July 6, 2022


Grasp is fundamental to good, safe handgun shooting. It is literally where shooter meets gun, “the interface between man and machine.”

Consider this: A semi-automatic pistol needs the rigid abutment of a firmly held frame for the slide to cycle against. Without a firm hold, recoil tends to whipsaw the muzzle upward more, reducing the speed of accurate follow-up shots. It also causes the frame to move with the slide upon recoil, and momentum that should be running the slide dissipates through hand and wrist. The slide runs out of momentum, and we could have a failure to return to battery, or even a stovepipe (where a piece of brass is caught in the ejection port because the slide couldn’t bring it against the ejector hard enough to expel it all the way clear).

Massad Ayoob discusses hand placement on pistol for a proper grip
Do you know how to properly grip a pistol? Massad Ayoob explains the secrets of the “crush grip” in this article. Image: Gail Pepin

A less-than-hard grasp is also deleterious to accuracy. The reason is, as the index finger presses the trigger, the rest of the hand needs to be holding the gun steady against that pressure. Our fingers are sympathetic: when one tightens, the other wants to tighten with it. It will become more pronounced the faster you’re trying to shoot.

Rob Leatham demonstrating pistol grip technique
Rob Leatham, here winning a match in Texas with Springfield Armory 1911, uses a max-force grip. Image: Gail Pepin

When the middle finger, ring finger and pinky tighten sympathetically with the index finger’s rearward movement on the trigger, it’s as if the hand was milking a cow’s udder. In fact, that term found its way into the lexicon of shooters many generations ago. When a right-handed shooter hits low left, or a southpaw low right, an astute coach is likely to say, “You’re milking the gun.”

The Cure

So, what’s the cure? Simple: The Crush Grip. Do an easy exercise with me as you read this. Empty your gun hand, and hold it between the words you’re looking at and your eye, where you can see it. Let all the fingers except the trigger finger relax. Now, run your finger as if on a trigger, as fast as you can. You’ll see your other fingers are closing with it. Milking in action! It happens to a lesser degree – but still happens – when you’re applying only 40% or 60% of closure strength with those other fingers.

Thumb placement in proper semi-auto pistol grip
The author’s thumb is curled down to provide maximum hand strength, increasing the grip on this Springfield Armory TGO-II .45. Image: Gail Pepin

Now, let’s do that one more time. But this time, close those bottom three fingers as tightly as you can! Run your trigger finger as fast as you can – and you’ll find the other fingers aren’t moving in sympathy with it anymore. They’re trying to – you can see and feel it in the tendon – but they can’t, because they’re already at maximum closure!

Voila! You have just experienced the instant cure for milking the trigger.

But, Wait …

Some will tell you that if you crush with maximum force, your trigger finger will freeze up. BS! You just experienced for yourself the fact that it didn’t. (If your trigger finger did freeze up, there’s something radically wrong with it, and you should make an appointment with an MD hand specialist ASAP.)

It’s common to hear the advice, “Grip tight until your hand trembles, and then back off a little.” This is fine as far as it goes, but you are still likely to milk the gun, if only “a little.” I’ve been teaching this for decades, and many students don’t get any tremor at all with max force grip. I know I don’t. And if you do, well, when you need the gun for real it might just be trembling anyway, so you may as well get used to it now.

Secrets of the ninja: if you hold the sights in alignment and tremble, the bullets will still hit where you’re aiming and the target won’t know the difference. Or you can heed the advice of Col. Charles Askins, Jr., a master gunfighter and past National Champion pistol shooter: Keep holding as hard as you can, and eventually, your hand will become accustomed to it and stop trembling.

Primary Sources

If anyone tells you that great shooters don’t grip the gun hard, they’re wrong. Look at history. Askins’ contemporary Bill Jordan was also an advocate of the very hard grip. So was Col. Rex Applegate. I asked Rex once what he meant when he advocated “convulsive grip.” He answered, “I mean hold the God-damned gun as hard as you can!”

Ayoob demonstrates the crush grip
Using the crush grip helps the author control full-power .45 hardball firing one-handed at about five shots per second at close range with a TGO-II. Image: Gail Pepin

Advocates of the crush grip don’t just belong to the past. Brian Zins, today a full-time firearms instructor and in recent years the only man in history to win the demanding National Championship in bulls-eye shooting, told me he shoots with a max force grip.

And it’s not just about shooting; as mentioned earlier, it has an impact on safety. Whether you’re running an assault course in a night match and the front of your slide slams into a barricade, or it’s for real and a dirtbag in the alley tries to grab your pistol away from you, how hard you’re holding it at the moment of contact may determine whether or not that weapon leaves your hand.

Conclusion

On the evaluations at the end of my classes, the single thing my graduates list under most valuable shooting tip they got has been “crush grip.”

Give it a try for a few hundred rounds, and you’ll see why you should stop milking the gun!

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