By Eve Flanigan
Too many women approach shopping for a firearm the same way they shop for shoes—based on looks. Unfortunately, using that standard alone can result in disappointment. A gun that's a poor fit is no fun to shoot. Often for women, and occasionally for men, finding a handgun that fits well can prove challenging.
Here are some simple guidelines for evaluating gun fit when you can't try the gun by firing it, such as at a gun shop. Regardless of where you try the following, ensure the gun is unloaded and keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction.
The first step is to place the web of your shooting hand high and centered on the rear of the grip or backstrap. Position the "V" between thumb and forefinger as high up as they can reasonably go on the backstrap. If there is a grip safety, such as you'd find on a 1911 or a Springfield XD pistol series, fully depress it in your grip.
Hold the gun in your firing hand, not allowing any part of the gun to rest on any object. Place the center of the pad of your trigger finger over the center of the trigger.
Some semiautomatics have a safety lever in the trigger face that prevents the gun from firing unless this lever is depressed. If the gun you're testing has such a lever, press the lever flush with the face of the trigger, but do not begin taking up slack on the trigger itself.
Now, bend your elbow so you can look at the gun and your hand from the top side. If the center of the pad of your finger is still centered on the trigger, ideally, there should be a shallow C-shaped curve in the finger—with space between the palmar surface of the finger and the frame of the gun.
If the gun is too small, your tendency will be to put too much finger around the trigger. If it's a bit too big, you'll be able to reach the trigger but your finger will be flat against the frame, which you'll quickly see from a top view.
If the gun's much too big, you'll have to rotate your grip to reach the trigger. That's all right, but if the bottom knuckle of your thumb winds up centered on the backstrap, the gun is a very poor fit and should be avoided.
A welcome development in the market is the appearance of interchangeable grip panels and backstraps. Many if not most modern polymer-frame pistols offer these, which allow you to customize the grip so it fits you better. If you're testing a polymer gun, ask if other grips are available and try them out.
If the gun seems like it's a fit and worth proceeding with, press the trigger slowly to the rear in a steady, straight rearward motion. Repeat the press several times to get a feel for how the gun fits. Of course, you'll have to reset the slide on a semiautomatic after every press.
Can you complete the trigger press without your finger touching the inside of the trigger guard at any point in the trigger's path of travel? If you can, the gun is a candidate.
Do you have to hook the first joint of your finger around the trigger to get the job done, or do you find your trigger finger dragging on the frame? These are signs the gun doesn't fit as well as it should.
While imperfect fit can usually be worked around by compromising some aspect of grip, it will require more practice to shoot well.