The earliest pistols were developed in the late 16th century, but curiously it took mankind 400 years to learn how to grip a pistol “the right way,” holding it between with two hands instead of just one.

Nearly every pistol user from the age of high seas piracy right up to the 20th century fired their pistols by standing perpendicular to their target and fully extending their firing hand. This stance, called the “Bullseye Stance” is ironically the least accurate of all the modern pistol stances. Since it lacks the use of a support hand, the shooter is at the mercy of his weapon’s recoil and must rely solely on the strength of his shooting arm to mitigate it. The use of a two-handed grip, at least in the US Army, was relegated to positions such as kneeling and prone, but was not meant to be used to react quickly to the enemy.

Blackbeard and US Marine from Korean war in one handed pistol stances.

After World War II, a number of expert marksmen in the pistol shooting community, notably competition shooters like J.H. Fitzgerald and Ed McGivern as well as combat veterans like Eric Sykes, William Fairbairn and Elmer Keith, when considering how to grip a pistol, suggested that using two hands to hold their weapons (one hand on the gun’s grip with the other one for support) was beneficial for long-range shooting, which was anything beyond 25 yards according to 1940s US army standards.

The Weaver Stance

It was only when expert pistol shooter and deputy sheriff Jack Weaver refined the two handed technique that it received its name. Today, the Weaver technique is one of the two popular two-handed shooting techniques in use by everyone from law enforcement professionals to competition shooters all over the world.

Police or security guard with Weaver stance.
The Weaver stance.

The Weaver dictates that the weapon should be gripped high, with the support hand (e.g. the left hand if the shooter is right handed) wrapped around the firing hand. The shooter pushes forward with his shooting hand while he pulls with his support hand to create tension, which lessens recoil and muzzle flip. The shooting arm is kept fully extended to act as a brace, while the support arm is bent at a slight angle. It is also considered good practice to have both thumbs facing the same direction, which allows for greater weapon control since both hands are in contact with the pistol grip.

For those learning how to grip a pistol, they must learn how to differentiate between the two different shooting stances. The distinguishing trait of the weaver stance is the placement of the feet and the rotation of the torso. In this stance, a right-handed shooter would place his left foot in front of his right, applying most of his weight on the forward foot for stability, while his torso is rotated sideways to decrease his target area.

While the weaver presents less of a target area to a potential threat, the part of the body facing danger is the shooter’s rib, usually the least-defended part of the torso when wearing body armor.

The Isosceles Stance

The Weaver had a monopoly on the pistol grip world for thirty years until competitive shooters Brian Enos and Rob Leatham developed the isosceles stance in the 1980s. This pistol grip was more appropriate for body armor users since it had the shooter face the threat directly, presenting his chest rather than his rib as the immediate target. This stance, so-named for its resemblance to an isosceles triangle, has the shooter standing with both feet spread shoulder length apart and knees bent. The shooter’s arms are held straight, with the elbows locked to form the vertices of the “triangle.” Rather than pushing and pulling with both hands to create tension, the isosceles utilizes the shooter’s body to reduce recoil.

Competition shooter in isosceles stance.
The isosceles stance. Note the lowered head.

These two stances cover the two types of body positions for pistol shooters, but thumb positioning is another aspect that shooters (both new and experienced) should learn when training how to grip a pistol. Thumb positioning divides shooters between semi-automatic users and revolver users. Someone familiar with a semi-automatic firearm such as a Sig Sauer or a Glock but unfamiliar with revolvers runs the risk of holding a Colt Peacemaker the same way he would hold a Colt 1911, e.g. a high grip with both thumbs pointing forward, perhaps even resting one on the cylinder. Holding a revolver this way will put one’s thumbs in the way of extremely hot escaping gases and could possibly result in injury after the first round is fired. Having a two-thumbs-forward grip could also put one of the shooter’s thumbs in the way of the revolver’s rotating cylinder.

Revolvers

Thumb tuck revolver grip
The thumb tuck revolver grip.

The reality is that the revolver was invented before the concept of two-handed shooting even existed, and modern two-handed revolver shooters had to invent their own grip technique. When shooting a revolver two handed, it is good practice to tuck in the thumb of one’s support hand so it’s nowhere near the cylinder. Although some say the only application of the teacup grip is for revolvers, this author respectfully disagrees.

Teacup revolver grip.
The teacup grip, a sin in the pistol shooting world.

The teacup or cup and saucer grip is widely panned among shooters as “useless” since the support hand does nothing to control the weapon’s recoil. Weapons with a particularly strong kick often leap out of a teacup grip, but it somehow feels right to people who have never used a revolver before, making it widely known as the grip of Hollywood actors and amateurs.

What about you? What pistol shooting discipline do you follow? Tell us in the comments below.

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