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Not too long ago, I entered into a conversation with a notorious local gentleman of little knowledge and many opinions. To keep a grating and irritating story short, the man in question opined that not only was there no way to make the very common and popular Smith & Wesson J-frame revolver accurate, but he asserted that there was nothing better than a rubber grip to prevent the minute wheelgun from flying from your hand under recoil in self-defense situations. Being one who takes petty debates seriously, I decided to find out for myself . . .

I’ve been carrying a Model 642 for a little while now and I never really considered that there would be a better option than the standard black rubber panels that come standard on the piece. I liked them plenty and never really saw a reason to replace them. But curiosity took over and I decided to undertake a semi-scientific test involving innocent bystanders.

Josh Wayner
Model 642 as it comes from the factory

After a little bit of friendly back-and-forth, Hogue sent me two sets of their excellent G10 grips, both in their visually appealing Blue Lava pattern. I must admit that I was a bit unsure when it came to these grips. I’d shot a big 629 .44 Mag a while back that sported a smooth set of G10 grips from another manufacturer and proceeded to cut my thumb on the cylinder release under recoil. I flinched a bit thinking about that unpleasant sensation and took all my gear and tools to the range to look for some victims.Josh Wayner

With me that day on the range were several other shooters I didn’t know. This is important because they represented a spectrum of possible end users that this information would pertain to.

Man #1: Tall guy, John Wayne type, about 60 with a scowl and an AR he couldn’t seem to figure out.

Man #2: Average guy, late twenties, police cadet. A bit overweight with big hands and a minty GLOCK 26.

Woman #1: Pretty girl in her late teens, possibly early twenties. Thin and lacking wrist strength. Seemed to be having a good time with Man #2, but wasn’t terribly happy about being where she was.

Woman #2: Fit, athletic, in her late forties. Identified as carrying while running and biking and had brand preference for S&W due to the Bodyguard .380 she packed.

Each of the people I showed the little revolver to had a different opinion about it. Man #2 expressed that his GLOCK was about the same size but held twice the ammo. Man #1 claimed he knew the man who designed the J-Frame and that he was an asshole. Woman #1 liked it and loved the blue colors. Woman #2 didn’t like that the pistol wasn’t as flat as her Bodyguard, but liked the smooth lines and colors.

My goal for the day was to have the four strangers fire the revolver with each set of grips installed. The conditions were perfect for the test, as it had rained fairly hard for about an hour a short time before I arrived and the range was wet and humid.

I decided to use my .38 SPL accuracy load for the test. It’s a stout and powerful little round that features an excellent Berry’s 158gr Flat Point over 4gr of Trail Boss in pick-up brass. The load gets about 750fps from the 642’s stubby barrel. I’d describe the recoil as a little shove akin to a 147gr 9mm from a Shield. Not bad, but plenty noticeable in such a light gun.

Josh Wayner

All of the Hogue grips tested were made for this gun out of the same material, but their textures are nothing alike. The standard Bantam grip is topographically smooth, but has a very fine texture in its own right. If you look closely, you’ll notice a slight dimpling on the surface. I’d say that it feels like a cloth canvass or perhaps wood that’s been hit with increasingly fine grades of sandpaper down to about a 400-grit.

Josh Wayner

Moving on, the next set of grips is what Hogue calls ‘Piranha’ texture. The highest exterior surfaces of the grips are outlined and aggressively dimpled. By aggressive, I mean pre-Holly Holmes Rhonda Rousey aggressive.

The dimples are actually somewhat sharp, kinda like the surface of a well-used cheese grater, but without benefit of delicious Parmesan. Now, this isn’t a bad thing, mind you. I was overly concerned when I first touched them, but when in the hand it feels firm and secure, just like how I imagine shaking Tom Selleck’s hand must feel.

Josh Wayner

Both sets of grips install with a small screw and are impeccable in fit and finish. The finger groove area on both sets had no flashing or overlap. The halves lined up so well on both that it’s difficult to discern where the line of separation is when assembled.

Josh Wayner

The control set I used was the standard black rubber grips that come with the gun from the factory. They fit well and are functional. I assume that most people have shot a gun with rubber grips, and these are no different. I’d describe them as tacky, but at the same time not hard like the G-10 plastic. There’s some give in the finger groove area, but otherwise feel stable.

On to the main event. I had each shooter shoot with each set of grips and tell me their observations. I watched them carefully to see if they were bullshitting me at any point in the process. I allowed each five rounds at seven yards to familiarize themselves with the pistol. They were allowed to dry fire as much as they liked.

The grips were randomly attached to the gun to remove any bias as to what the shooter started with. I asked that they fire quickly to simulate rapidly firing in self-defense so I could gauge the assertion that the gun would ‘fly out of your hands’.

Josh Wayner

I made several observations in the course of fire. First of all, the gun never once managed to take to the air or otherwise achieve flight. Every shooter with every set of grips was able to keep the gun firmly in place and on target. Secondly, the pistol was easily as accurate as anything at seven yards and compared favorably and even better than some other pistols, but more about that in a minute.

Standard rubber grips: Of all four shooters, none did well with the standard grips. The humidity, sweaty hands, and tackiness resulted in all the shooters producing their worst groups of the day. Woman #1 stated that the rubber grips were slippery and she had a difficult time holding on. Man #2 complained that the cylinder release kept slipping into his thumb and that they were sliding under recoil. Man #1 didn’t comment and Woman #2 noted that they were comfortable to hold. No shooter reported that there was a sensation of reduced recoil compared to the G10 grips.

Hogue Smooth grips: Three of the four shooters did well with these. They were universally preferred over the rubber grips. Man #2, though, seemed to have a very difficult time getting them to stop sliding in his hands. At this point I suspected that he may just have a case of swamp-palm, but I didn’t ask. Man #1 said that these grips reminded him of the old wood grips from back in the day, which I could only assume was a good thing. Woman #1 had no issue with them and easily out-shot her soon-to-be ex-boyfriend. Woman #2 said she liked how the grips felt and that they wouldn’t snag inside her running or biking gear.

Hogue Piranha grips: Despite her delicate wrists, Woman #1 was able to fire the best group of the day with these grips. All five rounds went into about 1” in under three seconds. Woman #2 also printed her best group of the day and said that the gun felt very steady in her hands, but didn’t like how aggressive the texture may be on her spandex gear. Man #1 shot his best as well and actually stated that he liked the grips as long as he couldn’t see the blue color. Man #2 noted that the gun no longer slipped in his hands, which he liked. He then stated that GLOCK’s were better, which didn’t at all impress Woman #1.

She proceeded to surprise us all by one-upping him two times over. Not only was she able to fire very accurately with these grips, but she was able to recover and fire faster than he was with the G26. The two then switched guns and neither did well. Man #2 simply couldn’t make do with the revolver while Woman #1 just thought that the GLOCK was a bulky POS that was hard to hold onto. Her words, not mine.

My overall impression of this little experiment was that it was telling. I think that the Hogue grips are indeed superior to the standard rubber factory grips. If you’re planning on carrying a hammerless .38, the 642 is the way to go and the Hogue grips are a very welcome addition.

So how does the little blaster fare with the +P loads it’s rated for? I took it upon myself to try both the Hornady 110gr Critical Defense load and the legendary Speer 135gr Short Barrel load using all three sets of grips.

My results were about the same. The clear winner for stability and recoil control was the Hogue Piranha. And I didn’t find the Speer load to be horrible to shoot like some people say it is. It wasn’t a day at the beach, but never once did the gun go flying or come off target. The Hornady load was my favorite of the two given its lower recoil and slightly higher muzzle velocity.

So what does all this mean in the grand scheme of things? My take-away is that rubber grips aren’t the best thing for a pocket snubbie. Of the five shooters involved (including me), nobody found the rubber grips to be better than the Hogue options. I think that the way Woman #1 shot was indicative of the fact that semi-auto pistols are not the end-all for concealed carry and that it is far better to fit the shooter to the gun that the other way around. She needed little training and had never fired a revolver until she fired the 642, yet was able to out-shoot the others by a wide margin.

Josh Wayner
Representative rapid fire targets by Woman #1. Piranha on the left, smooth G10 in the middle, and standard rubber on the right.

In conclusion, I must say that revolvers aren’t for everyone, but they are for some people. Short of covering everyone’s hands in butter and olive oil, the Hogue Piranhas prevented slippage and provided a very stable shooting experience when compared to the other options tested.

Without speculating, I will say that a firm and textured grip allows for a more consistent trigger pull and thus better performance in adverse conditions and arguably would make a difference in a defensive gun use. It seems safe to say that the claims of that sadly misinformed gentleman have been proven false, at least among my sample group.

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38 Responses to A Grip on Reality: How Much Does Grip Texture Matter For Self-Defense?

  1. I like a grippy grip. I find I don’t have to readjust my grip with a grippy grip after strings of rapid fire drills. Just me, everyone’s different, shoot and accessorize to ones hearts desire.

  2. Have the factory Piranha grips on the P938.
    Love ’em.
    That said, THE best grip is the rubber/wood inlay grip on my GP100.
    They always elicit a positive comment from a shooter new to them.
    That Ruger shoots just fine, thank ya very much…

  3. Grips on a snubbie are a tough proposition.

    Grippy ones leave you with more control of the gun, but hang upon clothing when needed most when ‘fingers turn into flippers’.

    Smooth one are unrivaled for fastest draw when fractions of a second count, but are more difficult to hang on to and *hurt* to fire, meaning your’e less likely to practice firing them.

  4. The younger eyes have it.

    Being the wrong side of 50, I’ve noticed that regardless of any other factor in tool (not that), my 20/20 vision has degraded below 3ft that I need reading glasses to have a front sight focus, so accuracy is down to minute of man. I happen to like the rubber textured talon’s, mainly because I’ve put those on everything since they came out. I used the love the looks of a polished SS revolver with wood grips, but I have the swamp hands, so form over function, the early polymer guys were very poor, they’ve figured out the polymer science so even a fisher price doesn’t feel as bad.

    And after you’re out of ammo, it makes the fastball easier.

  5. What is this trying to say ?
    “All of the Hogue grips may be for the gun out of the same material”

    • All of the Hogue grips for this gun are made out of the same material.

      Friends don’t let friends type drunk.

  6. Great article. I carried a J Frame for well over a decade, I guess closer to 2. I did a shorter version of this experiment after noticing that I shot my .44magnums better with wood grips that soft rubber, “recoil reducing” grips. Just like with my big guns, I shot my J frame better with checkered hard wood grips than I did with soft rubber grips. To have a firm grip, you need something firm to grip.
    (My god, so much to work with on that last line…)

  7. I watch a lot of movies so I’m somewhat of an expert on this. You are correct in your assumptions but since you failed to note the hair color of your test subjects, your entire experiment is invalid. Sorry about that.

  8. I’ll have to look into these when I get to a browser that will show the photos. I tried Hogue overmolded rubber grips before with my 642, that gave me a bit of room for my little finger on the grip. They did improve accuracy but impeded my draw with pocket carry so I went back to the standard grips. I considered ease of draw a more important consideration than accuracy at bad breath range.

  9. I switched my own M642 from the original Uncle Mike’s boot grips to Hogue Bantam grips. I finally switched to wood grips and haven’t looked back.

  10. J-Frames are insanely accurate for their size, your “notorious local gentleman” is a jackass.

  11. Especially when it comes to DA-only revolvers, I’m surprised that no one is making a grip with a beavertail-style overhang at the rear, to help reduce/prevent the tendency for the revolver to work deeper and deeper into the palm during firing. A simple smoothly-rounded spur on the top-rear of the grip would not increase thickness or overall length at all, but might do wonders for control of these little beasties when they are loaded with peppy defensive loads.

    This popped into my mind when I saw the G10 grips, which have the strength to pull-off this type of design (wrapping a spur around the top-rear of the frame), where the rubber grips, no matter how well reinforced, probably couldn’t.

  12. I got my 642 back from the gunsmith not too long ago, still tickled to death with the trigger job. While the black rubber grip is perfectly functional, those blue Bantams sure do look nice on that gun. And yeah, it’s pretty darn tootin’ accurate too.

    Tom

    PS: You need to tone the new look down a bit – too hard on the eyes. Font is all right, no great shakes but that white background has got to go. Also, you need to bring back your previews and side buttons PRONTO.

    • The site (not the sight) looks super weird. Blue on white is my least favorite combo. I actually complained to my company’s helpdesk because our blue on white OWA is illegible.

      • Just think of it as Robert helping us prepare for a worst case outcome this election season. Much like gun control under Hillary, it’s it’s a bad idea that’s coming, and you’ll hate it, but good luck stopping it.

  13. I don’t find this surprising I swapped to Hogue grips on my Taurus 85 UltraLite years ago and it turned it into a different gun.

    In that case the Taurus grips were a tad short and my pinky would slip off the grip after the 2nd or 3rd shot. The Hogue grips were a more aggressive texture and a bit longer which made the gun much more comfortable to shoot.

    Still not a big fan of wheel guns, but the grips do make a world of difference if you get the right ones.

  14. I have tired numerous grips between my N Frame (27) and J Frame (649). I find across the board the magna style grips have been the slimmest and sufficiently grippy with their checkering. This is very good for me with the N Frame because my hands are not big enough to make proper use of the target sized or standard sized grips; for the N Frame the magna grips are the best for me.

    For the J Frame, the magna grips did not work. The light weight of the gun and lack of coverage of the back of the guns grip made it quite painful to fire with 38 +P or 357 mags so those were out. The 649 has a larger factory rubber grip that I find quite good and dampens stout recoil nicely but it is huge and does not help conceal for pocket carry. I eventually came to a Pachmayr Compac grips with a single finger groove at the bottom. They fill the hand nicely and are much shorter than the standard grips, offer nice grippiness, and absorb punishing recoil nicely. The only drawbacks are that I had to shave the left side down a bit for a speed loader to pass and the are wider than most other options.

  15. For years I carried a S&W Model 10 with department issued wood grips. Then transitioned to a S&W Model 36 again with department issued wood grips. In the service I first had the 1911 and had plastic grips then transitioned to the M9 with plastic grips.

    Today my personal 92FS has Hogue overmolded rubber grips as does my personal S&W Model 637. Wood looks nice. But I’ll carry with the secure firearm handling characteristics of Hogue overmolded rubber.

    The oft repeated myth of exposed hammers and rubber grips snagging on your clothes, slowing or preventing a clean draw, is just that, a myth. I say practice with your EDC, whatever it is, until your draw is quick sure and fluid. Bottom line is that it’s not the gun, it’s the it’s the skill and experience of the operator holding the gun that counts most.
    Senior Gun Owner 1950

  16. Can’t speak on the J frame, but I really like the old style GP100 rubber grips with wood side panels, especially with checkered side panels like on the Wiley Clapp or from Altamont. They give you the comfort of rubber front and back with the extra grip on the sides. I’m guessing the SP101 would be similar, but I haven’t bought one of those yet.

  17. Back when revolvers came from the factory with skinny one size fits all wood grips(they don’t) I got in the habit of putting pachmyars or something just like them on every revolver I bought.

    I sweat a lot in hot climates and wood grips simply let my hands shift around too much. Especially on the magnum rounds. Rubber grips ain’t perfect, but they let me get a firm grip.

  18. This is cool, I have factory wood on my model 38. It’s definitely a handful, and not pleasant to shoot that way and most certainly makes the gun less accurate.

  19. I had each shooter shot with each set of grips and tell me their observations.

    The form of the verb makes all the difference here. My observation would be “ow…”

  20. Its a double edge sword. I had rubber grips on my Walther .380 which did give me a more positive grip but I could not shift my grip as fast as with the original plastic grips if I grabbed the gun in a hurry and I wanted to shift my hold on the grip. Also the rubber grips were much more bulky which did not make the gun as concealable and the rubber grips tended to catch on my clothing when I attempted to draw the gun. I eventually went back to the original plastic grips which might result in my dropping the gun more easily but you have to weigh the good points and the bad and the rubber grips just had too many draw backs (pun intended).

  21. Does anybody have any experience carrying the piranha grips against bare skin? Obviously id prefer the superior grip but I don’t want to lose all the the great comfort the rubber grips provide at AIWB.

    • Good question! My HK P30 needs an undershirt, what makes it so great to hold makes it rough on the flotation device….

      • Thanks for the reply! I’ll probably go with the smoother grips then, my 642 spends 99.9 percent of its time cuddling my midsection haha.

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