Your handy guide to handgun fit
Do you have a handgun that feels perfect in your hand? On the other side of the coin, ever fell in love with a handgun, but couldn’t get comfortable shooting it?
What follows are some simple guidelines for judging the fit of a gun to your hand, and advice on what to do if the perfect fit just doesn’t seem possible.
Obligatory safety advisory
It is a given that the procedure described here will be done after you’ve UNLOADED the firearm, and double-checked it to ensure it’s in unloaded condition. You must also refrain from allowing the muzzle to cover anything you’re not willing to destroy. You will be dry firing as part of this test.
The fit test
1) Start with the web of your shooting hand on the top and center of the backstrap.
It’s a good habit to be in anyway, for safety and preparedness. When you pick up any handgun, make sure the “V” between your thumb and forefinger are as high up as they can reasonably go on the backstrap.
There should be no gap between your hand and the rearward curve or beavertail on most semi-autos.
If it’s a revolver, the grip manufacturer likely offers an indentation or texturing of some sort to show the ideal place for the “V” of your hand.
And for those who think “shooting hand” is odd terminology, understand some folks shoot with a different hand than the one they write with.
2) Keeping your grip centered, place your trigger finger on the trigger.
Here, you’re holding the gun in your firing hand, not allowing any part of the gun to rest on anything. Your support hand can take a little vacation for this exercise.
Place, if you can, the center of the distal pad of your trigger finger over the center of the trigger. Don’t allow the finger to touch the trigger guard. If the trigger is really long, you can move your finger to the lower half of the trigger to make the pull as easy as possible, so long as you don’t touch trigger guard.
Some semi-auto triggers have a safety lever that blocks the trigger from doing its job unless something is directly pressing it as designed. If the gun you’re testing has such a lever, you can do this test with the lever pressed flush with the face of the trigger, but do not begin taking up slack on the trigger itself.
3) Pause and observe.
With your grip centered and finger placed correctly on the trigger, look at the rest of your trigger finger, viewing your hand and gun from the top, birds-eye view.
Ideally, there should be a shallow C-shaped curve in your finger, with some air between the palmar surface of your finger and the frame of the gun.
If the gun’s a bit small for your hand, your immediate tendency will be to hook too much finger into the trigger guard and around the trigger (as seen in the cover photo).
If the gun’s a bit too big, you’ll be able to reach the trigger but your finger will be flat against the frame.
If the gun’s much too big, you’ll find yourself rotating the “V” of your hand toward the trigger to reach it.
4) Press the trigger slowly (assuming you’ve double-checked the gun’s unloaded).
Remember, a proper trigger press is a steady and straight motion rearward. Take your time and repeat this step several times to ensure you really get a feel for the way the gun fits you.
5) Evaluate fit—too short, too long, or just right?
If you had a shallow “C” shape with some air between from and finger in step 3, this step should confirm the good fit you already have. There are some instances where an individual’s bone structure, injury history, or arthritis create exceptions, but as a rule, this is the final step of confirming a perfect gun/hand fit.
If you have a long trigger finger in relation to the gun, and thus a large “C” in order to have the center of your finger pad on the center of the trigger, understand you’ll have to make a conscious effort in practice to not hook too much finger into the trigger. The effect of doing so will pull your shots in the direction of your trigger hand, whether right or left.
If the trigger finger is slightly short to reach the trigger with the web of hand centered on the backstrap, can you rotate the hand slightly to achieve a bit of air between your finger and the frame and still manage a secure grip and good trigger press? Understand that without a bit of clearance between the length of your trigger finger and the frame, your shots will impact opposite the direction of your firing hand. In other words, a right-handed shooter whose hand is too small will tend to push shots left without making some grip adjustment.
6) Decide what you can live with.
Now it’s time to make a decision.
Even if your finger and gun are a perfect fit, and especially if you had to compensate, is the motion required to press the trigger to the break point comfortable? It needs to be. This is usually of concern with revolvers and some semi-autos that were made for concealed carry. A heavy pull is more than some folks want to deal with. If you still want the gun or have no other choice, there are some work-arounds, though. Those are addressed in Step 7.
If your finger is so long as to invite you to put too much finger into the trigger guard, you have to ask yourself if you’re willing to make correct finger placement a habit. That requires practice. You can still shoot the gun well, but without conscious finger placement, you’ll likely hook your shots toward the side of your shooting hand.
So the gun’s a lousy fit, but I still want to, or have to, use it. This isn’t an uncommon problem. Some people who want to ensure concealability choose a much smaller than ideal firearm. On the other end of the spectrum, many officers are assigned a too-large firearm by their department, with no option to change guns. In both cases, workarounds—some human, some mechanical, can be employed.
Wider grips can be installed on some firearms, or the grip can be fitted with a rubber sleeve commonly available from tactical retailers. These simple, reversible modifications can help those with a too-small gun.
For a grip hand or finger that’s only slightly short of being a perfect fit, the fix is to slightly rotate the shooting hand around toward the trigger, keeping the grip high. When adding a support hand for a two-handed grip, nest the heel of the support hand into that of the firing hand, such that no grip is visible between hands. This is part of a good two-handed grip on any handgun, but really necessary for good stability where the hand is a bit small.
If the adjustment of the shooting hand toward the trigger must be so great as to place the bottom joint of the thumb in the path of the beavertail or posterior bulge on most striker-fired guns, that will quickly prove painful. In that case, I recommend cutting bait and finding a different gun, if possible.
When selecting a firearm for family or department use, adjustable grip systems are another great workaround. Any Generation 4 Glock, the Heckler & Koch VP series, and Canik TP9s, to name a few, are shipped with factory grip options. Other than the practicality of fitting many people, these systems lend a uniform appearance for department use.
It’s definitely easier shoot well by choosing a gun that fits in the first place. But where there’s a will, there’s a way. I’ve seen people who own a particular model practice enough to shoot it well despite a poor fit—I’m one of them, having hands too small for most full-size pistols.
How have differences in grip/hand size affected your choices of guns and your development as a shooter? Tell us in the comments.
All photos by Eve Flanigan