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What's Your Shooting Stance?

Here are the real reasons why stance matters in self-defense shooting.

What's Your Shooting Stance?

A good stance provides mobility and stability. Don’t stand too upright, which hinders the ability to maintain balance or move dynamically. (Alfredo Rico photo)

If you’ve had any formal handgun training, you’ve probably been taught that stance is one of the fundamentals of marksmanship and that a proper stance along with grip, sight alignment, sight picture, trigger control, breath control and follow-through is critical to hitting your target. That’s not true.

If you don’t believe me, next time you’re at the range, experiment with different stances. Shoot from isosceles, Weaver and anything in between. Heck, stand on one leg like a flamingo. If you are adhering to the other fundamentals, you will hit your target. If you still aren’t convinced, pull up a chair and shoot while seated. Stance has nothing to do with handgun marksmanship.

This helps explain why even an expert marksman can have a pathetic shooting stance. But if marksmanship isn’t dependent on stance, surely recoil control must be, right? Wrong again.

Recoil control has nothing to do with stance and everything to do with grip. A slight upper body lean toward the target can mitigate recoil slightly, as can allowing a slight bend in the arms, but employing a high, thumbs-forward grip that exerts 360-degree inward pressure on the gun is what really matters. Recoil management is an upper-body endeavor.

So, if stance is not relevant to marksmanship or recoil control, why does it matter? Stance matters because we don’t fight standing still. At least we shouldn’t. Whether in a fistfight or a gunfight, a moving target is harder to hit, and moving can enable us to achieve a more favorable angle from which to counterattack.

A poor stance, one that’s too narrow or too deep, can hinder your ability to move dynamically, which is critically important to winning an armed encounter. This isn’t a matter of opinion but rather one of human physiology that’s evident in many popular sports.

While there are certainly nuances depending on the sport and circumstances, an athlete who must react by moving dynamically in an unknown direction will stand a certain way. Take, for instance, a baseball shortstop or a basketball defender. They stand with their feet at least shoulder-width apart, with their knees slightly flexed. They’re on the balls of their feet.

This is a stance from which they can move explosively in relation to where the ball is hit or where their opponent moves, respectively. This looks a lot like the popular isosceles shooting stance. The problem with this position is that since the feet are on roughly the same line, it does not afford the athlete any front-to-back stability. That’s fine in baseball and basketball but problematic for combative sports like boxing.

A boxer employs a more bladed stance, since standing square to the threat leaves centerline targets such as the face, solar plexus and abdomen vulnerable to attack. As such, boxers commonly have one foot behind the other. But the feet are not in line, as if walking a tightrope, because that would not provide any side-to-side stability.

In addition to promoting mobility, a good stance should provide stability from which to launch or whether a powerful blow. Boxers keep their feet at least shoulder-width apart, assuming a position vaguely reminiscent of the Weaver stance. With their feet positioned in this manner, they are relatively stable from frontal and lateral pressure.

The boxer’s weight is evenly distributed, with the heel of the rear foot slightly raised. This enables him or her to explode forward to deliver a powerful punch and acts as a shock absorber when they invariably find themselves on the receiving end of such a blow.

Standing flat-footed is never a good idea. But what does all this have to do with shooting?


Like I said, stance has nothing to do with shooting but everything to do with fighting. An armed conflict may well occur in close quarters where the winner isn’t necessarily decided by pressing the trigger. You may be grabbed, punched or attacked with a weapon. Someone may try to disarm you. A stance that provides mobility and stability will help you win the fight.

It’s possible to have such a deep stance that it’s difficult to move, but if you’re a shooter who hasn’t trained in unarmed self-defense, chances are your stance is too narrow and too shallow for gunfighting.

The often-propagated rule of thumb to align the toe of your rear foot with the midpoint of your lead foot is insufficient. This leaves you standing too upright. Explosive movement would require a preparatory step, which would slow you down and telegraph your intent. Also, with a high center of gravity, you’re like a bowling pin, easily knocked over.

You can reap the intuitive aiming benefits of the isosceles stance by keeping your knees, hips and shoulders square to the threat and still bring your dominant leg back as you would in a Weaver stance for enhanced mobility and stability.

How far back should your dominant leg be? That depends on factors such as body type, athleticism and personal preference. This isn’t a matter of applying a certain measurement to every shooter. There’s bound to be some variance, even in shooters with similar builds and capabilities. Experiment to determine what works for you.

A proper stance is something many defensive handgunners misunderstand or undervalue. If you’re training solely for marksmanship, don’t worry about stance. However, if you’re training to defend yourself or someone else with your handgun, you need to understand what constitutes a good stance and train to intuitively assume this stance in response to a threat.

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