The Offhand Position- Part 1

The point of this blog is to take concepts to the range and test them.  The goal is to figure out what our baseline is, work to improve, then find a measureable way to define our improvement.

There are known methods.  There are dogmas.  There is folk wisdom as applied to rifle shooting.  But will you really know what works best for you until you test and compare methods?

It’s not a bad thing to adopt a method.  You have to start down a road and take it to its logical conclusion.  When you then arrive at your “destination” and preach your method to anyone who will listen (and some who won’t), you just might have reached the point where you are no longer learning, nor open to improvements in your shooting.  So, again, the point is to keep the mind open just enough to realize that we might have been wrong all this time, and that change may benefit out shooting.  Then again, you might pit your method against another, and find that you’ve been right all along.

Rifle shooting, in the beginning, can be taught from a template- “Put this elbow here, grip like this, apply pressure like so, etc…”  A person can get pretty good with just the standard techniques.  Then it seems like the progress slows way down.  You have to figure out how your body works best with your rifle, your sighting system, and the demands of your environment.

The shooter’s environment will dictate the shooting position he will use in the field.  It seems to me that the better the rifleman, the less he will be attached to controlling what position he uses.  The environment he’s in will be the best and primary determinant of his action.  The best shooter will do this without conscious thought.

I’m starting out the blog with the orthodox positions.  I want to begin with the basics, then work toward the more practical.  Even as we lose the orthodox, we will retain the fundamentals.

Why might we choose to shoot offhand when it’s one of the least stable positions?  It’s fast- as in, critters don’t just stand there waiting to be shot.  What about terrain?  If your view of the target is obstructed from any position other than standing, that’s what you’re stuck with.  I can’t think of another great reason.  “Because it’s there”, you might say.  Good enough reason to work on it, I suppose.

Let’s lay down a definition of offhand, starting from the most basic, generic, and most widely accepted.  It’s done from a standing position, but standing and offhand are not synonymous.  Standing is a fancy looking, convoluted target shooting position where the thumb of the support hand rests under, and in contact with the trigger guard, and the pads of the fingers support the rifle around where the mag would be.  Offhand is how normal (American) folks shoot when they are standing up.


Offhand 026-resized

   Offhand- side view


Offhand 029- resized

Offhand- front view

To start out, the feet are about shoulder width apart.  We are not trying to impress Larry Craig here with our wide stance.  Too wide a stance will cause your natural point of aim to be too high.  The toes will point about 90 degrees from the target toward your firing hand side.  I like the weight to fall about 70% on the balls of my feet.  The knees are not bent, but not locked.


Offhand 030- resized

Larry Craig style offhand- especially bad in public restrooms.


The support hand cradles the fore end of the rifle in the palm.  Try not to over grip, as this may induce horizontal movement.  Ideally the fingers should be relaxed, possibly loose.  Think “platform” rather than “grip”.  The catch is that you’ll have to apply some pressure to keep the butt to your shoulder and your cheekweld held fast as you work the bolt (unless you can’t handle a bolt gun).  Note that you need not apply this pressure while firing.  The only job of the support hand while firing is to support the weight of the rifle.

The support elbow is directly under the rifle.  This does not mean to put your support elbow as far to the opposite shoulder as it will go.  You may have too much flexibility or not enough.  If you’re not flexible enough, keep practicing and it may come in time.  Look in a mirror to get it right.  Getting the elbow under keeps your arm muscles from having to do more than their fair share.  Although in offhand the muscles are doing quite a bit, we’re still looking to settle into a “bone support” type of steadiness.

The firing hand grips the pistol grip and actuates the trigger.  The specific location of the firing hand should be determined by where you can get the center of the pad of the trigger finger on the trigger, and no other part of your trigger finger touching the gun (commonly referred to as “dragging wood”).

The head should be basically kept erect, and the rifle brought up to your line of sight.  The cheek should have a consistent place on the stock.  Minor variations in cheekweld will result in frustrating shifts in your bullets’ point of impact.

It has long been maintained that the elbow of the firing arm should be at least horizontal, maybe higher (sometimes called “chicken winging).  This approach may work well with a musket, a trapdoor 45-70, a 1903A3, a Garand, or even an M14.  Try this with an AR, and your wrist will be bent at an awkward angle.  I believe that a vertical pistol grip naturally encourages the elbow to drop, and a more horizontal grip encourages the elbow to rise.


Offhand bent wrist- resized

Raising the elbow into a “chicken wing” with a vertical grip causes the wrist to be bent at an awkward angle.

Offhand straight wrist- resized
With a vertical pistol grip, allowing the elbow to drop can make things more comfortable and solid.

In part 2 we’ll discuss getting better results downrange.

To be continued…


4 thoughts on “The Offhand Position- Part 1

  1. Thanks for the Larry Craig reference. Until now I had never heard of him. I just finished reading the Wiki entry; Too bad I can’t get that time back.. heh

    What you wrote about the support hand reminded me of something I read in Morris Fisher’s book, Mastering the Rifle. That particular detail is not so important, so I won’t go into it here. What I did notice from your pictures here, and from his book, is that the grip of the support hand is a little different in the offhand position as compared to the prone position (and possibly kneeling). Not having a firearm to experiment with right now, I can’t really do much on my own to figure out if this is merely a comfort issue or whatever. Any pearls of wisdom on this?

  2. @University-Bound

    Glad I could be of assistance with a history lesson (maybe a practical lesson as well 🙂 ).

    I think the support hand grip in offhand depends on what you’re doing. Ideally, if precision is what I’m after, I would use the same hand position as all the others, just a nice relaxed platform. For bolt work, the support hand needs to provide the rearward pressure to keep the butt secure in the shoulder pocket.

    The hand position in the above pictures may be something I started doing a long time ago, copying photos of experienced shooters. It does seem like offhand places the wrist at a slightly different angle and that lends to placing the fingers higher.

    All the pics were probably taken on the same day, and note the difference between the M14 stock and the TRG in the last pictures. Different ergonomics will cause differences in what you do.

  3. Pingback: Working the Offhand Position | The Everyday Marksman

  4. Pingback: A Year in Review (Almost) | The Everyday Marksman

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *