Bergmann 1894 Grip Style

I recently had the opportunity to examine a very early model 1894 Bergmann pistol, and made an interesting discovery (discovery to me, at any rate). The gun has a rather elegant bird’s-head grip, and a trigger that pulls as much down as it does back – the direction of the trigger pull is basically along the centerline of the grip. Well, when I went to take a sight picture, I put the pistol into a typical modern grip – hand high on the backstrap and arm extended straight. Which totally did not work. The distance to the trigger was too short to be comfortable, and my trigger finger was barely acting on the actual moving part of the trigger at all.

Bergmann 1894 pistol
Note how a “correct” high grip on the piece puts the trigger finger very high on the trigger, which results in poor leverage and an uncomfortable hold.

I though about this for a minute, and then recalled the picture postcards I have seen from German pistol shooting competitions around this period. The shooters are not-infrequently show with a quite different grip; one we would consider laughable today. It’s a one-handed stance (of course; all competitive pistol shooting was done one-handed), and the arm is bent at the elbow, with the wrist cocked down to bring the sights in line with the eye. The best example I can find on short notice is this, from Mötz & Schuy’s fantastic book Vom Ursprung Der Selbstladepistole:

Old-fashioned pistol shooting stance
Old-fashioned pistol shooting stance (with a Steyr 1907)

That fellow is using a somewhat subtler version of this stance than others I’ve seen, but it’s enough to get the idea across. And here the thing – when I shifted to using that type of grip on the 1894 Bergmann, everything came together. The birdshead grip now works well and makes sense, and my trigger finger comes to rest in the bottom curve of the trigger, in the right alignment to make a nice smooth press. Still a substandard target shooting grip in the overall scheme of things, but it seems clear to me that Bergmann designed the pistol with it specifically in mind. It does at least have the side benefit of bring the rather small sights a bit closer to the eye.

Sometimes there is no substitute to actually putting hands on a gun to understand it.