Law enforcement recruit learning how to hold a pistol for training and qualification.

For beginners in firearm safety, learning how to hold a pistol correctly is a fundamental skill. Although it may seem simple, achieving the correct grip, stance, and alignment could mean the difference between hitting a target and missing it entirely—or causing harm to yourself and others.

If you're serious about excelling in law enforcement or military service, mastering the basics of pistol shooting is the first step—and this article aims to do just that. 

Before we dive in, though, let's first cover the different parts of a pistol to give you a better understanding of how each component plays a critical role in handling the firearm.

  • Frame: The frame is the main part of the pistol that holds all the other parts together. 
  • Slide: The slide covers the barrel and moves back and forth during firing and reloading. 
  • Barrel: The barrel is the tube through which the bullet travels. 
  • Trigger: The trigger is a lever that releases the hammer or striker to fire the bullet. 
  • Hammer: The hammer is a metal part that strikes the firing pin to ignite the primer and fire the bullet. 
  • Firing Pin: The firing pin is a metal pin that hits the primer of the cartridge and ignites the gunpowder. 
  • Magazine: The magazine is a container that holds the bullets and feeds them into the chamber. 
  • Sights: The sights are the metal parts on the top of the pistol that help the shooter aim at the target. 
  • Grip: The grip is the part of the pistol that the shooter holds onto. It is usually made of plastic or rubber. 
  • Safety: The safety is a device that prevents the pistol from firing accidentally.
  • Muzzle: The muzzle is the opening at the end of the gun's barrel where the bullet exits once the gun is fired. It may be threaded to accept a suppressor or flash hider and have a front sight attached to it to aid in aiming.

How Should You Hold a Handgun for Maximum Accuracy?

Now that you understand the different components of your firearm, let's discuss the proper techniques and methods to effectively hold a pistol.


A proper grip helps you control the recoil of the pistol and ensures consistent accuracy. 

  • With your dominant hand, wrap your fingers around the handle, making sure that your fingers are not too high on the grip. 
  • Your thumb should be pointing forward and resting on the frame of the pistol, not the slide. 
  • Your non-dominant hand should be placed on top of the dominant hand, with the fingers wrapped securely around, and the thumb pointing forward. This gives your dominant hand more stability.
  • The grip should be firm but not too tight, as this can cause shaking.

Incorrect Grip vs. Correct Grip


Maintaining a proper pistol stance will improve your balance and stability while shooting. 

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, with your dominant foot slightly behind the other. 
  • Keep your knees slightly bent, and your weight evenly distributed between both feet. 
  • Extend your arms out fully, but not to the point where your elbows lock.
  • Lean slightly forward, and keep your head up and eyes forward.

Sight Alignment

Aligning the front and back sights of a pistol is a crucial step in achieving accurate shots. 

  • Hold the pistol firmly in your two-handed grip while maintaining a proper stance.
  • Bring the pistol up to eye level, with your dominant eye looking down the sights. 
  • Focus on the front sight. The front sight should be centered between the two rear sights. 
  • Adjust the elevation of the front sight so that the top of the sight is level with the top of the rear sight. 
  • Recheck your alignment, and make any necessary adjustments if needed.  

Remember to practice getting comfortable with your stance and grip before taking a shot. When you do shoot, pull the trigger slowly. Also, pay attention to muzzle rise (also called muzzle flip). This is the upward movement of your barrel after firing a shot. The sudden movement is caused by the force of the expanding gasses that propel the bullet out of the barrel. 

Muzzle rise can affect accuracy and the speed at which the next shot can be fired. To minimize it, double-check your grip and stance to control recoil better.

Ready to practice these pistol shooting techniques? Check out our top 5 pistol shooting drills to help you train and build confidence. 

How To Hold a Pistol: Do's & Don'ts

Before we go, let's review a few do's and don't of first-time pistol shooting.

  • Do take your time to set up your grip, stance, and alignment before firing. Rushing can lead to mistakes and accidents.
  • Do keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to fire. 
  • Do practice regularly to develop muscle memory and improve your skills.
  • Don't cup the pistol with your non-dominant hand. Doing so can affect the accuracy and cause malfunctions in the pistol. 
  • Don't lean back, as this can cause you to lose balance and accuracy.
  • Don't ignore inconsistent groupings. If your shots are all over the place, it could be due to a poor grip or stance. Stop and rest. 

Holding a pistol is a fundamental skill that requires practice and patience. It's  important for first-time shooters to take their time and not rush through the process. With practice and training, students and recruits can develop the skills necessary to become proficient shooters.

Train with the Best Shooting Targets

To support training and qualification, be sure your department is stocked with the leading paper, cardboard, and steel shooting targets from Qualification Targets, Inc. 

We proudly support law enforcement, military personnel, and all U.S. Departments of Defence with superior target solutions and safety gear.

Browse our online store today, or contact our team at 866-498-8228 to place your department order.