March 11, 2021
One of handgunning’s most crucial aspects, and most mysterious, is fit. A gun that doesn’t fit you well is more difficult to shoot accurately. Many people go by “feel.” You pick up a gun and it just feels right. I’ve certainly seen that play out countless times at the counter of my local gun shop, with customers commenting on how one gun feels better to them than another. And in my own case, I’ve developed a fondness for Walther pistols because I think they just feel better to me.
A lot of factors go into fit: grip angle, grip girth, grip shape and even the presence and configuration of finger grooves. For instance, some people like Glocks because the grip angle suits them. Some people don’t like Glocks and gravitate toward pistols like Smith & Wesson’s M&P that have a more 1911-like grip angle.
Feel is not the same as fit. If your hands can’t properly wrap around the gun, it doesn’t fit. More importantly, I think, is if you can’t easily place your trigger finger to the first joint squarely on the face of the trigger, the gun doesn’t fit. Even if you think it feels good.
Unfortunately you really can’t get a clear picture of how well a gun fits you until you actually shoot it, which is why if you don’t have experience with a particular handgun model, it’s a great idea to find a gun shop with a range and rental pistols. But what about a gun you already own? While you can’t change grip angle, there are several things you can try.
Most polymer-frame pistols available today come with interchangeable backstraps. But too many people, myself included, make assumptions that may or may not be correct.
For instance, I have medium-size hands by most hand-measurement standards, even medium-large by some. I own two pistols with interchangeable backstraps: a Walther PPQ M2 and a Smith & Wesson M&P9 Compact. They both came with the medium backstrap installed, and I just went with that because, hey, I have medium hands.
Because these guns are in my safe, both see a lot of screen time on our “Handguns & Defensive Weapons” show, and in my attempts to improve my marksmanship and thereby not embarrass myself on TV, I train with them a lot. As I started to keep notes on performance on various drills, I discovered I shot the Smith measurably better than the Walther—although I always thought it was the other way around.
When I took a hard look at both guns, I realized that my reach to the trigger was better with the Smith—my finger curling around the trigger naturally rather than being off to one side as it tended to do with the Walther. The solution was simple: change the Walther backstrap to the small size.
The moral? The size labels on interchangeable backstraps are just that, labels. You need to shoot them to find the right size. And don’t assume just because you use one size of backstrap on a particular gun that the same size works for all makes and models.
On certain guns you can change the entire grip. My competition gun is a Walther PPQ Q5 Match Steel Frame, which has a hump on the backstrap—a hallmark of the PPQ family of guns.
I thought I was getting a decent finger position on the Q5 Match’s trigger, but the more I dry-fired it while working on my draw, the more I began to notice my trigger-finger placement was inconsistent.
My solution was an aftermarket set of grips: Lok Grips Bogies/Thin I bought for a little over $100. The new grips not only eliminated the backstrap hump but also were thinner. That fixed the inconsistency with my trigger-finger placement, and my Steel Challenge scores improved immediately.
Changing the trigger may help as well. Right now one of the big trends in polymer-frame striker-fired guns is a straight as opposed to a curved trigger, which can make it easier to pull the trigger straight to the rear. I’ve not experimented with this yet, but what I have tried is replacing a stock 1911 trigger with a short one.
If I simply pick up a 1911 and place my finger on the trigger, reach is not a problem. But when I get a proper high firing grip with my thumb riding the manual safety, my trigger finger tends to contact the trigger at a slight angle. One of the great things about the 1911 is its straight trigger travel, and you’re not going to gain this advantage if your finger is exerting any kind of lateral pressure on the trigger.
Nighthawk was kind enough to send me one of its aftermarket short triggers, which I installed on my Nighthawk Talon. (And FYI, installing a 1911 trigger is not difficult. If you don’t know how to disassemble and reassemble a 1911 to the point you can replace the trigger, it’s really something worth teaching yourself.)
The stock trigger measures 2.30 inches; the short trigger measures 2.07 inches. The difference it made in my shooting was dramatic. With my finger able to achieve a proper trigger press, my plate-rack times and my non A-zone hits on paper targets during various drills both dropped significantly. I’m in the process of switching all my 1911s to short triggers as a result.