Coming to Grips?

By Joe Woolley
Posted in #Skills
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Coming to Grips?

March 30th, 2023

5 minute read

I started shooting IPSC in 1984. Back then, if you had a single-stack 1911 in .45 ACP and 8-round magazines, you were on the cutting-edge of technology. During a 32-year career in practical shooting, technology changed and so did we. We moved to compensated 1911’s, fat-frame 1911’s and then to double-stacked polymer frame pistols.

coming to grips lead
The Springfield XD-M line of pistols uses interchangeable backstraps that allow you to customize the pistol’s fit to your hand. Image: John McKenzie

I shot a bunch of matches and did OK with those pistols (yes, I shot against Robbie — no, he didn’t lose any sleep over me being there), but they never felt completely “right” in my hand. It almost felt like I was fighting the pistol as I tried to attain the proper grip.

xd-m grip
The author recommends using swappable backstraps to find the best fit for your hand. Here, he demonstrates how the proper grip allows his trigger finger to act independently.

Several years ago, bad knees and advancing age convinced me to retire from USPSA, but the last two years I competed I did so back in single-stack division. I had picked up a nice, thin 1911 again and felt like I had just grabbed an old friend.

I finished up 35 years in the corporate world a few years back and figured out how to turn a hobby into a profession. Now I get paid to teach people how to shoot, amongst other things. For all the years I was in competition, I focused on the WHAT and the HOW.

xd-m with new magwells
The XD-M is highly customizable, shown here with different-sized backstraps and the magazine well upgrade kit. Image: John McKenzie

When you teach, you need to think a lot about the WHY. Why did I like the single-stack 1911 so much (like you need a reason, right?) We can talk about balance, grip angles, thickness and many things, but it finally dawned on me that it just fits my hand.

Your Choice

The right pistol needs to fit in your hand correctly. Get too small a pistol and it gets lost in your hand, making it very difficult to manipulate. When the pistol is too big, you can’t reach the trigger correctly and a shooter will frequently push the shot to the weak side or have to turn the pistol in the hand. That was what was wrong with the pistols I shot all those years — they were too big for my hand.

fingertip on the 1911 trigger
According to the author, you should be able to place your finger on the trigger so that it presses straight to the rear.

At 5’11” and 240 pounds, I am a decently sized guy. I have a big, beefy hand and short, fat fingers. Dad had long, piano player fingers, but he didn’t pass that gene along. So, my hands are what they are and I shoot better with a pistol that fits my hands.

When you are trying to decide on a handgun, check a couple of things to make sure that it fits you:

  • Pick up the pistol in your strong hand in such a way that it is aligned precisely with the bones in your forearm. You want to be able to point the pistol straight forward from that grip just like you can extend your index finger and have it point at the target.
  • The second knuckle on the middle finger of your strong hand should be placed high enough on the grip that it touches the bottom of the triggerguard.
  • Bending your finger at the proximal (second) joint, place the pad of your finger on the trigger in a manner that allows you to press the trigger straight to the rear. Anyone can align the sights. Anyone can activate a trigger. Can you align the sights and activate the trigger in such a manner that the alignment of the sights does not change until the bullet leaves the muzzle? It doesn’t matter exactly where you put your finger as long as it presses the trigger straight to the rear.
  • Ideally, the rest of the finger does not touch the side of the frame as you activate said trigger.
ro grip
The author recommends keeping your index finger from contacting the side of the frame when shooting a pistol.

I teach my classes that, in my humble opinion, the ideal handgun for self-defense should meet a number of criteria:

  • It must be a reasonable caliber — at least .380 and up.
  • It must go bang every time.
  • It must hit what you point it at.
  • The biggest pistol that you can and will carry.
  • You have to know how to run the pistol including when things go wrong.
  • It must fit your hand.

Another thing that can help proper fit is an interchangeable insert like on the Springfield XD-M family. It is an already thin pistol — I measured 5.5” grip circumference for a double stack .45 version with the small grip insert versus 5.25” for a single-stack government model 1911. For what it’s worth, larger grip inserts may feel better in the hand, but may not give you the best trigger control.


So there you have it, a quick guide to selecting the right pistol — and the right insert — for you. If you can’t properly hold your pistol, you can’t shoot it as well as possible. But when it does fit and you do your part, it can make all the difference in the world.

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Springfield Armory® recommends you seek qualified and competent training from a certified instructor prior to handling any firearm and be sure to read your owner’s manual. These articles and videos are considered to be suggestions and not recommendations from Springfield Armory. The views and opinions expressed on this website are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Springfield Armory.

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Joe Woolley

Joe Woolley

Joe Woolley lives in the Houston, Texas area. He was a salesman, Sales Manager and Production Manager for over 35 years. He is currently a full-time firearms instructor teaching, primarily, at American Shooting Centers in west Houston. He is also certified in Texas as a License To Carry instructor and has been active as an instructor for over a decade working with, literally, thousands of students over that time.

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