Taken individually, the draw stroke, trigger position, hand position, body posture, breath control, and sight focus are easy to work on. For example, if you’re not worried about anything but focusing on the front sight of your pistol (unless you’re like me and have started working towards using just a red dot on your pistols), it’s easy to remember to do it. However, do you as a shooter remember to do this when you’re working on your finger position? How about when you’re working on breath control and body posture?
Starting out as a stationary shooter and working through all of these techniques is a great way to build up the muscle memory and habits you will need as you advance to more active shooting courses. I know of no master shooters that are perfect on all of these, either, so it’s always going to be a skill set that you are working on. Before worrying at all about accuracy and combat shooting, mastering techniques should be your first goal.
Shooting Stances – 2 Hands
This may sound silly, but shooting stance is more important than you might realize. Like a rifle, the handgun benefits from a stable platform, and it’s important to find a comfortable shooting position that affords the most stability possible.
More advanced training builds on these with more advanced positions that allow for much more extreme situations the shooter might find himself in.
The Isosceles and the Modern Combat Stance
The most classic stance of pistol shooting is the Isosceles. This position finds the shooter squared off to the target, feet shoulder width apart, legs straight, arms straight out, elbows turned outwards and slightly bent. With this position, both hands are equally responsible for guiding the weapon, and the elbows’ position allows the arms to act as shock absorbers, bringing the gun straight back into the chest rather than directing recoil upwards. This position is a classic, used by military and police shooters, and is often seen in self defense and basic pistol courses.
One of the downsides of this shooting stance is it is not very cover-friendly. However, compare this to the comments from Mr. G. Gilbert, a trained combat medic on the shooting stance:
As a medic in combat I’ve seen numerous wounds that entered through the side of the body and ALL of them were fatal. We call the side shot “the pathway to your soul”. By squaring your upper body to the threat, you have a much better chance of surviving a hit. That’s where your “natural” armor protects you the most and if you’re wearing actual body armor, your plates are there to take the hit. Our bodies natural “alarm response” is to square up toward the threat for that reason.
With this stance, also, the body is brought into proper alignment for absorbing recoil and reducing the flip of the gun. Movement is also increased by keeping the body in a neutral position. With the proper modern combat stance, the upper body does the work of managing the gun, while the lower body can be freed to respond to and maneuver. Also, this position and the fundamentals expressed by it help transition into other, less conventional positions.
Quoting another writer who put it far more succinctly than I can:
Ideally you want your legs stable and squared off as well, little bend in the knees, ect, but the idea is that the stance can be preformed regardless of your environs or position. Your upper body always faces the target. Small amount of tension in the abs with a slight lean, your shoulders hunch and you bring your neck and head down to the gun, your arms completely out, just before locking your elbows. Finally your non dominant arm should try and torque on the weapon so that you are ‘rolling’ your elbow out away from your body. This makes it so the elbows will only allow the gun the push backwards towards your body, instead of up under force. The grip is essentially what was detailed in the first article.
In total the stance is about getting as much mass of your back, shoulders, neck, arms, and hands as you can directly contributing to absorbing the reoil of either your handgun or rifle. The stance doesn’t really change between either platform. It helps with how your body reacts naturally under stress and works with those natural reactions, and, once again, has the benefit of squaring your plate to your target and causing your abdomen and neck to ‘hide’ behind your plate due to the way your are leaning.
The Weaver stance is, in my opinion, a more dynamic option. In this position, the body is presented with the strong leg behind the weak leg, shoulders turned at an angle to the target. Arms are again ought and locked slightly bent, elbows turned outwards. This position is very similar to what you might be used to with an M4 or shooting a rifle. In this position, because the body is at an angle, giving you a lower profile.
However, as has been pointed out by our faithful readers and fellow shooters, this actually comes as a detriment in two ways.
First, this position locks you down and reduces movement to address different targets. Second, with the right shot from the side, one bullet can pierce heart and lungs, reducing survivability. Also, as has been pointed out, this position is not as armor-friendly.
Working Out What Works
As I said earlier, pistol shooting is dynamic, just like a carbine. With the exception of recreational shooting for accuracy, the general use for a pistol is as a defensive/offensive tool, and as such is going to need to work well with your tactics. Stationary stances are good platforms to build on because they will help you as a shooter become comfortable with directing recoil as we move into more advanced techniques. The key to working with any stance is to find one that works well for you, and evaluating how to work it into a shooting routine. Is one more solid than another? How well do you transition your weapon, and support it shooting through a course of fire involving cover and concealment? This is where practice and working through some practical shooting courses helps out a lot.
Shooting Position – 1 Hand
Very few schools cover 1-handed shooting as a primary technique, and very few people really practice it. Most training we have comes from the old military technique where the arm is extended straight out from the shoulder, body sidelong to the target, off-hand placed on the hip, and this is a fairly effective shooting stance. However, with most primary calibers, one hand just doesn’t stabilize the gun as well, and follow-through becomes more difficult. Working the 1-handed stance, however, is important as it brings into play training for situations where one hand or arm is disabled. Being able to shoot accurately and not be surprised by how the gun behaves in one-handed shooting, too, is important in order to give you every chance in a bad situation.
Practice Makes Perfect, and Considerations for Training
There are a lot of things that go into making a good pistol shooter, and there are a lot of tradeoffs that come into play. But we haven’t come to the point in the road where we have to decide between target shooting and combat shooting, or what we focus on. For now, however, remember that practice makes perfect. Fifty rounds once a month is not enough to develop your skills, so investing in quality ammunition and committing to training with your gun is key. Also remember that while it’s important to practice with the caliber and gun you carry (I dump roughly two thousand rounds a month through my carry gun, just to stay current on it), .22 caliber conversion kits and .22 caliber pistols are great in that ammo is extremely inexpensive. Likewise, Airsoft and pellet pistols are good choices as there exists replicas of just about every major firearm, and these allow for training anywhere, not just at a range or safe area.
However you choose to do it, getting involved in training that gets you outside of your comfort zone is ideal. This is like a physical fitness routine, and you have to push yourself, put yourself under strain, and be willing to do whatever it takes to improve yourself.
Stay Safe and Shoot Straight.
Photo of Army Marksmanship Unit shooter courtesy of U.S. Army.