Introduction to Improvised Support in Rifle Shooting

A common way for folks who are good field shots, but not so great with targets, to improve their shooting is to cheat.  In shooting it’s a good thing to use your wits to gain an advantage.  Some shooters cheat at the range by placing their rifles in rests.  This is not as handy when you’re covering ground on foot in the woods, so other shooters cheat by being perceptive and inventive with the materials available to them in the environment.

Using available material or terrain to your advantage by making your rifle more stable is called using improvised support.  Generally the improvised support is used to replace the support hand under the forend, which is generally the weakest link in our position.  Sometimes the support hand and improvised support are used in concert. One of the basic categories of improvised support is a vertical surface used to steady the support hand.  This helps greatly when standing.  The support hand is used as an interface with the supporting surface and the forend of the rifle, somewhat like the hand that supports a pool cue.  Take care to ensure that nothing touches the barrel.

Right hand shooting, right side of support.  This combination maximizes your cover or concealment.

Right hand shooting, left side of support.  This will expose more of you as a target, if that’s what someone has in mind for you.

Generally the palm of the support hand is placed on the surface and the fingers or thumb support the rifle, depending on whether you’re shooting around or across the support.  By this I mean, if your support is to the support side (the left side for a right handed shooter), and your muzzle is to your firing side (muzzle to the right of the support for a right handed shooter) you’re shooting “around”.  If the supporting surface is to your firing side, and the muzzle crosses above your support arm or hand, then you’re shooting to the “across” of the support. If you need to be using cover, you should only shoot around the support.  This is because shooting around minimizes your exposure to the threat.  Shooting across exposes your non-dominant side unnecessarily.  This means you need to be able to shoot ambidextrously if you take your cover seriously.

Overhead view of a stick figure exposing himself by shooting right handed from the left side of his cover.

Overhead view of a shooter taking it left handed to maximize his cover.

A variation of using vertical support is hanging onto the rifle sling near the forward stud, and letting the rifle dangle from it against the support hand.  This seems to work well for heaver rifles.

Right handed, right side of support.  It’s hard to tell in the picture, but I’m grasping the sling in my support hand, which supports the weight of the rifle.

Right handed, left side of support.

Another form of improvised support is using something under the forend.  This could be a large rock, a lump of dirt, a car hood or truck bed, downed tree trunk, a table, the top of a rise, the edge of a foxhole, a curb, etc…  Your job is to make sure your rifle has something soft to sit on.  If you have a bipod and can use it, great.  For this article, I’ll assume that you can’t for whatever reason.  Another great item is a pack.  The challenge with a pack, although not nearly an insurmountable one, is to find a nice soft spot for your forend to sink into and not slide off of.

Pack used as support.  The dark mark on the pack is from actually firing a gun off of it.  Ahhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!

Another tried and true interface between stock and support is the fist.  The best way is to grab your sling firmly near the forward stud so there’s no play between your fist and the forend.  This would be great on the curb, truck bed, or car hood.  Speaking of car hoods and the like, this will put a lot of your profile into high visibility and out of cover.  A bumper might be a better choice.  Just something to consider.

Make sure you take up all the slack possible.  I recommend de-horning your swivel and/or wearing gloves.

An alternative to the fist is the web of your hand between the thumb and index finger.  Try it both ways, or other ones you hear of or invent, and find out what works best for you.

I have never used this.  I would prefer using the fist.  Just the way I’ve always done it.

Yet another great interface between the support and stock is the crook of the support arm.  This would work well if your support is somewhat elevated to about face level.

If you shoot an AR, the 30 round mag may preclude some of the lower methods I’ve described.  It’s a good reason to have a spare 20 rounder or 2 with you.  I don’t recommend using the mag as a monopod.  It can mess with the function (it shouldn’t, but AR’s have been known to do things that they shouldn’t).  I also think that there’s more stable ways to shoot, but if you try it and it works for you, good. 

An important element of any good shooting position to keep in mind is not to let anything touch the barrel.  That’s bad.  Going along with this, remember the soft to hard, hard to soft principle.  Don’t plop your forend down on a rock, because the recoil is going to cause the rifle to move unpredictably, and the contact may affect how the shot flies out of the barrel. 

Something else to consider when utilizing support is that you need to be able to manipulate the gun.  Don’t position yourself in a way that obstructs your access to changing mags, accessing your sighting system, working your bolt, etc…  You don’t want to find out that you can’t keep yourself in the fight when it’s too late. 

There are other ways shooters use improvised support, like shooting sticks.  I haven’t used shooting sticks, but will probably acquaint myself with some and write about it.  I’d be glad to hear of any clever and inventive uses of improvised support you may have.  Email me pics of your targets too. 

My example of using support was standing at the driver’s side of a small truck, using the rear of the cab as support with my support hand holding the sling, just like this:


Overhead sketch:

Note that the above diagram does not depict good use of the vehicle for cover.  It just happened to be the only thing I had handy at the range to use as a standing level improvise support.

Here’s the target I shot:


About 6.1” at 100 yards, or 5.8 MOA.  Notice that most of the size comes from horizontal dispersion.  The vertical is about the same as I get from prone with a sling.  I think that illustrates how well the use of artificial support works.

If I had been a little more patient and focused, I could have taken maybe 2 more inches off the side to side.  What I noticed is that the side to side movement would make this position beneficial for tracking moving targets.  When positions have inherent directional instability, it usually works to work with it and control it rather than trying to eliminate it.  At any rate, this is significantly better than what I do from offhand with no support.

I hope this gets your mental juices flowing to take advantage of what’s available.  It would be incredibly boring to do all your shooting from a bench, plus it’s heavy to take with you everwhere you might want to go.  Thanks for reading.

2 thoughts on “Introduction to Improvised Support in Rifle Shooting

  1. @firearmsandtraining

    I agree with you, I would choose the engine block if it was “for real”. It was all I had at that particular range location to improvise support from a standing position (it’s an open field with a backstop; much like Luke Skywalker in the cave, have only what you bring with you, you will). I just get a big kick of making overhead diagrams “not to scale” with to document my shooting (it gives my life some artificial sense of meaning).

    My first article on cover comes out on the 13th.

    Thanks for reading. I visit your site frequently.

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