Years ago, my friend Steve Gilcreast instructed me to shoot a firearm at a target … holding the handgun upside down and manipulating the trigger with the middle finger of my non-dominant hand. Of course, he had everyone in our SIG Sauer Academy instructor class do the same — the point being to prove that shooting a gun can be as simple as “point gun, press trigger.” This exercise also showed that (depending on the firearm) it is still possible to shoot a gun — and hit the target — in an awkward or compromised position.
Of course, since I do have the use of both of my hands (the majority of the time), and since all my fingers are available and able to assist, I practice shooting using both my dominant hand and support hand … and all of my fingers. And I appreciate the job each one of them has! Even though the brain tends to treat each hand and its fingers as a single unit (especially since there are a lot of things connected in there), each digit has a role in getting a good, effective grip, taking a well-aimed shot and managing the recoil.
While the thumb only has two bones, it plays a very important role that no other finger can claim. A thumb can bend and stretch in the opposite direction of our fingers in order to grip things. In fact, it can practically move all over the place; hence the name “opposable” thumb. A thumb can also rotate and flex, which provides strength and dexterity to a firearm grip. This enables us to complete tasks such as buttoning a shirt or signing our name on a check.
You may think that the index finger (or pointer finger) is the most important finger. But hand surgeons agree that if you’re going to lose one finger, the index finger is actually the best one to lose. If the index finger is gone, the brain quickly bypasses it and starts to use the middle finger in its place. And the other remaining fingers can quickly and easily compensate. In fact, everything you do with your index finger — including pressing the trigger on a firearm — can be done with your middle finger. Of course, the pointer finger is typically the strongest finger. And because of its position and strength, it makes the most sense that this finger is the go-to trigger finger.
Next in line to the trigger finger, and usually the longest digit, the middle finger (sometimes referred to as “the rude finger”) can take over the first finger’s role pretty easily if the first finger is gone or compromised. You could say it’s like an understudy to the trigger finger. Otherwise, on a “normal” hand, the middle finger’s job is not very extravagant. It plays along nicely with all its neighboring digits and mostly just stays in line to assist and support with everyday tasks.
The fourth finger is often the weakest and most sluggish finger on the human hand due to the limitations on its movement from the tendons connecting it to the middle finger and possibly due to its lack of usage compared to the other fingers. Because of this, the ring finger is seen as the most “dependent” digit and is not as strong when it works on its own. (Don’t believe it? Ask someone who plays an instrument to attest to this “lazy” digit!)
Of all your fingers, you might think your pinky is the most useless. But the small, humble, often forgotten and overlooked fifth finger actually contributes about 50 percent of hand strength. So, believe it or not, your pinky is particularly important in a strong grip on a firearm. This is one reason you may find it more challenging to fire a compact handgun with a shorter grip that leaves your pinky floating in space or settling in underneath the grip. (Don’t believe how important that little digit is? Try doing pull-ups without using your little fingers. Then do the same without your trigger fingers. You’ll get an idea of how disabling it is to lose a pinky!)
Undoubtedly, all of our fingers have different and important jobs and work well together to help achieve an effective grip, take a well-aimed shot and manage recoil. However, perfecting a firearm grip can depend on the firearm, the circumstances and the person, as well as on a possible injury or disability. But Miranda Blanton, my dear friend and fellow USCCA Training Counselor (who happens to be an incredible shot!), proves it can be done, even when a finger is MIA.
She explains, “As far as my fingers ‘job’ in gripping goes, on my right (dominant) hand, I pull the trigger with my index finger, just as everyone else does. My little finger and ring finger grip the firearm the best they can. They aren’t very flexible and, honestly, aren’t a lot of help. I don’t have a ‘bird’ finger, so that’s no help at all. But I grip truly like my life depends on it with my right hand! On my left (support) hand, I wrap my fingers around my dominant hand, as most people do. But I also wrap my index finger around the front of the trigger guard. This allows me to have better control on the gun through recoil.”
Luckily, Miranda doesn’t have to hold the firearm upside down and manipulate the trigger with the middle finger of her non-dominant hand! But she has developed quite a unique and effective grip. And I have seen a lot of folks over the years who have overcome their own circumstances — from naturally short fingers and thumbs that barely reach triggers, mag releases and slide stops to injuries and surgeries forcing folks to focus on support-hand-only shooting. But for those who have two cooperative hands (and the use of all your fingers), give yourself a round of applause. And be thankful for the thumb, the pinky finger and everything in-between. Hands down, that’s the best way to perfect your grip!
About Beth Alcazar
Beth Alcazar, author of Women’s Handgun & Self-Defense Fundamentals and associate editor of Concealed Carry Magazine, has enjoyed nearly two decades of working and teaching in the firearms industry. Beth is passionate about safe and responsible firearms use and enthusiastic about teaching others. She is certified as an instructor through SIG Sauer Academy, ALICE Institute, DRAW School, TWAW and I.C.E. Training and is a USCCA Certified Instructor and Senior Training Counselor.