Improve your handgun performance by improving your platform
LE can take the techniques competitive shooters use to be fast, accurate and efficient and then apply those techniques to our operational environment
Many officers struggle to improve their handgun shooting performance. Well-meaning instructors work with those students until exhaustion sets in, with little to no lasting improvement. Worse, they work until both instructor and student are frustrated leaving the range irritated with each other feeling it was a waste of time.
I know how this feels from both perspectives. When I first began to get serious about training with firearms, I discovered I wasn’t a naturally gifted shooter. It took a long time for me to improve beyond a basic level. I attended training classes, went through the police academy and in-service training, and took what I learned to my own practice.
Reflecting on my early firearms training, I discovered the problems I had personally experienced weren’t unusual. As an instructor, many officers I worked with were struggling with the same issues I had early in my shooting career. The usual “You’re jerking the trigger” and “You’re anticipating recoil” didn’t solve my marksmanship errors and it wasn’t solving their issues either.
For the most part, the common shooting stances are more alike than different. The shooter must be aggressive with a forward weight bias. The handgun is brought up to the eye line instead of the head dipping down to the pistol. With all techniques, the strong side hand position is the same. The dominant side hand is placed as high on the backstrap as possible. The support side hand exerts a lot of pressure on the handgun to mitigate recoil and get the sights back on target as quickly as possible.
The difference starts with leg and foot positions. The Weaver Stance has the student drop their strong side leg back in a more traditional fighting position whereas the Isosceles Stance has the student more squared up to the target. Focusing here is all well and good for the square range and for getting into your best range ninja stance. But for the most part, it doesn’t matter where your feet are as long as you’re balanced, mobile and stable. If you can move in any direction quickly and efficiently, you’re probably good to go.
It's what happens from the hips up that makes a difference. The Weaver Stance uses isometric muscle tension to help support and stabilize the handgun. It worked when Col. Jeff Cooper adopted it as part of the Modern Technique at Gunsight Academy, and it still works today. In contrast, the Isosceles Stance places the upper body in a triangular support position using the skeletal system to stabilize the handgun much like the trusses used in roofs and bridges. It’s meant to direct recoil energy back through the arms to the upper body. This also works and has the added benefit of keeping an officer’s body armor facing toward the threat.
Modified Isosceles stance
About 10 years after becoming an instructor, I was attending a firearm class that was laser-focused on two of the fundamentals of marksmanship: stance and grip. This class caught my attention because I spent a lot of time focused on sights and trigger control. It’s not like I ignored stance and grip, but I thought I knew what I needed to know about stance and grip. That one class completely changed my performance and was the catalyst for helping me help improve the officers I worked with who were struggling with their own shooting performance.
Watching a video of my performance during class, I noticed between shots my pistol seemed to have significant muzzle climb. This prevented me from shooting quickly and accurately because I lost track of my sights during recoil and needed extra time to reacquire my sights before my next shot. I could see the pistol was moving side to side in an unpredictable manner during recoil, causing too much lateral spread when I tried to run the handgun fast. To fix these problems, the instructor introduced me to a Modified Isosceles Stance and took my performance to the next level.
I began paying attention to what competitive shooters were doing to be fast and accurate. I understand competitive shooting is a game with rules and isn’t a gunfight. However, law enforcement can take the techniques competitive shooters use to be fast, accurate and efficient and then apply those techniques to our operational environment.
The problem I was having regardless of which stance I used was significant muzzle climb between shots, losing my sights during recoil, and taking a lot of time to reacquire my sights before my next shot. The Modified Isosceles Stance solved these problems for me and our students.
Let’s take a look at some of the details.
Notice the aggressive stance of the Modified Isosceles with the shoulders rotated forward. This gets the upper body behind the pistol helping to mitigate recoil. Instead of recoil pushing the body backward resulting in a more upright or backward leaning stance, with the shoulders rotated forward, more of the mass of the shooter is behind the pistol.
The elbows are slightly bent as opposed to the Isosceles Stance where they are locked out. Compared to the Isosceles Stance where the elbows are more oriented toward the ground when locked out, in the Modified Isosceles Stance, the elbows should be pointed slightly outwards. The weight is biased forward (nose over toes) with the kneecap of the support leg pushed forward towards the toes. Just like rotating the shoulders forward, this gets more of the body’s mass behind the pistol, mitigating recoil and keeping the pistol shooting flatter.
A closer look at the grip shows the strong side hand is as high on the backstrap as possible with the middle finger “squished” under the trigger guard. The strong side hand is gripping from the front strap of the pistol grip to the back strap as if using a set of pliers. This grip pressure should be firm, but not so much as to interfere with moving the trigger finger smoothly and independent of the rest of the hand. The support side hand has all the fingers “squished” together tight under the trigger guard. Look at how tight the support hand grip is as evidenced by the fingernails turning white. The support side hand applies side-to-side pressure on the pistol grip as if squeezing a ball.
One last note
Something to keep in mind when it comes to stance is that no one method works perfectly for everyone. Just like different body types wear different size uniforms, one technique does not fit everyone. Instructors and officers need to find the solutions that work best for each individual student. Most officers will find the best way for them isn’t the picture-perfect stance taken from a textbook. Instead, use the concepts of body mass, weight bias, grip placement and grip pressure to find the solutions that work best for you.