How To Use The Support Hand With AR-Type Rifles
Anyone these days can post a video on firearms training and tactics and instantly become an “expert.” We all know that if it’s on the Internet, it must be true. As it relates to firearms training, there is actually some quality stuff that can be gleaned from the World Wide Web. At the same time, it can be puke.
Let’s address various techniques that are floating around regarding the use of the support hand and AR-platform rifles. I am stating in advance that this is not a definitive piece on the subject. Call it a primer, if you will. This article is based on my personal observations and experience, along with conversations and training with people more qualified than me. Understand that if a particular technique solves a specific problem for you, no matter how unorthodox it may appear, then more power to you. But we all agree that there are some methodologies out there that have been bastardized because someone watched a video on the Internet rather than having actually trained with credible instructors. Also understand that the techniques depicted are primarily applied while upright on two feet and/or moving and shooting. Although, done correctly, the C-clamp, or thumb-over-bore, technique that will be discussed works quite well while shooting prone.
Who can say how or where the trend of moving the support hand farther and farther toward the muzzle began? Trap and skeet shotgun shooters have for the longest time pushed their support hand toward the muzzle with the index finger also pointing toward the target. They have been swinging 30-inch-barreled shotguns for years and learned that, to drive the shotgun on a fast-moving clay pigeon, you had to get the support hand out there to control the momentum of a long barrel. Competitors in 3-Gun have long been using a similar technique of running the support hand out toward the muzzle and pointing the index finger in line with the barrel to also drive the rifle from target to target. No matter where it all started, the principle of pushing the support hand toward the muzzle to help snap the rifle target to target and drive the rifle has pretty much become the norm for most serious practitioners of the AR.
There are several versions to examine and highlight the correct application of said technique. We will also consider some old-school ways and talk about the pros and cons of them as well. Understand that not one single technique works for every situation, and like any firearm skill, the more tools to accomplish the mission, the better. Looking at how your rifle is set up may also dictate how you handle things with the support hand.
Devices such as the vertical grip and the angled grip have also lead to different adaptations of the C-clamp, or thumb-over-bore, technique. Looking back on the original SOPMOD M4 rifles, one will see the vertical grip being instituted as standard kit. This was necessary back then because the rail systems were still carbine length, and by the time you put a weaponlight and a laser aiming device on a 7-inch quad rail, you had no place to really hold on to. So the vertical grip gave the shooter a way to control the front end of the rifle. Today, you will find that longer rails are the norm. This not only gives you more space to attach accessories, it also allows the shooter to get the support hand out toward the muzzle. I’m not sure if the technique of putting the support hand farther out drove the industry to develop longer handguards or if the competitive shooting circuit taught shooters who run-and-gun for a living to slide the hand toward the muzzle, but either way, it has proven its effectiveness.
The idea of the support hand being held out closer to the muzzle primarily as a way to control recoil is a myth. Each of these different techniques allows the shooter the ability to drive the muzzle with snappy, crisp movements target to target. The overexaggeration of the thumb-over-bore grip has led many to think that it is to minimize recoil. There’s no denying that the rifle is more stable while shooting, but the principle is to reduce the mass that is out in front of the shooter’s support hand. The less weight or mass that is swinging target to target, the snappier and more controlled the movement of the rifle will be. If more mass is out front, the shooter will have a tendency to swing past or flock-shoot the targets. The muzzle must track target to target with crisp, controlled movements. If your given technique, with your particular setup and individual body mechanics, allows for snappy movements and, as a byproduct, helps control recoil, great, but the principle behind the C-clamp and/or thumb-over-bore technique is to drive the muzzle target to target.
MAG WELL GRIP
Wrapping the support hand around the mag well has been around for years. The biggest thing I’ll say about this technique is that while engaging multiple threats, it sucks. The weight of everything in front of the receiver is in front of the support hand. Trying to stop the movement of the rifle as you transition target to target is much more difficult with this technique. I’m amazed at how many shooters I still see hanging on to the mag well while shooting. Remember, I’m talking about shooting techniques, not holding a position for hours on end. Even if used while shooting sitting, kneeling or prone, the sling should stabilize the rifle, not your support hand grasping the mag well. Enough said.
What I would call the traditional support-hand position is basically adapting a straightforward, fundamental shooting technique from sitting, kneeling and prone. If you’re plinking or teaching a new shooter the basics, then that’s fine. But if you are training to be aggressive while shooting, or shooting at multiple threats, then simply slide the hand as far forward as you can and control the momentum of the muzzle. Again, we are talking about truly fighting with a rifle in a very dynamic environment.
OVER-EXAGGERATED THUMB OVER
This is the one technique that just cracks me up and the one that I blame on the Internet. Basically, shooters have somehow seen (hopefully, not instructed) elbows straight out to the side or the locked-elbow technique and then taken a left turn. I read or hear shooters talk about this technique of rolling the elbow up and wrapping the thumb of the support hand way over the barrel in order to control recoil. It doesn’t. All it does is make you look ridiculous. This application also seems counterproductive, as you have to fight to get into that position. It’s not natural, and you are also blocking off some of your peripheral field of view. It definitely doesn’t work with
carbine-length handguards either.
Many shooters run the support hand out as far as they can and lock the elbow. It is similar to shooting a pistol. Some use a thumb-forward grip or point their index finger, as opposed to the thumb-over grip, while locking out the elbow. This technique allows for good control over the muzzle while driving the gun, but it only works with longer handguards. It is also difficult to shoot prone with this technique. It works well on barricades and some kneeling positions. Shooting off your back or in supine prone is a good example of when to employ this method.
I prefer the technique of having a slight bend in the elbow. This position allows me to shoot while standing, kneeling or prone. It doesn’t feel awkward and works with a broad range of handguard lengths. I prefer to wrap my thumb over the bore, and in doing so, I can activate my tape switch on the weapon light. My mentor — and sometimes boss — Kyle Lamb prefers to use a push button on his weaponlights. I like the tape switch. The bent elbow can be applied from the strong and support side very efficiently without feeling odd. I am able to open the support hand, place it against a barricade or cover and stabilize my position while shooting. From the prone, I rest my magazine on the deck along with my bent elbow, pull against my vertical grip and shoot. Some of the other techniques do not really allow for a good prone position. I like the continuity of this technique from position to position.
Last, consider that when it comes to transitions, having the support farther down the handguard allows the shooter to get the rifle out of the way and clear a path for the pistol. With the support hand toward the muzzle, the majority of the rifle can really be moved quickly with less chance of the stock getting in the way of the pistol.
Again, these are observations, lessons learned and recommendations. There is no one right way, but there are wrong ways. Make sure your techniques are efficient and provide the correct results downrange. Spend the money, and seek out training from qualified instructors. Stop trying to learn everything from the Internet.