Gun Skills: Fitting a Handgun

by
posted on January 2, 2024
hand holding a firearm
Photo: Peter Fountain

If you’re reading this, perhaps it’s because you’ve been saved from the recommendation of “just get a (insert common pistol here)” or “just pick whatever feels good.” One of the biggest mistakes a new handgun owner can make is to buy a gun based on blind advice. The only thing worse might be a gun that somebody else picked out for you. It might sound dramatic, but selecting a handgun that fits you properly is critical to your success and might even decide the outcome of a life-or-death situation.

As I write these words, I am reminded of one of my many gun-counter interventions. Sometimes, I witness a scenario that might end in catastrophe if I don’t get involved. In this case, a man was convinced that his wife wouldn’t be able to “figure out” a semi-automatic and insisted the clerk sell him one of three revolvers that he’d selected for her. Before letting them do the paperwork, I invited her to first handle the three revolvers and feel the triggers. She picked them up one at a time and found that she didn’t have the strength to work any of the 12-pound-or-more bang levers, which would leave her defenseless in any foreseeable situation. After returning all of these to the showcase, I taught the couple how to select a gun that was just right for each of their hands, which would ensure they were able to enjoy practice and be effective in a gunfight should it ever come down to that.

When fitting a gun, we begin by seating it deeply into the web between the thumb and forefinger of our shooting hand. We want to place this area as high up on the backstrap as we can without obstructing the slide or hammer. Leaving your trigger finger off the trigger and placing it as high up on the frame as possible, roll your middle finger around the grip. Ensure it is touching the bottom of the trigger guard, and then wrap your ring and pinkie directly under it. All your fingers should be touching, with zero concern about whether there is anything supporting the handgun from the bottom. If a gun fits you well, your fingertips should come to the middle point on the other side of the grip. You should be able to do this without having to reposition your web. If they fall short, that is the first sign that a gun is too big for your hand. If they pass the midpoint, that likely means the gun is too small. Ironically, this can also be a problem, as it denies your support hand the real estate it needs to control the handgun. If your hand is close to a good fit but not quite there, inquire about whether the gun has interchangeable backstraps, as this small adjustment might be all it takes to make it perfect.

If your prospect passes the dominant-hand test, it’s time to check your supporting hand fit. That leftover space on the other side of the grip should be enough for you to comfortably rest your thumb muscle. If it isn’t, this indicates that your hands are a bit too big for this gun. If it does, but there is no connection between your two hands, that usually means it is a bit too large. In either scenario, see if there are other versions of the gun that you have your eye on, as manufacturers try to head this off by offering a variety.

Once a pistol is determined to fit both hands properly, the last point of contention might be the controls. After ensuring the pistol is unloaded, point it in a safe direction and attempt to press the trigger. I’ve had students whose trigger fingers were too short and couldn’t reach the face of the trigger to deactivate the built-in safety, even though the gun fit the rest of their hands well. The same has happened with pistols containing grip-based backstrap safeties, like 1911s. If all is well in that department, check to see if you can smoothly press it to the rear without disturbing your sight picture. If there is an external hammer, see if you can cock it in that position. Lastly, see if you can reach the controls in a normal shooting position. Lefties often find that some safeties will not work for them, while righties often realize their thumbs don’t bend the way they need to flip certain ones off.

Buying a handgun is a serious purchase and one that ought not be rushed. Take your time and get to as many brick-and-mortar stores as possible to try some on. Call it a shameless plug, but events like the NRA Annual Meetings are a valuable resource, as you’ll get a chance to handle thousands in just a few days, all under one roof. With a little bit of know-how, you can easily pick out the best-fitting pistol or revolver without having to resort to others’ opinions on how your hands work.

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