A primary goal for any firearms instructor is improving a student’s performance. One of the best — but, unfortunately, often overlooked — ways to improve that performance is to fit the gun to the shooter in the earliest stages of training as possible.
Years ago, this was costly and difficult, usually involving a gunsmith to custom-build a gun to fit one particular shooter. This was because industry manufacturers built their guns for the “average shooter,” using the “one-size-fits-all” theory. Today, in an effort to better meet consumer needs, the firearms manufacturing community now offers options — both from original equipment manufacturers and aftermarket suppliers — that allow a shooter and an instructor to more easily fit gun to shooter.
Fitting a handgun to a shooter is no real mystery, but there seems to be a lack of understanding with regard to the “why” and “how” it is done. The “why” is simple: You fit the gun to the shooter in order to capitalize on an individual’s natural eye/hand coordination, best defined as his or her ability to point with his or her fingers, hands or arms at anything that attracts his or her visual attention. It’s something we’ve all been practicing since birth. According to the medical professionals I have consulted, we all have eye/hand coordination hardwired into our bodies. In my years of experience, I have yet to encounter an individual who didn’t have the ability to effortlessly point at what he or she was visually focused on.
When a handgun is properly fitted to a shooter and held in a proper shooting grip, the muzzle of the gun will seem to almost automatically point at the target. This is because when the eye identifies a target, natural eye/hand coordination allows that properly fit handgun to point at the target as if it were an extension of the shooter’s hand.
There are three primary considerations that should be addressed when fitting a handgun to a shooter, the first of which is the size of the grip and how it fits the palm of the shooter’s hand. Start by positioning the thumb and fingers parallel to one another, forming a pocket in the web of the hand to accept the backstrap of the gun. Then, seat the grip of the gun in that pocket so the barrel and fingers are parallel to one another. Next, allow the fingers and thumb to wrap around the grip naturally, comfortably holding the gun so the position of the muzzle and natural point of the fingers coincide. The gun is now aligned with the student’s natural ability to point at an object.
The second consideration is trigger reach. With the gun properly positioned to utilize that natural eye/hand coordination, the index finger must be long enough to reach and pull the trigger. The trigger finger needs to have full contact across the face of the trigger in order to properly apply pressure in line with the gun. Pressure on either side of the trigger tends to push the muzzle off-target as the trigger is pulled. The tip or last joint of the index finger is the recommended starting point for trigger-finger placement, and the goal is to move the trigger from initial contact to discharge without adding movement to the muzzle.
Should the index finger extend across the trigger and come into contact with the thumb during the trigger stroke, that is a sure sign that the gun is too small in its present configuration for the shooter and requires some modification to increase trigger reach.
The final consideration is manipulating the operating levers and buttons. With the proper shooting grip as described above, the magazine catch, slide stop/release, de-cocking lever, cylinder release and, if present, manual safeties should be accessible without having to re-grip the gun.
Little Changes, Big Difference
Ideally, the gun that you are attempting to match to the individual in question will meet all of the criteria listed above, and no fitting will be necessary. Fortunately, there are simple changes, many of which are available from the factory, that are user-friendly for installation and assessment to better fit the gun to the shooter’s hand.
Changing the circumference or configuration of a handgun’s grip can make a tremendous difference, and only recently has it become easy to do with semi-autos. The options are almost limitless with small, medium and large aftermarket grip sleeves, interchangeable backstraps and side panels as well as complete grip modules for some of the newer models. Experimenting with different grip options will enhance the natural pointability of pistols and revolvers as well as improve trigger reach and operating control manipulations.
Speaking of which, trigger reach itself can be reduced or increased by exchanging the original trigger for an aftermarket or optional factory-offered trigger. The key to success for the student shooter with regard to trigger reach is for him or her to be able to pull the trigger consistently without affecting the position of the muzzle in relation to the target. If you look at it in those kinds of stark terms, everything can get a lot easier to sort out.
As for the buttons and operating levers on most popular sidearms, they can be customized in different lengths and sizes from the factory or by using aftermarket parts. The objective is to make sure the student can operate all of the controls easily without having to shift his or her shooting grip on the gun.
For the firearms instructor and the student alike, speed and accuracy are two of the top desired components of shooting. Fitting the gun to the shooter’s hands is one of the most — if not the most — beneficial equipment enhancements on the road to accomplishing those goals.