When faced with a potential deadly threat, your handgun belongs in your hand, not in your holster, and it’s important to learn how to “stage” your pistol or revolver for fast deployment should a threat escalate to the point where you need to use deadly force. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of some commonly taught ready positions, an examination that will help you make an informed decision as to which technique is most appropriate in a given situation.
One technique I’ve used quite often over the years is to draw my handgun and position it behind my leg. This covert ready position allows you to have your gun in the hand while maintaining a low-key demeanor. In fact, there’s nothing to suggest that any of the subjects I have confronted using this technique had any idea I was holding a gun.
I learned this behind-the-leg ready position in the police academy and have used it during many traffic stops when, for whatever reason, I had an uneasy feeling when approaching a vehicle. For the armed citizen, this technique would come in handy when answering an unexpected knock at the door in the middle of the night. If the person turns out to be a threat, you’re ready; if not, the person on the other side of the door will be none the wiser.
As they say, you don’t get something for nothing. In this case, keeping your gun out of sight makes it more difficult and therefore slower to get on target than many of the other ready positions. Even so, starting with your gun behind your leg is easier and faster than drawing from a holster.
When using this or any other ready position, it’s vitally important that you orient the muzzle in a safe direction and that your finger remains indexed along the frame of the gun and well out of the trigger guard to eliminate the possibility of an accidental discharge. With this particular technique, be sure that the muzzle of your gun is not pointing at the back of your leg—or at the leg of anyone standing next to you.
The behind-the-leg ready position certainly has its place, but sometimes being discreet is overrated. Maybe you want a potential adversary to see that you’re armed and know you mean business. In such case, your best bet may be to start with the traditional Low Ready position.
In Low Ready, your arms are extended, and the muzzle is depressed so your gun is not pointed directly at the person you’re dealing with. From this position, you can verbally challenge the subject in attempt to gain compliance or, depending on his actions, raise your gun to eye level and place your sights on target.
Proponents of traditional Low Ready appreciate the fact it does not require you to point your gun at a person whom you have not made a conscious decision to shoot. This position displays your gun prominently, which may help dissuade a potential adversary from attacking.
Detractors complain the traditional Low Ready position is too fatiguing to use for extended periods, is not conducive to maneuvering in close quarters and is unnecessarily slow when it comes to getting the gun on target. These perceived shortcomings have led to the widespread use of several other techniques.
One position many prefer to the traditional Low Ready involves depressing the muzzle just enough to provide an unobstructed view of the potential adversary’s hands and waist. Why the hands and the waist? Because you need to see whether the threat has a weapon in his hand or concealed in his waistband, which is the most likely spot.
The presumed advantage of this position over traditional Low Ready is it requires significantly less movement to achieve a sighted-fire position. However, this modified Low Ready position is not without controversy because here the gun will be pointed at someone you haven’t yet determined is a deadly threat. This is a clear violation of one of the late Col. Jeff Cooper’s cardinal rules of gun safety: Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy.
Of course, the same argument is often made regarding weapon-mounted lights and even handheld flashlight techniques in which the light and gun are held together. One thing is certain: With any technique that may involve the muzzle of your gun covering someone you’re not willing to shoot, you’d better make sure your finger is not on the trigger until you’ve made a conscious decision to fire.
Another popular technique that also requires your gun be pointed at the person you’re facing is sometimes referred to as Compressed Ready. To envision this technique, think of drawing your arms in from an eye level position, with your elbows tight to your body and your forearms in contact with your chest. Compressed Ready affords you the ability to fire as you punch out and achieve a sighted fire position. It is also advantageous from a weapon-retention standpoint because the closer the gun is to your body, the more leverage you have to retain it.
A technique similar to Compressed Ready is what I call Neutral Ready. In this position, your arms are extended farther out and your muzzle is oriented slightly upward (above a potential adversary’s head in most cases). Neutral Ready enables you to achieve an unobstructed view of your surroundings while seeing your gun in your peripheral vision. In addition, since the muzzle is oriented upward, you can start to acquire the front sight as you extend your arms to fire.
It does have drawbacks. Depending on the angle of your muzzle, you may in fact be inadvertently pointing your gun at the subject. Another concern is as you start to elevate the muzzle you become more susceptible to being disarmed and/or taken to the ground by an assailant who grabs the bottom portion of your gun.
While designed to safeguard your handgun from an attempted disarm, the close-quarter hold also enables you to perform tasks such as opening doors and moving objects with your free hand while maintaining a viable close range shooting platform.
Since this technique requires you to have only one hand on the gun, your other hand can be used to fend incoming strikes or shove an assailant away to create distance.
The close-quarter hold requires your elbow to be cocked as high as possible, with the heel of your hand indexed against your pectoral muscle. Since the close-quarter hold positions your gun well below eye level, you won’t be able to use your gun’s sights if you need to fire from the position. The consistent index of your gun to your body, coupled with proper body alignment (hips, knees, shoulders square to the threat), is what allows you to aim your gun from the close-quarter hold.
Be sure to cant the gun slightly outward to prevent the slide from snagging on your clothing, which could induce a malfunction. Because you’re raising your elbow as high as possible for optimal retention, your muzzle will be oriented slightly downward. Therefore, when firing from the close-quarter hold, your rounds will impact relatively low on the target.
Two of the most controversial ready positions involve you orienting the muzzle vertically. One is known as sul, which means “south” in Portuguese and refers to the direction of your muzzle.
To achieve sul, place your free hand against your chest, with your thumb oriented upward, then place your gun along the back of your free hand and join your thumbs. Raise the little finger of your free hand slightly to lift the muzzle of your gun to ensure it’s not pointed at your feet.
Sul enables you to compress your muzzle considerably more than even traditional Low Ready and is popular with tactical teams, where team members are often required to move in close proximity to one another and other noncombatants. This technique is comfortable enough to be maintained for an extended length of time and is somewhat inconspicuous. But not everyone is a fan of sul.
Some instructors point out that sul places the wrist of your gun hand at a compromised angle. While it’s true this technique offers little in the way of weapon retention, simply rotating the muzzle toward the threat enables you to achieve Compressed Ready, which is ideally suited for weapon retention.
There’s no question that High Ready gets a bad rap. Sometimes referred to as “Hollywood Ready,” directors love this technique because it places the gun next to the actor’s face, which makes for a more dramatic scene.
High Ready is achieved by orienting the muzzle upward, with the top of the slide facing the side of your head. Extend your thumb and bring the gun in until your thumb touches your head. From there, extend the gun out slightly. High Ready can be employed with one or both hands on the gun.
As a proponent of sul, I was admittedly skeptical of High Ready until I attended an officer survival course at the U.S. Training Center. During three days of intense training, I realized High Ready position had merit.
An obvious use for High Ready would be when you’re upstairs in a two-story residence. In such a case, sul could endanger occupants downstairs. But another significant advantage to High Ready is that it enables you to more easily reload your handgun or clear malfunctions while on the move.
The major drawback to High Ready is it leaves you vulnerable to being disarmed because an adversary attacking from an upward angle would have an extreme leverage advantage.
Most people equate handgun skill with shooting ability. While delivering combat effective hits on target is undeniably important during a deadly force encounter, proper weapon handling—including the use of an appropriate ready position—can give you a much-needed edge by enabling you to safely stage your gun. Such preparation eliminates the need for a hurried draw stroke in response to a deadly threat.