Thursday, February 27, 2014
Find Your Optimum Shooting Stance
One of the great debates in modern pistolcraft is what stance should a person use.
By “stance,” I mean how one stands while shooting a handgun at a target. I have studied this issue for more than 30 years, entering the study with no preconceived notion of what is best, and have come up with what I believe is a reasonable and effective way of making this choice.
UNDERSTANDING THE TERMS
The hand one primarily grasps the handgun with; the dominant hand.
The hand other than the strong hand; the non-dominant hand.
The stronger of the two eyes, usually the same side as the dominant hand, but not always.
The weaker of the two eyes, usually opposite the dominant hand, but not always.
When a shooter has a dominant right hand and a dominant left eye, or vice-versa.
Get a Grip!
THUMBS FORWARD GRIP: A method of gripping the gun which requires the shooter to cock his weak wrist forward toward the target and then wrap his fingers around his strong hand, while digging the weak hand pad of the thumb into the grip of the handgun for recoil control and stability of the handgun.
Additionally, the thumbs point forward (toward the target), with no overlap.
I believe for this article, it would be prudent for me to actually write as if I were teaching a group of people about grip and stance, as if I were teaching a class, instead of writing directly toward an instructor audience. It will make more sense. So with that out of the way, let’s talk grip and stances, and why one grip and stance might be more effective than another.
Human beings have some instincts which if utilized, make shooting a handgun very easy. The first instinct is clenching the fist. We do this in anger or under stress, when holding onto an object like a stick, or in order to hold on to a recoiling pistol.
So, taking advantage of the “fist instinct,” if you simply make a fist around the handle of the gun and take into account proper finger placement on the trigger (as discussed by Tom Givens in the last issue) then your grip on the handgun will be correct.
THUMBS LOCKED DOWN GRIP: A method of gripping the handgun which allows the shooter to take a natural hold around the gun with the shooting hand (as if making a fist), along with the weak hand reinforcing the strong hand grip by allowing the weak hand thumb to lock down over the strong hand thumb, and fingers of the weak hand wrapping around into the grooves between the fingers of the strong hand.
Ever since the handgun was first invented, this type of one-handed grip has been used with great success. Now, if you want to steady the handgun and control the recoil even more, you would reinforce the strong hand grip with the weak hand.
Alternatively, you could use the thumbs forward grip, grasping the gun the same basic way but resting your thumb alongside the frame or slide rather than curling it down into a fist.
One of the big problems with this is that it doesn’t by itself allow for very good one-handed rapid fire shooting. Without the use of the opposable thumb, the gun dances around in the hand. To rectify this, the weak hand is used to stabilize the gun, using the base of the weak hand thumb to press into the side of the handgun grip. In fact, I have seen some shooters who use this grip put skateboard tape on the gun at this point, to increase the effect of the left hand.
Either grip, thumbs curled or thumbs forward, will work just fine, with some exceptions. The first set of exceptions deals with the thumbs locked down grip. If a person using the thumbs locked down grip has very large hands with a small gun, the strong hand thumb might interfere with the shooter pulling the trigger. Conversely, if the shooter has very small hands and a large gun, they may not be able to comfortably reinforce the grip with their weak hand. If the shooter is wearing gloves (like SWAT teams and military special operations teams do), that might also interfere with locking both thumbs down. In all of these cases, the thumbs forward grip might be the best choice.
The second set of exceptions deals with the thumbs forward grip. The thumbs forward grip does not control recoil as well as the thumbs locked down grip, especially when shooting one handed.
So when shooting a hard kicking handgun, the thumbs down grip is likely preferred. Further, if you must use the gun to strike with (or if you get in a struggle over control of the gun), it makes more sense to make a natural fist and curl the thumbs down to hang on to the gun.
Additionally, the thumbs forward grip doesn’t work well with sub-compact guns because the weak-hand fingers are often too close to the muzzle, or to the cylinder gap if using a revolver. Finally, when using the thumbs forward grip the shooter is likely to push down the slide release/slide lock button, so the slide doesn’t lock back after the last shot.
So, there are your choices as far as grip goes. I would recommend you try both, and settle on the one which makes the most sense for you after taking these variables into consideration.
Weaver vs. Isosceles: A History Lesson
WEAVER STANCE: The shooter stands slightly bladed in a classic “boxer’s stance” and pushes the gun toward the target using the strong hand, while at the same time pulling back the gun hand with the weak hand.
Back in the 1970s, the state of the art in combat handgun training was the point-shoulder isosceles stance, where cops using large revolvers found their greatest success standing square to the target, sticking the gun out fully, arms locked, with both arms and shoulders forming an isosceles triangle. Loads used were light kicking .38 Special wadcutters or standard 158 gr. round nose bullets. Full power loads were saved for duty use as they kicked more and were more expensive.
But when Jack Weaver, Jeff Cooper and the other guys from the Southwest Combat Pistol League started competing in Leatherslap competitions (later forming IPSC), the stance of choice for these men became the stance Jack Weaver first used in competition, a bladed stance with both elbows bent, which Cooper named the Weaver Stance. It worked very well when using 1911 handguns, although Weaver himself continued to use a K-38 revolver.
ISOSCELES STANCE: The shooter grasps the gun with two hands, extending the arms straight out toward the target with the two arms and the shoulders forming an isosceles triangle.
Primarily due to the overwhelming success in competition, the Weaver stance gained overwhelming popularity through the 1980s and into the 90s, replacing the point-shoulder isosceles stance. But, primarily due to the shift to high capacity, large framed semi-auto pistols in the late 90s to the present, the isosceles stance has again made a resurgence.
What is lost to most students and instructors in this discipline (and the underlying premise of this article) is the theory that in each of these cases, the hand size of the shooter as it related to type of gun used, ultimately dictated the stance which became most popular.
When the cops were shooting large frame revolvers, the gun fit their hand in an offset grip, and thus the eye, rear sight, front sight and target naturally lined up when using the isosceles stance, resulting in success when sighting the gun.
But, when the boys from Southern California started shooting with their 1911s, the guns naturally fit their hands in an in-line grip, especially since their 1911s were all outfitted with the standard short military trigger. The in-line grip naturally worked well with the bladed Weaver stance. In addition, these explorers of the Modern Technique of the pistol all used full power handguns, which recoiled quite a bit more than the old .38s the cops had been using. The dynamic push-pull of the Weaver stance helped control this recoil.
Then, when the guns of IPSC turned into high capacity, fat-bodied guns using compensators to manage the recoil, the shooters were able to go back to the isosceles stance. Additionally, because most IPSC competitions involved moving into, shooting and moving out of shooting boxes, they found the isosceles stance allowed for a quicker transition. When the guns of IPSC all started sporting scopes instead of iron sights, the shooters started bending their elbows to get the scope down in front of their eyes.
Thus, the current modern isosceles stance (as taught by many, many shooting schools and instructors) evolved from the type of gun being used. It is also no coincidence that most people who advocate this type of stance also shoot light kicking 9mm handguns.
There are also a couple of other considerations. One very important part of the equation is eye dominance. If you are cross dominant, and have an offset grip as previously described, then the isosceles stance is absolutely the stance for you. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.
If you are not cross dominant, and have an in-line grip, then the Weaver stance will be much more intuitive, as you simply can use your natural pointing instinct to point your strong arm and gun at the target, and the sights will naturally be lined up for you. But, if you are cross dominant and have a gun that fits your hand in an in-line grip, you have a little more work to do. In this instance, I would first suggest using a fatter gun, which sets up an offset grip, and then use the isosceles stance.
If you just can’t part with your 1911, then consider going to the thumbs forward grip, because one of the advantages of that grip is that the weak hand, when used to support the side of the gun, also tends to bring the muzzle back in line with the centerline of the body. The disadvantage is that if you shoot one handed, you loose this crutch. But it is probably still the best option.
…shoot a lot, and dry fire even more using this stance, until this optimum stance becomes your “default stance,” the stance you naturally go to when you draw your handgun.
Another option for cross dominant shooters is to tilt the gun slightly to bring the sights in front of your dominant eye, which will also result in a shift of point of impact of the bullets.
Finally, I would suggest that you experiment and develop you own unique stance, conditioned upon hand size, grip size and eye dominance. You may not be pure Weaver, or pure isosceles, but instead, some bridge or hybrid between the two stances. Play with these concepts to the extent that when you bring the gun up to eye level, there is no fiddling around with the gun to find the sights. Then, shoot a lot, and dry fire even more using this stance, until this optimum stance becomes your “default stance,” the stance you naturally go to when you draw your handgun.
Finding your optimum shooting stance is the first step in successful low light shooting, because once you find your optimum shooting stance, seeing the sights (at least in close up encounters), becomes irrelevant. We will discuss this when we discuss low light shooting.
“…experiment and develop you own unique stance, conditioned upon hand size, grip size and eye dominance” when shooting targets, while also dry fire practicing the unconventional grip and aiming scenarios which may occur in a real emergency situation.
Wednesday, February 26, 2014
The Second Habit of Highly Effective Shooters....
Your grip is your connection to your weapon system. Without a good grip, your weapon will go to the path of least resistance and your shots will fly aimlessly off its mark. Most novice shooters will grip their gun by copying what they’ve seen in pictures or movies, but there’s a better way! Don’t follow Hollywood, think outside the box – hell, ACT outside the box and you’ll tighten up those ugly shot groups in no time!
The most important part about griping your gun correctly is selecting a gun that fits your hand. Guns are built to a variety of specifications and so are your hands. It’s a good idea to start off with something that fits your hand rather than try to adjust your grip to fit a gun. Head out to your favorite Gun Mart before your purchase a gun to see how it feels in your hand. Some guns these days have different grips or back-straps you can change out for a better fit, so check to see if these are available. The gun should fit comfortably in your hand with the forearm of your firing hand in a direct line behind the pistol and your trigger finger should be able to reach the trigger without dragging along the side of the gun. We’ve all heard the saying, “If the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit.” When it comes to guns, “If the gun doesn’t fit, you’re not going to hit.”
Now that you’ve selected the right piece of equipment, let’s talk about how to control that explosion going off in your hands. When you grip the gun, make sure that the forearm of your strong hand is in line with pistol. Just like I talked about in the First Habit of Highly Effective Shooters, it’s important to have as much of your body behind the gun as possible to control recoil, and it starts here with a pistol. Your hand needs to be as high up the gun as possible. In a perfect world you would have your hand directly behind the barrel, but guns have moving parts up there making this impossible. Keeping this in mind, your hand should be high enough on the grip so the webbing of your hand is compressed on the beaver-tail. Wrap your hand around the gun and make sure your trigger finger is not riding along the side of the grip as this can pull the gun off target as you press back on the trigger. Don’t get caught up on placing your trigger finger in a certain spot on the trigger. Everyone’s hands are built differently and what works well for a paper shooter on a one-way range may not work for you when you hear the snap of rounds whizzing past your pineapple. Just make sure you’re able to press the trigger straight back while keeping your sights on target.
If you’re using a two-handed technique (and I suggest you do whenever possible), the support or reaction hand should be placed with the palm of the hand filling the space on the grip left by the strong hand. To do this your support hand should be angled down at about a 45-degree angle. Some people teach a 60/40 grip for how hard you should be gripping the gun. I teach a 100/100 grip since that’s what you’re going to do in combat and it’s best to think about how you’re going to drop the threat rather than how hard you’re squeezing the gun. Both your thumbs should be pointing forward. I’ve found that the more things you have pointed at your target, the better chance you have at hitting it.
The grip for the firing hand of a carbine is the same as a pistol. The gun is controlled with support hand, leaving the strong hand to concentrate on fire-control. Before I talk about the forward grip of the carbine, I need to talk about accessories such as lights or lasers. Before you start tricking out your bang-stick with cool-guy gear, make sure you can shoot it accurately. Take it out to the range and establish a solid shooting position and note where your forward hand grips the gun. Now look at the open space you have available…this is where you need to mount accessories. I see a lot of guys on the range saying they can’t grip the gun properly because something is in the way. Don’t let the tail wag the dog! You need to be able to shoot effectively first or that cool new light is not going to do you any good.
Now that we’ve cleared the playing field, grip your gun as far out on the gun as possible. I ask my students; if you were going to nail a 2×4 to a wall and only had two nails, where would you put the nails to give you the most support? The answer is always the same, as far apart as possible. If you want to support your gun, you need to do the same thing. There are a number of different ways to grip the gun, but it’s important that some part of your hand is above the level of the barrel. The recoil of the gun is going to kick the gun up. If you’re trying to hold the gun from underneath it’s going to bounce out of your hand every time. For the same reason it’s important that you take that hinge-point (elbow) out of the equation. Most people I see on the range shoot with the support elbow directly beneath the gun giving the weapon a perfect hinge to move around. By simply rotating the arm out to the side, you eliminate the hinge and are better able to drive the gun. As with the pistol I like to point anything I can at the target. In this case, depending on your grip, you can either point your thumb or your index finger.
Get a Grip!
If you didn’t want to read all the fine-print above, make sure you write this stuff down in your range book:
Select a gun that fits your hand.
Establish your grip from the holster.
Get your forearm in a direct line behind the gun.
Get your hand as high as possible of the gun.
Squeeze the gun with both hands…hard.
Put your finger where it fits and press straight back.
Point everything you can at your target.
Remove hinge points.