Rifles are accurate firearms capable of making long-range shots. However, taking advantage of this capability can be difficult when you don’t have access to a convenient bench covered in sandbags.
Missing a shot has little to no consequence at the shooting range, but out in the field, a missed shot can mean the difference between taking a deer home for dinner and going home empty-handed.
Knowing, and more importantly practicing, the following shooting positions and stances can help you land that shot when there’s no convenient rifle rest available.
Make sure to also check our article on pistol shooting stances.
Rifle Stance Basics
In order to be as accurate as possible, you want to get the rifle stable. The rifle’s stock will help, but there are certain biomechanical aspects you can keep in mind that apply to all of the following stances.
1. First of all, you want as many points of contact with the rifle as possible. This means you should have the stock pulled into your shoulder, your cheek on the stock, your strong hand holding the grip, and your support hand supporting the rifle.
2. Secondly, you want to minimize the amount of force applied to the rifle that’s not in line with the bore. This mean when gripping the grip, don’t squeeze it left or right. Instead, try to ensure that you’re pushing forward with your palm and backward with your fingers so all of the force from your grip is in line with the bore.
Your support hand should be placed so the gun rests on it if you need the hand for support. Move your aim by moving your body, not by pushing with your support hand.
You can also use other items for support, such as tree branches or a bipod (we’ll cover this at the end of the article).
You shouldn’t hold up the rifle with your strong hand. All it’s there to do is to pull the trigger and pull the rifle into your shoulder to brace against recoil. If you’re in a good position, you can let go with your strong hand and the rifle won’t change position.
Finally, you want to use as few muscles to support the gun as possible. Use your bones as support whenever you can. Muscles in tension aren’t as stable as your skeletal structure. Each of the following stances will offer some tips on how to achieve this.
If at all possible, you want to get prone to achieve the most stable shot. Tall grass and hilly terrain can prevent you from going prone, though. It also takes the most time of all positions to assume.
Prone shooting involves laying belly-down on the ground with the rifle in front of you. Rest your elbows on the ground and keep the rifle’s butt in the pocket of your shoulder. It should be angled so most of your mass is in line with the bore. Rest your head on the stock rather than using your neck muscles to hold it in place.
If it’s comfortable, you will want to keep your legs straight and splayed out. There should be no tension in your toes. In fact, there should be no tension anywhere. Relax and let your bones support the rifle.
Some people are uncomfortable with both legs straight. In this case, bring your strong-side knee forward. Your legs, spine, and rifle should all be parallel.
If brush or tall grass means you can’t go prone, then sitting is the next best position.
There are two ways to sit depending on which is most comfortable.
If you can, sit cross-legged on the ground with your support-side knee pointing at the target. Bend forward at the waist and rest your elbows next to your knees. They should sit in the fleshy part of your leg, not on the bone itself.
A slightly easier sitting position is to sit with your knees up and feet flat on the ground. Again, lean forward with your elbows on the meaty part of your legs, right next to your knees.
While sitting and prone positions are the best for stability, sometimes you only have a moment to get into position for the shot. That’s where the kneeling stance comes into play.
Drop your strong-side knee about 90 degrees to the target and sit on your foot. Rest your support-side elbow just in front of your support-side knee, so the knee pushes into the bottom part of your upper arm.
Keep your strong-side elbow close to your side for a little extra stability, pull the rifle into your shoulder with that hand, rest your head on the stock, aim, and take the shot.
Sometimes, you just need to stand up while you take the shot.
This is called offhand shooting and, because it is so unstable, it should be avoided if at all possible. There still may come a time where you have to stand or pass up the shot, however, so make sure to practice this position.
Stand with your support-side shoulder and hip pointed at the target with your feet a little wider than shoulder-width. Thrust your hip toward the target and hold your support-side elbow against your body right above the hip.
The rifle ideally should rest atop your support hand. If your rifle has a magazine, then rest that atop your palm. Otherwise, you may have to hold your fingers vertical and rest the rifle atop them to get the gun high enough to aim at your target.
5. Fighting Stance
An alternative to the normal standing stance is the Fighting Stance. As its name suggests, it’s better for fast-paced situations where you may have to engage multiple targets. You’ll frequently see it at 3-Gun competitions, though it’s normally not the best choice for hunting.
However, if you’re hunting dangerous game such as bear or boar, then adopting the Fighting Stance can help you rapidly and accurately put several rounds into a charging animal!
This stance is more dynamic than the other ones. Square up to the target so you are facing it straight-on. Stand with your strong-side leg forward and your support-side leg at a 45-degree angle, knees slightly bent. Put them far enough apart for you to feel your center of balance drop. Lean forward into the gun.
Pull the rifle into your shoulder with your strong hand. Unlike all of the other stances, your support hand takes a more active role. Firmly grasp the rifle’s forend as far forward as possible. Lock your elbows if you can (or flex them if you can’t) and hold the muzzle in position. Keep both elbows as close to your body as possible.
The rifle should be under tension. Your sights may shake a bit, but that’s okay. This stance is for rapid shots at close range, where this loss of accuracy is minimal. Change your aim by moving your whole torso, keeping your arms still.
This stance effectively allows you to drive your gun and maintain absolute control, even during rapid fire.
6. Thumb Over Bore
You’ll get even more of a benefit with a C-clamp grip, also called “thumb over bore.” Holding a rifle this way lets you redirect the recoil, so rather than a muzzle jump the recoil travels straight back. You can recover from this type of recoil faster for better follow-up shots.
Just make sure not to go thumb over bore on a bare barrel! You don’t want to burn your hand. This grip is best for tactical rifles with handguards that cover all of the barrel, such as an AR-15.
7. Using Supports
You can use something to support your rifle for even more stability.
Bipods are the classic choice because they move with the gun and can be used anywhere. There are two main ways of using a bipod: free recoil and pre-loading.
Free recoil is when the gun sits on the bipod and you apply as little pressure as possible when pulling the trigger. This works better with a monopod, sandbag, balled-up hat, or even your fist under the buttstock.
Pre-loading the bipod involves pushing forward into the bipod before firing so the recoil pushes it back into a neutral position. Personally, I prefer pre-loading. It’s also more effective if you do not have any support for your buttstock.
When using a bipod you do not need to use your support hand to hold the front of the gun. Instead, keep it by the buttstock where it can help adjust the rear support (if any).
Shooting sticks are another great way to fulfill the function of a bipod even while in sitting or standing positions. When using shooting sticks, you should hold them at their junction with your support hand.
A soft object such as a hunting backpack or rolled-up jacket also makes for a great expedient forward rest.
You can rest the rifle on harder objects, such as tree limbs or walls, but you should not have the rifle directly on the hard object. That would cause the gun to bounce, potentially spoiling your shot. Instead, put something soft in between your gun and the object you’re using as a rest to soften any bouncing.
8. The Hasty Sling
Another way to improve your rifle’s stability is to take advantage of a sling. This can be used in any position, from prone to standing. You can also get into position in seconds if you’re well practiced.
You need a sling on your rifle that attaches at the buttstock and near the front of the forend.
Take your support arm and put it through the sling. Move it out and above, then rest the rifle on that hand. Your forearm should be pushing against the sling as well.
This position pulls the sling toward your chest, putting tension on the rifle. Adding this tension increases stability and accuracy in unstable conditions.