The Ultimate Firearms Destination for the Gun Lifestyle

Problem Solving Shooting Positions

At RECOIL, we review every product fairly and without bias. Making a purchase through one of our links may earn us a small commission, and helps support independent gun reviews. Learn More

This article originally appeared in RECOIL Issue 31


Prone shooting is the shooting world’s missionary position. It’s the default choice when you want to get the job done and get it done as predictably as possible. Similar to your partner saying, “Babe, let’s change it up,” you’ve also got to alter the normal routine when shooting. While spicing up the bedroom is driven by lust, shooting positions are dictated by the environment and situation. And just like passionate pillow pounding, things can get weird and uncomfortable real fast when problem solving with alternative shooting positions.

Shooting in the prone offers the most stability because the shooter’s body has the maximum amount of contact with a solid shooting surface. The more contact you have with mother earth, the less you and the rifle will move. Prone shooting strategies work on a flat practice range. But shooting anywhere other than the square range means boning up on options for building shooting positions with supportive devices.

Supportive devices assist in creating positions that are stable, adaptable, and repeatable. Even if they’re stable, realize some positions just won’t feel comfortable, and it may take time to find which supportive devices work best for your given scenario.

Before going any further, we’ve got to discuss wobble. It’s not the smooth, beat-driven wobble that’s mesmerizing at the club; it’s the movement of the reticle you witness while looking through the scope. Anytime you touch a gun, a variable is introduced that causes movement.

Using your environment is key to finding a stable shooting base, when you’re off a square range.

Using your environment is key to finding a stable shooting base, when you’re off a square range.

Wobble area is the amount of unintended, natural movement of the weapon while aiming at the target. To the shooter, this movement looks like the crosshairs dancing all over the target. If the wobble area includes areas outside the target, you’re heading for a missed shot; your position should be adjusted until the wobble area is as small as possible, covering the center of your target.

Stable: The goal of every good position is to reduce the wobble area and increase your hit probability. The stability factor can be simplified by asking, “Can I hit the target from this position?”

Adaptable: How quickly can you get into the position, and how long does it need to be maintained? The position has to be adaptable to your environment. If you’re taking one quick shot, the speed of employment must be hasty, and not highly durable. But, if you’re in the same spot for hours on-end, neither you nor the position can begin to break down. Using a more stable or sturdy shooting support can create a more durable position. The most durable positions are the ones where the full weight of the rifle is supported by the position so that your muscles don’t get fatigued or cause involuntary movement to the gun.

Repeatable: This is the practice makes perfect characteristic of creating a good position. When you’re able to recreate and reuse a position, in a stable and adaptable way, your shooting proficiency will improve. Even if you encounter a new obstacle, practiced alternative positions will assist in problem solving.

Natural, or found supports are anything from a downed tree to a stack of cinder blocks. Artificial supports are commercially manufactured devices that use friction, support, and leverage to reduce the effort needed to build and maintain a supported firing position. Shooting bags, bipods, tripods, shooting sticks, and shooting straps all have a place in a precision shooters bag of tools.

Shooting bags are as simple as a homemade sand sock or as complex as a Velcro strap-laden beast with sewn-in attachment points that aid positional improvisation. Bags can be used in countless ways; rear support under the stock, pistol grip or handguard, providing a cushion between hard surfaces and the rifle. Bags are versatile, can be directly strapped onto a rifle or handheld and then positioned.

“If a sniper’s going to be working in a dynamic environment, it’s best to use stability bags to build a hasty position. I’d have never thought I’d carry one of the bags used in Precision Rifle Series Competitions in combat until I started using them,” says Shawn Wiseman, a retired U.S. Army Master Sergeant, former special operations sniper, and the director of the Precision Rifle Series.


“They allow me to build a much more stable shooting position that reduces my area of wobble to the size of a quarter at 100 yards. They also make getting into position much faster because you’re not fighting to steady the rifle as you would if you were resting your rifle on a hard surface.”

At PRS competitions, competitors use multiple medium- to large-sized “fat bags.” Once the bag is in place, your support hand controls the bag. You can adjust the vertical position of the rifle by squeezing the bag.

Shooting bags can be adapted to your setting, offering stability in various ways.

Shooting bags can be adapted to your setting, offering stability in various ways.

“If it’s a long-term sniper overwatch mission,” says Wiseman, “tripods are by far the best equipment to use.” Tripods are the most predictable, versatile, and stable shooting supports. A tripod can be used as support for the front or rear of the rifle, or both at the same time. Manufacturers produce quick detach plates that attach to handguards or pic rails. For rifles without direct-mount capability, a vise-like device can be used on the tripod instead. The vise-like mounts secure any section of the rifle stock or chassis directly to the tripod. The better tripods on the market allow for positional adjustments of the tripod head with your support hand so you can quickly adjust or aim the rifle without breaking your firing grip.

To give merit to tripods’ stability, long-range competition directors incorporate them in their stage design. At the 2016 PRS Finale, competitors engaged a 16-inch square target nine times from three different tripods of varying heights in under 90 seconds, all while dealing with gusting winds. To put that into perspective, that’s 10 seconds to get into position, acquire each target, and shoot. The competitors who were acquainted with tripods prevailed.


The downside of a tripod is the time it takes to set one up. And, good tripods are by no means cheap; you get what you pay for when it comes to stability and durability.

Shooting sticks are widely used by hunters, many of which are cobbled together from found items; got some paracord and some long sticks? You’ve got homemade shooting sticks. The easiest home build is tying three identical sticks together with paracord about 6 inches from the tops, then splaying the sticks out until you get the desired height. Use your imagination, or Google, and you’ll come up with plenty of other homemade options.

Commercial models have more features, such extendable legs that quickly deploy with the press of a button. Like tripods, you can use shooting sticks to support the front of the rifle or the buttstock. They generally aren’t as steady since they aren’t usually affixed to the rifle. If you’re trying to create a durable position, shooting sticks aren’t the best answer. They’re great for a shot that needs to be taken quickly and with minimal setup.

Shooting sticks (above) and shooting straps (below) can let you take aim quickly.

Shooting sticks (above) and shooting straps (below) can let you take aim quickly.

Shooting straps are any type of strap, string, or band used to create a shooting support. A small set of synthetic straps fit in your pocket while larger, ratchet straps perform double-duty securing items in bed of your truck until you need them for a shot. The thickness and tensile strength of the strap will determine how supportive a position it can provide. A flimsy strap will stretch and bounce, so you won’t be able to load it as much as a monster tow strap ratcheted between century oak trees. But, a light strap, used carefully will still provide more stability than an offhand shot.

Direct-mount bipods are the most frequently used supportive device. They’re standard issue for military snipers, if that tells you anything about their importance. Bipods have advanced over the years to include legs and bases that not only extend, but also rotate, swivel, and cant. More angles mean more options for setting up on odd-shaped and off-angle surfaces. Bipod legs can range from 4.75 to 27 inches; longer legs allow shooting from more upright positions, such as sitting and kneeling. Keep in mind, mechanical options add to the complexity and cost of a bipod, and if they aren’t well designed, they will cost you in setup speed and stability.


Applying pressure to the rifle improves stability and decreases the size of the wobble area. Understanding the types of pressure needed for stability will help you choose the appropriate shooting device for a given scenario.

Forward Pressure is pushing some or all of your body weight into the rifle. Sturdy supportive devices allow forward pressure to be applied. A frequently used term is “loading the bipod,” which means applying forward pressure to the bipod through the rifle. Forward pressure decreases wobble area and dampens the recoil, helping a shooter call their shot and get back on target quickly.

Neutral Pressure means the rifle sits in a neutral position without forward or rearward tension. The downside is that wobble and recoil are both tougher to control. Neutral pressure means the rifles’ recoil is unmitigated, and it’s going to take a bit to get back behind the scope, making it tough to call your shot. There is little benefit to neutral pressure; selecting a position where this can be avoided is best.

Rearward Pressure means pulling back on the rifle as the supportive device resists your pull. Positions that allow for rearward pressure are stout; think barricades, building or vehicle windows, heavy rocks, and large tree limbs. The benefits of rearward pressure are similar to those of forward pressure. As a bonus, there’s likely less felt recoil with rearward pressure since the supportive device is acting against the recoil.

According to Brian Sain, a Texas Peace Officer and a bigwig at both, and the American Sniper Association (ASA), shooters from different backgrounds can pick up tips and learn about new gear from related shooting disciplines.

“One subtle point often overlooked,” said Sain, “is that most law enforcement sniper weapons, tactics, and equipment trickle down from USSOCOM and from civilian competition. The missions of the former and the courses of fire of the latter, both require precision weaponry and double tough gear and that … eventually finds its way into law enforcement.”

In competitive shooting, accuracy and speed are key. Competitors shoot in scenarios requiring them to build shooting positions and engage targets while timed. Match directors purposely put competitors in situations where they have to work around obstacles, virtually requiring the use of supportive devices. The combination of a decent bipod and a big, puffy shooting provide competitive shooters a great combination of speed, adaptability, and stability. This combination is beginning to find its way into the ranks of precision law enforcement and military shooters.

Tripods (above) and bipods (below) are excellent tools, but take time to setup and can be costly.

Tripods (above) and bipods (below) are excellent tools, but take time to setup and can be costly.


Military snipers not only deliver precision fire, but also collect information. These multitasking combatants require highly adaptable shooting positions. Ryan Castle is a former U.S. Army sniper, lead instructor at Core Shooting Solutions, and competitive shooter. He says, “Laying down to engage your target is extremely rare. With areas of operation such as mountainous terrain and urban environments, the need to establish firing positions other than prone — and to do so rapidly — is critical.”

The ASA compiles hard data on sniper engagements and releases it as the ASA Sniper Utilization Report. The report puts data behind Castle’s anecdotal evidence. It impacts training standards and provides the firearms industry with data, helping it design and improve products that reflect real-world application.

“Many shots documented within the ASA Sniper Utilization Reports were taken from positions other than prone,” said Sain. “Tall grass, shrubbery, vehicles, [buildings], and fences are just some of the obstacles that must be negotiated.”

The environment seldom gives you what you need for a solid, repeatable, and adaptable shooting position. Professional shooters, including military snipers, have turned to beefy versions of lightweight photographic tripods with firearm-friendly shooting heads as stable and relatively quickly erected shooting supports.

The environment seldom gives you what you need for a solid, repeatable, and adaptable shooting position. Professional shooters, including military snipers, have turned to beefy versions of lightweight photographic tripods with firearm-friendly shooting heads as stable and relatively quickly erected shooting supports.

Unless you’re sitting in decked-out hunting stand or working from the plush interior of a Bearcat, supportive devices are a just about a necessity for any real-world precision work. The ability to make a shot comes from a variety of skills, but having an effective shooting position is the base that supports all your other efforts. You can get away with a lot more long-range ergonomic sins if you at least have a stable shooting platform.

Whether you’re a hunter, competitor, or professional long-range shooter, being able to quickly determine and build the best shooting position is elementary. Successful shooters build stable positions with whatever they have on-hand or whatever’s around them. Whether you’re well equipped or running light-and-fast, learning to combine found, homemade, and commercially available shooting supports will up your game.

Enter Your E-Mail to Receieve a Free 50-Target Pack from RECOIL!

NEXT STEP: Download Your Free Target Pack from RECOIL

For years, RECOIL magazine has treated its readers to a full-size (sometimes full color!) shooting target tucked into each big issue. Now we've compiled over 50 of our most popular targets into this one digital PDF download. From handgun drills to AR-15 practice, these 50+ targets have you covered. Print off as many as you like (ammo not included).

Get your pack of 50 Print-at-Home targets when you subscribe to the RECOIL email newsletter. We'll send you weekly updates on guns, gear, industry news, and special offers from leading manufacturers - your guide to the firearms lifestyle.

You want this. Trust Us.

Add a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to the Free