Does Grip Material Matter?


These custom bighorn sheep grips from Rowen Custom Grips are fitted
perfectly on a Freedom Arms .454 Casull. Sheep horn adds a distinct look
and provides shooter comfort and charm. Image: Rob Rowen

Does grip material really make any significant difference in your shooting performance? In many cases, it probably matters little. On the flip side, if the gun is shifting during recoil or is uncomfortable, grip material may be a consideration.

Factory grips run the gambit: neoprene, plastic, composites, wood of all varieties, synthetic and horn, just to name a few. What some prefer on a T/C Encore may be totally different than what we like on a revolver. Likewise, the grip to help dissipate obnoxious recoil on a .500 S&W Magnum will probably take a different turn on a rimfire pistol. Depending on the particular application, a smooth grip may be a better choice than a checkered one. Or perhaps a subtle texture with finger grooves might fit the bill. Deep, sharp checkered grips are not exactly comfortable on heavy kicking revolvers but may be ideal in other circles. Highly polished wood might be pleasing to the eye but has a slippery feel to it — the reason checkering can be beneficial. Regardless of what grip material works best for you, a properly fitting grip is a good starting point.

When I was searching for specific grips for purpose-built handguns, I turned to some folks who offer a wide variety of options. Take Gary Reeder, for example. He provides some really neat-looking Mongolian stag grips and fits them on the customer’s gun. There are also several options for laminated and exotic wood. I had Gary install some Corian grips on a Ruger Super Blackhawk, which came out looking nice with a flawless fit and finish. The Corian is very durable and comes in various colorations.

Weather resistance may be a factor for some when considering grip material. Rubber is utilitarian, durable and resistant to water, humidity and heat. There’s nothing wrong with rubber or polymer grips. I’ve been shooting an S&W Model 610 with factory rubber grips and couldn’t be more pleased. These grips have a soft, subtle texture with slight finger grooves and feel very comfortable when touching off 10mm rounds. On the other hand, I have custom, aftermarket grips with finger grooves and subtle thumb rest that’s the cat’s meow on a Contender .17 HMR.

Rubber or polymer grips work well in many cases and are most comfortable
when shooting heavy recoiling handguns.

Big Gun Grips

When shooting T/C Contenders and Encores, I tend to waffle back and forth between factory rubber grips and custom wood. I like both! The factory rubber grips fit my hand and are comfortable regardless of whether I’m shooting a .22 LR or .45-70.

Bolt-action handguns vary with grip material from composite, neoprene and even synthetic. Nosler’s NCH and Independence models, for example, feature AR-type grips from over-molded rubber. With a monumental amount of AR grips available, you can choose from a wide selection of grip materials. The discontinued H-S Precision pistol incorporated synthetic stocks with a texture providing a secure grip. Several hunters with custom XP-100s have McMillan stocks that utilize industrial-grade paint resulting in a non-slip finish. Bolt-action handguns can be found with an array of grip configuration and materials. Choosing what fits you and your intended purpose best will make shooting more enjoyable.

These combat grips from Culina are fitted on an S&W Model 686. They look and feel great with finger grooves.

Exotic Materials

Rob Rowen of Rowen Custom Grips is fitting a Freedom Arms .454 Casull with bighorn sheep grips. Rob offers a variety of grip options for revolvers and semi-autos. I’ve drooled over some exhibition-grade Turkish walnut seen in Rob’s shop. Other varieties of wood include Clara walnut, Bastogne walnut, Circassian — from the Persian Gulf region — and French walnut. In addition to the many options of wood, Rob also specializes in horn. While rubber and other synthetics can serve a purpose, beautiful wood or sheep horn is a treasure to embrace and enjoy.

Dall sheep horn usually has a light coloration with occasional reddish streaks. Bighorn varies in color from darker tones to lighter shades. Stone sheep horn is very similar to Dall sheep horn and usually yields a whitish, lighter color. Then we have musk ox, which generally exhibits character with lighter tones. The neat aspect with horn is you normally get a different appearance with every set of grips. Seldom do different sets of Dall sheep grips appear the same. Sheep horn has an interesting feel to it even when highly polished. My hands tend to grip it well without slipperiness.

On heavy recoiling revolvers like the Freedom Arms .454 Casull, the smooth horn grips are not only comfortable but do not inflict unwanted discomfort. I like the feel and appearance of horn but will confess the rosewood grips that left the factory also work well.

The next time you visit the range, see if grip material makes any difference in your shooting pleasure.

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