Apart fromJeff Cooper, “The Art of the Rifle”
sportshooting in the Alps, I do not see the standing position as practical. If one has time to shoot slow-fire, one has time to acquire a stable position. I have used the standing position but once in the field…
The standing position is simultaneously the least useful, from a marksmanship perspective, but the most used of the rifle positions. It’s the one you see most at any tactical class, shooting range, or a day out plinking. Just because it’s the least useful, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t practice it. In fact, you should practice it a lot.
There are several variations on the standing position. The one you choose is highly dependent on the circumstances of the shot. Is this a shot taken in CMP-style competition, where stability is more important, or is it taken in a defensive or USPSA style manner in which speed is the priority?
Army TC 3-22.9 has this to say,
This position should be used for closer targets or when
timeis not available to assume a steadier position such as short-rangeemployment. The upper body should be leaned slightly forward to aid in recoil management.
Variations of the Standing Position
When we talk about the standing position, I’m going to use it interchangeably with the offhand position, though Jeff Cooper argued that they are two different things. I’ll touch on that later.
There are three primary variations of the standing position. I bucket all of the other techniques I see into one of these categories:
- Tactical— Characterized by a forward lean and aggressive stance
- Erect— Upright with the spine nearly vertical and over the center of gravity
- Target— Slight rearward lean with the supporting elbow braced against the hip to provide a rest
These offhand positions progress from fastest and least accurate to slowest and most accurate. Which one you choose depends on the circumstances.
Let’s start with the tactical stance
Tactical Standing Position
The tactical standing position is the most modern, and the one you see the most if you follow tactical trainers. It’s also the one depicted in TC 3-22.9:
This is a pretty standard position for modern rifle combat. The forward lean helps with the recoil and follow-up shots.
Pete Lessler, in his book about rifle marksmanship, called this the “trapshooter” stance, owing to its similarity to shotgun sports.
The forward-leaning “trapshooter” stance is what I favor, probably because I used to do a lot of shotgunning. Mount the rifle correctly as described earlier. Lean your body weight well forward. You will probably want to take a slight step forwards with the support side leg when assuming this position from ready. The lead leg should be bent at the knee. Face your chest about 80 degrees off the line of fire, your front foot pointed towards the target.Excerpt From: Peter Lessler. “Gun Digest Shooter’s Guide to Rifle Marksmanship.”
Elbow and Hand Position
Pete goes on to describe keeping the support arm under the rifle and raising the firing elbow to produce a pocket in the shoulder. This is always a valid technique, but the pistol grip of an AR-15 means you don’t need to raise the elbow as high. We call that “chicken
Some people see that position as a dead giveaway for a newbie, but it still has some relevance. If you’re not target shooting, just keep the elbow low and comfortable.
For the supporting hand position, you have to options: traditional and clamping
The “c-clamp” became a fashionable way to grip the rifle some years ago. With that variation, you drive the supporting hand out on the handguard as far possible and grabs the rifle from the side. The index finger of the support hand is sometimes laid parallel to the bore so that the support hand more or less “points” at the target.
This variation usually includes a very “squared” stance to the target.
The touted benefit of the “c-clamp” is that the shooter “drives” the rifle more quickly from target to target. But it’s not particularly new. There are pictures of the Rhodesians using the stance with FAL for close range combat during the Bush War.
For most people, in most circumstances, placing the support hand under the rifle works just fine.
Either way, the tactical standing position is the quickest way to get several shot off in a hurry.
The Erect Standing Position
The “Erect” position is the most traditional for hunting and sporting purposes.
The normally-erect position places the body just so. The spine is straight. The support arm is well bent, with the hand cradling, but not gripping, the rifle under the magazine, and the elbow directly under the rifle. The strong-side elbow is high to form the “pocket.” Body weight is centered between the feet, which are slightly more than shoulder width apart. This is perhaps a better position than the “trapshooter” if you may be taking more time to aim, since its lack of forward lean reduces muscle tension.Excerpt From: Peter Lessler. “Gun Digest Shooter’s Guide to Rifle Marksmanship.”
Again, you don’t need to raise the elbow high with an AR-15. With my M1 Garand or my bolt action rifle, I need to raise the elbow higher to get a solid shoulder pocket.
I have to interesting videos to share with you the subject. The first is from a late 1980’s or early 1990’s USMC recording.
The second is from WWII, and shows similar instruction with the M1 Garand.
Notice the huge difference in the elbow position. That’s the “chicken wing.”
The Head Position
Something to look out for is the position of your head. The trend in tactical shooting causes people to tuck their heads down low and set the stock deep in the shoulder. As both the military instruction videos point out, this puts a lot of strain on the neck and reduces your marksmanship potential.
Instead, the stock should be higher in the shoulder pocket, with about the top quarter above the shoulder altogether. This gives you a solid cheek weld and keeps your head erect. This position is much more relaxed and helps produce more consistent shots.
I find maintaining a relaxed neck position this way and maintaining a nose to charging handle cheek weld to be challenging. But that might just be me.
Target Standing Position
The target standing position is what you see Olympic and high power rifle competitors using. You know it by the slight rearward lean and the supporting elbow jammed closely into the torso.
Note that this is not the same kind of unsteady rearward lean you see when someone little upper body strength holds up a heavy rifle. The target rearward lean is very intentional and allows you to brace the bone of your arm against the bone of your hips to provide a stable-ish platform.
The target standing
Standing Position vs Offhand Position
Jeff Cooper described the standing position as above. It’s for target shooters looking to make an accurate shot.
Whereas the standing position is deliberate, the offhand is not.Jeff Cooper, “The Art of the Rifle”
The offhand position is built for the snapshot. Jeff describes using it to quickly take dangerous game within 15 paces. He goes on to say that the best way to practice the snapshot is to try and hit clay birds with a 30-06.
Pete Lessler has more practical advice.
From standing ready (rifle at port-arms, rifle butt at
hip, muzzle in line between eye and target), try for a fast mount with an instant line-up with the target…At 25 yards, use a target diameter of about four inches. At 50 yards, use the eight-inch smallboretarget black. Timelimit is 1.5 seconds!
Both Jeff and Pete recommend something akin to the tactical standing for this.
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Running a target transitioning drill with @milspec_mojo on @tatargets C zones. Getting reps in with a Trijicon Acog. Discussing some training considerations for a fixed power optic. I’ll be running an Acog on one of my Colts soon, and will do a YouTube video with Mojo in the near future running M9s and Acoged M4s. – #milspecmojo #acog #trijicon #m4 #usmc #civilian #performance #performanceshooting #trexarmskydex
Supported Standing Position
The supported standing position assumes you have something to rest the rifle on while you are standing. Sometimes this might actually be an obstacle you can set the rifle upon, but sometimes not.
TC 3-22.9 shows it using a wall.
The easiest way to do this is to place your supporting hand flat against the obstacle and extend your thumb into a “V” shape. Set the rifle into the “V” and hold it with the thumb.
Use of the Sling
A shooting sling is invaluable for most situations, but less so for standing. There is a hasty sling technique described in the USMC training video above, but I’ve never found it to work all that well for me.
Jeff Cooper mentions looping the sling through your belt to provide another point of contact. I see the potential, since you use the tension to steady the rifle. But I also don’t see myself walking around with a sling looped through my pants.
If I have the time to implement a hasty sling, then I probably have time to find a more steady position to begin with.
As I opened this post with, standing really is not all that practical for you outside of competition.
That said, when you need it, you need it right now. You should practice all three variations of the standing position: the tactical, erect, and target. Each provides you with different benefits for different conditions.
Do not fall into the trap of thinking that the one way you were taught is always the best way. They are all valuable tools in the box.
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.