Since handguns are primarily used from standing, unsupported positions, handgun marksmanship skills are heavily influenced by positions of the body and the stance one assumes when aiming, firing, and controlling recoil.
Each stance alters a shooter’s center of balance while shot stabilization is also managed by the positions of the feet, hips, and shoulders. These positions facilitate target acquisition, proper trigger control, and fast, accurate follow-up shots. Ideally, a stance can be assumed in an instinctive, repeatable, and immediate fashion.
Gripping a handgun incorporates both the firing hand and the support hand to stabilize the firing hand. A proper grip enables proper trigger control with the firing hand and effective recoil management using the support hand. In addition to the two-handed grip, bullseye and point shooting techniques are built around accurate one-handed aiming and firing.
Firing hand: The primary hand used to grip and actuate the trigger of a firearm.
Support hand: The hand used to stabilize and control a firearm in conjunction with the firing hand.
Dominant hand: The preferred hand used to control and actuate the trigger of a firearm.
Non-dominant hand: The opposite of the dominant hand.
Whether one-handed or two-handed, a desirable firing hand grip is characterized by a repeatable position that asserts affirmative control over the firearm while allowing deliberate engagement and disengagement of the trigger finger from the trigger guard.
The firing hand secures the pistol grip webbing of the thumb and index finger. The trigger finger should be placed on the frame or receiver of the firearm with all other fingers securing the grip. “A firm handshake” has often been used to describe an appropriate amount of grip pressure.
With a two-handed grip, the support hand creates an additional point of contact that stabilizes the firing hand while aiming, firing and during recoil. Use the support hand to fill the “void” created by the firing hand around the grip. Be sure to wrap the support hand around the firing hand and not under.
For any grip, be sure to keep both hands clear of any moving parts of the firearm. Moving parts such as hammer and slides can cause injury such as slide bite or hammer bite. While usually not serious, such injury is usually an indication one’s grip needs adjustment.
When gripping a revolver it is often recommended to keep all fingers behind the trigger guard. Keep hands and body parts clear of the Cylinder Gap. This gap between the barrel, frame, and the cylinder vents hot gasses with each shot. This outward flash of hot gasses can cause burns and severe injury.
Basic Handgun Shooting Stances
Handgun usage is largely focused on skills meant to engage targets using accurate fire at distances of five to seven yards. Five to seven yards represents the FBI’s average closing distance between an assailant and victim for recorded violent crimes. This distance is often used as a measuring stick for gauging practical handgun accuracy and stopping power.
The three stances discussed in this guide gained prominence as effective practical shooting techniques used by military, police, and practical shooting competitors.
The Isosceles stance is intuitive in concept and in execution. Both arms are held straight out, creating an isosceles triangle when the stance is viewed from above. This creates a symmetrical firing platform for aiming, firing, and managing recoil.
The Isosceles stance is simple, easily repeatable, and it absorbs recoil in an effective, linear fashion. It gained prominence in the 1980s due to its effectiveness in International Practical Shooting Confederation competitions when it began to rival and outperform the long-favored Weaver stance.
Instead of an offset boxer’s stance, the Isosceles stance uses even placement of the feet, shoulder-width apart, with a slight bend in the knees. The hips and shoulders should be square with the target with a slight bend forward at the waist with both shoulders forward of the belt buckle.
The firing hand should raise the gun to eye-level while centering the gun under the dominant eye. The support hand should stabilize the firing hand to fill the “void” around the grip and frame not secured by the firing hand. To manage recoil, maintain locked arm and grip positions and lean forward at the waist to keep the shoulders in front of the belt buckle.
The Isosceles stance has steadily displaced the Weaver stance as the predominant Modern handgun technique for military, police, and personal defense. Most qualified shooting instructors teach marksmanship using the isosceles stance, and the ever-evolving science of shooting largely revolves around isosceles stance.
The Weaver stance represents the emergence of the “Modern technique” of practical pistol shooting. The Modern technique distinguishes itself from point shooting by using a two-handed grip to bring the pistol to eye level for accurate and fast fire from the draw. First gaining popularity in the 1950’s, it became the prominent handgun technique until the Isosceles stance began displacing it in the 1980s and 1990s.
Developed by LA County Deputy Sheriff Jack Weaver and popularized by Jeff Cooper, the Weaver stance uses a two-handed technique to draw a handgun’s sights to eye level for fast, accurate fire. Using a boxer’s offset footing, hip, and shoulder position, the Weaver stance uses a two-handed “push-pull” firing and support grip to manage felt recoil.
Assume a boxer’s stance with the shooting side foot dropped back and the non-shooting foot in the forward position. Both shoulders conform to the boxer’s stance with the strong arm behind the weak arm.
Use a standard grip with the support hand wrapped around the firing hand (not under). With the firing hand extended and handgun aimed, press out with the firing hand into the support hand.
The support hand should be wrapped around the firing hand to stabilize it with a pulling force. The support hand elbow should be bent and facing straight down into the ground.
When aiming, both hands should raise the sights to eye level; avoid cocking the head to match the level of the sights. Targets are tracked by aiming with the arms, rotating the hips, and adjusting the positions of the feet.
Weight should be centered above the forward-position foot, and the rear foot can be raised and pivoted to balance, initiate turns, and dampen recoil.
While the Weaver Stance has fallen out of immediate favor, there is still merit to its study and employment. Unlike the Isosceles Stance, the Weaver Stance can be employed while seated in a vehicle. The Weaver Stance can also take advantage of corners, concealment, and cover in ways the Isosceles Stance cannot.
Sometimes referred to as “instinctive shooting”, Point Shooting utilizes a one-handed firing grip to direct fire in a quick, accurate manner without the reliance of sights.
Designed strictly for close-combat confrontations, point shooting relies heavily upon muscle memory and hand-eye coordination developed through continuous practice and weapon familiarity.
Assume a boxer’s stance with shooting side foot dropped back with the non-shooting side foot in a forward position. There should be a slight bend in both knees and a slight bend at the waist with forward leaning of the upper torso and shoulders.
The shooting hand is held under the center of the body with a slight bend at the elbow. To shooter then raises the barrel of the gun to eye level pointing at the intended target and pulling the trigger once the natural point of aim has been acquired.
To track targets, the shooter turns at the waist with their upper body position locked. The muzzle of the gun should follow the eyes of the shooter.
While the debate between aimed fire using sights and point shooting has been documented as early as 1835, point shooting established itself as the predominant style of close combat handgun training for military and police. Point shooting only fell out of favor with the rise of the “Modern Technique” popularized shortly after World War 2.
Use What Works
While discussions of stance can often become dogmatic, the “best” combination of grip and stance is whichever combination provides maximum control of the gun under recoil.
While the evolution of handgun technique continues to progress, many useful ideas and techniques can be drawn from “older” types of shooting stances.
For example, as antiquated as Point Shooting might seem, many Point Shooting principles are still used in low-light situations where a natural point of aim is more useful than non-visible sights. As efficient and inuitive as the Isosceles stance might be, its grip technique cannot be employed when seated in a vehicle. As mentioned earlier, the largely displaced Weaver grip continues to function as intended even when seated in cramped quarters and aiming at odd angles.
Each combination of stance and grip will perform differently, and certain stances might be more efficient or more accessible than others. Each handgun stance create a distinct firing position, and it should be useful to understand how each firing position facilitates accurate fire and recoil management.
While the evolution of handgun technique has identified effective standards and tactics, the best shooting stance might be different for each person.