Of all the fundamentals of pistol shooting, one of the most important is grip. This is in terms of technique and equipment. A solid grip determines everything from recoil control and fast follow-up shots, to sight alignment and smooth trigger press. Without the grip, all of these actions are significantly harder to master. Grip also plays a major role in determining which gun you purchase, or which side you choose in the eternal Glock vs. 1911 debate.
Think about it. How many of you have purchased a gun simply because it felt right? How many choose one carry piece over all others, because that particular gun is the one that feels the most comfortable shooting? What quality drives that decision?
Chances are it’s the way the gun felt in your hand. It’s the grip. Some of the better innovations common among modern polymer pistols are the interchangeable grip panels, which allow shooters to customize the grip to fit their needs. However, if you don’t own one of those pistols, your only choices are custom gunsmithing or aftermarket add-ons.
Now, aftermarket doodads aren’t going to correct your technique errors for you. However, next to changing your sights, grip modifications are one of the easiest ways to alter your handguns to suit your preferences. And once the gun feels better in your hand, you’ll be much more likely to spend time shooting it, right?
Before you start shopping, you first need to consider what you need in a grip, or whether you even need new grips at all. Many a shooter, after spending serious money on a set of aftermarket grips, has reluctantly re-installed his factory checkered wood or plastic grips after discovering that his new purchase not only failed to cure his shooting ills, but actually worsened them.
Carefully consider how grips will alter the fit and function of your handgun before making a purchase. Contemplate if you need to change your grip profile, or if you are looking for a better grip adhesion, for those long range sessions with sweaty hands. There are a variety of options available to suit your needs, but a little careful consideration and planning beforehand will save you disappointment and dollars along the way.
For instance, adding oversized rubber grips to many revolvers will interfere with using a speed-loader, especially if they have significant palm swell or a thumb rest. Soft rubber grips may provide better adhesion for sweaty hands, but they also tend to snag on clothing. This causes interference with a smooth draw. Some oversized grips may also interfere with the fit of a retention holster. With many of those rubber grips, cover garments will not drape as well as they would over harder, slick grips, making printing more likely.
Over time, soft, tacky rubber grips will often harden and grow slick with heavy use. Rather than replacing them, you can restore the tackiness by running them through a dishwasher cycle with very hot water. This may save you from having to replace your grips at all. However, in the event that you do need to change them out, we have compiled a list of things to look for.
Adhesive appliques such as grip tape can provide extra adhesion without altering your gun or changing the grip profile. The simplest of these is a sheet of skateboard tape, such as Black Widow Grip Tape, which comes in a variety of colors.
Simply cut the Black Widow tape in the shape you want, peel off the backing, and place it where you think it will do the most good. The front strap of the firearm is a common choice.
I advise against purchasing skateboard tape sight unseen. Some of these tapes can be quite abrasive, and your hands may bear the trauma after a long day at the range. Visit your local skate shop and try a sample before you buy.
Another choice is AGrip from Brooks Tactical Systems. It comes pre-cut to fit the 1911 and most popular polymer semi-autos. The AGrip provides a rubberized, wrap-around grip that offers extra adhesion without being abrasive or altering your grip profile.
Insta Grip is another choice. This is an inexpensive solution you can cut to fit your handgun. It is available in medium or heavy texture, and comes in a variety of configurations.
Grip sleeves can provide extra bond while altering the grip profile somewhat. Depending on which product you choose, the change can add a subtle palm swell, or radically change the size and feel of your grip.
TheHogue Handall is a popular grip sleeve available for most semi-autos. It can enhance comfort and recoil control while providing that extra little bit of tactile adhesion. The soft rubber Handall provides finger grooves over the front strap and an excellent tacky feel, at the expense of adding noticeable thickness to your grip profile. Having shot numerous Glocks fitted with Hogue Handalls, I can attest to their comfort and durability.
The Handall is available in back or OD green, sized to fit all Glock Pistols, Smith & Wesson M&P series, Springfield XD/XDM series and similar-sized semi-autos. The Handall Junior is sized to fit most .22 LR and .25 ACP pocket pistols.
If finger grooves aren’t your thing, Pachmayr Tactical Grip Glove may be worth trying out. These come in both grooved and non-grooved versions. It seems most users enjoy the feel of the glove, but question the flimsiness of the rubber. However, they do sport a low price. This comes in handy when the wise bet is to consider these wear items that require regular replacement.
Grip and Magazine Extensions
As a big guy with large hands and fat fingers, the two banes of my existence are smart phone keypads and compact handgun grips. If you have the same problem, unfortunately, I can’t help you with your text message typos, but will provide a tip that helps me. Using an extended magazine or magazine grip extension for your concealed carry semi-auto will give you some place to put your little finger. I carry the 8-round extended magazine with grip extension in my Kahr CW9. I also added a Pearce Grip Extensions to all my magazines for my Taurus 709, without adding weight or sacrificing the ability to conceal.
Pearce also makes magazine extensions for Glock and Springfield XD series, as well as the Browning Hi Power and Beretta 92. The extensions can add from one to three rounds to your standard magazine capacity, depending upon the model you choose.
When considering functional modifications to existing factory magazines, the standard admonition caveat emptor applies. Considering that magazine failures are the most common reason for feeding issues in semi-auto handguns, I generally draw the line at adding a grip extender. If you want more capacity, I advise you to choose the factory extended magazines whenever available.
Grip Panels and Over-Molded Grips
1911 shooters can choose from a smorgasbord of grip panels made from aluminum, carbon fiber or rubber, to a plethora of exotic woods. Whether you‘re changing your grip for functional or aesthetic reasons, you can take your pick. There are hundreds of options available for 1911 grips alone.
When it came time to add grips to my recently customized Hi Standard 1911, I chose a blend of function and aesthetics. I added a set of stippled EMS Star of Life grips in exotic paduak wood from Rimfire Designs to my gun. If you can envision a 1911 grip concept, Mark at Rimfire Designs can probably make it happen.
Hogue grips have long been a popular choice among revolver shooters, and for good reason. Hogue’s soft rubber Monogrip provide excellent adhesion and a pleasing palm swell far superior to many factory revolver grips, but Hogue doesn’t stop there. It also offers custom grips for revolvers and semi-autos in a broad variety of textures and materials.
Pachmayr has been a respected name in aftermarket stocks for so long that, for many people, black rubber handgun grips are simply known as “Pachmayrs,” much like “Kleenex” is synonymous with facial tissues and “Xerox” is synonymous with photocopiers. The company still offers a variety of wraparound grips to fit common revolver and semi-auto handguns, including 1911 pattern pistols with grip safeties. Pachmayr offers models with or without finger grooves, and its open backstrap Gripper Professional Series offers the recoil control and improved adhesion of a finger-grooved, soft rubber grip, sized to fit individuals with smaller hands.
I recently had an opportunity to shoot a friend’s Colt Gold Cup 1911 fitted with Pachmayr’s American Legend Series grips, and I was quite impressed. Blending the pleasing aesthetics of wood grips with the enhanced recoil control of rubber finger grooves over the front strap, the pistol felt and shot great. I’m a fan.
We hope this little primer gives you a bit of a head start on researching which aftermarket grip options are best for you. Just remember, doodads will never replace technique, but a pistol that feels good in your hand is a pistol you’re more likely to shoot. If a little aftermarket customization makes you more likely to do that, then go for it. Happy shooting!