Getting A Grip

The Interface Between Shooter And Gun Can Be The
Difference Between Top Performance And Mediocrity.

By Massad Ayoob
Photos By Gail Pepin

On a handgun, grips and trigger reach are what steering wheel adjustment is to driving: the interface of man and machine. When the machine fits you better, you will shoot or drive better, particularly in high-speed, reflexive action. Hand-to-gun fit is one of the most subjective elements of the whole discipline.

And of course, it never hurts to “look good doin’ it.”

On a revolver, you have more latitude to adjust grip size and angle to hand, though semi-automatic pistols have improved in that regard with the relatively recent innovation of interchangeable backstraps. Beware of fingergrooves sized for the hands of people other than you. In the service revolver days, petite female officers or small-handed males would buy fingergrooved grips for their service or target revolvers, and then term “grind away the flange” between the middle finger and the ring finger on a larger hand. The result was a space that all three of the smaller, slender fingers fit nicely where two male “sausage fingers” had been intended to go.


The laser on Crimson Trace Lasergrips, here on a SIG P226, is
activated by pressing a button (arrow).

Fit Factor

As a young bull’s-eye shooter, I learned to hate thumbrest grips, particularly on the 1911 .45. They tended to hold the thumb too high. The web of the hand could sometimes pull back from the grip safety, deactivating the gun at inopportune times. Also, a straight thumb instead of a high one seemed to guide the trigger finger more straight back as it pressed. Personally, I liked flat grip panels that allowed the thumb to curl down, strengthening the grip for faster recovery time when rapid-firing a large caliber pistol.

Always remember what feels good in dry fire may not seem so optimum once the recoil starts. Back in my PPC days, I discovered while Pachmayr grips felt a little better subjectively, Hogue grips shot better for me, objectively looking at match scores. So, I went to Hogues. I found the same in IDPA shooting, in both Stock Service Revolver with .38’s, and Enhanced Service Revolver division with .45’s. The proof is in the shooting.

I remember the old neoprene revolver grip with a trapdoor in the butt holding six separate .38 Special or .357 Magnum rounds. Perhaps because of its bulk, it never caught on. What did spread like wildfire was the Crimson Trace LaserGrip, which is often found with on many pocket- or ankle-holstered J-Frame revolvers, including mine. Another good example is the GripLight designed by our own Roy Huntington to put a white light on a J-Frame.

Show or Go?

Need something fancy for the barbecue gun? Pearl is delicate, and I for one could feel the ghost of General George Patton frowning at me if I wore a handgun so accoutered. Patton’s own choice of ivory is more “usable,” but it still tends to yellow and crack. My own homage-to-Patton gun has durable faux ivory from Raj Singh’s Eagle Grips, which seem impervious to .357 Magnum recoil. As a young guy, I imprinted on the silvery, ivory-handled Colt D-Frame .38’s of handgunners I idolized—Chic Gaylord and Skeeter Skelton. Today I have genuine ivory on a nickel Detective Special and a hard-chromed Agent, and wear them occasionally but don’t shoot ’em much.

Stag is way more durable than, say, pearl, and the roughness of its surface gives traction to the shooting hand. You’ll generally find them in standard configuration, which means a grip adapter will probably improve shooting characteristics on a stag-handled revolver.


Faux ivory from Eagle Grips is more durable than the real deal on this 5-screw
Pre-27 .357, (above, top gun) shown with a JED adapter. Real stag on this 27-2
(above, bottom gun) benefits from a Tyler-T grip adapter, shown ready to install.
The grips are very intuitive to use and add little to the arm’s bulk. Roy Huntington’s
GripLight shown here (below) on an Air-Lite J-Frame S&W performs dual tasks well.


Recoil Control

With the real hard-kickin’ artillery, we have the Pachmayr Decelerator. It’s a Godsend on my hardest kicking handgun, one of J.D. Jones’ T/C hand-cannons in .375 JDJ. If you don’t mind some bulk on your S&W Magnums, the X-Frame grips Hogue designed for the .500 and .460 soak up kick with the lesser Mags. On my personal Model 629 Mountain Gun, the lightest .44 Magnum I regularly shoot with full loads, roundbutt Pachmayr Compacs for the roundbutt K-Frame look ugly, but distribute recoil across the web of the hand and cushion impact to the proximal joints of thumb and forefinger as well. They conceal well when the 4-inch .44 doubles as a carry gun, too.

Choices may change between barbecue gun, hunting gun, match gun, and daily carry, but today’s choices in handgun grips give us lots of versatility to better suit the tool to the task.

Crimson Trace, 9780 SW Freeman Dr., Wilsonville, OR 97070, (800) 442-2406,

GripLight, Cylinder & Slide, Inc., 245 E. 4th Street, Fremont, NE 68026, (402) 721-4277

Company Info

Eagle Grips, 460 Randy Road, Carol Stream, IL 60188, (800) 323-6144

Hogue Grips, P.O. Box 1138, Paso Robles, CA 93447, (800) 438-4747

Pachmayr Grips, Lyman Products Group, 475 Smith Street, Middletown, CT 06457, (860) 632-2020

Tyler Mfg, P.O. Box 492, Newalla, OK 74857, (405) 625-4992

Read More Handgun Articles


Order Your Printed Copy Of GUNS Magazine February 2016 Issue Now!

Download A PDF Of The GUNS Magazine February 2016 Issue Now!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

(Spamcheck Enabled)