Hold Tight To The Past

The Old Masters on Gun-Gripping

Colt & SIG Sauer Handguns

Skelton’s “tucked pinky” also worked with snubbie revolvers like the alloy Colt Cobra .38 (right) and micro autos like the SIG P290 9mm (left).

In any discipline we revere the old masters because we learned from them. “Old” does not equal “obsolete,” not for firearms and not for shooting techniques. There were reasons the old masters became icons. Much of what they taught still works, though some have been forgotten. Let’s look at a few examples:

SIG Sauer

Askins said, “The gun wants to be grasped so tightly that the end of the fingers all turn white.” Pistol is SIG Legion P229 9mm.

“Yet for many years the crush grip was scorned as the ‘gorilla grip’ by shooters who advocated applying as little as 40 percent of your grip strength to the gun.”

In The Grasp Of Askins

Col. Charles Askins, Jr. was for many years the Shooting Editor of this magazine. I had the privilege of knowing him. He was a legend in the shooting world and one of the master gunfighters of the 20th Century. He won hundreds of shooting medals, and captured the National Pistol Championship of the United States in the mid-1930s. In the September 1968 issue of GUNS, here’s what he had to say about how hard to hold a handgun:

“Regardless of the size of the shooter’s gun hand there is only one proper grip so far as strength goes. That is to hold the piece with a grip like iron! The gun wants to be grasped so tightly that the end of the fingers all turn white. This is because all the blood has been pressed out of them. This kind of a pressure ensures a uniformity of recoil, which in turn accounts for a sameness of hit location. The upflip and twist of the muzzle is held to minimum limits which in turn dictates where each bullet prints.

“When you first try to hold the handgun with the force that is required, it will tremble. This will go on for quite a long time and the only cure is practice — both with the gun empty and loaded. Persist in gripping very hard and over a period of time, which may stretch into several months, and you will finally achieve a grasp as tough as it should be and yet the gun will not wobble and tremble. Then you have arrived.”

The “power grasp” won Askins prizes ranging from the National Championship to — in his many gunfights — his very life. Yet for many years the crush grip was scorned as the “gorilla grip” by shooters who advocated applying as little as 40 percent of your grip strength to the gun.

But today’s masters have come strongly back to the “hard hold,” vindicating Charlie Askins and the many of us who had followed and shared his good advice all along.


The single-action “roll-up” is greatly reduced with Elmer Keith’s “pinky finger under” grip.

Keith Gives Us The, Uh, Finger …

Ever notice when shooting a single-action, frontier-style revolver with powerful loads, the famous “plow handle” grip rolls it in your hand and leaves the muzzle pointed at the sky? There’s good news and bad news with this. The good? The roll dissipates recoil force, where the high recurve on the backstrap of a double action revolver would slam a good part of the “kick” straight back into the web of your hand. This is why, from the 1950s on, lots of folks swore the SA Ruger .44 Magnum kicked less than the DA Smith & Wesson.

But the bad news is this: The shooter has to bring the muzzle all the way back down and re-grasp for the next shot, not to mention having to thumb-cock the hammer again. The legendary Elmer Keith (who also wrote a lot for this magazine) offered the following advice on this matter in his 1955 classic Sixguns by Keith:

“Men with large hands will usually find their best bet with Colt, Ruger and Great Western single action guns is to curl the little finger under and around the butt of the gun. It is then in the best position to aid in cocking the gun during recoil for the next shot.”

Handgun revolver

Here’s the recoil “roll-up” of a warm .45 Colt load in Ruger’s Vaquero with a conventional grasp.

Skeeter Takes The Finger Further

If Keith gave us the little-finger-under-the-butt technique for the most classic handgun of the 19th Century, Skeeter Skelton applied it to a classic of the 20th, the snubnose small-frame revolver.

Without a grip adapter or custom stocks, those things twist in your hand under recoil — especially with the slender “splinter” stocks of yesteryear. The pinkie finger tucked under the butt goes a long way toward curing this. It turns out to work remarkably well with short-butt autos of the “Baby GLOCK” genre as well. Skelton, by the way, got his start in — you guessed it — the pages of GUNS.

Ya know, back in the day I thought I’d figured out the little finger thing all by myself. I suspect now I didn’t so much reinvent the wheel — I’d probably read it in a gun book or magazine as a kid and internalized it without attribution.

In a similar vein, I learned as a handgun retention instructor the hardest gun to take from someone was a model with a short barrel and decent-size grip-frame to hang onto. Turns out another of the Old Masters figured it out earlier. In his book Shooting, the late Henry “Fitz” Fitzgerald wrote, “Some of the advantages of the 2 barrel are ... in a scuffle the barrel is so short that the man holding the revolver has far more leverage than the man trying to take it away from him.” He wrote those lines in 1930.

The upshot of all this? Ain’t much new under the sun. Sometimes we need to get away from being explorers of new shooting worlds and become archaeologists instead, digging through the sands of time for old concepts which worked but were sadly forgotten.

GUNS Magazine June 2019 Cover

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