In years past pistol grips, or stocks as they are sometimes known, were not integral with the handgun frame. The shooter, if he was unhappy with the grips that came on the gun, could either buy or make a set of grips that suited his individual taste. The types of grips seen on handguns at shooting matches were limited only by the weirdness of the shooters taste.
What kind of stocks that are needed by the average shooter is generally determined by the handgun he carries and the size of his hands. Bill Jordan---you will hear his name a lot in these columns---had hands the size of a normal tennis racket. Size 13 gloves were too small for his gigantic paws. He had to have special grips made for his revolvers that put his hand farther from the trigger. They had a thick strip of wood between his hand and the back strap. On the other hand (no pun intended) I have hands that are just on the large size of normal, so the standard Smith & Wesson target grips that leave the back strap bare fit my hands like the proverbial glove.
With so many handguns today having high-capacity double-stack magazines and the wide grips to go with it, it is necessary for the buyer to decide whether or not it fits his hands before he spends his hard-earned rupees. If you have small hands and buy a big double-stack handgun, like one of the big Glocks, you will never be able to shoot the gun as well as you could if you had purchased a single-stack gun such as the standard 1911, or like my little Kahr P-9. If you dont have any experience in these things, I pray thee, take along someone who does, to advise you on your purchase.
For purposes of concealed carry, I generally use a Colt Lightweight Commander or a Kimber Pro Carry, both short-barreled versions of the 1911. Both came with the standard thickness rubber grips, which I immediately changed. First, I usually dont like rubber grips because they tend to stick to my clothing, which is not a good thing when I am trying to clear the gun for action. Second, on a 1911-type gun I generally prefer thinner grips. They are better for concealed carry and I believe they position my hand better for trigger control.
Oh, yeah, did I mention that I do not like checkering on most of my handgun grips? I generally prefer smooth grips, always have, and I have never found that to be a problem. Even in the middle of a South Texas summer when I was sweating a gallon an hour, or when I was caught outside on a rainy day, I have had no problem with slick grips. Furthermore, I find the extremely sharp checkering so common on the grips and front straps of modern combat handguns to be uncomfortable. In years past the majority of handgun masters seemed to prefer smooth grips. I do not know when or why that changed. Some type of figure on the grips is fine, but too much and too sharp can be a disadvantage.
Grips for concealed carry are very different from target grips. The big Smith & Wesson target grips that I loved on my duty revolver are singularly ill-suited for concealed carry. They are great for shooting, but poor for hiding, so we have to find an alternative. There are plenty of good concealed carry grips for revolvers. In fact, the last revolver I bought from Smith & Wesson was a Model 29 .44 Magnum and it came with what used to be known as Roper grips, which are thinner and more easily concealed than the target grips. Sometimes, when I have been in the brush and then find myself headed to town for some reason, I carry this big revolver concealed in an El Paso Saddlery Street Combat holster. With a slightly oversized tee-shirt or just a shirt with the tails out, it conceals quite well. And if on one of these occasions I happen run into Godzilla on the streets of Brackettville, I will be properly armed.
Better for concealed carry are revolvers that have rounded butts and grips that fit the outline of the frame. This or some kind of rubber grip like those by Pachmayr or Hogue are normally what you will find on the smaller J-Frame revolvers.
Some of the semi-autos are now beginning to come with replaceable rubber or plastic backstraps that allow the shooter to better fit the gun to his hand. The last Glock I tested had these devices. Since the gun fit me from the start, I admit that I did not try them to see how they worked, but I know several people who have either bought or been issued such a gun, which did not fit them properly as received, and they tell me they work like a charm. Since the main issue here is the distance between the backstrap and the trigger, these replaceable backstraps are a wonderful idea. Still, there is only so much you can do to one of the big autos with a magazine that holds two rows of big cartridges, so try it out at the store before you buy it.
The truth is that you will probably never need the 12 to 18 rounds that these big handguns hold---FBI stats say the average number of rounds fired in a gunfight is 3---so if they are too large for your hand, you can feel safe, well reasonably safe in buying a smaller gun with a single-stack magazine or a revolver that holds less ammo. If you are smart you will carry a spare magazine or speedloader anyway, so you should have between 10 and 14 rounds on your person. And it is better to have a smaller capacity weapon that you can shoot well than one you cant handle that holds a bunch of ammo.
Tactical Carbine Optics
A defensive rifle seems incomplete without a quality optic. It is important for shooters to be competent and accurate with basic iron sights, but the use of modern optics gives the marksman a great advantage.
To get on the right path for choosing an optic, you must have decided on a primary use. An AR15 that will be used for long-range varmint hunting will need a different optic than one outfitted for home defense. But since most folks enjoy shooting at less than 300 yards and the primary purpose is for defense and plinking, we will leave the high-powered lenses out of this article.
Before you start looking you will need to know your budget for optics. Rule of thumb has become that quality optics cost equal or more than your rifle. One can go the cheap route with a $30 generic Chinese-made special, but never trust your life to that on a defensive rifle. If you go that route, it is imperative that you have back up iron sights that co-witness for when it fails. Dependable high quality optics usually run in the $400-$1,200 price range. I wont say any of the optics listed here are "better than the other" because they all have different features and in the long run it boils down to user preference.
The EOTech XPS3 (top), Trijicon RMR (right), Meopta 1-4X ZD (bottom) and Aimpoint Micro (left) are all quality illuminated optics with different shapes and features. Ultimately it will boil down to user preference. Photo: Cody Conway
The first decision is if you want magnification or not. Lots of folks like to put a standard scope on their defensive carbine because it makes them feel good to shoot small groups on paper at 100 yards, but practically speaking its unnecessary. A non-magnifying 1X optic is the fastest for target acquisition. If you can decide on a fixed 1X, or an optic that has an adjustable zoom like a 1-4X or 1-6X, or even yet there are magnifiers by Aimpoint and EOTech with flip down mounts so you can have the best of both worlds and switch back and forth on a whim. The only downside to an optic with adjustable magnification is that it is not parallax free as true 1X sights are and your eye relief must be correctly maintained on the rifle.
After deciding on your magnification preference, youll want to decide on reticle type. Laser etched reticles like traditional scopes have are dependable and have features like mil-dots or ballistic drop compensators, but are nearly useless in low light situations unless they have an illumination feature. One that I am most familiar with is the Meopta ZD 1-4X 22 which I use for 3 Gun. The electronic illumination feature is great because I can turn is up high during the day and practically have a 1X red dot for speed and acquisition, then lower the illumination at low light for a bright aiming point even at long ranges with the 4X power and ballistic drop compensating reticle. Then Trijicon ACOG series features a laser-etched delta reticle that is illuminated by radioactive "Tritium", fiber optics, or both. This gives you full illumination dependability is almost any lighting condition without the concern of electronics failure. A red dot would be your Aimpoint line. The Aimpoint Micro is very useful and streamlined and with an amazing battery life of 5 years on a single watch battery. And finally there are holographic models by EOTech that will give the user a projected pattern reticle with a fast circle reticle surrounding a 1 MOA dot and a larger sight window.
Size will also need to be considered. Newer smaller sights such as the Trijicon RMR weigh in at 1 oz. and have reached the compactness to make pistol mounting very feasible. The Aimpoint Micro is just 3 oz., the EOTech reaches 8oz and a magnified illuminated scope such as the Meopta will reach up to 18 oz. The size you choose will depend on the field of view you wish to keep through the optic and size and weight requirements you have set for your rifle.
Decide on a mounting option before your purchase to ensure compatibility. Some optics will need a special mount to be at the proper height for your rifle, others might come ready right out of the factory. If you wish to co-witness with your iron sights, they will need to know the specific height you desire. Switching out optics is also an option if you wish to run your rifle for two different scenarios. LaRue Tactical makes amazing quick detachable mounts that return to zero with a flick of a lever.
After all is said and done, the three rules for optics can be summarized into quality, magnification and preference. Buy quality and it will never let you down. Dont be over magnified for your scenario. Try out as many optics as you can and purchase your favorite. You wont regret it.