Making Your Gun Easier to Shoot

I’ve written previously about various modifications that I’ve made to some of the guns that I own and indicated the reason for making these changes was to improve my ability to use them more effectively. The vast majority of those modifications have been made to my handguns and consist mainly of changes to the grip, trigger, and/ or sights.

Grip Changes

I’ve made changes to the grips on my handguns to improve my ability to tightly hold the gun steady in my hand and to enable me to better control the recoil. Differences in grip angles don’t seem to bother me, but it does for some people. There seems to be an on-going argument over the 1911 vs. Glock grip angle. I’ve found that the grip angle of Glocks — and Lugers, Ruger Mark-series, etc. — tend to force my hand to point downward, locking my wrist, while the grip angle of the Colt Model 1911, S&W M&Ps, etc., keeps the muzzle more aligned with my eye-target line. For this reason, I also prefer my 1911-style pistols to have the arched mainspring housing rather than the flat one. Some polymer-frame pistols, like the Ruger SR9/40 pistols, have backstraps that can be swapped between flat and arched as well.

In general, I prefer grips that have a larger circumference. The Browning Hi-Power is a good example of the kind of grip I like. It looks sort of “blocky” but feels really good in my hand. I just wish the Hi-Power had a better trigger instead of the long, gritty one that it comes with — caused by the magazine disconnect feature. My Sig-Sauer P-series pistols are another good example of this. I like their thicker feel, although some of the instructors I’ve had have told me the Sig grips are too thick for my hands. Their concern is that if your trigger finger is tight against the side of the grip, when the muscles/tendons in that finger tighten while you are pressing the trigger, they will force the muzzle of your gun away from you — either to the left or right depending on which is your shooting hand. I must be compensating for this with my support hand, because I don’t seem to have much, if any, muzzle movement from the tightening of muscles in my finger. Some of those very same instructors that have said the grip is too big for me have later commented that I seem to shoot my Sig pistols quite well.

On my steel-frame guns, the grip changes mainly consist of replacing the panels. Substituting rubber or synthetic (G10) grips for the wooden or plastic grips that came on the gun have been the most common. Sometimes these changes resulted in the new grips being thicker and in other cases the result was thinner grips.

When it came to making changes to my polymer-frame guns, things were a little more complicated. In general, the “grip panels” are molded into the grip frame and
cannot be changed that much. You can melt the polymer with a sharp tool to “stipple” them—i.e., make the texture rougher—, or you can sand them to make them smoother. Stippling them helps you grip the gun tighter, but the stippling can also “drag” on your skin or clothing while you carry and draw your gun from concealment. Sanding them down can eliminate this roughness but then you lose gripping surface. If you are hesitant to take such drastic steps such as stippling or sanding the grips, there are after-market rubber sleeves that can be stretched over the existing grip that changes the texture and makes the grip somewhat larger in circumference. However, the rubber can also stick to your skin/clothing, making the draw more difficult.

In general, I dislike the finger grooves that come on my polymer-frame guns. The Gen3 and Gen4 Glocks are probably the most common handguns with them, but
Glock wisely — at least in my mind — chose to eliminate them with their Gen5 guns. The spacing on those finger grooves never seemed to fit with the size of my fingers. For instance, on a Glock 17/22 (Gen3 or 4) the spacing of those grooves felt okay to me, but on the Glock 19/23—the size Glock that I prefer—they were too close together. The result was that one of the “humps” ended up resting on the middle of one of my fingers rather than all my fingers fitting into the “valleys” between the “humps”. I could live with this on my 9mm Glock 19, but the sharper recoil of the .40 S&W cartridge in my Glock 23 forced me to have the finger grooves ground off by a gunsmith. (I would have traded in my Gen4 Glock 19 for a Gen5 version if they had left that notch in the bottom front of the grip off. The sharp edges of that cutout seem to dig into my little finger when I grip the gun.)

The replaceable backstraps/palm-swells that come with some polymer-frame guns (i.e. S&W M&P, Glock, etc.) enable the user to customize the grip size to fit their hand better. I have found the new Medium-Large palm-swell that S&W now provides with their “M2.0” guns to be just the right size for my hands and I’m glad they are now selling them separately so individuals that need that size for their first-generation M&Ps can get them. I do continue to struggle with my Glocks, trying to find the right size backstrap. The medium-size ones seem a little too small for me and the large ones are too big at the bottom to enable me to get a good grip on the gun with my support hand. I have resorted to using one of those rubber sleeves, but that isn’t quite right either.

Trigger Changes

I divide triggers into two general categories — duty triggers and target triggers. For a “duty” trigger, I can live with a pull weight of five to six pounds, as long as the “break” is crisp. When it comes to a “target” trigger, I want a pull weight of 2 1⁄2 pounds or less with a crisp “break”. The heavier the trigger pull weight, the greater the chance that during the trigger press you will move the sights off target. Just a minor movement at the muzzle can result in a miss by a foot or more on a target ten or more yards away.

I also prefer a wide trigger over a narrow one. The wider the trigger is, the less the perceived trigger pull weight will be. This is especially important with double-action revolvers.

Closely related to trigger width, is whether the face of the trigger is smooth or rough. I prefer a trigger with grooves in it for precise target shooting, but on a double-action gun (or one used for self-defense) I prefer a smooth face on the trigger so my finger can slide across it more easily. I’ve had blisters develop on the tip of my trigger finger after a day long shooting class (300+ rounds fired) when using a gun with a grooved trigger face. One of the modifications I’ve made to all my Glock pistols is the replace the grooved trigger that comes standard on many models, with the smooth-faced trigger that comes standard on the Glock 17. In addition to being smooth, it is also a little wider.

The length of the trigger can be an issue on 1911-style pistols. I prefer the “short” trigger on such guns, but these days most of them come with “long” triggers. I routinely change the “long” triggers for the short version on my 1911 pistols. If you have long fingers, the longer trigger will probably work for you. My fingers tend to be on the short side, so the shorter trigger works better for me.

On most pistols it is not an issue, but on the first-generation S&W M&P pistols there was often no discernable tactile trigger reset or the location of the trigger reset was inconsistent from shot to shot. I want a tactile and/or audible reset so I can stop allowing the trigger to move all the way to its “at rest” position when I am firing multiple shots. Reducing the distance that the trigger moves also lessens the chance of disturbing the alignment of the sights on the target while shooting. The Short Reset Trigger (SRT) option that Sig offers is one that I like and that I have on all my P-series Sig pistols. I’ve also modified my first-generation M&P pistols with Apex trigger kits to provide the kind of trigger reset that I like.

Some manufacturers offer triggers with pre-travel and/or over-travel adjustments on their guns. I am not so concerned about pre-travel, but I do like to adjust the over-travel so the trigger stops moving to the rear right after the trigger releases the sear. Except for the first shot, what pre-travel there is can be eliminated with a distinct trigger reset.

Most of the striker-fired guns these days come with a safety built into the pistol’s trigger. Called “safe action”, hinged, or blade-in-a-blade, these features usually offer little or no resistance during the trigger press, so they don’t really concern me. There are after-market triggers available that change the materials used in most factory triggers from plastic to aluminum, giving them a sturdier feel. Apex offers an after-market replacement trigger for the M&P that functions like the Glock “safe action” trigger does. I do not recommend deactivating the safety feature of these triggers because they are often the only safeties available on these guns.

Sight Changes

The sights that come on your gun are usually adequate for use. I personally do not like the 3-dot variety of sights that come standard on most self-defense pistols these days. Many people think you just need to line up the three dots, but the dot on the front sight is often larger than the two on the rear sight and lining them up will cause your shots to go low. The idea behind the dots is to allow you to find your sights in your vision quicker, not to align them to hit the target. For that, you need to keep the tops of the rear and front sights aligned and the dots are a distraction when trying to do this. Sometimes I will blacken out the two dots on the rear sight—unless they are night sights.

If after-market sights are available — and they are for most guns — I like to replace the factory sights with high-contrast ones like the I-Dot sights from AmeriGlo. (My aging eyes can see the high contrast sights better.) They are also night sights. I routinely do this on my Glock pistols, replacing the plastic sights that are standard with the sturdier metal sights from AmeriGlo. (Other companies also offer high quality replacement sights for Glocks and other pistols.)

Some of my pistols have fiber-optic sights that provide the kind of contrast that I like. They are okay on pistols used for target shooting or competition, but I prefer something less-prone to breakage on any of my pistols that I use for self-defense.

The use of mini-red dot sights on self-defense handguns is becoming more common. They are a viable alternative for someone with aging eyes like mine and they enable me to focus my vision on the target and not have to switch my focus to my front sight — something that is increasingly difficult for me since I wear tri-focal glasses and have to tilt my head back and forth depending on which lens in my glasses I need to look through. Many of the mini-red dot sights available these days are more rugged than they were in the past, making them suitable for everyday use. The good ones are also more expensive, so buyer beware.

Something that I have recently discovered is that I like thinner front sights that allow a lot of “white space” on either side when viewed through the rear sight notch. I find it easier to pick up these sights with my current vision issues — which are not going to get any better. I especially like the higher “suppressor-height” sights that are available on some pistols that are configured for use with a sound suppressor. I can use them much like I can a mini-red dot sight, keeping my vision focused on the target — at least at distances under ten yards.

Other Modifications

About the only other changes I make to some of my pistols is to replace the manual thumb safety, grip safety, and/or slide latch with ones that are easier to actuate. Trying to activate the slide latch to clear a malfunction while you are in the middle of a gun-fight is difficult enough, and having a miniscule latch only makes it worse. Replacing the grip safety on a 1911-style pistol with one that has a memory bump and/or wider beaver-tail can help ensure the gun is ready to fire when you want it to. A wider thumb safety lever helps with both deactivating and activating the safety, especially when you are under stress.

So, you see, there are many things that you can do to improve the “man-machine” interface between you and your gun to help you to shoot better. If you are happy with your gun’s “interface” as it comes from the factory, leave it alone. If not, there are many after-market parts suppliers and gunsmiths that will be happy to help you out.

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