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Getting A Grip 101....

Discussion in 'Shotguns' started by Dave McCracken, Jan 8, 2004.

  1. Dave McCracken

    Dave McCracken Moderator In Memoriam

    When we shoot, we contact our shotguns at four points.

    The shoulder is one.

    The head is the second.

    And the hands are third and fourth. These not only hold on to the shotgun, but direct it, fire it and absorb some recoil energy. How we do these affects performance and comfort.

    When I do the live version of Shotgun 101 amid the noise and distraction of a live range, I tell the newbie to grip moderately tight. When off the range, I tend to go all Zen and say "Hold the shotgun as if it is a small bird you neither wish to hurt nor let go". Either method gets the point across most of the time. No white knuckles and trembling, no grip so loose the shotgun "Gets away".

    Now as to where to hold it....

    Let's start with the hand used to fire the weapon. Obviously, it needs to be where the trigger finger can reach the trigger. I suggest a beginner first ensure the shotgun is empty, then place the tip of the trigger finger on the trigger. Position the hand to do this comfortably and consistently, and mark it if necessary with a piece of tape. Once you've done this a while, it happens unconsciously.

    Now the front hand. Assume a firing position, let go with the front hand as you raise the shotgun to 45 degrees or so, and let it drop back into that front hand. There is probably the best place for you. After a lifetime of handling stuff, our reflexes will find the best point for the weight and balance needed.

    The closer to the muzzle the front hand is, the less leverage. This means moving the barrel from here takes a bit more time, but oft can be done more precisely.And the weight feels less, so fatigue is less. One of the reasons smaller people have trouble with the shotgun is their arms may not be long enough to hold up the front end with comfort.

    Now a few words about the hardware....

    Stocks come in many shapes at the grip, from the straight one so beloved by the Brits to the separate Pistol Grip a la M-16, AAK, etc. Most American shotguns come with a semi pistol grip that's SUPPOSED to fit most folks OK. Surprisingly, it does,with caveats. Smallish folks find the radius a bit too open to really grab while keeping the trigger finger in contact. I've helped a couple Pixies by using a layer of masking tape on the contact surface of the grip, then using electrical tape in multiple layers to build up the grip a bit. Downside is the enlarges the grip, but it has helped a few folks and is instantly reversible if the experiment doesn't work.

    Fred Etchen, old time trap Legend, had a grip named after him where the radius was so tight the end pointed back towards the muzzle. Some trap shooters swear by it for control and reducing flinching. My opinion, if it works for you....

    Other folks get the middle finger banged on the back of the trigger guard. Oft, this happens in conjunction with heavy loads and a slicker grip surface. Padding the rear of the trigger guard a bit can help, so can a rougher contact surface and lighter loads.

    Speaking of same, checkering is the traditional way of roughening the surface and improving the hold. Within sane limits, the rougher the grip texture, the better one can hold it,and the better control and recoil absorbtion.

    Cut checkering works best,IMO. Of course,it's the most expensive.The impressed, machine made checkering most of us have does work almost as well. Smooth surfaces are the worst, like found on many single barrels and economy grade doubles and pumps. Checkering gets worn easily, and freshening a pattern can help immensely.

    If you don't care what a synthetic stock looks like afterwards, a thin layer of epoxy on a grip with salt or sugar crystals dribbled on helps. Once the epoxy cures, a little water dissolves the crystals and leaves a nubbly surface. A shot of spray paint to match the finish completes the job.

    The 3 gun and Practical folks are fond of skateboard tape or the stuff sold for boat ladders. Peel and stick. Some is too rough and abrades skin when used. Go carefully here.

    I've also used Emery cloth(Like sandpaper) mounted on double sided tape. Not waterproof, unfortunately.
  2. TrapperReady

    TrapperReady Well-Known Member

    As always... good points.

    What's your take on palm swells? Personally, I've shot only a few that have had noticible ones, and I don't care for them. My hands are relatively small and they just seemed to make the grip feel unnatural. The funny thing is that I like them on rifles.

    I notice that my 870, Benelli and M12 have roughly the same radius on the grip, while the 391 is a bit tighter. It feels just the slightest bit odd, but I shoot well with it, so who knows?

    As for your four contact points, the face and shoulder are the ones I find most critical. My hands can adapt pretty well to differing grips and forearm lengths. However, the LOP and drop have to be right.

    When all four are correct, though, it does make for much sweeter handling.
  3. Dave McCracken

    Dave McCracken Moderator In Memoriam

    TR, palm swells do nothing for me. Some folks who love them outshoot me, so IMO it boils down to individual taste.

    Finger grooves, as seen on some synthetic stocked target guns,come perilously close to being Cool Stuff.

    Face and shoulder, as you say, are most critical. Where and how the hands go can vary, but there's things we can do that'll improve our holding and help us direct the shot more comfortably and possibly even more on target.

    Little tweaks here and there like finding the best position for the forward hand and improving traction mean there's a better chance that one day, we'll swing on a target or quarry, smite like a minor diety and do so while forgetting there's a shotgun in our grasp. Zen shotgunning(G)...
  4. sm

    sm member

    Good topic, and one that is often overlooked Dave.

    Agree with TR about Head and shoulders being the two most important contact points. I prefer a gun that has a tad more weight just forward of my hands. I tend to grip "light" compared to most folks, with 60-65% of my grip on fore-end, this the hand that "guides" the gun and fore-end hand is more close to receiver than most.

    Like a raw egg describes my grip; I don't want to break it, I do want to control it tho'. Palm swells don't fit me well, however gun fit to shooter I agree with, if it helps a person's fit, I have no problem. I prefer wood stocks, If I shoot a synthetic, I have used skateboard tape. I'm used to skateboard tape on frontstraps of my 1911 style guns.

    Gun fit as TR mentioned in regard to LOP and drop are very important, we are each built different, so these little tweaks as you two pointed out, are very important to individual needs.

    Whatever is required to make that shotgun a "natural extension"of oneself.
  5. kudu

    kudu Well-Known Member

    A thing that helps me and many other shooters that I have helped is pointing along the forestock of the gun where you cup the stock. If your supporting hand is actually pointing along with the barrels it seems to follow the target better. Could be all in my head, but other shooters that I have shown this too says it really helps them after they get used to the different grip. This might not help for trap, but skeet it helps me control the feel and swing of the barrels.

    FWIW my Beretta Super Sport has a large palm swell that fits me fine,as I have large hands, but it doesn't matter what gun I use to shoot with I generally do well. My old 97 has barely any pistol grip and it will smoke clays.
  6. sm

    sm member

    What I'm reading so far is, the responses from those of us with fundamentals of stance, mounting and basic gun fit, with quite a bit BA/UU/R under our belt. We just tweaked to individual tastes. Interesting - we are of different sizes, shoot different games and platforms...and different makes of guns. Darn...danged old basics just keep coming up and not one particular brand name of gun, platform, shells, or favorite chewing gum required to hit what pointed at. humm...
  7. TrapperReady

    TrapperReady Well-Known Member

    I just tried a little non-scientific experiment, which is relevent to this thread.

    I was putting away a rifle, and realized that I have all sort of different grips represented within my collection -- from an AR to an 94 Winchester and several in between. Thinking of this thread, I pulled out each one and swung it as if it were a shotgun.

    Now, due to some big differences in barrel-weight, length, etc... they obviously have different characteristics. But, what I found was that the straighter the grip, the less purchase you could gain with the rearward hand. Conversely, the more pronounced the pistol grip, the more control the rear hand could/would exert. Also, the straighter the grip, the higher the rear hand would ride, in comparison to the line of the barrels.

    When swinging the guns, it seemed like the ones with the more pronounced pistol grips felt more "locked-in", and I would pivot more with my hips to swing the gun. The straighter the stock, the easier it was to move with my arms, I think due to the slightly higher position of my hands and the greater control of the support hand.

    All of my shotguns have pretty similar semi-pistol grips, like most of the rifles. Since trying tried this, I'd like to spend an afternoon shooting an English-stocked shotgun. I've got a friend with an Ithaca/SKB O/U with straight grip, so I may have to see if he wants to shoot some clays sometime soon (and swap guns while we're at it).
  8. Kingcreek

    Kingcreek Well-Known Member

    I've got a beautiful little 20g Rem 11-97 Upland with a straight grip stock. I thought my wife would like it, she didn't- in fact she had an immediate disliking of it. (Went back to her browning micro-lightning)
    I have tried to like it but I cannot make that straight stock work for me.
    I have come to the conclusion that I need that traditional american semi-PG to bring it into my shoulder while controlling canting with my 3-4-5 fingers and palm/heel of my trigger hand. I can hit with it but it seems to require alot more work from my front hand and doesn't feel balanced.
    (and it's for sale)
  9. TrapperReady

    TrapperReady Well-Known Member

    Michael McIntosh, in his book "Shotguns and Shooting", writes about the different shooting style required to make straight-stocked guns work better. IIRC, he asserts that semi-pistol grip shooters will typically mount the gun, then begin the swing.

    He favors the "British" (as if there were only one) way of swinging the gun as you mount it, bringing everything together so that you shoot at the moment the stock hits your shoulder. The theory is that the gun is moving faster this way and that you can decrease the apparent lead.

    Can't say if that works any better. I tend to use the "bellybuttonbang" method (thanks again sm!) of bringing the gun on line, pulling through the target, past the leading edge and then pulling the trigger. In the field, most of my misses result from "seeing the whole bird" as opposed to the head, and therefore shooting behind.

    Since I mostly hunt and shoot pheasants, and shoot trap and sporting clays, that works well. Once in a while, I might get a bird that flushes in some cover, but using dogs and mostly avoiding really long shots I normally have plenty of time. I've thought that the method outlined by McIntosh might be better for shooting in wooded areas with tighter windows or for quick, unpredictable birds like dove.

    BTW, one of my "project guns" (ie. something that I've thought about, but not done since it would be expensive and of dubious utility) is taking a beater Model 12, and refurbishing it, complete with a custom Wenig's straight-gripped stock, sporting some high grade wood. I'm thinking an IC or Cylinder choke and about a 24" barrel, maybe even in 16ga. Could make a funky little grouse and woodcock gun. Then again, I can think of probably 2,000 ways to better spend the $$$ required to do that. :D
  10. sm

    sm member

    TR, don't thank me - Thank Lil Bit ( kids and they way they say the darndest things - she did cut to the chase tho'. ) :D

    TR , IIRC - In theory the hands being on ( as much as possible) the same plane on a straight stock is supposed to aid in fluid mount and hitting the target. Better use of the human computer ( eye :hand coordination). Also the straighter the stock the less perceived recoil.

    I equate to the lower bore axis of some handguns, say a 1911 style vs Sig . Take a model 94 Winchester lever action, straight stock - a very quick handling "package".

    I , like most Americans grew up with full pistol grip. A straight grip takes me a little getting used to. Now a semi pistol grip is easier to transition for me...

    Heck, I had to think about this for a minute, Like you TR I've "just done it" so much it feels natural...In my case I get into trouble if I think too much.

    Other wierd deal for me...wide triggers ( shoes) I don't like them, messes up my feel, ...the "touch" is , well wrong.

    Some shrink is gonna write a bestseller about shotgunners and none of us are gonna get squat for royalties...mark my word! :p
  11. HSMITH

    HSMITH Well-Known Member

    Super scientific here: I have found that I shoot with my forward hand index finger pointing at what I want to be shot, it lays down the side of the forarm whatever shape it might be, and that is where the shotgun is looking. The forward hand "drives" the gun in concert with my body, anything less and you might as well save the powder for fireworks..... The feeling that most often brings newbies or poor shooters to the discussion is that it will "feel like you are shooting from your feet up", you will feel like your shotgun swing is an athletic manuever much like a golf swing .

    I feel like I point the shotgun with my body 110%, and use my hands to guide the gun to where my body is looking. I feel like it is all body, and hands are only there for guidance.

    There are a lot of correct ways to feel a swing, in golf and shotgunning alike. What needs to be found is what works for YOU and what is the best method to be applied with your body type.

    I am a low rent 5'8" and 185 pounds, a middle 30's "athletic" build if we are generous. If you are 6' and 165 pounds then we are going to feel the shotgun in different ways entirely. What you would learn from me is that fast is bad, and that smooth is everything. When it looks like it is effortless, it just might be, and that is not luck. Move mount and then shoot.
  12. Dave McCracken

    Dave McCracken Moderator In Memoriam

    Thanks for the input, folks. A lot of accumulated experience has shown up here.

    A coupla things...

    Some folks do shoot well with that finger pointing thing. I don't, and I chalk it up to old habits and odd hands. I do think there's merit in the system, for some folks. Well worth trying, a month or two at least.

    As for the straight grip, one of the Orvis books and an old read of Steve Smith (Not the moderator, the other one) held the theory that keeping the hands closer to the axis of the bore aided pointing. It takes both hands to work. IOW, it works with a game gun style SxS with straight grip and splinter forend. On a repeater, I'm not so sure a straight grip will help.

    I still have the abused and nasty looking 870 stock that was the first one on Frankenstein. Sometime I may cut off the PG knob, sand it straight, and get a spare set of action bars. Those would get the double sided tape I use for spacers wrapped on the tube and covered with deerskin, rough side out for traction. That'd move the hands closer to the bore axis and I could try it out.

    BTW, I've owned two SxS shotguns with straight grips. One was the "Lupara" I built and wrote about on TFL. The other was a little French/Belgian game gun.
    The former shot OK for me, the latter shot very well indeed. The fit was better on the Euro-darling. Come to think of it, I may have used more "Arm" with it than a swing from the ankles body turn. Would like to get it back and compare. Actually, I'd just like to get it back. It is a sweetie...

    H and TR, move,mount and shoot is lots like what I call snap shooting.
  13. Kingcreek

    Kingcreek Well-Known Member

    I haven't read McIntosh but I must shoot "british" as I do most of my swing before mounting and pull the trigger when the stock meets my shoulder.
    I have also shot with the front hand index finger pointing in line with the bore and it maybe works a little better for me but not by much. One of the best clay shooters I know shoots with his finger out and always touching the magcap. consistancy is key.
  14. TrapperReady

    TrapperReady Well-Known Member

    Dave - A local store still has a used 870 with the 21" smoothbore slug barrel AND a straight-grip stock. I handled it for a bit a couple weeks ago and it felt OK. It's actually what got me thinking about the M12 deal I mentioned above.

    sm - I'm with you all the way on the wide triggers. Just can't abide by them.

    I've tried the index finger along the forearm bit in the past, but it didn't seem to help nor hurt, so I switched back.

    It seems to me that the use of hands is in the final acceleration. For example, when I'm shooting trap and on stations 2, 3 or 4 my gun is locked in pretty tight and almost all of the movement is from the legs and hips. However, when I'm on station 1 or 5, and get a fast crosser, then I definately finish the swing with more of a push (on 5) or pull (on 1) from the support hand.
  15. sm

    sm member


    With the SxS splinter forend and straight grip as you stated the hands are more close in line with bore axis and aids in pointing. Those guys (British) are familar with it and that is the way the are taught. Our full pistol grip repeaters are "too thick", "a bit much", "brash don't you think", and my favorite comment "you Americans are still a bit uncivilized and uncouth". :D

    Maybe P95Carry ( Chris) can help us "uncouth" folks out on this one.

    We Americans are brought up with the full pistol grip. I believe the hands are "in better relation to bore axis " considering the receiver on a repeater. Meaning the hands are pretty straight if you think about it, the pistol grip is akin to a leverage aid to get the gun in motion and to aid in point and swing. Basically the two guns and styles are on the same page, but like any tool proper hand position allows one to have the tool work efficently rather than working against the user.

    I can't do the index finger either. Like TR said, and I've eluded to before that "push / pull" with weak hand is what I'm doing along with using my body. Misseldine suggested similar to TR posting on those "faster" birds in
    Score Better At Skeet . I didn't read Score Better at Trap , I bet the same suggestions were given . I shot skeet as you folks know.
  16. Dave McCracken

    Dave McCracken Moderator In Memoriam

    If nothing else,this thread shows just how much individual variation comes into play. Shotgunning has many paths.

    I LIKE wide triggers. I can use the standard ones, but the wider ones give me better cotnrol and a cleaner break. Might be all that Benchrest way back when.

    Both the TB and Frankenstein have trigger shoes.

    And like I mentioned in the Snap Shooting 101 thread, it's a method that works well for SOME shot opps.

    TR, some angle shots find me giving a flick at the end of the swing to move the muzzle a skosh further forward. Seems to work, though some teachers inveigle against it.

    That used 870 sounds like a mutt, mix and match parts like Frank. For slugs, I definitely wants as much grip as possible.
  17. sm

    sm member

    No disrepect intended by my question, do you have short...stubby fingers?
    Some folks using the shoes, I've noticed have the shorter fingers, and helps with the feel of trigger, LOP, and percieved better crisp trigger . Might help someone having a problem , the only I bring it up.

    I have longer , more slim fingers. I wear a size 7.5 surgical glove and if I wore wedding band it would be a size 8.5 . ( 'course I don't do the former work anymore -still have gloves in FAK...the latter, well being divorced don't have a need...didn't always wear one when married, due to working with hands and never shot with a ring).
  18. Dave McCracken

    Dave McCracken Moderator In Memoriam

    My fingers are a bit larger than average. My hands are oversize.
  19. P95Carry

    P95Carry Moderator Emeritus

    Oops .... missed this earlier. Another great thread in the 101 series .... not only enjoy reading your stuff Dave but as ever - it seems to prompt so much extra good reading. Thx.

    I have tried the finger pointing with forward hand and it did not work for me .. mind you, compared to most of your guys I might seem like a damn amateur. My favored ''hold'' is really just a ''cupping'' of forend across my palm .... gives support and ''steerage'' but otherwise does not interfere.

    Many aspects are ''what works'' tho I am always interested to check out any fresh ideas.
  20. sm

    sm member

    I thought I remembered you describing your hands/fingers as being so. I think people with hands such as your may actually benefit from a trigger shoe - that is why I mentioned to the benefit of others.

    Chris, when growing up "across the pond" did you shoot shotguns much? If so what method were you taught, and did you use the "British" , "Churchill", or some other method of shooting?.

    Don't tell us you just "threw that sucker up and hoped to hit" - remember you folks considered yourselves "cultured" - we Americans are "uncivilized and uncouth" . :D

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