your strong hand. You will apply pressure to the front and back of the grip. Keep your thumb flagged in the air to make room for your support hand.

Establish a high grip on the pistol getting as far up the beaver tail as you can.

Rotate your support hand and bring it to the frame of the gun. The heels of your hands will fit together just like a puzzle piece. Make sure you don’t have a gap where they meet. Now just rap your support hand around the gun. You will apply pressure to the left and right of the gun.


Now lay your thumbs along the barrel. Do not apply pressure with your thumbs as this will cause the pistol to push the muzzle the opposite direction. Instead they should just float along the frame.


Finally keep both of your wrists locked out. Some people do better with locking out their elbows and others keep them slightly bent. I’ve noticed smaller people do better locking their arms out. I have a hard time extending my all the way without shaking so I keep a slight bend. I really believe it just depends on body composition and flexibility.

Grip 4

As you explore what works with your grip and what doesn’t keep in mind the grip should control the recoil of the pistol without interfering with trigger control. Experiment with how much tension you apply with each hand and where you apply pressure to see what causes the sights to track the best. A good grip will cause the gun to rise and fall straight up and down directly back to the target.

Grip errors:

Let’s talk about what not to do with your grip. Most of the time people don’t even realize they are doing anything wrong until someone points it out. Here are some common errors.

Gap between hand and beaver tail

The large gap between the thumbs and beaver tail is a common problem with new shooters. This error decreases control of the pistol. Think of the pistol as a lever. The further you are from the fulcrum the more leverage it has leading to more muzzle flip.

revolver grip or gap

The above illustration also shows a revolver grip. Although this grip is ideal for revolvers it doesn’t work as well for semi autos. It creates a gap between your weak hand and the frame and prevents you from covering the entire surface of the pistol. The revolver grip is designed to make use of the limited area of revolver grips and keep your thumbs away from the gases escaping the forcing cone.

Cup and saucier grip

Although this grip is popular in the movies and even approved grip in the Army pistol field manual it is one of the worst grips for practical shooting. The gap on the left side of the frame will cause the pistol to rise to the left preventing the sights from tracking straight up and down.  This in turn makes follow up shots slower and more difficult. It is also difficult to maintain this grip when shooting multiple shots quickly.

cup and saucier

Gap in the grip

Speaking of gaps and wasted space any gaps are just wasted energy. As stated earlier your grip should cover the entire surface of the grip. Think of it like a vice, the more area you cover the less the pistol can move. The last photo in the series illustrates a proper grip with no gap.


Crossed thumbs

The photo on the top is not as detrimental as the one underneath. The top photo does not create a gap in the grip like the bottom photo, but it can lead to interfering with the slide if you pull the thumb into the frame. The grip in the second photo leaves a gap where the support hand doesn’t contact the frame on the left side.

crossed thumbs 3

Grabbing the wrist

Grabbing the wrist is another Army approved grip that really should be removed. It violates the complete coverage of the grip rule and really does nothing to stabilize your shooting position.

wrist grab

Pressing thumbs into the frame

It’s tempting to drive both thumbs into the slide when gripping the gun hard. The issue is there is a possibility you will push the gun off target. The top photo shows too much pressure on the slide. The bottom photo illustrates the thumbs floating so they don’t contact the frame. There is nothing wrong with some contact with the frame as long as you don’t interfere with the slide lock or push the gun off target.

float thumbs

Placing the thumb in the path of the slide

This is common with a lot of shooters that lack sufficient wrist strength to manage recoil. I see this often with female shooters in particular. If the shooter tries this they should be corrected immediately. The slide will cut the shooter as the gun recoils.

thumb slide

Finger on trigger guard

This is a pretty subjective issue. The concern is the finger will torque the gun off target when shooting at speed.  While here are a few top shooters that do well with this grip most shooters don’t do as well. If you are having accuracy problems when shooting quickly consider not placing the finger on the trigger guard.

finger on trigger guard

Grip Training:

Crawl, Walk, Run

New shooters certainly have an advantage since they don’t already have bad habits, however new and experienced shooters should be very deliberate in their training. Whether you are learning to grip a pistol for the first time or you are trying to correct some bad habits it helps to “craw, walk, run”. In the crawl phase focus on slowly and correctly establishing a grip. Pick the pistol up and go step by step at a pace that ensures you are doing everything correctly. Once you get to a point you can build your grip without thinking you can move the the walk phase start adding things like the draw and some dry fire drills working with trigger control. Don’t get carried away and go so fast in dry fire that you start making mistakes. It is time to go to the range when you finally become comfortable enough with your grip that you don’t have to think about it anymore. This is the run phase. Keep this practice focused. Start with building your grip and just doing some slow fire groups. If you are confident with your grip in slow fire I try speeding things up a bit with the Bill Drill.

Strength Training

The stronger grip strength is the easier it is to grip hard without affecting your ability to control the trigger. While just going out and shooting can improve your grip strength it really doesn’t maximize potential. This is where a few grip strength exercises will really help out.

  • Bar hangs, pull ups or toes to bar – Depending on your current fitness level you might not be able to do the pull ups or toes to bar. If not try bar hangs using the starting pull up position.
  • Farmers carry – The farmers carry is a simple exercise where you hold a dumbbell or kettle bell in each hand and walk.
  • Grip trainers – There are several grip training exercise devices on the market, but the Captains of Crush are the most popular. Be careful not to over train with these or use too much. If you haven’t used this type of device before start with the Guide or Sport model.




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