Why Tight Is Right

Some Say “Don’t Hold Your Handgun
Too Hard.” Mas Begs To Differ

By Massad Ayoob

There are many theories on how hard to grasp your handgun. I’ve heard, “Hold the pistol as you would a quail; firmly enough it won’t fly away, but not hard enough to crush its tiny bones.” I’ve often heard (and so have you), “Grasp with 40 percent strength with your firing hand and 60 percent with your support hand.”

After almost 60 years of shooting handguns and 44 years of teaching others to do so, I must respectfully disagree.

We need to hold the gun steady against a trigger pull probably multiple times the weight of the firearm, sometimes when the finger is pulling the trigger as fast as humanly possible. We need to hold it firmly enough to keep it from twisting in the hand. And we usually want to bring it back on target from the recoil just as swiftly. I respectfully submit the harder we’re holding it, the better we’ll accomplish all these tasks.
Don’t take my word for it. Let’s hear from some legendary experts.

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Try this exercise yourself. One hand (above) has all fingers but the trigger finger
closed tight, the other hand relaxed, and when you simulate fast trigger pull, only
trigger finger moves on crush-gripping hand, but all fingers close sympathetically on
relaxed hand (below), which would “milk” the handgun. Photo: Gail Pepin

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The Pros Concur

As a kid, long before I ever fired my first pistol shot in competition, I had read the words of the great Col. Charles Askins, Jr., who killed a whole lot of bad guys in his career, and in the 1930’s won the National Pistol Championship of the USA. He advocated “a grip that could crush granite.” When I started in bull’s-eye competition in my late teens, I got to meet Don Mara, a Marine combat vet who had lost a good bit of his hearing as a “tunnel rat” in Vietnam killing enemy fighters in the tiny confines of the tunnels, firing 1-handed with a 1911 .45 automatic. He was also the odds-on favorite to win the New Hampshire State Championship most years, firing with a crush grip. He mentioned when on the Marine Corps pistol team, the highest accolade you could win from his teammates was, “He’s a hard-holder.”

Time went on. I got to meet another legendary figure, Col. Rex Applegate, who advocated in print a “convulsive grip.” When I asked him what he meant by this, he replied, “Hold the damn pistol as hard as you can!” Lesson learned. In more recent times, self-taught national champ Ben Stoeger was asked how hard he held his pistol, and he replied, “Hard as (expletive deleted).” Rob Leatham, who has won so many world championships in practical pistol shooting he should need no introduction, told me during an interview for the ProArms Podcast, he holds his Springfield Armory pistols, “As hard as I can.” Watch my old friend Jerry Miculek shooting on YouTube: he’s holding so hard his corded muscles and veins are sculpted in his forearms. Ace instructor Paul Carlson at Safety Solutions recently wrote in another publication, “Grip the gun as hard as you can, then double the pressure.” He added, “Having a ‘crush grip’ on the gun has significant benefits. Nature gave you a crush grip for a reason. A crush grip makes sure you don’t drop your life-saving tools even when faced with a threat. As a result, a crush grip is a natural reaction in a defensive situation.” (1)

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With a crush grip, fingernail beds can be seen to turn white (above). Circle shows
the imprint of grip stippling on the shooter’s hand (below). If you can’t see this
when you let go, you may not be holding the handgun hard enough. Photos: Gail Pepin

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Test It Yourself

You don’t have to take those highly credentialed experts’ word for it, either. Try a few exercises yourself. One I share with my students is: bring one of your hands up in front of your face, extend the index finger as if it’s on a trigger and relax the others. Now, run the index finger fast, as if you were trying to fire five or six shots per second. See how the other fingers reflexively move with it? Marksmanship instructors call this sympathetic movement “milking” because it mimics a hand on a cow’s udder, and it pulls the shot low and to the weak-hand side. Now, try it again, but close all except the trigger finger as tight as you can. Run the trigger finger as fast as possible. The other fingers will want to move sympathetically—you’ll even feel the tendon moving in your forearm—but they can’t because they’re already at maximum closure. Voilà—the instant cure for “milking.”

Now try the max force crush grip dry-fire, carefully watching the sights and going faster and faster on the trigger. You may very likely be able to see the sights remaining more stable on the target. When you take your hand off the gun, imprints from the checkering and/or stippling should be visible on palms and fingers. The final test, of course, is live fire. Do it slow… then do it cadenced… then do it rapid fire, then as fast as you can. Compare it with lighter grasps in terms of recoil control, muzzle jump, speed of return to target, and of course, accuracy.

Only you can determine what works for you, but if you give the crush grip a chance, you’ll see why among the heavy hitters it’s coming back—as a technique of choice—after years of being reviled as “over-gripping” and “gorilla gripping.” I honestly think the crush grip is one of the lost secrets of combat handgun shooting, and I’m glad to witness its renaissance.

Further Reading
1) Paul Carlson, “High Stakes Precision,”
Concealed Carry Handguns, 2016, p. 107.

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