one-handed one hand shooting
Dan Z for TTAG
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One-handed shooting can often be neglected as part of the regular practice a person does for concealed carry and personal defense.

The sentiment you’ll find espoused often when it comes to concealed carry/self-defense pistol/whatever-you-want-to-call-it is “train how you fight,” or something to that effect. In other words, you want to train with your typical carry gear, in your normal clothes, and with your normal carry gun.

If you then also train properly, using the correct stance and grip and so on, your muscle memory will kick in if the moment of truth ever arrives. The idea, of course, will be that your instincts and training will take over and you’ll shoot the way you’ve trained to shoot.

Does that actually happen in the real world?


Not as reliably as you’d think. Under stress, muscle memory and fine motor control can fall apart. Not only that, but circumstances may be such that you CAN’T use the same perfect technique that you learned and used under range conditions.

I’ll give you an example. The Weaver stance, popularized by Gunsite (and other instructors) found adoption because of its success in competitive pistol events in the early days of IPSC, IDPA and so on. As a result, it was taught as a self-defense technique to civilians and law enforcement.

Despite wide dispersion by instructors and training bodies, it was observed that the Weaver tended to fall apart under stress. An article that appeared in a 1989 issue of the now-defunct Law And Order (dun-dun) magazine (digitized by the Department of Justice) by Harold Westmoreland looked at a force-on-force training class for cadets and the shooting stance they used.

The training sessions involved 39 incidents of spontaneous (meaning they didn’t know it was coming or had no time to really prepare) force-on-force situations at under 10 feet, and 27 events of force-on-force situations at more than 10 feet.

Under 10 feet, 10 recruits never drew their weapon, and only one of the remaining 29 assumed a Weaver stance. The remaining 28, despite being trained in the modern technique, assumed an isosceles stance. Of those, 18 used only one hand.

At more than 10 feet, 25 cadets assumed an isosceles stance and two a Weaver.

Granted, these were cadets, but evidence was accumulating by that point (the article cites Mas Ayoob and others) that seasoned officers who were trained in the Weaver stance instinctively revert to isosceles under stress, too.

Additionally, since most self-defense shootings occur just outside of arm’s reach, there’s every possibility you’ll only have one hand to use. Therefore, one-handed shooting is something you’ll need to practice.

Active Response Training one hand shooting
Credit: Active Response Training

The point here is that the perfect/classically correct technique you learn and use on the range might not be what you use on the street in a critical situation. That could be due to stress or it could be because you physically can’t given the circumstances.

A good deal of defensive shootings occur wherein the shooter has only one hand to use.

Watch this video from Active Self Protection:

The shooter – a firearms trainer, no less – is holding the gun in his right hand, and trying to keep his assailant at bay with his left. It isn’t until he’s cornered and given no choice that he fires. It all takes place at very close.

That whole “rule of threes” thing – 3 shots or less, in 3 seconds or less at 3 yards or less – has some truth to it. A review of five years of “The Armed Citizen” shooting incidents, covering the years 1997 to 2001, by the Tactical Professor backs up the idea that most self-defense shootings (or at least those in the sample) occurred just outside arm’s reach, as most did.

Massad Ayoob, in an episode of the ProArms podcast, interviewed Lt. Robert Stasch, a 37-year veteran of the Chicago Police Department and survivor of 14 gunfights. Stasch (now retired) was able to assume a two-handed grip only twice. It’s a long interview, but it’s worth a listen.

Stasch, interestingly enough, used a combat point-shooting method to lethal effect; he found he didn’t have time to use his sights in a fight. The relevant bit starts at about 22 minutes in.

Granted, take all this with a grain of salt. While some trends can be identified in what little information is out there on defensive gun uses, nothing is 100 percent certain. Each situation is unique and has its own complications. It all devolves into a cavalcade of “if-thens.”

The bottom line is that you can’t anticipate the conditions under which a fight will happen. That’s why you should be prepared and train for one-handed shooting as well as two-handed.

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    • “Don’t forget weak hand.”

      I have to force myself to run at least 1 mag weak hand in a range session. And I am *not* good shooting weak hand. As in, I seriously suck shooting weak.

      Would it be better to start the range session shooting weak?

      • I’m currently doing weakhand dryfire with my glock 19, still getting use to the stock trigger, being relatively new to glock. I’m thinkin’ after a few hundred trigger pulls I’ll hit the range for some weak hand glock shooting.

      • Geoff, what I do is blade myself to the target and cant my weak hand inboard slightly. It tends to bring the forearm into play and steadies the sight picture. I have friend that taught himself to shoot ambidextrously with handgun and long guns with equal ability. It took a lot of time. And ammo.

      • Just go slow and remember that the awkwardness you feel is exactly the same as the awkwardness you probably have forgotten that you felt when you first learned to shoot. I personally was able to take my weak hand shooting from “so awkward, essentially useless” to “marginally proficient” in a couple long sessions of shooting 50/50 strong and weak.

      • Weak hand?, both paws are equally strong through repetition but it doesnt feel different anymore

        • Yeah, one of the USCCA instructors refers to it as one’s “other strong hand”. It’s just not as pithy. 🙂

      • Agreed. A gun is about comfort. The comfort you can defend yourself. The first few hundred rounds, only shoot two handed to get comfortable. Then shoot one handed. When you are ready, try off hand. While your pattern won’t be great, you will gain confidence and comfort in your firearm.


      • Get yourself a revolver and practice dry firing with your off hand. Laser sights are a huge plus in this exercise! Squeeze slowly while keeping the dot from moving until and after the hammer comes down. This will develop the muscles and control you need. You’ll soon be able to shoot equally well with either hand. Make sure you exercise sound safety procedures at all times.

    • Beat me to it. And if you have access to a safe place get on the ground and shoot from various prone positions. On your back, side, etc. Like you’ve been knocked down on are injured.

      • jwm, also a good idea. Just be careful of knees and feet when shooting prone. Do it slow at first. Those wounds to the bones can be painful.

    • Pushed into a street fight? Adapt! I’m not certain the “instructor” should’ve inserted himself into the situation, however. Cops were called, cameras were running and no one’s actual life was being threatened. Oh, I know it’s always great to shoot some “bad guy” and it’s obvious there are peeps on this site who’d love to be in this position, but I think I’d have hovered more in the background to insure no one was actually being threatened and keep the gun out of sight while I could. Save ME a hell of a lot of paper work, lawyer fees and nights lying awake… The Quickie Mart sure as hell wouldn’t thank me or back me.

      Do as you want, however.

  1. 75% of my range time involves one-handed shooting, I understood (through common sense) that I won’t always have two hands available in a defensive situation.

  2. I subscribe to the mantra, “Train how you fight, and you will fight how you train.”

    Just a couple days ago, a friend offered to let me shoot his new semi-auto handgun at his backyard range. After a few shots, he observed that I was moving my trigger finger fully forward before shooting again and suggested that I try taking advantage of the really short trigger reset.

    That sounded interesting. So I said, “I will squeeze off a shot and hold my trigger finger all the way back. Then, after a few seconds, I will slowly move my trigger finger forward to see how short the trigger reset is.” What do I do five seconds later when I squeeze the trigger? I move my trigger finger fully forward for reset, even though I just said I would not do that. That was training and “muscle memory” overriding what I consciously wanted to do. Talk about reality slapping me in the face!

    Thus I agree with the author’s points in this article. If reality tells us that we will have to shoot one-handed quite often, we should train to shoot one-handed quite often!

    • Somewhat similar situation, I have a Sig with the SRT. It’s awesome, but was messing me up with the other gun without a SRT. As a result, I stopped carrying the Sig.

      • SoCalJack,

        Now here is a fun consideration about trigger reset:

        Suppose that your everyday carry handgun has a short trigger reset and you train aggressively and extensively to use that short trigger reset to full advantage — thus ingraining “muscle memory” of that short reset. What happens if you have to use a different handgun — which has a long trigger reset — in a self-defense event? Do you “short stroke” the trigger and have significant trouble getting off more than one shot?

  3. Couple of comments.

    First, exercise, develop those arm muscles. You do not need to have bulging biceps but a regular routine of dumbbells at a weight just at the edge of comfort will give your arms the steadiness needed. No gym membership needed, no big investment either. Applies equally to men and women, Of course if your normal daily life has this covered by the work you do and your recreational activities, no worries then.

    Second, it can be surprising how some people are naturals at one handed shooting. I speak here of the surprising ability of our mother one day when we were out shooting and mom had been talked into coming along. She was an outdoorsy person, loved camping and outdoor cooking but was never into guns.

    One of us had recently bought an old Colt Police Positive in .38 Special:

    After some convincing mom took that old revolver and assumed a one handed stance. Turning sideways, gun arm fully extended, other arm with hand on hip. Mom fired all six slow and steady, double action into a tight group (tighter group than any of us had with two hands) at about ten yards. After putting all our jaws on the floor, so to speak, we never again talked mom into firing a gun.

    So all I’m getting at is these two things. You need some but not a huge amount of attention to arm strength for steadiness in shooting handguns. Also do not be put off by trying different stances and one handed shooting. You may be surprised by your natural ability.

    • Enuf,

      That is a true ‘I am proud of my Mom” moment! Great story!

      Agree, on your points about exercise. It does not take a lot of weight to get strong. It takes consistency.

      I have modified my tai-chi routine so that I can do it while holding 7 lb weights in each hand. 30-40 minutes of that gets the entire body, legs, upper and lower back, abs, shoulders, arms, neck with little stress on the joints and builds upper body strength. BTW, I started with 5 lbs; it took a year to get to 7. Not easy, but my favorite workout.

    • Liked the mom story. My grandfather left me his police positive 38 special and it is a sweet shooting gun. Trigger pull in d a & s a is fantastic and it is very accurate. I shoot mainly 148 gr. wadcutters.

    • ” arm strength for steadiness in shooting handguns ”

      I’m pushing 70 and this has become something of an issue. I’ve always been a one-handed shooter. I don’t stiff-arm it, but keep my elbow just a little bent, and for some reason this helps with the steadiness part. Lately, if it’s a long day at the range, I’ll prop up my shooting arm by putting my other arm’s wrist about half-way down and under my gun forearm. Not really a two-handed stance since I’ve still got one hand free for holding a flashlight or whatever. If it works, do it.

  4. The bit in the article about people deferring to isosceles stance during unexpected attacks surprised me.

    Throughout my years, I have participated in a LOT of Taekwondo sparring. I have always used a Weaver stance for sparring and NEVER an isosceles stance. A Weaver stance is the best position for rapidly moving in almost any direction. Whereas an isosceles stance really slows you down if you want to move backward or forward. I am absolutely confident that I would immediately go to a Weaver stance in a hand-to-hand combat situation. I wonder if that would spill over to self-defense events where I had to use a firearm?

    Along the same lines, I wonder if those defenders who assumed an isosceles stance during their self-defense events never spent any significant amount of time training for hand-to-hand combat in a Weaver stance. Perhaps that is the key to better positioning in a self-defense event with a firearm: a lot of sparring in hand-to-hand combat.

    • U_C,

      Noticed the same. When I have anticipated a physical brawl, my body adopts a weave stance, without any thought. Judo and Aikido training, I guess. Thankfully, no brawls have actually happened in many years. Just a few alarms.

      However, when I shoot one-handed, I feel much more comfortable and balanced in an isosceles stance. Not sure why. Until now, never gave it much thought. That is why…TTAG.

  5. One-handed, arm straight out, forward, aiming.
    One-handed, arm straight out to the gun side, aiming.
    One- handed, elbow bent, close to the body, point and shoot forward, then, change positions, point and shoot to the side
    No kneeling, lying on the floor.
    Always open to suggestions?

  6. As long as you don’t shoot your self, any way you’re comfortable with will work, I’ve shot all kinds of ways, even with my weak hand . Shooting at paper is nothing like having adrenaline running through your body at a hart pumping speed. Then you won’t be thinking about stance or form,

    • Nordneg,

      You have nailed a weakness in my practice: weak hand shooting. I need to work on that before I resume training. Thanks for the reminder!

  7. Absolutely!!!!! Shot in a hand or arm, broken arm, Holding someone up or pushing them to safety, there are al kinds of reasons.

  8. One of my older semi-auto handguns is a DA/SA Walther P22. I’ve practiced shooting it SA then DA, then right hand, left hand; both DA and SA. Turning my body almost sideways feels correct with one hand.

    I’m very right hand dominant, so shooting left hand felt very uncomfortable. But taking a deep breath, I shot decent groups. Interestingly, I shot left hand SA better than I did right hand DA.

  9. There’s a movie called “Next” starring Nick Cage, Jessica Biel, and Julianne Moore where Moore plays an FBI agent and she is practicing at a shooting range that is supposedly a specialized FBI range.

    In the scene, she has a holstered weapon on her hip and her hands at her sides. A plywood bad guy pops up right in front of her and she smacks the plywood in the middle of the chest with an open left hand while drawing with her right hand and double tapping center mass.

    I have no idea if that is real or Hollywood BS, but it looks good. A real 250 lb. bad guy is going to be a bit different than a 10 lb. piece of plywood, especially for a 130 lb. woman.

    • I’ve taken two classes where contact distance shooting was taught. In both we used the left hand to strike/shove/block the target while drawing our firearms with the right and shooting from and indexing position on the rib cage into center mass.

      You strike at the same time as you are drawing making sure to keep your left arm above where your right will be firing. If the target ducks, moves down, so should your point of aim. After the initial shots we backpedaled and extended our firearms, eventually transitioning to a 2 handed grip – if possible. Sometimes the targets were programmed to chase us down the range, so you never get to extend just backpedal and fire from retention.

      John Lovette (spelling?) Warrior Poet Society has a video where he is being shown a similar technique on You Tube.

      • Striking with the heel of the palm to the brow is pretty effective, regardless of size. You don’t have to win the fight or overpower them – just distract/stun them for a second while you draw.

  10. I keep and walk a dog for someone who periodically is unable to care for the dog due to infirmities. I live in coyote country. In case of coyote attack I carry a single action revolver as I will be pointing and shooting with one hand while the dog will be jerking at the leash on my other hand. I am much more accurate with one handed point shooting with my single action revolver than my double action revolver and my semi-automatic, especially using one hand.

  11. When I was around 12, my uncle took me out to the woods behind the house, handed me a .38 revolver and said “shoot”. I did. One handed. And that’s the way I’ve been shooting pistols ever since.

    In the course of 50+ years of shooting, I’ve tried Weaver stance and Isosceles stance and every other two-handed fad that came down the pike, and they all just feel awkward and unnatural to me. Plus I just don’t like tying up both hands when one will do just fine.

    So that’s how I shoot, and that’s how I practice. For every mag I do with the right hand, I do one with the left, and I’m pretty close to being equally proficient with either hand. The trick of it isn’t in the hand, anyway. It’s in making the shift off your dominant eye.

  12. Don’t forget support hand only reloads! Those are really tough. I always practice firearm manipulations with dummy rounds- it’s better than empty magazines in my opinion.

  13. One handed shooting is easy if you take the time to learn it. The big problem with one handed shooting for most people I’ve known is they think they have to be rock solid “steady” and don’t realize that you can move that gun in a circle or a figure 8 or any pattern to control movement and still hit anything as easily as with two hands. With a little practice and a good sixgun you can easily hit things the size of a quarter at 30 feet.

  14. Every 20 years, something new. I had been shooting one handed long before “two-handed”. Yet some seem to think it has just been invented. Arrogance + ignorance = born yesterday.

    • My dad always shot pistol one handed. The rules of competitions in which he participated didn’t allow two hands. When the rules changed in the ’80s, we found out that after lifetime of single handed training and competition, he is more accurate that way than when he tries to use both hands. (And much more accurate than me, no matter which way I tried.)


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