Tips for Firing a Rifle Offhand, Part 2

offhand shooting - barricade

In part one of this blog series, we covered why choosing the right caliber and scope are important for firing a rifle offhand. Now we’ll get into the right firing positions and drills needed to master firing a rifle offhand.

These drills are necessary to master any rifle. They are also very useful for personal defense. You may have an advantage in personal defense with the rifle, but only if you have mastered the rifle.

I consider all of these drills offhand shooting, as they are not accomplished by firing from a benchrest position.

offhand shooting - corners
It is beneficial to learn firing around corners.

Position and Shot Placement

Prone fire is the most stable and, not surprisingly, you may fire more accurately with the prone position than from rest (if you do it correctly). Line the rifles bore center with the supporting structure of the body, the spine, lined up as nearly as possible.

Recoil energy will be absorbed by this structure.  This natural support makes for a very solid firing position. The gun stock will be solidly placed in the shoulder. The support hand is for forward on the forend without the arm touching the rifle.

Keep the rifle steady, but not so hard a hold that your body shakes. You are firing one shot that must strike the mark and this means a steady trigger press, straight to the rear. Some trigger actions are heavier than others.

First, take up the travel of the trigger and then slowly press the trigger straight to the rear. Keep the trigger to the rear for a moment then release it and allow the trigger to reset.

Remember that a slight movement such as breathing may move the crosshairs and throw the shot off. Don’t forget accuracy is how close you are to the object you are firing at. Precision is the closeness of the bullets to each other on the target.

A properly sighted rifle should hit the target at 200 yards. That is accuracy. A precision rifle will place its shots into 1 MOA at 100 yards.

offhand shooting - prone
Firing from prone is a potentially very accurate firing position.

Sighting and Trajectory

To properly sight the rifle, fire a group at 100 yards. If the group is splayed about the target, something is wrong. If the group is 2 MOA or less, you are shooting to the rifle’s accuracy potential. Observe the center of the three-shot groups you have fired.

Then adjust the scope so that the center of the group is in the center of the reticle. Elevation is moved up or down, windage left or right. Many of us prefer a sighting in a process that gives us a rifle that is sighted for an inch or one and one-half inch high at 100 yards.

This depends on the caliber and allows the shooter to easily maintain a good probability of getting hits to 200 yards. Understand the rifle’s trajectory and fire your load and rifle to confirm.

Hash marks on the reticle should be memorized for holdover or hold under at various ranges. As an example, the kill area of a deer-sized animal is generally regarded as eight inches.

I prefer to err on the side of caution and the range, at which you may get all of your shots in an eight-inch circle from a field position is the deadly range for the rifle and shooter. For some, it may be 150 yards, for some a little more.

firing offhand - prone
Firing from prone is a great multiplier of accuracy.

Physical Considerations

When firing offhand, the butt of the rifle must be firmly toed into the shoulder. The hand grasps the semi-pistol grip or pistol grip and the support hand pulls the stock back into the shoulder. The body is bladed to the target.

The support hand is as far forward as possible—but don’t touch the gas block. It gets pretty hot. Surprisingly, accurate fire may be done from the bladed standing position, but I have found that for most shooters, the standing position’s accuracy deteriorates rapidly.

For a few aimed shots, the standing position is an excellent field position. But it isn’t for sustained fire. Remember always bring the eye to the sights as the rifle is held rigidly, not the rifle moving to the eye. Keep your feet a shoulder apart.

The offside leg is slightly forward. The knees should be flexed, allowing them to act as a shock absorber. The upper body is always more rigid than the lower body. Standing barricade isn’t much different.

I prefer not to lay my body against the barricade or wall, opting for the ability to move out of the barricade quickly if needed. Using a tree for support in the wild translates well.

When you are firing from the barricade, be certain not to rest the barrel’s muzzle against the support. This may cause the shot to go wild.

rifle offhand - rapid movement
When firing offhand, you should always be in a position that allows rapid movement.

The Kneeling Option

Another firing position that is useful in the field is the kneeling position. This position may be adopted quickly with sufficient practice. The stance begins with the firing side knee dropped to the ground. The support (or weak side) knee is raised.

The support side elbow is placed on the upraised knee, just forward of the point of the knee in the ideal firing position. By kneeling back at a severe angle on the support side foot, you may have an even more stable position.

If you are too heavy or stiff to do this properly, a great deal of work is ahead of you.

As I have often said, if you are responsible for the safety of others and cannot perform simple drills on demand due to a lack of practice, the family, friends or children that rely on you are pretty much lost.

Age Is Just a Number?

I am no longer young and the drills more difficult than ever. I can master bench rest firing just fine, but then again, who cannot? When moving into the prone or kneeling position, the bones creak.

Arthritis and old injuries from battles with protein-fed ex-cons have left my joints sore and probably in need of replacement. I have learned to throw my hips and body when rising. Working this into my shooting drills is in the works.

When firing from prone, it isn’t difficult to rise by shoving my hands under my chest and pressing up. I’m thankful my upper body isn’t racked by such injuries and problems.

One last tip: when firing from cover, do not fire from a position in which the spent cases may strike cover or a barricade and bounce back into the ejection. It happens.

rifle offhand - benchrest
Firing from a solid braced benchrest is primarily for sighting the rifle in, not a means all its own.


Rifle marksmanship isn’t easy, but it is essential. Practice getting into the firing position and dry fire as much as possible. Then practice with the real thing and master the rifle. It may be the best gunmetal friend you have ever had.

Do you have any other tips for firing a rifle offhand? Let us know in the comments below.

About the Author:

Wilburn Roberts

When Wilburn Roberts was a young peace officer, he adopted his present pen name at the suggestion of his chief, as some of the brass was leery of what he might write. This was also adopted out of respect for families of both victims and criminals. The pen name is the same and the man remains an outspoken proponent of using enough gun for the job.

He has been on the hit list of a well-known hate group, traveled in a dozen countries and written on many subjects, including investigating hate crimes and adopting the patrol carbine. He graduated second in his class with a degree in Police Science. It took him 20 years to work himself from Lieutenant to Sergeant and he calls it as he sees it.
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 (5)

  1. I was going to mention using the sling but Jim, down there in them piney woods of Conroe, beat me to it. So, I’ll ditto what he said.
    When I was deployed to Baghdad as an infantryman (’04-’05) I carried a full-auto M-14 as my primary weapon. I came up with my own technique for dumping a 20-round mag, on full-auto, from the standing/off-hand position, which kept my iron sights on target and with little to no muzzle rise, and all without having to take the step of wrapping the sling (I prefer to wrap my sling in pretty much every shooting position but it is an extra step that has to be preformed).
    So, what I would do is: flip up the shoulder brace on the butt-plate as I’m bringing the stock into my shoulder. Crouch down, with a good wide stance, and lean forward real good. Then, with the rifle on full-auto, squeeze off a well-aimed single shot and let the recoil rock me back. As soon as I rocked back forward, and my sights came back on target, I squeezed off a 9-10 round burst and let off of the trigger as soon as my sights start to lift off of the target again. As I come back down onto the target, I hold down the trigger again until it quits.
    I have video of me demonstrating this technique in the field and, watching the muzzle rise in slow-motion, or lack there of, is pretty impressive. Even if I do say so myself.

  2. I used to teach kids how to shoot rifles. They competed in three position matches. We taught the the most stable platform for shooting was bone-to-bone-to-bone. This means for off hand shooting the elbow is tucked against the rib cage, the rifle sat onto a gloved hand, or fist, very close to the trigger, and the trigger arm pulled against the body. If you watch Olympic shooters, that is how they hold their rifles. I used to hunt and used this method when I couldn’t find a tree or shoot prone, so it did not delay my ability to shoot. I cannot see how holding the rifle as far out as possible makes it more stable. However, I can see how it would tire a shooter if engaged in target practice.

  3. After sighting in on the bench I have found that shooting from a standing offhand position at ranges of 50,100,and 200 gives me a quick reference of my max range capability for an ethical shot! If you’re not in the 8 in circle don’t shoot standing offhand at that range!

  4. I personally would choose a bolt action rifle in 30-06 or 7mm Remington magnum over a self-loader in .308 Winchester. In theory, the .308 is more accurate due to the shorter and stiffer action, but survival is about lethality, not comfort or precision, and offhand shooting negates much of the felt recoil. Also, a bolt rifle conserves ammo, and a heavier rifle is easier to hold steady than a light one. As for bringing the eye to the sights rather than the gun to the eye, this only makes sense with an iron-sighted handgun, where the focus must be on the front sight. With any rifle, and especially one with a scope, the eyes should be on the target so that when the gun is mounted, the target is instantly in view, and the eyes are already in focus and ready to make the shot, not hunting around trying to locate the target in the sights. Obviously, this takes practice, but so does every other form of shooting.

  5. While not always necessary, incorporating a sling into an offhand (or kneeling) position is a handy skill to have. I adjust my sling to be long enough so that I can use it to support the rifle and still carry the rifle comfortably.

    To get into the sling, I hold my rifle canted away from me strong side to weak side, poke my weak side arm past the elbow through the bow of the sling, then bring my weakside hand back against the sling. I wrap the sling around my wrist placing my weak side hand on the foregrip as I normally would, were I not using a sling. The sling should be taut and pull the rifle into the shoulder.

    I use a sling with a broad section near the attachment point on the foregrip, which lays flat against my wrist / arm. Some suggest mounting the sling with a half twist to avoid a twist in the sling, but I don’t find this necessary. At any rate, I would recommend experimenting with the type of sling you have to see if it presents any problems.

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