Before I get going, this above quote comes from Pete’s excellent book, Gun Digest Shooter’s Guide to Rifle Marksmanship. If you’re looking for a great place to start, I definitely recommend this one.
Not long into my marksmanship journey, I was competing in a local two-gun match in Montana. About half of the competitors as well as myself came from the local Air Force Base. The other half drove in from about a 100-mile radius. I remember one particular stage with a target set about 400 meters away. The grass was too tall to get a sight picture from prone, and there weren’t any items to use as support nearby.
Most shooters dropped to a knee and shot from a kneeling position, or maybe sitting if they had long enough torsos. I took a different approach.
Once I reached the firing position, I dropped directly down into a squat. With both feet planted flat on the ground and both elbows supported, I landed the shot in far less time than the guys who knelt or sat. Several of the younger shooters had never seen the position before, and the older range masters nodded in approval.
I didn’t win that day, but I walked away with a little pride in knowing I helped others learn a little bit.
Background of the Squatting Position
The squatting position, otherwise known as “Rice Paddy Prone,” isn’t as common as it once was. It is a moderate stability position that supports both elbows, making it more stable than kneeling yet keeping a high level of mobility. Its higher center of gravity will still be less stable than sitting or prone, though.
Personally, I’ve found this to be one of my favorites. Regular practice with it has also had an unexpected benefit to my flexibility, so bonus points there.
The squat was a traditionally taught marksmanship position until some time after the Korean conflict. It’s been left out of military marksmanship manuals for a long time ever since. Civilian trainers and books about big game hunting kept it alive through the decades, though.
The position returned in the 2016 edition of TC 3-22.9.
I asked Ash Hess, the senior author of TC-3-22.9, why the position disappeared and came back. He relayed that it fell out of favor following Vietnam and faded from memory since we moved on to different styles of warfare.
Squatting returned to the manuals in 2016 after experiences in the swampy terrain of the Arghandab Valley in Afghanistan (pictured). There were similar experiences in the river valleys of Iraq.
Squatting is very quick to drop into and get out of, depending on your personal mobility. Unfortunately, as we’ve found with several Marksman Challenges and postal matches, many people today are not able to use this position without difficulty. It requires a good bit of flexibility and muscle endurance to use it effectively.
How to Squat
Here are the basic steps to attaining the position:
- Face the target
- Place the feet shoulder-width apart [Matt’s Note: I find I need to be slightly wider than this]
- Squat down as far as possible, try to keep the heels on the ground
- Place the flats of both triceps on the inside of the knees
- Place the stock high in the shoulder pocket
TC 3-22.9 notes that you can increase stability a bit by rotating the rifle slightly until the magazine presses against the inside of the forearm.
Here is the diagram from the training circular.
In the photos that follow, I circled my supporting elbow with red to highlight a key thing to look for. The meaty portion of your tricep should be on the inside of the knee, not resting in front of or on top of the knee.
Squatting Position Limitations
Kyle Lamb, in Green Eyes Black Rifles, points out that the squat is an excellent position for hunting big game in a marshy environment. It’s fast to drop into, but it also has a limited arc of engagement.
In other words, it is more difficult to adjust your point of aim left to right. The squat works best for single targets in front of you.
Jeff Cooper, in The Art of the Rifle, as well as Pete Lessler quoted at the start, both caution about heavy recoiling rifles. The somewhat narrow base and higher center of gravity mean reduced recoil control. If you plan on using heavy recoiling rifles, common dangerous game hunting, then widen your stance a bit before dropping into the position.
Squatting Position and Mobility Concerns
The position is very similar to something as the “Asian Squat.”
It is also known as the “Indigenous People’s Stretch” in fitness circles.
The defining feature of this style squat is that your heels remain on the ground. When most American’s squat down, we balance up on the balls of the feet. That kind of instability isn’t going to work for marksmanship.
For most people, the biggest limitations comes from flexibility and joint health. More specifically, lack of flexibility in the hip, ankles, and lower back will make it very difficult to attain, hold, and balance the position. Bad knees certainly don’t help, either.
Luckily, you can work these areas on through an effective strength and flexibility program. The video below is long, at around 22 minutes, but it’s a great breakdown of ankle flexibility and how you can improve it.
Some takeaways from this video for improving your squat:
- Stretching and foam rolling are key
- Hold a goblet squat stretch and lean side to side
- Kneel down and put a plate under the forward toe, stretching out over it
If your problem is hip mobility, here’s another video from the same series showing how to work on it.
Lastly, if you would rather look for a book to help explain all of this, I highly recommend Becoming a Supple Leopard by Dr. Kelley Starret.
Limitations with Load Bearing Gear
The squatting position becomes more difficult depending on my gear.
If I’m wearing a battle belt or load bearing harness, tall objects in the front tend to get in the way. One solution is to “hike up” the belt just before dropping into position, but that isn’t ideal under time pressure.
A chest rig that rides nice and high works great for the squatting position, though.
Putting it Together
The squatting position is worth the time and practice.
For a long time, it was my best position when not in the prone. I found that my scores were often better than sitting, and significantly better than kneeling. It is eye-catching as well since you rarely see anyone at the range using it.
having both elbows supported definitely adds a lot of additional stability, but there’s no getting around the physicality of it. Whether it works for you or not, it’s always nice to have another position in the toolbox.
I may need to get a copy of that book, Becoming a Supple Leopard by Dr. Kelley Starret.
Oh yeah, it’s a great one. Highly recommended.
Lack of flexibility and stretch in the calf muscles and Achilles tendons
are mostly what keep us from getting our heels down and feet flat on the ground. Spending time attempting the position will get that stuff slowly stretched out.
Oh yeah, there’s no substitute for actually practicing something.
It’s funny in a way, because I got better at squatting like this due to practicing marksmanship. But when I would be working out, people assumed I was just more flexible than them and specifically trained for the flat foot squat.