The quest for an improved pistol grip has existed since the first repeating pistols were made on a metal frame.
Originally made of hardwood, the first attempt at improvement was increasing gripping texture through the use of checkering. As the revolver attained dominance over the single-shot caplock, proud owners sought ways to individualize their wheel gun. Grips of bone, ivory and exotic woods like ebony were fitted to early Colt and Remington smokewagons.
As technology progressed, companies began to offer grips of hard rubber, which were like polymer to the touch. These had elaborate checkering patterns molded into the surface to improve grip, as well as promote the brand with their logo.
The use of exotic materials continued into the age of the automatic pistol. Many 1911s and Colt 1903 autos were embellished with bone, ivory and mother of pearl. While these certainly added to the aesthetics, the slick surface didn’t aid in shootability as the gun would shift in the hand under recoil, even if it wasn’t sweaty from stress.
By the time World War 2 kicked off, government 1911A1 pistols came standard with utilitarian-checkered brown plastic grips. Bland and unattractive, they were eminently practical as they provided a solid grip and were impervious to the elements. From the jungles of the Pacific to the sub-zero temps of a bomber at altitude, the plastic grip proved itself as the way of the future.
While the military has used plastic since 1941, the civilian and law enforcement markets were much slower to change. Wood maintained its dominance until the late 1960s when Frank Pachmayr began marketing his rubber-molded grips.
The Pachmayr grip was an easy upgrade for service revolvers issued with skinny wood stocks. They offered a larger gripping surface and a tacky texture that made for a sure grip even if wet or bloody. Other companies soon followed suit, like Hogue and Uncle Mike’s, and today rubber grips can be found for every model of gun made today.
Since then, wood has become less common on factory guns. Today, it is usually offered as an upgrade, where base models appear with rubber or plastic stocks. Guns made for practical applications like CCW or hunting are usually equipped with some sort of synthetic.
In recent years, materials like G-10 laminate have become popular. G-10 is a polymer binder between layers of material to create an incredibly hard sheet that can be machined and checkered. The checkering can be so sharp that gloves are required, or the user can sand down the tips to take the edge off. Practically bulletproof, G-10 has been proven on the battlefield and are standard issue on the Colt MARSOC 1911 issued to the U.S. Marines Special Ops teams.
What should you look for in a grip if you aren’t parachuting into disputed territory?
Provided you have a pistol that has removable grips (sorry, Glock owners), someone is making a grip option for your gun of choice. Target shooters prefer larger grips for a more stable grasp, with the entire hand engaging the surface of the stocks.
Many people change grips to get a larger or smaller gripping area. Depending on your hand size, the generic factory grip may not be a good fit for you. Finding the right grip is as important as finding the best holster for CCW.
Others are looking for durability. Wood doesn’t hold up well over years of carry. Older guns frequently have an outboard grip that is worn and dented from banging into chairs, car doors and other objects, while the inboard grip looks fairly new. Wood also retains moisture, which can corrode the pistol frame beneath the grip. Also, wood is difficult to decontaminate, which may be a factor if you carry a gun on the job and periodically deal with bleeding subjects or hazardous chemicals.
While rubber grips seem ideal for concealed carry, they frequently contribute to “printing,” which gives away your armed citizen status. The softer rubber clings to unstructured garments and can make drawing from concealment more difficult in addition to the printing issue.
A hard rubber polymer or G-10 grip is a better option for concealed carry. Smooth wood also works, like the Eagle Arms Secret Service style stocks. These let your hand slide into a good firing grip and draw quickly from concealment, and won’t give your status away.
Finger grooves are also best left on the target guns. They frequently don’t correspond to where the customer’s fingers actually go and can prevent a draw with a good firing grip under stress.
You can still rock a set of exotic grips on your barbecue gun, although the Endangered Species Act and other regulations have limited access to ivory and some exotic wood. Bone, elk antler and cattle horn are still available if you feel the need, but the price tag will prevent most people from hanging them on a rig that gets knocked around on a daily basis.
Selecting a grip is a very personal experience, and one in which you may find that you’ve tried several before you settle on the perfect fit. Remember to test your latest candidate for printing, compatibility with your holster and shootability. This means a secure grip when shooting and checking that they don’t interfere with the gun’s controls or loading devices like magazines or speedloaders