Make Ready: Shooting Stances R’ Us
Don’t choose a shooting stance—learn them all—then blend and tweak them to find what’s best for you.
Scroll through your Instagram feed. Go ahead, I’ll wait. You’ll notice a steady stream of Isosceles stances in that feed—in all shooter-heavy social media feeds—and you might be thinking, “Hey, that’s cool, I use Isosceles, too.” But what if there is more to shooting than the currently popular stance?
What if…you learn all three stances and discover one works better than you anticipated? Or, what if you need that alternate stance with a specific gun or during a certain scenario? There is significant value to being a well-rounded shooter, and that includes being able to accurately shoot in Isosceles, Weaver, and Chapman (often called Modified Weaver) stances.
A large faction of shooters today are hardcore Isosceles fans, which frequently leads to them mocking anyone using the other stances as Fudds and for being out of touch (if you aren’t familiar, Fudds are on one end of the spectrum and the Tacticool crowd is on the other). Here’s the thing, though: everyone’s body is different. There is no one hard-and-fast rule for stances because there is no single body type, hand size, or shooting situation. Figure out what works for you and do it, be it for competition, hunting, or self defense training.
Before we get too far into this, remember there are variations on every stance. Some instructors will insist you either broaden or narrow your stance not due to your individual needs, but because they tend to feel the entire firing line should match. Just, no. So much no.
Take what you can from those guys and leave the rest. There is always something to learn—to varying degrees—but there are also frequently things to leave in the dust the moment you exit the class.
Everyone is different and your stance should fit your personal needs, not the latest hotness pushed by Instructor Whozit. More importantly, if you have physical limitations making a stance uncomfortable or downright painful, don’t do it. Make some minor adjustments, or try a different stance all together.
Let’s break the stances down one by one:
In the Isosceles stance, the shooter stands square to the target. Going back to the standard Isosceles—remember those variations—your feet will be approximately hip-distance apart with your toes pointed at the target. Arms will be extended straight in front of you; don’t lock your elbows but do hold your arms tightly in place. This is a two-handed grip and doesn’t require a specific thumb position, so choose the one you prefer. For me, personally, thumbs forward feel most natural with Isosceles but I’ve been known to use thumbs down as well.
Keep your legs straight but don’t lock your knees. There should be some give to your knees, although not so much you throw yourself off balance or lean forward as though you’re about to take off. When you raise the gun, you’ll be bringing it to your eye level, keeping your head upright. Don’t be a turtle. Keep your head up.
There is a drawback to Isosceles: recoil control. Depending on your gun and caliber you may find yourself knocked off balance while shooting. This, of course, will have a detrimental effect on accuracy. The good news is it can be corrected.
Enter Power Isosceles, a slight variation designed to improve recoil control, among other things. To do Power Isosceles, take a step back with your strong-side leg. Not a dramatic leap, just a half-step to alter your center of gravity. Allow your knees to flex as opposed to the firmly upright legs of the original stance. When done properly this stance can noticeably correct recoil control problems associated with the original Isosceles.
So, what are the pros of Isosceles? Many gun owners feel it is the most natural, balanced stance. Some also believe it allows for more comfortable upper-body rotation and movement while shooting. And then there are those who point out it capitalizes on the use of a ballistic vest for those who wear them. (Many older shooting stances are bladed, or semi-bladed, meaning the shooter keeps the side of their body facing a threat, which theoretically provides a smaller target for a bad guy to hit. This is exactly what you don’t want to do while wearing body armor, as the sides are the least protected areas.)
Personally, I’ve found Isosceles useful especially with smaller guns.
It is worth noting a lot of women may find stances other than Isosceles more comfortable due to the differences in their body shape. Sometimes it’s just flat-out awkward.
Weaver Stance was created by the late Jack Weaver and is often described as a boxer-style stance. First, a little Weaver history.
More than 60 years ago a group of shooters was participating in the late Col. Jeff Cooper’s Leatherslap competition. Cooper’s event was, like others of the era, a quick-draw event requiring both precision and speed. The events were attended by such shooting greats as Elden Carl, Ray Chapman, Thell Reed, John Plahn, and Jack Weaver. It was at one such event the guys were taking shots at balloons from a distance of about 10 feet—and missing.
At the time, Jack Weaver was a Los Angeles County deputy sheriff. Back in 1994, Weaver wrote about the event in Handguns magazine: “Most of the talk was about how fast different contestants were; ‘hundredths of a second’ seemed very important. Nobody ever mentioned accuracy—that problem was somehow going to take care of itself, like all the Westerns on TV during that time (1956).”
Thus began a year-long effort during which Weaver worked to hone his stance and grip for greater accuracy. He eventually discovered he could raise his gun higher and tilt his head to fine-tune the altered stance he was working on, and the Weaver stance was born. That year at Leatherslap he officially debuted his stance and won the competition.
For Weaver stance, take a step toward the target with your support-side foot and leave your toes pointed at the target. With your strong side turn your toes out at approximately a 45-degree angle. You’ll notice you’re body is positioned pretty much like it would be if you were throwing a punch, hence the “boxer stance.” Although this is another two-handed stance, it differs from Isosceles.
Hold the gun with both hands. Extend your strong-side arm in front of your body and do not fully straighten it. There should be a slight bend in your elbow. Your support-side arm will also be bent at a 45-degree angle. Resist the impulse to stick your elbow out chicken-wing style; point it at the ground.
This stance utilizes a push-pull technique for recoil control (sometimes called “dynamic tension”); the support hand pulls while the strong hand pushes. Yes, it can take time to become accustomed to it, but it is an effective way to control recoil and improve aim.
And guess what? Weaver really does allow you to rotate the upper half of your body to track a target without moving your feet.
On the con side, the reality is an overwhelming number of shooters—and gun writers, yes I’m looking at you—consider Weaver outdated. They see it as a stance used by the dinosaurs of the industry. Some shooters simply misunderstand Weaver, believing your support-side elbow must be bent to an extreme or that your feet are wildly offset. Still, others find it uncomfortable and feel it actually restricts their movement rather than enhancing it.
There are also those who point out the slight blading of the body allows for a potentially fight-ending wound if one were wearing body armor with no side plates.
Of note is the fact that Mas Ayoob himself has pointed out the benefits of Isosceles and said it can be impossible to move into the classic boxer’s stance of Weaver when under severe stress. He further states stress can cause Weaver to fall apart to a detrimental level as the push-pull technique becomes lopsided.
That does not mean Mas doesn’t teach Weaver—he does, he teaches all three stances—but it does mean he has seen what happens during incredible stress. Take this into consideration.
For me, Weaver has its value. I spent the first decade of my handgun life shooting strictly Isosceles and learning Weaver was eye-opening, mostly in good ways.
Let’s move on to the stance that suits me best, personally.
Chapman (Modified Weaver) Stance
The Chapman stance—also known as Modified Weaver—was the brainchild of the late Ray Chapman. He was one of the Combat Masters mentioned above, one who was present when Jack Weaver began working on his now-well-known stance. I wish I had more time to go into his background but since we’ve already ventured into “well, this is quite lengthy” we’ll move on to the technique itself.
Foot placement in Chapman is quite similar to Weaver’s with one slight modification: the support-side foot is not as far forward. Your arms are held in a position close to Weaver as well, only your strong-side arm is fully extended and the support-side shoulder does not drive into the gun to execute the Weaver’s push-pull pressure. If it improves the stance for you, touch your cheek to the bicep of your strong-side arm while firing as if your arm were a buttstock attached to the gun.
Chapman allows your body to absorb more recoil rather than forcing it into your arms and can help with accuracy and target acquisition. Also if you, like me, are cross-dominant, it might be easier for you to properly align your eyes with your gun’s sights.
Pros and cons of Chapman are a lot like those involving Weaver. The reason I use Chapman with increasing frequency is because it removes the pressure from my back and strong-side hip; extended use of Isosceles is sharply painful for me. Chapman relieves the pain. I have found I shoot low using Chapman—and Weaver, for that matter—if I’m not careful with my strong-side shoulder. Push it too far forward and my shots drop; pull it back and they land on target.
Modern Fighting Stance
I’d like to take a moment to cover the Modern Fighting Stance as well. If you attend Gunsite Academy in Paulden, Arizona this is the stance you will learn. That’s right, guys, Gunsite does not teach Weaver. This stance was designed to give you, the shooter, the greatest advantage should you be forced to defend your life.
There are techniques pulled from Weaver and from Isosceles in use here. To shoot in the Modern Fighting Stance you remain square to the target. Then, your strong-side arm is extended and your support-side arm is bent to create the push-pull tension associated with Weaver. Your strong-side leg is placed about six inches further back than your support-side leg; legs are a bit beyond shoulder-distance apart and the toes of both feet face the target. This puts you in Gunsite’s balanced fighting stance.
When using this stance there is some leeway (surprise!). Gunsite acknowledges different body types and possible injuries and makes it clear there are no rules about details like whether or not the strong-side arm is locked out. Remember, this is about a fighting stance that works for you, not following Instructor Whozit’s rules.
The Best Stance?
Which stance is best? None of them. The best stance is the one that works for you—your body, your accumulated injuries or limitations, and your gun. Just this week I reverted to Isosceles while doing playing card drills with the Glock 48; firing the drills in Chapman I discovered my accuracy suffered. However, the same day, I was running the .429 Desert Eagle for an upcoming hog hunt and used Chapman for superior recoil control and comfort’s sake.
I’ll say it again: figure out which stance allows you good movement and accuracy. Don’t use any stance based only on outside opinion. Be willing to adjust as needed. And if you’re one of the people slinging insults and mocking anyone not dedicated to your idea of the perfect stance, do me a favor and shush.
As Jack Weaver once said, “Unless you are a Jack Weaver clone, you can’t be expected to do everything exactly like I do” (Handguns, 1994).
There is no one-size-fits-all stance or grip. You do you.
Kat Ainsworth is an outdoor writer from an eclectic background in K9 Search-and-Rescue and emergency veterinary medicine. As a freelancer she writes for an array of industry publications covering topics from hunting to self-defense. Kat is well into her second decade of concealed carry, has been hunting for more than 20, and has never met a firearm she didn’t want to run. She can be found hunting everything from feral hogs to pheasants but is also regularly at the range honing Mozambique Drills and shoot-and-move techniques. Email her with gun and hunting-related questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.