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Practice the 4 Most Common Shooting Positions for Hunting

Perfect field-shooting positions in the off-season to steady your aim for the fall.

Practice the 4 Most Common Shooting Positions for Hunting

When shooting from prone with a bipod, it’s more stable to lie with your body in line with the rifle instead of at an angle, but sometimes you must adapt to the terrain while hunting. (Photo by Richard Mann)

There are two rules of thumb when it comes to field shooting positions. The first is that the easier the position is to assume, the less steady it will be. The other is that the closer you can get your rifle to the ground, the steadier you will be. Competence from field shooting positions can help you find success while hunting, but competence only comes with practice. Here’s a crash course in the four field shooting positions with some tips to help you assume them faster and shoot better from them.

1. STANDING

The standing off-hand position is the fastest to assume and the least steady, but sometimes it’s required when you’re surprised and need to take a fast shot. Most think that to assume it, you just snap the rifle to your shoulder. Ideally, however, when you bring that rifle up, you should be in sort of a fighting stance, with your support-side leg slightly forward. You should also be slightly crouched, with your knees over your toes and your shoulders over your knees. This provides a good, balanced foundation and helps you control recoil.

Using shooting sticks from the standing position is similar, but for the best results, square up perpendicular to the rifle, with your feet spread a bit wider than normal. You’ll use your legs and body to limit the side-to-side movement of the rifle, and you’ll use the sticks to control the up and down.

2. KNEELING

This position is only slightly steadier than standing. It’s best used when you need to shoot under and/or over intermediate obstructions. To assume the position, take a half-step forward with your support side leg and then drop to your shooting-side knee. Rest your support-side elbow on your support-side knee, and if you have a shooting sling, use it for added stability. If you can sit on your heel, or better yet, on your folded-over foot, you’ll be even steadier. Remember, the closer you get your rifle to the ground, the steadier you will be.

hunter shooting from kneeling position
For best results when shooting from the kneeling position without a rest, place your support arm directly under the rifle. (Photo by Richard Mann)

If you’re using sticks or maybe shooting over a log or rock, you can kneel on both knees, spread about shoulder width apart. However, the reverse kneeling position is even better. Kneel on your support-side knee, as opposed to your shooting-side knee, and then rest your shooting arm or elbow on your shooting-side knee.

3. SITTING

The seated position is useful for many hunting situations and is very steady. The simplest and fastest way I’ve found to get into it is to just step one foot across the other and then squat. You can extend your shooting hand to ease the impact with the ground while you’re holding your rifle in your support hand. Once down, you have options. You can place your feet flat on the ground and rest your elbows on your knees, or you can cross your legs, lean forward, and place your elbows on, or in front of, your knees and shins.

hunter shooting from seated position
When shooting from the seated position, rest your elbows on or in front of your knees or shins, and use a sling for added stability. (Photo by Richard Mann)

When shooting from sticks while seated, square up perpendicular to the rifle, spread your legs wide, place the soles of your feet on the ground and your elbows just forward of your knees. Also, lean forward so that your head is in front of your pelvis. You can also place your support hand on the comb or toe of the buttstock, or use it to hold onto the rifle fore-end or shooting sticks. If you have a shooting sling, use it. It can make the sitting position rock steady.

4. PRONE

The prone position demonstrates the validity of both rules of thumb described earlier. Because it’s the most time consuming to assume and because it gets your rifle the closest to the ground, it’s the steadiest. However, because of intermediate obstructions, it’s not as applicable in as many hunting situations. The best way I’ve found to go prone is to just drop to both knees, lean forward, and catch yourself with your shooting hand while holding the rifle in your support hand. Once on your tummy, spread your legs with your feet wider than shoulder width, then prop up your shoulders on your elbows. Without a bipod or rest, you’ll want your body positioned at about a 20- to 30-degree angle to the rifle.

If you’re using a bipod, deploy it before going prone—you can adjust it once you’re on the ground. If you have a bipod or a rest, place your support hand under the buttstock and use it to fine tune your hold. If I’m low enough for my support hand to touch the ground, I’ll often make a fist and rest the toe of the stock between my thumb and index finger. Alternatively, I’ll grip the strap tightly and rotate my fist under the buttstock to fine-tune my hold. When shooting with a bipod or other forward support, you want your body positioned in line with the rifle’s barrel, as opposed to at an angle, if the ground allows it.

ODDBALL POSITIONS

Sometimes, in the real world, these positions must be modified. I once took an Idaho black bear by shooting uphill at an extreme angle while lying on my back under a large log in a deadfall and resting the rifle across the top of the log. On another hunt, I had to shoot a Nebraska whitetail buck that snuck up behind me on my shooting side. I shot him off-hand but with the rifle from my left as opposed to my right shoulder. And while hunting waterbuck along the Limpopo River in South Africa, I had to kneel and rest my rifle across my guide’s shoulder.

You really cannot plan for the sometimes-weird positions you might have to shoot from while hunting. The best preparation is to become as confident as possible with common field shooting positions so that you’ll feel comfortable modifying them in the heat of the moment. Also, sometimes mother nature provides us a shooting support steadier than any tripod. Just as you can learn to use the terrain to aid in your stalk, learn to use it to help you shoot, too.




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