Shooting a rifle offhand

by B.B. Pelletier

This posting was requested by frogman, who says he has trouble with unsupported shooting positions like standing (offhand), sitting and prone. Today, I will address the offhand position. And, yes, frogman, there are plenty of secrets for all these shooting positions.

Let’s begin
Shooting offhand starts with the alignment of the body. Your skeleton is the structure that keeps you erect, but if it isn’t in line with what you are trying to do, your muscles will constantly try to adjust to hold you in position. The result is a wobble. A right-handed shooter should stand almost 90 degrees to the target, with just a slight turn toward the target to allow the rifle to point naturally and without effort. You know when you are properly aligned because, when you mount the rifle, it is almost aiming at the target, without the need to correct through small movements of the upper body. All my tips and explanations are for right-handed shooters.

Tip 1. Small adjustments
You can make small adjustments to the position by turning your feet without changing position. The right foot, which is trailing, is the best foot to adjust positions. Rotate on the HEEL of the foot in either direction to make small sideways adjustments. Do not attempt to adjust more than a few degrees using this technique. Reposition both feet if the rifle is off-target more than that.

Tip 2. Lock your stance
Once you are in position, rotate the left (front) foot to the right by rotating on the heel. This will tension both legs to make your stance firmer. If it throws you off-target (it shouldn’t), then reposition yourself – you weren’t in the right stance to begin with.

Tip 3. Don’t hold the weight of the rifle
A right-handed shooter bears most of the weight of the rifle in his left hand, but he doesn’t hold it with his muscles! No one can do that and hope to have a steady stance. Instead, he brings his upper arm in tight to his body and lets the weight of the rifle rest on his slightly extended forearm. The rifle, forearm and upper arm form a triangle whose ends don’t close. I have seen 10-year-old girls hold 8.5-lb. target rifles with relative ease this way! But if you don’t do it like this, the brawniest man in the world cannot hold a rifle steady.

She’s not 4 feet tall and that FWB rifle weighs at least 8.5 lbs.!

Target rifles are made with all sorts of forearm aides to make this hold easier. In Olympic competition, the hand stop is popular. A century ago, a special palm rest was installed to make it easier to hold a rifle this way.

Anschütz target rifle has a hand stop under the forearm to stop the off hand from sliding forward.

The Schützen palm rest dates from the late 19th century.

Thin shooters will learn to throw their hips out to the left to give the upper arm something to contact. Heavier shooters will have less difficulty. Adjust where the off hand is located along the forearm to get the rifle level.

She has to shift her hips to the left to touch her upper arm.

Tip 4. Keep the shooting arm away from the body
You’ve done all this work to get into a good stance – don’t ruin it by holding your shooting arm tight to your body where it can set up wobbles. Practice aligning your shooting upper arm and elbow at 90 degrees to your body, so your elbow is pointing to your right. As you practice, you may discover that you can lower your elbow slightly and be more comfortable, but keep that shooting arm from contacting the side of your body if you don’t want to wobble.

Tip 5. Don’t grasp the stock
You will notice that neither of the target shooters pictured above is grasping the stock with her fingers. Both use the flats of their open palms. Does that sound like anything you’ve heard before (hint…the artillery hold)? Now, if you’re out deer hunting, you will grasp the stock, but I don’t expect you to use a classic offhand stance when hunting.

Okay, frogman, now I want to hear from you. Have these pointers helped you improve your stance and reduce the wobble.

50 thoughts on “Shooting a rifle offhand”

  1. BB, this is a wonderful post: thank you ever so much. I’m a strong guy when it comes to lifting weights in the gym, even though I’m quite light, but I have always had difficulty holding a rifle steady for more than 30 seconds or so, and now I know why. I had always assumed that holding a rifle was about grunt and not getting everything to align in the right way, and now I know better. I can’t wait to get back home and test it out. Might you possibly add different positions such as prone, kneeling etc to a future article, and perhaps pistols as well?

  2. JP,

    The best advice for hunters has always been, take a rest. Never shoot unsupported if you can rest the gun in some way. That’s why the Pyramyd Air gel pad is such a big deal. It can be put on a rock, stump or limb to form a steady rest in the field.


  3. Good Morning B.B et al,

    After a cup of strong coffee I find myself at PyramidAir with a finger hovering over the buy button for a .25 Patriot–Just to begin rounding out my springer experience and satisfy my curiosity 🙂 ..and at this price, resistance is futile!

    I’m going to get the B-Square Webley scope stop, and I was wondering if a basic 11mm one piece mount would do the trick–The 11.7mm specs on the other Webley mounts have me guessing, but I’m thinking that .7mm is negligible. Thoughts?

    -Paul Capello

  4. For part II:

    1. Adjusting gun height — the usual main reason for the hip-forward is to get a line of bone supporting the gun all the way to the ground. Another way to get gun height is to shoot off the fist (a glove helps with padding and height).

    2. Trigger control — while the basics of trigger control are identical, many people don’t have good trigger control in any position and the bad habits are amplified in off-hand. I like a trigger of several ounces at least so that I can feel the trigger. One suggestion I like is to guide the gun with the trigger (this is more mental than physical). This approach helps to increase pressure as one is on-target.

    3. Holding on target — you really can hold on the target. You do not need to grab the shot. What helps tremendously is to concentrate on the front sight (scope reticle) rather than the target. This works with your body to reduce over-corrections.

    “Ways of the Rifle” is probably the bible on building a position for those who want to really study this.

  5. Hi B.B.,

    Sorry to be slightly off topic. Just wanted to comment on what you wrote yesterday.

    I’ve owned an IZH-61 for a little over 2 years and I do love it. Accuracy wise it’s great. My preferred type of shooting is 10m and I can consistently get 1 to 1 1/4 inch groups with the odd flyer shooting OFFHAND if I’m just casually practicing. I could probably do better if I put some effort into it. I generally don’t shoot prone or from a bench so I can’t say what the accuracy is like in those situations.

    My IZH doesn’t seem the same as yours in that the “plastic stub” that holds the stock locking screw is metal on mine. Not too sure what you meant by the “all metal” rifles. The stock, receiver, and the clips are plastic. The rear sight isn’t removable. For what it’s worth the serial on mine is “108632”. Don’t know if that can help in knowing its lineage.

    At least from the experience I have had with mine I would think that you just got a lemon. Let’s hope that they’re not all like the one you got because it would be a shame.

    Ben B

  6. Ben,

    What I meant by all-metal rifles is rifles with steel receivers. The clips were cast metal. That’s how they used to be made. The stocks have always been plastic.

    As for group size, I expect a 0.25″ group at 10 meters from this rifle. That’s what I’ve gotten in the past.

    I think you’ll find that the rear sight can be removed by drifting out the pin in front. It’s quick and easy.

    I agree that if all the IZH 61s are like the one I tested it would be a serious shame, but I am hoping mine was just a fluke. We shall see.


  7. BB

    are you aware of any published material, web or otherwise that gives a comparison as to the loudness of various calibres of firearm cartidge? I have searhed the web but as always with the web, its hard to find something that isnt specifically designed for search engines.

  8. wow,
    I was only able to take a few shots this morning, but I can definitely feel a difference. Like there is some hope of actually hitting what I’m aiming for without timing my wobbles over the target. I’m very excited to practice more, but I won’t have time today. Thanks for the post BB! I can’t wait for the others.

  9. For the guy who asked about the loudness of cartridges – that’s gonna be tough, since that can vary quite a bit depending on the firearm used. A .22 CB or short can be as quiet as an airgun through a long-barreled rifle, but it’ll be a lot noisier coming out of a snub-nose revolver.

  10. That was a good post. Liked the part about positioning the hips. Holding the rifle STEADY has always been a problem with me. The rifle is heavy and that doesnt help either. Am gonna try this out.

  11. “But if you don’t do it like this, the brawniest man in the world cannot hold a rifle steady.”

    Those are the most encouraging words I’ve ever heard about my shooting! And I thought it was just me! I was ready to start answering to the name of “Wobbles”…

  12. MajorKonig, Vince and everyone,

    Please understand that I may have pointed out the tricks to offhand shooting, but I have difficulty with it, too. It’s just that if you do these things, your problems will be minimized.

    I’m glad you enjoyed this post.


  13. BB,

    “Now, if you’re out deer hunting, you will grasp the stock, but I don’t expect you to use a classic offhand stance when hunting.”

    I killed a deer using a .22 hornet in the aafta position. It fell over and did not move! I was a head shot about an 2 back from the eye. Brain shot! This shot was at 130 yards.


  14. BB,
    I’d like to request a blog about large caliber air rifles, ie, the dragon slayer etc. I was just so surprised about the Lewis & Clark .31 air rifle taking a deer – I’d like to hear more about using large cal air for big game.

    ps – thanks to you and Vince for the info regarding accuracy for the rws 48 @ 50 yards. I think it validates my concerns my scope was faulty since I was getting groupings where the 2nd shot was up 3″, next was up another 3″ and then the next was back on target hitting the first hole.

  15. Ozark,

    Where did you read about the Lewis & Clark air rifle taking a deer? As far as I know, the only living thing they shot with it was a woman when the gun accidentally discharged.

    I am working on a report about the Dragon Slater right now.


  16. Scope thing again…

    I actually need the adjustable mount because my
    simmons scope ran out of elevation. I’m pretty sure it’s not droop. I should have been clearer.


    Is that akron? I made it to the 3-P JO’s this year in Ky. It was a cool experience as a freshman in highschool shooting precision. This year maybe Colorado Springs!

  17. Thanks for this post. I shoot offhand in my backyard with the Daisy 22SG. Although I feel I am a decent shot, timing the wobbles, etc… (3/4 inch groups at 15 yards) these tips are definitely welcome and useful.
    Dave in NOLA

  18. B.B.,

    Just ordered a Webley and Scott Stingray in .25 caliber. Is this caliber a good choice for this rifle? I was wondering if it was good in .22 and a stinker in .25 or something to that effect. I love what .22 can do and have always wanted to try out .25 caliber air rifles. I hope this will be a good experience. It is a fantastic buy since they are discontinued. Thanks.


  19. BB,

    It is not a deer gun but it was the most humane kill i have ever made. People shoot deer with bows that have an 1/8 the energy and no shock so i figure it is powerful enough with a well placed shot. It could NOT feel it if the part of its brain that feels is atomized lol. But then again people shoot them with a .50 bmg. So i think i have found some middle ground(0k a 270 is middle groung and in my opinion the best deer gun). By the way, i shot the deer with 3-9/32 scope on the gun. Funny thing is I have 8-32/50 on my airwolf.



  20. B.B

    Thanks for your tip. I’m going to try it out this weekend. I’m not as steady as I us to be 20 years ago and don’t care much for off hand shooting as much.
    Me and my friend have been been shooting his Winchester 67 after we got his front sight adjusted. We can put most shots on the 10 ring at 20 yards, benched. Next time we will be shooting at 30y. I guess that 27″ barrel helps shooting with iron sights. I’m itching for a cz452 or old bolt action rimfire.

    I tried shooting a Beeman P17 pistol one handed but I’m all over the place I don’t know how you do it. I consider myself pretty steady. Do you have a trick for that one as well?

  21. Ozark,

    Yes, that is a Lukens double-necked hammer rifle. I have seen the example owned by VMI disassembled at Roanoke. But the video got several facts wrong. The reservoir was not pressurized to 900 psi. It maybe got up to 600 psi, but not much higher because the pumps from the time were not that efficient and because the construction of this particular reservoir is very weak. There were pumps that could go that high but they were large and needed a heavy (250 lb.) man to operate them.

    Also, the velocity they give is about 200 f.p.s. too fast. This is a 600-650 f.p.s. gun.

    As for taking a deer, I was not aware of that. Perhaps I missed the reference in the L&C journal.

    By the way, Dr. Beeman, who used to believe this rifle was the gun Lewis carried, now believes he carried a Girandoni – one that he (Beeman) owned and recently donated to the U.S. Army War College. There is a lot of controvesy going on about this possibility and Beeman has a large article about it on his website.


  22. Dave in NOLA,

    One thing I didn’t mention is that with very light rifles like your 22SG, it’s much more difficult to hold steady. That’s why target rifles weigh as much as they do. But even with a light rifle, these tips do work.


  23. Shawn,

    Your new Webley should be fine. I am not aware of any stinkers in the Webley line.

    Lower-powered .25 caliber rifle have a lot going for them. Years ago there was a BSA breakbarrel that was average in .177 but really fine in .25. Let’s hope your situation is a repeat of that.


  24. Tomahawk,

    Without question all .22 Tomahawks available now are made in Turkey. Pyramyd Air made a big deal out of announcing the sale of the final British-made .177s for many months, and the .22 had been sold out. Pyramyd bought the last of all spring rifles made in the England, so there are no more surprises to turn up.


  25. Without question all .22 Tomahawks available now are made in Turkey. Pyramyd Air made a big deal out of announcing the sale of the final British-made .177s for many months, and the .22 had been sold out.

    BB, thanks, I’m glad I checked before ordering.

  26. BB,

    I wonder how heavy (or light) should a rifle be for best effectiveness on these position? I am experimenting with various weights and I seem to have most swaying with 7 pounds and below. Actually, I have been trying this position for sometime now and still have much difficulty getting a repeatable good shot.

    I also think that an accurate rifle/pellet combination is an utmost pre-requisite to achieve real positive results in offhand shooting.

    Thanks for a very nice post.


  27. BB ,

    Just one more quick question.

    You often use the phrase ” rest the rifle on your palm at the balance point “

    When you say ” balance point ” do you mean the point where the weight in front of, and behind that point is equal ? That is to say, the rifle would more of less balance horizontally at that point, like a see-saw ?

  28. BB,

    Do you know that sound a career 707 makes when it goes off? I have a 20ga shotgun that had a double fire problem. So two 20ga shells go off at one time in the same over&under. anyway it sounds just like the career 707! That same blast> Guuaaaanga, as you know. So i post this to ask you why it makes that sound. The gun is fixed so i cant do it again + its from 1954 and cost ………. more than any airgun.


  29. Could you please address the issue of the effect of shortening a magnum spring gun barrel? I own a Diana Magnum 350 .22 and live in country that permits silencers. The Diana 350 Magnum is a long gun and the addition of a 8 inch silencer will make transporting and hunting with the gun impractical. Cardew’s book “from Trigger to Target” states that most energy is imparted to the pellet within the first 5 inches of the barrel. Elsewhere I’ve read that 14 inches is the minimum barrel length required to maintain accuracy. So what is the effect (if any) on power and accuracy? Also, technique – advice from a friend is to shorten the barrel an inch at a time and test the result with a chrono until either the desited length is achieved or the power starts to drop off. Any thoughts or advice would be apprecited.

  30. When the Cardews did their research in the 1970s, five or six inches was all the guns of that time needed to achieve full velocity. But times have changes. Today, it takes at least nine inches, because that’s the length of the barrel of a TX200. For magnum rifles like your 350, perhaps an extra inch or two is advisable.

    Accuracy has practically nothing to do with barrel length. The TX200 certainly proves that. Accuracy has to do with the uniformity of the barrel, pellet performance and, in the case of a sensitive spring breakbarrel like the 350, how well the shooter can control the gun, as in the artillery hold.

    Most barrel shortening operations end in disaster. You can find that on the internet. And the bulk of the noise your 350 generates does not come from the muzzle but from the mainspring. Quiet that for the greatest benefit.


  31. BB,

    Question about shooting a rifle off hand: the rear leg (right leg); is that knee locked straight,,,or is it bent a little which makes the muscles of the upper leg work a little?

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