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I see this on YouTube cop videos all the time. Police officers who are drilled and drilled and drilled again in two-handed shooting reverting to a one-handed grip when the metaphorical fur starts to fly. And why the hell not? It’s a handgun not a handsgun . . .

Firing a pistol with one-hand in a SHTF scenario is not only the most practical option—freeing a hand to perform other life-saving tasks—it’s also the most natural way to shoot. And you’re far more likely to move when you shoot one-handed than two. So why don’t armed self-defenders practice shooting one-handed?

I think it has something to do with increased accuracy. On the range. In a sterile environment, when both the target and the shooter are static, firing a handgun with a two-handed grip via a Weaver or modified Weaver stance is the way to go. More people will get more bullets in a tighter group more of the time shooting two-handed than one. And don’t it feel good?

In a real world defensive gun use, ideal marksmanship goes out the window (ipso facto). As an armchair warrior (who hopes to stay that way), I reckon distance is more important for combat accuracy than stance. In other words, an armed defender should pay more attention to their position relative to the target than how they’re launching lead.

Hollywood also bears responsibility for the predominant culture of two-handed shooting. While real world law enforcement officers do it one-handed, fictional “professionals” do it the “professional” way: two-handed. Bad guys shoot one-handed (with a not-entirely-indefensible cant). To paraphrase Fernando, it is better to shoot good than to look good.

Whatever the reason, the more videos like this we see (thank you TASER Axon) the clearer it becomes that self-defense shooters should practice one-handed shooting a lot more than they do. In fact, I’d say that it should be their primary stance. To quote the world’s biggest regularly televised egomaniac, what say you?

31 Responses to Self-Defense Tip: Shoot One Handed

  1. I would have to disagree about one handed shooting being used as a default. You should definitely train one handed (strong and weak side) often to have the skills, but if you don’t need a hand free, using both hands will get you more accurate hits faster. That is the best way to win a gunfight.

    • Maybe. Or maybe moving while shooting is the best way to win a gunfight. Or moving as close to the target as possible. Or as far away. Or both. Or one then the other.

      Spock. Data. Meanwhile, by training almost exclusively with a two-handed grip I wonder if we’re letting the perfect be the enemy of the good? Or, less charitably, are we dumbing it down enough?

      • Missing is not the way to win a gun fight. And that is what will happen if you try to run while shooting one handed. Seriously. Try it.

        • Not sure there is enough data on this to support your conclusion. For every Lt. Walter Walsh, USMC, a former Olympic marksman and FBI agent who killed a sniper from 90 yards with a 1911 (almost assuredly with a one-handed grip, given his Olympic background) there is a Col. Jeff Cooper, who immediately adopted something he found superior in the two-handed pistol grip and had also carried a handgun in combat.

          What is the hit percentage in war with a one-handed pistol grip versus a two-handed grip? I doubt anybody knows, that’s not the way they keep score in wars.

  2. I’ve never read an article by Robert that was completely wrong, but here it is. I’ve been forced to shoot one handed in Idpa and it was completely unnatural. It felt weird and I was shooting slower and missing, And i have trained shooting one handed in case of injury. The SO kept having to remind me cause I would keep going back to two handed by accident during the stage. As for moving, I don’t train to move and shoot at the same time, because I will miss. When I do occasionally have to shoot while moving, as I have done in IDPA and USPSA, I WILL miss if I don’t use both hands on the gun, and even then it ain’t pretty. There is just way too much wobble going on while walking to make hits with one hand. Missing During a DGU is the worst possible outcome, besides being shot, not only does it give the idiot more time to actually hit you, it also send bullets flying where I don’t want them. Maybe into a little girl across the street.

    The bit about cops being drilled and drilled made me laugh out loud. I’ve shot more rounds in a year than most cops will in a lifetime.

    As for Hollywood, every hollywood idiot I’ve seen in movies always shoots with one hand (usually a Deagle) and of course either never misses, or always misses until he runs up and kicks someone in the face. I can’t remember the last time I saw an actor that actually looked like he knew what he was doing.

    • IDPA is not a DGU. The priority in a gunfight: GTFO. Or, as the rabbi puts it, if someone is movIng towards you to injure or kill you, what’s your first priority: moving or shooting?

      • Idpa is closer to a DGU than range training, and the same rules apply. If you can manage to GTFO, then no shooting will take place anyway so it doesn’t matter, trying to run away while shooting is pretty stupid, leave that one to the actors. Either your life is in danger or it isn’t, if you cannot GTFO, then you fight. There isn’t much of an in between.

        Trying to get away when someone is trying to kill you will just get you shot a few feet away. You cannot run and shoot, and walking and shooting isn’t any different that standing still. A walking target is not hard to hit.

        Honestly Robert, I’m trying to see where you’re coming from here but I can’t. Is today opposite day or something?

      • My priority is hitting my target as hard and fast as possible (because if I can’t do that, I’m getting out of Dodge posthaste). Cops train with strong (dominant) hand and weak hand shooting to simulate returning fire after being hit. They (meaning police marksmanship instructors) also train to use your arms and hips like a tank turret, and to Groucho Walk. If you want a triple tap to center mass at 7 yards ASAFP, shoot with two hands. Period. Shooting with one hand while running as a Plan A option is the worst advice I’ve seen on this site. You are responsible for where your rounds fly, and what they wind up hitting.

        Does SHTF happen? Absolutely. That doesn’t mean you should train in an irrational manner.

      • I am already a big target, and I’m not particularly quick. If I start running my adrenaline-fueled heart rate will already be high enough to make it very hard to practice any fine motor skills, like squeezing instead of jerking a trigger. I will move enough to get to cover, then hold my position and engage until I have to reload. Once I reload, it’s time to reassess shoot vs. move.

        If the DGU is in a public place, I probably have a wife and three children with me. They move, I shoot. Division of labor.

  3. I’ve seen some newbies at IDPA and USPSA matches make stupid mistakes under pressure. I’ve made some stupid mistakes under pressure. But shooting one-handed? Not one of them.

    In this case, it looks like the officer was keying a mic to call for backup. You notice he did revert to a two-handed hold once that backup had arrived.

  4. Having been involved in four shootings in 39 years as a LEO, two were one handed and two were two handed. It mostly depends on what’s happening and how much time you have.

  5. With small guns or guns with bores of .40 or less, I shoot as well or better one-handed than two handed. Small guns just don’t have enough room for two hands; smaller calibers just don’t need need two hands. Before Ray Chapman was a gleam in his father’s eyes, one-handed shooters were drilling the crap out of targets and bad guys. Olympic target pistol shooters are restricted to shooting with one hand, and I assure you that they are the best marksmen on the planet.

    • Olympic shooters are not defending themselves from attack. Standing accuracy has very little to do with accuracy under pressure.

    • One and two hand, both are important. But try this (and I think we’re about the same age): Run for 200 feet or so to a range line, then shoot one handed. Repeat after resting, but with two. Just in case you’re stuck in an alley, laugh.

  6. First, happy birthday! But since “an unexamined life is not worth living…” I’d ask these questions: If you frequently see cops shooting with one hand does it help explain their very low hit percentage? If one handed shooting is preferable, why does virtually no expert use it in competition outside of .22LR Olympic bulls eye competition? Though Cooper appeared loathe to admit any innovation that was not his brand, why do virtually all expert action shooters use an isosceles stance (Enos, Leatham, Jarrett et al)? If we can move faster in balance with a one-hand grip, why do experts keep the two-hand except when flat-out running? Given that it is valuable to gain skill one-handed with your strong side hand and ‘your other strong side’ hand, why not favor the isoceles, which essentially puts the gun in the same place with either hand, with the shooter slightly shifting foot position if possible? If the point is specifically to pursue combat pistol (as opposed IDPA/IPSC competition), why not adopt the stance and other methods taught by SAD/SOG, DELTA, or such? They are essentially the same as those of the Leathams of the world. I would contribute this, my only original question: When Roger Federer or Nadal moves quickly from one side of the court to the other, or forward and back, why do they keep both hands on the racquet? Does it have anything to do with reinforcing balance? Ability to turn left or right at the last instant? And finally (“thank god, Roping!”) what are all these things you need to do with one of your hands other than shoot, while you’re in a life-and-death shootout (not searching or gathering the kids, but shooting)? Do you do them if you bring a shotgun to the fight? Again, happy 2nd!

  7. First, Happy Birthday, TTAG, and I wish you many more! You should be rightfully proud, Robert.

     Due to a spinal cord injury, I walk with two canes. In a defensive situation, I’d drop one cane, draw, and shoot with one hand, while moving to cover or a better position. Using one cane limits my speed, stability and distance, but I work with what I have. That said, since I’m working with a 5-shot J-frame, I must practice a lot to make every shot count. 

    I’ve taken quite a few tactical training courses (with patient, accommodating instructors) and I have even done some IDPA-type club competitions, all in an effort to create my own adaptive self defense regimen. All I can say is that you can learn to shoot one-handed, even if you don’t need to,  just practice & practice–and the smaller the target, the better.

  8. Learning to draw and shoot one handed I would count as a necessary skill for anyone who carries a firearm.Most criminals launch their attack when they think their victim isn’t paying attention, such as opening the front door, unlocking a car or trunk, or walking up to your front door or car with your keys in one hand and perhaps cargo or materials in the other.

    I operate on the military principle of “keep your right hand free”. Honestly I got into the habit of doing that as I never knew when id have to salute the base commander or other big shot (and other officers) moving around the base, but its a viable principle when going about your daily life.Sometimes your hands are gonna be full, period, but if possible keep your one bag of groceries and documents on your weak hand so that if the manure hits the industrial fan you’re not left with no hands to draw and shoot with.

    For those of us with girlfriends a one-handed draw skillset is almost mandatory.Women by instinct clutch the arms of the nearest man , and when a cretin presents himself that’s the last time you ever want your strong hand immobilized by a woman’s death grip. This is not just statistics but my own experience in being at life & death situation with a woman who locked my right hand in place with a very tight grip.

    Now, I understand that in some cases this requires walking with the girl between you and the street which can violate some old-school principles about gentlemanly conduct. I explained to my ex that on account of my concealed weapon being on the right side I needed that arm to be free and she immediately got the point. I can understand culture, but survival takes priority over tradition.

  9. Ralph you are right about Olympic shooters. Only they don’t have a gun pointed at them or rounds coming their way. BIG difference.

  10. There is a very good reason why SWAT teams and specialized military units (the ones who earn thier check by going into the sh!tstorm) train almost exclusively to shoot while moving. Those of you who think that standing still feet shoulder width apart, chest facing the enemy so they can take their range stance better only run in to really bad shots. I’ll stick with presenting the smallest possible target, and keeping that target moving.

    If you think that you will save a life with your gun but only train in ideal situations and conditions then you are fooling yourself. The SHTF because things didn’t go ideally, if they did you would not be shooting for your life. Not even 100,000 rounds downrange at your indoor climate controlled range is going to help you if you are not seriously trained in what to do.

  11. Back in the 90’s a very fine Missouri Highway Patrolman named Robert Kimberling was killed in a shootout with a mental case who had stolen fuel from a gas station earlier. Trooper Kimberling responded to the gas station’s call and drove up behind the man’s Suburban on Interstate 29 near St. Joseph, MO. The driver pulled over to the shoulder and shut off the vehicle. The trooper walked up on the right side of the vehicle and when he got to the front door the driver opened his door, got out and proceeded to the back with a drawn pistol. Kimberling also went to the back and they had a six foot shootout at the rear of the Suburban. Bob was right handed so this put him at a disadvantage. Instinct probably took over because Bob kept his body sideways making himself a smaller target, shooting his Sig one handed. The driver hit Bob in the right armhole of his protective vest with a round which found its way to his heart. Bob kept shooting and hit the guy’s leg. Then they both went to the ground. The driver of the Suburban was in the sitting position at the back of the SUV when he killed himself with a head shot. Bob was still alive when a passing motorist realized what had just happened and pulled over to help. This motorist was more than a hundred miles from home but by coincidence both he and Bob were from the same area. He recognized Bob, quickly called on the patrol car radio for help and then stayed with Bob as he died.

    The point of this post is that Bob may have had a better chance of surviving the shootout if he had used both hands. Being a bigger target is OK if you are “vested”.

    Bob was a roommate of mine in college and we kept up with each other afterwards. I shot his Sig on one occasion shortly after he graduated from the academy. Bob was one of the better men I have had an opportunity to know in my life and those who worked with him seemed to also figure this out quickly. I don’t want to “Monday morning quarterback” any aspect of the incident other than to point out the advantage of using both hands when wearing a protective vest.

    That stretch of interstate is marked by a road sign of tribute reminding travelers of the price too often paid. Bob left a wife, two daughters, and a widowed mother. He became a LEO because at age 15 his father was badly beaten on Christmas eve when he walked in on the burglary of his store. Dad had gone back to retrieve gifts stashed there. Bob’s father lived for a while but the investigation was badly bungled and no one was ever identified as a suspect. Patrol recruits with a background like this generally do not get accepted. Bob did simply on the strength of his character. Rest easy, Bob.

  12. I agree with others here tht one handed shooting is not a good idea if one can avoid it. That said, I firmy believe that one should practice one handed shooting every time you go to the range (both weak and strong). Developing o/h for defensive use is not desirable however and is in all probability a very bad idea.

    I’d also like to take issue with employing a “weaver or modified weaver” defensive position when shooting. This is simply not a good position as it weakens your abiity to pivot to the canted side. If the shooter closes their NDE (which many do) than they lose 100% of their weak side peripheral vision when shooting in the weaver.

    Just my 2 cents.

  13. It is a question of shoots-better versus shoots-faster. I can shoot much better when I have two hands on the firearm, and if I am in a gunfight I cannot miss fast enough to win. I need center-mass hits, preferably CNS, or the gunfight continues.

    I will adopt a less-accurate method of shooting only when dictated by circumstance. I only have 30 rounds of 9mm on me at any given time, and with a semi-automatic that’s not a whole lot of time. In terms of active shooting (aiming, firing, checking for results) that is maybe 45 seconds counting any suppression time that may occur, to either stop a fight with hits or GTHO. This even assumes that I have the presence of mind to shoot pairs or Mozambiques and not just run to slide-lock, as is fairly common in police shootings.

    Movement is important, but the idea that I can unleash rounds without concern for those nearby in order to make my movement possible does not withstand scrutiny, either legal or ethical. If during a workplace shooting I accidentally kill or wound an innocent bystander, that culpability is on me. There is no Good Samaritan exception for gunfire as there might be for rendering ineffective first aid.

    I believe that if the police officer had fired, he would have taken a two-handed stance in the second or two before firing. We won’t know until we see more video from that officer, but there is a reason people are trained to shoot two-handed whenever the opportunity is available. The shots are more accurate under duress, the improved ability to control recoil with two arms instead of one improves the reliability of semiautomatic handguns, and finally — everybody “professional” is trained to do it that way. Emptying a Glock or 1911 and not hitting anything because you shot one-handed doesn’t help. As a survival skill it has its place. As a primary tactic it has limitations which is why it was abandoned.

    And yes, Olympic shooters and target shooters are very good shooting one-handed. That’s a skill borne of the practice of hours and enhanced at the Olympic level with equipment and courses of fire designed to facilitate the practice. Add a clock, score with a formula that includes a speed factor, require movement and make a 9x19mm power floor instead of .22LR and every Olympic or target discipline will devolve to IPSC/IDPA, where two-hand shooting dominates without question. In short Mr. Farago your proposal has been judged by practice, and found wanting.

    Other than pot-stirring, which I strongly suggest as the main basis for this post, I don’t understand why we’re having this conversation. You might as well advocate for the return of the single wing offense to professional football. For everyone who is able, two-handed isosceles or Modified Weaver is the stance of choice, with one-hand reserved for emergencies.

    • There is the ideal and then there’s what people actually do. It’s worth considering if the natural instinct is worth considering.

      Also, no one’s suggesting letting rounds fly willy-nilly.

      It seems to me that it’s time for Nick to organize some experiments on this subject. Anyone want to suggest some protocol?

    • Natural instinct has little to do with many of the things we do. There may be some people who for some neurophysiologic reason are exceptional one-handed pistol shots, just as there are a very few people who can pick up a golf club and swing it properly with little to no instruction.

      For the other 99.9% there is what you think you ought to do initially, which is often wrong for one reason or another. Therefore, there is training, which for many people is where bad habits that are instinctual are unlearned.

      I believe that all the empirical evidence you need to make a conclusion about what works better in shooting situations is available in video of IPSC matches, but experiments are grist for the blog mill, so here goes.

      If we are to simulate a DGU, there has to be an adrenaline simulation to increase heart rate. I would propose 20 pushups and then assuming a firing stance, followed within 5 -10 seconds by the signal to begin the course of fire. An increase of heart rate to 120bpm or better would be reasonable and safe for most participants. Draw should be from concealed carry.

      I would suggest that there be a couple of people who have never shot a handgun before, as you brought up instinct vs. training. They should receive basic instruction on isosceles stance and one-handed dominant-hand shooting, no instruction as to which is best, and then be asked to shoot the course of fire in either way that seems reasonable to them. Whatever way they shoot the first time, ask them to do it the other way the second time. You might have to screen the newbies to eliminate cross-dominance between eye and hand, as that can cause problems initially.

      I would suggest a convenience store scenario where the subject has to move to cover, shoot from cover, move to engage, shoot, and then hit a laterally-moving or wiggle-waggle target. After all, the BGs will be moving too. Three targets, ten no-shoots, two shots per target.

      We can leave the reload advantages of semiautomatic weapons versus the reliability advantages of a revolver for the next time you want to kick the hornet’s nest. 🙂

      • Sorry, 3rd paragraph should read “assuming a ready stance”, not a “firing stance”. Comment edit thingy is a bit wonky today.

  14. The FBI did a study many decades ago, of shooters trained in the “Weaver” stance, and found that under stress, most resorted to an Isoceles stance, because that was the natural body reaction under stress — so your argument in favor of one handed shooting (because we do it under stress) contradicts your recommendation of the Weaver stance (which we don’t do under stress). Bruce Siddle’s book “Sharpening the Warrior’s Edge” covers that study in detail.

    The Isoceles v Weaver debate was over around 1990, just FYI, and Weaver lost, as the match results from IPSC and IDPA and the curriculum for every shooting school in the country, the FBI firearms instructor school, FLETC, and other law enforcement academies shows. The “proper” modern isoceles stance includes the thumb forward high grip, which is an essential component, because it provides an isometric counter-torque against the pistol’s rotation, if and only if the support hand wrist is rotated out of a neutral “shake hands” position and into a strong “pull the rope” position. There does have to be muscle tension applied in the grip to manage recoil, but the unnatural ‘bent elbow’ Weaver wasn’t the best way to achieve that.

    Every shooting school I’ve trained with over the past 25 years included instruction in one handed shooting and one handed gun manipulation, for left and right hand, not because it was the preferred technique or produces the best results, but because things go wrong and you may need those skills to survive. The correct progression of learning is to get competent with two handed shooting (including drawing from concealment, reloads, malfunction clearing, etc.) and then learn those skills one handed, because they are more difficult and require a higher level of trigger finger and muzzle discipline to learn and practice.

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