How hard should you grip your pistol?

Long-time shooters like us develop many bad habits regarding our shooting techniques. We tend to be either trigger-slappers or we keep our index finger in constant contact with the triggerguard.
In my case, I maintain a death grip on my guns. Initially, I tried to manage the handgun's recoil by eliminating and minimizing it. In time I realized that with accurate and fast shooting, the recoil was not important. The best approach was to develop the correct stance that would allow for quicker target acquisition, rather than attempting to control the handgun.
Another technique I attempted to master was the proper handgun hold. Although instructors may advise on the best techniques, they often do not agree on what works. Some advice using even pressure with each hand, while others teach light but even pressure. Yet others may swear by splitting the force applied in a 60/40 or even a 40/60 ratio.
Right-handers may be told to use their left hand to hold the frame steady while using the right hand to operate the trigger. In this way, the right-hand remains relaxed to engage the trigger finger when needed.
It is sometimes advised to hold the frame with both hands to balance forces by utilizing side-by-side force, as opposed to the front-to-back force technique.
The positioning of the arms is also important. I have competed with and tested various positions using straight arms, bent arms, one arm more straight or more bent than the other. Now I am less concerned with stances than I used to be and I just shoot.
Where grip is concerned, however, I can be described as being a bit OCD about it. My grip consists of several learned bad habits and several tricks I have collected over time.
Firstly, I use my firing hand to grip very high. For revolvers, when the double-action trigger press occurs, the hammer spur will touch the palm of my hand.
With pistols, only the tang prevents the slide rails from creating tracks on the back of my hand. With other pistols, the tracks will form anyway. In both the 1911s and other pistols, I cannot effectively use my ambidextrous safeties because my hand is positioned too high. The right-hand paddle cannot clear the frame since my right knuckle rides too high.
My grip allows the trigger finger to touch the frame and the slide as it moves down to the triggerguard. Lifting my trigger finger from the triggerguard allows it to aim upwards to the ejection port.
My thumb rests on the safety on the other side. At least once I have broken a thumb safety because of the increased pressure and the recoil leveraging applied.
At the same time, my left-hand does extra work.
Consideration of the left index finger remains. This finger lies over the right-hand fingers and positions itself between the second finger and the right trigger finger.
It lies over the second finger - a positioning long referred to as the Ayoob Wedge. The left index finger helps to oppose the muzzle rise.
How much resistance does it provide? This resistance is such that following a day of shooting, that index finger is sorer after resisting recoil than the right-hand trigger finger is from pressing the trigger.
How can I improve this? By practicing bowling pin shooting. When shooting pins, a great deal of recoil must be handled. There is enough time to get the proper grip and to adequately manage the recoil while shooting pins. Well, that was the way it worked. After many hours of practice on the range, and responding to USPSA/IPSC, I positioned my hands as fast as possible on the draw.
The grip is the final task to conquer. I clasp the frame with all my might. This grip style I created from my time spent in the local sheriff's office while shooting in a PPC league. I had such a hard grip, the pistol could have been in a vise.
Is this a gripping strategy to follow? It may not be for you. Everyone's hands are not the same.
This process can be hard work. After practicing for a day, my hands are very sore. Again, to answer the question: How firmly should you grip your pistol? I would advise, as hard as you can without dropping it or even hard enough to prevent anyone from easily snatching it away from you.
Apart from that, you will need to determine your process through trial and error. Practice at your shooting range, use a timer to find the best process for you. Using a training log to monitor your progress can be helpful.
Work hard at it and your efforts will pay off.
Carla Arbuckle

Carla is a staff writer for and She is an avid outdoors enthusiast and photographer. She can be found most weekends fishing and exploring the wilderness.