Rifle Grip Technique


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Orkan
March 24, 2013, 03:06 PM
http://primalrights.com/images/articles/rifle_grip/leadoff_rifle_grip.jpg

No matter your rifle, sighting method, firing position, or distance to target; Grip technique is one of the most important aspects of operating a precision rifle effectively. As an instructor and as a shooter, I have seen just about every kind of grip imaginable. Of all the precision rifle fundamentals, grip is the least talked about and least practiced skillset of them all. Obviously there are other more important fundamentals such as body position, crosshair control, optical alignment, breathing, and trigger press. However, having a proper grip can determine how consistently you are able to do some of the above listed fundamentals. Operating a rifle correctly requires the sum of its parts in order for the end result to be as good as it can be. All of the fundamentals need to be present and executed flawlessly in order for each shot fired from your rifle to be of any value. Today, we're going to take a look at proper rifle grip being applied to different stock configurations, as well as how not to do it.

For the purposes of this article, we aren't going to talk much about trigger manipulation. This is a separate fundamental all it's own that will be the topic of a future article. What we are going to address is how the hand should be positioned on the stock so that you will be able to manipulate the trigger properly. Also, please keep in mind that many of the techniques described in this article aren't revolutionary or ground breaking in any way. Most of them have been developed over the last couple hundred years by various pioneers in shooting sports. So I'm not taking credit for any of this. I'm simply trying to break down the technique to its core components and explain it in a way that is easily digestible.

Your firing hand being identified as your dominant hand that will be in charge of gripping the rifle, pressing the trigger, and operating the bolt is what we're going to focus on. This is the hand that has the most influence on the fire control mechanisms of the rifle. Obviously your non-firing hand will either be offering support to the rear of the rifle directly, manipulating a rear bag, or supporting the rifle in some other method such as a tripod or shooting bag.

Your firing hand should not be supporting the weight of the rifle at all. This burden should be placed on whatever you are using to support the rifle. While holding the grip, your firing hand should not be putting pressure up, down, left, or to the right. You should be able to remove your firing hand from the rifle while in your firing position, and not disrupt your crosshairs alignment with the target. If you remove your firing hand, and your cross hair moves, then it is likely that you are imparting force one way or another on the rifle with that hand. This is somewhat dependent upon how firm of a position you are in. If you are high on a rear bag, the addition of your firing hand may cause the bag to settle a bit, so don't be alarmed. This isn't optimal, but expected, and can be accounted for. The idea being that whatever you are using to support the rifle, is also supporting the weight of your firing hand while it's attached to the grip. The savvy among you have by now also realized that you don't want to add weight to the rifle with your firing hand, as it can disrupt your position. It is important to understand the distinction however. One of the rules as it pertains to excellent form is that you don't want to use muscle power to stay on target. If you are muscling the rifle, your first shot will suffer and so will your follow-up shots. Think of your hand as an attachment point. All you are doing is attaching it to the rifle at a fixed position in a specific manner. So, attach your hand to the rifle, but do not apply pressure in any direction yet. We'll get to that later. Simply attach, and let your arm come to rest, maintaining just enough force to engage the rifle firmly. The manner in which you set up your "attachment point" on the rifle does not vary that much between stock designs. The fundamentals of the good grip are always present, regardless of the type of rifle you are shooting. So rub the idea that this stuff doesn't apply to your rifle right out of your head. Now we are going to discuss precisely how to setup your attachment point (hand) to properly interface the stock and fire control mechanism on your rifle.

Illustrating each individual fundamental is very difficult due to the fact that a proper grip is a function of many things happening in harmony simultaneously. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. So we'll get the reading out of the way, and then show you some pretty pictures of the right way and wrong way to interface a couple popular stocks later.

Grip Fundamental #1 - Trigger Finger
Your engagement with the trigger is the most important part of your grip. Unless you can feel exactly what the trigger is doing at all times, you won't really be able to control when and where the rifle fires. The easiest way to accomplish this is to isolate the trigger finger completely. Apply the last pad on your index finger to the center of the trigger shoe. Make sure that the trigger shoe is resting in the middle of the pad on your finger. You do not want it out at the tip, nor do you want it in toward the first finger joint. Next, you will bend the second joint in your index finger to form a 90 degree angle toward you, while keeping the first joint straight. This is going to feel completely mutated the first few times you do it. You'll want to ensure that your trigger finger isn't contacting any part of the rifle when it is seated on the trigger shoe. The goal here is to completely isolate the action of pressing the trigger. The motion should be straight back to the rear, without imparting any pressure up, down, or to the sides. Bending the second joint at a 90 degree angle facilitates this motion. The next order of business is to attach the rest of your hand to the rifle in the exact location on the stock that doesn't disrupt the trigger finger position which you've just identified. You'll most likely immediately notice that your hand is way too far forward to get a firm grasp on the stock like you are used to. Don't panic, this is quite alright. Job number one of isolating the trigger finger has been accomplished!

Grip Fundamental #2 - Finger Position
Obviously the new method in which you are engaging the trigger with your newly developed 90-degree finger probably feels a bit like trying to shove a square peg through a round hole. Sometimes it will take a great deal of practice in order to get your finger to function that way at all. It's not normal to bend that second joint without also bending the first. This is to be expected, we're fighting against thousands of years of natural instincts that say when something is in your hand you are suppose to grab hold of it completely. Your trigger finger is doing its job correctly now, so all the rest of your fingers should be tasked with is keeping your trigger finger in that specific position. We already established that you shouldn't be driving or supporting the rifle with this hand, so don't try. Instead, just lay your fingers down against the stock in the position they are in, by bending the second joint on all those fingers. Just as with the trigger finger, this should almost create a 90 degree angle. The exact angle will be determined by the style of stock you are using, and isn't important. What IS important is that you aren't clenching the stock. Your fingers should make contact, and you should apply enough pressure so that your trigger finger is locked in place. It's not a squeeze, but more of a "clamp."

Grip Fundamental #3 - Thumb Position
Where you put your thumb is of little concern. You can lay it on the side or top of the stock. You can put it through a thumb hole. You can wrap it around a pistol grip, or fly out out in open space. It really doesn't matter. What does matter is that you avoid imparting any directional pressure on the stock with your thumb. You don't want to assist in pressing the trigger with your thumb either. Some old wisdom states that you want to squeeze your whole hand, rather than just isolate your trigger finger. Don't listen! You must allow your trigger finger to do its job. That is the only way you can truly be in tune with your trigger. Again, the specifics of how to manipulate the trigger will be talked about in a later article, but suffice it to say that you want absolutely nothing else getting in the way when pressing that trigger shoe straight rearward. To that end, your thumb can either be laid idly on the stock to assist with the "clamp" of your other fingers in the case of a a Manners MCS-T4A or propped up against the underside of the stock with a thumb-hole or tactical style stock such as the DTA shown in the images below. In any event, do NOT put impart any force up, down, left, or right into the stock.

Grip Fundamental #4 - Rearward Pressure
Many old timers will be a huge advocate of pulling the rifle back into your shoulder firmly. Some say very firmly, while others simply say with enough pressure to feel it. I say, don't pull it into you at all. Your firing hand has enough to worry about with having to manipulate the trigger, work the bolt, and deal with the safety. Instead of pulling the rifle back into you, why not use the dead weight of your body to lay into it? Obviously this is entirely situational, since the amount of pressure brought to bear will vary depending on your firing position. If you are shooting down a steep hill, or firing down the side of a building as a police sniper, you damn well better be pulling the rifle back toward you or else it will run away! It is then important to make sure you are applying that pressure straight toward the rear and not off to either side. This can be pretty difficult to do effectively until you've mastered the grip itself. A lot of this particular fundamental carries over into another forthcoming article on body position, so we'll stop there.

Here's a few images that show good and bad grip technique on three different stock types. The right way is on top, with the wrong way on the bottom. You'll have to click on them to make them larger.

http://primalrights.com/images/articles/rifle_grip/grip_dta_800.jpg (http://primalrights.com/images/articles/rifle_grip/grip_dta.jpg)

http://primalrights.com/images/articles/rifle_grip/grip_manners_800.jpg (http://primalrights.com/images/articles/rifle_grip/grip_manners.jpg)

http://primalrights.com/images/articles/rifle_grip/grip_hs_800.jpg (http://primalrights.com/images/articles/rifle_grip/grip_hs.jpg)

As you can plainly see by the above images, some stocks will lend themselves to proper grip technique a lot better than others. Do you see anything when comparing the proper grip on the HS Precision stock vs the Manners and DTA stocks? Notice the vertical orientation of the trigger finger on the HS stock. It is pointing downward at a very steep angle in relation to the barrel compared to both the manners and the DTA. This indicates that in order to have any grip at all on that stock, I can not press that trigger straight to the rear of the rifle. The way my hand is oriented, I have no choice but to be pressing slightly upward as well. The only way to counter this would be to slide my hand downward, which would result in at least 2 of my fingers no longer being in contact with the stock at all. You can already see that there is a huge void between my palm and the stock as it is. When the grip is broken down to its core components, and illustrated in this fashion, you can plainly see the glaring deficiencies of the traditional-style stocks as it pertains to proper grip technique.

Along those lines, you can very plainly see that DTA has done their homework. The DTA chassis is the closest that I've ever felt in terms of perfection in regard to assisting the shooter achieve proper grip technique. This is demonstrated by the fact that it's kind of hard to grip at DTA improperly! As I've often said, it is not an accident that I rarely shoot anything but a DTA these days, and that was the case long before we became a dealer for them. For those of you that like the more traditional rifles, you can see that the Manners T-series stocks are a great choice. They have a large palm swell, and a more vertical grip that is pushed forward a bit to accommodate good technique.

So now that I've introduced you to some important grip technique fundamentals, how many of you are re-thinking your next stock purchase? :)

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CA Raider
March 24, 2013, 03:12 PM
thanks ... very helpful to me as I just get started this year with rifles.
Since you like the DTA chassis ... what I conclude is that rifles made with a "pistol grip" design might be more desirable. See, for example, the Remington BLR rifles which come "with" and "without" the pistol grip. Your comments would imply that the pistol grip design offers a more comfortable and efficient way of holding the stock of the rifle.

Do you agree ... or am I missing something?

CA R

Warp
March 24, 2013, 03:22 PM
Is this specifically and exclusively aimed at bench rest/supported shooting?

taliv
March 24, 2013, 03:28 PM
i wouldn't think so warp, as that's almost exactly how i hold my rifles when shooting practical matches. main difference is i rest my thumb along the top of my fingers instead of wrapping it over the stock as shown in the pic, but as orkan said in the text, the position of the thumb doesn't matter much, and i agree it's pretty irrelevant.

Warp
March 24, 2013, 03:31 PM
i wouldn't think so warp, as that's almost exactly how i hold my rifles when shooting practical matches. main difference is i rest my thumb along the top of my fingers instead of wrapping it over the stock as shown in the pic, but as orkan said in the text, the position of the thumb doesn't matter much, and i agree it's pretty irrelevant.

Do you have any issues handling the rifle with only your dominant hand for manipulations when gripping it like that?

taliv
March 24, 2013, 03:37 PM
not sure i understand the question. with my non-dominant/support hand and shoulder, i support the weight of the rifle and aim it. (when the front of the rifle is supported with bipod or on barricade, my 'support hand' will be holding up the butt of the rifle, usually by squeezing a rear bag so my support hand is doing most of the 'handling' work) and with my dominant/firing hand i operate the bolt and trigger.

for mag changes, when the front of the rifle is supported by the bipod or a barricade, i use my firing hand to raise the butt of the rifle and my support hand to change the mag. when my support hand is holding the rifle up, i use my firing hand to change mags.

Orkan
March 24, 2013, 03:40 PM
CA Raider, it's not so much about the pistol grip, as it is about the position of the grip.

What we are going for is to have your trigger finger's proximal phalanx parallel to the bore of the rifle, both vertically and horizontally. The intermediate and distal phalanges should both be perpendicular to the bore. This is the mechanism that ensures a 90, straight-to-the-rear trigger press every single time.

So the fact that there is a pistol grip present on the DTA rifle isn't nearly so important as the position and shape of that grip relative to the trigger, and the ability to independently adjust the trigger shoe to appropriately fit your hand size. These are the only things that allow for your trigger finger to be in the right spot while maintaining a good purchase on the rifle.

Warp, these techniques are infinitely more important in non-benchrest shooting than they are in benchrest. In benchrest, it's better to have nearly no contact with the rifle while manipulating the trigger. At least this is how I've come to understand it. However, my experience with benchrest is very limited. I'm a positional tactical shooter and long range hunter. I do a bit of smallbore benchrest however.

Orkan
March 24, 2013, 03:45 PM
Do you have any issues handling the rifle with only your dominant hand for manipulations when gripping it like that? Not sure I follow either. The above techniques only outline attention to be paid with your firing hand. Your non-firing hand is left to do what it pleases. Bolt manipulation comes after follow through, and is done with the firing hand.

Warp
March 24, 2013, 03:58 PM
not sure i understand the question. with my non-dominant/support hand and shoulder, i support the weight of the rifle and aim it. (when the front of the rifle is supported with bipod or on barricade, my 'support hand' will be holding up the butt of the rifle, usually by squeezing a rear bag so my support hand is doing most of the 'handling' work) and with my dominant/firing hand i operate the bolt and trigger.

for mag changes, when the front of the rifle is supported by the bipod or a barricade, i use my firing hand to raise the butt of the rifle and my support hand to change the mag. when my support hand is holding the rifle up, i use my firing hand to change mags.

I am thinking of rifles and techniques that call for holding the rifle with your firing hand only while performing manipulations, to include reloads, with your support hand. Not on a bag or bipod or bench or any other artificial support, possibly while standing or seated.

holdencm9
March 24, 2013, 04:24 PM
I think what Warp is saying is that the "proper" grip techniques shown don't seem to give the shooter much purchase on the gun itself, which is fine for when you have two hands on the gun (or a rest) but if you need to change mags or clear a jam, it seems like you'd want more grip on the gun with your firing hand, while your support hand is doing whatever it is doing.

Warp
March 24, 2013, 04:37 PM
I think what Warp is saying is that the "proper" grip techniques shown don't seem to give the shooter much purchase on the gun itself, which is fine for when you have two hands on the gun (or a rest) but if you need to change mags or clear a jam, it seems like you'd want more grip on the gun with your firing hand, while your support hand is doing whatever it is doing.

Yes. That's what I'm wondering about. A LOT of instruction and training and current-practice these days, for running various rifles (especially pistol gripped mag fed rifles), dictates holding the rifle with only your shooting hand for most manipulations/reloads. Having your thumb just-wherever, and not really grasping the rifle, doesn't seem compatible.

So, say ,something like this: He is reloading the way many shooters of modern mag fed rifles do. Trigger hand holds rifle, support hand retrieves and inserts magazine. It's very quick and you can keep your trigger hand right there at the controls.

http://i293.photobucket.com/albums/mm77/hardgear/ar15uploads/IMG_0324.jpg

waterhouse
March 24, 2013, 04:55 PM
Thanks for the write up and pictures. The grip and trigger on my DTA were a huge reason for pickin it. It just feels right.

Orkan
March 24, 2013, 05:55 PM
Ah yes, I see what you are saying now. Thanks for the picture Warp, that helps. Obviously there are key differences in disciplines at play here. With a precision rifle, you aren't running and gunning, dumping multiple rounds into the same target as you are with a carbine.

The problem you describe is solved by the position you are forced into while shooting precisely. There are those that perform reloads and bolt manipulation with their firing hand, and those that perform them with the non-firing hand. Both ways work, and both ways have their drawbacks. The easiest answer to your question is that the position you will be in, will dictate what you are doing.

For instance, if I'm firing prone supported, then my non-firing hand is controlling the rear bag and rear of the rifle while my firing hand is handling the mag change and bolt manipulation. If I'm unsupported, then my non-firing hand will be forward on the rifle and supporting its entire weight, while my firing hand is handling the mag change.

In short, the firing hand is responsible for just that. It's the job of the non-firing hand to support the rifle.

For those that are running their bolt manipulation and mag changes with their non-firing hand, their grip will need to be much tighter to ensure they don't get fatigued. This is overcome by having properly designed stocks however. You can see in the images above that the traditional swept-grip stocks are very bad in this regard, while the Manners T4A is much better.

sawcut
March 24, 2013, 06:32 PM
Very good information in this post, but I'd like to add some of my experiences trying to shoot this way with different types of rifles.

For me, the techniques listed would work well with rifles either heavy enough to stay fairly stable when shot, or when shooting a lighter caliber. When I was using a typical sporter weight 30-06, I would have to pull the rifle against the shoulder, otherwise it was possible to get hit by the scope when the rifle recoiled, or slapped in the shoulder by the stock. (all of the rifles I used are 30-06 or similar sporting weight, with no muzzle brakes)

Similarly I shot a 308 AR, and although the rifle was 10 pounds, the forend was jumping off the rest and I was getting poor groups. So I pulled the rifle in tighter, and held the forend with the non firing hand, and grouping and control improved considerably. I had genuinely tried to minimize my hold on the 308 at first, and this just did not work for this rifle. I would have preferred a lighter hold, but I was not getting good results that way.

So because I use my shooting time with lighter calibers as training for my full power rifles, I usually adopt a moderate grip with the shooting hand, as well as the non-firing hand on the forend.

Having said all this, I'll revisit these techniques next time I'm at the range, and see how I can improve my range time.

Orkan
March 24, 2013, 07:14 PM
Proper grip does not preclude proper firing position. To say that you should not use proper grip because of your position is to say that you should not properly shift a car while moving the steering wheel.

What you are referring to is recoil management, and there are several ways to do it. Some right... some not so right.

taliv
March 24, 2013, 07:42 PM
warp, i'll be honest with you... my rifles are around 17lbs and a suppressor on the end of a 26-29" lever, plus a bipod out there, and a honker of a scope, all past the pivot point of my firing hand.

i just don't have the grip strength to do what that guy is doing in that pic with one of my bolt guns. i could maybe hold it out there for a few seconds, but the muscle exertion sure wouldn't do my trigger control any good.

Orkan
March 24, 2013, 08:04 PM
Taliv, I'll be looking you up when DTA starts taking orders for their lefty chassis. We've got to get you rocking on of those things! That will solve your balance issues. :)

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