A lot of people struggle to properly position the gun in their hand. There are varying opinions on how much effort, or gripping pressure to use and how to maintain that pressure.
I’m going to outline how to improve your grip and control over a firearm.
1. GET A FIRM GRIP
Most shooters are told to relax and not grip the pistol tightly. This is ok if all you will ever fire is a .22, but even that gun is going to kick. You need to hold firmly.
A new shooter or beginner may have better things on which to concentrate, but even they need have a strong enough grasp to completely control their gun. If you’re an experienced shooter, you can just go ahead and ignore the “relax” part all together.
2. LOCK YOUR WRIST
Many shooters have too much movement in their wrist. This leads to problems returning the gun to alignment and can cause you to move the gun out of alignment prematurely when trying to shoot fast.
Try to immobilize your wrist joint. Being too loose can, in extreme cases even cause weapon malfunctions. When trying to gain speed, the old adage “do not jerk the trigger” should be replaced with “do not move your wrist.”
Keep everything solid as if the gun was mounted in a vise.
3. POSITION THE GUN IN YOUR HAND SO YOU CAN REACH THE TRIGGER
The angle the gun sits in relation to your arm is not that important. Being able to place your finger properly on the trigger is.
Don’t try to align the barrel of the pistol with your arm. For me to reach most triggers, because of my short fingers, the gun actually points a little to the right or outside of the line of my forearm.
4. TWO HANDS ARE BETTER THAN ONE
If you can get both hands on the gun, do it!
The whole point of a two-handed shooting stance is to create a triangle between your shoulders and the gun. Doing so allows the force of the gun to be transmitted through your torso, making recoil much easier to control.
5. KEEP THE PRESSURE ON
Do not vary the amount of pressure you exert on the gun when pulling the trigger. This will cause a shift in the gun’s alignment and start a whole avalanche of problems.
Keep it solid and consistent.
6. PRACTICE HOLDING ON TIGHT
Gripping properly will not just happen. I have to address this issue with many experienced, top-notch shooters. Most think it will just come with practice, but it doesn’t unless you think about it. One area that dry fire can really help is maintaining a tight grip while pulling the trigger.
It’s easy to pick up bad habits from dry firing with no live fire to support the techniques being learned. If you never have to deal with effects of the gun firing, muzzle flip and recoil, you will never learn how to control them.
In my three decades of training every level of shooter, I have seen only a handful that held on too tightly. On the flip side, I’ve seen hundreds that hold on too loosely.
Learn the hand postions and make yourself do them correctly. Remember, you will do whatever you teach yourself to do. Once you memorize a technique, good or bad, that is what is likely to occur when you shoot under pressure.
And here we go again … you already know that you can’t go wrong with either of these classic calibers. But it’s a debate that continues to create controversy among shooting enthusiasts everywhere. Each round has its pros and cons when compared, yet each remains a staple among firearm fans.
Read on for not just some of the same old argument (there’s some of that), but considerations from our Team Springfield™ SMEs on which caliber may be the best for you.
The greatest attribute of the 9mm cartridge is that it has the easiest-to-manage recoil. Pair this with the weight of a full- or mid-sized pistol, and handling will prove to be comfortable and pleasant. And this combination is also a perfect gun for brand-new shooters to start with.
PRICE & AVAILABILITY
If you don’t want to go broke buying range ammo, then 9mm has your back. Due to its prominence among our military and law enforcement communities, and popularity with civilians, the 9×19 is the most commonly-encountered pistol round world-wide.
This and the relatively small amount of material used in the manufacturing process also makes 9mm the most economical center-fire pistol round currently available.
When it comes to personal defense, the 9mm is more than ready to do the trick, especially with hotter +P (increased velocity) hollow-point loads. Its lighter recoil makes follow-up shots quicker, and the smaller size gives 9mm pistols additional round capacity.
Team Springfield™ SME Ivan Gelo, is a huge fan of the .45, but knows that much of the comparison bullet “data” stems from bullet performance technology that is over 25 years old. Like most tools, equipment and devices, bullet technology has grown by leaps and bounds over that same period, especially in the area of the 9mm pistol round. Ivan says that, “Old 9mm technology was related to the .45 and the concept of the heavier bullet; hence the widespread use of the 147 grain 9mm bullets. With advances in technology though, the more common 9mm 124/125 grain +P loads have substantial stopping power. So with greater mag capacity and the lighter ‘carry’ weight, the 9mm benefits are easy to argue.”
If you have any physical limitations, i.e. carpel tunnel, tendinitis, loss of hand-strength, etc., Team Springfield™ shooter Kippi Leatham recommends the 9mm over .45 without question: “I shot larger calibers through many of my competitive years. My first competition gun was a 1911 .45 — and I loved it! Eventually though, over several decades, I developed tendinitis in both elbows. With continued proper strength training and a decision to shoot exclusively 9mm pistols, my elbow injuries are no longer an issue.”
So if you have physical limitations or pain, don’t continue to damage your body or create discomfort in exchange for greater stopping power. In Kippi’s opinion, a well-trained, competent and confident 9mm pistol owner is easily able to defend him or herself should the need arise.
.45ACP STOPPING POWER
The terms “stopping power” or “knockdown power” are concepts popular with the self-defense crowd. The .45 regularly is considered to have more stopping power than a 9. It’s a big reason why it was adopted alongside the 1911 for U.S. military service back in the day. While its velocity is slower than 9mm, what you lack in speed, you more than make up for in a larger and heavier projectile.
To its fan base, the .45 is the best round for law enforcement and personal and while the .45 does obviously have more recoil than 9mm, that is the cost of increased power.
Curiously, decades later the US Military also adopted the 9mm and widely replaced the .45 with it, but for more reasons than power alone. Many Spec Ops groups did not change, and retained the .45 for its greater power.
Team Springfield™ Captain Rob Leatham says, “My position on this subject is well documented: I like the .45. While currently, I do shoot more 9mm in competition than anything else, it’s because of the rules and subsequent advantages the lower-powered, lighter-kicking 9 has. For defensive use, especially in a mid- or full-sized, easily controlled pistol, I would choose the .45 every time.”
FROM THE PREPPER’S MINDSET
Steve Horsman — Team Springfield™ Expert Prepper — has multiple guns in an assortment of calibers. But he does have a preference when carrying for self defense. He likens the .45ACP v 9mm debate to hunting. Steve states that choosing a 9mm for self defense, with the higher-capacity, lighter kick, and lighter-weight, is like him choosing to hunt elk with an AR 15 with a 30 round magazine. “No one in their right mind would ever use a .223 for elk hunting; they would more likely choose a .308 [minimum]-caliber rifle. Given the choice, I will pick the bigger bullet with more power every single time.” Magazine capacity alone cannot and will not substitute for power and accuracy.
Apple pie, baseball, bald eagles, and .45ACP! This cartridge has a proven track record in America that dates back over a century. It was trusted by the United States through two world wars, and, while its use among the military and LE agencies has lessened more recently, it still serves a large role in many specialized units, as well as remaining a favorite of many civilians.
Supply of this cartridge should also be high. The .45 auto has been around for double-digit decades and while pricier than 9mm, the large quantities in which it’s produced makes it easy to find.
PICK ONE AND PRACTICE
To summarize, both the 9mm and the .45ACP are great self-defense rounds. Though a 9mm pistol will hold more rounds, the .45 ACP definitely packs more punch.
So as with most things firearms related — pick your preference: heavier and more powerful cartridges with more recoil OR a caliber that allows for greater capacity, less recoil and a lower cost to shoot.
And as you read above, even our Team Springfield™ SMEs don’t agree on caliber… but they do agree on this:
Whichever caliber you choose, put some rounds down-range, shoot a lot of them actually, and make sure you train on a regular basis. Become proficient with your caliber of choice, because that is the best way to maximize the effect of any firearm that you carry for self defense.
Great video featuring Rob Leatham, Team Springfield Captain HERE
We all strive for perfection — but sometimes perfection is not possible. When it comes to shooting stance, a scenario will often force you to use an “imperfect” stance. So how do you train so you can still make your hits?
FINDING THE BALANCE POINT
Expecting to obtain the perfect “training” shooting stance is all well and good. But it’s not realistic. When it comes to real-life fast-shooting or competition scenarios, your stance has to be about getting acceptable hits on target as quickly as possible. It’s always a speed versus accuracy equation. You sometimes have to make “less than optimal” work in order to win.
The fact of the matter is that driving your torso forward while you’re shooting (to accommodate for recoil) helps resist pushing your frame back, keeping you in control and on target.
Don’t let your balance move to your heels. Trying to be comfortable and statically balanced is wrong. You have to absorb and resist the forces of recoil — and that is hard to do standing straight up.
“PERFECT” IS JUST AN ILLUSION
Achieving the perfect shooting stance isn’t a reliable goal. In fact, there are drills you can try that prove that, even in a non-ideal shooting scenario, your body will know what to do to achieve a stance that still maintains accuracy.
Place a target at desired distance.
Put a short obstacle in your shooting area, such as a chair.
Begin moving around the obstacle.
Shoot at the target while continually moving around the obstacle.
Keep moving until the mag is empty.
The beauty of it is, your body compensates for the movement and learns how to move and find balance. So quit trying for perfection in your stance — your body will instinctively know what to do.
We asked Team Springfield™ shooters to assemble some of their go-to tips to benefit the fans out there looking for some pro advice. The first topic we threw out to them was the art of the grip. Let’s dive in.
#1: ROB LEATHAM: WRIST ACTION
The most common email question I get is asking how to correct the low, left shot on the target (from a right-handed shooter). One of the ways to address this problem is:
LOCK YOUR WRISTS, AS IF THEY ARE A VISE ON THE GUN
When instructing, I primarily observe the arm/wrist/hand areas when a student is shooting. I often see prominent movement in the strong-side wrist and hand (and sometimes into the arm) before or as a shot is fired. Even the smallest of movement before or when the shot is fired will cause the gun to move out of alignment, typically in the low, left direction.
I don’t care if you “jerk” the trigger. You can jerk all you want if you are able to hold the gun completely still. IMO, “Do not jerk the trigger” should be replaced with “Do not move your wrists.”
#2: KYLE SCHMIDT: UNSUPPORTIVE SUPPORT HAND
When Rob asked me to explain my No. 1 issue regarding grip, my mind immediately turned to earlier in the day. Less than an hour prior to the text from Rob, I was working with a few struggling shooters. Each one of them suffered from a very common gripping issue that I regularly see:
NOT USING THE SUPPORT HAND PROPERLY
Without proper support (i.e., position and strength) from the support hand, you are essentially shooting one-handed. One of the first indicators of improper support-hand usage is that the primary and support hands separate (partially or completely) when the gun is fired. Many shooters try to correct this problem by continually readjusting their support hands between shots; however, that correction is time-consuming and typically short-lived. The lack of use of the support hand has a significant negative effect on the shooter’s ability to both hold the gun steady when aiming difficult shots and the ability to quickly return the gun onto the target after firing.
#3: KIPPI LEATHAM: GET YOUR SHOOTING GRIP FROM THE GET-GO
I work with a lot of newer shooters, and the No. 1 gripping problem I see is:
PICKING UP THE GUN A DIFFERENT WAY EVERY TIME
One time they grab the gun with their strong hand and the webbing between the thumb and trigger finger is positioned one to two inches below the tang. They immediately have to re-position the webbing higher under the tang/beavertail before they can rack the slide and shoot.
The next time they pick up the pistol with their support hand to seat a magazine with their strong hand, they only to have to switch the gun and grip back to the strong hand before chambering a round to shoot. Or they draw the gun from the holster with all four fingers under the trigger guard, requiring an adjustment of the grip to re-position the trigger finger so it can press the trigger and move the other three fingers under the trigger guard.
My advice is to get the proper shooting grip immediately (if possible), whether picking the gun up off of a bench, drawing from a holster, taking it off of a display rack, etc. Every time I handle one of my pistols, whether I’m loading a mag, unloading the gun, drawing from a holster, just admiring it, etc., I use my strong-hand shooting grip —
Trigger finger rests on the frame (below the slide), visibly above/outside of the trigger guard.
Three remaining fingers are closed and touching under the trigger guard.
Thumb webbing is centered on the back strap of the gun and positioned under the tang as high as possible.
Thumb on the left side of the gun is touching the side of the frame.
If you can do this every time you handle your pistol, you will repeatedly reinforce your proper shooting grip, and, soon, muscle memory should take over.
#4: JASON BURTON: LOSE THE LOOSE GRIP
GRIP THE PISTOL TIGHTLY = HAVE MORE TIME
Whether it is competition such as USPSA, shooting bullseye at Camp Perry, or defensive-oriented pistol craft, time and its effects on the end result are a factor present in most shooting. Time as it relates to competitive shooting can often be categorized in two ways: Expend the least amount of time (or do things as fast as the shooter is capable) or make the most of the fixed amount of time allotted. However, time as it relates to personal defense is neither fixed nor limitlessly expendable, but rather a consideration often used and quantifiable for making decisions. So when it comes to actually shooting the pistol from a personal defense aspect, how can we have more time with which to make decisions and/or react to the evolving situation?
ONE VERY SIMPLE WAY IS TO MAKE THE PISTOL MOVE LESS
Many times in classes (as well as competitive circles) I have seen shooters who wait to move from one target or part of a shooting array to another until they have completely recovered the gun onto their existing problems. While more prevalent in defensive pistol craft, this is not necessarily a bad thing, as it is essentially an assessment of one’s previous actions and the results they had.
However, the sooner you can get to the point of assessing your previous action, the sooner you can move on to the next problem. Herein, the application of proper shooting technique will contribute to the speed at which you can assess problems. Simply put, the better you grip the gun the less it will move, and the less it moves the sooner it will return to the target, which allows you more time to evaluate if what you did worked. My friend Clint Smith has a saying, “You have the rest of your life to solve the problem. How long your life lasts depends on how well you do it.” So grip the gun like your life depends on it, because it just might.
#5: STEVE HORSMAN: THUMBS DOWN
When I taught concealed carry permit classes, we would spend the first day in the classroom discussing safety, state self-defense law, basic shooting technique, and — did I mention safety? On day two at the range, after discussing safety again, I would ask the students to shoot a group at 5 yards and 10 yards, and my primary objective was to observe how the student gripped the pistol. While I would occasionally have students shooting revolvers, most were using a semi-automatic pistol, such as the 1911 or the striker-fired XD® line. So this is the grip I’ll focus on.
What I immediately noticed was that most shooters would place their primary thumbs over the top of their support-hand thumbs, with the thumbs almost pointing down. If you can visualize a good revolver grip, this is what many shooters were doing while shooting their semi-autos.
THUMBS DOWN TO THUMBS DOWN
However, most firearms instructors and accomplished competition shooters grip the pistol with a high thumb grip. Visualize my primary-hand thumb resting on my support-hand thumb, with both thumbs somewhat pointing toward the muzzle of the gun. Thumbs should look like they are in direct line of the slide/barrel.
With this tip, and the others that my Springfield teammates have suggested, head out to the range, give these techniques a try and see if you don’t just notice some improvement…
Do harsh winter conditions or a full schedule keep you from getting to the shooting range as often as you’d prefer? For us too, but that shouldn’t mean you can’t get in a little practicing. Dry fire practice can be an important (and better yet, inexpensive) part of your training. And it’s convenient because you can do it in the comfort of your own home.
As always, unload the firearm (check and double check to ensure it’s unloaded) and remove all ammo and distractions from the room. Close your curtains, and get to work! It’s easy and useful to log some practice reps by dry firing.
Here are a few drills to get you started.
DRAWING FROM CONCEALMENT
Dry fire drawing from concealment is particularly valuable obviously for people who carry concealed. Quickly and safely drawing your pistol from underneath a shirt, coat or other layers can be more difficult than you might think. Unpracticed, there’s significant potential for snags and fumbling.
Dry fire practicing can help you from coming up short like Fredo in The Godfather.
Don’t move the gun when you pull the trigger! Regardless of the speed you are moving your trigger finger, you need to avoid dipping/moving the muzzle.
How can you tell if you’re falling victim to this bad habit? Set the trigger on your unloaded pistol by racking the slide. Next, place an empty casing on its base on the top of the slide, just behind the front sight. Now, press the trigger without causing the case to fall off.
The speed in which you can do this will be a limiting factor in how quickly you can shoot accurately.
If the case doesn’t fall off, congrats! You’ve pulled the trigger correctly.
Another tricky skill is rapidly and precisely transitioning from one target to the next – especially when dealing with recoil during live fire. Since this is dry firing, though, we’ll have to do without the effect of recoil. Pick out three objects or other visual cues (targets), and practice transitioning the gun from one target to the next.
PUT IT ALL TOGETHER
Once you’ve practiced the above three techniques individually and have seen some improvement, practice them together. Again, with an unloaded gun, set the trigger, safe the gun (if applicable) and holster.
Start by drawing from a concealed position, acquire a target, align the sights and THEN perform a smooth trigger pull on each target (yeah, we know the hammer/striker only moves the first time, but go through the motion anyway). Gradually build speed on the gun movements and the trigger pull. Hopefully, the next time you’re able to get to the range for live fire, you will be able to shoot multiple targets faster and more accurately.