When trying to predict the position you'll be in when you have to use a handgun to save your life, the only sure bet is that it will be a bad one. If you can line up your sights between your eyes and the target, you'll be fortunate because that's the way most of us train. If not, you're going to need a lot of luck—unless you've practiced from unconventional positions.
Like all shooting, you get better by doing, but when shooting from awkward positions sometimes your body parts are forward of the muzzle. This can be a problem because humans are accident-prone and mistakes happen. Shooting from strange positions is a good place to exercise the crawl-walk-run approach. I like the creep-crawl-walk-run method better. By creeping I mean start with a training firearm like an AirSoft gun or a Blue Gun from Ring's Manufacturing. Use either until you are confident you can draw, present and shoot from whatever freaky position you're working on without endangering body parts or bystanders.
The keys to accurate shooting are proper sight alignment and trigger control. When shooting from contorted positions, the best sight in a lot of circumstances can be a handgun-mounted laser. With a laser, the sight is projected onto the target, eliminating the need to place the gun between your eyes and the threat.
I was discussing lasers with Dave Biggers, product specialist at XS Sight Systems. Biggers—an excellent instructor who has completed more handgun training courses than anyone I know—brought up another laser attribute. "A laser allows you to see the path of your bullet before you ever press the trigger," he said. However, lasers may not be visible in bright conditions and can give away your location if proper discipline is not exercised.
The best way to begin any new-to-you training is under the tutelage of a skilled instructor. If you're working from unconventional positions, here are some things to keep in mind, gleaned from training with and talking to some of the most respected instructors I know.
Sitting Down "Bad situations can occur at any time, so you must have the ability to react effectively regardless of your body position," said Stay Safe Media's Michael Janich, who co-authored "Bullseys Don't Shoot Back" with Col. Rex Applegate. "Drawing from a seated position is a necessary and potentially lifesaving skill that all serious shooters should practice."
Shooting forward while seated is not hard. But shooting to your weak side when you cannot fully turn your body 90 degrees can be tough. With a two-handed hold, the gun's iron sights will be closer to your eyes, making them less efficient. Practice shooting with your weak hand; if you're using iron sights, it's the best solution to this problem.
If your handgun has a laser, keep it close to your body and use both hands. Tilt a semi-auto pistol slightly away from your body so the slide doesn't recoil into you or snag on clothing. With a revolver, make sure body parts are not adjacent to the gap between the cylinder and forcing cone.
If you are shooting to your strong side and can't rotate your body in that direction because of your surroundings or because you're on a fast-food diet, fully extend your strong arm and shoot one-handed. You may find it easier to tilt or cant the handgun away from your body slightly. With a laser, keep the gun close with both hands, again being aware of the recoiling slide or cylinder gap.
Since you can't rotate your torso 180 degrees, shooting behind you while seated is a one-handed affair. The temptation is to keep the handgun upright, but the first time you try this you'll see it's difficult. Try turning the handgun on its side or even upside down. This makes it easier to get your head in position behind the sights or to see the laser on the target.
"While shooting to the rear might seem like a trick-shooting fantasy from an old wild west [movie], there is actually a tactical advantage to it," said Wes Doss, president of training group Khyber Interactive Associates and training director of Crimson Trace. "Imagine quickly moving down a narrow corridor with a bad guy hot on your tail, intent on killing you. Do you stop and turn, consuming time while he continues to close, or could you plant [your feet] and bend at the waist engaging the target from an inverted position?"
It takes even more time to turn around when you are seated because the chair or bench you're sitting on gets in the way. The arms or back of a chair may prevent you from being able to fully rotate your body. The quickest way to get off a shot, with practice, is shooting behind you.
Handgun presentation may be the most challenging aspect of shooting from a seated position. Working from a folding chair on the range does not present the same difficulties as when drawing a handgun in your car, in a restaurant booth or from a wheelchair. It's also likely when drawing from a seated position you'll break a cardinal rule of gun handling: Never let the muzzle point at anything you do not wish to destroy. Unless you are drawing and shooting to your strong side, the muzzle will probably cross your lap.
On the range most instructors teach clearing the holster and circling your body with the muzzle of the handgun pointed down. This works and is safe, but it's a range-expedient solution to a tactical problem that enables instructors to work with groups of shooters while keeping guns from being pointed at others. Try it in your sub-compact, and a big round thing called a steering wheel will get in the way.
The tactical solution is to draw the handgun, bring the muzzle parallel to the ground while keeping the gun close to your body, and then rotate toward the threat. Don't try this on a range that only permits shooting in one direction, or the safety officer will ask you to leave. If you do not have access to a multi-directional range, it's time to incorporate an AirSoft gun in training.
Lying Back You may have to shoot from your bed, from prone behind the couch or from your back after being knocked to the ground. If you're on your back and the threat is at your feet, some instructors teach pulling up your legs so you can hide behind them while you shoot. This somewhat protects your vital organs and gives you a cocked striking instrument.
"If you find yourself on the ground in a close-quarters battle, you need to be prepared ...to create distance and possibly ward off attack," said Doss. "Your arms should be busy controlling the weapon, making your legs the best choice... " I like this technique, but to be a conditioned response it must be practiced. It's another instance where you can cross a body part with the muzzle of the handgun during your presentation. To be safe, first draw the handgun and point it at the target. Then pull your legs behind your wrists, and keep the handgun forward of your retracted legs.
If you're on your back and the handgun is holstered, rolling to your weak side will make it easier to draw. When the threat is off to either side, you're back to one-handed shooting, unless you can roll to your side and shoot with both arms extended. If the threat is at your head end, tilt your head back, extend your arms and shoot with the handgun inverted.
"If you are using the sights, at close distances the weapon won't know whether it's on its side or upside down," explained Tiger McKee, director of the Shootrite Firearms Academy. Still, this can be difficult for heavy or muscular shooters and is another instance where a laser can simplify the problem.
At Bad-Breath Distances My grandpa called handguns in .22, .25 or .32 calibers "two-hand guns." He didn't mean you held the gun with two hands, he meant you held the bad guy with one hand and shot him with the other. His com-ments were based on his notion that short-barreled guns were inaccurate, but when the threat is close, holding an attacker at arm's length with one hand while the other controls your gun is not a bad idea.
"Your non-gun hand must be an integral part of your close-range shooting technique," said Janich. "It's what keeps you alive while the other half of your body is going for the gun."
The idea of sticking a gun in the face of danger is commonly portrayed in movies because of the perceived intimidation. It is intimidating, but in reality it's a good way to get relieved of your weapon.
If a bad guy gets hold of you or is on top of you, you may be tempted to poke the muzzle into him and pull the trigger. Contact wounds can be ugly things, but you can also push a semi-auto's slide slightly out of battery and prevent the gun from firing. Keep the muzzle back, away from the threat.
When the threat is within arm's reach, pull the handgun close, just below your breast on your strong side and extend your weak hand toward the threat to help fend off a physical attack. This sets up the possibility you might put a bullet through the back of your hand and is another good reason to train with an AirSoft gun. Alternatively, keep your weak hand back at your chest, palm forward and ready to strike.
Close-quarters shooting like this is unsighted fire and requires a good deal of practice to perfect—even with a laser. "People need to keep in mind that if the fight is this close, they may not have the time or distance needed to even see the laser," said McKee. "For situations like this we teach a retention firing position, so you are actually aiming by indexing your body."
On the Move Shooting on the move might be the most unconventional position of all, because a prerequisite to accurate shooting is a solid foundation and solid foundations don't typically move. Still, with a bit of practice you can get good hits while moving forward, backward or to either side. If you're being attacked, you should create distance and find cover or at least concealment as soon as possible. This might require movement in any direction. Without some judicious practice, any shooting you do while moving will be nothing more than suppressive fire. Your situation or ammunition supply might not permit this, so focus on getting hits, not demonstrating how poor of a marksman you are.
A large, highly visible front sight and especially a laser can be an asset when shooting on the move. Both allow you to aim quickly, and concentrate more on moving and pulling the trigger. This is one reason Biggers is fond of saying, "Friends don't let friends carry target sights!" He works for XS Sight Systems, which manufacturers the Big Dot front sight, but his tag line has merit. With a laser, you can keep the handgun in a position that allows your peripheral vision to better assess your surroundings so you don't trip and fall.
When moving forward or backward, bend slightly at the knees so they will act like shock absorbers and move in sort of a crouch. When moving from side to side, never cross your legs. Sidestep, but don't bounce.
If you're shooting with fixed sights, maintain an isosceles stance regardless of the direction in which you move. There are techniques for shooting when moving very fast, but depending on the situation, it may be better to just move quickly to cover and not worry about shooting while en route.
With the exception of safety and tactical concerns, shooting from weird positions is really no different than shooting when standing erect. It's often getting the gun out and subsequently manipulating the firearm that complicates things.
As a side note, it's always important to identify your target. Many of the positions discussed dictate one-handed shooting, and while that may sound like a bad thing, it frees up your other hand to run a flashlight. When you are smooth at drawing and shooting from unconventional positions, introduce a flashlight and darkness into the mix, and start all over.