Many shooters dedicate a disproportionate amount of training time to shooting from a “proper” stance. While shooting from a stable, familiar shooting platform is a logical first step in the development of the novice shooter, there’s a good chance that during a gunfight, your stance will bear little resemblance to the one you’ve spent so much time shooting from. Unlike static range training where your goal is to shoot a stationary target with a predetermined sequence of fire at the sound of the buzzer, a real gunfight will involve a moving target and incoming fire. This often leads to the abandonment of a “technically correct” stance for one that’s more practical.
If your goal is to prepare yourself to win a gunfight, you would be well served to invest the time to attain proficiency in shooting in these circumstances: while on the move, with one hand, from one or both knees, from a prone or supine position, and from behind cover.
“Stance” is recognized as one of seven principles of marksmanship, along with grip, breath control, sight alignment, sight picture, trigger control, and follow through. Adhering to the remaining six principles will allow you to compensate for a less than perfect stance. As such, delivering rounds on target is not dependent on your maintaining a fixed stance with a two-handed, arms extended shooting position.
Principles of Marksmanship
Mastery of the principles of marksmanship is key to hitting your target, regardless of what position you’re shooting from.
For optimal control, you should grip your gun high on the backstrap, with the thumb of your shooting hand, along the frame, pointed toward the target. Your other hand “fills the void” formed by your shooting hand, allowing your hands to completely envelope the grip for maximum recoil control.
Breath control refers to shooting during the normal respiratory pause after exhaling. Breath control is particularly critical when shooting from a prone position (since you could be lying on your diaphragm) or from a considerable distance. During a close quarter gun fight, breath control is arguably less of a factor.
Sight alignment enables you to orient the muzzle of your gun both horizontally and vertically to the target. Aligning the sights so that there is equal distance between the front sight and each rear sight-post, aligns your handgun to the threat from a horizontal perspective. To adjust your aim in terms of elevation, you need to confirm that the top of the front sight is level with the top of the rear sight.
Sight picture is obtained by superimposing your aligned sights over your intended target. To what degree a person can focus on their gun’s sights during a gunfight is a hotly debated topic. However, most shooters agree that during a critical incident requiring you to fire your gun, you will tend to focus on the threat and it will take a conscious effort to focus on your gun’s sights. The farther you are from the threat, the more you will need to focus on the sights, since even a slight miscalculation from a distance of 25 yards, for example, could result in you missing the target completely.
Since most gunfights occur at much closer distances, many instructors advocate focusing on the front sight as opposed to taking the time to align the front and rear sights. The rationale is that in close quarters, superimposing the front sight over the target and squeezing the trigger is likely to result in a hit. Wasting time, aligning the sights precisely in a close-quarter gun battle is a potentially fatal error.
Having sight alignment and sight picture is no guarantee that your rounds will impact your target. Without proper trigger control, the act of squeezing the trigger can disrupt the alignment of the muzzle to the target, resulting in a miss or worse, a “hit” on an unintended target. Trigger control refers to your ability to squeeze the trigger without changing the weapon’s alignment as well as being poised to fire subsequent rounds in rapid succession.
Anticipating the gun’s recoil is one of the most common shooting errors. This occurs when the shooter pushes the muzzle downward as the trigger is pulled to compensate for the rise of the muzzle during recoil, resulting in the round impacting below the shooter’s point of aim. To remedy this, concentrate on a smooth trigger pull and let it be a “surprise” when the gun actually fires. Obviously the longer the trigger pull, the more things there are to go wrong as the trigger is pulled. After firing the first round, rather than completely releasing your finger from the trigger, allow the trigger to release just enough for it to reset. The trigger reset is accompanied by an audible click and a recognizable change in trigger tension. Controlling the trigger reset “takes the slack” out of the trigger, facilitating a shorter, more controlled trigger pull.
Follow through is the concept of staying on target throughout the process of shooting. Relaxing too soon could effect shot placement. Managing recoil and being poised to deliver additional rounds is another aspect of follow through. Follow through and trigger control are crucial to avoiding anticipating recoil, which is one of the most common shooting errors.
Shooting On the Move
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that a moving target is harder to shoot than a stationary target. So obviously, if you’re being shot at, move! Preferably, you can move to available cover, such as the corner of a building, a vehicle, or other solid obstacle capable of stopping bullets. While moving is a great way to avoid being shot, it’s also more difficult to shoot while you’re on the move.
To shoot more accurately while moving, walk with your knees slightly bent. Step in a “heel-to-toe” manner when moving forward and a “toe-to-heel” manner when moving backward to minimize head and muzzle bounce, which could negatively effect sight alignment and sight picture. In addition, this footwork makes it easier to negotiate uneven terrain when your eyes are not on the ground.
Since stepping laterally is slower and less natural than walking forward, limit lateral movement to one or two steps then transition to walking forward in a lateral direction to address a threat. To engage a threat on your non-gun side, you can simply turn at the waist to shoot using a standard two-handed grip. However, when moving parallel to a threat on your gun-side, maintaining a two-handed shooting grip will be difficult. To compensate, you can either cross step and engage while walking backward or transition to a one-handed shooting position, while walking forward.
During a gun battle, you might literally run to a position of cover. While running, the chance of you hitting your target is minuscule. Therefore, shooting while running is generally an ill-advised tactic, since in the real world, firing indiscriminately could have tragic consequences. As a rule of thumb, when engaging your target, don’t move faster than you can accurately shoot. Of course, if you’ve determined a “tactical retreat” is in order, running may be your best alternative.
One-handed shooting is an often neglected skill that is crucial in situations where one of your hands or arms is injured, when you’re fending or striking with one hand, or when addressing a threat on your gun side as described above. When shooting one-handed, at a target several feet away, “punch out” your shooting arm, allowing the fist to rotate inward naturally, as if you were throwing a punch. Most shooters find this more comfortable than trying to keep the handgun oriented straight up and down, as in two-handed sighted fire. The fact that the sights are canted slightly is irrelevant. Align them to the target as you would normally and you’ll hit what you’re aiming at.
When your adversary is within arm’s length, you need to hold your gun close to your body to avoid being disarmed. In this situation, you might need to use your non-dominant hand to fend incoming strikes, or to drive under your adversary’s chin to off balance him. In either case, keep your gun anchored to your body to minimize flexion of your wrist, which could cause you to miss your target. Since you won’t be able to acquire sight alignment, it’s important to have a physical reference point such as touching the bottom of the magazine and or thumb to your pectoral muscle to aim the weapon through “body alignment.” It’s important to note that this one-handed shooting position should be a natural component of your standard draw.
Shooting from a kneeling position is a valuable skill. Kneeling makes you a smaller target but also limits your mobility. As such, assuming a kneeling position can be an asset or a liability depending on the distance between you and the threat, available cover, and myriad other factors. You might find yourself shooting from a kneeling position by default if you were to fall to the ground.
A high kneeling position is achieved by simply taking a step forward and dropping to your rear knee. This provides a solid shooting platform for a two-handed sighted-fire position (identical to standing) and enables you to stand again relatively quickly. From a high kneeling position, you should have plenty of room to access spare magazines and other items from your belt.
A low kneeling position requires you to sit on the heel of your foot. Keep the sole of your foot in contact with the ground rather than the instep in order to stand more quickly. From a low kneeling position, you can support your firearm by resting the triceps of your non-gun arm against your raised knee. Avoid resting the point of your elbow on your knee, as your elbow could easily slip, resulting in a miss. Accessing a spare magazine from the low kneeling position will probably require you to lean back slightly. The low kneeling is a good shooting position when you have cover and your adversary is a considerable distance from you. However, some shooters find this to be an awkward position and one that’s difficult to transition into or out of.
Another variation of the kneeling position is when both knees are down. This is similar to the high kneeling position except that it is more difficult to transition from, since you would first have to assume a high kneeling position in order to stand. The both-knee-down version is relevant because it occurs naturally when transitioning to a prone position.
Prone Power Plays
To achieve a prone position from kneeling, place the palm of your non-gun hand on the ground and slide your feet back. Traditionally, shooters assume a prone position by lying on their stomach and propping themselves up on their elbows. A variation of the prone position, sometimes referred to as a “roll over” prone, involves rolling onto one shoulder or the other and fully extending your arm (see photo on page 61). This enables you to lock your arms out, which helps manage recoil. Some find this position more comfortable than the standard prone position. The degree to which you roll onto your shoulder will be dependent on body type and personal preference. Some will find it more comfortable to remain almost completely on their stomach while others will be on their shoulder and upper back. The roll over prone allows you to more easily acquire a spare magazine positioned along the front of your waist.
Another benefit to the roll over prone is that it enables you to simulate shooting upward, a shot you could be required to take from the bottom of a stairwell to a threat at the top of the stairwell, for instance. Since we can’t shoot up into the air in training, this is a good way to replicate that type of shot.
Without question, the prone position offers the most stable shooting platform and exposes the least amount of the shooter to the threat. However, this position offers little in the way of mobility and should therefore be avoided when the threat is capable of rapidly closing distance.
Shooting From Cover
There’s more to shooting from behind cover than meets the eye. Since cover represents safety, there is a natural tendency to get as close to cover as possible. However, being too close to cover is dangerous. Rounds that impact a solid object tend to follow a trajectory a few inches from the object and parallel to the object. If you are too close to cover, there’s a good chance you will be in directly in the path of a “skipped” round.
To maximize cover, stand several feet back and keep as much of your body behind the cover as possible. This may seem painfully obvious but I’ve seen time and again in law enforcement training, officers needlessly exposing half of their body to their adversary. It’s important to realize that you may have to contort your body to fit available cover. If using a fire hydrant as cover, a low kneeling position would be a good choice. If you’re using the engine block of a vehicle as cover, perhaps a high kneeling position several feet behind the front tire would be appropriate. (The tire might offer a degree of protection from rounds skipped on the ground).
When shooting from cover, a common mistake, whether standing or from a kneeling position, is to needlessly expose the femoral artery, which runs along the inner portion of the leg. While being shot anywhere would be bad, one place you definitely don’t want to be shot is the femoral artery. To prevent this, keep both feet behind cover and roll your upper body out from behind cover just enough to shoot, then return.
If you’re wounded or knocked to the ground, you might need to shoot from your back. To shoot from a supine position, raise your head and shoulders off the ground to achieve a sight picture and extend your arms as you would if you were shooting from a standing two-handed sighted fire position. Avoid crossing your ankles, as this could result in shooting yourself in the foot. Instead, keep your knees bent and feet planted. This will allow you to move your body in relation to the threat.
In conclusion, consider the adage, “you will not rise to the occasion, you will fall to your level of training.” Don’t let the first time you shoot while moving, one-handed, or from an atypical position be when lives are on the line. When you’re training, resist the temptation to stand still and shoot a “pretty” target. Instead, get down in the grass, dirt, or gravel and practice shooting from behind cover. Your ability to deliver rounds on target, from whatever position the situation dictates, could save the day when the bullets are flying.