Massad Ayoob: Thumb Positions for Defensive Pistols

   06.26.20

Massad Ayoob: Thumb Positions for Defensive Pistols

When it comes to defensive handgun use, Massad Ayoob is a well-known and much-respected figure, and someone well worth listening to. In this video, he discusses advantages and disadvantages of various thumb positions for pistol shooting.

I’ll happily admit that I’m old school, in that I grasp a gun and shoot it. Revolver, pistol, whatever… and I’ve never bothered to mess around trying to shoot with my thumb(s) parallel with the gun’s bore. It looks awkward, and I have no interest in trying it. After all, I can hit my target, and I never inadvertently lock the slide back or engage the safety because my thumbs are up where (I feel) they shouldn’t be.

But hey, I like learning gun stuff and Ayoob is the man.

The first thing I learned is the “flag thumb” method, which I didn’t even know was a thing. Don’t we need our thumbs to retain a good controlling grip on the firearm? Poking it up in the air seems even weirder than laying it along the bottom edge of the slide. But before long, our instructor points out how this thumb position can help prevent a semi-auto from becoming snagged on heavy or loose clothing when you fire the pistol near your body. Hmmmm.

What’s bad about it? Aside from feeling unnatural, the high thumb may prevent a shooter from properly activating a grip safety.

Next, he talks about 45-degree thumb and why it can be beneficial for folks who carry certain types of firearms, including the Beretta 92 and other pistols with a slide-mounted rotating safety.

Straight thumb comes next, with suggestions on how to prevent that from gimping up the gun as you shoot.

The final thumb position is what I consider a natural position, in his words “with the thumb curled down.” Early on, he notes that some folks consider this an old technique, but it “is enjoying some renaissance today.”

This is the strongest thumb position, and he notes that Bill Wilson of Wilson Combat (the folks who posted this video) uses this position. I feel like I’m in good company.

At this point, he changes tack and concentrates on close-quarter combat and a possible struggle for the gun. If there’s a “winner” among the thumb positions, it’s the natural thumb-down position, which gives you a much stronger grip on your handgun. Ayoob tells us this is why he uses the thumb-down position these days.

He then cites Rob Latham and Bill Rogers, both of whom teach straight-thumb for 2-handed shooting and thumb-down for one-handed shooting.

But as he says, each of us will have different needs and different priorities. He also adds these words of wisdom:

“It’s not a religion, folks — it’s an evolving art & science. ‘Doctrine’ is a word that has no place in it. Find what works for you for the particular task.”

Well said. Enjoy the video.

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Editor & Contributing Writer Russ Chastain is a lifelong hunter and shooter who has spent his life learning about hunting, shooting, guns, ammunition, gunsmithing, reloading, and bullet casting. He started toting his own gun in the woods at age nine and he's pursued deer with rifles since 1982, so his hunting knowledge has been growing for more than three and a half decades. His desire and ability to share this knowledge with others has also grown, and Russ has been professionally writing and editing original hunting & shooting content since 1998. Russ Chastain has a passion for sharing accurate, honest, interesting hunting & shooting knowledge and stories with people of all skill levels.

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