The Proper Shooting Position

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*)

National Geographic Doomsday Preppers: NGC Women’s Self Defense

19 Responses

  1. When I was instructing firearms training for the Dept of Correction, I found that ALL women were able to very capably handle to .40 cal Glocks we used once they allowed me to teach them the fundamentals you are addressing. Function follows form more than anything in the world of firearms.

    I would add as well that as important as stance and form in the use of any caliber, the mental decision to place that round into the intended mark and deal with the outcome is vital. Without that, form is useless.

    Keep up the great work.

  2. Kellene – I need the info you’re sharing – but I’m more visual. Is there any way you can include a photo or diagram of what you’re talking about. I’m having trouble visualizing your pyramid stance. Thanks! (Or even a link to a page that has pics.)

  3. Thanks for the reminder lesson. I can still go thorough the motions just like it was yesterday. It made a really positive and lasting impression on me. Thank you!!!

  4. I had an awful time finding my comfort zone in this position until I watched Charlie’s Angels – once I linked it to “Angel Style” I found my best position.

    It’s ridiculous, but hubby is a fire arms trainer and has had trouble getting other women to adopt the right stance, too. I’ve been able to correct several women with “Angel Style” when he couldn’t.

    Not sure if the Angels really do it right, but it was easier to picture this than “squat down more, move your right foot 2 inches back, lean forward a little … No, that’s too much … “

  5. A picture is worth a thousand words.

  6. Kellene, thank you so much for this timely (for me at least) article. My husband “taught” me to shoot, except he really just took me plinking and hunting with him, without telling me any specifics of stance or grip at all. I think it’s because he has been doing it for so long himself that it just seems natural to him – it just doesn’t occur to him that I might need it explained. He is not a natural at teaching! In his defense he did try to teach me to shoot a rifle from kneeling and seated positions once 🙂 But handguns are different, and while he is an excellent shot and extremely knowledgeable about GUNS, he is not so much when it comes to explaining technique. I think it likely that I am not alone, and there are many, many women out there just like me. So, thank God for you!

    After reading your article and trying the stance, etc I realize that I have NOT been standing or holding my gun correctly. I get the what you say about the stance part – it actually feels better and feels more natural the more I practice it. It helps seeing it in action too. But your description of the proper grip on a pistol confuses me. My EDC is a compact Ruger LC9, which has a very short grip on it and requires that my hands wrap around somewhat, which means of course that my fingers have to overlap or else I am shooting one handed – would it be possible for you to perhaps post some photos of both correct and INcorrect holds on a pistol (perhaps even different models) while shooting? Thank you soooo much for your help!

    • Sarah, thank you for pointing out what I needed to clarify. Ugh! It’s much harder to write this than to say it or show it. Anyway, I believe I’ve addressed your question by modifying that paragraph.

      One thought I had while I was watching some of the amazing marksmen on Top Shot the other night as I observed improper stance was “Wow! Imagine what they could do consistently if they just fixed their stance. Men are a much more capable of strong-arming a good shot by using other parts of their body in shooting a handgun, whereas most women really, really need the proper foundation in order consistently shoot properly.

      • Thank you Kellene!
        It appears that my grip needs more mindful practice too. I have a feeling that my thumbs have been overlapping and that I may also have been clenching my hands too tightly on the grip, both of which would explain why I shoot so inconsistently. My hands are ordinary-sized, but I am strong for a woman so I think I may actually be committing the same faux pas that you described many men doing: trying to strong-arm the gun into firing straight. Only of course, I DON’T quite have a man’s arms and hands to pull it off. I think I also may have a flinch going. At least I am aware of it now.
        This reminds me a little of women’s hockey: all about the finesse and stick handling – not so much the body slams against the boards, yanno?
        I’m a little annoyed with my husband for not telling me I wasn’t standing properly too. 🙂
        Off to practice!

  7. Reblogged this on On The Range and commented:
    We found this blog on Women Of Caliber – great info on proper shooting stance for women.

  8. I paid to have a one on one handgun instruction class with a professional. I walked in without a gun because I had no idea of what to look for in a handgun. He introduced me to a 9mm Glock (I own one now). Showed me how to load, hold, and stand, as well as the proper way to show a handgun to someone else (clip out, chamber empty). I would not have done it anyother way. Yes, I am married to a man who would have taught me some of the things I needed to know, but not as well as this instructor did. It cost me $25.00 per hour (two hours min.) plus the cost of the handgun rental (about $12.50 plus ammo). My first time to shoot 50 rounds of ammo. He could look at my target and tell me exactly what I did wrong to correct my aim. My last time at the indoor range I shot 150 rounds all center mass. Money well spent I think.

  9. Ma’am, how many firefights have you been in? I mean I don’t think I’ve ever seen a perfect stance in a gun fight. Of course I was paying more attention to not dying…

    • No sense in training to shoot incorrectly, and a proper stance makes all the difference in the world between an accurate shot and an inaccurate one. While you’re training for proper muscle memory you might as well train the entire body.

  10. So the more than 30 years I have been shooting and teaching a modified Weaver have all been wrong? Hmmm.
    Seems my students have always picked it up rather quickly (as did I) and had great success with it, while I can shoot it dominant or off-hand, at almost any angle, around obstacle & barricades, over & under things – from a very stable stance and even if I can’t gain sight picture it is instinctual enough (very close to pointing your finger) that on target hits at reasonable ranges are very much possible even for avg shooters.

    Some are critical of the basic Weaver stance, but it has been used successfully for a long time in stressful combat situations and the modified Weaver only improves upon that success.

    I have tried both & as a matter of personal preference I will stick with what I am doing, as I see no reason here to change – especially with 30 years of muscle memory and reflexes learned.

    If I knew nothing and was learning from scratch – IDK; I won’t say what I would or would not do as that would be pure conjecture and is not reality.

    • Our history is rife with societies who had particular habits and ways of doing things only to later evolve to something even BETTER. Being functional is obviously the most important goal, however, by teaching this proper stance, that’s proven to be more effective than the basic Weaver from a mathematical perspective, a shooter is able to eliminate some vulnerabilities that don’t need to be a part of their shooting experience. Any time I can teach a method which eliminates areas where things COULD go wrong, in my mind it gives me that much more of a chance that they will be victorious in the crisis which would cause them to draw their gun in the first place. Football games are won and lost based on inches all the time. Self-defense battles are won and lost based on adhering or dismissing key fundamentals.

  11. This was essential for me. I will be practicing beginning now.
    I was unable to view video on my smart phone tho.

    One area for your clarification: any changes when shooting a 12 g sg or AR? Thanks so much.

    • Actually, no. The principle is the same for other firearms. You’re giving yourself a solid foundation in the stance, support in arms ideal for recoil, and proper mental engagement this way.

  12. Hey, Kellene, I know you are speaking mostly about pistols when talking about women leaning backward , but as someone who just learned to fire a shotgun a few weeks ago, I would say leaning backward is a response to the weight of the firearm. As soon as I picked it up, my body wanted to ‘center’ that additional weight. It takes conscious effort to lean forward as is recommended.

    • The leaning back may have to do with the centering of the weight, but it also has a LOT to do with the fact that a new shooter is trying to distance themselves from the firearm as much as possible. The brain is fully aware of the reason for this. And if a person is scared and trying to stand away from the firearm, shooting accurately AND shooting with sufficient mental fortitude to process the consequences of that shot is near impossible. So, telling the brain and the rest of the body that you are being pro-active in that shot, vs relucantly reactive can literally make the difference between life and death.

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