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« How does one properly (re)holster a weapon? | Main | Magazine Spring Maintenance »

January 12, 2004

The 5 Main Firing Positions For Rifle

To get all you can out of using a rifle you must be familiar with the 5 main positions.

The 5 Main Firing Positions For Rifle

To get all you can out of using a rifle you must be familiar with the 5 main positions. They have been taught by our military for decades & everyone who wishes to shoot a rifle well should be knowledgeable of them. This is not a treatise on the intricacies of each position. Many people have written many volumes on the subject. I am merely trying to explain the basics.

Before we discuss the shooting positions themselves first we should look at some things common to all shooting positions:

Natural Point of Aim.

This is where the rifle is aimed when your body is completely relaxed. Hold your rifle on the target. Close your eyes for a second or two and then open your eyes again. If the sights are not on the target itís because the target is not at the natural point of aim. You are in essence fighting the tendencies of your body to hold the rifle on target. It is much better to shift your natural point of aim so it is directly on the target. This is accomplished by slightly shifting your body in the direction you wish the natural point of aim to travel. I cannot overstate how important this is.

Bone Support.

Ideally the weight of the rifle should be distributed over the bones, not the muscles. Muscles are inherently unstable for the purpose of supporting a rifle & relying on them will not help you realize your or the rifles potential.

Bone on Bone contact.

This is to be avoided in areas that directly support the rifle. Bone contacting bone allows too many vibrations to be transmitted. This will cause your aim to sway more than it should. Itís best to have a little muscle between any two bones which may contact each other, as the muscles tend to absorb the vibrations. Bone to bone contact in areas not directly supporting the rifle is acceptable & in some cases desirable, such as when one of the bones contacts the ground.

Trigger Control.

This is simply the act of operating the trigger properly. Ideally one should have the pad or first knuckle of the first finger on the trigger & use it to push the trigger back towards you. It is important to know how to operate the trigger on the firearm you are using. This comes through understand how the trigger works & then practicing with that trigger. Sudden, jerky or other such movements are to be avoided. Smooth, fluid & even movements are to be encouraged.

Breath Control.

This encompasses several things, such as controlling onesí breathing & timing the pull of the trigger to coincide with ones breathing. Breathe deeply & slowly, but not too deeply & slowly. Itíll take a little experimenting to find whatís proper for you. Youíll notice the rifleís sight moving up & down with your breathing & consequently with some practice you can control the rifleís aim with proper breathing. You can learn to time your trigger pull with your breathing & create a very consistent state for each shot you make. (For example if you inhale the rifle will be slightly above the target. As you begin to exhale start pulling the trigger gradually but smoothly increasing pressure as the rifle comes down to the target. As your lungs are almost completely empty the rifle will pass over the target at the same time the trigger breaks.) Another benefit to proper breathing is your vision. Especially with iron sights, if you notice your vision becoming blurry (the target or front sight appears fuzzier than it was a few seconds before) it is probably due to a lack of oxygen in your eyes. You can clear this up by relaxing your trigger finger & taking a few deep breaths.

Cheek Weld.

This is the positioning of your cheek on the rifle stock. Ideally you want this to be the same spot every time, as different cheek welds will affect your sight picture which will affect your accuracy.

Spot Weld.

This is similar to the cheek weld, but with the right hand thumb being contacted by the cheek as well. This is a very effective means of achieving the same cheek weld time after time, as long as your right handís grip doesnít change.


You want your muscles to be as relaxed as possible. Tension in the muscles will distort your shot, not to mention tire you out prematurely. Donít forget to relax every muscle you can as much as you can while preparing your shot.


Iíve discussed the use of the sling more in depth in another post. Basically it is an aid to accuracy that is useful in all but offhand firing. It essentially locks your arm in a stable ĎVí to give a more solid rest to your firearm than youíd have otherwise. It allows the bones of your arm to support the rifle instead of relying on the muscles of the arm.

Now on to the positions.

The positions are:

Standing or Offhand





Kneeling, Squatting & Sitting are very similar, but have enough differences to merit separate mention. In NRA High Power Matches only 3 of the positions are used Ė Standing, Sitting & Prone. I believe this is because those three positions represent the steadiest positions at their respective altitudes, but perhaps there is another reason behind this that I am unaware of.

As far as the positions are concerned, the lower to the ground you get, the steadier your aim will be. Also the lower to the ground you get, the more time is taken up getting into position relative to the other positions. But once youíre familiar with each & have practiced them a bit youíll be surprised at how quickly one can get into position.

So letís start from the top & work our way down. Iíll describe them for the right handed shooter. Lefties will have to reverse the instructions where applicable.

Standing or Offhand:

This position seems self explanatory, but the devil is in the details. The casual observer will just see a person standing up holding a rifle, but it takes a bit of concentration & practice to do it right. It is the least steady of all positions to shoot in. You have no support other than your own strength & balance & while it seems easy holding even a relatively light weight rifle up to your shoulder for any length of time it will tire you out rather quickly. But it is the quickest position to assume & is useful not only for quick shots but for shooting over objects that prevent shots from the other positions (such as waist high grass).

Do not use the sling for support in this position.

Start off by pointing the left side of your body at the target. Place your left foot slightly to the right of the target. Place both feet about shoulder width apart. Raise the rifle up to the firing position, being careful to bring the rifle to your face rather than bending your head down to the rifle. Place your left upper-arm against your body resting it against your ribs. Your left hand should support, not grip the rifle just forward of the magazine well. Hold the rifle firmly but relaxed in your right hand with your elbow almost horizontal. Snug the butt of the rifle into the pocket of your shoulder created by your right arm. The rifle should be almost but not quite parallel with the width of your body (approximately 2 to 5 degree angle). A slight rearward lean is acceptable to help balance the rifle. Establish a firm spot or cheek weld & align the sights.

You will notice some sway in this position. Itís normal & thereís no much to be done about it. The trick is learning to control the sway & fire when youíre at your steadiest.

As you inhale your spine will compress making the standing position as stable as it can be. So time your shots according to your breathing pattern.

What ideally happens is that the left arm is braced against the rib, letting the bones support the weight of the rifle. The feet & legs are balancing the weight of your body, & the spine is stiffening when you exhale thus increasing the stability of the position.


Much like the name implies, you are on one knee in this position. It is very useful should you have time to get into a position, but the terrain prevents a shot from sitting or prone. The steadiness comes from the sling making your left arm a support & your left knee grounding that support. This position can be almost (but not quite) as steady as Prone when done correctly

Use a sling for this position.

Place your left leg towards the target with your foot pointing to the right (approximately 20 to 30 degrees). Tuck your right leg underneath your butt, with the bone of the right cheek resting on the heel.

Place your left elbow just behind your left knee on the inside thigh muscle. An alternative to this is to place your elbow just forward of the knee, letting the upper triceps rest on the knee itself. Your left arm should support the rifle from almost directly underneath, & your left hand cradling the rifle a little forward of the magazine well. Your right arm should be extended away from the body & the rifle snugged into the pocket of the shoulder. Youíll have to bend forward slightly to achieve a good spot or cheek weld. The sling should provide enough support that the weight of the rifle is not handled by your muscles.

Ideally the weight of the rifle is supported by your properly slung arm, which is steadied by your left leg. Your balance point is between your left foot, right knee & right heel but just slightly forward.


As the name implies this position is assumed by squatting down. It is more stable than Standing but not as stable as the other positions. This is because while the arms are supported directly by the legs, the body has only two relatively narrow contact points with the ground: the feet. Nevertheless itís a good idea to familiarize yourself with this position for those situations where the ground has undesirable qualities that make a more stable position unattractive. So use it in swamps or extremely rocky places.

Use a sling for this position.

Squat down with your body facing slightly to the right of the target (approximately 20 to 30 degrees). Keep your feet about shoulder width apart & your knees extending slightly outward. Place your left & right triceps on the respective knees. Whatís most comfortable for me is the left elbow resting on that muscle just behind the left knee on the inside of the thigh while the right elbow is placed just on the inside fleshy part of the right knee. Youíll have to experiment a little to find which feels best to you. Your body should be inclined slightly forward. How much depends upon your body & the rifle being shot, as leaning too far back will put you off balance when the rifle recoils. But generally it should be a slight incline to establish your balance at some point between (not forward of or in back of) your feet. Then raise the rifle as you would in the other positions, paying attention to your spot or cheek weld & snugging the rifle into the hollow of your shoulder.

Ideally the slung arm will support the weight of the rifle without any assistance from the muscles. Then itís just a matter of observing the basics until you let the shot go.


This is a very stable position. Not quite as steady as Prone but more steady than Squatting. It is relatively easy to get into & provides clearance for low to medium height obstacles that would interfere with Prone. There are three variations to the Sitting position; Open Leg, Cross Leg & Cross Ankle. All of them are useful to know, but youíll find one suits you better than the others.

Use a sling for this position.

Open Leg:

Sit down with your body pointing slightly to the right of the target (about 30 degrees). Extend your legs & keep them slightly bent. Your feet should be about shoulder width apart but your knees may extend a bit wider. Keep your left foot as close to flat on the ground as you can. Place your left triceps just forward & right of the knee cap in that little hollow formed by the knee bones. Your right elbow should be placed just below the right knee on the inside of the thigh. If necessary draw your right leg in & to the right a little bit to facilitate a rest for your right elbow. Your left hand will be close to, if not touching, the front sling swivel.

Cross leg:

Sit down with your body pointing slightly to the right of the target (about 30 degrees). Extend your legs & keep them slightly bent. Cross your left leg over your right leg. Your right foot should act as a stop to keep you left leg from sliding. Place your left & right elbows just behind each respective knee cap on the inside the thigh. Your left hand should be just forward of the chamber of the rifle.

Cross Ankle:

Sit down with your body pointing slightly to the right of the target (about 30 degrees). Cross your right leg over your left leg at the ankles & tuck them underneath you. Indian style was what this was called when I was a younginí. Place your left & right elbows just behind each respective knee cap on the inside the thigh. Your left hand should be just forward of the chamber of the rifle.

In all the above variations raise the rifle, establish a good spot or cheek weld, snug it into the pocket of your shoulder & observe the fundamentals.


This is the most stable of all the unsupported shooting positions. When done correctly it can be as steady as shooting from a bench rest. It does take more time to get into, & because of the elevation it may not be possible in areas with medium to tall grass or other obstacles between you & the target.

Use a sling for this position.

Lie down with your body pointing 10 to 20 degrees to the right of the target. Keep your shoulders square with your spine & your weight on the left side of your body. Keep your left leg straight while drawing your right leg up as if you were going to crawl. Your left elbow should be on the ground just a little left of the rifle & your left lower arm at about a 30 degree angle. Your left hand should be as far forward as you can go & should cradle the rifle. Your right elbow should be slightly out from your body & resting on the ground. Try to keep your head as level with the ground as possible. Snug the rifle into the pocket of your shoulder & establish a good cheek or spot weld.

What happens is the rifle is totally supported by your slung up arm, which has direct support from the ground. Your body is supported by the ground & thus weíve done all we can to neutralize the bodyís unsteadying affects on shooting. Now itís just a matter of concentrating on the fundamentals of breath control, trigger control, sight picture, etc.

Those are the basics of the 5 shooting positions. When done correctly they will be very stable; some almost as stable as firing off a bench rest. It is important to understand how each position works & to practice each position. It is only through repetition that youíll know when it feels right & repetition alone will increase your speed in establishing each position.

When you properly use the appropriate position for the circumstances you find yourself in, thereís not much this side of 600 yards you wonít be able to hit as long as your rifle is up to it.

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