How to Hold a Shotgun Properly

Holding the gun may sound a simple topic, but it is amazing how many shots don’t know how to hold a shotgun in a way that doesn’t impede their shooting. To learn the correct techniques click herehow to hold a shotgun

It’s all in the Hands

Without a doubt the hands control the gun and if they do it effectively then your purchase on the gun is maximised. More importantly any recoil is minimised. What a lot of people don’t realise is that the hands absorb far more recoil energy than expected, this has the benefit of ensuring that the muzzles will be pointed effectively. This dovetails with foot position.

Gun Design

A well designed gun, one with forend and grip which are a good fit and have good gripping surfaces, is an important part of the equation.

No-one can hold a gun properly if the grip causes the hand to slip in recoil because it has been narrowed excessively to its front. A relatively even grip depth is required to get a good hold. Similarly, the forend and grip must not be greatly different in size, a thin grip is not well complimented by a thick forend and visa versa.

Very popular grips are fairly even in depth, fuller than average and symmetrical. The Browning super-posed has an excellent grip, for example.

On a side by side with twin triggers, nothing works as well as a straight grip, provided it is not too thin. Many semi-autos have grips which are too short in length and too square in cross section. They can be significantly improved just by checkering the area to the front of grip.

The half pistol grip is usually good ergonomically and does not tend to check the swing as some full pattern grips may.

With forends’, especially on a sporting over an under, a well shaped snabel (as both Browning and Beretta have perfected over the years) or a rounded ‘beaver-tail’ of  constant width and depth, fully chequered without finger grooves should serve you well.

The problem with Tulip forends, (a short snabel with a swollen belly), when implemented on an over and under the hand is forced into a single position.

For side by sides there is little to beat the traditional ‘splinter’ style. Any beaver-tail forend on a side by side should be subtle or the gun will feel unbalanced.

Hand Balance

When shooting both hands should work in harmony. When looking at how to hold a shotgun properly it is especially important that the rear hand does not dominate. You should have a comfortable grip with the web of the hand to the right of the topside of the grip (assuming a right-hander). Many people spoil their rear grip by positioning the web of the hand too high. This creates unwanted tension and hinders the mount. Correct positioning of the rear hand ensures that the elbow falls into a comfortable position and that the trigger finger may be extended without twisting.

Where should the Trigger Finger make contact with the Trigger?

I prefer to use the front pad of the trigger finger, (see the image below to the right), rather than the first joint, (see the  image below to the left), as sometimes advocated. The pad is the most sensitive part of the finger and encourages a consistent pull rearwards.

First Joint of Finger on TriggerPad of Finger on Trigger

Front hand position

If the hand is positioned too far back the speed of swing may increased but overall control is sacrificed.

The opposite is true if the hand is extended too far forward. Control is increased, but the swing may be impeded.

Try it.

Pick up a gun, and engage an imaginary over-head bird. Now change your hand position and ‘feel’ the difference the various positions create. You are looking for a balance between control and finesse.

Do the same for crossing targets. An exaggerated forward hold makes both types of target significantly more difficult (and may lead to misses behind). It also restricts the ability of the front arm to keep the barrels up on line on quartering and crossing shots.

When you are learning how to hold a shotgun, try and select a naturally comfortable position and then inspect how your hands are placed. If you see any hand positions that are wildly wrong, adjust them, note the new position and train your mind to grip it in the new position.

As demonstrated above some people like to extend the index finger of the front hand as an aid to pointing, for others this is uncomfortable. It can lead to unwanted tension so try bending the finger slightly.

One thing you should avoid doing is allowing any of the fingers to obscure the view of the rib (unless you are is using the left thumb deliberately as a ‘thumbstall’ to do to block vision to the left eye).

Another bad habit is where the front hand is brought to the side of the forend (reducing support), I have no idea how any one can shoot with any confidence in this position.

The front hand should not be twisted excessively as it grips the forend. A good front hand position encourages the front elbow to fall into a natural unstrained position.

Grip Tension

This is not a white knuckle ride and as such neither hand should grip too tightly. Opinions vary on grip tension. If we look at other sports such as snooker, grip is equally important and having a white knuckle grip when playing a shot causes muscle tension with the result of the cue going off line. All of the top players and indeed shooters take control of their equipment but do not force themselves upon it.

First class shots, even those who are very powerfully built, always seem hold their guns with finesse and a certain delicacy, facilitating fine control of the tip of the gun.

So when you are learning how to hold a shotgun take a good look at your hand position, try not to ‘strangle’ the gun and remain relaxed.