How to Hold a Rifle: Grip and Stance

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Last Updated on July 30, 2021.
How to Hold a Rifle Grip and Stance

Proper grip and stance play an essential role in shooting accurately, working hand-in-hand with marksmanship fundamentals. A rifleman can assume several steady positions to increase their accuracy in the field or on the range.


Why Position Matters

If you want to shoot far and straight, you typically use a rifle. The rifle is, at its most basic description, a shoulder weapon with a rifled barrel.

While a rifle may be inherently accurate, it’s the shooter that makes the difference. If you want to maximize your performance with a rifle, you need to familiarize yourself with the various shooting positions.

Should you decide to get into long range competition, be sure to check on this preparational guide before joining one.


Rifle Positions

When learning how to hold a rifle, the stance you assume directly affects your ability to achieve consistent results.

Bone Support

To the extent possible, you want your bones to support the rifle. Relaxing your muscles ensures you won’t disturb the rifle due to muscle tremors.

Preliminary

Your first consideration should be grip. Place your firing hand on the pistol grip and hold it firmly. In bolt-action rifles with straight-grip and semi-pistol grip stocks, the part you hold with your firing hand may also be called the wrist

Rest the fore-end of the rifle flat on the palm of your non-firing hand. Brace the butt of the rifle firmly in the pocket of your firing shoulder, applying rearward pressure with your dominant hand. 

Place your cheek against the comb of the stock in the same position every time—a consistent stock weld ensures consistent eye relief. Keep your head upright to avoid eye strain. 

Stances

The four primary stances for shooting a rifle are: prone, kneeling, sitting, and standing

When shooting your rifle using one of these four basic stances, you can also use slings, bipods, or other rests to further steady the rifle. 

Prone

Prone is the most stable position, especially for long-range shooting. To assume the prone position, face the target and lie face down with your feet spread apart and your heels close to the ground. Place your elbows on the ground. If this is supported, rest the rifle on a sandbag, bipod, or pack.

Natural Point of Aim

Your body should be in alignment with the rifle to the fullest extent possible. When you relax, your rifle’s point of aim should not shift. That’s why you need to find the natural point of aim—the direction the rifle points relative to the point of aim when you don’t apply any muscular effort. For the best results, these should be consistent with each other.

You can test whether you’ve achieved the natural point of aim by, first, ensuring you’re not relying on muscle tension to support the weapon. The support should come solely from your skeletal structure

Aim the rifle at a target, close yhaour eyes, relax your muscles, take a deep breath, let it out, and open your eyes. If your sights are in the same position, you’ve achieved the natural point of aim. 

If your sights are off target, you’ll have to adjust your body’s position and try again. This may simply be a case of moving your body to the right or left.

Another method would be bore sighting a rifle which greatly increases your precision and your shooting performance.

Kneeling

The kneeling position is not as stable as prone but allows you to raise your rifle off the ground to shoot over uneven terrain and foliage. To assume a kneeling position as a right-handed shooter, kneel on your right knee with your left knee raised. 

Your left leg supports the elbow of your left arm. Don’t place your left elbow on your left knee—this is not stable. Instead, you should rest your elbow aft of the knee on the flat of your thigh. Sit on your right heel, ensuring that your foot is under your spine. 

Sitting

Another position of similar stability to kneeling is sitting. In the sitting position, your legs can be crossed, or your feet spread apart. Alternatively, you can curl your left arm around your left knee and support the rifle stock in the “V” formed by your elbow. 

As with the prone and kneeling positions, your bones should be supporting the rifle and in contact with each other, but take care not to place your elbows directly on your kneecaps. 

Standing

This is the least stable firing position but also allows you to respond to threats rapidly. It also increases your visibility and hence vulnerability compared with the other positions. You should limit the standing position to relatively close-range targets. 

Stand with your feet spread approximately shoulder-width apart. If you’re right-handed, your left foot should be slightly ahead of your right in the boxer’s stance.

Lean forward to absorb the recoil. As you grasp the fore-grip of the rifle in your left hand, your elbow should be pointing toward the ground. Raise your right elbow so that the butt can fit more deeply into the shoulder pocket. You don’t need to exaggerate the right elbow position. 

Improvised Rests

When shooting afield, the most stable firing position will use a rest. If you don’t have a bipod, and sometimes even if you do, you may need to use a stump, log, or other solid object in the environment as an improvised rest. You should always place a soft object in between the rifle stock or barrel and the object. 

Resting the rifle directly against a hard surface can cause your point of impact to shift due to barrel whip. If you don’t have a relatively soft object, use your support hand by placing the fore-stock in the “V” formed by the webbing between your thumb and index finger. 

Slings

The sling isn’t simply a strap of leather for carrying your rifle, although it does serve that purpose well. The sling can also increase your stability when shooting by encircling your arm, binding the rifle to your body. One of the simplest methods of using this accessory is called the “Hasty Sling.” 

To assume the Hasty Sling position, hold the rifle out in front of you by the pistol grip or wrist with the barrel pointing forward. Let the sling hang loosely, and place your support hand through the loop formed between the rifle and the sling. 

Lift your arm under and around the sling. Slip your hand over the top of the sling and under the rifle so that the sling is resting on the inside of your forearm. Grip the fore-stock with your support hand.

Whether you’re practicing how to hold a rifle for the first time or an experienced shooter, the sling can be a significant help.

See Related Article on Best AR-15 Slings in the Market Today.


Practice Makes Perfect

Practice these positions, and you should be able to shoot accurately and effectively under a wide variety of conditions. Each position serves a purpose. Stability isn’t the only concern. 

Varying terrain, the distance to the target, visibility, and other factors determine the most appropriate position at the time. However, even the most stable position won’t help you unless you’ve mastered marksmanship fundamentals.

Becoming a better marksman and being able to zero out a rifle can definitely be achieved by proper guidance and consistent practice.


The Last Word

Once you’ve practiced the various shooting positions and mastered the fundamentals of marksmanship, you should become a formidably accurate shooter. Whether for competition, hunting, or self-defense, the shooting position matters.