November 21, 2019 6 min read

Gina and her husband Tom went to the pistol range last weekend for target practice. A couple of months ago they learned how to hold and shoot a gun to get their concealed carry licenses.

They entered the range with their guns unloaded. They locked back the slides to show the safety instructor that the chambers were empty. Then they went to their lanes. They locked and loaded, and began shooting practice.

Gina hit her targets dead on. But Tom wasn’t doing so well. 

His grouping was awful, and most of his shots didn’t even touch the silhouette on the target.

“I don’t get it,” he said, “I qualified at concealed carry class. Why am I such a bad shot now?”

“Let’s see your stance,” Gina said. Tom raised his gun to shooting level.

“Hmmm … your stance is okay, but what’s with that grip?” Gina said.

Tom had his supporting forefinger extended. His firing hand was about a half-inch below the top of the handle.

“Are you trying to shoot like Kiefer Sutherland on 24?” Gina laughed.

Tom rolled his eyes and sighed. “I guess I got lazy and stopped paying attention to detail.”

Properly holding a handgun is one of the most important basic skills for accurate firing. When you hold with a firm, uniform grip, your gun becomes an extension of your hand. Hitting your target will be as easy and natural as pointing with your finger.

Holding a Gun With a One-Handed Grip

A one-handed grip isn't as stable as two-handed. It's good to practice shooting with one hand in case your supporting hand gets injured.

  1. Extend your thumb and forefinger on your firing hand to form a V.
  2. If your gun isn’t holstered, hold it by the barrel with your supporting hand.
  3. Place the webbing of the V on the back of the gun handle. You want to get your hand as high as you can on the handle.
  4. Wrap your lower three fingers (middle, ring, and pinky) around the front of the pistol grip. Point these fingers to the rear. Let your thumb rest on the side of the pistol grip without pressure.
  5. Squeeze the pistol grip with equal pressure from the lower three fingers until your hand starts to tremble. Release pressure until the trembling stops.
  6. For safety, keep your forefinger extended outside the trigger guard. When you’re ready to shoot, place your index finger on the trigger so that the trigger is between the tip and the second joint.
  7. If holstered, you may draw your gun.

Holding a Gun with the Straight Thumbs Grip

This Straight-Thumbs grip was discovered in the 1980s by the International Practical Shooting Confederation Grand Masters, Rob Leatham and Brian Enos. It’s best used with a semi-automatic pistol. Expert shooters report that it gives them the most control in rapid-firing competitions. The US Army has been training soldiers to use this grip since 2017.

  1. Hold the gun with your firing hand using the proper one-handed grip.
  2. Raise your gun to the middle of your chest. Keep it close to your body while forming the grip.
  3. Firmly wrap the fingers of your non-firing hand over the fingers of your firing hand. Place the index finger of your non-firing hand over your firing hand’s middle finger. Grip high so that your index finger touches the bottom of the trigger guard.
  4. Let your firing thumb rest on top of the support thumb. Keep both thumbs parallel to the gun’s frame to avoid interference with the slide function.
  5. Raise your gun to firing position.

Keep your thumbs away from the slide and ejection port. This prevents injury and firing malfunction.

Holding a Gun With the Thumbs Locked Grip

This is the best grip for firing a revolver.

  1. Hold the gun with your firing hand using the proper one-handed grip.
  2. Firmly wrap the fingers of your support hand over the fingers of your firing hand. Place the support index finger over your firing hand’s middle finger. Grip high so that your index finger touches the bottom of the trigger guard.
  3. Place your supporting thumb on top of your firing thumb.

Keep your thumbs away from the cylinder. You don’t want to risk getting powder burns.

Gun Holding Mistakes to Avoid

As Seen on TV...

...And at the movies. 

  1. Hollywood gives us street gangs holding their guns sideways. You can’t aim properly, and it’s hard to control the recoil.
  2. We've seen Clint Eastwood and Sylvester Stallone hold their firing arms by the wrist. It doesn’t control muzzle flip or stabilize recoil. Nor does gripping the forearm like in Roger Moore’s role as James Bond.

Misplaced Digits

  1. Some shooters place their supporting index finger in front of the trigger guard. You don’t get good recoil control, so avoid it.
  2. Thumbs crossed at the back of the gun. You risk the slide slicing your thumbs open. It’s just not safe. 

The Cup and Saucer

Believe it or not, until recently the palm-supported grip or Cup and Saucer was taught to the US Military.

To form this grip you’d place the palm of your non-firing hand at the bottom of the pistol grip.

Then wrap your fingers around the back of your firing hand, and place your thumb over the middle finger of your firing hand.

It’s very poor for recoil control. You’ll shoot much better with a proven grip.

Apply Isometric Tension

To hold your gun for stability, apply isometric tension. It helps keep you steady and reduces barrel rise from recoil.

  1. Raise your arms to firing position
  2. Push forward with your firing hand while pulling back with equal pressure from your supporting hand. You should apply firm pressure, but not so much that it causes you to tremble.
  3. Fully extend your firing arm and keep your wrist locked
  4. Bend your supporting arm, keeping your elbow pointed downward.

When you practice firing, try out different amounts of pressure to see what works best for you. You want just enough pressure to keep your gun stable. 

Find your Natural Point of Aim

With some practice, you’ll know your natural point of aim. In other words, you’ll find the most relaxed position for holding and firing your gun.

  1. Hold your gun with a proper two-handed grip.
  2. Set your sights on a target in the distance.
  3. Close your eyes for 3 to 5 seconds.
  4. Open your eyes and check the sight picture. It should be the same as before.
  5. If your point of aim is off, adjust your stance.
  6. If the sight alignment is off, release your grip and hold the gun by the barrel in your supporting hand. Follow the steps for proper grip from the beginning.

Keep practicing this until you have the same sight picture before and after.

Handling Your Gun Safely

Once you fire your gun, there’s no taking it back. There are no do-overs. 

Whatever property damage …

… persons injured … or killed …

… that’s it.

So be sure to follow important gun safety rules.

  1. Keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction. In other words, never point a gun at something you don’t intend to shoot. If you are on a gun range, keep it pointed downrange at all times.
  2. Even if you know your gun’s unloaded, handle it as though it is.
  3. Keep your finger off the trigger until you’re ready to shoot. Rest your trigger finger outside the trigger guard along the side of your gun.
  4. Be sure of your target and what’s beyond. Make sure there aren’t people or anything else you don’t want to shoot near or beyond the target.
  5. Don’t rely on the safety lock. Even if you’re sure the safety is on, handle your gun as if it’s not.
  6. Always wear hearing and eye protection when firing.

Final Thoughts

Even if you’ve been shooting for years, it’s vital to know the basics. Just like most other skills - sports, dance, playing a musical instrument, professional skills - it’s easy to develop bad habits along the way. 

Take some time at the range to practice the basics. It could make all the difference at a shooting competition …

… or an unexpected treat!

If you’re new to marksmanship, this article is no substitute for professional firearm training. When you shop for local firearms instruction be sure to check the instructor’s credentials.

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