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Which Pistol is Right for You? Part 1

Which Pistol is Right for You?

Part 1 – The Grip

By Jon Boyd

If you hang around people who shoot, sooner or later, there will be a discussion (or even an argument) about which caliber of ammunition is best for self-defense. You may hear a lot of people say, “The 9 mil is too small! Not enough stopping power!”

The reply might be, “But you can carry more of them, especially with a high cap! I can shoot all day while you’re trying to reload that POS .45 of yours!”

All good points. But, I have noticed that selection of which caliber to shoot can be less important than finding a pistol that is ergonomically correct for you. In fact, relying on caliber selection alone may drive you to a choice of firearm that is awkward or downright dangerous to use in your hand. As a pistol instructor, I see lots of different people come in for training, so I have seen both first hand. Let me explain.

This subject is near and dear to my heart because it happened to me when I was young. I have large hands, and have been able to palm a basketball since high school. Fast forward to Air Force small arms qualification in the 1970s with the Smith & Wesson .38 revolver. My problem? I qualified, but had a lot of trouble with holding the small grip and with trigger control. And so it went until the mid 1980s when the Beretta M9 came on the scene.

Interestingly, 0.38 inches = 9.652 mm, which means both rounds are about the same diameter. The difference? The M9 comes with a 13-round diagonal stack magazine, which makes the grip larger. I shot expert before I even knew what had happened. What had happened was my hand not only fit comfortably around the grip, but it was long enough for me to get all my fingers around it. This allowed me to handle recoil better and be set up for the next shot. It also allowed me to relax my trigger finger into a more natural position to press it rather than to poke at it with my fingertip or my knuckle. That was a big “Aha” moment for me, and I started paying more attention to how different pistols fit in my hand.

Needless to say, I tend to shoot larger pistols—not so much for the caliber, but for the fit to my hand. My open carry is a Springfield 1911 High Cap that has a set of Hogue wrap around grips modified to fit it. My concealed carry is a Springfield XD .45 (again with diagonal stack magazines). Much as you might think so, this article is not an ad for Springfield Armory. But what is especially important is why I own each of these guns. The 1911 is just right for my hand, but try to conceal it. It was when I bought the XD that everything crystallized for me about ergonomics and handguns.

What started my quest was to get a pistol for concealed carry. Smaller is better, right? We already know that for me, that can be a problem. What I did was to go to multiple gun stores and ask about concealed carry, then see what they handed me. Invariably, it was very small. Too small, in fact. I then would think of my 1911 (fondly), and ask to see, and handle everything between their offering and the 1911, regardless of caliber. (A side note on calibers: A buddy of mine once gave the perfect reply in Cajun when the argument broke out, “I tell you what, lemme chute you wit dat 9, an’ I bet you it’s gon’ hurt!”). I finally decided on the Springfield XD .45 because of a combination of factors, the first one being the grip. This factor, along with others I will cover in later articles might help others in selecting a pistol that’s a right fit for them. First, let’s look at a couple of pictures.

This first one is a Colt Frontier Scout (.22 LR) that has about the same frame and grip size as the .38. Notice how my middle finger reaches all the way around to my palm, the first knuckle of my trigger finger is on the trigger, and my little finger is hanging on to the grip for dear life. This is not a comfortable grip, and if this were a .38, the recoil would make the gun try to jump out of my hand.

Next is the Beretta M9. Here, my hand fits the grip more comfortably, and there is a gap between my fingers and my palm. There is also room for all three fingers on the grip. However, my trigger finger is at a downward angle to fit on the trigger, and the trigger is still close to my knuckle. Also, the take up on the trigger is going to make it hard to keep my finger steady as it moves to the rear. Though better, this pistol is still a little too small.

Now let’s look at the 1911 High Cap. The gap for my fingers is bigger (almost too big!), all of my fingers easily fit on the grip, and the pad of my trigger finger is where it should be. Also notice in these last two pictures where the slide release, magazine release, and thumb safety is in relation to my thumb. They should all be easily accessible.

Finally, here is the XD. There is not enough room for my little finger, but the gun is easier to conceal. I also have a good hold with my other two fingers, and my trigger finger is again in the right position. The slide and magazine releases are also right near my thumb. Both of these .45s shoot a one-inch group at 5 yards, and I attribute most of that to how they fit my hand. Good technique obviously helps, but a good grip is the foundation that everything else rests upon.

I hope these examples give an appreciation for how important it is that a gun’s grip fits your hand. This helps it become an extension of your hand, and comfort and ease of operation will help you group rounds better and enjoy your shooting experience more. In the next article, I will discuss more on how the grip, magazine release, and magazine ejection process should integrate.

--Jon Boyd, Raven One-Five 2IC

Copyright Jon Boyd, 2015

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