Shooting a Handgun – Stance Matters

By  Eve Flanigan

A proper stance has you leaning into the gun, body square to the target and arms straight.

Too many YouTube videos show the effects of shooters’ insufficient support of high-recoil handguns. Unfortunately, most of those videos are of women whose mates or friends didn’t know or care enough to provide instruction on technique, and the result is a scared shooter at best or an injured one at worst.

Stance is the first of the seven fundamentals of marksmanship, and it’s one of the most misunderstood. There are schools and instructors that still teach the so-called Weaver stance or one of its many variants—shooting with the gun-side shoulder and hip angled away from the target, and the support-side elbow clearly bent. But today most instructors teach the isosceles stance, in which the shooter faces the target squarely or close to squarely, with both arms extended.


Both stances work, but in your own efforts don’t sweat the small details and instead focus on this: Good stance capitalizes on posture and joints to minimize the effects of recoil.

With philosophy out of the way, here’s an overview of the most common stance problem I’ve come to expect among female shooters, especially new ones. While men also sometimes make this error, females tend to have worse outcomes in terms of hitting the target.

Here we will assume the new shooter is using the straightforward isosceles stance. As she raises the sights to be on target, she leans waaaaay back, as if to get the gun as far away from her face as possible. This bend in the spine will soon exhaust the shooter, but more immediately, when firing multiple shots, the bullet impacts will start edging north of what she intended as this backward leaning posture doesn’t permit recoil control. The gun pushes the shooter farther back and the gun higher with each shot.

Here is what you want. Feet should be at least hip-width apart. Small-framed shooters often feel better with even wider foot placement. If moving one foot a couple inches rearward feels better, go for it. Knees should be soft, neither bent nor locked. Shoulders almost directly above the toes, and keep arms straight with wrist joints locked to the extent that the individual’s body will allow.

Equally important, there should be a distinct bend in the hip, in the direction of the target. An interesting reaction most people (yes, men too) have when they’re told to bend forward, not backward from the hip, is softening their elbow and wrist joints when they move the upper body forward. This is incorrect and likely to cause malfunctions in semiauto pistols as well as exaggerated rise of the gun during recoil.

This forward-leaning stance looks aggressive. Women’s social conditioning can make them uncomfortable with it for that reason. My best advice is to put that thought aside or treat it like an acting role—anyone can pretend to be aggressive for a little while. Proper stance protects spinal health and takes any scariness out of shooting because it minimizes felt recoil and gives you maximum control over the gun for whatever is next, especially follow-up shots.


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