Sidearms like the Government .45 ACP spook shooters who don’t know how to deal with recoil. Here are some tips about handling hard-kicking handguns.
Many shooters believe guns such as the Colt Government .45 ACP kick like a mule, and they are intimidated into not shooting big-bore sidearms because they don’t know how to handle recoil. However, handgunners can eliminate the fear and discomfort of shooting large-caliber handguns by employing a few simple, but effective, equipment, grip, and stance modifications in two-hand offhand shooting.
1. Protect Your Ears
Many shooters get introduced to big-bore handguns in less-than-ideal situations. Too often, a friend hands them a .45 ACP pistol and says to bang away, and they’re likely wearing only inexpensive foam-insert ear plugs. Or no hearing protection at all.
There’s nothing that will develop flinching and fear like the sharp report of .45 fodder exploding at the end of your arm.
To protect yourself properly, wear both earplugs and a set of earmuffs. Doubling the protection with plugs and muffs will make most people almost unaware of the noise and blast generated with each shot. This makes it easier to stay focused and relaxed, which yields improved concentration and results.
2. Discard Your Old Grip
Many people have been taught to use the “cup and saucer” grip, wherein the strong hand cups the grip and the weak hand serves as the saucer, a place to rest the lower portion of the grip.
This is terrible technique. The weak hand ends up providing no support shot to shot, making it more difficult to recover sight alignment for succeeding shots. Also, this grip will increase the perception of recoil because the gun will vigorously recoil away from the support of the strong hand, making it objectionable to handle.
More important, placing your hand under the magazine well can be dangerous. Because the .45 ACP case has a large powder capacity, it is possible to inadvertently double the powder charge. When an overloaded round is fired, the resulting pressure has to go somewhere. In a semiautomatic, the somewhere is down through the magazine well where it will forcefully eject the magazine into your hand. Stop using the cup-and-saucer grip.
3. Don’t Choke The Chicken
Another technique problem many shooters have is trying to control a gun’s recoil by squeezing it like they are choking a chicken. They hold their arms out rigidly in front of them and clamp down on the grip as tightly as possible. This is wrong. A rigid posture makes the body act like a tuning fork, transmitting vibration throughout the skeletal frame. This makes your entire body resonate with each shot. Also, it lowers the position’s pivot point all the way to the feet, making the stance unbalanced.
4. Footwork First
Proper use of your skeletal/muscular system plays an important role in the comfort, consistency, and control of handling big-bore handguns. To make your body work properly with a handgun, you need to set your feet right first. Here’s what to do.
Working without a gun, place your feet at least shoulder-width apart, not much wider. Now shift your strong side foot back 5 to 10 inches. Point your weak-side foot more or less toward your target and the toes of your strong side foot about 30 to 40 degrees away from the weak-side foot. What you are looking for is a strong and stable, yet comfortable, platform from which to shoot.
You can see the value of this stance by standing with your feet together and having someone push you in the chest. The first thing you will do to prevent being pushed off balance will be to hunch forward and to step back with one foot. Voilà. You will naturally assume a shooting stance much like the one I just described. The spacing of your feet side to side and fore to aft increases your overall stability.
5. Bend Your Knees
Once you’ve gotten your footwork set, you will want your position to withstand the push of the recoil. The solution: A slight bend in the knees will help absorb some of the recoil and maintain good balance. The bend doesn’t need to be exaggerated (as in the old FBI crouch, where the objective was to reduce target size). A slight flex is adequate to maintain comfort and balance. Stiff knees will cause the muscles and joints to tense, decreasing dexterity and increasing mental tension.
6. Lean Forward
Next, lean forward slightly from the hips. This will yield an increased ability to recover from the push of the shot. This change in weight distribution over the feet is important. You have probably seen shooters lean away from the handgun they are firing. Whether trying to gain distance from the noise and blast or just counterbalancing the weight of the gun held at arms length in front of them, this practice actually increases the feeling of being pushed off balance. When you lean forward, you will notice the balance point on your feet has shifted from the heels to the balls of your feet.
7. Flex — Don’t Stiffen — Your Arms
Consider that joints are made to flex, not to take a pounding. Thus, you can see the folly in keeping the elbows locked in the two-hand, offhand shooting position. Think of the elbows instead as shock absorbers. Allowing the gun’s recoil to be absorbed partially by movement in the elbows is desirable, will increase the controllability of the gun, and reduce wear on your joints.
To learn what this should feel like, work without a gun in your hands. Press your hands together as if the gun were there. You will instantly feel how much muscular tension you will need to support the gun. Some shooters allow their elbows to bend downward slightly, but I prefer to keep mine on the same plane with my shoulders, bent slightly out and up. Rolling the shoulders forward slightly also allows you to comfortably absorb recoil.
8. Head Position
Your head can be tucked a little between your shoulders or held reasonably upright, whatever is more comfortable. If you wear prescription glasses, with bi- or trifocals particularly, you will need to be able to see through the appropriate part of the lenses with comfort. You also want to maintain good blood flow to the brain and eyes, so don’t tighten any muscles beyond what you need to hold your head stable. Avoid getting into a kinked position.
9. The Grip
Now for the hands. Assume the stance as discussed and press your hands together firmly with your fingers extending toward your target. Remember to bend your elbows. While maintaining the same “point” with the strong hand, rotate the weak hand down to a 35- to 45-degree angle. Let the pad at the base of the weak-side thumb slide down to fill the palm of the strong-side hand. You should be able to see how the thumbs nest and still point in the same direction.
Applying this grip to the semi-auto, keep your finger in the register position (pointed, along the frame, outside the trigger guard), place the unloaded gun in your hand so the line of the bore is in line with your strong-side arm and the web of your hand is pressed high into the grip tang. This aligning of your skeletal structure and high placement of your hand will minimize the leverage the gun can exert on you in recoil, giving you the mechanical advantage. Wrap the remaining three fingers of the strong hand firmly around the grip, being sure to keep them together with the middle finger pressed into the underside of the trigger guard. When handling a Government Model autoloader, rest your strong-side thumb on top of the thumb safety.
Next, place the weak hand against the grip with the base of the weak thumb pressed up into the underside of the thumb safety. Rotate the fingers down as you did before. Although the gun is now between your palms, you should end up with a fit similar to that you experienced without the gun. Both hands should be high on the gun, close to the line of the bore. Wrap the four fingers of the weak hand around those of your strong hand, keeping them together and tight into the trigger guard.
10. Pressing the Trigger
The size of your hands will obviously play a role in where and how you place your finger on the trigger, but there is a way to ensure your trigger-finger placement doesn’t interfere with the execution of a shot.
Think of the sight plane as a straight line between your dominant eye, the rear sight, the front sight, and the exact spot on your target where you want the bullet to go. If when you press the trigger the sight-plane line detours away from your target, you should adjust your hand position. If you can center the pad of the first joint of your finger over the trigger while maintaining the proper alignment of the gun in your hand, you will increase the likelihood that the press will go straight back toward your rear sight and your eye, maintaining the straight line.
Just as important is maintaining a steady pressure on the grip all the way through the shot. Increasing the amount of “muscle” during the stroke, known as milking, makes it very difficult to keep the gun steady.
Practicing these techniques will teach you how much grip tension is required to hold the gun steady and comfortably. Any more is a waste of energy and may cause tremors. As you learn more about the process of shooting big handguns, you will discover subtleties that work to your advantage. You will discover just how much lean you need to feel the proper balance before and after the shot. You should find that bending your elbows slightly will significantly reduce the amount of perceived recoil you endure. Also, you will learn that when the gun doesn’t push you around, you shoot much better.