In moments of crisis, the ability to accurately shoot from various positions can mean the difference between life and death. Whether you find yourself in a standing confrontation or forced to take cover on the ground, mastering different shooting positions is essential for effective self-defense. Here we’ll delve into the best shooting positions for self-defense scenarios, covering standing, kneeling and prone positions, along with essential tips for training and staying prepared.

The Importance of Shooting Positions in Self-Defense

Real-world examples underscore the critical nature of being proficient in various shooting positions. For example in 1983, Trooper Roy Boleyn lay broken and bleeding on the floor of a suspect’s home with fallen comrades around him. And just when the firefight seemed to be shifting in favor of the brutally violent perpetrator, Boleyn summoned his remaining shreds of strength to lift a 12-gauge rifle from its location on the floor near him. From a supine position — in which he found himself because he’d been shot — Boleyn raised the shotgun and took the shot that would end a bloody battle that had unfolded into significant loss of life.

If you’re thinking only those in law enforcement find themselves in such situations, think again. In 2014, a crazed man broke into the psychiatric unit at Sister Marie Lenahan Wellness Center in Darby, Pennsylvania, and shot and killed a female caseworker. The attack ended when Dr. Lee Silverman drew a concealed pistol — one he wasn’t supposed to have per the hospital’s “gun-free zone” policy — and shot the assailant.

These instances highlight the unpredictability of self-defense situations and the need for versatile shooting skills. You can neither choose nor predict the moment at which you will fight for your life, just as you will be unable to choose what position your body is in when you take those potentially lifesaving shots.

Becoming a well-rounded self-defense and combat shooter is a process. Just as no one morphs into a skilled shot overnight, no one becomes a competent shooter by standing on a firing line and punching holes in paper. And while there are numerous facets to self-defense training, perhaps one of the most vital is learning to shoot accurately from multiple positions. If the bulk of your trigger time involves standing on two feet, square to the target, you might well be in for an ill-timed and unfortunate surprise should you ever find yourself involved in a self-defense shooting.

Stability and Natural Point of Aim

First and foremost, understand that various shooting positions must be stable. The stability found while kneeling, seated, prone and so on comes from your frame. Your body, not bone-on-bone contact, makes you rock solid. Placing the point of your elbow directly onto your kneecap while kneeling doesn’t provide a firm foundation because that bone-on-bone placement results in a precarious platform from which shooting quickly becomes unpredictable and inaccurate.

Another detail worth highlighting is natural point of aim. Train to be confident your gun is pointed where you want it to point without major adjustment as you move. As with all aspects of shooting, it takes practice, but it’s an essential skill to hone. Working to keep your gun on your assailant as you take whatever position necessary (or as you’re forced into one) is how you stay alive.

Standing While Shooting

Yes, standing is a position. The majority of gun owners use it at the range by bracing their feet shoulder-width apart, with their bodies either squared or angled toward their training target. Standing bears mentioning because learning to consistently hit your target with a solid shooting stance must be mastered before moving on to other positions. Trigger control, pistol grip and learning to lean into the firearm rather than away from it are some of the abilities a new shooter needs to focus on. Take the time to get a solid grasp on the basics before attempting more advanced drills.

Firing From Kneeling Positions

There is an entire subset of kneeling to consider, including speed kneeling, braced kneeling, double kneeling and others, but let’s begin with what’s most ideal: braced kneeling. Braced kneeling has quite a bit to recommend it. It provides a stable platform, it’s relatively quick to transition into, and you’re able to return to standing in one fluid movement. Assuming you’re already standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, simply extend your left foot toward the target and lower yourself onto your right knee (if you’re left-handed, reverse your left and right sides). Your torso should remain upright as you rock back to rest your weight on your rearward leg. At this juncture, your support-side arm should press against the front of your raised left leg. This will feel significantly different than standing with both arms extended in Isosceles or Modified Weaver, but it provides an advantageous anchor point not available with both arms raised.

A man shoots from a kneeling position.Reverse kneeling is an option related to braced kneeling. To do this, simply reverse the leg onto which you drop down. Rather than your strong-side knee being on the ground, your support-side knee will be down — and so on.

Braced and reverse kneeling can be executed with the shooter’s arms extended rather than with one arm supported by a knee. If you’re given the opportunity to brace yourself, take it, but spend some training time firing without bracing. You may be unable to brace yourself when countering an attack.

Double kneeling is exactly what it sounds like: both knees touching the ground. Lowering can be done one knee at a time if you have bad joints, but keep in mind that, if you’re being attacked, you will not have the luxury of careful knee placement. When double kneeling, angle your hips back and shoulders slightly forward for better balance as you move.

Two methods are used for this stance: upright and lowered. Upright involves your torso remaining up, with your weight centered above your knees. Lowered drops your hips back on your heels. In the latter position, some shooters keep their toes tucked under their bodies as third and fourth points of contact with the ground, while others allow their toes to cant out to the sides, resting their rear ends on the ground between their heels. All methods involve arms extended from the body in a shooter’s usual grip. While double kneeling can ground a shooter more firmly, it also takes more effort to transition into and out of, which can make it less desirable under certain circumstances.

Prone Position Shooting

Going prone is extremely useful on the range and while hunting, but facedown on the ground isn’t a place you want to be during an attack. However, it’s quite possible you’ll find yourself on the ground, meaning you should practice for it. Firing your concealed carry gun while prone takes practice, but repetition does help significantly.

There are two obvious ways to go prone: fast and controlled. To go prone fast, be sure your handgun is aimed in the direction you need it (this is where repetition comes into play) and lean your upper body forward while reaching your support hand out to brace yourself. Kick both feet behind you and lower your body with your support hand controlling your descent. Think of it as a reverse one-handed push-up. As you hit the ground, extend your strong hand in front of your body until the butt of your handgun touches the ground. After you’re prone, use your support hand to obtain a strong two-handed grip, with the gun extended ahead of your body. In a best-case scenario, you could rest the gun on the ground before firing, but in a self-defense scenario, it isn’t likely.

Controlled prone is similar to fast but with a few additional steps. Rather than kicking your feet behind you, lower to your knees. From there, lean forward and extend your support hand in front of your body, keeping your handgun pointed at your target. Use your support hand to control the movement from kneeling to prone. This is also the method for moving from kneeling to rollover prone.

Rollover prone is more likely to be of use during self-defense shooting than straightforward prone. For this position, go prone, then flex the knee on your non-firing side. There are variations to leg placement in rollover prone: You might prefer to tuck your non-firing foot behind your firing-side knee, or you might simply leave your non-firing leg bent with your foot flexed. Use the method that provides the best support for your specific needs.

Raising the support-side knee pushes the shooter over onto his or her firing side. From there, the shooter can rest his or her cheek on the bicep of the firing-side arm, with both arms extended to grip the handgun. This shifts the shooter’s weight up onto the firing-side shoulder and torso. Keep in mind that sight picture is affected as the gun cants with rollover prone, which is yet another reason to train hard in advance. Rolling over provides support while allowing you to angle more easily around objects.

Training for Self-Defense

Proper training is paramount in self-defense, and no, you cannot teach yourself. While it’s true there are drills you can practice without assistance, having a qualified instructor demonstrate skills and critique your performance is essential to your growth as a self-defense shooter. There are various options for training, including renowned institutions such as Gunsite Academy in Paulden, Arizona, and Firearms Academy of Seattle in Onalaska, Washington, both of which are well worth the time and cost. The USCCA also has qualified instructors across the country.

You cannot predict the time or place of an attack. If you are unlucky enough to be attacked, you hope to stay on your feet and take advantage of good cover but are more likely to be out in the open and quickly adjusting your position to avoid injury. Training in a variety of positions is time well-spent for shooters whose abilities are beyond the basics.