When Zins Speaks, …

Brian Zins has won the US national bullseye (Conventional Pistol) competition at Camp Perry Ohio more times than most of us have shot Xs in a single target. Understandably, when Brian speaks, bullseye shooters listen.

Not long ago, Brian wrote to the bullseye-l mailing list about his grip. He said,

From: Zins GySgt Brian H [mailto:brian.zins@usmc.mil] 
Sent: Wednesday, January 30, 2008 12:19 PM 
To: bullsey...@lists.lava.net 
Subject: [Bullseye-L] RE High and right 

        All shots that not on call are in some form or fashion anticipation. 
I would have to say that your problem is probably stemming from a grip 
issue. I will try to explain this the best that I can without actually 
having a visual for you to follow. 
Look at your hand 
The crease between the fatty portion below your thumb and pinky finger just 
above your wrist. 
The backstrap of the grip needs to go right between those fatty areas in 
that crease. 
Our hands are actually designed perfectly for shooting. As long as we use 
the shape of our hand to our advantage. If you put the mainspring housing of 
the gun on the either of the fatty parts, the gun will move in recoil. With 
a .45 anyhow, not so much with a .22. 
This will also help the gun align to your eye better without having to move 
your wrist to obtain sight alignment. 



Well, my 45 scores were dismal, repeatedly so. I had little to lose so I decided to try Brian’s grip.

After a little futzing around with the 1911 in my hand, I found something that seemed like what Brian was describing. Being a methodical (my wife uses a different, and four-letter, word) guy, I wrote down the details:

  1. Form the shooting hand as if you are about to shake hands with someone.
  2. Using the non-shooting hand, grasp the gun by the barrel (never put your hand in front of the muzzle!) and then press the gun into the shooting hand such that it contacts the web between thumb and forefinger first, and as high on the backstrap of the gun as possible.
  3. Still holding the gun with the non-shooting hand, wiggle the shooting hand to feel the “deepest” the bottom part of the backstrap can go in the grip — the “life-line” across the palm forms a V-shaped valley and the backstrap of the gun should “nest” into the center of that valley. The goal is to place the backstrap in an area where there is a minimum of “meat” between backstrap and bone. Rigidity and the absence (or minimum) of padding are the desired characteristics.
  4. Still pressing the gun in position, wrap the shooting hand around the gun and grasp it with the middle two fingers. In some hands, the middle two fingers grasp the gun very close to the second joint and, again, have a minimum of padding between bone and metal, and the fingers cross the front strap at about a 20 degree angle. The pads at the base of each finger (in the palm) are slightly in contact with the slab-side grip but exert little or no pressure.
  5. As you raise the gun to shoot and move onto the target, move the trigger finger into the trigger area as far as possible. For some, the trigger will be touching that finger just outside of the farthest joint but right next to the joint. As before, the goal is to have as little pad between trigger and bone as possible.

When I do this, it feels very odd especially at first. But the sights line up more naturally than before and, when they don’t, I know I didn’t screw the gun into my hand correctly and I stop and do it all over. Eventually, the alignment is correct, the feel is right (odd!), and my whole hand feels “clamped” — Brian’s word in other postings — around the gun.

It ain’t goin’ nowhere!

Dry-firing, the results are promising but in my inexperienced hand, not perfect.

On one hammer fall, the front sight will bob down. (That would’ve been a six o’clock 6).

On the next, the front sight jumps right and up. (Two o’clock something — did I anticipate?)

Then, down and left. (Jerk!)

My hand hurts from the pressure I’ve been exerting on the slab-sided grip but cannot maintain. That’s not what jerked the trigger — I did that by trying to make the hammer fall when I “willed it” to get the shot over (and release the painful pressure!) — but the lessened pressure made the front sight jump way down and left, not a 9, an 8 or a 7. No, that one probably was a weak 5 or, worse than that, a “Maggie’s Drawers”, a miss.

Take the gun out of your hand, I say to myself. Let the blood circulate for a few seconds.

Okay, screw it into your grip and try again.

Click! There — it didn’t move! (Or maybe I just wasn’t paying close enough attention?)

Again … Ah, a small jump that time, not a lot but it was there.

Come on, now, straight back. (I have to arch my trigger finger just a little to make that happen.)

Click. Yes, nothing moved.

By golly, this can work!

But again, my hand is aching.

After a few more dry-fire shots, that’s all I can do that day. It’s a strain gripping that hard.

“GTSOOI”, I wrote on a Post-It and stuck it inside my gun box. “Grip The S%!* Out Of It.”

As you may know, I travel a lot and occasionally shoot at different bullseye ranges when a local competition and my business assighments match up. But that’s the exception, not the rule. As a result, training and practice for me, much less formal competitions, are catch as catch can.

So it was barely a week after changing my grip that I had my first opportunity to try it on anything other than dry fire and, as ill-luck would have it, it was a formal competition.

And the results were dismal.

In a moment of less than stellar judgement, I shared my frustration with the list.

… I also found that when I didn’t do everything right, things got really, really bad in a hurry. the least little jerk seemed to take the round much farther away from “home” and, in more than one case, completely outside the scoring rings!

So now I’m “on the fence”.

Should I keep at the new grip which, when it works is very nice, or should I fall back to the old grip which is more forgiving?

I received a couple of mildly encouraging replies and then, to my surprise, a personal reply from Brian himself.

(Can I say we’re “buddies” now? Is one personal email sufficient?)

Brian wrote,

I would say stay with the new grip. The key is consistency and the grip may take a little getting used [to] but [in] the long run you will [be] much better off and more consistent. The reason things may seem to be more “out” when you make a mistake is probably because your hand is trying to do what it has done for so long and the combination of the two do not work. Give it time it will work for you.

All right, I thought. How long?

I decided to give myself three months, April, May and all of June.

Toward the end of April, I had shot a few times with the new grip technique, dry-fired a lot (50% of the days?), and more recently had noticed my hand feeling a bit less strained in the evenings.

I was quite sure that, accuracy aside, I was gaining a lot of grip strength. And one of the constants I had seen in other Bullseye shooters was that Master and High Master ratings often seem to go with upper-body strength.

Brian Zins is one tough-looking Marine. Woe be to he who doubts a Marine’s strength.

John Zurek swings hammer, pushes a saw and hauls lumber as a carpenter five days a week and sometimes on weekends building his own place.

Steve Reiter grew up on a farm. He’s no mouse-pusher.

They are all High Masters and they all have very good arm and shoulder strength.

Top bullseye shooters may be alike in other ways but, of this, I am convinced. If you want to shoot the 45 well, you need better than average, and possibly much better than average upper body strength.

In this day when mouse and keyboard dominate the skills used by many for 8+ hours a day, the 45 needs more, a lot more.

And I’ve also discovered that the Zins grip is utterly, maybe even “wildly”, intolerant of fat-fisted, limp-wristed, bendy-elbowed shooters.

Steel demands steel.

Power demands power.

If you want to shoot a powerful steel gun, you have to back it up with power and steel. If you don’t, the gun will run right over you and the shot will go the hell where it wants to go. You show the least little weakness and it’s gonna get ya.

But if you show strength and resilience, it’ll do exactly what you want.

Rule the gun!

When I GTSOOI, focus on the front sight, pressure the trigger straight back and get a (nearly) surprise break, it’s going in the X ring or damn close to it.

And when the shot goes anywhere else — and when it goes bad, it sometimes goes really bad — I blew one of the basics:

  • Crush the oil out of the grips and make my arm rigid, hand, wrist and elbow;
  • Pour all my attention into the front sight for alignment and forget the wobble no matter how interesting it might be;
  • Add straight-back pressure to drive the trigger directly into the top of my nose; and
  • … bang!

When it works, it is magnificent!

And when it fails, oh brother, is it bad!

Sometimes I know which one of the basics I messed up. But other times the shot is almost completely off the target and I won’t have a clue what I did wrong.

Imagine a target with 4 Xs, 3 tens, a 9, an 8 and a top right-hand corner of the target, way way way outside the 5 ring.

“Hey,” I want to shout, “who’s shooting on my target?”

But I know better. I am. It’s me.

I’m coming up to the end of the first month of my three month trial. The good news is it’s working. I can see the improvement, I can feel it working, and I have seen enough really good shots to know that I can shoot a “tenex” (10 Xs in one 10 round target) with this grip. It will happen. I will shoot it, and it will unquestionably be with this grip.

I shot the center-fire and 45 stages of a 2700 this weekend. I told the other shooters I skipped the 22 portion because my grandaughter was competing in the state finals in soccer which was true. (They won in triple overtime!) But it is also true that I am completely focused right now on the 45. I don’t want any scores going to the NRA from any other gun.

I want my Outdoor Expert rating to be based on that gun, the hard gun, the real gun.

And its coming, its coming.

Patience and perfect practice. Dry-fire, dry-fire and dry-fire.

I’m writing this flying to Huntsville Alabama and my 1911 is in checked baggage, cleaned and lubed after the competition, it is ready for dry-fire every evening at the Comfort Inn.

GTSOOI, front sight, straight-back, … click.

GTSOOI, front sight, straight-back, … click.

GTSOOI, front sight, straight-back, … click.


Today, Bruce Martindale summed up grip pressure very nicely. He wrote:

… my personal concept on grip pressure is that group size, as a function of grip pressure, is a U shaped curve and maybe it has a third axis for trigger sear weight.

Too loose grip gives bigger groups (trigger motion and recoil induced). Too tight also gives bigger groups (lack of trigger control). You can not grip tight and retain fine motor control of your finger. So what to do? “Just Right” tension that gives you trigger AND recoil control).

How much is that? Well you have to figure that out by training with “too much” and “too little” then “just right”. Call it the “3 bears” exercise.

Thanks, Bruce, that’s perfect!

Oh yeah, my wife knows me, all right. (See reference to “wife” herein.)

The Value of Range Brass

Heretofore, I’ve picked up 45 ACP empties at the indoor range I use in Scottsdale AZ. The ROs have even been so kind to sweep empties from others in my direction (after the other shooters have left) because they had observed me doing so. Over many weeks and months, then, I’ve accumulated quite a collection.

But I’ve also had troubles once that ammo was reloaded, most commonly with “fat rounds” that won’t go all the way into the tight chamber of my 1911’s competition-grade barrel.

After struggling with a lot of jams, I bought a Dillon case gauge and tested my reloads and discovered that a full 30% of a batch of just-reloaded rounds would not fit!

So I went through all the reloaded rounds in the cabinet and culled out the bad ones. There were far too many to disassemble so they just went to the “bad live round” bin at the range for disposal. Boy, that was a lot of work down the drain. There’s got to be a way to either reshape this bad brass or at least of identifying and discarding it before reloading.

My first attempt at a solution was directed at the Dillon Square Deal B’s partial resizing. I reload on this progressive press and love it but had observed that the resizing only seems to go about half way down the brass. I figured that, at least in some cases, it was just unable to resize far enough down the shell. So, I picked up a single stage press, added a Lee Full-Length resizer and ran everything through before reloading.

After reloading, I used the case gauge again to see if this batch was any better. Sadly, the rejection rate was still very high, maybe 20% or so and a lot of rounds had to be disassembled. Although the full-length resizing did appear to help some, there were other problems dominating the situation.

Then, through the Bullseye-L email list, someone mentioned the “Martindale gauge”. I ordered one from Mr. Martindale and it arrived a couple of days later. I sent him my $7 (cash) by return mail.

Basically, the Martindale gauge is a drilled-out nut. Empty shells either go all the way through, or they get hung up.

Earlier this week, I went through my clean brass supply and tested everything and, lo and behold, almost 25% of my brass would *not* go through the Martindale gauge! I set aside the “good stuff” (that passes) and tried full-length resizing some of the bad stuff and then retesting. A small amount of it will then pass, but not very much. Martindale’s instructions said his gauge would check the web and rim which full-length resizing cannot correct. And apparently, that is exactly the problem I was seeing!

So, using only the good brass (as passed by the Martindale gauge), I loaded 100 rounds and tested the result in the Dillon case gauge. Only two were rejected, and only by 0.022″ (sticking out the back of the gauge). Zounds, that is so much better than the 25-30% failure rate I used to see.

I also added a Lee Factory-Crimp die into the mix, after as an extra step in the single-stage press after the progressive but I don’t think that die made a substantial contribution to the issues at hand in this test. Instead, it just made an accurate crimp a lot easier to achieve, and more so to measure to my satisfaction of accuracy.

To settle my curiosity, I marked those two barely-failing the Dillon case gauge rounds and then mixed them in with the other 98 before leaving for the range Sunday afternoon. At the range, I went through my normal routine of shooting a 900 with Slow, Timed and Rapid targets. (At the end, I “use up” any remaining rounds just focusing on trigger control and ignoring the target.)

At the range with those 100 rounds I had two instances where the slide did not fully close. In each case, I removed the round and inspected it carefully. One of them was one of the marked rounds. The other marked round ran through the gun without problem but, from that one that did stick, I’m convinced the Dillon case gauge is a productive step in my process.

The other round that prevented the slide from closing was, well, at least visually, nothing seemed awry. So, for both of the rounds that kept the slide from full closing, I put them back into the magazine and tried again, and on the second attempt, both rounds worked fine. (My guess is they were a tad long [C.O.L.] and the first chambering seated the bullet a little deeper so, the second time, it would chamber OK.)

Finally, after this range visit, I took my fired brass — and only *my* fired brass home and tested them in the Martindale gauge. Of the 100 pieces of brass, one would not go through, and it was one of the shells the Dillon case gauge had previously identified.

So, I’m convinced of several things.

  • The Martindale gauge should be used before reloading and anything that won’t pass through should be discarded. (There is a small percentage that *might* pass if resized but, the number was so small I deemed it not worth the effort.)
  • The value of the Lee full-length resizing die as opposed to what the Dillon Square Deal B provides is uncertain at this point. Although it is an extra step, I am going to keep it in my process for the time being. Later, if I get tired of the extra cranking, maybe I’ll do a test to get a definitive answer but, for now, I’d rather be safe than sorry.
  • The Dillon case gauge should be used after reloading and anything that won’t “pass” that test should be disassembled and the brass discarded.
  • Picking up and reusing my own brass, tested as above, works great.
  • Picking up and using “range brass” is of questionable utility. Certainly it should all be tested in the Martindale gauge before reloading but if the 30% rejection rate I found in my general collection is indicative of what I will find in the future, I’m not sure it is worth the “bend and grab” effort needed to collect it in the first place.

Reloading is definately fun!