It’s like a horror flick, and it happens almost daily on every busy range in America. It’s like when the girl in the nightgown wakes up to a strange noise outside her window. Instead of calling the cops, she wanders outside to look around. Meanwhile, you, the viewer, can see the moon’s reflection off Count Dracula’s fangs as he hides in the shadows. The creepy music starts, and you know exactly what’s going to happen next. It’s the same thing when a veteran shooter sees a novice gripping a semi-automatic handgun incorrectly by placing a portion of the hand behind and above the gun’s slide.You can see it coming from a mile away—usually from the other side of the plexiglass partition at the local gun range—but you rarely have time to stop it. Moments later the shooter fires and is frightened as he looks at his hand then shakes it while mouthing the word “Ouch!”
He’s just received a slide bite, which is a little cut on the web of the hand between the thumb and forefinger that’s caused by the sharp metal edge of the slide as it recoils rearward. Luckily, it’s not a bad injury—it’s like a nasty paper cut—but it does serve as a poignant reminder to always grip the gun properly even as the majority of your concentration is focused on the sights and target.
While some people might think slide bite is a product of human anatomy combined with oddball gun design, it’s not. Fact is, human hands are very similar in shape, as are the grip designs of the vast majority of handguns. To prevent slide bite, one must simply grip the handgun properly. Many new shooters just don’t know any better. If you don’t wish to be the unwitting victim of slide bite, simply heed the following advice.
Currently, only a small fraction of handgun instructors advocate wrapping the left thumb of the support hand around the back strap (the lower portion of the thumb) of their right hand when shooting a revolver. While this technique may give the right wrist a little more support while also keeping the left thumb handy to cock a revolver, it doesn’t translate well to semiautos. That’s because this grip often places the left thumb higher than the bottom of a semiauto’s slide as it recoils. When contact is made, the slide often cuts the hand. So while some people simply don’t know any better, some shooters mistakenly use their revolver grip while shooting a semiauto.
To avoid slide bite, first grip the handgun sturdily with your right hand (if you are right-handed). Keep your trigger finger on the frame of the gun and off of the trigger. Grip the firearm as high on the backstrap as possible without encroaching into the slide’s rearward path. (Most guns have a bobtail that prevents this, but to check clearance if you are unsure, rack the slide back while maintaining the grip. If it strikes your hand, your grip is too high.)
Next, incorporate your left hand into the grip by first moving your right thumb up and out of the way. This will expose most of the left side of the grip panel. Now, point your left thumb toward the target, and try to fit the meatiest part of your left palm (the thumb muscle) on as much of the grip panel as possible. When you’ve done it correctly, your left thumb will point toward the target along the frame of the gun. Now, lower your right thumb down until it’s parallel to and resting on top of your left thumb so that both thumbs now point toward the target alongside the same side of the frame. This modern semiauto handgun grip is superior to old grips in terms of speed, control and accuracy. It will also inherently prevent slide bite, because there will be no part of either hand behind the slide and high enough to get bitten.
No longer will you be the soon-to-be eaten character in the horror show that is slide bite, but rather, a member of the audience who gasps as another unwitting victim gets the fang.