RG101: Revolver Grasp, or How to Hold a Revolver

Revolver Grip Techniques

It’s been said plenty of times before, but there are a lot of pretty experienced shooters out there that don’t know how to shoot a revolver. This number seems to grow every year, as more and more people pick up the shooting sports and fewer and fewer pick up wheelgunning. In fact, a friend (who is really into revolvers) recently told me that he believes revolver mastery is truly a dying art. I mostly agree, were it not for a small handful of people keeping the skillset alive.

This post is intended to be the first in an ongoing “Revolver Guy 101” series – occasional articles covering some of the basics of revolver use. This installment is a quick reference for the two commonly-accepted revolver grasp techniques. I’m not saying this is how you have to hold a rotator, but if you’re starting from square-one these offer a pretty good starting point.

Grasp Vs. Grip

Most of our regular readers here probably know, but I have begun to distinguish the terms “grasp” (the act of holding the revolver) from “grip” (the portion of the revolver being grasped). This is to cut down on the confusion generated by using the more common “grip” to talk about both. I didn’t originate this; this distinction came to me by way of Grant Cunningham’s excellent Protect Yourself With Your Snubnose Revolver. And since we’ve mentioned grips…

For both of the techniques I’m going to cover here, a good set of grips is pretty important. I’ve previously written about several different grips for revolvers, including the ones I use: the VZ Grips Tactical Diamonds for K/L-Frames and J-Frames. Grips such as these are pretty important because they fill the area behind the trigger guard. Even the old Hogue finger-grooves in the photo below will do.

Revolver Grasp

With old-style factory S&W “splinters” the neck of the grip is too narrow, and the middle finger(s) end up behind the trigger guard. It is my understanding that this style of grip was popularized when revolvers got shot a lot more in single-action than double. I know for a fact grips like these are ill-suited to serious double-action work. If you own a revolver with grips like these, and you intend to use it for defensive purposes, upgrade the grips as soon as you can afford to.

Revolver Grasp
While pretty and nostalgia-inspiring, these grips aren’t much fun to shoot with. Notice the huge gap behind the trigger guard. If you own a self-defense revolver with grips like these you should seriously consider replacing them.

The Importance of a Good Grasp

A solid purchase on the gun is important. Holding the gun correctly will optimize the positioning of fingers and thumbs in relation to the firearm’s controls. A proper grasp (in combination with a good grip) can optimize trigger reach and travel. All of these make the use of the firearm more efficient. No less important is the ability to control recoil that is conveyed through a strong, properly-applied grasp.

An improper grasp on the revolver can cause a multitude of problems. It can cause the gun to shift within one’s grasp after every shot resulting in either a. a repositioning of the hands between shots or b. shots that are successively less controlled because of a successively poorer grip. Either of the two aforementioned problems can impact accuracy, recoil management, and speed negatively. Of course other factors (like ammunition selection and the revolver itself) also effect this stuff, grasp is extremely important. Let’s look at a couple of the most widely accepted revolver grasp techniqes: the “thumbs-tucked” grasped and the “thumbs wrapped” grasps

Thumbs-Tucked Revolver Grasp

The thumbs-tucked technique is perhaps the most commonly used revolver grasp technique these days. This is the technique recommended in a ton of instructional media. Grant’s Protect Yourself and Lucky Gunner’s excellent “How to Use a Revolver” video are two such examples.

To use this technique, grasp the revolver as high up on the stocks as possible. The thumb of the dominant hand should be curled and end up pointed in a generally downard direction. The web of the hand should be as high up on the shoulder of the grip as possible without going over it, or interfering with the motion of the hammer. The middle finger should be as close to the trigger guard as possible. Squeeze the revolver tightly, but not so tightly that you begin to shake.

Revolver Grip Techniques

Next, wrap the support hand fingers over the fingers of the dominant hand. Place the heel of the support hand against the heel of the dominant hand, and curl the support thumb over the dominant thumb. The goal here is to get as much “meat” on the grips as possible, while keeping the thumbs out of the way to avoid injury (a topic we’ll touch on in a follow-up article), interefering with the cylinder, or getting in the way of the trigger finger.

Revolver Grasp

One potential problem with this revolver grasp is the thumbs interfering with the trigger finger. This is a problem I sometimes experience with J-Frame-sized guns. If you have too much finger in the trigger guard (caused or exacerbated by a too-small grip),  the first phalanx of the trigger finger may hit the thumbs, arresting motion of the finger and trigger. This can usually be corrected by adjusting the position of the thumbs slightly. Again, this is usually only an problem with very small guns or in individuals with exceptionally large hands, like the massive pair of meat-hooks shown below.

Revolver Grasp
Photo courtesy of Mike Wood

This is probably the most versatile technique of the two presented here. If you learn a thumbs-tucked revolver grasp it will also work (though not ideally in my opinion) with semi-autos, making it an okay option for people who regularly shoot both types of handguns.

Thumb-Wrapped Revolver Grasp

This alternate revolver grasp technique begins like the first: web of the hand high on the grip, thumb curled, and middle finger against the underside of the trigger guard. The hallmark of this technique, however, is the support hand thumb wrapping over the web of the strong-hand. This offers a very strong grasp of the revolver, and feels pretty good if the right revolver is in the right hands.

Thumbs Forward Revolver Grip

There are a couple of reasons you might not want to make this your primary revolver grasp technique. The first is if you regularly shoot semi-autos. This technique is something definitely not ideal for semi-auto handguns. If you regularly shoot and/or carry both you should pick one technique that works for, or is easily adaptable to, both.

Revolver Grasp
Photo courtesy of Mike Wood

The second reason you may be disinclined to use the thumb-wrapped technique is if you shoot revolvers in a variety of sizes. This revolver grasp technique works great on small guns like the Ruger SP101 and LCR and S&W J-Frames, but not so much on bigger wheelguns. In the photo below I am trying to use the “thumb-wrapped” technique on a gun that is too large for my hands and the grasp might not look too bad, but it feels pretty miserable.

Revolver Grasp

This technique is a bit more limited than the “thumbs-tucked” revolver grasp. It works better on small revolvers than big ones (depending on your hand size), and it doesn’t work well at all for semi-autos. So why in the world would you consider this revolver grasp technique? I believe it provides a sturdier grip overall if you have reduced hand strength. If this is an issue for you and you and only shoot revolvers, this might be the best option.

The Bottom Line

If you’re new to revolvers, I would recommend evaluating your situation. Do you regularly shoot semi-autos? Do you have reduced hand strength because of injury, illness, or age? Do you have exceptionally large or small hands? The answers to all of these questions are factors that should play into your decision, but your mind shouldn’t be made up until you’ve worked a bit with both. I would spend a dry-practice session or two with each. Next, I’d spend a live fire session with each of your revolvers and work both of the techniques against the clock. This should give you a pretty good idea which one is more effective for you.

Regardless of which you choose, though, I’d recommend choosing ONE and staying with it. If you’re constantly changing your technique you’ll have difficulty myelinating a single one. If you have to pull your gun under extreme stress and you haven’t automated a single technique, the grasp you get, might not be the one you want. Take some time to choose and don’t be afraid to try new things, but once you’ve chosen work the technique until it happens automatically on the draw…then work it a little more.

Some of you have noticed (and have written in about it) that I don’t use either of these techniques. I don’t, but that’s a story for another time…

8 thoughts on “RG101: Revolver Grasp, or How to Hold a Revolver”

  1. Nice work, buddy!

    FWIW, the thumb-wrapped grasp can even interfere a bit with an external hammer revolver, depending on the size of the gun and hand involved. If you choke up too high, you can prevent the DA hammer from coming back all the way.

    One thing in favor of it though, is that it really opens up the area around the trigger, eliminating potential interference from the support hand thumb.

    I’ve seen some single action revolver shooters do some good work with the thumb-wrapped grip, running the hammer quickly with their support side thumb.

    Looking forward to the next installment!

    Mike

  2. Thank you for this information. I now know why my wife shoots our 2 wheel guns so much better than I do, as my primary weapon is a 1911. I’m going to try the first version of the grasp soon.

    While my shooting is OK for defensive purposes, center of mass at 20 feet with both hands or just my dominant hand, my groups are never tight enough because my grasp is probably too loose and my shooting hand too low. My wife, with ladylike mitts, holds the guns properly and grasps them firmly.

    1. My hat is off to you, sir – you’re a big man to admit that! I am a big 1911 fan, too and I totally know what you mean. The first few times I shot revolvers I couldn’t figure out how the heck to hold them because the feel is so radically different, and things are in different places. Please stop back by and let us know how this works out for you!
      Justin

      1. So today I went to the range and tried exactly what you recommended. It is also, as noted earlier, how my wife shoots a revolver. The guns in question were a Taurus 85 snubbie, a Smith & Wesson 64 4” barrel, and best of all a friend’s 6” barrel Colt Python.

        The results were remarkable with all three. With a tighter grip and high hold, I suddenly began to shoot with confidence and got much tighter groups every time. Even the 85, a gun I have never shot well, scored. The Python lived up to its rep as deadly accurate with a moderate .357 load.

  3. Well, I sat and purposely waited to see if there were going to be any others who shoot/grip revolvers as I do. There are none,,, at least no comments. Drats,,, does this mean I am alone?!

    I shoot any gun, be it semi or wheelies, thumbs forward. I do such to keep from influencing the gun to be pushed to the right, or downward by my thumbs. EVERYBODY has a different hand, and after years in the construction trades I have very powerful hands & thumbs. Yes that can be an advantage when it comes to “open hand skills”. BUT,,, it can play havoc with a shooting grip as well.

    I actually spent a number of years training a group of guys who all shot revolvers by means of the thumbs forward grip. We nick-named our group The Black Thumb Gang because at the end of each session each shooter had a black tip on his thumb from thumbs forward/burning powder.

    If I attempt to curl my thumbs as shown in the photos above I seem to lose palm contact with my left (support) hand. Hence the thumbs forward approach.

    So I am alone here huh? Well, Grandma always told me I was “special”.

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