Saturday, February 2, 2008


Offhand shooting is, beyond doubt, the most difficult type of shooting
to do well. It is the most likely to result in your missing your
target. Plain fact is, I am not, and almost certainly you are not
David Tubb and are surely not Carlos Hathcock. It is, however, well
worth your while to learn to do offhand shooting as well as you can
manage. Sometimes, you simply have to bring the rifle to your shoulder
and fire if you are to have any hope whatsoever of shooting your

Competitive shooters who compete in 'offhand' matches typically use a
'shooting jacket' which is intended to support the body and the arms
to provide the most stable shooting platform possible. As I
understand, having never worn one, they are not comfortable nor do
they lend themselves to 'field shooting'. They are designed very
particularly for one purpose, and that is to maximize accuracy for the
shooter in competition.

I will describe the method which works best for me. Others have
different methods, some radically different. If your rifle has a
sling, it will be worth your while to learn to use it correctly. Using
the sling for a shot is intended to place tension on the sling, and
use that tension to build a triangle-bridge between the gun, your off
hand, and the body. In use (I will describe its use for a right handed
shooter), it typically needs to be let out longer than would first
appear, or would be comfortable for carrying the rifle on your
shoulder while tramping through the fields or woods. The method is to
hold the rifle in the right hand, with the sling hanging slack. Place
the left hand, the off hand, through the gap between the rifle and
sling. Then, bring the off hand around so that the sling makes a full
loop around the wrist/forearm.

As you shoulder the rifle, and naturally bring the off hand elbow in
towards the body, if the sling is adjusted properly it will come into
tension as you achieve your shooting stance. If the sling remains
slack, it is too long. Adjust accordingly. If it is so tight that you
cannot comfortably shoulder the weapon and bring the off hand elbow in
towards the body, it is too short. Adjust accordingly.
When you come to your shooting position, the off hand elbow close or
actually resting against the rib cage, the sling should provide good
tension and build a stable bridge between the body and the off hand on
the forend stock. It is, in fact, not a 'relaxed' position, is truly
intended to provide a stressed but stable bridge between the body and
the hand on the forend.

But the above describes what is truly a more advanced technique. Now
that I have jumped ahead of myself, let's backtrack a bit.
If you are going to shoot offhand, you need to choose a rifle with
which you are maximally comfortable. Some people are more comfortable
with a longer, heavier rifle, which can provide some natural stability
by nature of its weight, on the theory that a mass at rest tends to
stay at rest. The mass can resist movement. Further, a 'long polar
moment of intertia' resists angular change.

To better describe this, envision a bar with weights. Place the
weights at the ends of the bar, hold the bar as you would hold a
suitcase, and attempt to rotate your wrist, twisting or 'aiming' the
bar right and left of you. You will find that the bar resists this
movement. Now, place the weights on the bar very close to your hand,
which is again holding the bar like the handle of a suitcase, with the
two weights very close to your forefinger/thumb and to the little
finger. Now again twist/rotate the bar, and you will find that it is
much easier to perform the movement. The bar does not resist the
movement nearly so much as it did when the weights were far removed
from the center of the bar. This phenomenon is referred to as 'polar
moment of inertia'. It is seen in race car design, by placing driver,
engine, transaxle as closely around the center of mass of the car as
possible. This makes changing the direction of the car much easier,
which in race cars which must quickly and often change direction more
easily accomplished, than would a design which placed the engine at
one end and the transaxle at the other.

Regardless, for some shooters, and I often find those shooters to be
powerfully built, this massive rifle provides for their strength and
style a more accurate offhand shot. I am not powerfully built, and
find that a lighter, shorter-barreled rifle to be more amenable to my
strength level and style.

I am not a particularly good offhand shooter. When I am in practice
and using a short, compact, relatively light rifle, I can shoot
perhaps with a 3 minute of angle accuracy. This translates to within
roughly an inch of my point of aim at 30 yards. In real terms, I can
regularly hit a 'regular sized' plastic vitamin bottle at 30 yards.
This presumes a target width of 2 inches, or a bit more. But it has to
be a comfortable rifle. I have a rifle, an air gun in fact, which is
truly massive, probably 15 pounds, very long, and for me, very
difficult to shoot offhand. I can say with truth that I have
difficulty hitting the ground with it, shooting offhand.
Anyway, the point is, if you are going to shoot offhand, find a rifle
with which you are very comfortable.

Take the rifle, unloaded, and verified unloaded, and in a safe
condition. Find a target by eye in a verified safe direction, almost
any discrete object will do, and position yourself as though you were
going to raise the rifle to your shoulder and fire at it. DO NOT FIRE

Close your eyes, and shoulder and aim the rifle. Then open your eyes
and using the sights, see if you are in fact aiming at it. If you are
not aiming directly at it, ADJUST YOUR FEET and again use the sights
to check your aim. Do this until you are dead on when you shoulder the
weapon with eyes closed and aiming with your NATURAL POINT OF AIM
directly at the selected target. Practice this process until you do it
naturally and quickly.

The point of this is to illustrate a point. If you wish to shoot as
accurately as you can offhand, you do your 'gross' and most of the
'fine' aiming BY MOVING YOUR FEET. If you twist your body to bring the
rifle to point of aim, you are imposing an unbalanced and unnatural
strain on your body, the shooting platform, and it will make hitting
your target that much more difficult.

If the rifle you are shooting has a scope on it, turn down the
magnification, if it is a variable scope, to the minimum
magnification. High magnification wildly exaggerates the movements of
the gun, and makes offhand shooting, at least for me, a most difficult

I find that I am able to shoot most accurately by taking a stance
where I have a bit more weight on my 'back' foot than on my front. I
shoot right handed. I am most able to shoot accurately by allowing my
left, 'off' elbow to actually rest against the left side of my rib
cage, and I do not 'grip' the rifle with my off hand, but rather use
my palm as a flat rest. This is the method which works best for me. I
would suggest it at a starting point for someone learning to shoot

Some people seem to find that actually holding the forend of the rifle
stock with their more or less extended left hand, elbow not supported
by the rib cage, to be more comfortable and accurate. Again, I would
suspect that these are shooters who are more strongly built than for
those who are thin or less strongly built.

Regardless, this leaves out any discussion of sights and their proper
use. I presume that you know, at this point, how to use the sights.
Now, I will make a suggestion about 'non competitive' offhand
shooting. There are no rules. The only consideration is hitting the
target in the most accurate way. If you can get any sort of rest, any
sort of stabilization of your position, use it. If you can lean
against a tree, do so. In the field, it is generally considered that
the standing offhand shot is the most difficult to make accurately.
Then, in the field, you sometimes may kneel or sit with a knee up for
stabilizing the forend, or shoot prone. Depending on your own physical
peculiarities, you may find sitting with a knee up uncomfortable or
even impossible. Use the best position for you that you can. Take
advantage of ANY support or rest that you can. If you have the luxury
of providing a make-do rest from field expedient items, do so. One
note-- do NOT rest the barrel against or on anything. Rest or support
the stock, not the barrel.

Some shooters swear by a piece of gear known as 'shooting sticks',
which are nothing more than a pair of relatively sturdy sticks which
are crossed at the top and placed and held to provide a more stable
forward rest for the forend of the rifle. Cut to proper length, they
can also serve in the sitting and perhaps the kneeling positions. You
can test this method with something as simple as a couple of 1x2
pieces of lumber, or a couple of handy saplings cut to proper length.
Anything that helps, helps. Use any method you can which helps. And I
find, personally, that almost any rest is better than no rest.
As with any and all shooting exercises, good trigger control is
absolutely essential for accuracy, and safety is the prime concern,
ahead of hitting the target..

W.M. Kemp

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