I have to giggle sometimes when watching a shooter at the line during a training class go through their ritual before the command to fire.
I would never begrudge anyone or downplay the importance of getting your mind right, calming yourself and having a plan. That can make all the difference in the world. What I find amusing usually begins with a foot shuffle to clear any and all debris near their feet, even when there is no movement involved in the drill.
The “getting ready” process usually involves a super-wide stance with knees bent and butt out. You know the look—like a cowboy riding a horse or someone walking over a fire hydrant. Then, the timer beeps, the shooter draws the pistol slowly and methodically, adds just a little more squat and then … WHACK ! Using a poor grip, he smashes the trigger. Even with that fantastic stance, the shot placement is way off the mark.
You know you’ve seen it. Perhaps it’s even you. I know I’ve done it. But not recently.
When I attended a training course a couple of years ago, the instructors continually insisted I move my strong foot back and widen my stance. I wasn’t sure why they constantly changed my stance. My target looked great, but I didn’t have the desired “tactical” look. Heck, at one point, when I was performing a reload drill with sideways movement, they had me widen my stance again.
When I asked how I was supposed to step to the left when my feet were about as spread apart as they could get, the instructor looked confused. Finally, he said, “Take a little step with your left foot, then a bigger step with your right.”
I practically ended up in the splits; and by that point, I knew this choreographed “dance” wouldn’t have any application in action competitions or a real-world gunfight.
After this class and several others, I have come to a conclusion: Many instructors have no idea how to fix a shooter, so they start with foot placement. They run cool drills and give pats on the back for simply hitting paper. But can they help fix what you are struggling with?
By moving you around, it might appear they are showing you how to improve your shots. They’ll talk about aggressive posturing and natural point of aim. But think about it: What the heck do your feet have to do with shot placement? Hence, my issue with the whole dogmatic doctrine of “stance.”
Let’s consider the word, stance. Webster’s Dictionary defines it as “the way in which someone stands, especially when deliberately adopted.”
If you have to set your feet in a contrived position prior to engaging any target, what will you do in the real world when you need to draw and fire? How will your reaction be affected if something gets in the way, keeping you from getting into your preferred stance? If all you ever do is what you’ve always done, then all you’ll ever have is what you’ve already got.
We prefer the term, “platform,” rather than “stance” when we’re training shooters. The only aspects we get into when referencing “platform” are feet, knees, hips and shoulders squared—as close as possible—to the target.
Aspects of a functional shooting stance include your toes pointing in the direction of the target with your feet shoulder width apart and shoulders just in front of your hips—or, as I say, “Nose over toes.”
To find shoulder width apart, start by recognizing where your arms join your shoulders at the joint. Consider the relationship of those joints to where your feet line up under them when you walk. If this is truly shoulder width apart and it’s where you move from, why not shoot from there? It’s when we spread our feet out too far that it becomes hard to immediately move forward, rearward or laterally. The reason for this is that you have to shift weight and bring your feet back underneath you before you can begin to move. If your shooting stance requires movement before you can move, you’re wasting precious time and effort.
Pointing your toes in the direction you’re moving helps keep your hips from waddling like a duck. When your feet point outward, your hips open up.
Instructors who insist on putting the strong foot back to manage recoil or to not get knocked around by the gun cycling probably haven’t done enough dynamic shooting. To be clear: Unless I’m shooting a full auto (pistol or rifle caliber) or dumping a full magazine of shotgun shells or slugs, I don’t concern myself with foot placement.
Instead, the most important detail of stance is a slight weight shift forward. The following techniques will get your nose over toes or your shoulders just in front of your hips to get weight forward.
Belly Crunch: If you’re familiar with the belly crunch abdominal exercise, this will be easy for you to understand. While standing, do a simple abdominal crunch, bringing your buttocks in and shoulders forward to create abdominal tension. Notice that your nose comes forward just over your toes, thereby putting your shoulders just in front of your hips.
Grabbing Grass and Big Toe Down: Not everyone understands doing a standing belly crunch, so here’s another technique. Pretend you are standing barefoot in your yard. With your non-dominant (weak-side) foot, scrunch up your toes as if trying to grip the grass out. Your body should come forward 1 or 2 inches, bringing your nose just over your toes. If you can’t grab the grass, try pretending a penny is under your weak-side big toe. Press the penny into the floor with your big toe. You should get the same effect: nose over toes.
This forward weight is generally all you need to run most common pistols and ARs. People often struggle with stance, trying to get their feet just right and in a perfect position before they shoot. You can’t worry about your feet when time is of the essence.
When training students, we use some fun methods to dispel the myth of stance. Try standing like a “bowling pin,” with the balls and heels of your feet together, touching. Now, shift your weight forward, nose over toes. We have yet to see anyone firing from this position who has an issue.
Foot placement has nothing to do with your ability to hit consistently. Shooting takes place from the waist up. Honestly, recoil management starts at the grip.
Think about making the sights the mission. When the sights are the mission, the body will comply. Shooters find this helps when shooting on the move and firing from alternate positions. Your body will just do what’s necessary to manage the gun. Once you realize you can fire from a more natural position, you will be able to relax and become more focused on the important fundamentals of sight alignment, sight picture and trigger management.
When working with students, my husband and I have been demystifying stance for years with great success. Next time you go shooting with a rifle or pistol, give some of these experiments a try. You’ll laugh and be amazed at how comfortably and easy you can shoot—and you’ll amaze your friends for sure.
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the April 2017 print issue of Gun World Magazine.