A Grasp of Grips

The grips on shotgun stocks are like a lot of things in life. They are hard to describe exactly, but when they are right, you just know it. When they aren’t, it’s not a big deal, but it is a constant little irritation.

For the sake of argument, I’ll say that there are four broad grip-style choices: the English straight grip, the relaxed Prince of Wales, the field grip and the competition grip. The distinctions between categories can blur, but you get the idea.

The English grip really has no pistol grip at all. It’s a straight line from the trigger guard to the stock toe. Rumor has it that the English grip facilitates use of the double trigger because it allows the hand to slide back when it engages the rear trigger. Of course, that’s total twaddle. When moving from the front trigger to the rear, you may loosen your grip slightly as you shift triggers, but no one actually moves their hand back. To do that would deprive you of right hand control at the very moment you are taking recoil from the first barrel. Not good.

While the English grip gives maximum flexibility, it also offers the least-secure grip and the least control over the shotgun. It promotes a comfortable wrist angle when the gun is carried at port arms but forces a slightly high right elbow when the gun is mounted.

Here’s what I mean about elbow angle. Pretend you are holding a gun. Mount the pretend gun in your usual way. Now take your right hand slightly away from your cheek and look at the angle of the palm and fingers. Depending on how high you habitually carry your right elbow, the angle of your palm will be around 60° to 45°. More or less. Sort of. But the angle of a fully mounted English stock grip area is only around 25° or so. Therefore, for most people, there is a slight amount of wrist constriction with an English stock when shooting parallel to the ground if the small and ring fingers retain a good grip. For some, the angle changes a bit more favorably when shooting an elevated gun, as at driven birds.

Next in line would be the Prince of Wales stock. The particular Prince it refers to is somewhat of a mystery, but it could well have been Bertie, Edward VII, Victoria’s fun-loving son who was as close to Bacchus and Eros as he was to Diana. The stock styles vary widely, but most of them have a small pistol grip that is very relaxed. Some refer to it as a half- or quarter-grip. Occasionally the grip is rounded, but more often it is capped. It results in almost an English stock, but with a little bit of control leverage for one’s ring and pinky fingers.

The typical hunting stock would be next. This stock has a medium grip radius that most shooters find quite comfortable. It allows broad flexibility as to elbow height. Sometimes it has a rounded knob, as in the sainted Browning Superposed field guns. Other times—and perhaps more common today—it has a flat knob. It gives good right-hand control of the stock by allowing the small, ring and third fingers to have proper contact and leverage on the grip, yet it is open enough so that it is comfortable to hold in the low-gun or port-arms position. It is certainly the most popular stock-grip configuration.

The competition grip of today is a relatively new configuration. It is much tighter in radius than the hunting grip and positions the hand more vertically. It seems best for those who shoot with their elbows low or tucked in, not horizontal. To show you what I mean, try this experiment. Pretend that you are holding a gun with your elbows close to your body. Notice that your right hand is almost vertical, just like the competition grip. Now raise your right elbow to the horizontal and watch the palm of your hand go from about 90° to 45°. If you shoot with a higher elbow, the field grip will be more comfortable than the competition grip, as it will allow a more natural position of the right wrist. But, on the other side, the competition grip is more repeatable because it gives less latitude for movement.

No single grip is best for everyone or for every gun in one’s collection. But it is good to know what the presumed advantages of each are.

That’s all for now. It’s time for me to get a grip on those boots and that beer.