Shooting Subcompact Handguns Well

With a wider variety of compact and subcompact guns available on the market in the United States I am seeing a steady increase in the number of people that are carrying a small gun concealed. Carrying a subcompact handgun concealed is certainly more convenient than carrying a full size pistol. Small guns are lighter and smaller making them easier to conceal and in many cases more comfortable to carry. At the same time, small guns aren’t without their disadvantages. Small guns are lower capacity and that is the aspect most folks like to focus on, but as a professional defensive shooting instructor, what I tend to focus on when it comes to subcompact guns is how different they can be to shoot.

Don’t be confused though. Although subcompact guns can be different to shoot, they don’t have to be difficult to shoot. Some simple modifications to your grip and your mindset can make all the difference you need when it comes to shooting a sub compact well.

Increase Your Grip Pressure

This advice isn’t unique to subcompact guns. In fact, it is the one piece of advice I give more than all other advice when folks want to increase their shooting proficiency. It is simple, the tighter you grip the gun, the more recoil control you are going to have, the less the gun will move while you are pressing the trigger and the faster you will be able to make solid follow up shots.


In addition to an increase in grip pressure minimizing movement transferred from the trigger finger, an increase in grip pressure can help to stabilize the gun when your other fingers contract to try and control recoil. Plain and simple, if you are gripping the gun as hard as you can, your fingers can’t grip any tighter to try and reduce recoil. They are already doing their job and this really reduces gun movement in anticipation of recoil.

When I talk to students about grip pressure I summarize it simply: Grip the gun as hard as you possibly can and then double the pressure. 

Really, you can’t grip the gun too hard. If you want to shoot any gun more efficiently, especially a subcompact, increase your grip pressure.

Modify Your Grip

Strength isn’t the only consideration when it comes to grip you should also consider that a different grip may serve you better when you are dealing with a subcompact gun. 

When I shoot my carry gun, a full size GLOCK, I shoot with an aggressive thumbs forward grip. If I were to use that same grip on a GLOCK 42 for instance, I may end up with the tip of my left thumb hanging out in front of the muzzle of the gun. This is certainly not optimal. In fact, I consider it a serious problem to put my thumb out where the projectile and muzzle blast may cause injury.

In addition to straight up changing your grip, you may need to change how you exert your grip pressure on the gun. Tinker around with how you orient your elbows when gripping your subcompact handgun. 

Here is something you can try to increase the control of your grip on any handgun. With both hands, make a fist and stick your thumbs straight up like you are hitching a ride and then drive your hands straight out until your elbows lock.

Now, rotate your arms so that your thumbs point at each other. Notice how the bony part of your elbows point straight out to the right and the left?

Now, rotate your arms so that your thumbs point away from each other. You will see that the bony part of your elbow points more toward the ground.


You may find that rotating your elbows either up, down or neutral gives you a better, more even pressure on the gun. Depending on the size of the gun you might find that one elbow position works better than another.

When you are dealing with a smaller pistol you may need more pressure up high on the pistol, or maybe you will see better results with pressure lower on the gun. Or maybe you need to use a different grip all together. Experiment with your grip and modify it as needed.

Wrap your Pinky

With most subcompact guns, the grip is short enough that your pinky may end up hanging off the grip. Many people decide to add a pinky extension to the magazine so there is room for their pinky to get a purchase on the gun. I get the idea, but I’m not a fan. Adding a pinky extension increases the size of the gun without adding much benefit. Remember, you are shooting a small gun because you need a small gun for concealment, right? If you add an extension, you might as well consider carrying a larger gun.

You are carrying that small gun for a reason so, ponder the idea that just because there is no grip for your pinky doesn’t mean that you should just ignore your littlest finger.

Instead, consider wrapping your pinky tight under the grip of the handgun. Wrapping the pinky under the gun can help to establish a more firm and stable grip while keeping the footprint of your subcompact gun well, subcompact.  For me, the 9mm Smith & Wesson M&P Shield with the 7 round magazine is the perfect example of when to wrap the pinky under the magazine.

Another thing that wrapping the pinky can do is to secure it just enough for your mind to forget about it. Let’s face it, when we are trying to make a tough shot at distance with a small gun, we need the odds in our favor. Getting rid of distractions can go a long way toward helping you to get those tough hits.

Final Thoughts On Shooting A Subcompact Handgun Well

The decision to carry a subcompact gun is becoming more and more popular and it is easy to understand why. With more choices than ever, there is a subcompact pistol that fits the needs of most people. Add to that the fact that a subcompact is smaller, lighter and often easier to conceal and it is easy to understand why folks gravitate in the direction of the tiny pistols. 

At the same time, these small guns are more difficult to shoot and as a result you need to think about how you can shoot these guns as efficiently as possible. 

Consider the idea that increasing your grip pressure, modifying your grip and warping your pinky under the grip may help you to make more precision shots faster with your subcompact handgun. 

Get out to the range and spend some time actually shooting the gun you carry and while you are at it, tinker with your grip to see if these modifications help to improve your shooting.

Paul Carlson, owner of Safety Solutions Academy, is a Professional Defensive Shooting Instructor.  He has spent the past decade and a half studying how humans can perform more efficiently in violent confrontations and honing his skills as an instructor both in the classroom and on the range. Through Safety Solutions Academy, Paul teaches a variety of Critical Defensive Skills courses in more than a dozen states annually.  Courses range from Concealed Carry Classes to Advanced Critical Defensive Handgun Courses and include instruction for the defensive use of handguns, rifles and shotguns.  Safety Solutions Academy regularly hosts other industry leading experts as guest instructors to make sure that SSA's students have the opportunity for quality instruction across a broad range of Critical Defensive disciplines.

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