This shooting platform was much favored by Theodore Roosevelt, but it is necessary to understand that while TR was one of the greatest men America ever produced, he was not much of a marksman. Among other things, he could not see very well.

This may be irrelevant, but for whatever reason, I have never favored the kneeling position. It was my poorest stage in target shooting, and I have never killed anything or anyone from it. It is, however, a standard training exercise and one with which the rifleman should be familiar.

Jeff Cooper, The Art of the Rifle

The above passage from Jeff Cooper’s book gives me comfort since I’m not very good at the kneeling position, either.

I much prefer the sitting or squatting positions since they both provide much more stability for me. Still, kneeling is the easiest way to “get down” when the time comes.

Kneeling is a moderately stable position. It’s better than standing but not as good as other options. In kneeling, only one elbow will be supported, so you must focus on keeping the unsupported elbow steady.

The position is quick to get in and out of, which increases your mobility. That’s nice when you’re in a hurry.

Squatting provides a slightly better level of stability for me, due to supporting both elbows, but the narrower stance causes problems for other people. With the wind blowing, I have more trouble maintaining a stable rifle in kneeling. I’m sure a lot of that is my own lack of technique, though.

The Textbook Kneeling Position

A USMC competitor in the 4th Marine Division Annual Rifle Squad Competition, conducts an Unknown Distance course of fire from the kneeling position
A USMC competitor in the 4th Marine Division Annual Rifle Squad Competition, conducts an Unknown Distance course of fire from the kneeling position at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Anchorage, Alaska. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Samantha Schwoch

The basic unsupported kneeling position has two variations: high and low, but both start the same way.

  • Face the target with feet about shoulder width apart
  • While keeping the support side foot flat on the ground, bend the firing side knee and lower yourself to the ground
  • Ensure the firing side knee is about 45 degrees offset from the heel of the support side foot and the legs form a 90 degree “L” shape
  • Place the firing side heel under the meaty portion of the glutes and sit on it
  • The firing side toes are either curled under or flat against the ground (I’ll get to this)
  • Lean forward and hook the flat of the support side elbow in front of the support side knee, keep the elbow under the rifle as much as possible
  • The rifle, supporting hand, supporting elbow, supporting knee, and supporting foot should form one vertical plane

This is TC 3-22.9’s diagram depicting the position.

TC 3-22.9 depiction of the unsupported kneeling position

Elbow Support

Make sure that you put the pointy portion of your elbow forward of the kneecap. The knee itself should be making contact with the meaty portion of your tricep muscle behind the elbow. This offers much more stability since you don’t have two hard round bones trying to balance on one another.

Think about trying to balance one bowling ball on top of another one. Your elbow and knee will behave the same way, and that’s bad for marksmanship.

Foot Position

Not shown in this diagram is what to do with the firing side foot. The variations of high kneeling and low kneeling refer to the placement of this foot.

A high kneel means digging the toes of the foot into the ground and sitting on the rear of the heel. You have the option of either putting the top of the foot down, laces toward the dirt, or flexing the toes up under you and using the tread of the boot.

Both the pictures below are from fairly early in my marksmanship journey. I had some ankle flexibility issues that have since been worked out through physical therapy, which is why I’m so high up. Still, you get the idea I’m trying to illustrate.

Whichever method you choose will probably be related to your own flexibility and the strength of your footwear.

When I’m wearing boots, I tend to go with the laces down method. It uses the stiffness of the boot sole and shank to support my weight. If wearing running shoes or other light footwear, I’ll probably flex toes up.

You can increase the comfort and stability of the high kneeling position by placing something under the ankle. In my case, a shooter’s rear bag works perfectly.

Kneeling position with ankle supported by a shooting bag
Kneeling position with the ankle supported by a shooting bag

Low Kneeling Position

The low kneeling position involves laying the foot flat on the ground and sitting on it.

The shooter has the option to straighten the foot and place it flat on the ground, thereby sitting on the bottom of the heel, or turning the foot sideways and sitting on the inside arch.

This position works better for those who have ankle mobility issues, or perhaps need a bit more elevation in the natural point of aim. You should experiment with all variations of high and low in order to determine what suits your body mechanics best.

low kneeling position with foot flat on the ground
An example of low kneeling position foot flat on the ground. A downside of the position I have taken in this photo is that the angle of the foot. With it rotated this way, I will rock back and forth on it. The foot should be straight behind.

Other Notes

One topic of discussion is placement of the heel under the butt. Some folks advocate for placing it right down the middle. Others rest it on the meaty portion of the shooting side cheek. I say do what works best for you and gives you the most stability.

Something else to keep in mind with the kneeling position is the bend in the support side knee.

Ideally, you want the shin bone perpendicular to the ground. With the length of my legs and arms, I tend to “crowd” the position and bring my support side foot much closer to my body. This makes me more unstable.

Also, your legs should form a 90-degree angle from one another. In the picture below, you’ll notice that my knees are too close together.

The supporting side knee is also not straight up and down due to my crowding it. These two factors together contribute a lot to my issues with the position.

Things to work on, I suppose.

Kneeling position with crowding
Note the angle of the left knee, and how much closer the left foot is to the body. This is unstable and contributes to my difficulty with the wind. Try and place that left foot further away from the body and keep the shin perpendicular to the ground. Also, note that the right leg is not at a 90-degree angle to the left leg, this stance is too narrow and also adds to instability.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Developing a good kneeling position is all about practice.

Practice not only the position itself, but quickly dropping into it from standing, while walking, or even running. The primary benefit of kneeling is its speed of providing stability while retaining mobility. If you have time to get even lower to prone, then you should do that. But terrain and time don’t always allow for it.

The following video comes from USMC primary marksmanship instruction and provides a great introduction to traditional kneeling.

Alternate Kneeling Positions

Like the other positions in this series, there are variations on tradition.

Each of the following alternate kneeling positions serves a different purpose. Sometimes it comes down to available support or cover. Others factors might be terrain or time. They are all worth practicing once you have the fundamentals down.

Reverse Kneeling Position

The reverse kneeling means to put the support side knee on the ground and use the firing side knee for support. There are two times I’ve seen this get used.

Supported Kneeling

In this position, you set the rifle on an object and use the firing side knee to brace the firing side shoulder. By doing this, you create more points of contact to support the rifle and control recoil.

I’ve had great success shooting off of concrete benches and making quick hits at 400-500 yards with the supported kneeling position and a 4x scope.

Realize, however, that the position may be improvised and you never know what kind of object you’re going to have in front of you. I have seen some shooters drop the firing side elbow off to the side and rest the rifle stock directly on the knee. Along with a very low and forward lean, this enables you to use a low object for support.

Again, practice as much as you can.

Kneeling Behind Cover

At one tactical training course I attended in 2017, the instructor advocated using the reverse kneeling when shooting out of the right side of cover. 

The reason is that if you are hit and become a casualty, your body will fall down the path of least resistance. If your right knee is the one propped up, then you are more likely to fall back behind cover rather than out of it. 

Of course, that’s the theory and I don’t have any plans on getting shot to find out.

Technically, the same would apply to using the traditional kneeling when shooting out the left side of cover. Whichever side you are shooting out of, use that knee for support.

Kneeling Sniper Cradle

This is related to the seated sniper cradle mentioned in the article on sitting positions. However, instead of sitting, this one is done from the kneeling.

In short, you bend the support arm fully and rest it on top of the knee. The rifle rests in the crook of the elbow.

The old Army FM 3-22.10 describes how to get into this position.

Kneeling position sniper cradle
  • Place the body at a 45-degree angle to the target.
  • Kneel and place the right knee on the ground
  • Keep the left leg as perpendicular to the ground as possible; sit back on the right heel, placing it as directly under the spinal column as possible. A variation is to turn the toe inward and sit squarely on the right foot.
  • Grasp the small of the stock of the weapon with the firing hand, and cradle the fore-end of the weapon in a crook formed with the left arm.
  • Place the butt of the weapon in the pocket of the shoulder, then place the meaty underside of the left elbow on top of the left knee.
  • Reach under the weapon with the left hand, and lightly grasp the firing arm.
  • Relax forward and into the support position, using the left shoulder as a contact point. This reduces transmission of the pulse beat into the sight picture.
  • Lean against a tree, building, or vehicle for body support.

Dynamic Kneeling Positions

I’ll put these here because they are worth seeing, but I’m not sure how much they offer.

I came across a video put out by RecoilTV talking about kneeling positions. The instructor came from SIG Academy and the positions are what he describes as high, medium, and low.

The difference is that his “high” is very high and closer to standing. I usually see this style kneeling with pistols, not rifles.

His “medium” is closer to the traditional kneeling, and his “low” is something I’ve never seen before in person.

Kyle Lamb describes something similar to the video’s low position, but he calls it the Stretch Kneeling Position. He suggests rotating the rifle a bit to touch the magazine against the inside of the forearm. This provides another point of contact and a bit more stability.

Practical Reality

You need to practice your kneeling positions, just as you should practice your other rifle positions. Realize that when you get outside of the flat range, things aren’t as perfect.

the jungle walk terrain
This photo is from the training facility with the jungle walk. As you dodged to cover on the sides of the path, the terrain doesn’t allow a good solid kneeling position

I attended a training course out in the woods of West Virginia. The facility had tactical ranges set up as jungle walks. You patrolled forward down a path and came into contact with pop-up targets. You needed to react to contact and take cover.

The trick was that the lane was in the woods. There was no nice flat ground to get a solid position on. The dirt was soft, tree roots made it uneven, and rocks would kill your knees if you weren’t wearing pads.

The reality is that you need to practice the positions enough so that even when the conditions aren’t ideal, you can still make it work. Steady hold factors are still the steady hold factors. If you master all of them on the range, then you will still do pretty well when you’re missing one or two.

Wrapping Up

The kneeling position is, by far, my weakest of the “get lower” rifle positions. It’s not anything specifically wrong with the position itself, though. It’s about my own body mechanics and lack of technique. 

Despite that, the kneeling position is much more common in real-world use than either sitting or squatting. When I attended that training course with the jungle walk, kneeling was the only one that provided the required speed. Sitting took to long to get in to or out of on an assault, and squatting didn’t work with my gear setup.

Even if you don’t do great with it, spending time practicing the kneeling position is absolutely necessary.

Matt

Matt

Matt is the primary author and owner of The Everyday Marksman. He's former military officer turned professional tech sector trainer. He's a lifelong learner, passionate outdoorsman, and steadfast supporter of firearms culture.

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