Defensive Shooting: How to Find a Gun That “Fits” You

Defensive Shooting: The proliferation of pistols with high capacity, double column magazines has created problems for many shooters, who have handguns that simply do not fit their hands.

Defensive Shooting: Female shooter has proper grip on this pistol. Note wrist bones and forearm bones in line with the barrel.

 

Firearms instructors out there, have you noticed how many shooters these days have fat butts?

 

I’m sorry—I meant their pistols have fat butts. The proliferation of pistols with high capacity, double column magazines has created problems for many shooters, who have handguns that simply do not fit their hands. This makes proper performance difficult, especially when attempting to shoot at speed or under stress. Unfortunately, both of these circumstances are likely in a defensive situation. Let’s look at the problems caused by poor grip frame to hand fit.

Defensive Shooting: Note the gap between the trigger finger and the pistol’s frame.

Defensive Shooting: Note the gap between the trigger finger and the pistol’s frame.

One often overlooked aspect of this problem is the compromising of mechanical reliability. Especially on pistols with plastic or aluminum frames, the shooter’s wrist bones and forearm bones need to be behind the frame to provide resistance against rearward movement of the frame during the cycling of the slide. If the frame moves to the rear as the slide does, the slide will not come back hard enough to reliably eject the spent round or feed the next one from the magazine. The term “limp wristing” is often used to describe the cause of this malfunction, but it is a misnomer. The shooter may have plenty of grip strength and a locked wrist, but if the bore line is significantly offset from the wrist bones and forearm bones, these malfunctions may occur.

If, however, the gun is gripped correctly, the palm covers the backstrap from top to bottom, and the wrist bones are directly behind the backstrap. This offers resistance against the frame’s tendency to recoil to the rear with the slide. If your student is having “stovepipe” malfunctions, one of the first things you should check for is this lack of bone structure behind the grip frame. Many times, simply having your student change his grip a bit cures the reliability problem.

The next issue is being able to press the trigger straight to the rear, while maintaining the correct grip, as described above. Lateral pressure on the trigger causes lateral movement of the muzzle. Ideally, the trigger should move in a straight line to the rear until the sear releases the hammer or striker, and continue in a straight line to the rear throughout whatever over-travel the particular pistol design includes.

Ideally, the center of the fingerprint of the trigger finger should be centered on the trigger to enable the shooter to apply this straight-to-the-rear trigger pressure. This trigger finger placement is often not possible when the handgun’s grip frame is too large for the shooter. The distance from the backstrap of the pistol’s grip frame to the center of the trigger is called the “trigger reach.” One of the most common problems I see among students is a trigger reach too long for their hand size and finger length. If your student’s shots are impacting to the left or right of the desired point of impact, this is often the root cause of the problem.

Another problem directly connected to trigger reach issues is deflecting shots laterally by placing pressure on one side of the pistol frame while moving the trigger finger to the rear to fire the gun. This is a common issue among Glock shooters, who if right-handed shoot to the left whenever they speed up. Of course, if left-handed, they shoot to the right. The problem is what we at Rangemaster call the “trigger finger bicep.”

 

Yet another issue with a grip frame that is too large for the shooter is reliably working other controls, such as a safety/decocker or a magazine catch.

 

Try this: make a fist with your right hand and draw your forearm up to flex your bicep. As the forearm moves up, your bicep bulges atop your upper arm. Now, look at your trigger finger. Move it as if pressing a trigger. You will notice that the first joint, the part that joins to your palm, is bulging up, just like your bicep.

The Glock, and many other polymer framed pistols, have a distinct corner behind the trigger guard, since the grip frame is rectangular in cross section, and considerably wider than the trigger guard. If your finger is in contact with that corner on the frame, as you press the trigger to the rear the “finger bicep” bulges, pushing against the frame, moving the gun laterally.

Actually, the only place one’s trigger finger should touch the pistol is on the face of the trigger. If we wanted it to touch the frame, we’d call it the frame finger. If the butt of the gun is too big for your student, or the trigger reach is too long, this lateral pressure on the frame will cause the sideways shot dispersion. A simple test for this is to have the shooter aim in on a target and place their finger on the trigger. If you look down on the student’s hands, you should be able to see a gap between the trigger finger and the pistol’s frame. You should be able to insert a ball point pen into that gap without undue pressure.

Yet another issue with a grip frame that is too large for the shooter is reliably working other controls, such as a safety/decocker or a magazine catch. We continually see shooters struggling with these issues, because someone convinced them they had to have X or Y brand or model of handgun, although it clearly does not fit them properly. This applies very often to female shooters, but we also see a lot of men with smaller hands who suffer from the same issues. Let’s say you have a female shooter with small hands struggling with a SIG P229, for example. You might have her try a SIG P239, instead. Both pistols operate identically, but the grip frame and trigger reach on the P239 are considerably smaller.

These problems are not limited to auto pistol users. I believe the medium frame revolver (K-frame in Smith & Wesson terminology) is far better suited for defensive shooting than the smaller, five shot J-frame guns. I think of the J-frame guns as back-up guns, a role for which they are well suited.

The K-frame wheelguns hold six rounds instead of five, usually have better sights, and the trigger action is usually smoother. The trigger reach is longer on the K-frame guns, though. Since the double action trigger pull weight usually runs from 12 to 13 pounds on these guns, the shooter needs some leverage on the trigger. This is made difficult if the trigger reach is too long. We see a lot of lateral muzzle whip in double action shooting if the trigger finger is not long enough for proper placement.

Defensive Shooting: Some handguns, like the Glock line, can be customized to better fit the owner’s hand. Here, a Glock 35 has had a grip reduction and finger channels, which aid greatly in getting a proper grip with smaller hands. The newest Generation 4 Glocks, and the Smith & Wesson M&P, feature interchangeable grip inserts which serve the same function.

Defensive Shooting: Some handguns, like the Glock line, can be customized to better fit the owner’s hand. Here, a Glock 35 has had a grip reduction and finger channels, which aid greatly in getting a proper grip with smaller hands. The newest Generation 4 Glocks, and the Smith & Wesson M&P, feature interchangeable grip inserts which serve the same function.

So, how do we determine whether a particular pistol fits our student’s hand? First, with a verified unloaded pistol, have the student grasp the pistol correctly, with the backstrap of the grip frame in contact with the length of the palm, and the wrist bones and forearm bones directly behind the grip, in line with the barrel. Now, have him place the pad of the trigger finger on the trigger.

From above, you should be able to see a clear air gap between his trigger finger and the frame of the pistol, behind the trigger guard (see photos). Next, have the student try to cycle the trigger straight to the rear. Next, see if he can access the controls (safety/decocker, magazine button) without excessively compromising his master grip on the pistol.

Minor fit issues can be addressed sometimes by changing stocks, especially on revolvers and certain autos, like the 1911. On the 1911, slimmer stocks can be installed. Really thin stocks will require shorter stock screw bushings, but that is not a big deal. On many Glock handguns, a “grip reduction” can be performed by a gunsmith, making the grip both smaller and better shaped for a small hand. The photos illustrate some of these options. Have your students get a pistol that fits their hands, and their defensive shooting will definitely improve.

Related: Learn what to look for when choosing your best gun…