Man showing proper pistol hand grip in action

Your Guide to Shooting Stances and Proper Shooting Grip

Using the right shooting stance, along with proper shooting grip directly impacts your speed of engagement, accuracy, and precision with your firearm. From off-hand shooting to squaring up with a traditional weaver-style grip, how you hold your weapon changes both the trajectory of your bullet and your ability to control and manage recoil. We’re not talking about the legendary Hollywood bullet-curving action of James McAvoy and Angelina Jolie! Rather, we’re talking about the pistol grip techniques that put your body and the self-defense tool in your hand in the necessary alignment to aim, fire, and reliably hit your target.

The Physics of Firing a Gun

Your firearm is a tool designed to initiate and control a chemical reaction that creates a small explosion that has its force channeled to push a projectile down the barrel of the gun, spinning it along the way for improved accuracy, all to deliver the projectile to your aiming point in the distance while the gun itself cycles the action, reloading the chamber and storing the physical force needed to begin the next chemical reaction in a series of springs, levers, and catches.

In short, there’s a lot going on.

Your shooting stance and a proper shooting grip helps to physically manage the forces unleashed every time you pull the trigger while keeping you ready to do it again and again in a life-threatening situation. Pistol grip techniques are designed to create reliable precision for shot-after-shot placement, absorb and mitigate the recoil forces of being a launching platform for a projectile traveling faster than the speed of sound, and enhance the safety of you and anyone around you. Training yourself to use the right shooting stances and grips is part of using your weapon more effectively.

Why You Need More Than One Shooting Grip in Your Skillset

When most shooters visit the range, they work on perfecting their technique using textbook stances and grips that deliver consistent results. That’s how you work on safety, precision, and accuracy, the basic shooting skills that should always be the foundation of your firearms training. Unfortunately, real-world defensive situations don’t always offer the same predictable environment found at the range or situations that are constructed to allow for optimal shooting conditions.

Tactical situations are dynamic, filled with uncertainty, and prone to quickly evolving conditions that require speedy and decisive action. Training for these conditions requires pushing yourself outside your comfort zone and into territories you wouldn’t normally explore, including safely firing your weapon with an alternative proper shooting grip, working on your off-hand shooting prowess, or varying the angle and elevation of your body or weapon to simulate challenges you might face in a defensive encounter.

Popular Shooting Stances

Weaver Stance

Demonstration of weaver shooting stance

The Weaver stance may be the most well-known and widest-trained shooting stance for modern pistols. The feet are placed in a “fighter’s stance” about shoulders’ width apart, with the support-side foot leading and the knees flexed to keep your legs active and ready for movement. Leaning slightly forward, the dominant gun arm is held toward the target with the elbow flexed slightly, while the non-gun arm’s elbow is bent downward, allowing the support hand to overlap the gun hand from below. 

This stance primes the body to absorb recoil and control muzzle-flip while allowing for easier movement laterally, toward, or away from the target. It’s easily modified to fit shooters of all shapes and sizes, allows you to drop to a crouched or kneeling position, and effectively use support-side cover. As far as many law enforcement, military, and self-defense trainers are concerned, this is the proper shooting grip for most shooting situations.

Chapman Stance

Demonstration of Chapman shooting stance

Before you complain that the Chapman is just a modified Weaver stance…we know. It’s also one of the most commonly used pistol grip technique modifications because it corrects so many different issues an individual shooter runs into without creating new ones, so it earned a spot of its own. The primary differences between the two are a slight shortening of the distance between the legs and the straightening of the gun arm to fully lock the elbow. These changes move your weapon closer to the centerline of your body while altering how the recoil is absorbed and redirected.

The Chapman Stance is often used by those with cross-dominant vision, where the support side eye is dominant, requiring the shooter to move their head across the weapon’s rear to line up a shot. It’s also useful for those with a more limited range of motion in their upper body, more upper body to work with than the Weaver stance can accommodate, or who have limited upper body strength. The more centered pistol allows for more head and body position flexibility, while the locked arm feeds the recoil back and through your shoulder directly instead of relying as heavily on arm muscles, allowing even smaller shooters to manage magnum loads.

Power Point Stance

Demonstration of power point shooting stance

The Power Point Stance is a one-handed pistol grip technique that works well for both dominant and off-hand shooting. Like the Weaver Stance, the feet and legs are positioned like those of a fighter, and then a slight forward lean is used to prime the body for recoil absorption. The shooting hand is pushed toward the target, locking the elbow for reliable energy transfer in a straight line to the shoulder, and the off-hand is kept out of the way, preferably close to the chest for protection and to help flex and stabilize your shoulder muscles. It allows for easy movement and the use of cover, but without a support hand, accuracy and precision may suffer.

This may be one of the most important pistol grip techniques that rarely gets trained. You don’t have to be an action movie star to hurt your hand. Shop accidents, slips and falls, or even just sleeping on it wrong can leave you with an injured hand when you need to defend yourself. A proper shooting grip that only requires one hand and can be easily used for off-hand shooting is an important skill to master for unpredictable situations.

Isosceles Stance

Demonstration of isosceles shooting stance

The Isosceles Stance is stable, fast, and works well for most body types. The target is faced squarely, feet shoulder-width apart and knees locked, while the gun is held in a hand-over-hand grip straight out in front of the shooter with the elbows locked. To improve your ability to move and absorb recoil, the support-side foot can be moved back about nine inches and the knees bent slightly. The gun’s more upright and head-up center positioning allows for quicker reactions and a wider field of view, but the square, rigid stance may give you a larger silhouette in a defense situation.

Like the Chapman Stance, the centered weapon of the Isosceles gives larger-bodied individuals and those with cross-dominant vision a stable firing platform that’s more comfortable than some other proper shooting grips allow. It also more evenly distributed recoil between the shoulders, but the half-step back variation will be needed to make heavier loads more comfortable.

Single-Hand Weapon Retention Stance  

Demonstration of a single hand weapon retention stance

This popular defensive stance is for point-blank range defensive situations that don’t allow for creating a sight picture, such as when being rushed or surprised by an attacker. Your legs should be in a reversed fighter’s stance with your gun-side foot behind the support foot. Your gun is held close to the body just above navel height, elbow bent and in tight, protecting and securing the weapon. Your non-shooting hand needs to remain high, tucked in close to your chest to tighten your shoulder muscles, keep it out of harm’s way, and prepare it for defensive maneuvers to protect your head. Another proper pistol grip that can be used with either hand, it should never be used if your target is beyond “pointing” range.

This shooting stance is designed purely for non-optimal conditions requiring immediate force deployment to prevent loss of life. Along with the Power Point Stance, it should be trained by every shooter interested in personal carry and self-defense for both dominant and off-hand shooting.

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