shooting positions

Shooting Positions For The Total Beginner

For the total beginner learning how to shoot, there are a number of things to learn such as stance, trigger control, but also shooting positions. They are good to learn for any shooter, including those learning practical shooting skills for hunting or defense, and general enthusiasts.

Ideally, you'll want to mix all three in with your shooting practice, if you do any practical shooting practice for hunting, defense or otherwise.

Most shooting is done from three positions, namely offhand (or standing) kneeling and prone. Each has some intricacies to be aware of with the type of firearm that you're using, as it will be different for shooting a pistol compared to a shotgun or rifle.

Let's get into that a little more.

Offhand Shooting

offhand shooting position

The "offhand" shooting position is standing position, called "offhand" as there is no support for the gun outside the shooter. You could get shooting sticks or a tripod, but for now let us consider only offhand shooting.

Offhand shooting with a pistol is done one-handed or two-handed.

The two primary methods of off-hand shooting with two hands with a pistol are to use the Weaver shooting stance or Isosceles stance. The former uses footing and arm position to create a push-pull dynamic with the arms. The body is angled in a boxer-like stance. The latter squares the body to the target and fully extends both arms. While both have merit, we won't get deep into them for now.

Regardless of the stance one uses, the best practice is to lean into the gun to provide resistance against recoil. This helps manage recoil and to keep the gun stable while acquiring a sight picture.

With long guns, you can't fire while squared to the target unless shooting from the hip. While it looks fun in action movies, isn't a best practice as it doesn't allow for aiming. Instead, you want to turn almost perpendicular to the target and your weakside foot forward, almost like a boxing stance.

You should lean into the gun, steadying it. When shooting more powerful long guns such as 12-gauge shotguns and more powerful rifles, it's important to hold the butt of the stock tight into the body. Not only will this give you control under recoil, but will also hurt less. The shorter the distance the stock travels before contacting the body, the less momentum it builds and thus the less force you get hit with.

Kneeling Or Sitting While Shooting

shooting while kneeling

While far less prevalent with handgun shooting, the position of kneeling while shooting offers a good middle ground between offhand and prone. The position can also be assumed rather quickly, as kneeling or sitting can be done much more quickly than can assuming a prone position.

This is more important for hunters than it is for other shooters. However, kneeling/sitting is also a good supporting position for long-range pistol shooting.

Instead of dropping to both knees, you want to plant your strong side knee on the ground and keep your weak side knee up. Just as with firing a long gun or Weaver-stance shooting, you want face the target with a boxing stance, with your weak side angled a bit away.

When you contact the ground and come into position, the rear foot should be straight with the top of the foot and toes contacting the ground. Ideally, you should sit onto the sole of your shoe/heel of the foot. Your weight should be on your weak side foot and strong side knee.

Place your support arm elbow on your knee for support and lean into the gun, pulling the stock tight to the shoulder. This gives you more support than offhand, in a position you can more quickly assume in the field.

If you have occasion to use a barricade or other improvised support, whether in competitive shooting such as 3 gun or over a log or backpack in the field, you actually want to reverse the down leg. Put your weak side knee down and angled away, and rest the foreend of the gun on the barricade, log or improvised shooting rest. The support hand should grasp the foreend or be placed on the rest.

For pistol shooting from a kneeling position, the same kneeling positions should be assumed if you use a Weaver or Chapman shooting stance. Unless firing from a barricade or improvised rest, put the strong side foot down and behind, with the support arm resting atop the knee.

If you shoot exclusively with an Isosceles stance, it's better to sit down, and put your elbows on your knees.

Shooting Prone

shooting prone

Shooting prone provides the greatest amount of support for the gun without using a rest, but does impose some challenges.

If shooting a pistol, firing with a Weaver or Chapman stance is impossible. Therefore, an Isosceles stance must be used. Lay flat on your stomach, with your shoulders squared to the target and your arms fully extended but quite locked.

However, this isn't the optimal position for shooting a handgun, especially if shooting a magnum revolver. If you wish to lay flat firing a handgun, a better choice is to do so flat on your back. This way, the recoil energy will go through the shoulders into the ground, resulting in you taking a little less abuse. From the stomach, you take all the torque from recoil in the shoulders. However, you do still get the support of laying prone.

For long guns, you need to angle away from the target, with your body at about a 45-degree angle so the support arm can rest on the ground and support the fore end of the gun. The stock is pulled tight to the shoulder to minimize travel and that's about it. It is a very simple position to assume.

However, if you have a pack, log or other object you can rest a gun on, you can also lie with your shoulders straight to the target. However, this is only if you have no need for the support hand.

The prone position offers the most support, but can be the most awkward to get into if in a hurry.

With that said, you should take time to practice shooting from all three positions. A well-rounded shooter can hit from any position. The more shooting you do outside of what's the most comfortable for you, the better you will become overall.

Sam Hoober 

About The Author


Born in southeastern Washington State, Sam Hoober graduated in 2011 from Eastern Washington University. He resides in the great Inland Northwest, with his wife and child. His varied interests and hobbies include camping, fishing, hunting, and spending time at the gun range as often as possible.

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