In the five years that I have been an NRA Certified Firearm Instructor, if I had to list the most common mistakes committed by my students, improper grip of a handgun would rank first. As a relatively new instructor, most of my students are first-time shooters. Yet I am always surprised when a student downplays the importance of grip, especially with beginner female students, who are often intimidated by higher-caliber handguns. So, time to do some myth busting! If you have proper grip, you can shoot any caliber firearm, from the lowly .22, all the way up to the Smith & Wesson .500 Magnum. For some professional reinforcement of proper grip principles, Julie Golob, IPSC Ladies World Champion, and the only 7-Division USPSA Ladies National Champion, offers her advice.
“A good, firm grip is necessary to take control of your firearm, for steadier aiming, and recoil absorption,” says Golob. “Unless you have a firm grip on your handgun, the firearm is going to be unsteady, and move in your hand." This makes it more difficult to control the firearm, especially for the follow-up shot, she notes. "You can hit a target with the craziest, messed up shot out there, but that second shot that you need to make is going to be off, unless you have proper grip." Golob emphasizes that a good grip is also essential for the quick shooting that takes place in competitive shooting.
How To Get a Rock-Solid Grip
The biggest mistake I see a student make is that his or her hand is too far down the backstrap. First, pick up the pistol behind the muzzle with your support hand. Then, with your strong hand, make a “Y” of your thumb and fingers. Place your strong hand on the firearm so that the web is centered along the high back of the back strap. Keep your finger straight and off the trigger. Next bring the support hand in to play, and press your support hand fingers into the palm on your strong hand. “Be sure to fill in all of the empty spaces where your support hand would meet your strong hand,” says Golob. “Any open space that you have on the grip of the pistol is going to give the recoil an opportunity to move the gun around in your hand. You want to think of it as a jigsaw puzzle. Eliminate the space.”
Then make sure the thumbs are pointed straight, parallel to the slide or barrel. For semi-automatics, the support-hand thumb should lie directly forward of and below the strong-hand thumb. For revolvers, the support-hand thumb is positioned over the strong-hand thumb. “Everyone is different,” Golob says. “Some people have long fingers, and others have short thumbs. Practice until you’re comfortable. Try to use as much of your hands as possible, eliminate the spaces on the grip, and grasp strongly.”
Golob suggests you practice with a firearm until you master picking it up quickly. If you pick it up with one hand, and switch back and forth from one hand to the other, you sacrifice proper grip. “I tell my students to practice until perfect, then have someone take a picture with your cell phone," she says. "Next time you go shooting, check the picture. If you spend five minutes a night three times a week, your confidence level of handling that firearm is going to increase.”
Inspired by Pro Golfers
So much for the basics; now let’s fine tune things. According to Golob, novice shooters make the mistake of handling a handgun like they would any other object with a handle. “I’ve noticed that most new shooters, especially new women shooters, hold the grip of the pistol similar to the way they would grab the handle of something else, like a baseball bat. But they need to realize it’s not a handle, it’s a pistol grip.”
Golob utilizes a special technique for proper grip that was inspired by pro golfers. “I deploy a wrist lock, meaning I bend my support hand forward. Adding that extra little bend structurally helps me control recoil as well," she says, without having to rely on brute strength.”
To recreate her special grip, hold your hand out straight in front of you with your thumb up. Take your pinky, and move it downward, pointing towards the ground. “That angle, when you hold your pistol this way, is going to be a huge benefit when it comes to controlling recoil," says Golob. "Just that little bit of bend makes it that much harder for the gun to move in your hand.”
Proper Grip = No Limits!
I’ve noticed a difference in my students’ shooting when I correct their grip. They are able to shoot a smaller cluster, and move up in calibers. “Women shouldn’t feel intimidated by higher caliber handguns,” notes Golob. “What’s key here is handling the firearm in a way that’s going to control the recoil. Most women, even small-framed women, can shoot just about anything with a good, strong, firm grip, especially with that wrist angled.”
Golob’s Fitness Routine
“I work out with various types of fitness equipment to build up forearm and wrist strength,” says Golob. “A stress ball, tennis ball, and grippers are very helpful. Another tip is to do reverse curls, and to use rubber bands of different strengths to spread the fingers apart. I also do pull ups to work out my upper body, in addition to suspending myself on the pull-up bar.”
Images courtesy Julie Golob and NRAWomen.tv.