Developing a Two-handed Hold for the Semi-auto Pistol

My use of a two-handed pistol hold began in 1955 when I purchased a Ruger “Single Six” single action 22 cal. revolver and a new copy of Ed McGivern’s book Fast and Fancy Revolver Shooting. As I mentioned in a previous article, after studying McGivern’s technique, I was able to adapt a similar two handed pistol hold that promised to improve my accuracy and rapid fire speed. This was about five years before I discovered Jeff Cooper and his combat shooting program.

It was in October 1959 that I was hired by the El Cajon Police Department and purchased my duty revolver, a S&W 357 Combat Magnum. Two months later I purchased my first 45 ACP 1911 A1 pistol, which I hoped to use in Jeff Cooper’s Leatherslaps and combat pistol competitions at Big Bear Lake, California.

At this point I suspected that the McGivern style two-handed hold for revolvers, which I had been using for over four years, would not work with the semi-automatic pistol.

I knew that I needed to develop a solid two-handed hold and stance that would help me control the heavy recoil of the 45 ACP round.

Since LtCol. Cooper mandated that all shooting strings would start from the holster, I contacted Alfonso Pineda in early 1960 and asked him to build a metal-lined holster to my specs that would fit my 1911 A1 pistol.

On a beautiful spring day in 1960, I loaded my shooting gear into the car trunk and headed for my practice range at the Barona Indian Reservation nearby. It seemed obvious to me that the first thing I had to do was develop an effective two-handed hold that would accommodate the flat stocks and moving slide of the semi-auto pistol. I didn’t even bother to put on my holster. Working out of my car trunk I loaded a magazine with 6 rounds, inserted it into the pistol, and fed one round into the chamber.

After placing the pistol in my right hand, I overlapped the four fingers of my left hand under the trigger guard, and placed the heel of my left palm in the hollow spot remaining in the left side stock. At this point I had to determine what to do with the left (weak) thumb. I attempted to change my modified McGivern revolver type weak thumb position. I obviously could not safely fire the pistol unless the thumb was lower than the slide, so I laid that weak thumb across the web of my master hand and pressed down, hoping to create enough clearance to accommodate the slide movement.

Having considered every contingency I could think of in my hand and finger placement, I decided to fire my first round while holding a 1911 A1 with two hands. I squeezed the trigger and the pistol discharged, causing immediate pain to the top of my left thumb between the first and second knuckles. I instinctively pulled my hand away from the pistol and saw two lightly bleeding scratches, obviously caused by the rearward movement of the slide rails. Apparently there was no way to wrap my thumb around the back of the pistol while getting it low enough to clear the slide. Using a McGivern style two-handed revolver hold was not going to work on the semi-auto pistol.

I unloaded the 1911, placed it in the car trunk, and while I cleaned the blood from my thumb I considered how to solve the problem. I picked up the unloaded pistol in my right hand and again placed the overlapping fingers and heel of the weak hand where they had been when I fired the first round. This part of the hold worked. As I stood there looking at my injured weak thumb sticking up to the left of the pistol, I suddenly realized two things: 1.) the weak thumb HAD to stay on the LEFT side of the pistol, and 2.) the weak thumb from the first joint to the tip would be of little or no use to me in any two-handed configuration.

With those two thoughts in mind I worked out what I call a “stacked thumbs” hold with lots of pressure between the slightly offset heels of both hands pressed tightly against the available stock surfaces on both sides of the pistol. Additionally the three remaining fingers below the trigger finger of the master hand were overlapped and tightly gripped by all four fingers of the weak hand. The final important touch was to apply a maximum amount of pressure laterally and as high as possible between the master thumb and the last joint of the trigger finger (which is why I can’t use an ambidextrous safety). The idea is to get as close to the line of recoil as possible. Once my hold felt comfortable and strong, I inserted a loaded magazine into the magazine well and fed one round. Facing a target about 15 yards away, I adjusted my stance slightly to accommodate the revised hand positions I was using on the 1911 A1. Bringing the pistol to eye level I “squeezed off” the second shot of the day. “Bang!” And at that instant I said, “I’ve got it!” – a comfortable, strong, and safe two-handed hold  for the auto pistol.

I continued practicing and refining my new hold and stance, expending a couple hundred rounds that day. By the time I had unloaded and put the 1911 A1 in its case I felt sure that I had found the perfect two-handed hold for the semi-auto pistol. Not only did the pistol lock on the target quicker, but rapid fire strings resulted in dramatically less recoil and disturbance to the sight picture from shot to shot.

By subsequently increasing my arm and hand strength through weight training plus going to the 200 grain #68 Hensley and Gibbs bullet (which I think I popularized), I was able to maximize control over recoil to the point that it was not a significant problem, but I’ll write about that later.

Before I left my Barona practice range for the day I decided to try my newly found two- handed hold and stance on my Model 19 duty revolver. As it turned out, my “stacked thumbs” pistol hold also performed much better than the modified McGivern hold I had been using on my DA revolver.

At this point I concluded that I would never employ a pistol that fit my hands better than the 1911, so I needed to duplicate as closely as possible that same shape and feel for my S&W Model 19. I accomplished that by first reshaping my S&W target stocks and later reshaping a set of custom target stocks.

I left my Barona Indian Reservation practice range on that spring day in 1960 feeling a sense of real accomplishment and that bit of excitement we all feel when we set out to solve a problem and find a simple yet elegant solution. Damn the injury, full speed ahead!