There are a lot of different branches to the family tree of firearms and everyone views their relationship with firearms differently too.
The purpose of this article is to give the reader a METHOD to incorporate the main variables of grip, stance and trigger press into their shooting retinue, so that regardless of which branch of the firearms tree they hang their hat, they can achieve quick, accurate hits; consistently.
Everything I try to do when shooting is about building structure; structure in how I interact with terra firma, structure in my body position and structure in my grip. The biggest errors that I see even experienced shooters make is a lack of consistency in those three things in particular. I frequently see one grip used by a shooter and then after a mag change an entirely different grip on the pistol presents itself? How can someone have consistency in their shots if the grip constantly changes? So having a default grip at all times is one way you can eliminate a host of errors from the get go. More on that later…
I admit, that the branch of the firearms tree I prefer is not mere marksmanship but “fighting with a gun.” Hitting a bulls-eye is just a test of sight alignment, sight picture, trigger press and follow through. But running with a gun is so many other things, from ammo management to malfunction clearing. Not to mention that targets on the two-way range don’t usually stand still and give you time to shoot them either. The goal of speaking about these methodologies are meant to stack the deck in your favor so you can get rounds on target when the chips are down or if you want to get your buddies together at the range and just eat their lunch.
There are a lot of ways to skin the proverbial cat and I am a huge believer in having a good supply of tools in the tool box to work with. There have been whole libraries filled with articles about the differences between the Weaver vs. Isosceles vs. The Center Axis Relock, and more. My purpose is not to diminish any of them. I say variety is the spice of life so I prefer to know them all and use the tool that the job requires.
But when I start new students out with a technique, especially if they have issues with recoil management and flinching, the technique I prefer is the Strong Isosceles.
For simplicity, the remainder of the article will refer to the shooter as right handed.
So let’s turn our attention to our base; Footwork. I like to teach a “fighting stance.” And by that I mean that it must satisfy three criteria. To be a fighting stance it must be stable, mobile and flexible. Stable enough to put accurate fire down range, mobile enough to get off-line from an attack, and be flexible that from its starting point you can add or subtract from that equation as the terrain or fight might dictate. The more contact you have with the earth (ala prone), the more stable you certainly are; but there’s virtually no mobility/flexibility to move to other positions quickly. And when the average pistol fight is between 3 and 7 feet (according to the FBI Crime Statistics), going prone is not a hot idea.
By adopting a modified boxer’s stance or a more upright wrestler’s crouch we can find the best way to meet the three criteria. Placing the inside heel of the left foot to the inside toe of the right foot underneath you bring the left foot out to the left horizontally so that your feet are about hip distance apart. If you stand on a line, your right foot touches the south part of the line and the heel of your left foot is on the north.
This is important for several reasons; you want to keep the tank treads under the tank. In the real world, the terrain might be wet grass, wet wood, ice, slick floors, etc. Taking wide steps can be detrimental to you and others when handling firearms, especially on the two-way range.
Once your feet are in position, bend your knees keeping your hips and shoulders square with the target. The bent knees are your shock absorbers, your base and yours motors.
The next element is Body Position. You want to keep your shoulders forward of your hips but not so far forward that your chin is past your toes as this is where your balance will fail you. This is going to help you with recoil management but also with tightening your core to aid in stability and to help harness that ‘fight or flight’ reflex.
When people are startled it’s a natural instinct to drop lower as our hands come up in a “pugilistic stance” with our shoulders up near our ears, while dropping our chins to protect our throat. If this is ‘natural” we want to HARNESS it. Not fight it.
So with the toes of your feet pointing generally in the direction of your target, with knees bent and shoulders forward of the hips we could take a shove or a punch and handle the effect of recoil on our bodies. People that lean back with their shoulders BEHIND their hips usually have to take an adjustment step backwards as they shoot which is the opposite of what we want to do. And their follow up shots are much slower because the gun will rise.
Another way to mitigate that recoil is the concept of Bone Support. Simply locking the elbows makes your shots repeatable and gives your body a marker of sorts that allows you to find the same position in the dark, under stress and in all conditions. Unless you are some kind of freak of nature, your elbows, once locked, don’t pass beyond that lock point. Contrasted with the Weaver Technique; which because of its bent arm approach, suffers from inconsistencies from day to day, shot to shot. Locked elbows help the shooter achieve that Natural point of Aim regardless of how much water your muscles have, or how much coffee you drank, or how many reps you did at the gym the day before. This is because skeletal support is always going to yield a more stable platform than our fickle muscles.
The locked arms transmit the shock wave from the weapon in recoil directly into the major muscle groups supporting the bones. In tandem with the correct grip, the weapon is held in place securely along the frame, allowing the slide (in semi-automatics, of course) to operate the way it is supposed to mechanically, following straight backwards completely and then moving and locking back in place to the front. Weak support arms (unlocked elbows) and sloppy grips can actually induce the dreaded “Type 2” or Limp Wrist Malfunction and nobody wants that.
The next part is how we actually interface and handshake with the weapon. I teach two grips to my students as a uniform way of shooting. It’s very important to build structure in our grip and for that we should look at how the hand operates.
Nature leans towards redundancy. Two is one and one is none, right? If you grip something like a pen tightly, all the fingers wrap around and the thumb will lock down over the two big fingers. If you remove your index finger from the equation you’ll see that the thumb naturally wants to tuck into the gap left by the departure of the index finger. As you open this grip up with a larger item like a weight bar you’ll see that the grip remains strong as long as there is either overlap of the thumb and middle finger or as long as the thumb touches the middle finger. Why is this important? Well, because not all hands can fit around all grips of different pistols. If there is a gap between the thumb and middle finger, a structural instability exists and the weapon will start to twist in your hand when it goes into recoil. A proper grip will secure the weapon in your hand and will not require a regrip after each shot.
As you grip the pistol bring the web of your hand up as high as you can to the tang or beaver tail so that it seats snuggly. The weapon should be in a straight line of the radius bone of the arm, no different than say a tennis racquet should be gripped. Point your index finger along the frame of the weapon in a straight line above the trigger. The weapon should rest comfortably in your hand and you could point with it as easily as you can with your finger. The fingers along the grip should be completely under the trigger guard and touching each other snuggly. Many people tuck the pinky of the support hand under the magazine well or place an index finger of the support hand on the front of the trigger guard. Not only does this weaken your structure but any movement along the X and Y axis with the fingers will obviously change the placement of the shot.
Now we turn to the support hand. One method is to have the thumb of the support hand resting on the thumbnail of the shooting hand. The index finger of the support hand should be right underneath the trigger guard and pinning the middle finger of the shooting hand into the grip of the weapon. The master-hand index finger will ride up hard under the trigger guard, and the web of the master-hand will be hard up under the tang with any good two-handed grip.
All the other fingers of the support hand are flat and touching. So your support hand literally pins the master-hand in place. The backs of the hands come together so that you CANNOT see any of the pistol grip. Your hands make contact on all four corners of the grip giving you maximum control of the weapon. One of the common errors is that the back of the support hand comes loose as the shooter fires. Then the wrist gets loose, the support arm elbow come loose, and before you know it, the shooter is in the bastard hybrid shooting position called the Isosce-Weaver, and they lose their hard fought consistency.
The benefit of this so called “Thumb Over Thumb” grip (also called ‘The Wrap’) is that it’s a Universal grip. It comes from the revolver world and the benefit is that any pistol can be fired using this grip. That being said, there are no competitive shooters using this method on the circuit today.
An alternate, and frankly superior grip, is the Leatham IPSC, Straight Thumbs method. I’m a 1911 shooter and I dig thumb safeties. And I incorporate the use of the thumb safety into my draw stroke and it can help negate the effect of muzzle climb entirely. Since the weapon has to have the safety disengaged to fire in the first place, I incorporate the safety in my grip. I place and keep my right thumb on the depressed safety for the entire shot.
This creates an anchor point on the weapon that nearly negates muzzle flip and greatly mitigates the effect of recoil. Also, by placing the master thumb on the safety, the web of the hand rides high into the beaver tail/tang area which welds the gun solidly into the hand. The backs of the hands come together with the left thumb resting along the frame of the weapon with care not to rest the thumb on the slide but on the FRAME. It’s unlikely that you can cause a malfunction if you rest it on the slide, but it’s a little disconcerting to feel the slide zip along your thumb. I traditionally place my thumb next to the take down lever of the weapon. On a Glock, I rest my support thumb in the notch that cradles the slide take down button and the thumb of the shooting hand rests atop the meat of the thumb of the support hand.
I don’t have a bubble gauge that tells me I have a 70/30 grip. I never wrapped my head around that old pearl of wisdom but I know that if I grip with my support thumb and treat it like I’m trying to stab the target with it, while locking my support side elbow and squeezing firmly, the weapon stays put when I’m firing.
As you bring this all together, and begin aiming in on a target, come from your center and try to drive both thumbs straight into the target. Pay particular attention of driving the support thumb straight towards the target like you’re trying to stab with it. Most of us righties tend to push the gun out with our master-hand. It’s better to think of PULLINGthe weapon away from us with the support hand as if it’s the locomotive while the master-hand is the caboose following up behind.
When your arm locks out, your chin should tuck and your head should drop a bit, just enough that if you move your head side to side, your chin can touch your biceps, your shoulders will be up near your ears and your eye will naturally align behind the weapon. The target, the weapon, and your head will be in alignment.
With all of these items in place all the heavy lifting is done. You can walk and deliver accurate fire into a repeatable location while suffering none of the ill effects of recoil, muzzle flip or adrenaline. In fact, sometimes with my students I will tape overt their shooting goggles and have them draw and fire at a target 15 feet away and when they remove their “blinders,” most, if not all, are shocked to see that they scored center of mass or upper torso hits easily. Many have 4 inch groups right amidships of the sternum area!
From this point on, the rest of your shooting position is standard. Alignment of the front and rear sights over the target area with dominant focus on the front sight tip.
When pressing the trigger, what I tell my students is to use the area of the finger tip that is the reverse of the nail area and NOT in the first crease of the finger joint. The trigger should be about where the cuticle area is on the back side of the finger. For Glock pistols, there is a two stage trigger. You need to take up the slack or “squishy” part of the trigger until it compresses, then methodically press the trigger and HOLD it all the way to the rear until after the shot is gone. Let the weapon go into recoil and then re-adopt the front sight focus over the target area. We call this “follow through.” Part of the follow through process is the resetting of the trigger. Release the trigger just to the point where the trigger resets. There is an audible and kinesthetic “click” when you do this. Try not to let the trigger swing all the way forward or you have to initiate the entire sequence again and can change your consistency.
The reason for this resetting is to prevent slapping the trigger and keeping the muscles of the trigger finger from relaxing, so you can be set up for the next shot. But pressing and holding the trigger back for each shot usually allows for the smoothest of trigger presses. It’s faster than can be perceived sometimes, but many people completely release the trigger and remove their finger from the trigger entirely, which is known in the biz as “flicking boogers.” Booger flickers have sloppy trigger presses and consistently drive their shots low and left.
Indeed, between poor trigger presses, weak support grips, death grip master-hands, and a loose elbow, virtually everything we do as right hand shooters drive the gun low and left; which is the most common set of “bad habits” on the range.
Once you bring all of these elements into play, you can actually draw, adopt a two handed grip, drive the weapon into the target, shoot on the move with rapidity, and with a level of accuracy that takes advantage of your natural reactions to stress. Further, for those that wear body armor, this method maximizes the surface areas that protect your vitals from incoming rounds. That sets you up for success when you’re competing for beers with your buddies or on the two way range on the street.
Stay low, keep moving, cover your six.
Erik Schmidt is a former U.S. Marine and Gulf War veteran. He spent ten years as a federal Law Enforcement K-9 Officer and Seattle area Police Officer in various capacities including LEO Firearms Instructor before going into private enterprise. Today he works in the fields of Executive Protection and as a Personal Security Consultant in firearms and defensive tactics. In addition he a member of an Anti-Piracy Security Team through the International Maritime Security Network in anti piracy/counter terror operations off the Horn of Africa. If that isn’t enough he has also served as a weapons and tactics consultant for several video game projects.
Originally published on the Tactical Tracking Journal: