Course Review: Bob Vogel World Class Pistol Skills – Part 1

If you’re looking to improve your skills in anything, one of the best things you can do is pay close attention to one of the best at it. Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page spent countless hours dissecting licks from old blues greats to try and unlock the secrets of their technique…and untold millions of aspiring guitar virtuosos have dissected Clapton and Page’s music since then trying to reproduce the awesome and make it their own. In the shooting sports, thankfully direct access to the greats is a little easier to come by than one-on-one time with Clapton or Page. The fact that being rock royalty pays a bit better than being a great shooter might have something to do with that…

Champion action pistol shooter Robert Vogel has recently hung out his shingle and started on the teaching circuit, offering anyone who wants to improve their skill with a pistol a great opportunity to look at the techniques and methodologies he’s used over the years to bring him an impressive accumulation of titles and championships. It doesn’t matter if you want to actually beat Mr. Vogel at the next world shoot or improve your ability to fire an accurate shot in self defense, there’s something here for you.

Over the next couple of weeks I’ll try to break down the highlights of what was presented at the course and what I took away from it. We’ll start at the beginning…

The Fundamentals – Grip

Day one of training began with a safety brief covering the major rules of firearms safety. Mr. Vogel then transitioned into an explanation of the techniques he uses to get the results we see on the range. The lecture focused heavily on the grip he uses on the gun as a proper grip is the foundation of control when it comes to shooting a pistol. In my various experiences on the range I’ve found that most people don’t really understand the importance of their grip on the handgun, not only for control but also for proper function of the weapon. They often mimic the look of a grip used by top level shooters without really understanding what the shooters are actually doing with their hands when they are on the gun.

Robert Vogel instructing on the range
Robert Vogel instructing on the range

This problem is compounded by a number of well-meaning but incorrect axioms about gripping the gun. Just the other day in a discussion about handgun accuracy on a forum I saw someone quote one of the worst offenders, the old 60/40 rule. You know the one, 60% of your grip pressure should come from the left hand, 40% from the right? Sound familiar? It‘s bunk. I’m sure the goal originally was to try and give a mental concept to new students unsure of how hard they should be gripping the gun and it made sense in that context…but it has since become divorced from that limited application and turned into a law people parrot without understanding. The bottom line on the pressure you should use in your grip is this: You want to grip the gun as hard as you can, but not too hard. This is something of an amorphous concept for a new student and so various rhetorical tricks have been used to try and communicate the kinesthetic concept to the uninitiated mind.

If you grip the gun as hard as you can, with every bit of strength you possess, you will see the gun shake violently. Obviously this is no good. Grip the gun as hard as you can and slowly back the pressure you’re using off until the gun is no longer shaking violently. That’s the amount of force you want to exert on the gun. The reason instructors often use percentages when describing grip pressure is to try and get students to grip firmly, but not so firmly that they’re shaking the gun. What students often don’t understand is that when an instructor says “I’m only using 60/70/80% of my grip strength”, in reality they’re doing exactly what I described: gripping as hard as they can without the violent shake. Often someone who is teaching firearms has developed significantly higher levels of grip strength than your typical student and so while the instructor may be using “80%” of his grip strength on the gun, if we measured it objectively with instruments we might well find that he’s applying more than double the amount of force to the pistol as the student receiving the instruction. The students often misread this as a limit on how much force one should be applying to the grip…not so. The harder you can grip (without shaking) the better.

Physical strength plays a huge role in the effectiveness of your grip. The more force you can exert on the gun, the better you can control it and the easier it is to apply torque to the trigger (pulling it) without disrupting the sights. The weight lifting world has introduced multiple methods of assessing grip strength, with one of the most popular being the Captains of Crush grip trainers. Mr. Vogel trains with these little gadgets regularly. He can close a #3 grip trainer…which is rated at 280 pounds of resistance. In this video, Mr. Vogel is shooting a Bill Drill. Watch his forearms as he presents the pistol from the holster:

Note how little the pistol moves as it cycles. That’s not trixy recoil spring setups or a compensator…it’s a combination of the Glock 34’s inherent characteristics and applying extraordinary levels of force to the grip of that pistol.

Also notice the position of Mr. Vogel’s elbows, how they’re turned slightly up. He’s actually sort of driving his elbows up to cause a pinching force between his hands. To conceptualize it, put your hands together in front of you and lock your wrists. Now raise both elbows and note how the tops of your hands are “pinched” together. If you’ve ever used the rope attachment for a tricep pulldown at the gym it’s sort of the same concept. You’re almost trying to force your hands down and apart, but because the gun is in the way all that force gets applied to the grip. One of the big obstacles for new shooters trying to learn the grip is keeping their hands together during recoil…this pinching action, properly applied, cures that nicely. This was one of my big light-bulb moments of the course. It’s one of those things that once you see it you wonder how you didn’t think of it before, but when properly applied it makes a big difference your shooting.

The location of the weak-hand grip was also covered in depth. Mr. Vogel’s general rule was to get as high up and far forward on the gun as possible. He stated that his affinity for the Glock is primarily due to the more aggressive grip he can get on the gun as opposed to other pistols he has tried. In my hands I find that I’m also able to grip higher on the Glock than on most other pistols…which is one reason why I get bitten by the slide without the Grip Force Adapter installed on the gun. Where many instructors teach to not have any airspace between the right and left hands on the gun, Mr. Vogel’s approach is different. He doesn’t care about space between the hands as long as he can get his support hand out farther on the gun. vogelgrip

Note that his support hand is clamping down around the farthest point forward on the trigger guard of the pistol. Mr. Vogel mentioned that in the process of acquiring this grip he occasionally neuters the function of the slide lock, but he considers that possibility a worthwhile tradeoff for the higher level of control he gets from the hand position. The extended slide lock that comes from the factory on Glock 34 and 35 pistols makes a failure to lock on empty even more likely with his grip, so he replaces them with standard slide locks from Glock.

I’d also encourage you to watch the video again and pay specific attention to how he acquires his strong hand grip as he’s drawing the pistol. Most people will typically come from behind the gun or straight down on top of the gun when they’re trying to draw. Mr. Vogel comes in almost from the front of the gun, the result being the web of Mr. Vogel’s hand ends up on the lower 1/3 of the slide as he acquires his grip. From that point he tightens his strong hand down around the grip and that act pulls the web of the hand down just low enough so that the slide misses it…most of the time, anyway. As you can see from the screen capture, this is also being done with considerable force. I really noticed this when he was setting up for drills and mocks up grabbing his grip. I saw that he was almost grabbing on the back of the slide and then sort of letting the act of tightening his grip and locking his wrist drag his hand into the final position on the grip. Whether this is a conscious adaptation on his part or not I couldn’t tell you…but I found it interesting.

Modifying the Glock – Part 2

Now that we’ve replaced the awful factory sights on the Glock 34 with something good, what’s next on the menu?

Modifying the Grip

When I bought my first Glock pistol many moons ago, I immediately took it to the range with a few boxes of ammo and started blazing away…and halfway into my second magazine I was bleeding. It turns out that in addition to rock-star quality hair, nature saw fit to gift me with a freakishly high grip. When I take a business-like grip on a Glock pistol the web of my hand between my thumb and trigger finger ends up right in the path of the side as the weapon cycles. After a couple of magazines through a Glock there are visible train tracks on my hand. A couple of boxes of ammo and I’m bleeding quite a bit. I’ve actually been in a class and had an instructor approach me to teach and then back away slowly “…I don’t want to touch your gun because it’s covered in blood.” What are a few possible blood-borne pathogens between friends? Doing my best Jessie Ventura impression on multiple occasions has left me with permanent scars on the web of my hand.

Before the hollering starts, let’s get this out of the way: Yes, I really do know how to hold a handgun properly. Every time I mention that I experience slide bite, some hammerhead shows up insisting that I need to learn how to hold a handgun properly. So before things get stupid, take a look at this video:

The man with the moustache is Ken Hackathorn, and note that he says he experiences the exact same slide bite phenomenon I do when he shoots Glocks. Anyone want to argue that one of the best firearms instructors in history doesn’t know how to hold a handgun? No? Good. Physiology dictates that larger mammals may occasionally find that handgun isn’t ideally suited for our anatomy. We’ll get cut up by the GI style grip safety on a standard 1911, bitten by the hammer of a Hi-Power, and maybe get grooves dug into our flesh by Glock slides. The beavertail 1911 grip safety did not come into existence because it looks cool, folks…it was invented because people were getting cut by the standard 1911 grip safety and nipped by the hammer.

In the video above Ken was talking about the Grip Force Adapter, a sort of add-on beavertail for the Glock family of pistols.

The Grip Force Adapter requires no permanent modification of the firearm.
The Grip Force Adapter requires no permanent modification of the firearm.

It’s a neat little bit of polymer that installs in minutes with no permanent alteration of the pistol itself. You simply remove one of the pins in the Glock’s frame, put the Grip Force Adapter on the pistol aligned with the hole for that pin, and then put in the slightly longer replacement pin that comes in the kit. On the Generation 4 Grip-Force Adapter the pin is a lot longer than stock and needs to be filed down some. All told it took me about five minutes to install the adapter and then do the required filing. The end result is that I can finally shoot my G34 without bleeding. It does add a little bit to the overall size of the grip, which can be a problem if you have small hands. If you have small hands, though, you probably don’t really need a Grip Force Adapter.

The next grip modification I perform is a standard for me on pretty much all polymer pistols: Grip tape. Typically the area just behind the trigger of polymer semi-autos is left with a smooth finish by the manufacturers. Frequently there’s an indentation on the pistol at this spot, intended for the thumb of the shooting hand. That’s fine if you’re shooting the pistol with one hand, but typically we would prefer to get our weak hand involved in the process of controlling the pistol too. For the weak hand to really add

A little 3M Safety-Walk tape in the right spots makes all the difference.
A little 3M Safety-Walk tape in the right spots makes all the difference.

anything to our control of the pistol, it needs to grip the gun as high up as possible…which means right in the spot where the gun manufacturers don’t put any grip texturing. This mystifies me. Practically everybody making polymer handguns sponsors professional shooters who have won championships. These folks could very easily explain where you need to make contact with the gun for maximum control and the manufacturers could incorporate the very minor changes and life would be good. Yet we’re still stuck with these smooth, vestigial thumb indentations at the exact spot where we need some traction. It’s like putting tire tread on the sidewalls instead of on the contact patch that actually touches the road. Madness…

I correct this deficiency with the careful application of 3M Safety-Walk Tape. It’s cheap, widely available, adheres well to polymer pistol frames, and it doesn’t shed the grit embedded in the tape over time like some of the other options on the market. It’s sufficiently aggressive that you’ll never have to worry about getting enough purchase to really lock down on the grip of the pistol, but not so aggressive that it tears your skin off every time you shoot.

In the picture you can see that I’ve carefully cut a somewhat odd-shaped piece of the 3M tape. That comes from really examining exactly where I’m making contact with the gun and could use more grip. Then I make sure to cut the tape to clear any important controls (like the slide release) so as not to interfere with the function of the pistol. Theoretically you could cover the entire grip with the 3M tape, but personally I don’t find any advantage in doing so. It doesn’t really add any benefit to have more texture in a spot that isn’t important for controlling the pistol, but it does make carrying the pistol concealed much more uncomfortable and shooting it much more likely to draw blood. For best results, stick to adding grip tape in the spots where you can identify a need for a little more traction.

Having spent a fair bit of time behind the trigger of a Glock, I find the Grip-Force Adapter and a little 3M Safety Tape works wonders for improving the grip…but what if you don’t want to do either of those things? What if you want something that’s functional and yet more attractive? Behold:

A 3rd Generation Glock 19 reworked by Boresight Solutions.
A 3rd Generation Glock 19 reworked by Boresight Solutions.

The pictured Glock has been re-worked by Boresight Solutions. While I have not handled the pictured pistol, I have handled other samples of Boresight’s work and if I wanted to have a permanent grip alteration done to my Glocks they’d be my first choice. The work is beautifully done with a lot of subtle detail. (Note the subtle beveling on the trigger guard) Any idiot with a soldering iron and a dremel has the potential to modify a Glock grip. If you look around you’ll see no shortage of Glocks that look like they’ve been mangled by a drunk with a soldering iron…or maybe chewed up by a mastiff with an attitude problem and titanium teeth. Boresight offers one of the few permanent Glock grip modifications that actually tends to increase the value of the pistol. In fact, they’re so good that right now they have more orders than they can handle and aren’t taking new work for a while…but hopefully seeing the quality of the work gives you an idea of what can be done if you hire the right people.

Whether you want to make a couple of small changes to the grip of your Glock or maybe you want to have a competent outfit like Boresight completely rework it to get rid of the finger grooves and keep it from biting your hand, you’ve got options for customizing your Glock’s grip.