Learn to Shoot Standing, Kneeling, & Prone from the US Army
Don't be just a benchrest shooter. Learn from the US Army how to shoot from practical shooting positions.
Many shooters almost exclusively shoot their rifle off of a shooting bench on a static shooting line while sitting in a chair. A shooting bench is a great way to focus on some fundamentals of marksmanship, like trigger control and breathing. Unfortunately, benchrest rifle shooting only focuses a small component of all the skills involved in rifle shooting. In particular, the skills required for practical shooting, be it hunting, competition, self defense, or combat, go way beyond what can be practiced on a benchrest. Being able to shoot from multiple shooting positions, including less than ideal shooting positions, is critical to being a skilled shooter.
So today we’re going to talk about how to shoot a rifle standing, kneeling, and prone according to the US Army’s teachings.
Shooting a rifle standing offhand
Shooting offhand while standing is the least accurate method of shooting a rifle. Shooters are more accurate when using some sort of rest, be it their own knee or some sort of object to rest the rifle on. But sometimes, offhand standing shots must be taken.
When shooting standing, ensure you have an aggressive stance and firmly planted feet. Placing your feet shoulder width apart and slightly forward and behind provides a stable shooting stance, well, as stable as offhand shooting can be. Lean forward into the rifle slightly in order to better absorb and control recoil under rapid and/or sustained fire.
When gripping the rifle, place your support hand as far out as possible, with a firm clamp around the handguard. This allows shooters to stabilize the rifle, control recoil, and snap between multiple targets. With the shooting hand, maintain a firm and high grip. Pull the rifle’s buttstock deep into the shoulder pocket to prevent it from shifting and aid in overall rifle stability.
Shooting a rifle while kneeling
Kneeling is a more ideal rifle shooting position, as it allows shooters to rest their elbow on their knees to improve their accuracy. Contrary to what video games teach us, simply kneeling with a rifle doesn’t improve accuracy. Shooters must kneel and utilize their elbows and knees to better stabilize their rifle.
When shooting a rifle without support from the kneeling position, right handed shooters need to put their left knee forward, and left handed shooters must put their right knee forward. Move the corresponding elbow over the knee, and rest your arm on the leg. It is important to not put the elbow directly on the knee, as bone on bone is not very stable. Depending on your body size, either put your elbow in front of the knee so your arm rests on the knee, or put your elbow just behind the knee so the elbow rests on the fleshy part just above the kneecap.
Like when shooting a rifle while standing, the support hand stays as far out on the rifle’s handguard as possible. The rifle should be aligned directly over the knee to provide as much skeletal support, using as little muscle as possible to support the weapon. Turning your foot slightly inward also helps increase stability.
Consistently and quickly getting in out of the kneeling position requires dry fire practice. With an empty rifle, get down into the kneeling position, dry run the trigger, stand up, and repeat. At the start, do this slowly. After getting into the kneeling position, run through the kneeling checklist and make sure every body part is in the correct position. This prevents building bad habits.
Shooting a rifle while prone
Shooting a rifle while prone provides the greatest stability of any shooting position. Unfortunately, the terrain and location of the target prone often isn’t a viable shooting position.
To quickly get into the prone shooting position, crouch down and extend the non shooting hand to the ground. Use that hand to hop and extend the feet out, like a burpee. Then lie down, moving the non shooting hand back to the rifle. To stand up, simply reverse the process. Just like the kneeling dry fire drill previously mentioned, getting in and out of prone is also an excellent dry fire shooting drill.
Just like standing and prone, the non shooting hand should be extended all the way out to manage recoil, and the rifle should remain perfectly vertical. A cant in the rifle can alter the point of impact creating misses. Use the non shooting arm’s elbow to plant into the ground and offer support, while “monopoding” with the rifle’s magazine. Placing weight on the magazine will not cause malfunction issues – that is a common misconception. The firing arm’s elbow should also be placed on the ground to aid in rifle support and stability.
The shooters feet should be rotated outwards, and the legs slightly spread apart. This also increases stability. Keeping your legs close together does not provide any added stability. Shooters can also keep one leg straight behind them, and pull the other leg out to the side while bending the knee.
Natural point of aim
Natural point of aim is very important in all shooting positions. If a shooter has to use their muscles to twist their body to aim at a target, their stability decreases, causing more sway in the rifle. Squaring up your entire body with your target reduces the amount of sway, improving accuracy.
Squaring up on the target is yet another excellent dry fire drill for practicing rifle shooting. Stand in an off direction from the target, then rotate and square up on the target and bring the rifle into a shooting position. Squaring up on the target should be quick and natural.
Shooting a rifle off of a barricade
If shooting prone is not an option, using some sort of object for physical support is ideal. Letting the rifle rest on something else, allows the shooter to have greater precision. The US Army’s BenningTV also has a video on how to shoot a rifle off of a barricade and is well worth a watch. Using a rifle on a barricade incorrectly could make your rifle shooting less accurate.
Practice through dryfire
Dry fire practice is the key to improving marksmanship. With an empty rifle and magazine, lock the bolt to the rear to give the trigger some movement. Then get in and out of each of these positions, aiming at a target and pulling the trigger. Be very careful to use the proper technique. Starting a dry fire training session slowly allows for easier self diagnosis. Training with improper form creates bad habits and can hurt your shooting abilities.
A great drill is to start with a rifle standing, dry fire, kneel, dry fire, stand back up, dry fire, go prone, dry fire, stand back up, and repeat. Moving between multiple spots is also an excellent way to practice more important shooting skills all at once. This helps practice getting in and out of the various shooting positions, while taking shots in the positions.
Honesty with yourself is critical during dry fire practice. Are your sights getting on target? Are your sights bouncing when you pull the trigger? Is every body part in the correct position? There is no benefit to rushing and doing things incorrectly.
Written by Brian Purkiss - always a student, sometimes a teacher.
I don't consider myself a competition shooter - I think of myself as a performance pistol shooter. I am all about performing at as high of a level as possible. Towards that end, I am obsessive about learning how to perform. I spend a lot of my life learning from the best across the entire firearms world and even into other areas of performance and other sports. I am a USPSA Carry Optics Grandmaster, currently working towards my second GM title in the Open division.