One size fits all is a lie [most of the time].
A couple of generations ago (maybe three, depending on the age of the reader), Col. Charles Askins was a famous gunwriter and lawman. One of his pieces of advice was to pay attention to grip size. In his opinion, if you could not get a proper grip on a handgun, it was wrong for you, regardless of how popular, common or recommended it might be. Of course, back then you had few choices; grips were wood, and custom ones were expensive. Today, if it were any more complicated, it would be worse than clothing sizes. This matters because clothing manufacturers lie. "One size fits all" usually means "it fits everyone badly" New shooters will find that fit is even more important because if you aren't doing well or having fun, you probably won't continue.
But one question arose when I was kicking this subject around with G&A's editors: Does changing the grip size of these new and modern polymer pistols improve hit probability? Is there a point of impact (POI) shift?
Some never tire of whining that Glocks point differently than 1911s. Does the difference really matter? There's only one way to find out.
The Trio We needed suitable candidates to test for the effects of changing grip configurations. Smith & Wesson was kind enough to loan us the new, standard-size M&P 2.0 in 9mm, which included a full array of the replaceable saddle-like backstraps: small, medium, medium-large and large. While the M&P 2.0 features different sizes, changing the grip panels does not change the grip angle, which is 18 degrees.
We also ordered SIG Sauer's P320 Compact in 9mm, along with extra grip modules. The P320's approach to tweaking our grip is to change the entire frame. This differs from S&W--as well as other brands--in that the grips are not replacement backstraps or enlarged palmswell panels (like the HK VP9, for example). SIG Sauer's replaceable shells are currently available in small, medium and large sizes that sell for [dollar]45 each. (The P320 ships with the medium module.) As a reminder, the serialized part of the P320 is the chassis, which sits inside the polymer grip frame. To change the feel of the grip, remove the slide and barrel assembly, and pull the chassis out. Then install the chassis and reattach the slide assembly into the new grip. Worst case, it sets you back about 45 seconds.
Lastly, Glock shipped us its G17 Gen4 in 9mm. The Gen4 models feature a backstrap system that is different than the S&W and SIG Sauer approach. We don't replace anything. The base frame on the Gen4 is like all other Glock pistols, which are built on molded polymer shells containing action parts. If you want a different grip shape or size, add a panel to the existing backstrap. These backstraps come in two sizes: medium and large. A total of four ship with the pistol: two with and two without a molded-in beavertail. The grip angle on Glock's Gen4 models, like every Glock made since the 1980s, has the same, not-a-1911 22-degree angle. (It's worth noting that we found the medium backstrap will replicate the grip shape of all previous generations. To go down a size, no backstrap is installed; to go up a size, install the large.)
Support Equipment & Procedures Having 10 different sizes of pistols to test, and with which to measure accuracy and POI shifts, G&As editors were tasked with running them through a series of drills for comparison. Hornady volunteered to support this study and supplied us with a large amount of its American Gunner ammunition. Also, to fairly compare all pistols in the drills, I needed a suitable holster that could be had for all three. So, CrossBreed Holsters sent us one each of their DropSlide rigs.
But gear is not a test. There has to be a process and a measuring system. The first question we had to answer was at what distance do we need to shoot? G&A typically accuracy tests handguns at 25 yards. But we also do that from a solid, built-up rest with hands and arms supported or by using a Ransom Rest for maximum consistency. However, there is no way that a subtle difference in grip shape, or even perhaps a large one, will cause us to shoot a different POI in a supported bench position. Two-handed, unsupported? Now, that's a question worth asking. We agreed to shoot these pistols at 15 yards, two-handed and unsupported. 1 also tracked the front sight to see if it would travel in recoil in a consistent and controlled manner. Did it rise? Did the sight settle to the same location and drop down into the rear sight notch?
And next were the drills. We decided on a simple, classic and easy-to-set-up test that can be easily replicated: the Bill Drill. This drill was invented by Bill Wilson of Wilson Combat and is straightforward. One target is positioned at 7 yards. The shooter draws and fires six rounds in two-and-a-half seconds. The goal is to score all A-zone hits. Go over the alloted time, and you fail the drill. Stray a shot outside the A-zone? Fail. This tests the draw, splits, recoil control and sight control. For a lot of shooters, it is also a point-shooting method because two seconds is a short time for a lot of new shooters. If you are going to try this for the first time, do yourself a favor and start from low ready instead of from the holster. (You'll be surprised by how fast the time goes at first. And then, with a little practice, how slow the time hack becomes.)
Over the course of two weeks, I performed the same test with all three pistols. I checked the POI with each change of grip option. Then I performed Bill Drills. I used the standard USPSA target and a PACT timer, and I worked out of the CrossBreed holsters.
Preconceived Notions Someone is undoubtedly reading this and thinking, How can a different grip change POI or group size? Recoil begins the moment the bullet starts moving. If the grip is too large for your hand, the recoil will be felt more against your thumb than against the web of your hand. In the web, it recoils in a consistent manner. On the thumb, it is less consistent. Using a grip that is too large increases group size and can shift the point of impact if the pistol movement changes from what it had been with a smaller size, at least when shooting from a standing, unsupported position.
In this test, what are we looking for? Simple: Does the group center shift when you change from one size grip or backstrap to another? Do your groups in the Bill Drill shift? If a grip is too large, they'll probably shift to one side or the other. If the grip shoves your hand down too far, the groups will rise and open. Do your hands complain after a good practice session? If a grip is too large, your thumb will take more of the recoil than it should. If your thumb hurts after practice but your hand does not, the grip is probably too big.
Spoiler What did we learn? The change in POI was minimal, if there was even a change at all. Even the Glock, with its 22-degree grip angle, did not produce a shift.
However, I am not you, and you are not me. Having spent more than a half-century pulling triggers, I've shot just about every handgun known to man. I have fired far beyond a million rounds, and much of it was done in hard practice and stress-inducing matches. One thing I've noticed is that all handguns point the same for me. That is, in the time between my hand grabbing on the draw and pushing the pistol to the target, my brain has done all the needed assessments.
I do not point shoot, and anyone who does and advocates it is trying to sell you a bill of goods. (You get intentional hits only by aiming.) The bottom line is that 1 am not a novice, which is important to consider if you are. This test might produce different result for each of us. I've spent years training to get sights up and on target consistently, regardless of the handgun.
Hand Size There's also the matter of hand size and grip. I have large-ish hands; they're not overly big, but they're big enough. And I have a very hard hold. When I get a firm grip on a handgun, 1 am high and hard on the frame. I'm not holding it hard enough to prevent a drop-free magazine from escaping out the bottom of a Glock, but you get the idea. My grip is so hard that I cannot count on other shooters' pistols hitting
to the point of aim if they have been specifically sighted-in for them. (Today, I make sure to test where someone else's handgun is hitting if I happen to need to use it.)
A Roadmap To Success A test with no results is not necessarily a failed test. The best example of this is the Michelson-Morley experiment to test for luminiferous aether. They found none in the summer of 1887, and the test has been repeated many times in the 130 years since--and it fails each time.
This grip-affect test may have been a failure in my hands, but it could be a roadmap for you. You may well find that one particular grip shape or size works better--for you. We'd like to encourage you to repeat the tests for yourself and send your results to email@example.com. Please check for group sizes and be conscious of tracking the front sight. Then, if your range permits it, shoot Bill Drills. If this drill is new to you, start from low ready and dry-fire. Then, once you've done enough dry-fire practice, move on to drawing from the holster. Can you get all six hits in the A-zone in two seconds? Does the grip shape or size cause the pistol to squirm in your hands, shift and move your hits out of the A-zone?
These are things that only you can test and that only you can determine. I first ran into this as a nonevent when replaceable backstraps initially appeared. I tested pistols with the various options and found that while some were more comfortable than others, they didn't seem to affect accuracy, POI or my times and scores while shooting various drills. Since there was no change in scores, times or accuracy, I simply chose to install the most comfortable backstrap or grip panel--usually the smallest. For me, there were none that were too small. But remember, we're considering double-stack 9mm, .40-and .45-caliber pistols here. I'm not sure that it is physically possible to make them too small. For a lot of shooters, as small as they get is already almost too big. Bigger won't be better.
Will that be the case for you? Only testing will tell--and now you know how. Let us know what happens.
WORDS BY PATRICK SWEENEY | PHOTOS BY MICHAEL ANSCHUETZ
Caption: SIG Sauer's P320 frames are size-marked on the bottom the grip.
Caption: SIG Sauer's P320 disassembles to this point in less than 20 seconds.
Caption: The P320 will accept optional grip frames as an accessory for [dollar]45 each. Simply remove the serialized chassis and install it in another shell for a different grip shape. These are also great for shooters that want to learn how to add or modify grip texture.
Caption: The G17 Gen4 includes four backstraps that install over the grip, two with beavertails and two without.
Caption: The new Smith & Wesson M&P 2.0 includes four sizes of backstraps. Only two of them add girth at the tip of the tang.
Caption: "BILL DRILL" PAR TIME: 2.5 SECONDS TARGET: IPSC SILHOUETTE
Caption: Smith & Wesson uses a rod to secure the grip panels, which also works as a disassembly tool. The size of these panels is marked on the inside.