Home Guns for Beginners The 3 Most Important Handgun Shooting Stances to Learn

The 3 Most Important Handgun Shooting Stances to Learn

handgun stance
Courtesy Travis Pike
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It’s interesting how much your body position affects how you can control your pistol. It’s not too much of a surprise, as it’s the same as martial arts and other combat sports. A good stance can make a world of difference in your shooting.

There are a variety of stances in the shooting world for each platform with three main stances in the handgun shooting realm. Naturally, each has its pros and cons.

Is there a best handgun stance for beginners?

As a humble student of the gun, I’m not arrogant enough to say that one is better than the other, but I do recognize the strengths of each. Each one has its applications and drawback, but it’s good to know them all and keep them in your arsenal.

The Weaver Stance

The Weaver was created by police officer Jack Weaver and was the first mainstream two-handed handgun shooting stance. As far as shooting stances go many find this one to be outdated. However, some reputable schools still teach it.

The Weaver Stance is very comfortable and relaxed in a lot of ways. The handgun is held somewhat close to the face which helps the user keep the gun away from potential opponents. It also makes it easier to find the front sight.

Handgun stances
Weaver in the arms, loose and comfortable (courtesy Travis Pike)

The Weaver Stance has your non-dominant leg forward, like a boxing stance, with the rear leg being used for support. There is a slight lean at the waist. The arms are extended, but not locked fully out. The dominant hand is pushing forward while the support hand is pulling rearwards.

Handgun stances
The Weaver boxer stance (courtesy Travis Pike)


  • Very comfortable and easy to maintain for extended periods of time
  • By “blading” your body you are producing less of a target
  • Very stable with staggered feet
  • Quick and easy to learn
Handgun stances
(courtesy Travis Pike)


  • Recoil mitigation isn’t as good as other methods
  • Spinning to the non-dominant side is more difficult due to foot placement
  • Largely out of style with pros because you present an un-armored portion of the body

Chapman stance

The Chapman stance is a modified Weaver stance designed by competitive shooter Ray Chapman. The differences here are slight, but important. The firing arm is fully extended and locked out, and the support hand is bent slightly less and facing downwards.

Handgun stances
Chapman with a biceps rest (courtesy Travis Pike)

With the shooting arm fully extended you can rest your cheek on your biceps to acquire a steady sight picture. Your legs are slightly different from the Weaver. The front leg is pulled slightly closer in toward the other foot. This keeps things stable and keeps the shooter tight and ready to move quickly.

Handgun stances
Tighter Weaver stance (courtesy Travis Pike)


  • Easier to control recoil with the locked out arm
  • Comfortable and easy to learn
  • Bladed body is a smaller target
Handgun stances
(courtesy Travis Pike)


  • Harder to hold than the Weaver for extended periods
  • Can be straining
  • Still difficult to move quickly to the non-dominant side.

Isosceles stance

Isosceles is the most stable position out there and lends itself well to modern tactical shooting. It’s simple and easy to learn, but can feel awkward at first.

For an isosceles stance you square up to the target. Position your legs shoulder width apart with both arms forward and locked out.

handgun shooting stances
Locked out arms (courtesy Travis Pike)

You are forming a triangle with your upper body. The bend slightly at the waist and bend the knees slightly. The isosceles offers a lot, but most of all it offers shooters who wear body armor the most coverage possible.

Handgun stances
(courtesy Travis Pike)


  • Easy to learn
  • Offers the best recoil control
  • Quick and easy to transition left and right
  • Easy to explode off the X in any direction
Handgun stances
(courtesy Travis Pike)


  • Uncomfortable at first, feels awkward
  • Arms tire after a day of shooting in this position, difficult to hold someone at gunpoint for an extended period.
  • Non bladed stance gives your opponent a bigger target.

The right shooting stance

Choosing the right shooting stance for you is a matter of getting out there and shooting and — most importantly — training. I use the Chapman quite a bit due to a shoulder injury in my left arm, even though I’m trained in the isosceles. Find what works best for you.

The current pros mostly use the isosceles, but as anyone worth their spit would tell you, there is no right answer for everyone. I change my stance a bit between guns. For heavy duty revolvers, I use the Weaver because it helps balance the weight. For my Polymer 80 lower receiver GLOCK, I use isosceles.

Get out there, shoot in a variety of shooting stances and figure out which one allows you to shoot quickly, accurately, and do it repeatedly.

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Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine gunner who served with 2nd Bn 2nd Marines for 5 years. He deployed in 2009 to Afghanistan and again in 2011 with the 22nd MEU(SOC) during a record-setting 11 months at sea. Travis has trained with the Romanian Army, the Spanish Marines, the Emirate Marines, and the Afghan National Army.

He serves as an NRA certified pistol instructor and pursues a variety of firearms based hobbies.

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  1. When I started in law enforcement about 30 years ago we were taught the Weaver stance because the instructors said that you presented less of a target and your body was in a more stable firing position. Back in those days body armor was by no means universal.

    Today the Isosceles stance seems to be much safer if you’re wearing armor. You’re facing the bad guy straight on and may have the added protection of a trauma plate. The old Weaver stance may expose the side gap between the front and back armor panels depending on how well the vest fits.

    I learned Weaver back when I worked with Wyatt Earp and find myself back in that position when I’m a hurry and not thinking. Then I have to stop and square up to the target to take the best advantage of my newer vest.

    • This discussion can be as entertaining as “what’s the best pistol caliber”.

      Anyhoo, I was taught Weaver and have been using it for decades. The training institute I attend teaches it as well, though I’ve seen some of the instructors allow for Isosceles without penalty. Basically, if you’re on my team and you can put lead onto the target, use whatever stance works for you.

      • Too athletic for me. I prefer the Bean Bag Chair position. Body armor consists of a bag of Cheeto’s resting on my wedding tackle.

        Preferably naked. Never underestimate the shock effect on an intruder when he suddenly comes across a naked old fat guy covered in Cheeto dust. That deer in the headlight look makes him easy to shoot.

    • Or the Hajji stance. Holding an AK over the top of your head, while poorly taking cover, and rocking the AK on full auto screaming ALLAH AKBAR, hoping for allahs assistance in guiding the bullets on target.

      • Or squatting. Every time I think of haji’s I remember them squatting. Not taking a knee, not sitting down, they would squat like they were shitting. Most uncomfortable position ever. Full on squat and they looked relaxed.

        • That “squat” was known as the “rice paddy squat” during the South Eastern Games.

        • In basic I remeber the Drill Sergeants using that squat as a punishment. Dudes would be in pain in just a couple minutes. I grew up picking herbs in fields, and spent hours moving down the rows in that squat. It’s still perfectly natural for me. This information was, of course, never relayed to anyone in basic.

  2. Start in the isosceles and transition as needed, left and right, near target or far up or down. Know all three and, when possible, practice using all three.

    E.g. In house clearing the isosceles is a loser if used some.

    P.S. learn the in-close Rock stance for shooting a near target immediately as you clear the holster.

  3. I believe the saying goes…if your shooting stance is good, your not moving fast enough or using cover right!!!

  4. TP, Great article. “Whatever Works” was never better stated. Our bodies, ages, physical condition are all different. I have a buddy in a wheelchair. He carries. He practices on the ground. That is where he will probably be if somebody dumps his chair.

  5. I prefer the Saturday night driveby position (sitting down and firing sideways)… or

    being a little more serious,

    practicing the compact/collapsed Weaver stance for those 0 to 10 foot encounters.

    • My favorite is the Underhorse stance from the movie Tombstone. Kurt Russell is chasing baddies and slides/hangs halfway off his saddle to use his horse as cover, then fires his .45 Long Colt revolver (a powerful and loud cartridge) under the horse’s neck. Horse doesn’t even flinch, get shot, or break its stride.

      I practice that while drifting in a lowered Honda Civic. I swing the door wide open, lean out from the driver seat until my head is against the lower edge to keep it propped open, and fire from underneath to hit all the baddies. My pet monkey Fireball takes the wheel, since I’m leaning so far out and can no longer keep my right hand on it, of course.

        • Only cool if the monkey is wearing a black hoodie with a Punisher logo. And Fireball is carrying his own hardware Mexican style.

          What does a monkey carry? 1911?
          In 6.5 Creedmoor?

        • The Monkey is smarter than that, hes got a 6.5 PRC! The new and better than the Creedless you now need to purchase!

      • We must see the video for the drifting shoot!
        It is probably at the same link where the common sense ‘demotaters’ are located.

  6. The important thing not mentioned in this story is are you wearing armor or a plate carrier. Most of us who learned to blade was that we learned before we had armor for protection.
    I normally use a form of the Chapman stance because with no neck and my head on the arm, where I look the weapon is there, sights aligned and ready to go. I also am trying to stop doing the old school teaching of holding the handgun by the side of your head (muzzle up) when checking for targets; (but is good for magazine reloads as the magazine is right there by your eye.)
    But alas evaluators in the rafters of the shooting house always complained about the weapon muzzle point towards them and disliked my comment “Yes I was trained differently (old school) Never has to worry swiping someone with the.muzzle or shooting someone in the leg/foot until stacking and the shooting house.”
    But believe I am gaining another tool by learning the “improved”??? Way/method.

  7. Being Cross Dominant (right handed, left eye dominant), I use a bit from all three stances. Left foot forward, torso turned slightly to the Left. Right arm extended straight, support arm slightly bent. I’ve also discovered that closing my Right eye tightens my groups up. Keeping both open is the recommended I know, but there’s a significant improvement in my groups enough to make me continue with that modification.

  8. “The Weaver Stance has your non-dominant leg forward, like a boxing stance”
    NO, it does not. This is a common error (including by wikipedia), passed along by a great many, but it’s still an error. The feet should be square to the target, or just slightly left foot forward, but no more than one toe. The off elbow IS bent, and IMO, this is what makes people desire to stand sidewise to the target. But, it’s the hips that are suppose to twist toward the strong side to get the pistol on target, and NOT the feet.
    IMO, this is largely why it has been abandoned. Because so many do it, and teach it, incorrectly. For those who do not believe this, don’t call me names. Argue with Jeff Cooper instead:
    QUOTING: “to take it [the weaver stance] you square into the target. Many of us like to advance the left foot SLIGHTLY, but never more than the right toe.” END QUOTING
    From the above video, 28:00 – 29:00. Just watch it and see. For those who cannot help themselves and simply must name call anyway, I will ask if you’ve seen the video, so do your homework and be prepared. Or do not, and look like a first grader who cannot even read. It makes little difference to me, either way, but you might could learn something if your minds are open enough.

  9. The other plus for being squared to the target is that when you take fire, vest or no vest you will NOT get hit through the width of the torso. a frontal hit could take one lung or the other but not both. you still have a chance. the side to side hit pretty well guarantees a rapid death… best choice? shoot first and shoot well!

  10. Stances are useful when learning to shoot and for target shooting. In a defensive shoot, you should be moving and using cover, both of which, by definition, do not use stances.

  11. My students are all newbies (God love ’em) and they naturally get into a some kind of Weaver stance as if they’re boxing or getting ready to throw a ball.

    I’ve experimented with setting them up in isosceles but they have much more trouble keeping their weight slightly forward. Then, even slow repeat shots incrementally push them off balance backwards. Therefore, I’d have to say that just putting newbies in an isosceles stance makes them MORE susceptible to recoil until you get them to keep their weight forward in a flexible, athletic position. The Weaver gives them that back foot as a brace without them having to think about it (even though I coach them to unlock those damn knees and keep a little more weight on that front foot.)

    So, I’ve been leaving them in a modified Weaver (not too bladed off) and spend the saved time on trigger control.

    • You might try teaching the actual Weaver stance, with the left foot (if right handed) just slightly forward and use the hips and shoulders to get on the target. You’d be surprised at how well it works when done properly. [see above post]

  12. Im lazy if target shoot its isosceles.
    If I were being shot at or shooting in a situation.
    Its weaver.
    I have never used the Chapman stance knowingly.
    My real PREFERANCE. Sitting on my butt in a chair using a bench and rest shooting anything at a 100 – 200 yards.
    Unfortunately. no place in Palm Beach county to do that.

  13. the US army 1911 one handed shooting stance looked horrible. I never lock my arms straight, I kick my elbows out flat, helps more in taming recoil and having the gun jump around. and no one ever reccomends to take defensive shooting courses, learning to shoot while on your back or on the ground helps, also Learn to use cover and take initiateive in backing off or advanceing.

    • “no one ever reccomends to take defensive shooting courses”

      Dude, I am literally taking another defensive handgun course tomorrow. Two more days of additional training.

      • Very cool. After I requalify my CCW guns, i have to renew my CCW lic, I want to take a low light weapons class.

  14. Hunched shoulders, tilted head, not raising gun to eyes. I’d look elsewhere for instruction. The stances can be combined for 360 shooting. Moving and facing the target is preferably, but sometimes you need to reach quickly. The Weaver is extremely bladed, like shooting a rifle with the firing arm across the chest. Natural aim is 10 o’clock (for a right hander), with a pivot to 6 or 7, depending of flexibility. Support hand only will get you beyond that. Chapman transitions from Weaver to isosceles at 12. Iscosceles ( or strong isosceles with feet in boxer stance) twists from 10 to 2. Shooting hand only gets you 2 to 5 or 6 with a twist. For people who are cross dominant, shoot with the same hand as your dominant eye. It removes the need to use muscles to contort yourself into weird positions.

  15. How about the stance that you can use to hit the target and not get hit.
    Not many non-LEO’s wear/have armor.
    Cover; i.e. car, side of building, etc. and gun hand supported and stable.
    Heart beating 1000mph, resp. rate almost hyper-venting, scared s..tless. Oh yeah, left foot slightly forward, twist hips, support hand bent, no, straight….
    S..t! Run!.
    How ever, the Camp Perry 1911 stance does look cool.

  16. I was really hoping you’d touch on the bullet curving technique that was used extensively in “Wanted”. Sling your hand/arm around and the the bullet will move in a horizontal arc around a barrier and hit something behind it. Apparently you have to be quite limber to pull it off.

  17. How about the hit the ground position behind a rock?
    And don’t forget the Scott Pederson position of gun in one hand and radio in the other while cowering outside.

  18. A problem isosceles is that recoil will rock you back on your heels. A staggered stance (Weaver or Chapman) prevents that. Chapman comes naturally to me.

  19. Learned weaver but transitioned to Isoceles for pistol and rifle. But the past year I have been practicing CAR for close up handgun. Any folks open to trying something different, I highly suggest trying C.A.R. No matter what the stance bending the knees make a huge difference for me. And for stronghand shooting, slighly bend the elbow and I switch to dominate foot foward.

  20. Any one of those stances will make you look very chic and fashionable at the range. But, if it comes down to a gunfight, you better know how to work that firearm with one hand.

  21. Don’t get so wrapped up in a stance you can’t stick and move. Standing there blazing away is a good way to get shot.

  22. Completely left out the dueling stance. There is no need for recoil management since no amount of spray and pray can make up for a poorly aimed first shot…

  23. I don’t get why you’d teach isosceles to people not wearing body armor. And really, no ones going to get in a proper stance for a DGU. Out on the street it just doesn’t happen like that. Unless you walk around in a stance 24/7.

  24. All of this is just crazy talk. What really matters is what gun lube and cleaner you use. Oh, yeah beard conditioner too.

  25. Good god.. can’t even talk about stances without someone chiming in about a firefight. No fucken shit keyborad warriors? Tell us more about what we should do in every scenario.

  26. Moddified Weaver (Chapman) for me. Far more accurate than isoscoles, better ballance, and faster follow up shots.

    Iscoscoles is usefull for multiple close targets, like dropping steel plates.

  27. Thanks for the insight. I’ve learned all 3, but it’s always good to see them broken down again.

    Man, the concern about squaring body armor to the target bugs me. I think I’m more worried about getting stable quick enough to get rounds on target fastest and firstest. There’s enough fundamentals of marksmanship without adding “square your body armor towards the target”. If you can, fine, but put I’d put it last on the list if you have time

    A pro for the Weaver for me the push/pull, it gives me the greatest stability, especially with 1911s and like grip angles. A pro for the Chapman is by twisting and locking the nonfiring hand (and pointing with the thumb) is the only way I get Glock sights down on target quickly.


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