Handguns: What Should You Do With Your Thumb?


The shooting hand's thumb is often ignored, but where it's placed is as important as the trigger finger.

Where should your strong hand's thumb go?

  • Often forgotten, the shooting hand's thumb placement is as important as the trigger finger's indexing.
  • On guns with thumb safeties, it should rest on top of the safety to reduce risk of engagement.
  • Upon holstering, you should reverse the thumb's position to engage the safety.
  • To prevent a striker-fired handgun from coming out of battery when holstering, the thumb should be on the rear of the slide.

Rightly so, there’s a lot of discussion about what you should do with your trigger finger when you’re shooting or not shooting. However, we rarely hear talk about what you should do with your thumb — the one on your shooting hand. Its positioning is just as important.

When firing a handgun with a manual thumb safety, rest your thumb on top of the safety.
When firing a handgun with a manual thumb safety, rest your thumb on top of the safety.

If you’re shooting a handgun with a thumb safety, your thumb should be resting on top of the safety while you’re shooting. This circumvents the possibility of the safety being inadvertently engaged. I say resting because pressure can interfere with shot placement.

When you holster a handgun with a thumb safety that locks the slide — like on a 1911 or Browning Hi Power — your thumb should be under the safety, applying pressure up. This will most likely prevent you from negligently shooting yourself, should you be stupid enough to leave your finger on the trigger while holstering.

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For striker-fired handguns without a slide locking safety, place it — with pressure — on the rear of the slide as you holster. This prevents the slide from coming out of battery as the gun meets holster resistance. I’ve seen striker-fired handguns that can become jammed up due to slide movement when holstering, and I’ve also seen some that can be pushed out of batter … and remain that way even after they’ve been drawn.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the April 2018 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

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  1. Unfortunately, riding the slide safety with the thumb, especially on 1911-pattern pistols, is one of the most un-ergonomic positions in which you can put your hand. For many shooters, riding the safety pulls the base of their hand off the grip safety which causes the gun to be able to be fired.


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