We’re starting a new weekly column here at OutdoorHub.com and we’ll be covering a variety of shooting-related topics including how-tos, industry observations, and some occasional commentary about shooting and Second Amendment issues. I thought it might be fun to start with a how-to series on what I consider the Seven Deadly Sins of Handgun Shooting.

One of my very favorite things is to take new shooters to the range. My second favorite thing is simply seeing new shooters at the range. My least favorite thing is to see folks launch into their shooting career without any instruction, thereby developing a bunch of bad, and sometimes unsafe, habits. To help them along, I’ve put together some tips that will help improve anyone’s handgun shooting skills. After all, it’s much cooler to look like a pro on the range, even when you’re brand new to the sport.

I have scientific proof that the “cup and saucer” handgun grip is bad and bordering on evil. Check this out. If you rearrange the letters in “cup and saucer” you get the following secret phrases:

Arcane Cud Pus

Uncaused Crap

Rude Caca Puns

Freaky isn’t it? Who knew that “cup and saucer” was some type of satanic code?

Now that we can agree that a cup and saucer grip is bad form and just plain spooky, what exactly is it? More importantly, how does one go about exorcising that demon?

Cup and saucer golf club grip
Here’s a cup and saucer grip being used for golf. Don’t see this much on the PGA tour do you?

The cup and saucer grip

The cup and saucer grip simply refers to a handgun grip style where your support hand acts more like a tea set saucer than a support. The butt of your handgun simply rests on top of your open support hand palm.

Let’s face it, if you’re having tea with Prince Harry, you’ve got a tea cup on one hand and a saucer in the other. The cup holds the tea, so what purpose does the saucer underneath serve? Obviously it drives up the stock price for Royal Doulton China and adds complexity to the job description of footmen. Other than that, the saucer only serves to catch things that spill. It’s a waste of a perfectly good hand that could be used to eat scones.

It’s exactly the same with shooting. While your dominant shooting hand will be a little stronger, why waste all those nearly-as-strong muscles in the non-dominant hand? If you’re simply resting your dominant hand and gun on top of a wimpy-looking hand-saucer, you’re not getting any benefit from the support hand, are you?

Other sports figured this out a long time ago. Ever see a golfer use a cup and saucer grip? Or a designated hitter in Major League Baseball? Even fishermen figured out the value of using two hands. Apparently we shooters can be a little slow on the uptake.

Performing the exorcism

Well, for starters, we can blame the guy who invented the term “handgun.” After all, if the best way to shoot them is with two hands, so shouldn’t they be called “hands-guns?” If the name were more intuitive, that would certainly help people think about using both hands effectively. Just saying.

Since that’s not likely to happen, let’s focus on some things we can do. Here’s how to achieve a solid and proper handgun grip.

Proper handgun gripWith your primary shooting hand, open your thumb and index finger. Push the web of your hand as high as it will comfortably go on the handgun grip, making sure that the barrel of the gun lines up with the bones in your forearm. Wrap your fingers around the front of the grip, making sure to keep your index finger out of the trigger.
Proper handgun grip (1)Do you see some free space on the inside grip panel of your handgun? Good, that’s where the bottom part of your support hand palm is going to go. Smack it on there and don’t worry if there’s not enough room to get your whole palm on the inside grip panel. There won’t be and that’s OK.
Proper handgun grip (2)Now wrap your support hand fingers around the front of your dominant hand fingers. Your support hand fingers should be high–to the point of pressing against the bottom of the trigger guard.
Proper handgun grip (3)You’ll know you’ve got it right if both of your thumbs are somewhere near parallel to each other and touching.

Next time you shoot, notice how much less your muzzle jumps. Your support hand can do wonders to help control recoil when you actually put it to work! Plus, a proper handgun grip looks really cool–you’ll be a hit at the range. And those forward-facing thumbs? They naturally help you aim. Things tend to go where you point.

If you have trouble shaking the cup and saucer grip habit, try these emergency counter measures:

  • Bag the tea and drink coffee.
  • Next time you go fishing with a buddy, use a cup and saucer grip with your fishing rod. The tsunami of taunting and hazing will break your cup and saucer habit almost instantly.
  • Smear a dab of crazy glue on the bottom of your handgun butt. You’ll only make the cup and saucer mistake once! On second thought, using Crazy Glue may not be the wisest idea. Perhaps some lard?

Happy (and safe) shooting folks! See you next week!

Images by Tom McHale

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40 thoughts on “The Seven Deadly Sins of Handgun Shooting: The Cup and Saucer Grip

  1. Strong Hand thumb should be riding the thumb safety in order not to accidentally lock the pistol during firing.

    1. Works best if you have something like a Swenson thumbshield safety. Otherwise the thumb can contact the slide, slow it down and cause a jam, not to mention an injured thumb.

  2. What about with revolvers and the gas pressure that can come out and cut off your thumb I use a different grip for them

    1. Excellent point – and I agree. Or at least it depends on the size of your hands and where that cylinder gap is. The article was more aimed at new shooters with semi-auto’s. While the thumbs crossed option can be fine for revolvers, it is somewhat disastrous with semi-auto’s 🙂 A lot of folks like the thumb bent down option too which helps avoid the cylinder gap problem when shooting a revolver.

      1. I usually put my weak hand thumb right on the nail of the strong thumb when shooting a wheelgun. With my 1911’s Strong thumg rides the safety with the weak side right underneath.

    2. My thumbs are the same whether I shoot revolver or semi-auto. Support hand thumb goes over the top of the trigger hand thumb. Neither rests on the safety of a 1911 ever. Doesn’t matter if I shoot left or right handed, same configuration. Only my trigger finger placement changes between firearm styles. As most of us realize, you do what works best for yourself as long as it is not putting yourself or anyone else in danger using such a method. Certainly a good idea to keep the thumbs away from gap on a revolver. Even a lower caliber weapon can cause burns and residue deposit if you shoot enough rounds with the thumb too close to the gap.

    3. Actually if you hold the thumb in basically the same position/orientation, instead of wrapped across the back of the hammer, not only will you be able to control the revolver’s recoil better, you will be able run the revolver faster.
      With all revolvers, except a Chiappa, because of the barrel being on the bottom of the cylinder, holding the weak hand index finger on the front of the trigger guard will keep the muzzle whip down and not get burned by the cylinder gap.
      The cylinder acts as a shield, preventing any gasses from touching your thumb.
      There is no way of getting ones thumb far enough forward for the cylinder gap gasses to touch the thumb, unless you are using a grip with the weak hand too far forward or have enormous hands.
      Watch Jerry Miculek’s videos if you are unclear about what I am describing.

    1. I hear you, and that’s the way I shoot myself. But it’s not a hard and fast rule. Raising that thumb above the safety tends to pull the meat under your thumb away from the grip safety. Some combinations of grip safety and hand size and shape cause intermittent activation of the grip safety. Those folks tend to curl the thumb down under the safety. Some top name 1911 shooter use that grip. Like most things, there’s not one hard and fast rule for everyone.

  3. Thank you for the great tips. I didn’t learn this way and I am trying to break my bad habits now…lol

  4. If I remember correctly, one target shooting method envolves using one hand and the off hand was on the shooters hip. This, I believe, was very common. Therefore, the term “hand gun” is proper, additionally, this separates it from a rifle or carbine.

      1. Hey they said turn sideways so you make a smaller target lol. I watched my ex father in law shoot that way. He was Army trained Vietnam era. Still taught the one hand style then.

  5. Great article! As a firearms instructor I see the “cup and saucer” grip from many students, new and seasoned shooters alike. It is a hard habit to break once instilled. I also teach hand to hand combat and martial arts. The grip Illustrated in your article is a great grip for shooters to get on target with. I would just add a few side notes.
    1) The pointer finger of first hand to grip the gun should rest along the slide above the trigger guard until the target is acquired. Then and only then should your trigger finger slide inside the trigger guard. On some non revolver guns this will also place your trigger finger close to the safety mechanism so be aware. This can be helpful if you want to make the gun safe. However, I have seen people accidentally hit the safety by allowing the trigger finger to move prior to squeezing the trigger causing a “non-fire.” Not too bad on the range but could mean death in defensive situations.
    2) One of the biggest advantages to the grip illustrated in this article is that allows you “firm up” your grip without squeezing your hands. Let me explain how and why this important. With this grip you can allow the muscles in your arms and hands to relax and use the alignment of your arms. shoulders and hips to steady the gun. Furthermore if you need a tighter grip this can be accomplished by turning the hip of the “main hand” forward while “pulling back ” with the “off hand.” In reality you do not pull back you simply keep it in place but I have found this textual illustration to work better for relaying the underlying principle of the technique. By firming the grip in this fashion you do not tense the muscles in the shoulders, arms or hands, thereby not creating fatigue or shaky hands. Try the grip without anything in your hands. Place the heels of your palms together with the “off hand” on top of the “main hand” while curling your fingers in toward the palm. Align your thumbs as stated in the article. Keeping you elbows close in to the body and pointed down will help keep your shoulders aligned with the rest of the body. Rotate the hip of your “main hand” forward while keeping the upper body still. You will feel the “main hand” push forward and the “off hand” fingers pull backward to tighten around the grip. Practice this while breathing and relaxing the muscles in the shoulders, arms and hands. Practicing this technique without a firearm will allow you to focus on how each muscle group feels as you extend and acquire your target, assess and return to the ready position. By the way, if you’ve ever wondered how martial artists are able to punch through wood, bricks, ice and other materials this is the secret. The alignment of the hands, arms, shoulders and hips allow the use of every muscle in the body to contribute power to the punch. In this same fashion you can use alignment to help your grip and control become stronger on your pistol. This is especially helpful for the small and micro-frame cub-compact pistols made from lightweight materials that proliferate the market today. The lighter a gun is the “snappy-er” it is. My daughter has been a crack shot with my full frame .45 for years. When she got her concealed carry license she wanted a very small footprint that wouldn’t make her change her wardrobe. The first pistol I got her was the Ruger LCP in .380. The first time she fired it she hated it and was off target by at least 4 inches. As I watched her shoot I noticed that she was not controlling the muzzle. The light weight and small size of the “snappy” gun did not allow for a grip that does not command the muzzle. After teaching her how to firm her grip, which wasn’t hard as she was a black belt I had trained so I was able to explain it in “martial arts terms,” she was back on target and had regained her confidence. Eventually she opted to change from the LCP to a Sig P238 in chromium finish with pink Hogue grips. While costly for me I felt it was a better choice. Heavier guns are more forgiving in terms of grip and accuracy.
    I know I used a lot of “quotes” in this reply. The quote marks denote things that, in my opinion, may be wrong. Anyway, I hope my two-cents is helpful. If not, sorry I wasted your time while you read it. If so, then please find a local firearms instructor, pick his/her brain, practice good safety and shooting tactics whenever possible and hit the range as much as you can. Habits happen automatically and without thought. Practice creates a habit. Perfect practice creates perfect habits. Habits can save your life or make your life perilous. Most people get their concealed carry permit and never go back to that instructor or the range. Please don’t be that person. Go back to your instructor, I do. Go back to the range and practice, I do. Make perfect habits, well…I try…) Happy shooting and stay safe!

  6. I’m sad to say this but my wife shoots with a Cup and Saucer Grip and she shoots very accurately with it. I’ve tried to correct it but her hands are too small to have a normal acceptable grip and cannot shoot accurately.

    1. Maybe the gun grip is too big? There are plenty of firearms in varying configurations that I would find it almost unimaginable to not find one that fits their hand nicely. I am not saying we can afford those firearms or that they are in the caliber we might desire, but there are so many to choose from.
      S&W J-frame revolvers in .38, .327, .357 or the likes of the Ruger LCP, LC9, Sig P232, P290, P938 just to name a few.

  7. The ‘cup and saucer hold’ is is the hold that was taught to me for a revolver by the Colorado State Patrol trainer back in the 70’s!

  8. Front Sight teaches you to put your thumbs UP and parallel, not forward as shown. It is hard for me to do it that way, but that is what they teach.

  9. You are so very correct to advise adequate training BEFORE going to a practise range solo. My first instruction was fortunate to be at NRA Headquarters, taught by a former Quantico Range Instructor who truely was expert.

  10. This is more opinion than fact. Personally I like to use the tacticle frame around the trigger to get my hand a little farther out and balance the weight. but then I shoot Compacts…XD9, XDS45, GLOCK 27 and it gives me more conrtrol.
    <<<<<<< 12 rounds with the XDS45 (2–5+1s)

  11. Tom, I just bought a “hands-gun” (I like that) and have not had a chance to go to the shooting range yet. this article provided me with some very useful information on how to properly hold the gun.
    I look forward to the upcoming articles you will be writing.

  12. If instead of holding the pistol with the weak hand still a bit low, move it up a bit so the index finger of the weak hand will go in front of the trigger guard.
    Watch Jerry Miculek’s videos on same and you will see this grip reduces the muzzle whip experienced.
    Or just try it yourself.
    The reason it works better is simple, the higher you can hold the firearm in relation to the bore, the easier it is to control the muzzle whip when firing.
    He has a number of excellent videos on his channel, showing several advanced handling techniques, several are about sight alignment and grip, not just of pistol and revolvers, but rifles as well.
    He has more records shooting than anyone I am aware of and he loves doing it fast and accurately at the same time!

  13. i dunno why people make such a big deal about how people shoot,
    its the only way i feel comfortable shooting and if i have to choose
    between getting made fun of by some armchair operator blogger or being
    able to put 10 rounds where i want, ill take the latter. this is such a douchey elitist article, why do you care about how others shoot? wouldnt you want people to feel more comfortable and natural while shooting than worry about what tutorial video of some bearded guy told you was the only way to shoot?

  14. BULLSHIT!!! Use the grip that works best for YOU not just because it is the latest in a long line of the “IN GRIP” someone wants you to use.

  15. The development and evolution of the “handgun” was impelled by a need for mounted troops to have a firearm that could be operated by one hand whilst in the saddle. The other hand used to control the horse. The Walker Colt was an outstanding example of how the handgun changed cavalry tactics. Fast forward to the 1911 pistol, also designed primarily for mounted troops and a one handed grip. In fact the 1911 was used very successfully against Mexican guerillas by US cavalry troops using a one handed grip from a moving horse.
    The handgun,in various iterations, has been used very effectively from a one handed grip by a variety of users for over 400 years. The two handed grip has only been widely accepted since the late 1950s. The interesting thing is that not one factory stock handgun, revolver or semi-auto, was ever designed to be used with a two handed grip. They were all stocked for a one handed grip.
    The two handed style has many variations leading to all kinds of arguments about what style is better. There are arguments about where the support hand goes etc.
    No such confusion exists in the one hand world, there is only one effective grip with minor variations on where the thumb should rest.
    Learn to shoot one handed before you play with the two handed style. You might just like it because guys like Ed McGivern and Bill Jordan seemed to do quite well.

  16. If you do use a cup and saucer grip, it’s important to squeeze the saucer part almost at tight as you can, tighter then your dominant hand. Twist backwards to yourself with the saucer and forward with your other hand.

    This can help with harshly recoiling handguns, especially very small pistols with large caliber full powered rounds.

    The modern 2 handed grip is what is taught to armed professionals and new shooters nowadays. When qualifying on the ICE course or its equivalent, the modern grip tends to increase your overall score for most people.

    Is it best just for targets or for real world situations? You decide. Generally speaking, we know more about human anatomy now then we ever have before in all human history. As new and better information comes in, tactics will naturally change over time to exploit biomechanics to their fullest potential.

    At least TRY the modern grip and using the trigger reset + front sight emphasis for the next 100 rounds when you take your pistol. Try transitioning to one hand, both left and right as needed with the modern method.

    You will probably love it once it “clicks” with your muscle memory.

    One important disadvantage of cup and saucer is that transition from 2 handed to support hand only (left hand only for right handed people and vice versa) is a lot more clumsy and you’ll drop the gun a lot.

  17. Have anyone noticed That the teacup grip Is more confortable than the best known two handed grip?Does it absorbs recoil better.And if yes with which gun.Thanx very Much for your reply

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