The conventional wisdom states that you want your hand as close to the bore-line as possible on a pistol to compensate for muzzle rise between shots. It’s true; physics and physiology dictate this, and the amount of upward rotation induced by recoil can be measured. It genuinely makes a difference in absolute terms. The question is how much difference, and how much does it matter in practical terms?
The answer is… it’s complicated. People are different; people differ in skill, there’s always some variation in physiology. In the interest of science I decided to see what difference it makes for me by staging a very unscientific test.
I wanted two guns that differed primarily in how high a grip they allow, so for my test I selected two J-frame revolvers, a S&W Model 37 and a model 642-2. The latter gun allows a significantly higher grip, so with all things being equal it will have less muzzle rise under recoil, which allows for faster recovery times between shots.
Of course all things are seldom equal. For example the 642-2 weighst 14.7 oz. while the Model 37 weighs 13.6. Does that 1.1 oz. make a difference? Don’t know. Both have nice DA triggers, but the trigger on the Model 37 is a bit better. How much difference will that make? Don’t know.
The ammunition, at least, I can control. For the test I loaded an Xtreme Bullets 158gr. Copper-plated SWC over 5.0gr. of Universal with a Federal #200 primer. This is a relatively stout load, but is not max-pressure or +P. I wanted the load to have a bit of bounce so recoil would be more of an issue.
The first test was one shot/second at 7 yards. I aimed at the Bullseye with the 642 and at the bottom of the target with the Model 37. The results were not particularly illuminating.
OK, time to push harder. I tried two cylinder-dumps at seven yards with each gun. This means I emptied the guns as fast as I could while aiming center-mass of the target.
The cylinder dumps seemed to go about as fast from one gun to the other. We don’t know exactly how fast they were because I got a new phone and forgot to download the shot-timer .app. Oops. Let’s just say the difference was not conspicuous.
OK, maybe distance will tell the tale. I ran targets out to 25 yards and fired one shot/second (I do have an .app to make my phone beep every second.) I thought that perhaps this will show the difference. OK, it does. Sort of. Maybe.
At a glance the groups are close, but I missed the paper once with the model 37, so technically the 642 wins. But I only did this once, they are pretty close and the sample size is too small to definitely say there’s a difference.
I tried panic-fire at three yards, where I point the gun without using sights and empty it as fast as I can. No definitive difference between group sizes. Five yards, same result. Despite knowing that there is a difference I simply could not demonstrate it real-world practical terms.
Does this prove it doesn’t matter? No, it simply indicates that it matters little or not at all for me with these two specific guns as they are presently configured. But as my wife pointed out I am a large, very strong man, and fair to say a pretty good shot with snub-nosed revolvers. It might be different for someone of slighter build with lesser grip strength and/or less experience. I’m going to see who I can enlist to repeat the test and find out…
It’s almost physically painful to me to admit this, but for me at least the higher grip made no real difference. I honestly expected it to. I know in straight-up leverage it’s true; it’s just the difference isn’t enough to noticeably affect my performance. Needless to say your mileage may vary, and more testing is needed across people with different physiques and skill levels.
The upshot is that gripping your revolver as high as you can manage is good advice, but that changing guns to take advantage of an even higher grip might not make enough difference to matter. I’ll keep looking into this.
Take care and stay safe.
Michael Tinker Pearce, 23 August 2021
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An interesting article. I would guess that the fit of the grips in your hand would be more important than how high up you could get on the back strap. Nice looking grips. Did I miss it, I didn’t see where you said whose grips they were.
Oh, I made them.