Competitive Shooting

Lessons From a Beat Cop: Off-Balance Firing Positions

BobCampbell aiming a 1911 .45 ACP handgun from a kneeling position

Not long ago, Gerald and I were discussing old friends and some of the difficulties they had survived. Gerald’s encounter was perhaps the most violent and unexpected. While working as a deputy Sheriff, he saw an older gentleman stopped on the side of the road with a flat on his old Ford. The fellow had the look of a farmer, perhaps 55, younger than I am now. Gerald was not yet 30.

Gerald stopped with the intention of helping the man change the tire. The old man turned toward Gerald rising from where he was crouched by the truck. He had a snub nose .38 in his hand and shot Gerald. Gerald felt as if he had been punched hard in the abdomen.

The author in a kneeling shooting position aiming a blue gun
Kneeling offers a stable and versatile firing platform.

He fell back against the hood of his cruiser, drew his .38, and fired from a very poor firing position. He fired five times, and hit the man every time, before falling to the ground and crawling to the door of his cruiser. A passerby stopped and rendered first aid. As it turned out, the newly deceased 56-year-old man was a long-time felon who had stolen the truck.

Not long after that, another deputy answered a call about a domestic disturbance. He pulled in the yard and called out on the scene. Within seconds he was screaming double zero on the shortwave, he had been shot.

The man involved — another older person over 60 years old — had approached and shot the door of the police cruiser with a shotgun. The deputy was seated. He drew his revolver and attempted to bring it to bear. The revolver hung up on the steering wheel and fired too soon. Somehow the bullet struck the dash and bounced back into the deputy’s chest wounding him. The man who shot the deputy fled to his house and was eventually shot but not badly injured. The deputy retired because of his injury.

Each deputy fired from an unconventional firing position with different results. After some discussion, we agreed that very seldom was there a perfect firing position in a real-life incident.

Training makes the difference. In another difficulty, a young officer I knew well was involved an incident in which a felon fired once and missed. He then fired again, over his shoulder that time, as he ran from the officer.

Man using the corner of a house as a covered firing position
When firing from a kneeling position don’t crowd cover. Stay back and don’t be surprised by anyone ‘cutting a corner.’

The young officer had surprised the man (the cop was surprised as well) as the felon backed out of a restaurant he had just robbed. The officer was looking for coffee — not trouble! The officer drew his Colt Commander .45 and shot the man. It was a back shot, but the felon was attempting to fire again over his shoulder at about 20 yards.

This young officer fired once. He had carefully studied Ed McGivern’s Fast and Fancy Revolver Shooting and practiced a great deal. He applied basic principles to the modern 1911 .45. He fired with one hand as his front foot hit the ground, just as McGivern taught. Some things are timeless. The 230-grain ‘hardball’ turned the stickup man topsy turvy and knocked him out. He survived after a stiff round of antibiotics.

In my youth, I walked a beat. (Yes, I consider anything under 30 to be my ‘youth!’) I did not have a radio but the ‘radio car’ checked on me every hour. It was a learning experience and basic police work included checking doors and windows of downtown businesses. It was amazing how many shops are not broken into when a beat man was on the block.

two-handed firing grip demonstrated with a blue gun
The most important thing with any stance is to keep a stable firing grip.

Occasionally, local shopkeepers would bring me coffee and donuts (at the time I was not afraid to eat them). Diabetes and crazy people ruined my appetite for such fare.

One day, I heard the tinkle of glass breaking and trotted to investigate. A young man had broken the window of a clothing store. He ran and I gave chase. As I turned a corner another man swung a board that clobbered me and took the wind out of my sails. As I lay stunned, he tried to grab my revolver.

I laid on my Combat Magnum, feebly kicked his legs, and he ran away. While not a firing position, it was a lesson in awareness and ground fighting. I got a good look at the man’s face. I knew one day I would see him again and there would be hell to pay.

Demonstrating the roll over prone firing position with a blue gun
Roll-over prone is among the most useful of firing positions.

Over 44 years later, I have never run across him. I suppose he is telling his story somewhere from his perspective. I recovered with only a cracked rib and pride intact. After all, anyone who has survived time in uniform and not been on the wrong side of a fight is either lying or never fought. I learned to move while on the ground.

Preparation and Training

Standing on the square range and firing at a target a few yards in front of you doesn’t prepare you for personal defense. The range allows a great deal of mobility. Some instructors teach as if you would be fighting on the range. It is easy to make target transitions and change focus from one target to the next. That’s fine for initial training.

Almost every other type of shooting demands firing in tighter quarters. Restaurants, standing beside your car, and in other establishments may demand different firing positions. Most tactics will involve moving closer to the ground. There are many reasons for getting lower.

Making yourself a smaller target is one. You may have been injured or shot. You may need to take cover and the only cover is tight and cramped. Vehicles can be excellent cover. However, if you stand beside a vehicle, glass may be the only thing that is likely to be between you and a bullet.

Firing from a kneeling position may increase accuracy — if you have practiced. You may even need to fire at long range. If under attack by a rifle-armed individual, taking cover and returning fire from a solid covered position is a good tactic.

Getting up from a prone shooting position using a one-handed push up
If you have done enough one-arm push-ups, you will not have a problem with quickly getting out of prone firing positions.

At one time, firing from a kneeling position was a part of firearms qualification. If done correctly, kneeling is a solid position with much to recommend. Although I have knee injuries and arthritis, I often practice kneeling fire. It keeps the knees loosened up and may have benefits not only for my health, but my longevity as well.

Keep the forward foot flat and ready to quickly move if needed. In this manner, you may quickly exit from the kneeling position. Practice sliding into the kneeling position either going down on one knee first or sliding the weak side knee down.

The support hand isn’t braced. The strong side elbow braces against the thigh. Against the knee isn’t as solid, and there is less spring to help control recoil. Upper body positioning and the firing grip are no different than standing.

MAn shooting a scoped revolver from kneeling shooting stance for hunting
This is a perfectly stable kneeling platform.

You are lower to the ground, a smaller target, and more stable. You may change the threat focus quickly. Kneeling is an excellent stance when firing around cover. Don’t hug the cover. Maintain some distance between you and the cover, and remain behind the edge of the cover.

If the pistol touches a hard surface, it will probably recoil off the surface, making accurate fire more difficult. Maximizing your use of cover firing from a strong and steady kneeling is one way to do so. If you have not practiced kneeling, you are about as likely to fall as to assume kneeling correctly.

I have documented a surprising number of shots fired from a seated position. Sometimes the defender fired from a vehicle to thwart a carjacking, and at other times the victim was seated at a restaurant. (Several customers have shot robbers at the Waffle House… meh, still my favorite breakfast place.)

Man sitting in a car showing a pistol in a cross draw holster
Firing from a seated position isn’t difficult, the draw is the major concern.

Some shots were fired from the ground. If you are wounded, you may find yourself on the ground, under a table, or on the sidewalk. You may not be able to stand or walk and may need to scoot backward to cover. If you fire while scooting backward, be certain to clear your knees and feet with the shot. As you may have imagined by now, it is imperative to develop and maintain your one-hand fire skills. Few practice one-hand or weak-hand shooting as much as they should. One-hand fire is fast and surprisingly accurate for those who practice.

I don’t like prone fire for many reasons. An adversary with a height advantage will chew you up if he or she has a line of sight on you. However, if you are behind cover prone may offer good accuracy and a small profile. Another disadvantage of the prone position is that incoming fire will be directed at your head and that shots or fragments may bounce into your face.

Prone is also difficult to get into and difficult (for most of us) to rise out of quickly. None of the off-balance or unusual firing positions are easily executed on the first try and demand practice. Prone is one of the more difficult.

Ba Campbell kneeling in front of a truck to fire a pistol for self-defense
Firing from kneeling firing positions is a good tactic when you are around vehicles.

Don’t neglect training to address an adversary who has adopted an unusual firing position. You may have to adapt to a different point of aim. Much of this practice will have to be done using dry fire. If you are on the ground and firing upward, the bullet will fly through the target and over the berm.

I was once employed for security in a place that was very crowded at times. We had credible threats and a few incidents but none involving gunfire. I practiced dropping to the ground as I would in a crowd and firing upward. The bullet, if it exited, would have found the drop ceiling. This is a peculiar drill specific to my employment at the time and which was beneficial.

A good friend was once involved in a bloody battle with two stickup men. One was dropped almost instantly while the other managed to fire a dozen shots at short range. Thank God none connected. My friend J. returned fire with no apparent effect. He had enough gun, .45 hardball.

pushing a pistol in the ground to assist the shooter in getting up
Don’t shove off with the pistol! It would take an entire article to list the dangers of this.

The point of aim was center chest, and the bullets were simply cutting a trough in the perp’s upper body. J. shifted his aim to below the sternum. The bullet went up at an angle and the fight was over as the bullet clipped the heart.

As it turned out, the first shot of the gunbattle knocked the first stickup man down and out of the fight immediately. The shot also struck the second armed man and knocked him to the floor. It cannot be said that the second assailant chose prone fire, he simply went with what he had.

J. believed the man did not aim during the fight but kept pulling the trigger of his rifle and attempted to walk the shots into the target. Fortunately, it didn’t work.

The author leaning against a house in a firing position
Don’t lean against cover if you can help it. Keep the pistol steady and balanced.

Animal Defense

Another concern that applied to unconventional firing positions is the unfortunate need to take out dangerous animals, something that is all too common these days for some officers. Certain inadequate personality types mistreat animals and create a terribly vicious extension of their own warped personality. When firing at these low-riding animals, the bullet cannot be aimed at the chest it will pass low with little effect.

The top of the neck or just below the collarbone leading to the vitals is sometimes a difficult aiming point. I have shot coyotes and while a chest shot is usually effective with a 9mm and up, any shot that travels through the body line to line is much more effective.

By the same token, when the threat is kneeling, on their back, or prone, be certain to adjust your point of aim. Conventional aiming may be ineffective. Practice getting into non-standard firing positions. Run drills with one hand and two hands. Consider how to address a target that doesn’t represent the conventional threat profile represented by a silhouette target. Don’t neglect practical shooting versus firing with a range mentality.

The author in a kneeling shooting position aiming a blue gun at an off angle
The aiming point may be quickly adjusted when you have practiced from kneeling firing positions.

Note: When you are dropping to prone or kneeling firing positions, be certain to practice drawing the firearm. Some holster styles are very difficult to draw from when seated. By the same token, a cross-draw isn’t the best for prone.

For safety, always use a fake gun when training. Once you have achieved a safe level of proficiency, you can move to drills on the range. It is the height of ignorance not to do so.

Do you train from a kneeling or prone self-defense firing position? Do you have a favorite drill or routine for these positions? Share your answers in the comment section.

About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.

Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Rifle Magazine
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns

Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (4)

  1. I left law enforcement about 15 years ago and among other things one of my duties was as an instructor and handling qualifications recertification. Kneeling, kneeling and standing cover fire (with both sidearm and shotgun) and one hand crouch with sidearm were all requirements. I still try to keep up with those skills but no kidding, getting older and not so great knees definitely makes it umm… challenging.

  2. This is a very useful article Bob. If we keep those sights aligned properly, we can hit targets accurately from any position.

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