Hunting With Handguns

Field Shooting Positions That Work
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by Gary Smith a.k.a. Gary     Last updated: 2009-10-03 18:28:04

Living With The Wobble

Hunters who are new to handgun hunting often struggle with holding the gun steady. Part of the issue, for those used to shooting rifles, is the appearance of being much more steady with the long guns and when they take up the pistol, their mind is telling them this won't work don't shoot. The other part of the problem is simply a matter of learning what shooting positions do work for the handgun hunter. To be ready for any situation you should practice each of these shooting positions and their variations. If you master them all you'll be a great field shot and your friends will wonder how you do it.

The handgunner, especially those new to scoped handguns, often find their sights dancing all over the target. This is particularly unnerving when a nice buck is your intended target. In reality, this is how unsteady you actually are and the problem is magnified (pun intended) as the power of the scope increases even when you aren't suffering from buck fever.

Handgun hunters must learn to live with the wobble. It's there when you are using open sights, you just don't notice it as much. It will never completely go away but you can minimize it enough that your sights wobble around in the kill zone vs. someplace you don't want them wobbling causing a missed shot. So lets take a look at some of the field shooting positions that I use and what they look like.

The Sitting Position

The supported sitting position is shown in the first picture at right. It has three components that make it very steady in the field. First, the torso is supported and kept stable by leaning against a stationary object, in this case a tree. Next, the knees are brought up to support the forearms. Notice I didn't say elbows don't place your elbows on your knee bones. It's much more steady to place your forearms on your thighs. Think meat to meat not bone to bone. Finally, the gun is supported by some type of rest. Shooting sticks by Stony Point are shown here but a small sapling or even some sticks fashioned in the field with a short piece of cord will do if you left your sticks back in the truck. I've actually grabbed a handfull of broom sage grass with my off hand and pulled against that to help steady a shot when time was of the essence and nothing else was available. Being prepared is the best way to go but when caught unprepared be creative.

The unsupported sitting position is used often when you're presented with a shooting opportunity you didn't expect, like when you're walking in to your stand. It's not as good as a supported sitting position but it's one you should practice often. Shown in the second photo, an unsupported sitting position has one or more of the support points missing. In this case there is nothing to lean against and the right leg is being used to steady the torso instead of the forearm. How you actually execute this position will depend on your individual preferences and perhaps even the terrain where you're going to take a shot.

I rarely ever use a sitting position when hunting in the woods. If you do you'll regret it sooner or later when an animal comes up to you from the side or behind. The drawback here is a lack of mobility. Sit down and you're generally committed to one direction.

The Kneeling Position

Kneeling is another generally unsupported shooting position that you can use when there isn't time to take up a more steady position and when the game is within the range that you can be effective from this position. I find that I'm nearly as steady shooting from a standing position as kneeling but to remain standing when game is afoot will often hasten their departure if they see you. Dropping into the kneeling position is quick to assume and can be used to help conceal yourself from your quarry. If you don't expect to take the shot within a few moments of taking this position then perhaps you have time to move into the unsupported sitting position. I know my flexibility isn't what it used to be and I can't maintain a kneeling position for very long with out some discomfort.

A supported kneeling position can often be used when hunting using the spot and stalk or still-hunting methods. One of my favorite still-hunting tactics is to ridge hop and I've often used a supported kneeling position to take some shots that were made easier from this position.

Big Tree Bracing

If you're hunting in the woods and need to be ready for game to appear from any direction then using a big tree for bracing is the most versatile and accurate position you can master. With a single-shot pistol like a Contender or Encore this braced position is very steady and I've used it on the edge of large fields to make shots on deer approaching 300 yards.

Using a two-handed hold with the off hand on the pistol forend allows two contact points for steadying the gun. You don't place the gun directly on the tree but put the back of your trigger hand and the fingers of your off hand in contact with the tree. This eliminates nearly all wobble. I've found the larger the tree the more stable it is because you don't have to place your hands too close together.

Stand facing the tree with your feet shoulder width apart and place your hands as I describe above. I wear gloves to keep the skin attached to my knuckles, you may do as you wish. Practice this and make sure you have enough room that you don't let your scope turrets hit the tree and if you're shooting a big boomer watch for limbs or other obstructions directly above the gun which could damage your optics.

This position is also effective with a revolver but due to the bast from the barrel-cylinder gap you can't put your hand in front of the cylinder. When shooting a revolver I place the back of my hand and wrist against the tree trunk. If you're shooting a revolver or gun with a brake then make sure you have shooting glasses on. The blast can send debris toward your face and you've only got two eyes.

The Standing Position

Shooting from the standing position should only be utilized when the game is relatively close and no rest is available. I practice from the standing position frequently and can hit a 10 inch plate at 75 to 80 yards more than 95%% of the time with a scoped revolver and more frequently with a single shot. However, shooting at a deer or other medium sized game animal that is moving about is a different matter and how far you can reliably take game from the standing position will depend on the gun you're using and your abilities. I rarely take a shot from the standing position but when I do the shots at game are usually held to about 50 yards.

If you're going on a guided hunt outside of your region it's wise to find out from what position the rifle hunters normally shoot. In Africa, for example, you'll probably shoot from the standing position most of the time with the aid of shooting sticks. It would be foolish not to practice this technique extensively prior to your departure. I would also recommend that you request the guide provide a set of sticks with 3 legs vs. 2 legs. The three-legged versions are much more steady and easier to shoot from.

The Prone Position

Prone is probably the most steady position that you can use in the field. There are some considerations though. You have to make sure there are no obstructions that would impede the flight of the bullet. It's easy to overlook a stick, rocks, or clump of grass close to the bore. Remember your scope is a couple inches higher than the line of sight from the bore. It also puts the gun somewhat closer to your face than other shooting methods and you can easily find yourself with a bump on your noggin from a heavy recoiling pistol if you're not prepared.

You can use a bipod, a day pack, a rolled up jacket or some other type of rest for the gun but it needs some support. I like a day pack as well as anything. Most bipods suitable for prone shooting are heavy and will change the point of impact of the bullet if they are attached to the gun vs. when the gun is fired sans the bipod. I rarely use the prone position due to the type of terrain I hunt in the east. It is far more likely you'll use a prone position when hunting game such as antelope or mule deer in the western plains. Again, if you have an antelope hunt planned, practice shooting from the prone position at varying up and down hill angles if possible. Another little tip I'll share is practice shooting in high wind if you have a hunt planned for the western states.

The Creedmore and Keith Positions

The Creedmore position, popular with silhouette shooters, and what I'll call the Keith position are excellent alternatives to a prone position when the terrain or cover don't allow shooting from a prone position. You will be able to position your gun 18 inches or so higher above the ground than when prone and it may be just enough to see over the grasses or other brush. It's effective too since it doesn't require any sort of device to support the gun. Instead the gun is supported by the side of the leg or the knee (in the Keith position).

Caution should be taken if you're shooting a revolver or braked gun since hot gasses can severely burn your leg from a lateral blast from the cylinder gap or a brake. Silhouette shooters use a piece of thick leather as a blast shield but repeated firings will eventually burn through leather. Jeans or other light clothing will cause you some agony if you shoot without protection. You should be very very careful if you're using a Creedmore position with a short barreled handgun. It would be easy to shoot yourself in the calf in the excitement of taking a shot at a big bull. For short barreled revolvers I would recommend a Keith style of shooting as seen the photo at right.

These positions probably work best with open sighted guns since you'll likely find that the eye relief on your scope is a problem using these extended positions. That's why you should practice these positions prior to using them on game. It won't do much good to work yourself into a Creedmore position only to find out you can't see that big muley through the scope.

Be Versatile

All of these positions will work very well under the right set of circumstances. Not every position will work for you but if you can master three or four of the most applicable positions to your style and type of hunting then you'll be more successful in the field as a handgun hunter.

At one time or another I've used each of these six shooting positions and techniques. It takes practice to learn your limitations with each one and to develop your own slight variations on these positions that work for me. Put in the time on your range and you'll be glad you did come hunting season when that monster buck is giving you an opportunity.

If you have a shooting position that I haven't covered here I would love to hear about it. You can share your experiences using the comment field below.

Good hunting,



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Recent Comments:

Poster: rattlesnakelorax    Date: 2018-01-19    Top

I have a good sitting position I would like to describe. I own a ground seat that has an internal frame. The back can be leaned against just like a tree. With this seat I can lean back and place both of my knees together and rest both of my hands holding the gun on them. This is very stable and I have shot several deer with this position. Sometimes I have a small tree next to me and I can add even more support by arm contact with it and still have both hands on my knees. If the angle of the deer is not in good alignment with this position I turn my right leg down to the ground and place my left boot on top of my right boot and use the left knee for support. This is very stable but both knees locking both hands together is still the best. One more, if I have to shoot offhand from the sitting position with no hand support I find that I can lean back with my seat and place the backs of the tops of my arms against my chest. This is more stable than both arms extended into the air.
Poster: 45MAN    Date: 2017-08-20   Top

Poster: ScoutV2    Date: 2016-12-19    Top

Great info. I will be taking some of these tips to heart.
Poster: Montana Lee    Date: 2016-10-29   Top

Excellent points and training aids will help in me be steadier in a couple new positions. Thanks for the info. One thing i would bring up especially with the higher pressure hot rods and brakes is the piercing cutting force the gasses have coming off the brake. I know a guy who reached out to "tighten" his muzzle brake without checking the chamber at the bench and the gun went off stripping all the meat off 3 off his fingers. I realize he broke several gun safety rules to which he paid the price. My point being be very carefull where the muzzle/brake is when the gun goes off, especially when we use modified positions to get an edge on the ol mossy horned beast we pursue.
Poster: roadtoad    Date: 2016-06-14    Top

I'm in my seventies now and my dad was right - the knees are the first to go. So, prone or sitting are impossible unless I've a handy tree to pull myself up. I must be careful walking so as not to fall, and I've found a ski pole very useful. I've a lanyard attached to the ring coming out of my 15" 375JDJ contender adjusted so that it draws tight when the arm is extended and whether or I use my pole ot a tree this stabilizes me enough to be confident of a 200yd shot on deer or elk .. My k-hornet barrel is a different tale, as those smaller critters make a 100yd poke more problematic.
Poster: FROSTY    Date: 2014-02-17   Top

Very informative writing. Thank you for sharing!!
Poster: Gary    Date: 2012-02-16    Top

G.L, Really every shooter will likely develop a slightly different technique, refined for what works best for them. I wrote about what works for me and the way I hunt but there are certainly a lot of other ways to do things and the way I like to do it may not work the best for someone else. I have tried the alternate method you discuss and I just find that I'm more steady with the technique I use. There is no right or wrong way to do it - just use the one you're most comfortable with. Thanks for adding some insight into other ways of getting a steady rest in the field.
Poster: G.L.Corbin    Date: 2012-02-16   Top

Very "accurate" article Gary. Yes, pun intended! I just have two things of note. One is that shooting positions may not work the same when using .22's or reduced/practice loads as oppposed to shooting high power loads or different gun formats (barrel length,gun weight,single action, double action, specialty pistol, different scopes or scope mounting positions)or "ANYTHING" different than what you will be hunting with. I know you touched on several of these and just wanted to emphasize how important this is for safety as well as predictable results. As far as specialty pistols go I frequently use an alternate hold on the fore end grip/stock. With it I lay the fore end grip/stock in the top of the "V" formed by the index finger and the thumb of the weak side hand which has been formed into a fist. That fist is held vertically, canted slightly upward with the index finger and thumb lightly pinching the sides of fore end grip/stock. The back of the strong hand fingers (those holding the gun's rear grip) are placed against the inside of the weak side forearm(yours not the gun's), finding a comfortable location. Use the hips to pivot and allign/follow your target. This is much more steady, "rifle-like" if I can use that term without being thrown out of the forum, than the traditional palm up cupping hold. I believe it supports heavier specialty pistols better and has a more natural poiting feel. It can be used standing, prone, kneeling, sitting, against trees(strong or weak side), on top of fence posts/packs, etc.. It also works very well for wing shooting with shot barrels. Try it a few times. It grows on you.
Poster: az_shooter    Date: 2009-11-01    Top

I have found that I am most stable with the Keith style position when I lock the heel of the gun supporting leg into the ankle of the opposite leg. In other words, instead of having the non-gun supporting leg splayed out on the ground for balance, I bring it closer to the raised leg and place the heel of the raised leg into the ankle of the other leg.
Poster: BobG    Date: 2009-10-23   Top

Hogue makes a grip designed for shooting prone in Bianchi that works well in the field. It's a wood grip called, believe it or not, the "Fat Butt". Great for Revolvers.
Poster: Gary    Date: 2009-10-18    Top

You're absolutely right Steve and make a great point for the case of shooting a revolver from a pack.
Poster: S.B.    Date: 2009-10-18   Top

I've burned(scorched) several type of backpacks using them as rests during prone shooting(B/C gap)? Better to rest your hands on them than the actual gun. Steve
Poster: S.B.    Date: 2009-10-16    Top

I use a set of 5/8" dowel rods about 3' in length to steady the chin of my pistol? Cover with cammo tape and apply and couple of old archery field point on one end and rubber chair caps on the other. Connected with the proper size "S" hook they're readily adjustable to whatever heigth. Cheap, quick, easy.
Poster: huntstomuch    Date: 2009-09-30   Top

I really liked this article. I have tried several of these positions in the field but I found the prone position & against a tree the 2 best for me. If there are no trees around I like to lie prone & use my pack or a large rock with my bandiolier to cushion the barrel against the rock to steady my gun. The only problem with the prone position is getting hit in the head with the scope. I shoot a 375JDJ most of the time when hunting & it has alot of recoil. I added a screw on muzzel break & this helped with the recoil but the rearward muzzel blast coming back at you from the gases is much worse to me than the recoil was so I bought a thread protector to take off the muzzel break while I am hunting & I only use it when I am shooting at the range. I try to get away from everyone else so they don't feel the muzzel blast. I shot it next to a guy at the range one time & he got really ticked off at me because I did't warn him before I shot, but we had a conversation only 15 minutes before about how bad it kicked & how the muzzel brake made a lot of rearward concussion but I guess he didn't realize how much it actually had.
Poster: BIGSTEVE83    Date: 2009-01-23    Top

This was an awsome article, I found it very helpful. Thanks, Steve
Poster: briang1621    Date: 2009-01-09   Top

Great article thanks Brian
Poster: TChunter99    Date: 2008-12-20    Top

Thanks Gary.I am also new to hand gun hunting.I used your supported sitting method and tripod shooting sticks to tag my first ever handgun deer.used my 7mm-08 encore pistol.Thanks again!!
Poster: TCScout    Date: 2008-12-16   Top

Gary, Thanks for the tips. It really is about minimizing the wobble. I don't hunt tree stands anymore, but when I did I used climbers and I would set up facing the tree. On both sides of the tree I would screw in two of the big Ameristep tree steps. I would first cover them in rubber shrink tubing. Makes a strong and quiet shooting rest. Also works good when setting behind a tree on the ground. You can shift around and have a ready made rest 360 degrees.
Poster: burton302    Date: 2008-12-09    Top

I found this article to be very helpful. I am new to handgun hunting with all previous experience limited to target shooting in a standing position. I learned a lot.
Poster: H2OGUN    Date: 2008-12-06   Top

Graet work Gary
Poster: pter1020k    Date: 2008-12-02    Top

thank you Gary.

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