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Running your patrol rifle like a pro

Adapt these competitive shooter techniques to improve your skills

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Todd Fletcher

This article is part of a series for Police1 registered members from Todd Fletcher titled “Police Firearms: Discussion, Drills & Demos.” Todd writes about current hot topics related to police firearms training, outlines firearms training drills and demonstrates shooting techniques on video. If you have a topic you would like Todd to cover, or a training problem you need to solve, email

If you watch an experienced 3-Gun shooter run a patrol rifle, it is easy to see how they have taken the operation of an AR platform rifle to the next level. The competition arena has developed shooters who can run a patrol rifle unbelievably fast and accurately. Even though police officers aren’t competing in a 3-Gun match while working, we can adapt some useful techniques to help improve our own skills.

Body position

If you want to be highly accurate, improve recoil control and make quick follow-up shots, start with your shooting platform.

When we talk about shooting platform, we mean your body position, weight transfer, grip, posture and everything else that helps stabilize the rifle. If the patrol rifle is stable, it’s simple to make accurate shots with minimal movement of the rifle.

Start with setting your feet up in an athletic position. This means placing your feet in a position that is stable, allows you to stay balanced and provides ease of movement in any direction.

There is no “perfect” foot position that works for everyone, but the common denominator is you’re balanced, stable and mobile. Most of the time, an athletic position means having a wide stance with the strong side foot slightly behind the support side foot. The weight should be on the balls of the feet with the knees slightly bent. This position allows the shooter to be stable while standing, moving, and shooting from cover. “Nose over toes” is the phrase we use to describe this weight-forward balance.

A key point to remember is to stay balanced with your upper body weight forward, your lower body weight (i.e., butt) needs to act as a counterweight.

Many officers tend to blade their bodies to the side more than necessary. I think this comes from the more traditional rifle stance used while hunting, but squaring up with the strong foot slightly back allows the shooter to mount the rifle more centered on the chest. We will cover this later but staying centered offers the benefit of keeping the hips as square as possible to the target improving the stability and mobility of the shooter.

Rifle positioning

Keeping your head erect, rifle toward the center line of your body and your strong side elbow down will help you run your patrol rifle fast and accurately.

Todd Fletcher

Hand position

Now that you’re balanced and highly mobile, let’s address how you hold the rifle.

Get that strong side hand high on the pistol grip of the patrol rifle. Instructors address this issue with handguns, but it is just as applicable to our patrol rifle. Once you find this position, apply grip pressure and pull the rifle straight back into the chest applying most of the grip pressure to the bottom of the pistol grip. This puts downward pressure on the patrol rifle minimizing muzzle movement during recoil. Simply resting your strong side hand on the pistol grip isn’t enough if you want to run a patrol rifle like a pro.

Another area to work on is riding the safety switch with the thumb of your strong side hand. Right-hand shooters, and left-hand shooters who are running an ambidextrous safety selector, will be able to quickly disengage the safety as the rifle is mounted into the shooting position. In classes, we see a lot of officers forget to run the “on/off” switch during more intense courses of fire. But if you pay attention to this tip, under stress you won’t forget to disengage the safety. Without an ambidextrous selector, left-hand shooters can either switch their thumbs over to the left side of the rifle, or they can use their index finger to manipulate the safety. There’s no one way for lefties since both methods work well.

On the support side, get your support hand on the handguard as far forward as possible pulling the rifle straight to the rear. On rifles with long handguards, your support side elbow should have a slight bend, not a straight arm. Getting your support side hand and arm in this position does several things. First, it increases the control you have over recoil because that arm has greater leverage on the front of the gun. Instead of recoil causing your sights to climb, the patrol rifle will move in a straight line significantly reducing the movement of your sights. Second, when transitioning from one target to another, because of this increased leverage, it is significantly faster to move the rifle. Third, it eliminates the tendency to travel past the target when snapping the rifle from target to target.

Rifle forward support side grip

A forward support side grip with your support side elbow slightly bent increases leverage on the front of the patrol rifle and improves your ability to transition between targets.

Todd Fletcher

Rifle position

Mounting the patrol rifle as centered as possible is key to controlling recoil. A lot of shooters don’t understand why this is so critical. When I was growing up, my father taught me the traditional bladed hunting stance. As I got older and started shooting patrol rifles more regularly, the traditional bladed hunting stance was still the go-to standard for stabilizing a rifle. The traditional hunting stance turns your hips sideways and places the stock of the rifle on the outer part of the shoulder. With your body turned sideways and the stock away from the centerline of the body, recoil pushes the rifle back into the shooter. This results in turning the shooter further sideways with each shot. The rifle sights, or optic, move off center and cycle high right for a right-handed shooter and high left for a left-handed shooter.

Instead, square up to the target with your head erect. Place the stock of the rifle high on your strong side pectoral muscle positioned so that you can bring the rifle directly up to your eye-target line without needing to move your head much at all. In this position, the recoil will push back into the shooter, but the sights won’t move laterally. This predictable sight movement allows for faster and more accurate follow-up shots. Positioning the stock of the patrol rifle in the correct spot also improves your effectiveness while shooting on the move. With the gun more centered on the chest, the rifle won’t bounce as much while moving.

Rifle position strong side forward

Keeping the strong side shoulder rolled forward and weight “nose over toes” helps minimize recoil and creates predictable sight travel.

Todd Fletcher

Body position

Once the patrol rifle is mounted in the correct position, it’s important to get aggressive behind the rifle. The strong side elbow should drop down toward the ground while that shoulder is driven forward toward the target. There are several advantages to this simple body posture. This movement causes the pectoral and front deltoid muscle to flex, which provides a solid foundation for the stock of the patrol rifle. Driving the shoulder forward increases the pressure between the shooter and the stock creating a solid patrol rifle position. Lastly, dropping the elbow keeps the movement of the strong side arm in line with the patrol rifle rather than creating lateral movement taking the rifle off target. It also helps us to use cover more effectively by making us a smaller target when shooting around cover.

For some of our female shooters, this stock position may be uncomfortable, or even impossible, due to the breast tissue over that pectoral muscle. For those shooters, lifting that elbow slightly creates a deeper pocket preventing the stock from slipping off the shoulder. The shoulder should still be rolled forward and aggressiveness behind the rifle is even more important.

Minimize movement and press

With the patrol rifle mounted in a stable shooting platform, the last thing to do is minimize movement and press. To minimize movement, we should be putting straight rearward pressure on the rifle being careful not to pull it off to the side. When we create a solid shooting platform with the correct hand, body, and rifle position, our sights won’t be moving much. At this point, we can press the trigger straight to the rear and be assured of a solid hit, maximum recoil management and minimum sight movement…like a pro!

NEXT: Firearms instructor training vs. shooter training: What’s the difference?

Todd Fletcher is the owner and lead instructor for Combative Firearms Training, LLC providing training for law enforcement firearms instructors from coast to coast. He has over 25 years of training experience as a firearms and defensive tactics instructor. He retired after more than 25 years as a full-time police officer and over 31 years of law enforcement experience.

Todd is a member of the International Defensive Pistol Association (IDPA) and the United States Practical Shooting Association (USPSA). He is a member of the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), and was selected as the 2022 ILEETA Trainer-of-the-Year. He is also a member of the International Association of Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors (IALEFI) and won the 2023 IALEFI Top Gun Award. He can be reached at