Fitting Room: Zero in on the Right Gun

THE MAJORITY OF FIREARMS TRAINERS and educators do not supply firearms for their students to use. They have to work with what each student brings to class.

For a seasoned student, this usually isn’t a problem because he’s had some experience in what works for him in the hand and in the holster. That’s not to say improvements can’t be made, but it is likely he has adapted to the equipment with which he’s currently working.

In the case of an entry-level student, the field is quite a bit more diverse simply because he rarely knows more than what was suggested to him by the clerk at the gun shop or a well-meaning individual he asked for advice. The reasons he gives for selecting the gun with which he intends to work are infinite, but rarely is the firearm in question best-suited for his intended use. It happens, but it’s rare. The same could be said about a holster, ammunition carrier and other gear that can be as important as the gun.

But Wait…

A gun that fits the hand may not fit the application of its intended use, and a compromise may be necessary. Similarly, a universal holster made for all purposes rarely serves any single purpose well.

A firearms instructor usually follows an outline or lesson plan that clearly states the goals and objectives of the course he or she is presenting. Paramount in any shooting course, aside from safety, is being able to hit a target. Marksmanship is a necessary foundational skill needed for success, regardless of whether the shooting is recreational, competitive or for self-defense. After all, the objective of shooting is to hit whatever it is you’re aiming at, regardless of why the shooting is taking place.

Paramount in any shooting course, aside from safety, is being able to hit a target. Marksmanship is a necessary foundational skill needed for success.

In teaching marksmanship, an instructor can optimize results by fitting the gun to the hands of the shooter. The concept is simple and easy to implement: You’re looking to find a gun that will fit the shooter’s hand (such that using existing eye/hand coordination, the muzzle will point where the shooter’s index finger would point were he or she to extend his or her arm).

To teach this, have the student make a vertical fist and then extend his arm, pointing at an object with his index finger. Next, have the student open his fist. Seat an unloaded pistol or revolver in the web of the student’s hand (between the thumb and index finger so the muzzle points in the same direction as the index finger) and have him wrap the other three fingers around the grip to hold the gun.

This uses the student’s natural eye/hand coordination to get the muzzle pointing at the target. Use slight vertical or horizontal adjustments of the sights to fine-tune the muzzle’s position on the target for consistency in accuracy. The essential fundamental fit should be there. Take both strong- and reaction-side hands into account while running this assessment.

The student has to be able to discharge the handgun without it shifting in his hand and without needing to reacquire a grip on the gun after each shot.

In addition to finding the optimum position of the gun in the hand, the student must be able to reach and pull the trigger from this position without disturbing the muzzle’s position on the target. This applies to single- and double-action trigger functions if the pistol in question is so equipped.

Check the Boxes

Hand strength also needs to be taken into account when fitting a handgun to a student. In addition to being able to properly pull the trigger, the student must be able to effectively retract and release the slide on semi-automatics, eject spent cases from revolvers and perform any other handling manipulations necessary for successful operation of his sidearm.

Along those lines, caliber usually translates into recoil, which means the more powerful the gun, the more recoil it will generate. The student has to be able to discharge the handgun without it shifting in his hand and without needing to reacquire a grip on the gun after each shot. Don’t allow a student to slack on this one, as consistency in gripping the gun is essential to consistency in hits on target.

Like most things in life, there will be compromises and exceptions to the rules. Slight adjustments or modifications to these suggestions are acceptable and even expected, as long as they are safe and the result is improved student performance.

Start and End With the ‘Why’

Never lose sight of the fact that you need to keep the purpose this gun is intended to serve in mind. For someone intending to carry concealed for personal defense, it often becomes somewhat of a compromise. Ideally, the gun that fits the hand can be carried and concealed in a manner that is comfortable and convenient. If it cannot, the likelihood of everyday carry is diminished.

The compromise is to find a gun and holster that can and will be carried and that are still viable for personal defense. Not to be forgotten is spare ammunition and how it will be carried. Whether carrying concealed, for competition or for general recreational use, one must consider spare ammunition, other complements and the gun/holster combination.

Ideally, the gun that fits the hand can be carried and concealed in a manner that is comfortable and convenient. If it cannot, the likelihood of everyday carry is diminished.

As a firearms instructor, you must be skilled in fitting a handgun to a student early in the training process in order to maximize achievement and ensure a positive experience on the range and in your class. Atop that, you should have good working knowledge of holsters and other carry gear so as to provide sound options for students during the equipment-selection process.

Most importantly, actively seek out each student’s goals and intentions as far as what he is actually looking to do. This will enable you to guide him down the right path in selecting a gun and equipment to best fit his needs. Finding the right fit the first time for the equipment (as well as the application) is a win for the student — and for you.

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