Big Thumbs and Slide Locks – A Curse

The gun industry is built for Goldilocks. The vast majority of guns are built for the average-sized person. Smaller shooters often feel left out and might not realize that bigger shooters are also left out. The guns that fit us are often considered mistakes, like the M16A2 and its ridiculous length of pull. For me, the majority of handguns are fine, but the placement of the slide lock/release almost never works out for me. It’s the curse of big thumbs. 

On the vast majority of handguns, my big thumbs pin the slide lock down when I use an aggressive, thumbs-forward grip. Glocks and SIGs are the worst about it. Guns like the Beretta 92 and CZ 75 series provided me with the sweet relief of a work slide lock, but they are few and far between. I tried for years to solve the problem myself. 

Let’s see. I’ve tried moving my thumbs, altering my grip, and more, but none of it ever felt natural. I felt like I was giving up control over the gun in some cases. In other cases, I couldn’t get the grip to stick when I began introducing draws, reloads, and other dynamic shooting events. I figured my big thumbs were a curse until I met Rick Hogg, owner of War Hogg Tactical

Solving the Big Thumbs Problem 

Rick is a 29-year special operations veteran and currently a firearms instructor. He teaches classes around the country, and I happened to find myself in one of his Red Dot Courses. He teaches and prefers a slide lock reload. During our speed reload portion of the glass he noticed me having issues with getting the slide to lock to the rear for my reloads. 

In about five seconds, he altered my grip and had my support hand just slightly change its position on the grip. Suddenly, the slide lock worked for me. My support hand protected the slide lock from my firing hand thumb. My grip remained high, my firing thumb fell into a natural position, and nothing felt awkward. 

Traditionally, my support sat just a hair in front of the slide lock on guns like Glocks and SIGs. My thumb naturally fell on the slide lock. With this new grip, the meaty portion of my support hand created a slight pocket for the slide lock to sit and remain uninfluenced by the thumb of my firing hand. 

He worked on teaching me how to build that into my presentation by showing me a consistent way to wrap my support hand around the grip. We found a constant trigger point that allowed my hand to flow rearward around the grip and find the right position every time. 

He also kept me accountable for when I messed it up, not in a rude way, but in a hey-fix-it way. If and when I messed up a reload I had to stop, lock the slide to the rear manually, and conduct a slide lock reload. I quickly learned that my big thumbs weren’t a curse but merely a minor obstacle to work around. 

A Work In Progress 

What’s the big deal with the slide not locking rearward? First, you might not realize the gun is empty. You get a click instead of a bang, and now you’re wasting time. When the slide locks rearward, you get both a tactile and visual sign that the gun is empty. Using the slide lock is also a much faster way to reload than doing the old slingshot. 

I admittedly slipped here and there and still do. However, I saw a massive increase in my speed reload times. Not having to work the slide is a godsend for increasing speed. I learned a bit more than just how to position my thumbs. I learned a lot about how to make the support hand work for me and refined my technique for getting the gun back in action. 

Like everything in the gun world, it’s a work in progress, but a slight alteration of my grip has made my life much easier. I was shooting a Glock earlier today, and for what feels like the first time ever, the slide locked to the rear. My big thumbs didn’t pin down Glock’s micro-sized slide lock. 

If there are two things to take away from this article it’s that a slight grip change may help my other big-handed brethren, and go out and train. Even if it’s a fundamentals class, you are likely to learn something. I did a pistol red dot fundamentals course and I improved my reload speed. You don’t know what you don’t know, and sometimes even the slightest improvement can evade you without the watchful eye of a skilled instructor. 

Travis Pike
Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine gunner who served with 2nd Bn 2nd Marines for 5 years. He deployed in 2009 to Afghanistan and again in 2011 with the 22nd MEU(SOC) during a record setting 11 months at sea. He’s trained with the Romanian Army, the Spanish Marines, the Emirate Marines and the Afghan National Army. He serves as an NRA certified pistol instructor and teaches concealed carry classes.