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A Marksman’s Guide to the Sitting Position

The most useful and versatile of all positions is, in my opinion, sitting. I consider it to offer the best combination of versatility, steadiness, and quickness of the lot. With mastery of this position along with using a shooting loop sling, you can accurately place shots out to 250 yards on a saucer-sized target.

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Pete is clearly a fan of the sitting position, and I’m right there with him. So was Jeff Cooper, who stated in The Art of the Rifle that the seated position is the most useful for hunters.

Military shooters tend to use it less because it’s neither as low as prone nor fast like squatting or kneeling. That’s not to say the sitting position is never used in the military, it’s just not going to show up in regular infantry work all that much.

The sitting position is a moderate to high stability shooting position, depending on your body mechanics. You will get slightly lower than kneeling or squatting but stay above most brush and grass. Sitting is also convenient because it can be comfortably held for a long time.

We’re focusing on three primary variations on the sitting position: open leg, crossed ankle, and crossed leg. You will probably find that you perform better with one variation over the others.

Each variation has its usefulness in certain situations. For example, the crossed ankle position works best, for me, if the target is about even with my line of sight. If the target is significantly above my line of sight, I’m probably going to switch to open leg. If below, I’ll use the crossed leg.

Your flexibility and body shape are important in your position selection, but I’ll get to that.

The Open Leg Sitting Position

This is the quickest of the sitting positions to use, but I find it to be the least stable. In the beginning, I did not particularly care for the open leg position at all.

With practice, I realized that it offers the most practical adjustment for elevation changes and it can be made stable enough with good technique. However, I think most people should avoid this position in favor of others. The open leg variation is a fallback if you lack flexibility or your equipment prevents you from using a more stable variation.

It’s interesting to note that the US military used to teach the open leg as the preferred shooting position, at least through WWII. I’m not sure when the transition happened and it fell out of favor, but it might have something to do with the move to the M-16 rifle or the change in the size of the average soldier.


Let’s look at the information provided in TC 3-22.9 for the position. To adopt the Open Leg position, the shooter will:

  • Face the target at a 10 to 30-degree angle.
  • Place the feet approximately shoulder-width apart.
  • Place the nonfiring hand under the handguard.
  • Bend at the knees while breaking the fall with the firing hand. Push backward with the feet to extend the legs and place the buttocks on the ground
  • Place both the firing and nonfiring elbow inside the knees.
  • Grasp the rifle butt with the firing hand and place it into the firing shoulder pocket.
  • Grasp the pistol grip with the firing hand.
  • Lower the firing elbow to the inside of the firing knee.
  • Place the cheek firmly against the stock to obtain a firm stock weld.
  • Move nonfiring hand to a location under the handguard that provides maximum bone support and stability for the weapon.

Tips and Tricks

I mentioned that good technique helps me be more successful here. So, first off, point the toes forward as much as possible and dig the heels into the ground.

At first, I did not open my legs wide enough to provide stability. The TC calls for shoulder-width, but I require much more width in order to provide the needed steadiness.

If you are wearing normal clothes, then you may find that the stitching in the crotch of your pants will limit how far you can spread your legs. Wearing purpose-built outdoors or utility clothing with a gusseted crotch helps.

Lastly, there are some old WWII era training videos that show the open leg position with the feet extended much more to the front. The legs are only slightly bent in that fashion, and It’s a bit more stable, but it requires a lot more flexibilty.

The shooter should keep the elbows inside the knees. Remember to use the meaty portion of the tricep muscle just above the elbow for bracing.

Also, try to lean forward as much as possible. Failure to lean into the position creates instability. Both the wind and recoil of the rifle will cause you to sway.

Using this position, I’ve been able to get consistent hits on chest-sized steel targets up to 400 yards away and significantly higher than my line of sight.

A quick photo of me using the open leg position. This photo came from earlier in my training, and there are several things wrong with the position, such as a lack of forward lean.

The open leg seated position is best used when you have a bit more time to get set than kneeling or squatting, but not enough for prone or one of the other sitting positions.

Also, the open leg position will probably be the easiest position to use if you are wearing a lot of gear that interferes with leg or hip mobility.

Crossed Ankle Sitting Position

The crossed ankle position is my favorite of the sitting variations. I practice it the most, by far. I credit medaling in a 2016 EIC match to this position over my performance in prone or standing.

Both legs are out in front of the shooter, with the supporting side ankle placed on top of the firing side. This last bit is important, as it raises the front knee a bit and provides a better platform for the support elbow.

The crossed ankle position puts more of your body weight lower to the ground and helps compensate for recoil and wind.

Here is TC 3-22.9’s description of the position:

  • Face the target at a 10 to 30-degree angle.
  • Place the nonfiring hand under the handguard.
  • Bend at knees and break fall with the firing hand.
  • Push backward with feet to extend legs and place the buttocks to ground.
  • Cross the nonfiring ankle over the firing ankle.
  • Bend forward at the waist.
  • Place the nonfiring elbow on the nonfiring leg below the knee.
  • Grasp the rifle butt with the firing hand and place it into the firing shoulder pocket.
  • Grasp the pistol grip with the firing hand.
  • Lower the firing elbow to the inside of the firing knee.
  • Place the cheek firmly against the stock to obtain a firm stock weld.
  • Move the nonfiring hand to a location under the handguard that provides the maximum bone support and stability for the weapon.

Tips and Tricks

Make sure that the support elbow is under the rifle as much as possible.

One trick I’ve found is to take advantage of the little ‘hollow’ formed between the kneecap and top of your shin. The elbow nestles nicely into this little hollow and provides a nice lockup. The shooting side elbow is rested against the inside of your shooting side leg.

A good forward lean completes the position.

Like other sitting positions, the NPOA is adjusted by pivoting the buttocks on the ground for windage. I’ve found that moving my feet closer or further away helps adjust elevation, though not nearly as much as can be done with open leg sitting.

I try not to move my support hand at all but, in a pinch, you can move it forward and back on the handguard to provide some elevation adjustment as well.

When I first started experimenting with this position, I thought it was absolutely necessary to have the feet all the way out. Since then, I have found that by bringing my feet just a little bit closer, I attain a much better and more stable position for me. 

With a sling, this variation is nearly as stable as prone. This particular sitting position is fairly crowded, though, and may be difficult if you are wearing a lot of equipment or have a large belly.

My use of the crossed ankle position.

Crossed Leg Sitting Position

The crossed leg position is what most people imagine when they hear about seated positions.

Intuitively, it makes sense since nearly everyone is familiar with sitting “Indian style.” Given that, most people think placing their elbows on the knees is a natural extension.

Here is what the TC says:

  • Place the nonfiring hand under the handguard.
  • Cross the nonfiring leg over the firing leg.
  • Bend at the knees and break the fall with the firing hand.
  • Place the buttocks on the ground close to the crossed legs.
  • Bend forward at the waist.
  • Place the nonfiring elbow in the nook where the nonfiring knee bends.
  • Establish a solid buttstock position in the firing shoulder pocket.
  • Grasp the pistol grip with the firing hand.
  • Lower the firing elbow to the inside of the firing knee.
  • Place the cheek firmly against the stock to obtain a firm stock weld.
  • Place the nonfiring hand under the handguard to provide support.

Tips and Tricks

I have a difficult relationship with this position.

The combination of my long torso and arms means that I have to lean uncomfortably forward to shoot at targets in front of me or else I end up aiming too low. Your body structure might work out differently. Another method is to aggressively scoot your feet back towards your buttocks, which raises the knees slightly.

If you naturally aim high in this position, one trick is to reverse the orientation of your feet. Most right-handed shooters place the left leg on top of the right. If you reverse that and place the right on top of the left, the front knee drops and lowers the aiming point.

This is the most crowded position and you will probably see a lot of pulse jump in your sights due to constricted blood vessels. 

The best utility of this position for me is where there is little room to extend the legs or there is an object to rest the rifle on. 

Using the crossed leg sitting position. My long torso and arms mean that I have to lean very far forward and place my arms in front of my shins.

Video Review

I came across an older video of USMC primary marksmanship training. The instructor reviews each of the three traditional seated positions that I’ve talked about. I always find video to be a useful tool for learning, and I’m not up to making my own videos yet. So here you go!

These variations should be your “go to” versions.

Realize that you may not build a perfect position in the real world, but that’s why you practice.

Unconventional Sitting Positions

There are some other variations on sitting positions out there that you should be aware of. The standard seated positions I covered will serve you well for most situation. If you are shooting traditional rifle matches, those are the three allowable variations.

The unconventional variations sprung up over time for specific uses. Sometimes, like freakshow prone, they were for bending match rules.

Rocking Chair Position

I first came across the rocking chair sitting position in Kyle Lamb’s Green Eyes Black Rifles.

The rocking chair, or knee up position, starts with the standard open leg sitting position.

  • Keep the support side foot flat on the ground
  • Drop the support side leg and place the foot on top of the firing side ankle
  • Place the handguard of the rifle on the firing side of the upright knee
  • Wrap the supporting hand around the support side knee and grab the front of the rifle’s magazine or magazine well, pinning it to the side of the knee
This photo, by Sgt. John L. Carkeet IV of the 143d ESC shows a shooter using the rocking chair position. One thing to note is that this shooter is using a different variant by sitting on the shooting side foot rather than resting it on top of the support foot. Also, note that the rifle is next to the upright knee and the support hand is coming around the knee to grab the magazine well.
This works particularly well if your back is supported against an object like a tree or rucksack. 

You will probably need a sling to make this one work. You will also rock back and forth a bit with every shot, so don’t try and fight it. I would be cautious about shooting a heavy recoiling rifle this way.

Kyle Defoor has another slight variation on this one. He places the support foot on top of the firing foot, as with crossed ankle. Then he places the magazine in front of the knee and uses it to stabilize. 

Seated Sniper Cradle

The sniper cradle is rather famous. I used to think it was just a Hollywood thing since I first saw it in the movie Sniper with Tom Berenger, but I was wrong. He probably stole it from an old photo of a famous Vietnam sniper.

But its history goes even further back than that, with photos of German snipers, particularly Matthäus Hetzenauer, in WWII.

The sniper cradle is formally taught as a variation on the kneeling position, but moving it to seated is simple.

Like the rocking chair, the supporting arm will change position. Again, start with the open leg seated position.

  • Drop the firing side leg flat on the ground, bent it, and set the foot under the supporting side knee
  • Bend the supporting arm and rest it on top of the supporting knee, with the knee nestled into the underside of the elbow
  • Rest the rifle in the crook of the elbow on the top side
  • Lean into the position
  • With the supporting hand, grasp the forearm of the firing hand

This sitting position leaves a lot of the rifle hanging over the elbow. That might not work well with a heavy recoiling rifle, but who am I to argue with history? Nestling an AR-15 magazine into that elbow would probably work well, though.

Freakshow Prone

This is a unique position I’ve never really seen the point of except to show off your flexibility. I came across it in a video of Pat McNamara showing transitions between different “unconventional” positions.

It starts in the open leg seated position.

  • Extend and spread both legs out to the sides
  • Pivot forward and get as low as you can, place elbows on the ground if you can
  • If you have any flexibility left, get the bottom of the magazine on the ground as well

This position makes it very difficult to adjust your natural point of aim, so you’re going to have to get good at doing that instinctually.

I see a whole lot of things that can go wrong here, without much gain over the other positions. But hey, there it is.

Stackfoot Sitting Position

I’ve seen this one get called several names over the years. I first saw it in Kyle Lamb’s book, but it made the rounds on message boards for years.

Todd over at Art of the Rifle Blog was the first one I saw do a serious write up on the position. In short, it works.

It starts with the crossed ankle position.

  • Rotate the firing side foot until the toes are pointed skyward
  • Instead of crossing the supporting side ankle over the firing side, set the foot on top of the toes
  • Reach forward and grab the rifle handguard and toe of the support side boot with the supporting hand, joining the two
  • Use the feet to adjust the elevation

Obviously, this position has some risks. I wouldn’t attempt it with a short rifle. 

Also, like freakshow prone, you have limited ability to adjust your natural point of aim.

Wrapping Up

The sitting position offers you a lot of utility. As you can see, there are a lot of variations suited to one situation or another. Not all of these variations may work for you, though.

I encourage you to pick one or two and go practice it until you get a feel for it. Definitely start with one of the three traditional positions, since I think they offer the most utility early on. 

Remember that these are precision-oriented positions. In real world use where time is very short, you’re probably going to use something else like a squat or kneeling.

That said, do you have a favorite sitting variation?

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Matt is the primary author and owner of The Everyday Marksman. He's a 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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Oldest First
Newest First
Colorado Pete
Colorado Pete

Why thank you for leading with a quote from my book!
That cradle on top of the knee also works with both knees up, which gives your trigger side arm a place to rest, which stabilizes the shoulder where buttstock is…

Rodger Young
Rodger Young

The “famous Vietnam sniper” in the photo is LCpl Dalton Gunderson, with RTO Jerry Dunomes in the background. The photo was taken by PFC Finnell in 1966 during Operation VIRGINIA. Gunderson was assigned to K Co 3-7 Marines. He died in 2000 and is buried at Riverside.




Got a lot of value out of this article. As an Appleseed instructor, I get a LOT of students who have trouble with various flavors of the sitting position. My own lowest scores always come on the sitting stage. This pointed out some things I hadn’t thought about before. Really and truly thank you for this article! Keep it up!

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