How to rest any handgun for accurate shooting

by B.B. Pelletier

I became a writer because I was angry. I thought that people who knew things about shooting and airguns didn’t want to share them with others. The more I wrote, though, the more I discovered that often there wasn’t anybody who knew the things I wanted to know. And if someone did know something, they tended to show only the parts that looked cool. One example of this might be how to properly hold a handgun in a rested position.

I just looked in three books about handguns, and between them they contain hundreds of action pictures of shooters shooting guns so fast that there are several shells in the air and the slides are caught partially open. Cool! But in those same three books, only one contains two pictures showing a rested hold! Yet, the rested hold is infinitely more accurate than an action hold. It just doesn’t look as pretty.

Holding a handgun for long-range shooting may not look cool, but it does make a huge difference in the long-range accuracy of any handgun. Matt correctly guessed that I learned a lot of my handgun techniques from Elmer Keith. Although I’ve never met him, he was my trainer for a lot of handgun shooting knowledge.

For those who don’t know him, Elmer Keith is one of the most respected, and the most controversial gun writers who ever lived. He invented the .44 Magnum cartridge and talked the firearm community (S&W and Ruger) into making guns for it. Some of the shots he took, such as killing a mule deer buck at 600 yards with a .44 Magnum revolver, hitting the animal two times out of four shots, were the reasons many people called him a liar. You can learn more about him on the website for the Elmer Keith Memorial Shoot. The people there write just like me, and we all have similar experiences.

I read Keith before I entered the Army (where I was formally trained to shoot), so I had no frame of reference as to whether he was a liar or a really good shot. I just believed him and tried the things he wrote about until they worked for me, too. Things like hitting a man-sized rock at 300 yards with a Colt 1860 .44 cap-and-ball revolver and repeatedly hitting a football-sized dirt clod at 80 yards with a snub-nosed .38. The people who witnessed these shots told me beforehand they were impossible. Afterward, they became converts, just as I was a believer in Keith’s writing.


Elmer Keith lying in what we would today call a modified Creedmore position. He rests his shooting hand against his knee and braces himself with his other arm. From the book Sixguns, by Keith, published by Stackpole, copyright by Keith, 1955.


Elmer Keith in his classic rested position, both hands clamped between the knees for support. From the book Sixguns, by Keith, published by Stackpole, copyright by Keith, 1955.


My own recommended handgun rested position. The weight is borne by the bag, so the hands do not move. The wrists are free to move with recoil, and the gun touches only the hands. With this type of handgun rest, I can do my most accurate long-range handgun work. It’s great for recoiling air pistols such as this RWS LP8.

It comes from experience
When I wrote The Airgun Letter, I tested lots of air pistols. Readers wanted to know how accurate they were and everyone told me to clamp them in a vice. Well, there are many huge problems with that, starting with not all guns respond well to being clamped. Some want to be handheld. However, I’m not the world’s most accurate handgunner, so how can we tell how well a pistol shoots when I am the one testing it and have to hold it in my hands? I needed to find a repeatable and positive way to hold the gun to wring out the last possible bit of accuracy, despite my own shortcomings.

I remembered my early years and all the fantastic shooting I had done by following Keith’s writings, so I concocted a way to recreate that on a standard rifle range, using equipment that was normally available. Later on, I read how other firearm handgun writers test their guns, and they don’t all use a Ransom Rest. Several shoot off a bag, holding exactly as you see me doing in the photo above.

However, I cannot find anyone who shows this hold in a picture or even describes it. It may exist, I just haven’t found it. I see several commercial pistol rests that allow the pistol to touch the rest in front, but that would be the opposite of what I’m suggesting. These rests may work very well, but I have no experience with them and cannot offer an opinion. If any readers use a pistol rest, I wish they would please contribute to this discussion.

38 thoughts on “How to rest any handgun for accurate shooting

  1. OK, I'm gonna ask a question I always wanted to ask. When you make statements like "hitting a man-sized rock at 300 yards with a Colt 1860 .44 cap-and-ball revolver and repeatedly hitting a football-sized dirt clod at 80 yards with a snub-nosed .38." – what exactly do you mean? Are you talking about hitting your target 2 out of 10, 10 out of 10, or 'more often than not'? And are shots like these rested or freehand?

    Personally, I'm a bad shot with a pistol. I'm just tryin' to figure out HOW bad…


  2. Vince,

    What is this report about? Shooting a RESTED handgun. Yes, all shots were rested.

    Once the hits start, I typically don't miss again. But it might take several shots to walk the bullets onto the target.

    I'm saying repeated hits on the target, once they start. It's a matter of knowing where the sights have to be placed to hit the target.

    If you go to the Elmer Keith Memorial Shoot website I linked to, you will see folks doing the same thing at 627 yards.

    B.B.


  3. I too grew up reading Elmer Keith and trying long range pistol. I am a believer and praticed long range handgunning with a stock GP100 .357 (sorry Elmer, the .44 was too much for me!).

    I think it applies well to air-pistoling and my rested hold is just as you show it. Thanks for the Elmer tribute!


  4. Nice report and yes this is possible. I'm not a very good shot with a pistol and many years ago my father and I read one Elmer Keiths books and we tried some of idea. At 235 yards we were hitting a small pumpkin with a 357 magnum. I hit 2 out of 6 shots my father hit 4 out of 6. This technique works with my browning pellet pistol as well. Folks give this a try next time you are out shooting it works.


  5. B.B.:

    I'm eager to try your method. I took up handgunning less than a year ago after becoming crippled. I still have good eye/hand coordination and can shoot sitting down, which is perfect for handguns.

    I've tried shooting off a Remington commercial sand-filled rest designed to be the front half of a rifle rest.

    And I've tried the front half of a very sturdy mechanical rest–NXT Steady Rest–as illustrated on the box. That means resting the barrel on the U-shaped rest and supporting my right hand with my left hand in a modified "tea-cup" grip.

    Neither of these works to my satisfaction.

    I want to shoot from a rest to zero in my red-dot sights on my Ruger Mark III and to do longer-distance shooting with a compact 9mm (which is a close-up weapon that I'd like to shoot out to 25 yards if I can).

    I need a rested hold that reduces waver to a minimum.

    I've learned to shoot offhnad with a two-hand grip at 50 ft. with some success. I'm scoring at the 500-point mark in a 600-point informal Bullseye competition and can squeeze off decent shots when I get the waver to settle on the black.

    However, I want to eliminate the waver almost entirely when I use a rest.

    I'll try your technique as soon as I can get to a range, but here's my question: How do you hold tightly on target and repeat sight pictures with loose wrists?

    When I try that, the sights wander all over from one shot to the next.

    Are you just such a good pistol shot that you can really reduce the waver, and am I just too inexperienced to get it right and more practice will help me?

    (I cannot imagine the skill it takes to hit something at 600!)

    I'm thinking of getting a big-caliber handgun and attempt to hunt some of the huge White-Tail deer we have in my part of the country, but I need to feel confident in hitting a target out to 50 yards before I try to shoot a living animal. I would shoot from sticks or a monorest if I try to hunt.

    Thanks for explaining your hold and taking the time to help out.

    PurcHawk


  6. This is off-topic to some degree, but I guess it follows suit in regards to "rest". This question is related to pcp's and CO2 rifles.

    When you mount a bipod on a rifle, is it best for the bipod to be positioned at the furthest possible point forward on the foregrip of the stock toward the muzzle, or positioned back toward the trigger (without toppling forward)?

    Instinctively to me it seems like the more stable position would be the "furthest point forward on the foregrip". It seems like weight distribution would help cancel any potential recoil from the air/CO2 blast.

    Closer to the trigger it seems as if barrel rise might occur as the rifle may "teeter" back just a bit. That "just a bit" could affect accuracy over distances.

    I've seen all kinds of pictures of both ways, and am wondering if one way is better than the other.

    Thanks


  7. OT,
    Yup, I'm unabashedly looking for pats on the back ;-)
    When shooting 10m pistol (using a Gamo Compact) I shoot 5 shots at the standard ISSF 10m airpistol target.
    Last night I shot 2 consecutive 100's.
    Two targets, 5 shots each. Both ending up with on ragged hole in the 10 ring.
    Brag while you can, I always say!
    CowBoyStar Dad


  8. I have a Daisy 747 and a Diana 6G and have used a similar rest when sighting the pistols.

    Initially I would use a small throw pillow under my two handed hold. I would then make the final sight adjustments shooting off hand.

    I would like to see more information and photos on this subject.

    Cheers,
    Stingray


  9. Bipod,

    Think of the gun as a lever, and the bipod as the fulcrum (pivot point). You want the bipod forward, so large movements at the trigger translate into smaller movements at the muzzle. Just look at pictures of the bipod locatins on military rifles.

    If that doesn't make sense, I can try to elaborate.

    Jake

    w/v: Rodysia. I believe we call it Zimbabwe now :)


  10. PurcHawk ,

    The term "loose" wrists is misleading. All it means is I do nothing to stiffen them. They are normal wrists and my hold is normal, just as anyone's would be when using a bag this way.

    Patrick Sweeney wrote that he hand-held several 1911 pistols that give five-shot groups of less than two inches at 50 yards. One of them is under one inch. I can't do they good, I don't think, but on those long-range shots I have amazed my self.

    Please let us know how this hold works for you.

    B.B.


  11. Bipod,

    I see that Jake has already answered this, but I'll add my two cents. BRV shooters were fanatics about accuracy, measuring shots in the hundredths of an inch. They always positioned the bipod as far forward as the stock would permit, so there was less of a lever effect when they held the stock.

    B.B.



  12. b.b. of course you will notice I am not telling how the third target turned out.
    Needless to say, not perfect…not by a long shot!
    CowBoyStar Dad


  13. B.B.

    Thanks! You're right that I have not seen this covered elsewhere. All the gun writers either use a Ransom Rest or refer to a rested hold without elaborating. Almost everyone I see at the gun range, even with expensive hardware, seems to be doing it wrong.

    I read somewhere that Keith developed special long-range sights to eliminate or shorten the process of walking rounds onto a target at a distance. They consisted of a somewhat taller front blade with precise graduations so you would know how far to raise the blade relative to the rear sight. But I suppose they didn't catch on. I'm anxious to try the new rested technique at the range.

    Purchawk, why would you shoot with loose wrists? I thought it was basic to all pistol shooting to keep the wrists firm. Sorry to hear about your accident. Have you considered rifle shooting? I read about one individual who needed to have his M1 Garand loaded for him, but could shoot with phenomenal accuracy. At 100 yards, he was cutting wires that held targets until the range officers told him to stop.

    Wayne, while trying out the classic Weaver hold last night on my Walther CP Sport, I realized that it is very close to the technique you described. The only difference is that I don't think you are supposed to rest the front elbow on the ribs, but I found myself doing that anyway which is how I made the connection. So, it seems that you have arrived at the orthodoxy after all. You might run into trouble at the higher calibers by cupping the butt instead of gripping it which is another, central point of the classic Weaver hold, but find out for yourself.

    CowboyStar Dad, that's damned good shooting. I wasn't doing anything like that last night at 5 yards.

    All, there is a video on YouTube of David Tubb promoting his instructional DVD wherein he shows impressive skill working a bolt-action rifle. He writes that he can work a bolt as well as anyone which I can believe, but I couldn't visualize his technique of hooking his trigger finger and possibly his third finger over the bolt and flipping it back. Well, that is just what he does in an incredibly swift, economical, and effortless movement. All single-shot aficianados will want to convert to a magazine after watching this. It also raises new possibilities for the Marauder with its bolt-action.

    Matt61


  14. CSD,

    Kudos and a well-deserved pat on the back.

    BTW, there is no requirement I know of that requires you to mention that third target!


  15. Jake and B.B. thanks for your answer, and describing the process. Instinctively it made since to me that "further forward" would be the most appropriate, but both of your descriptions of the gun as a lever clarified it for me, and brought it home.

    thanks again


  16. Guys:

    I must have expressed myself badly: I DO try to keep my wrists firm in any handgun shooting–I'm not limp wristing.

    B.B.'s comment that his wrists were free to move with the recoil threw me off.

    I tried his technique a few moments ago with a 1377 (that has a red-dot mounted) over my indoor range of 7 yards.

    The hold was pretty solid, but there was still enough waver that I found it hard to repeat a sight picture precisely.

    I'll keep trying, and perhaps I can get the hang of it.

    By the way, not long ago I watched a three-show series on the Military Channel about a sniper team competition. One part of it had the teams shooting with their sidearms, and the Air Force team used something close to Keith's technique, although it may have been more of a full-blown Creedmore. They laid down on their backs with their legs bent, lifted their heads, and held their Berettas braced against the inside of their thighs. I'd never seen such an odd-looking position before, but they shot well.

    Matt 61: I do shoot rimfire rifles from a table and am relatively accurate, especially with my Marlin 982 VS in .22 Magnum. I haven't tried anything beyond 100 yards, however.

    PurcHawk



  17. Hi B.B.

    This is unrelated to the article.
    What do you recommend in a Diana 34, .177 or .22? I am leaning toward the .22, but am curious what your take on it is. Does the .22 take more advantage of this rifle's potential?

    Thanks for your time,
    -R


  18. I apologize for going off topic again, (I'm way behind in my reading), but I have a question for Wayne – I see you sold both your AAS410 in 22 cal, and your Blizzard.

    Your seemed to comment quite favorably on both rifles, as does B.B. (hence, I am committed to buying one or the other). Did you find them unsuitable for some reason?

    Maybe someone else has tried them both?

    I'm looking for an addition to my Infinity, which I will "classify" as extremely powerful, fairly accurate, but, unlike my Korean friend, I can't imagine going hunting with only 6 – 10 good shots. It's great for "whistle-pig patrol", (I've learned to notch-up the power with each shot, and can get shoot the first magazine within 20fps). But now that I'm hooked, and don't have a tank, I'm looking for reasonably good power and accuracy, and maybe 20-30 shots.

    Jane Hansen


  19. BB,
    Please go in depth with this very useful article. My handguns all seem to drift to the right (right handed/left eyed). Should I try a more neutral hold? Or should I go tighter and work more on trigger control. I let my thumb ride the thumbs safety on the 1911 BTW. Thanx
    Shadow express dude


  20. BB,
    You're going to convince me to try pistol shooting yet:).

    CbSDad,
    Good job. I believe you — the fact that you felt compelled to tell us about the third group convinces me even more.


  21. -R,

    I would have said .22 also, but it depends on what you want to do with it. Because the 34 is also a delightful .177, too. So, if it's for hunting, then .22. If for general shooting, .177.

    If by "potential" you mean power, yes, the .22 will be more powerful. But the .177 is really optimized in the 34, so this is a tough call to make.

    B.B.


  22. Jane,

    I just wanted to keep you up to date. I went out with the Blizzard on Monday and was testing it when I blew one of the fill probe o-rings off. No replacement, so I'm dead in the water. Then today I went out again and it's a gale wind at the range. Didn't even take the airguns out of their cases.

    I will try get this gun tested before I go back to New York in the begining of September, but next week I'm at Pyramtd Air for 4 days, so I don't know if I can.

    B.B.


  23. SED,

    It's most common for a right-hander to shoot low and to the left. I'm guessing that left eye aiming is causing the right drift.

    I used to blame my guns before I learned to hold them with a dead-neutral hold. Then they started printing in the center of the target.

    So the dead-neutral hold is what you need to master. I would bet a cookie it would change the way your handguns print.

    Trigger control is part of the dead-neutral hold, but so is how you grasp the gun. I have been trying for two weeks to finish an article and video on that exact topic. If I ever finish it, it's what you need to see.

    B.B.


  24. BG_Farmer,

    I have a video scene in my head that's been there for decades. In it the bad guys are all shooting at the hero with ARs. They are 300 yards away and are going through mag after mag. He has a .38 Special revolver and kills them one at a time using a Creedmore hold.

    B.B.



  25. A technique my father was taught in the City of London police when carrying out room to room searches with a handgun was,
    Site the pistol with a cupped hand then holding that position draw your arms back so the butt of the pistol is pulled close to the centre of your chest.
    The key is that the body moves not the gun which at short range means it should maintain accuracy.
    Also the pistol is not as vunerable to being grabbed or knocked out of your hand.
    If you go from the withdrawn position to point and shoot as long as you have maintained your hand position the pistol should bead straight in.
    I dont see many films with cops holding guns like that.
    Not sexy enough I guess.
    Dave.


  26. All very true. You only need a good gun and know where to hold the front site. I have won long range cowboy shoots with a Ruger Blackhawk six inch 357. The target was a life sized rabbit at 100 yards. I can hit it off hand four out of six. It only needs one quarter of the front site above the notch.

    Elmer was right!

    Mike


  27. Jane Hanson,

    Re:"I'm looking for reasonably good power and accuracy, and maybe 20-30 shots."

    When B.B. wrote the report on your Career Infinity I was amazed at the power and accuracy. If I remember he shot eun jins? very accurately and was getting 30 shots at 32+ foot pounds. B.B. started on a low setting and kept dialing it up, like your friend showed you while you were out walking together in Korea?

    How much more power are you looking for in these 30 shots?

    kevin


  28. B.B. Thanks for the update. I blew out an O-ring myself – I think I nicked it.

    Kevin:
    The Infinity shoots the first 28g. Eunjin, (low power), around 940FPS. By dialing up first 1 click, then 2, per shot, I can get 6 shots out, all between 920-940.

    I never need any more power than that. It's deadly, and the follow-up is right behind the first – no drop.

    My goal is to stay somewhere near that speed, to give me a flat trajectory, and still move a heavy pellet. The Blizzard results posted on PA suggest 850FPS+/-, for almost 30 shots. That would be supersweet. I could probably get 950FPS with a 20-grain pellet.

    The AA rifle sounded nice, but it was expensive, and "quirky", and everyone suggests about 20% less powerful. Probably close enough, but people usually sell a new rifle for a reason…

    regards,

    Jane


  29. B.B.
    Thanks for a great article today! I'm gonna read up on it. Sounds like my kind of guy, but I'm fine with .357 mags and the new .45 long colt Judge.. really want to try that position on 100 yards.. maybe 200 tops..

    Matt61,

    Thanks for trying my wacky hold… and glad it might, sorta, kinda, work for you.

    In the part about left hand cupped under the butt and trigger guard, I should add that the left wrist can pivot up and down if the target is moving, while you still have a solid base extending to your body..

    ..on me that's leaves my left arm just left of my breast, because I'm standing left foot forward at about a 45 degree angle to the target…
    ..so I can move my rear foot sideways and not loose elevation, on a moving target.. or in practice moving from clay to clay on the ground.

    That is a very solid part of the body, and less effected by breathing for me.

    Jane,

    I'm a trader! and I buy wholesale, so I can replace things at will (or as budget allows:) ..

    Sometimes, I just want to test things for the rifle range..

    My focus became the Oregon State Championship contest that Rick Knowles wanted to have here at our new set up.. so buying targets and more Field target stuff became my priority. And 35 foot lb .22 cal doesn't cut it, even if the accuracy is there!!!

    So, don't read anything into my selling anything.. I'm selling Marauders now at the same time I"m having field target stocks made from some other ones on the way from PA..

    I'm a trader.. born one, die one..

    .. don't need to make money on it, I do it to make friends..
    Wanna trade with me? …and be my friend?

    Wacky Wayne
    Ashland Air Rifle Range


  30. Jane Hansen,

    Thanks for the clarification.

    My memory is somewhat failing me. My recollection of B.B.'s test was eun jins (which were the most accurate) for the 30 shot string at 35 foot pounds but it was actually crosman premiers and air arms diabolo's. Here's the pertinant extrapolation from B.B's article on your Career Infinity:

    "On the lowest power setting, a fresh fill gave 6 strings of 6 shots between 927 f.p.s. and 1068 f.p.s. with 14.3-grain Crosman Premiers and 16-grain Air Arms Diabolo Field pellets. That's a total of 36 shots at that velocity range on low power from a single 3,000 psi fill. Taking a central 1,000 f.p.s. as the average for the 16-grain Air Arms pellets, that's 35.5 foot-pounds.

    To get the last string, I bumped the power wheel up to the yellow level, which is three-quarters full power on this gun. The shots were still falling off rapidly, as you see here:

    996 fps
    983 fps
    967 fps
    954 fps
    938 fps
    927 fps

    Maybe 30 shots is more realistic than 36, but that's a lot of very powerful shots with what may well turn out to be the most accurate pellets. As a practical hunting gun, you either get 12 shots that average about 60 foot-pounds or 30 shots averaging 36 foot-pounds. That makes the Infinity one heck of a good hunting

    I have an AA S410 SL in .22 caliber. Great gun. Not sure I've experienced the "quirky" you're referring to but completely agree that it's 20% less powerful than your Career Infinity. My AA S410 can get 30 shots at 31 foot pounds (940 fps avg. with jsb 15.8 gr.) without any loss of poi. 40 shots with 1/2 mil dot holdover for the last 10 shots. That's with power adjusted to it's highest setting. Shoots 18 gr. jsb's in the wind with better accuracy and still get 30 shots (33.1 foot pounds). This gun is not in contention for the power that your gun or the blizzard can generate but I can attest for it's accuracy and lack of quirkiness (at least in my gun).

    Size, weight, fit, finish and reliability played a significant role in my choice and I haven't been disappointed. I'm not shooting ground hogs or whistle pigs but have minimized my raccoon problem.

    Hope this can be of some minor help in your quest.

    kevin


  31. Hello B.B.

    Out of the people that you know who own the Diana 34P, what is the percentage of those people who needed to shim the breech?

    Thank you very much B.B.




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