How to Hold a Pistol, Aim and Shoot Correctly

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Knowing how to correctly hold a pistol is key to being a proficient shooter. Depending on the pistol the type of grip that you use will vary. In this article, I will discuss the different grip methods for different pistol types.

Different types of pistols have different grip techniques. The size of your hand and the style of the pistol will affect how the gun is held. Making sure that you are using a pistol that fits you is going to be a key factor in your success. As a general rule, the biggest differences in grip techniques are going to be between a revolver and an automatic pistol.

Before starting

When learning a new technique or practicing a new technique it is always best to practice with the firearm unloaded. Always make sure when practicing that you follow basic firearm safety protocols.

  • Always keep the firearm pointed in a safe direction while practicing or shooting
  • Never point a firearm at anything you are not willing to destroy
  • Treat every firearm as if it were loaded at all times
  • Do not place your finger on the trigger until you are ready to shoot
  • Firearms should be secured when not in use away from minors
  • When practicing a new technique, the ammunition for the pistol should not be in the same room where you are practicing

Which hand to hold the pistol with

Before starting to practice gripping and firing the pistol you should confirm which eye is your dominant eye. For most of us, our dominant eye is the same as our dominant arm. This is not true for everyone though. To find your dominant eye place one hand on top of the other at a 90-degree angle. Leave a small space where your thumbs overlap. Hold your arms stretched out in front of you and pick a spot on a wall or in the distance to focus on.

how to hold a pistol
Hands crossed to make a small hole to look through

With both eyes open you should be able to see the object you have focused on. Close one eye at a time while still looking through your hands. The eye that you can see the object with is the dominant eye. When looking with your non-dominant eye it will appear as if your hands have moved to one side.

holding a pistol
Focus on an object with both eyes open. Then close one eye at a time. The eye that can still see the object with is your dominant eye.

When shooting you will hold the firearm with the same side hand as your dominant eye. Even if this is not your dominant hand. If you try to shoot with the other side hand from your dominant eye the sight picture will not align with the target. Or you will have to try to bend your head over to see the sights with your dominant eye. Neither one of these techniques will work effectively.

Holding a Semi-Automatic Pistol

To start off by holding an unloaded pistol with your non-dominant hand facing away from you and pointing towards the floor in front of you. Depending on the type of pistol you are using your dominant thumb will either rest on top over the safety or just rest it on your other thumb.

  1. Take your dominant hand and make a “V” shape with your thumb and fingers. Then slide the pistol grip into the “V” of your hand. Your hand should be as high up on the grip as possibleHolding a pistol
  2. Lay your trigger finger, (Index Finger), alongside the frame just above the trigger. Do not put your finger on the trigger at this timeHolding a pistol trigger finger
  3. Wrap the remaining three fingers around the grip, starting just under the trigger guard. Your fingers should be comfortable on the grip and not squeeze too tightlyFinger Grip
  4. Take your other hand and place the palm of the hand, (the section just below the thumb), and place it on the grip. Lay the thumb along the side of the frame.placing second hand
  5. Wrap your fingers around your other hand’s fingers and lightly squeeze to firm up the grip.Two handed grip
  6. Depending on the type of pistol you are using your dominant thumb will either rest on top over the safety or just rest it on your other thumb.

You should now have a good grip on the pistol. It should still be facing the ground at this time in the low ready position.

Shooting Stances, How to stand and hold a pistol

Before you bring the pistol up onto target you think about how you are standing. Your shooting stance is an important part of the shooting. When the gun fires, there will be recoil from the shot. How well you are connected to the ground will affect how well you can control the recoil. There are two main types of stances to consider at first.

The Isosceles Stance

The isosceles stance is when you stand with both feet approximately shoulder-width apart with your knees slightly bent and your chest facing forward towards the target. To shoot you would raise the pistol up so that the sights align with your eyes and the target. Both arms should be stretched out in front of you locking both elbows. Lean forward slightly and place your finger on the trigger when you are ready to shoot.

Holding a pistol at the low ready position
The Low Ready Postion while in the Isosceles stance. Note the trigger finger is not on the trigger

It is called the isosceles stance because the shooter will make the shape of an isosceles triangle. This is a very stable platform to shoot from. It also allows the shooter to rotate to different targets by twisting the mid-section giving a large field of fire. 

Aiming the pistol from the isosciles position
Isoscelse stance facing the target

The isosceles stance is fairly easy for new shooters to master and is very stable while firing. This is a good stance to start shooting with as a beginner. When it comes to tactical shooting there are two trains of thought on this stance.

Holing a pistol
Side view of the isosceles Stance

The first thought is it is a better stance to use when using body armor. This is because the chest is facing the threat. The body armor will be most effective when getting hit front on versus side on where there can be gaps in the armor. The opposing argument is by facing your chest forward you are a bigger target and easier to hit.

The Weaver stance

The weaver stance was developed by LA county sheriff Jack Weaver in the 1950s. To use the Weaver stance, you start by standing sideways to the target. Place your non-dominant foot forward towards the target with the knee slightly bent and your back leg straight. When you bring the pistol up onto the target your dominant arm will be straight and pushing forward into your other hand. Your other arm should have the elbow bent facing downward and pulling back against the dominant hand.

Weaver position side on
Weaver Stance from the side. Note the non dominant elbow is bent while the dominant arm is straight.

When shooting using the Weaver stance follow-up shots can be faster because the non-dominant arm helps to control muzzle climb form recoil. It is also easier to move forwards and backward while keeping the pistol pointed forward. However. When engaging targets from left to right it can require you to move your feet.

Aming a pistol from the weaver stance
Weaver Stance facing the target

From a tactical standpoint, the weaver stance can be seen as good and bad. It does present a smaller target towards the threat. However, if you are wearing body armor you can be exposing the gaps in the armor where it wraps around your sides under the arms.

Operating the Safety

The safety on an automatic pistol can vary between models and types. Some pistols like Glock do not use any external safeties. Some pistols will use multiple safeties, like grip safeties as well as a manually operated safety. When shooting a pistol that has a manually operated safety you should be able to operate it without moving your dominant hand from the grip. To operate the manual safety on the majority of pistols you will use your thumb on the dominant hand.

When you grip the pistol, your thumb should be laying over the safety lever. Once the pistol is pointed towards the target simply press your thumb down against the safety. This will allow the pistol to fire. When you finish shooting let your thumb slide under the safety and press it up to engage. Be aware that not all pistols use the same direction for the safety. Make sure that you read the owner’s manual and familiarize yourself with your specific pistol.

Holding a pistol and Aligning the Sights

With the pistol up and on target and the safety off next is to align the sights with the target. To align the sights, you need to align the front sight post in the back sight. The front post should be completely visible in the backsight groove and the sights should be level across the top. The sights should be aimed at the middle of the target.

Pistol On target
Pistol pointed at the target and the sights aligned

Once the sights are aligned slowly press the trigger. Make sure to follow through with the shot by keeping the trigger depressed for a few moments after the gun fires. Recover your sight picture, release the trigger, and slowly press again. Continuing shooting until the magazine is empty.

Aligning the sights, hold a pistol
Sights aligned on the target

Putting the Gun Down

Once you have finished shooting the slide should be locked open, (providing you emptied the magazine). If the slide did not lock open, then remove the magazine and pull the slide back to eject the chambered round. Your dominant hand needs to maintain control over the pistol and your non-dominant hand will operate the slide.

When the pistol is made safe, (no magazine or rounds in the chamber) go ahead and place it on the bench in front of you. Make sure the chamber is facing up and the magazine is removed. This will allow the range control officer to see that the pistol is empty.

Holding a revolver

When shooting a revolver, the grip will be slightly different. This is due to the design of the gun and the fact that they are usually no safeties on a revolver. You will start out in the same way as you would with an automatic pistol by holding the gun in front of you with your non-dominant hand.

  1. Take your dominant hand and make a “V” shape with your thumb and fingers. Then slide the pistol grip into the “V” of your hand. Your hand should be as high up on the grip as possibleV grip Revolver
  2. Lay your trigger finger, (Index Finger), alongside the frame just above the trigger. Do not put your finger on the trigger at this timeTrigger finger revolver
  3. Wrap the remaining three fingers around the grip, starting just under the trigger guard. Your fingers should be comfortable on the grip and not squeeze too tightlyHolding a revolver
  4. Take your other hand and place the palm of the hand, (the section just below the thumb), and place it on the grip. Lay the thumb along the side of the frame.pistol gripping a revolver
  5. Wrap your fingers around your other hand’s fingers and lightly squeeze to firm up the grip.How to hold a revolver
  6. Both thumbs should be sitting one on top of the other.

Shooting a Revolver

Holding a revolver will feel quite different than holding an automatic pistol. This is because the hand should be high up on the grip and you will feel some pressure on the fingers. But this will allow the pistol to point correctly towards your target.

Aiming with a revolver
Aiming with revolver

If you try and grip the pistol to low on the grip it will tend to want to point down towards the ground. This will make it harder to align the sights with the target and you will not be as accurate. The trigger on a revolver will also be much harder to depress. When you pull the trigger on a revolver it is both rotating the cylinder and pulling the hammer back. Which makes the trigger pull much heavier.

If you want to operate the revolver in the single-action mode, (cocking the hammer), then you should use the NON-dominant thumb to cock the hammer. The dominant hand needs to keep control of the pistol at all times.

Cocking the hammer on a revolver
Cock the hammer using your non dominant thumb. This way the dominat hands grip will not have to change and will retain control of the pistol

Practice, Practice and then Practice some more

Practice makes perfect. So, start off slow and be safe. Make sure to practice loading and unloading your gun before going to the range. When practicing how to load and unload do not use live ammunition. Instead, you should be using dummy ammunition. This allows you to safely practice various loading and cycling drills without the chance of an accidental discharge.

Dummy training ammunition
Dummy ammunition is made from plastic and will be orange in color so that it cannot be mixed up with live ammunition.
Recommended for training
Prices correct at the time of publishing

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