One-Handed Shooting: Canted or Vertical?

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By Defensive Daddy via concealednation.org

One of my readers noticed that I was using a traditional strict vertical one-handed shooting technique. Like most things, it’s been a work in progress. Here’s my reasoning for using a more traditional vertical hold instead of a more canted ‘high speed’ one-handed technique . . .

I was taught during my first firearms class (Fighting Pistol – Tactical Response) that a good way to shoot one-handed (strong hand) was have the slide of the gun canted slightly inboard while shooting. Think of throwing a cross in boxing. The hand is unwinding and the fist is about 15 degrees from vertical. It definitely feels more natural and is more comfortable to do this. It also can be pretty repeatable as you ride the recoil between shots, though I feel like I have to steer the gun a bit to get it to return to my original point of aim. More so the larger the caliber gets (physics, duh). The shot impulse is absorbed in the shoulder and triceps.

Within the last two years, based on recommendations from The Tactical Professor I started trying the more traditional ‘up and down’ slide when one-handed shooting. It has definitely felt more stable and the gun cycles in a more predictable path, requiring less ‘muscling’ of the gun during recoil. It also is more congruent with my method of pressing the gun out after the retention position of my draw stroke. The muzzle comes horizontal and under the dominant eye early and rises up and out from there. The engineer in me was curious why this method seems to feel more stable.

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I was reading Becoming a Supple Leopard which is a fantastic book about bio-mechanics as they relate to functional movement and sports. The part that grabbed my attention was regarding the shoulder and creating stability in the shoulder joint and I had sort of an epiphany.

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The best way to tie the shoulder and humerus together is to externally rotate the humerus, thus winding up the ligaments of the shoulder. Kelly Starrett demos this by winding a rag around the end of a mop handle, which is a good visual. The more you rotate the broom, the tighter the rag gets. This is why we try to ‘bend the bar’ during bench press. This protects and stabilizes the shoulder. So my thinking is that the winding up of the shoulder ties the arm to the torso and stiffens that connection to remove degrees of freedom from the recoil impulse. This makes for a more repeatable recoil path.

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It also happens to be a more traditional way to shoot one-handed (as you probably know). I haven’t made my mind up on my favorite method. I tend to lean towards the vertical method, even though it bucks the current fashion of a ‘half gansta’ type hold. The true test is to put both on a timer and let the data speak for itself, which I admit I haven’t done. This is a subtle and probably trivial thing, but it’s the kind of thing that keeps me interested.

Note: For weak handed shooting, a slight cant is needed to bring the sights across to the dominant eye.

Remember, this isn’t THE way, only A way. You get to make the decision for yourself, which is nice.

What’s your favorite technique?

Why?

I seriously am curious. Let me know what you do and why. Thanks for reading.

 

comments

  1. avatar Chip Bennett says:

    I have zero professional pistol training, so I’m just spit-balling what makes sense to me. That said:

    1. How accurately can you create a sight picture with a canted hold?

    2. When firing a pistol, you’re not throwing a punch (dynamic movement of arm), but rather using the arm to create a stable (i.e. static, immobile) platform from which to fire accurately. You have no need to facilitate natural/fluid motion of your arm, because you don’t want your arm moving when you squeeze the trigger.

    But hey, if you’re trying to jab someone in the eye with the muzzle of your pistol? Sure, use a canted hold.

    1. avatar younggun21 says:

      I think, (not sure) that the idea behind the canted hold is that you are (generally) going to be shooting with one hand out of desperation or speed. Presenting your firearm in a fight with one hand means that you are either using your other hand for something, like keeping a loved one safe, pushing an attacker, ect; or you are injured. Both of which dictate you needing to get some lead downrange ASAP. So, while you are correct that you are trying to have a stable platform to shoot from, the canted hold, (if it truly is more natural and faster) would be best in a situation dictating the firing of a defensive handgun in a self defense scenario. Bullseye shooting though? Probably up and down.

      1. avatar working4change says:

        vertical is best for just about all onehanded shooting. but cant is good to practice in case of injury or unable to get to a vertical stance or grip.

        people should at least use airsoft at home and practice dry fire or shooting at little 4″-6″ targets from ever angle and position you can imagine. target at your feet, ftom your side, laying down, hands full, from cover, from a tub or closet. practice with both hands and each hand with each eye.

        yes with each eye. your dominate eye may have a childs head in the way, or injured, or dirt/blood in one eye. these are things 99% ignore or never consider.

        yes Vertical is the best for accuracy, but anyone should be able to hit a 2″ target at 7yrds with either hand and either eye or YOU ARE NOT READY YET.

        yes 2″ target/grouping in practice, in combat you might hit a 6″ target. if you practice with 6″ you might hit a 10″or12″. Simple rule, Aim Small, Miss Small or Fail. now to get that good you will need to shoot thousands of rounds a year at minimum, a month is prefered.

        Airsoft should be your #1 training buddy. shoot from the hip for fun, walking, jumping, sitting, try anything you can dream up. with a Airsoft TOOL not Toy, you can safely practice things you could never do safely or even be allowed at near all ranges. but you can at home in your livingroom, bedroom, backyard, have fun with Friends, even have practice Drill with friends. yes live moving targets shooting back. you can reuse them and the cost 1/10 or less then 22lr on the best sale you can find. 2,000 rounds/BBs for $12 but if you keep 50% lol that a lot of practice. unless they get buried in grass or shattered by vacuum you should have them for years. Gel Targets come a range of sizes and the BB dont get lost as long as you hit the target.

        personally i use 3 Airsoft pistols one is a spring power pistol for mechanics and draw/rack/shoot practice. best for practicing clearing jams and loading n fire drills. ( 10×1″ targets at 7yrds in 15 seconds with spring powered pistol, hard enough with co2 or real one. but i hit all 10 usually in under 12sec. racking slide for each shot.)
        also a Airsoft Sig and a Taurus Airsoft both CO2 for speed shooting and Reloading Drills. ALL have Radically different triggers longer/short pull heavy/light/mid lbs triggers and all different size mags, 2 are Similated single stack, 1 is Simulated double stack.

        All this gives you adaptability and reducing overreactions, reducing the natural feelings that make you fumble. just like my student in martial combat there are 2 simple rules. practice basics all the time and practice everything. just like melee combat, if its not a reflex, its a liability in a fight. if you have to think about how or what to do next, you have already lost.

  2. avatar John Sager says:

    The top level USPSA shooters tend to go straight vertical. If it’s good enough for them…

  3. avatar Jonathan - Houston says:

    With my Taurus TCP backup EDC, I hold it at an angle because a traditional straight vertical grip deposits spent brass casings directly atop my head. A little bit of an angle and they fly crossbody over my left shoulder.

    Other than that, it’s just kind of fun on any handgun to go full horizontal and yell “Kill shot! That’s a kill shot!” like Steve Carell in “Date Night.”

  4. avatar Rifleman762 says:

    I once asked a guy from the Army Marksmanship Unit if they cant when transitioning to from rifle to pistol.

    “Never.”

    It’s a stupid, tacticool thing to do. There’s no rational basis for it, and anyone who says there’s good reason to cant is just going on opinion alone. There are plenty of fact-based reasons to shoot vertical.

    1. avatar actionphysicalman says:

      Sarcasm?

    2. avatar John Sager says:

      ^^^^^
      This.

  5. avatar Jim Nadenbush says:

    Interesting: without knowing the science behind it, I have adopted straight up for my strong hand and canted for my weak. That’s just was worked for me. Now I know there was science behind my level of comfort.

  6. avatar Tom in Oregon says:

    I’ve always canted it slightly, with a bend at the elbow. It seems more relaxed.

  7. avatar trever says:

    As a cross dominant shooter, I cant my head, but keep the gun vertical

    1. avatar unsolicited advice. says:

      You should probably not do that

      1. avatar trever says:

        Why not?
        To align my left eye with my right hand I have to tilt my head, tilt the gun, or hold my arm across my body and twist my wrist. Which is least bad?

        1. avatar working4change says:

          guaranteed if you practice shooting lefty n righty, with boths eyes.

          as in
          right handed right eye
          right handed left eye
          the same for the left hand, you will become a better shot and will find your hand settling into a more centered and balance stance automaticly. either eye will be a twich away from on target. this will reduce strain on you neck and make transitions faster n easier. it helps a ton gor reloading n getting back on target plus will enhance your overall hand eye skills in everything you do.

          Anyone can retrain their brain or its balance. your dominance in either eye/hand is only part hardwired, the rest is learned. if you force the use of the hand eye combos you will add massive connection between both sides of your brain, and actually change how your hardwired. you will become faster in reaction timing and aim. even vision will get better if you practice long enough.

          we do this baseball and martial arts. it works with firearms to.

    2. That’s what Hickok45 does.
      I do vertical with either hand and bring the sights up to the nearest eye. I am right handed and left eye dominant but I have always shot with both eyes open looking at the target and using the nearest of the double vision sights as my sight picture.
      Right handed, it is the right eye that first sees the sights and left handed, it is the left eye. I don’t have to cant my head.
      I know experts say “focus on the front sight” but then the target gets blurry and if both eyes are open then you may have trouble shooting the correct of the now double vision targets. The only way to correct this is to close the off eye. I don’t want to do that. I am just as accurate with both eyes open so why do anything different?

  8. avatar tdiinva says:

    This falls into the duh! category. If canting the pistol was an effective way to shoot than we would have seen it decades ago.

    1. avatar LarryinTX says:

      We have seen it for decades! Remember the gangstas?

      1. avatar tdiinva says:

        Case closed.

  9. avatar Accur81 says:

    I do a slight can’t for fast shooting and straight up vertical for one-handed slow fire. I’m just not very good shooting one handed with my weak side, and not super fast with my strong side, so I’m open to suggestions.

    If folks shoot more slowly and less accurately than me, I’m not very concerned about their opinions. If they are faster and more accurate, I’m all ears.

    1. avatar Roscoe says:

      I’d double up my practice one handed, both sides, to be as best prepared as possible in case the need ever arises. My weak side shooting has always been a challenge, too.

    2. avatar working4change says:

      a simple drill …. i post it alot.

      shoot

      right hand right eye for 2 mags
      right hand left eye for 2 mags
      or alternate eyes with the one hand for 2 mags to save on ammo.
      same for left hand.

      get your self a few Airsoft pistols, one pring poweted n 1 or 2 CO2 ones. make sure they all as different as possible and Gel target or paper one that catch the BBs.

      saves on ammo and can practice anywhere or anytime and not bother people. shoot weekly even daily and when you shoot the real thing it will be easier. your weak hand/arm will be a lot stronger from all the practice and it will be reflex, not something you think about.

      great thing about airsoft…. if you miss nothing dies. you can try anything you can imagine that would get you kicked out of a range or just not possible. they dont let you lay on your side like your injured and fire at targets. most Airsoft that are Sig or Taurus type replicas are also close in weight to original and can develop the weaker arm/grip/and trigger control.

  10. avatar Mason says:

    My cpl instructor said to try to consider puting a slight inward cant to help manage recoil when shooting one handed. First time I ever heard about.
    i cant shoot as accuratly, but I can put more rounds on a ‘man sized’ target quicker

    1. avatar working4change says:

      any cant to your shot makes your recoil an Arch, it is a natural motion your arm will do. you arm does not move at angles like that in a predictable way. your arm rotates, the weight of the gun will drop as you swing back to target you use far more muscles to do this. vertical is repeatable and returning to your aiming point is natural/automatic. you have less movement to do the job. your just using muscles that are developed yet.

      the canted method is like lower scores for a qualification. yes it uses stronger muscle but not in a movement that is reliablely repeatable. for example your arm is a henge at the elbow and has natural repeatibg motions. at an angle these straight line motions become circular and not as predictable. same for your legs.

      canting actually teaches you bad habits at the reflex muscle memory level and reduces your accuracy to hit.

  11. avatar achmed says:

    A traditional vertical alignment.

    It is essentially more “modular” – you’re holding the pistol vertically with a good two handed combat isosceles, one handed you are just losing your reaction hand. Why practice a varying element where your strong hand suddenly cants?

    Plus recoil seems more straight back.

    Supple leopard book is great.

  12. avatar Shire-man says:

    I always have a very slight inside cant when shooting sing handed not by intent. Seems to happen naturally. Scores show it hasnt hurt my accuracy or speed any to do so.
    If I were shooting target pistol matches however it’d be straight up and down.

  13. avatar BDub says:

    “though I feel like I have to steer the gun a bit to get it to return to my original point of aim.”

    That’s probably because you no longer have gravity working for you to control recoil and reset your sight picture – in fact its working against you by the degree of your cant.

    1. avatar KCK says:

      In the vertical, gravity, counters muzzle flip so for righty one might go high right. Physics?

      1. avatar BDub says:

        That’s my point.

  14. avatar JustYourRandomEuropean says:

    I was trained to have a canting in the weapon with both the weak and the strong hand.

    For me it’s more comfortable and more accurate to shoot canted.

    1. avatar LarryinTX says:

      I am not seeing the “more accurate” part, since the sights were made to be held vertical, to be accurate with a cant, you would have to go through a complex sighting-in, and then your cant would have to be identical each time. Point shooting, I can see advantages, but pure accuracy, not so much.

      1. avatar JustYourRandomEuropean says:

        Still works for me since my arms is more relaxed holding the weapon canted and dealing with the cant isn’t witchcraft.

  15. avatar Ken says:

    I’m 67 and it never occurred to me to shoot any way but vertical. The cops and cowboys on TV always did it that way.

  16. avatar Don Nelson says:

    After a mild shoulder injury, I found the inward tilt easier to hold, but more difficult for follow-up shots. Now it’s back to vertical, just like the range instructors taught me back in ’72. Because I’m almost always leashed to my dog, all my drills are strong hand only.

    1. You should have enough radial movement in your elbow/wrist to compensate for the shoulder issue.

  17. avatar Swarf says:

    To me- and I make no claims to be any category of ballistic badass– this all comes down to our inner ear.

    It’s easier to bring up, hold, move and return to a firing position a gun that our inner ear thinks is (literally!) right with the world. We are built that way. It’s why we can walk and build tall buildings that rarely fall over.

    The math our poor brains go through every time we fire a shot and try to get back on target is crazy enough. Don’t make the poor lil guy work even harder by throwing a 10* curveball at it.

  18. avatar Greg says:

    Due to a shoulder injury years ago I prefer to use a slightly canted position but after a decade of shooting in this manner I think nothing of it nor do the targets I hit.

    1. With your shoulder at neutral rotation, you should be able to compensate with the wrist to get the gun vertical. Unless you have an elbow injury as well.

  19. avatar Roscoe says:

    In the Army early 70’s we were taught single handed vertical with the 1911.

    At the academy in the mid 70’s we were taught both single handed vertical and squared off isosceles about 50/50 percent of the time. Our duty weapons were 4” barrel .357mag revolvers and for training we shot wad cutters about 70% of the time.

    I now practice shooting pistols single handed about 25-30% of the time. I’ve found my “natural” inclination with either hand is to hold the pistol angled at a 3-5 degree cant off of true vertical leaning a tad inward toward my body’s centerline. That only lasts as long as I let it because the discipline in me wants to put the pistol back to true vertical, 12 o’clock. There seems to be no affect, either way, on my accuracy.

  20. avatar LarryinTX says:

    I have been strictly shooting two-handed for many years, I find this thread timely since I have just recently determined to start some practicing one hand and weak hand, particularly since I have changed sighting from open sights to laser due to increasing farsightedness. Also because it sounds like fun!

    1. avatar Chip Bennett says:

      I always include at least a couple magazines each of strong-hand and weak-hand shooting at the end of every range session. Not a ton, but enough that I have enough familiarization with the mechanics, should the need ever arise.

      Usually 10 yards or so. Anything more than that, and in a real situation, and I would imagine that I’m likely looking for a way out/retreat, rather than sending/returning fire if I’m one-handed.

  21. avatar Conway Redding says:

    Cant only if you want to look like a “gangsta,” and are extremely close (arms length, maybe) to your target. Even then, though, I prefer the vertical presentation. The canted presentation is a triumph of style — some folks think it looks “cool” — over functionality..

  22. avatar Alan Longnecker says:

    To improve accuracy while shooting at a cant, you must yell, “Take that, Dawg!”

    1. avatar Roscoe says:

      Yeah, he could use a couple between the eyes…just sayin’.

  23. avatar Grumpy says:

    Real targets are probably going to be moving and hitting a moving target is easier for me if the barrel is square with the world. Maybe it is how my brain is wired or years of shooting trap, but if I have to think about the alignment because I have the gun held at an angle, its adding one more delay to the process.

  24. avatar seans says:

    The reason the cant has come into play the last decade is due to body armor. If you can blade your body, it makes no sense to cant. But if you present your plates square to the target, is when you see the benefit of the cant.

  25. avatar RenegadeDave says:

    Fast and close up: Canted

    Far away and accuate: Vertical.

    Depends on range. End of thread.

    1. avatar BDub says:

      Well, I guess that wraps it up! No need for further discussion. Thanks.

      1. I said good day sir!

  26. avatar AllAmerican says:

    I only shoot pistols one handed. Why use two hands when you can use one? I shoot vertical, stand to the side, and take my other hand and put it on my hip. This balances my whole body, and although I look like an 18th century line officer standing a shooting a pistol, It improves accuracy.

    1. avatar BDub says:

      That should come in handy the next time a car-jacker challenges you to a duel! All kidding aside, are you an Olympic target shooting competitor by chance.

      1. avatar AllAmerican says:

        I will look as a proper gentlemen as I do it! But no, for some reason that’s what my body just automatically does, and I’ve done it since I started shooting. Muscle memory from a past life perhaps.

        1. avatar Aaron says:

          if you extend one arm, you better be at distance.

          hard to retain control in a grappling situation that way.

  27. avatar Ralph says:

    For aimed fire, shooting strong hand vertical, weak hand canted is just the ticket for me. Learning to shoot weak hand canted shrunk my groups by 50% and improved my speed by about the same.

    If you are cross-eye dominant, you may want to try this in reverse to see what happens. None of my trainees have been X-eye dom, so I have no practical experience with it.

    1. Eye dominance is overrated. So is hand dominance when it comes to firearms. Handwriting or painting a portrait is another issue.

  28. avatar Wiregrass says:

    I find I gain a more accurate sight picture with the vertical hold, but I find myself increasing holding to a slight cant with timed or rapid fire. I think the important thing is to keep a strong wrist however you hold. I think being cross dominant is leading me in the direction of using the cant.

    1. Unless you have vision problems in your non dominant eye, I see no problem in using that one to align the sights. The visibility is there. Eye dominance is just the brain choosing one sight picture over another. When I shoot with both eyes open, I see both images trading out with one another and since the sights are closer, I can make them out even though they are not always in focus.

  29. avatar jwtaylor says:

    Standing still I shoot much faster and more accurately with a vertical gun. But if I start walking quickly horizontally across the target I tend to shoot better with a slight cant. Otherwise I end up shooting behind the target.

  30. avatar Gov. William J. Le Petomane says:

    Canted, 90 degrees counter-clockwise (right handed). The hat’s also canted. I always shoot one handed because I need the other hand to keep my pants from falling down around my ankles.

    1. avatar Prudence says:

      I can’t hear annytihg over the sound of how awesome this article is.

  31. avatar Former Water Walker says:

    I’m pretty good straight up and down…and rapid fire. I don’t shoot enough and it seems much more natural to me. I tore my elbow hyperextending(well re-tore form stupid heavy powerlifting) Honestly-whatever works for you…and I can’t shoot worth a damn with my left hand.

    1. avatar Aaron says:

      did you get surgery? what type?

      1. avatar Former Water Walker says:

        Nah no repair…45 years of lifting. I was doing shrugs with 675 and got a very notic eable tear in my elbow. Not nearly as painful or damaging as my dislocated elbow (the left) in 1978 doing a snatch. Made later bench presses something of a problem. But I have no regrets-I just wouldn’t be as OCD now but would still lift huge weights. better to be a has been than a never was…

  32. avatar Aaron says:

    well, a cant certainly helps when shooting around cover.

  33. avatar Glenn says:

    Canted or Vertical?

    Here is my answer.

    Vertical when I am shooting with Right Dominant Hand with Right Dominant Eye and
    Canted with Off-Hand shooting when aiming with Left Non-Dominanct Eye.

  34. avatar KR says:

    The best way to evaluate technique is to run drills with a target and a timer, try it both ways and choose what gives you the best results. Technique is not a zero sum game that demands that you always do one or the other. When the targets are close I cant the gun. When more precision is required, I shoot vertical. For me the dividing line on when to transition from canted to vertical was around 7 yards. And that approach worked on the classifier stages I shot last year on my progression to IPSC GM.

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