By Kellene Bishop
While far too much emphasis is put into which caliber a person should carry, an issue significantly more important is the one that deals with the shooting stance. This article isn’t intended to be an exploration of all of the various stances that have been put out there by one camp or another, instead it’s written with the intent to ensure you put everything to your advantage as possible should you ever need to defend yourself.
Watching the various episodes of “Doomsday Preppers” on the National Geographic Channel you’re bound to see someone shooting at something. Surely there are plenty of reasons to holler at the television as this newest edition of reality TV unfolds. It’s bound to happen when a show attempts to convey an entire lifestyle, compressed into 2 days of filming, portrayed in a matter of minutes. Imagine what would happen if YOU only shared a tenth of your words to any sentence—there’s bound to be a misstep or two. But one thing that really can’t be edited incorrectly—let alone by a production company that probably doesn’t know the difference between a clip and a magazine—is a shooter’s shooting stance.
The key to proper shooting is creating a proper foundation and shock absorption with your body. Women in particular have a really bad habit of missing this key skill; and unfortunately, there are far too many men who don’t practice it themselves, let alone teach the importance of it to the female shooter in their life.
The other day at the range I watched as a husband proudly showed his wife how to shoot for the very first time. He was SO happy. I was actually proud of her, too, as I observed a healthy respect and attitude towards firearm safety and handling of the firearm. But I confess, I cringed as I watched her shoot with her back arched backwards and one of her arms dropping. Both of these errors are very, very common, but done correctly both of them do so much more good to being able to properly defend yourself than any caliber or brand of weapon ever will.
Let’s start with the feet. Your natural self-defense shooting position should take a cue from any physical fighter such as a boxer or mixed-martial artist. Their feet are positioned in such a way that they cannot be easily knocked off balance from front to back or from side to side. Unfortunately many of the suggested shooting positions nowadays do not take that balance into consideration. Spreading your feet shoulder-width apart and crouching down a bit only provides half a foundation, which is as good as no foundation at all in a life or death scenario. Ironically, the foundation that it provides is only from side to side, but when you’re shooting a firearm, you’re more likely to need a proper foundation that will support a front to back balance most of all. Placing one foot in front and one at the back then makes your foundation unstable from side to side. These vulnerabilities not only affect your shooting accuracy but also your ability to respond quickly to any threats outside of your immediate target.
Proper foot placement should be placing your non-dominant foot firmly forward and leaning forward over the top of it a bit. Place your dominant foot back and to the outside just a bit. Rather than forming a straight line between the feet, you’re creating more of a “L” shape. This way you’re providing support front to back as well as side to side. The key to this foot position is that you don’t place the feet too far outside of your body. The feet are placed outward in an effort to simply extend the perimeter of your foundation under you. This foot position will be very much like you would see a trained fighter automatically go into when confronted. It should feel very natural to you and is commonly referred to as a pyramid base. You know, pyramids…those incredibly strong structures that have stood the tests of centuries of time? If you’ve got a vulnerability to your foot position, then you have a vulnerability to your shooting. When I’ve taught students who have a background of law enforcement, boxing, or military I find that this foot positioning is very natural for them, to the point that if I do a fake punch or jump in their direction, their body immediately goes into this position.
Next is the back. Women commonly create a poor foundation with their back by leaning away from their firearm. I’m convinced this is a physical manifestation of the what’s going on in their head; and you know what, it’s totally understandable. What usually happens is that they bow their back backwards when in fact they should be leaning into the shot. There’s a physiological and psychological strategy in play with a proper back position. Leaning slightly into the shot not only gives you a better shooting foundation, but it also sends a very different message to YOU as well as an attacker. The stance impacts the brain. You can’t fool your brain into thinking you’re calm, capable and confident when you’re arched away from the target, and that fear will manifest itself in your shot placement. If you look closely at the shooters featured on The History Channel’s “Top Shot”, you will see the men AND the women leaning into their shots regardless of what kind of a weapon they are shooting.
As you lean into the shot, the majority of your weight will be directly under your torso with a bit being allocated on your front foot. Your rear/side foot isn’t just lying around for good looks; it’s deliberately planted and ready to support the recoil that will travel through your body as you shoot. Your shoulders are leaned forward, towards the target. Doing so communicates strength and certainty to the target and to your brain. Remember, the mental fortitude is just as important as the physical fortitude. Your shoulders are squarely parallel to the target, not angled.
Now, you’re leaning into your shot, so now let your head naturally follow the rest of your body. I always say “nose over toes.” It won’t be comfortable for you to do much else with your head other than staring down the gun sights towards your target. Bring your head down, directly behind to the sights of your firearm; but be sure that your arms are extended straight out at the shoulders, not at the breasts, rather just above them. Your head should be positioned as such that you can just see the front site on your gun. It should be straight up and down, not tilted to one side or the other.
Next bring your arms up to same level as your shoulders and fully extended in front of you. Do not lock them into place; rather you want them to be viable shock absorbers. I don’t care what they do on TV, you do NOT want one arm straight and one arm bent. (Try doing that with proper foot placement and you’ll see just how ridiculous of an idea it is.) Remember, your arms should not be resting down at the middle of your chest, rather they should be extended outwards, just above your breasts. Put these few tips together and you’ll see that it’s a much more aggressive, confident position that you usually do at the range, or at the very least very different from what you see at the range.
Your hands will naturally support the position of your arms. The palm of your hands will not be overlapping anywhere on top of each other and neither will your thumbs. Again, never allow your thumbs to stack on top of each other. One will pull down on the other as you shoot. Depending on the size of your grip, your fingers may wrap around each other in the front of the grip, but all of your knuckles on your fingers should be pointing towards your target; your torso is towards your target, your shoulders are square with your target, and your front foot is towards your target—believe it or not, that front foot placement being TOWARDS your target can make all the difference in the world. My husband and I did an experiment in which we shot blindfolded towards a target but we made sure that our foot was always pointed toward our target. The foot pointed in the proper direction made a HUGE difference. The butt of your palms should be side by side, resembling a baby’s bottom. If you put one hand underneath the butt of the gun, you’re going to have some pushing and pulling action each time you shoot, hindering your accuracy. Your thumbs should NOT cross over each other. Rather your dominant hand thumb should be parallel with your non-dominant thumb. If you overlap ANY of your fingers on the gun, you will be pushing and pulling on each of your shots.
If you breathe out as you extend your arms outward and ensure each of these parts of your body are placed correctly, you will have excellent shot placement. I can tell you for a fact that as soon as I fix any of these common stance errors on my students or myself, the shots go exactly where they are supposed to because your entire shooting position is aimed towards your shot and is in place to support the recoil of the firearm. You won’t have any jerking of the firearm regardless of how powerful your caliber may be. This works well regardless of whether you’re shooting quickly or shooting slow. This type of posture is commonly referred to as a “bulls-eye stance.” My best suggestion is that you practice getting into the proper stance instinctively. Sight alignment is an easy error to address if the rest of the foundation is in place.
There are some that will criticize this stance saying that you are making yourself too big of a target, moreso than if you were to lead your body with a shoulder forward. My response to this is that I always assume the perpetrator practices on small targets—you know, like the size of a quarter. I don’t know about you but I haven’t been the size of a quarter since I was a fetus. No positioning will truly make me small enough of a target that would merit compromising my shooting stance with a more solid foundation. Calibers, experience, determination, mindset—all of those kinds of things that people try to say make a difference. But when all is said and done, it’s the shot placement that ensures whether or not I get to go home to my family safe and sound, so that’s what I’ll give credence to every single time.
If you’ve been shooting incorrectly, or if you’ve never shot at all, it’s likely that a proper stance won’t instinctively happen without you creating the muscle memory to go with it. As odd as this may sound to some, I suggest that you make it a habit to do 10 to 15 draws with the proper stance everyday. (I use a hairbrush, pulling it up from my imaginary holster.) As a result, I don’t even have to think about it when I practice, my body naturally goes into the perfect shooting position like a lifetime ballet dancer getting into first position. When it comes to life and death scenarios, this instant muscle memory is a life saver.
I don’t have pictures for you right now, so this video clip from Doomsday Preppers will just have to do. Notice my stance as well as the stance of the students; and notice how little the barrel of the guns move when they are shooting. (The picture at the top of the blog site is not me, just FYI, it was a student, and yes, she did have to correct her stance. For some reason our graphic designer liked this particular photo. *grin*)