The Power of One
September 24, 2010
Here's how to develop handgunning's most underappreciated and perhaps most useful skill: one-handed shooting.
When I first started working on this article, I was reminded of the progression Bruce Lee talked about regarding his fighting style: "When I began, I had no technique. Then technique became everything. Now, I have no technique."
When we started IPSC way back when, we didn't have any style for one-handed shooting. Well, we did, but the two options were both bad: bullseye and the FBI. Eventually we had to learn the subject all over again.
Let's start off by getting one thing straight: There is almost no wrong way to do shoot one-handed. Some methods are better than others, and some ways are better for you than they are for others.
If someone tells you "This is the only way to do it," then he or she is probably really saying either "This is the best way for me" or "This is the only way I know how to do it." I'm not being harsh nor dissing anyone's technique, but I truly believe there is no one best way that works for everyone in every situation.
Why shoot one-handed, when decades of competition and defensive shooting have amply demonstrated the superiority of a two-handed hold? Simple. Sometimes you just won't have both hands available. You might be wounded. You might be holding onto something (or someone) and can't let go. Plus, you might need a hand to fend off an attack (see "Close Quarter Combat" elsewhere in this issue). And you might, as a few people I know, not have the use of one hand due to injury.
And for the purposes of this article, I am not the least bit concerned with "weak hand/strong hand" or any other descriptor. We're talking simply of using but a single hand to hold, aim and fire a handgun.
There is one part of this that is absolute, and that is how you grasp your handgun. You want your hand as high as possible, and if it is a semiauto, you want the web of your hand wedged up as hard as you can against the tang.
When developing this skill, the first thing to do is forget about the traditional bullseye shooting position, as seen up and down the line at places like Camp Perry. The stance is immobile, and it does not concern itself with the effects of recoil. In bullseye, you're standing upright, letting your skeleton bear the weight of your body, and locking your joints. Your shooting hand is relatively soft, to be as consistent as possible, and your nonfiring hand is deep in the trouser pocket on that side.
To keep mobile as you need to be in a defensive or combat situation, you have to keep a less rigid stance. To maintain control of the handgun, in recoil and movement, you need a firmer grip. The two questions you'll have to explore and decide for yourself are: Do I keep the pistol upright, and which foot do I have forward?
Some shooters advocate an upright hold, others an angled hold. If you hold a handgun out in front of you and rotate your arm slightly inward, you'll find a point where your hand and arm are much stronger. We aren't talking of the "gangsta" sideways hold but a tilt of 10 degrees or so.
Stronger is stronger, but as with all things, strength comes at a price. Your brain can process the image of a pair of sights upright and level a lot faster and more precisely than it can the same picture tilted slightly.
So the stronger hold costs you sight alignment time and precision. Is it worth it? Only you can tell.
Some shooters shoot one-handed with the same-side foot forward. Others shoot off-side foot forward; they simply position their feet as if they were shooting two-handed, and then let go with the off hand.
Which is for you? Again, we have a tradeoff. The same-side foot is a dynamic alignment. That is, you are moving your entire body along the line to the target. The slight (or not so slight) movement and body alignment create a funneling-to-the-target effect. That effect is both mental and physical.
The other-side foot forward stance squares up your body, which creates a stronger hold and also squares your body armor (if any) to the threat. It also blends well with your rifle or shotgun practice, where you're squaring up to the target (we hope, anyway) and thus keeping your practice sessions reinforcing each other. Again, however, you trade one thing to get another. Same-side is quicker and more natural, while other-side is stronger and gets your body armor into play.
Oh, and in either case you're going to have your off hand held up to your chest. It's not, as the FBI so quaintly put it a few decades ago, to "stop incoming bullets from striking your heart" but because just letting it dangle throws your balance off. Unless you are carrying something, you're better off bringing the arm in.
Also, you do not shoot "instinctively." You use the sights. You might be looking through them, or just over them, or aiming the gun itself, Jim Cirillo style, but you are definitely getting the gun up.
At this point, at least a few of you are asking "Yes, yes, I get it, but which one is for me?" And the answer is simple: Whatever works. What works for me might not work for you. And no single technique is going to work all the time. You may just have to go with what you've got when you need it. You may not have a choice in foot position. So practice, time and record.
First of all, we need a standard to measure by. I check my stance and performance at seven yards and record the time for five or six elapsed shots, all of which must remain within the A zone of a USPSA target.
I start with my arm extended and sights just below the A zone. On the buzzer (you are going to have to time and score for this to work) I bring the pistol up and fire the shots. Record the time, see the hits, repeat at a faster pace.
The idea is to work faster until I throw a shot or shots out of the A zone, then slow down. That's the speed I can maintain. What is that speed? It doesn't matter. You want to internalize that speed, that pace, and use it as your reference for future practice or tests.
For me, same-side foot forward is faster. Since my days of wearing body armor are in the past, I'm not so worried about getting squared to the threat. Also, I find having the handgun upright to be faster. The stronger hold of a slightly angled handgun is more than offset for me by the less-precise sight a
Shooting one-handed on the move is difficult and takes a ton of training, but it's a vital skill for the defensive handgunner or competitor.
You should be leaning into the handgun slightly, but you aren't lunging as if you are running your attacker or target through with a sword. Too much forward lean is both tactically unsound and less effective as a shooting technique. Again, practice and a timer will let you know how much is enough and how much is too much.
(If you were learning all this for match use, you'd add an extra detail: finding your natural point of aim. To do that, practice your drills with occasional stops to lower the pistol, close your eyes and then bring the pistol back up. Once it is back up, open your eyes. If you find that the sights are to the right or left of the target, adjust your feet until they are centered.)
All this is pretty basic. Well, it is pretty basic if you're a competition shooter looking to move up in class or a serious defensive shooter who expects to have the necessary skills. But there are advanced details to practice.
For instance, when you need that handgun you've been packing all these years, will you have a choice in foot position? Probably not. So once you've determined which is best for you, as I outlined above, practice the other. In fact, practice in all directions--not shooting in all directions but shooting while standing at various angles in relation to the target. And once you've done that, dig into a technique taught by Dave Harrington. Move at odd angles, shooting one-handed. (To practice this, you'll have to have a range to yourself--and an understanding rangemaster.)
Once you've figured out what it takes to engage the target from various angles, with your feet in any old stance you happen to be in, work on shooting on the move.
Have you ever seen the movie "Romancing the Stone"? In one scene, the character played by Danny DeVito is fleeing the bad guys. He shoots backwards at them, while running, by simply sticking his handgun up over his shoulder and pulling the trigger. Obviously that's not a technique you want to emulate, but you do have to figure out a method of both moving both away and off the line of force while aiming and shooting effectively. That pretty much means shooting one-handed.
For those who learn quickly, or are easily bored, you can try your hand at graduate-level work: one-handed, on the move, on plate racks. If you can mow down a rack of plates, in order, one shot each, on the move and one-handed, you can probably start thinking of heading to the nationals.
But just remember that through all your practice your No. 1 goal in practice is to get hits. Not just because your ammo supply is limited, your time is limited and the bad guys usually don't scare much, but because you're legally and morally responsible for each bullet you launch. So make sure you get your hits. There is a bonus to all this practice. When you go back to standing still, using both hands, and facing your target directly, it will seem so easy you'll wonder how you ever missed.