There are several components to shooting accurately, including sight picture, stance, grip, trigger pull, and even breath management. Because people have been shooting firearms for hundreds of years, there is no shortage of techniques recommended to improve a shooter’s marksmanship. This article will focus on some of the more popular theories about stance. One theme common in each style described here is that there are variations from shooter to shooter. But before I get into that, allow me to introduce the stances I’ve chosen to discuss in this article: Isosceles, Weaver, Modified Weaver (also called Chapman), and Natural.
History: The origin of this stance isn’t well known because it has been practiced for so long. However, it was popularized through its use by professional competition shooters Rob Leatham and Brian Enos of IPSC and USPSA success, as they rose to fame in the 80’s and 90’s.
Configuration: One of the most common styles of stance is called the isosceles. In this stance, the shooter stands with feet aligned, toes pointed toward the target, about shoulder width apart, and the arms are fully extended. Some variations involve incorporating bends in the knees and arms (with elbows pointed downward).
Theory/Advantages: One of the arguments for adopting an isosceles stance is that it allows the shooter to use their innate accuracy to quickly aim the firearm by “pointing” it. This allows a shooter to aim without extra consideration for eye or hand dominance. The bent-knee isosceles variant also lowers the shooter’s center of gravity, which increases the stability of their stance.
Disadvantages: Squaring off against one’s target may be beneficial for target shooting accuracy, but with regard to self defense application, standing with one’s chest directly facing the attacker presents said assailant with a wider target (i.e., the victim’s full torso). Another potential downside of the isosceles stance is in the reduced balance from front-to-back, due to how it positions the shooter’s feet in a horizontal line. Some argue that this instability weakens a shooter’s ability to manage recoil as it pushes backward into the shooter.
History: This stance is generally attributed to an origin during the 1950’s as developed by Los Angeles County Deputy Sheriff Jack Weaver during his time on the LA County Sheriff’s pistol team. Since then, it has been popularized by many famous shooters, including firearms instructor Jeff Cooper, as taught at his firearms training institution, Gunsite, founded in 1976.
Configuration: When using a Weaver stance, the shooter faces the target at an angle with their feet diagonal to each other, shoulder width apart, and toes facing forward. The non-dominant leg is positioned forward of the dominant leg, with the shooter’s weight balanced between rear and front legs (an adage associated with this shooting style is “nose over toes,” which helps to ensure that the shooter isn’t leaning backward). The arms are bent with the firing arm slightly straighter than the support arm, and the elbows of both arms pointed downward. The shooting hand “pushes” forward, while the support hand “pulls” back, strengthening the shooter’s front-to-rear grip on the pistol.
Theory/Advantages: By angling one’s body at a target, the shooter presents a smaller silhouette for their attacker, and as such this stance is commonly recommended by many self defense shooting instructors. Also, by staggering the position of the shooter’s feet, they have stability on both front-to-back and side-to-side planes.
Disadvantages: One of the most notable disadvantages to the Weaver stance is for cross-dominant shooters. For those whose dominant eye is opposite their dominant hand (e.g., left eye/right hand dominant, as is the case with this author), the shooter must crane their head near their dominant hand shoulder in order to align the sights with their dominant eye. It is somewhat more awkward and more challenging to get consistent sight alignment.
Modified Weaver (or Chapman)
History: This style was pioneered by another California competition shooter, Ray Chapman. Its use spread through Chapman’s instruction in his own firearms training institution, the Chapman Academy of Practical Shooting, founded in 1979.
Configuration: The Modified Weaver, as one might expect, greatly resembles the Weaver stance. In fact, the only difference is the positioning of the arms. With the Modified Weaver, the shooting arm is fully extended, with the support arm bent (elbow pointed downward).
Theory/Advantages: The difference between the Weaver and Modified Weaver addresses the issue for cross dominance by allowing the shooter to use their shooting arm as a “stock” by forming a cheek weld on their upper arm, which allows for improved sight alignment for cross-dominant shooters. There is also an argument that having the firing arm extended allows the shooter to resist the force of recoil better and the bent support arm allows for improved aim stability when using the push/pull grip component of the stance than either the “both arms bent” approach of the Weaver, or the “both arms straight” approach of the Isosceles.
Disadvantages: There are some who disagree with the upper arm cheek weld solution for cross dominant shooters. Their argument is generally that the need for the shooter to adjust their head over their firing shoulder adds undue stress to the shooter’s neck muscles, and any time the body is forced in an unnatural position, aim can be impaired, stability decreased, and the shooter fatigues quicker when shooting for long periods of time.
History: This style goes by several other names, including “Tactical,” or “Fighting” stance. It’s a newer development taught by such instructors as Brannon LeBouef of Nolatac Firearms Training.
Configuration: The natural stance is just as it sounds. The shooter positions themselves in what ever way feels most natural and stable to them. This style of shooting stance is broad and may include variations of the aforementioned stances.
Theory/Advantages: When a shooter adopts a stance in shooting practice that comes naturally to them, they won’t have to think about aligning their body “properly” if they find themselves shooting in a self defense situation. Another reason espoused by the Natural stance school of thought is that an “ideal” shooting stance is subjective. A position that may work well for one shooter may not apply universally to other shooters.
Disadvantages: Because the Natural stance is more of a stance “theory” than a specific technique, the variations can differ greatly.
This introduction to shooting stance theories doesn’t discuss all possible stances and all of their respective advantages and disadvantages, but hopefully it provides some insight to finding what the “right stance” is for you. But, when evaluating different stances to adopt, you may want to consider the shooting application. Stances that work well for target shooters generally configure the shooter’s body in a manner that allows them to maintain a fine degree of control over the aim of their firearm, and may or may not also take into account the shooter’s overall stability when shooting standing as well as on the move. A target shooter’s ideal stance may also differ on the style of target shooting (such as, bullseye shooting, USPSA/IPSC, or just some good ol’ plinking).
One of the instructors previously mentioned, Brannon LeBouef, brought up an excellent point to contemplate with regard to stance during a recent discussion about firearms training. How does one effect the “proper stance” in a self defense situation? With an infinite number of potential circumstances that could force a concealed carrier to draw their firearm, how can one stance apply universally? Brannon argues that it is not possible. Say for example, a stranger rushes you, and you start to run as you attempt to identify whether or not the threat merits deadly force, which then forces you to draw on the move. Or, an assailant knocks you to the ground, and you have just enough time to draw while still lying on the pavement before they jump on you with a knife in hand. In these situations, it would be difficult, and possibly even dangerous, to take extra time to configure one’s body in what may be deemed a “proper” stance. Arguably, the ideal stance at that moment is what allows the victim to survive the attack.
With so many options and unique styles of shooting, any shooter has a wide host of options to try out on the firing lanes. Practitioners of the shooting sports may have varying motivations for their firearms training, whether inspired to hone their precision, or perhaps with the goal of preparing in case they find themselves in a life-threatening situation. Some stances are better suited than others, depending on the shooting application. What shooting stance works best for you?