Every time I go to the range I see [right-handed] pistol shooters putting their left thumb over their right. Wrong. To get a secure grip on a handgun, place your right thumb over your left. Is reversing proper thumb placement a natural instinct, bad training or both? I’m hardly the model of pistol perfection; I’ve got more bad habits than a convent without a tailor. But I don’t do the dumb thumb thing. Never have. You?

4 Responses to Question of the Day: What is it with the Thumbs?

  1. Years ago, I was sitting in a classroom listening to a guest instructor do a little lecture on human genetics.

    He used lots of quirkly little traits to show genetic differences–attached earlobes vs unattached ear lobes, ability to curl the tongue vs inability to curl tongue, comparative length of specific fingers, etc.

    In one exercise, he asked the whole class to put their hands together and interlace their fingers.

    A little more than half the class put their right thumb on top of the left thumb when they did that.

    A little less than half put their left thumb on top.

    I figure it's just a natural thing for some folks, like eye-dominance.

  2. Oh boy – you're starting the day with this!

    There are many different holds for a pistol – some better than others, but all effective for the most part. The grip you are referring to is known as the "thumbs forward (TF)" technique. It was developed and made popular by Robbie Leatham and Brian Enos, and is the symbol of advanced "pistoleering" skills. It is effective, accurate, fast, and probably done by 90% of all IPSC/IDPA/USPSA shooters. It is the hold I use on my 1911, both in competition and in everyday use.

    The grip you are stating as "wrong" actually isn't. The thumb-over-thumb (TOT) has been around for a longer than you or I, and should still be used today when shooting a revolver. The TOT technique is great for beginner shooters as it is the one that feels the most comfortable to newbie’s.

    Both grip techniques have their +s and -s. On 1911's, the TF grip rides the top of the safety and there is no need to ever adjust during shooting. However, on other guns (Glocks, SIGs, XDs) the TF grip will sometimes cause the slide to prematurely lock back as the thumb of the support hand rides up the frame and eventually pushes the slide release up during cycling of the slide. With the TF grip, the opposite can happen too – your thumb (right hand) rides on top of the slide release (putting downward pressure) and the slide won't lock back when the magazine is empty. On 1911s and XDs, the TF technique can also cause the web of your hand to relax and pull away from the pistol’s frame. This will disengage the safety and will not allow the gun to fire.

    The TOT technique isn’t perfect either, but certainly has its place. In revolvers, it is a must – you get your fingers in front of the cylinder and a whole lot of pain is probably headed your way. For newbie’s and target shooters, it is comfortable and easy to learn. The downfall of wrapping the left thumb over the right is that it opens up a gap between the heel and thumb of the left hand and the pistol. Under stress or “spirited” shooting (e.g. competition), the pistol tends to twist in your hands, making follow-up shots slower and often less accurate since your point-of-aim has shifted.

    I use both methods. For my 1911, I’m all about TF. It’s fast to acquire (no need to sweep the safety down, THEN get my hands in place), and the sights tend to track well for me with this hold. Other guns that I shoot where the TF grips feels good are the Browning Hi-Power, the CZ75, and most single-stack pistols (with the exception of modern SIG single-stacks). For almost every other pistol (and all my revolvers), I use the TOT technique. Even with my modified Limited-Class XD9, the TOT works best for me. It is what points the best and gives me the most control.

    Of course, your mileage may vary. Experimenting with your grip is fine as long as it works well for you and is consistent. If everyone followed what was done in the past, we’d all be shooting from the hip, or gripping our pistols with our weak-hand index finger wrapped around the front of the trigger guard!

    • There are some people that I know who say that the TOT technique is too slow because recoil cannot be managed with this grip. To that I say please see the linked video.



      Here I am shooting an XDM (stock… for now) .40S&W with full power 180-gr loads. You can see in one of the strings how my grip went from a TF grip to a TOT grip. It was fast and hardly noticeable, but I was aware of it as soon as I shot the gun with the TF grip. Since I normally shoot Single-Stack with a 1911, I resorted to my normal grip upon unholstering the pistol. However, I immediately went to a TOT grip because it is what is most comfortable and natural with this pistol. It isn't something I thought about, just something that was instinctual.

      The point is – do what is most comfortable and natural for you. I shot the fastest match of my life on this day, with a pistol that I haven’t shot (competitively or other) in over 3 months. I did it for a reason, wanting to see how well I would “adapt” to something I haven’t practiced with in some time. The middle string was 3.91 seconds. With 6 shots (1 start plate, four 12”plates, and 1 stop plate), this is 0.65 seconds per hit. If you take into account the 2 misses (same plate in all 3 strings too!), that is a total of 8 shots, calculating to 0.49 seconds per shot – not including unholstering the pistol. The pistol clearly is under control and I never felt it wanting to “roll over” my hands as some people describe when shooting polymer guns with a TOT grip.

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