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Massad Ayoob on Guns

Want to Comment on a blog post? Look for and click on the blue No Comments or # Comments at the end of each post.

Massad Ayoob


Tuesday, October 4th, 2011

The current issue of Backwoods Home magazine contains my article, requested by Editor Annie Tuttle, on how to best fit guns to women.

I see the importance of fitting guns to smaller bodies constantly in my “day job” at Massad Ayoob Group. ( ). A few weeks ago in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, we had some excellent shooters in one of my MAG-40 classes.  More than half shot 300 out of 300 on the final qualification run, which encompasses 60 timed shots including strong hand only, non-dominant hand only, standing, kneeling, etc.  The tie-breaker win for overall top shooter went to a young lady who kicked mucho male boo-tay to do it.

She came to us already a very fast action pistol competitor, and on the skill-set side of the class, we concentrated on sharpening up her accuracy.  She clearly was listening.  She started out with a CZ75 9mm, a rather large Czechoslovakian pistol, and wound up switching to a Smith & Wesson Military & Police pistol in the same caliber. As noted in the above-linked article, this gun has interchangeable backstraps to adapt fit in general and the trigger-reach dimension in particular, to the shooter. This was the gun she used to win the “shooting contest,” capturing the pot of a dollar each from all the shooters in the class.  (We do that the Bill Jordan way: “No Second Place Winner.”)

It was her focus, skill, dexterity and mental discipline that captured the victory, but a firearm that perfectly fit her small hand was a part of it, too.

“If it doesn’t fit, you won’t hit”… at least, not as well as you might have. And that goes for the guys as well as the gals.

With spent brass from the last shot still in the air, this young lady is already on target for the next with a well-fitted S&W M&P 9mm, as the stopwatch ticks… 

…and she finishes at the top of her class, beating all the men, with a 300/300 “qualification mode” score, and a high 590s out of 600 tie-breaker in “competition mode scoring.”  Scoring key for qualification mode can be seen at upper left of the B27 silhouette target.


  1. STW Says:

    When my wife decided she wanted to purchase a semi-auto pistol we visited a variety of gun stores to simply try on pistols. Her hands are on the smaller side and reaching the trigger was a concern. She could just touch the trigger on the CZ-75 we already owned. She too ended up with a M&P9. It had the smallest possible reach of any guns that we found. Even then, she learned to adjust her grip, ever so slightly, to ensure she could pull the trigger straight back without pushing her shots to the left.

  2. Jason Says:

    Adjustable backstraps don’t change the length of pull to the trigger. Or at least, they can only increase it, not decrease it. On the M&P and my Beretta Px4, both the medium and small backstraps fit flush with the frame at the top. Only the large backstrap adjusts this dimension, by increasing it. This might help people with large hands, but I don’t see how it can help someone with a small hand. The Gen4 Glocks are even worse. Even the smallest backstrap adds distance to the trigger. Conversely, the FNX large backstrap only increases the girth at the bottom of the grip. None of its backstraps affect LOP at all!

    I have fairly large hands (XL or XXL gloves, depending on brand) and always just use the smallest available backstrap, to aid concealment. I have no problem with a shorter LOP. (Compacts, like a Kahr MK9 or a P238 will just have a short LOP regardless. Might as well get used to it. Fortunately, my trigger finger curls to adjust. Amazing.) On the bottom side of the grip, a larger insert might bring my pinky & ring finger around to the front, giving me more space to place the heel of my support hand palm firmly against the gun rather than on top of my finger tips. But I don’t notice enough of a difference to make it worth installing. And someone with small hands will already enjoy that effect even without adjustment.

    So we’re not reducing the LOP between medium & small backstraps on any gun, and changes in the bottom girth only change how much finger you get around the gun. Where, if anything, it’s actually better to get less.

    I’m beginning to think that what we have here is a placebo/marketing effect. The critical physical dimension hasn’t changed, but because we “customized” it, we get a warm fuzzy that it’s “mine” or “it fits me better”, and can then focus on the other fundamentals without distraction.

  3. Paul Edwards Says:

    I can wholeheartedly agree that you have great difficulty shooting well with a weapon that is too large, or maybe too small as well.
    My own hands are on the small side too, and when shooting a Model 1911 Gov’t size pistol, if it has the long target trigger, I can’t manipulate it properly without scooting my hand way around in order to get enough finger on the trigger to use, and that causes the pistol to recoil up and to the side as well, making in harder to get back on target, for the next shot(s).

  4. Long Island Mike Says:

    Can I put in a plug for attending the NRA annual meeting? I spend easily 6 to 8 hours walking around to all the manufacturer booths handling the pistols. You would be amazed at the variance even in one gun maker’s line of products. No gun store has such an inventory. Plus I carry a little paper pad and pencil and make notes (old age LOL).

    If you are near the meeting I would recommend going to it just for this.

  5. Fruitbat44 Says:

    “The Equaliser” 🙂

  6. Jack Zeller Says:

    Jason has a valid point…before you dive into adjustable back straps, try ‘on’ a dozen or more pistols before committing. Find one that fits…never mind the caliber…find one that fits, and that you can shoot. Shoot it lots, and move on from there,.,…

  7. Matt Says:

    Suggestions for women:
    Marlin 336Y lever-action .30-30 “youth” model, discontinued but findable – and a perfect fit for average woman.
    Browning Hi-Power 9mm semi – a good fit high-cap for most women.
    S&W K-frame .38 Special – perfect fit for overwhelming majority of women, easy for women to shoot accurately.
    S&W J-frame .38 Special – excellent fit for overwhelming majority of women, easy for women to shoot effectively.

  8. Tommy Says:

    My wife has exactly the same problem plus she has cartilage damage from years of playing tennis. My CZ-75B is not a viable option for her. She is going to take a basic safety and shooting class at a local range that sells and rents guns. They will let her try pretty much anything she wants and work with her on fit and function. My son is really pushing a Glock since the Glock 22 is his duty firearm and my niece (a size 1, petite) also used a Glock very effectively for concealed carry. Paul is right on target about getting off target if your hand moves to either side.

  9. Racer Says:

    While I agree some backstraps don’t technically change the actual LOP, it does change the effective LOP by filling the hand ever so slightly below the web and changing the angle of interface between the finger and the trigger. On my M&P 40c, changing from the medium to large backstrap allows my finger, when registered on the side of the frame, to move down onto the trigger quickly without catching on the trigger guard like the medium backstrap does. I haven’t measured the exact change in distance, but it is probably about 1/8″ or less. There’s more to this than hard numbers. It’s more about feel and exact position in the hand.

    Regarding the young lady in the MAG 40 class, I was stunned to find out she had only been shooting for about 3 years. I laughed and told her I could put a zero on the end of that 3 and still didn’t have the trigger control she did. Good for her! I bet there were some shrinkie dinks in the crowd when she beat the rest. Really great class!

  10. Jason Says:

    I got curious and just spent the evening measuring the grip-to-trigger circumference of a bunch of different guns. (With trigger in DA, SA, slack-taken-out and dry fired.) There’s a big difference between DA and SA pistols, of course, and the Kahr MK9 is pretty short, as you’d expect for a compact pistol, but apart from that, they’re all pretty similar. Especially the striker fired ones. Definitely placebo territory.

    Oddly enough, the full-size CZ 85C in SA with the slack taken up is actually as short as the compact MK9 with the slack taken up. Shorter than a Glock, shorter even than a 1911 with thin grips and medium trigger.

  11. Jay Says:

    Thank you for the nice article on fitting females with arms. When my wife and daughter-in-law went for their concealed training they were given .22’s to use.

    I bought them each a used H&R 732 revolver in .32cal S&W long. My wife has arthritis in her hands and has trouble racking the slide on a pistol. Also, I have a 732 as the glove compartment gun in the truck she drives. This makes training easy and no confusion with ammo.

    I realize these guns may be a little under powered but as you said in your article about the small solders, a hit with a small bullet beats a miss with a large one.

  12. greg tag Says:

    I find that the 1911 is absolutely tops at a ” universal fit”. I have large hands, our 12 year old daughter small ones, my wifes hands are only a bit larger. Our 17 and 15 year old duaghters have small hands too. All find the 1911 easy to manage grip size wise, although the girls prefer a D frame Colt over the auto pistol.

    The M&P has excellent grip feel and is a good choice if you like striker fired plastic pistols. I find a that for lot of women, the Ruger SR9 is very “right-sized”; it is the skinny-est grip double stack I know of.

    As I tell my students, if you have an altercation I wont be there- you will. So dont choose sidearm to impress me, but rather one that you can physically handle and are comfortable with.

  13. dogear6 Says:

    I’d read other articles that you’d written on a similar topic. I use a 20 gauge shotgun because I can handle it better, the same with a 9mm pistol. I can shoot my husband’s 40 calibers and 12 gauge, but what I find at the practice range is that after a very short time I can’t hold it up either one enough to keep practicing.

    Thanks for articles like this – they are very needed.

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