Choosing a Handgun Shooting Stance

Whether it's the Weaver, Isosceles or an adaptation of either will depend on what the situation calls for.


There are multiple factors involved in shooting a handgun well—grip, aiming, breath control, hold control, trigger control and follow through—as well as keeping both feet firmly on the ground. A good shooting stance provides a strong, stable platform, which is crucial for accuracy.

In today’s handgun world, there are two main upright shooting stances—the Isosceles and the Weaver—from which other stances have evolved. While the Weaver is probably better known, the Isosceles is more commonly taught to beginners.

Both the Isosceles and Weaver stances have proponents, and both have certain benefits depending on the shooting situation. The Isosceles stance is a naturally defensive stance that provides excellent coverage in most directions by simply rotating the upper body like the turret on a tank.

The Weaver is often used by police, military and self-defense advocates because it allows accuracy while presenting a smaller profile. This stance is also very popular with actors and directors on both the small and silver screens because it appears professional. Countless movies and TV shows have popularized versions of both stances to the point that many shooters don’t know how the Weaver differentiates from the Modified Weaver, or even that there is a stance called the Modified Isosceles.

The Isosceles  

  • • Stand facing the target with your feet shoulder width apart.
  • • Bend your knees slightly.
  • • Extend the handgun fully toward the target keeping your arms straight and locked.
  • • With your shoulders squared, your arms form the perfect isosceles triangle from which the stance receives its name.

The Isosceles is the first two-handed stance taught in most firearms training classes, including NRA First Steps and Basic Pistol classes. It’s taught because the Isosceles is a strong, simple stance that is easy to remember under stress.

The Weaver

  • • Stand with your feet shoulder width apart with your strong-side leg slightly back in what is often called a boxer’s stance.
  • • Angle your support arm’s shoulder toward the target.
  • • Bend your knees while keeping your body weight slightly forward.
  • • Grasp the gun using opposite pressure with both hands.
  • • Keep both elbows bent with the support elbow pointing downward.

The Weaver stance was developed by Jack Weaver while he competed in “Leatherslap” tournaments in Big Bear, Calif., during the late ‘50s. Simply put, Weaver was the first to use a two-handed grip with opposite tension from both hands. Weaver’s push/pull grip stance provided speed, stabilty and accuracy, and he started dominating the popular shooting events. Col. Jeff Cooper quickly realized the benefits of this stance and adapted it for self-defense shooting.

The Modified Weaver is the Weaver stance with the shooting arm fully extended to take advantage of the body’s skeletal system for accuracy. With the shooting arm locked forward, sight movement is minimized because the weight of the gun is held by both bone and muscle. Everything else stays the same including the reverse isometric pressure of the hands on the gun.

In the Modified Isosceles, the shooter simply leans forward on the balls of his or her feet for better balance and to help absorb recoil. This makes the stance more instinctive and easier to remember. For example, imagine your response if someone suddenly charged toward you. More than likely you would lower your center of gravity by bending your knees and lean toward your aggressor. This stance is based on the natural response to being attacked.

However, the latest stance to enter the handgun world could be called the Tactical or possibly the Fighting stance. This stance combines parts of both the Weaver and Isosceles stances and is taught at many self-defense academies such as Gunsite. It could be called the Tactical because many tactical and special forces units have gone to this modified stance, or a similar version, for its speed and accuracy and because it keeps the body-armored chest facing forward rather than exposing the uncovered armpit to a potential threat.

  • • Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Your strong-side leg can be slightly behind the weak-side leg
  • • Keep your shoulders squared with the target.
  • • Grasp the handgun using opposite pressure with both hands.
  • • Lock the shooting arm forward while keeping the support arm bent with the elbow close to the body and pointing down.

Choosing a Stance
The choice of a shooting stance usually comes from trial and error, and comfort. Some shooters choose one universally, while other shooters believe that each stance has a use depending on the situation.

Personally, I am of the second set when it comes to shooting stances. I believe that every stance has its place in the shooting world, so I train in each and every stance in preparation of having to fire in whichever position would best suit the situation.

The simple fact is that there is no best stance, only the best stance for a particular situation.

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40 Responses to Choosing a Handgun Shooting Stance

Alexa-Marie wrote:
September 28, 2013

I use a DE50, so I am pretty limited on available stances I can safely use. The modified weaver works best for me- I can hit a 14 inch diameter target at 400 yards with fair consistency, and hit kill zones every time at 50 yards or less.

Dave wrote:
June 21, 2013

Well if you're firing on someone and being fired upon you probably aren't just a still target. The weaver gives you better ability to move and run. Standing square to your target makes it incredibly difficult to move when needed. Also I hope if you're being fired upon you're looking for cover and not just standing alone out in the open.

Concerned wrote:
May 30, 2013

Hi: The article explained the basics of Isosceles, Weaver & touched on some slight modifications used by some groups of shooters. The author correctly stated "every stance has its place in shooting". If your learning to shoot work with trained shooters, instructors and learn the basics: safety, marksmanship, PRACTICE (Dry Fire) you will eventually get exposure to BOTH Weaver/ Isosceles Stances Pro's & Cons & what YOU feel most comfortable with. Practice (Dry Fire). BUT, remember there's a tool for every job, Imagine: Walking up a flight of stairs and suddenly you need to use your gun: What Stance? Exactly, whatever works in the moment. Learning the basics will allow you to determine the stance needed for the shot you need to take. PRACTICE (Dry-Fire)*SAFETY *Learn, Gain Experience, Practice. Practice (Dry-Fire): *SAFETY

Jax wrote:
May 07, 2013

My hubby has just gotten into shooting; I came I I come from a family that hunts & shoots regularly so I'm familiar with guns & rifles. My question is I've become ill & developed problems that causes weakness in my hands & they occasionally shake, to the point it's visible. On a very bad day, my hand can jerk out & knock things over, just to provide a clear picture. When attempting to clear a Glock 21 .45, it takes both hands just the to pull the slide back & both thumbs to use the slide release. Are they any suggestions on how to hold this gun to make it more manageable until we can find a weapon that is better fit for my needs? Also, we don't want a 22, and are considering a subcompact 9 as an option for my needs. I know many people develop hand problems as they age, how do others deal & modify their shooting stances and what are suggested weapon models that are the most effective for someone wanting to maintain firepower, but has small slender hands,with variances in hand strength. No one else in family has issues with this so we really haven't found any support for this. Tks in advance.

Stephen Charles Thompson wrote:
April 07, 2013

I believe I shoot best when I find a foot stance, balance, and angle that 'feels' comfortable and natural. This let's me relax and focus.

piobair wrote:
April 05, 2013

To KingOfTexas: I was taught the same stance that Henley was taught. You apparently don't understand what he described. The strong side arm is identical to the isosceles stance, and the other hand supports the strong side wrist. With the weak side elbow braced against the body, the gun has optimum vertical support.

Monica Threlkeld wrote:
March 29, 2013

My husband bought a smith and Wesson 38 for home protection. I grew up shooting shotguns. I found your site very helpful. He is taking a handgun course with me this weekend. I've fired a handgun only several times, target practice. I'm sure I will learn what is comfortable for me, stance. Wish me luck! I'm pretty nervous! I just want to be able to protect my family and myself should the situation ever arise!

Jeremy wrote:
March 23, 2013

Working in Law Enforcement I can honestly say that ISOSCELES is definitely better. Of course, unlike the normal person we are wearing vest to protect us. Best way to face would be straight on.

KingOfTexas wrote:
March 18, 2013

According to Magpul Dynamics you are wrong. They teach trainers and the military FYI even your grip is bad. :) Henley the draw backs are physics. If you shoot single handed or with bent wrist it is harder to get back on target. Your weapon will go to the least resistance. What you want is to have your weapon recoil straight back so you don't lose your target.

Henley wrote:
January 25, 2013

I have settled on a stance / grip in which my weak side elbow is against my body with my weak hand supporting my strong side forearm. No double grip. This works fantastic for me, but what are the drawbacks?

chaz wrote:
January 16, 2013

Comments...with over 21 years of law enforcement and a former s.w.a.t. member, I can convey that training is essential and a preferred shooting stance will depend on the circumstance. For me the tactical stance worked the best since we (my teammates ) were usually on the move and tactics were of vital necessity. But consider I had the most extensive training possible. I highly recommend to anyone not familiar with firearms to find anyone with the the proper training and background to spend time with you on the basics. Front and rear site operation, dominant eye vs.weak eye, shooting on the move, cover vs. concealment, tactical reloading, and most important, using a weapon that you can adequately handle. when I sometimes find myself at a public range, I cringe at what I see out there.

Eric wrote:
January 13, 2013

Would like to see this article edited to include Center-Axis Relock, been shooting with it for some time now and prefer it over weaver

Steve wrote:
January 05, 2013

People's crazy comments both amuse and scare me. This article simply explained two most common shooting stances. Barely discussed form for accuracy. Nothing in the article was about self defense? Yet people chime in about not wearing body armor, vital organs of shooting around corners. Every person has the right to speak their thoughts. However this article was not about self defense... It was about basic shooting stances. The fact that anybody is blowing hard about their vital organs being exposed doesn't get it...

Jon wrote:
December 17, 2012

Hey Andrew you should go to youtube and check out some of hickcock45 videos he also shoot right handed with left eye dominance hope this helps

Rich wrote:
September 25, 2012

Anyone would call me an old man, now days, but I've been shot at more times than 90% of readers would be comfortable with. Infantryman...Vietnam, '68 - '69, Cambodian border with A 1/28, Big Red One! So much for my qualifications! Practice, training, repetition, and then more of the same is how an infantry squad can come out of a firefight with minimum losses. Every member knows, and feels, when he has to perform his function! Else he doesn't belong!!! Know yourself, know your gun, and you will function in a natural capacity.

Andrew wrote:
September 23, 2012

Anyone have advice for someone who is cross-eye dominant? My left eye is dominant but I'm right handed (tried shooting lefty, but I have a much harder time manipulating the weapon). Any stance more geared towards cross dominant shooting?

lou wrote:
September 23, 2012

I bought a glock 19 recently. After a few weeks of getting familiar with it inside & out, I went out yesterday morning for some target practice. It was the first time I had ever fired a semi-auto. I experimented with different stances at varying distances. First of all, I was extremely impressed with the glock's accuracy. At 15 feet in a modified Weaver, my very first shot out of this weapon was only 6' right of the bulls-eye... and things only got better from there. What surprised me most was that I was most accurate in a 'point-shooting' stance, completely sideways to the target. My first 5 shot grouping in this position was 4 1/2' across and centered on the bulls-eye. In a rapid -fire situation, the grouping was 5' across, centered 2' below the bulls-eye. I continued experimenting- even seated on the ground. I don't know why, but I continued to be consistently more accurate in what would seem to be a rather unstable, side-ways standing position while firing with one hand. I'm still baffled by it. Maybe it has something to do with an instinctive position combined with comfort & confidence. That's the only way I can possibly explain it. Does anyone have any additional thoughts on this?

Mike the newby wrote:
September 20, 2012

I new to the sport which is why I googled this site. I've been trained by my brother who has spent a lot of $ going to various combat/defensive shooting classes. As a scratch golfer, I have more than one way to hit wedge shots. You have to based on the circumstances. Here's my take, would like feedback. 1 was taught the iscololies method as the means to deliver multiple rounds in a small grouping, ie chest cavity. But if I'm Target shooting it doesn't work for me. 2. If Target shooting where speed isn't a consideration , I use the weaver. It allows me use use my right eye dominance to sight the gun more consistently, and produce tighter groupings.

Tom wrote:
September 14, 2012

I know nothing other than what I read. One author , an expert in firearms whos article's appear in several gun magizines, saw someone switching stances at a gun range was critical of this stating that it was better to master a particular stance than be mediocre in all . Most gunfights are within 21 feet and over in two seconds. Does anyone belive they are going to be thinking which stance do I choose when they are that close and pulling out their gun. Good luck. Most of us have never been in a gun fight in close quarters. The paper plates I shoot at, don't shoot back. After a shoot out, I would need a change of dressing, or a change of underwear.

Lemuel wrote:
July 14, 2012

I instinctively go into a modified Weaver at the range. That's from years of shooting .357 and 9mm. I like the control and accuracy from this stance, even with my .22s. I would agree that, with body armor, one should square up to maximize protection, and thus a modified Isosceles seems appropriate. If that is a situation in which you are likely to find yourself, then practice for it, absolutely. For me, that's never been likely, as I've never worn body armor, so I go with what allows me to deliver rapid, accurate fire with the weapons I have at hand. I have also spent years learning to shoot one-handed with either hand, and I think this builds confidence and muscle memory, should a combat situation unfold. In that eventuality, I am in the dive for cover and return fire anyway you can camp, but then again, I'm not a soldier. Still, as any good soldier knows, know your weapons inside and out, know your body inside and out. I say experiment with stances to find what allows you to be most comfortable and accurate, and then work on practical matters of speed and adaptation to tactical situations. Oh, and practice, practice, practice, as if your life depends on it. It might someday.

Steve wrote:
June 19, 2012

I agree that facing your opponent square without body armor is poor tactics, but one thing to remember is that the entire side is a vital zone. If using weaver (my preference), keep the support elbow down to cover the ribcage. Otherwise, you just might be better off taking the round to the front, where there is actually a fair amount of nonvital space. Of course, with armor the isoceles is better. I've used both in the Army MP Corps and they do have their uses, if you think it through and pick what matches your anticipated needs. You can crosstrain, but under stress you will instinctively choose the one you are most comfortable with, regardless of tactical considerations.

Ned wrote:
June 04, 2012

It means applying forward pressure with your strong hand onto the grip, or pushing the gun away from you while using your weaker hand to pull the grip toward you forming a triangle that helps stabilize the pistol and reduce lift from recoil.

Russell Brahm wrote:
May 02, 2012

What do you mean by:"reverse isometric pressure of the hands" on the weapon?

Handy with the steel wrote:
April 15, 2012

Spent 3 years in the Infantry, 3 years as an amatuer mma fighter. We were taught what was essentially the weaver stance in the army(sappie plate facing the enemy) and for sport fightimg the weaver stance is used(what we call a fighters stance.) The most important thing i learned was muscle memory. What you do in training and on the range is what you will do in the field/cage. The post above me saying these stances wont help in a defensive shoot is nonsense. When the adrenaline starts flowing and you arent thinking clearly you will revert back to muscle memory. Ive seen guys ive trained with drill techniques every day in the gym that they never used in sparring then during a real bout if an opportunity presented its self they used the technique successfully because it had been drilled into body and mind so many times. As far as shooting stances go im biased because of my background but i can say that the weaver has some distinct advantages over the isosceles and over standing sideways. The most obvious advantage that no one has mentioned is balance,balance from being struck by a round and balance from being rushed by an opponent. If you get shot in the isosceles stance or standing sideways you will at least be knocked back or more than likely knocked down. Dont believe me? Stand sideways or in the isosceles stance and have close your eyes(so you wont know when its coming) and have someone shove you in the chest. Try the same thing in the weaver. And to the guy saying stand sideways so you dont get shot... if your exchanging rounds at close range expect to get hit, your best chance to survive that situation is to assume a solid stance so that you can quickly and accurately place as many rounds as possible into your opponents chest cavity, which is hard to do if you were knocked off balance because you were trying to look like john wayne standing sideways shooting with one hand

Not a Gunfighter! wrote:
February 27, 2012

It all depends what you are trying to achieve. If you want good target scores, the weaver gives a more solid support to withstand recoil and get back on target. The isosceles gives a better ability to pivot onto multiple targets at different angles. If you're going to rely on a handgun to save your life in a life or death situation, neither will do any good. By the time you have lifted your firearm to eye level, your opponent could well have drilled several holes into you. If you look at old timers e.g. Bill Jordan, Elmer Keith, etc, they were all exponents of rapid fire point shooting. They were both exceptionally fast AND accurate, because they practiced extensively with the one technique which works well in combat. If you have inexperienced opponent(s), you may do well with sighted shooting, but methods learned at the range will not help in combat, beyond instilling certain muscle memory connections. Fear and adrenaline will narrow your vision, make your hands shake, stop you from breathing, and make time slow to a crawl. You will recognize how clumsy and unresponsive your limbs are, you may not even be aware of firing your weapon. Your time at the range will probably give you an advantage over a criminal, but EVERY technique which is time proven, should be in your practice repertoire. And as much effort should be expended in reading behaviour, mollifying aggression, and mainly in learning to avoid situations in which these skills are likely to be deployed.

Amos Pickens wrote:
February 18, 2012

I thank all of you for your comments and knowledge on this subject. I even thank those who through their own ignorance fail to want to train in the most efficient ways possible to be able to defend themselves. The world seems to be going to hell in a handbag so to speak and the bad guys are winning. I think I will stick with the advice of the good guys. With their knowledge I have continued to survive. Thanks

Magnum wrote:
February 07, 2012

After many years of shooting with the Isosceles, i was rescently shown the Weaver. It made a huge difference in speed and accuracy. I highly recommend everyone to give it a try !!!

Angelo wrote:
January 24, 2012

I think what it boils down to is comfort. I am most comfortable using the modified weaver so that's what I use. If you're comfortable using the stance, you'll shoot more accurately from it.

Chuck, wrote:
December 20, 2011

I am old school in most things as I am old. However, for self defence you need to know you gun better than your partners body and what capabilities you have and the gun has. know your weapon, right handed, left handed, any and all positions. Make using your gun use instinktive. Practice, practice, practice!!

MTMind wrote:
November 04, 2011

After reading through the comments I am surprised that no one gives their background. I am an NRA instructor and coach for both youth and college and work at a public range were we have new shooters almost everyday. We start them on the benchrest. And once they are comfortable and ready then we have them stand straight up into the isosceles stance. I agree with the author that you should practice various stances the same as practicing various concelment/cover situations. It all comes down to the fact that there is no silver bullet that will make someone a great shooter. You have to follow the steps and do them all. It starts with building a solid position, get a proper grip and then go through the five step shot process. Changing or skiping any thing and you won't be successful with the shot. It's that simple.

The Cable Guy wrote:
October 18, 2011

you should shoot from many different stances and positions, you never know how your going to have to shoot in a defensive situation

JDS wrote:
September 08, 2011

Upon reading these comments, there are some valid points to everyone's view point. I am a firm believer in training, and activily seeking information from others. I recommend going to local pistol competions. Watch others as you compete. Learn from your observations and practise. Don't be scard to ask questions of these shooters with respect to thier training processes.

Thomas R Hasam wrote:
August 24, 2011

Practice using different Positions and use one handed stance as well using both right and left hands. Keep your elbow locked whenever firing a pistol otherwise if the pistol goes fully auto you are likely to shoot yourself in the head. Remember make yourself as small a target and as hard to hit as possible. Paper targets don't shoot back, bad guys do.

Big Joe wrote:
July 24, 2011

You will revert to how you trained. I'm an old Bullseye shooter-So I guess I'll be standing there one handed like Custer at the Little Big Horn.

reader wrote:
July 05, 2011

That's right. You use the same stance for everything situation: shooting around a corner, from on your back, if you're retreating or someone is charging you. Oh wait, no you don't. David B. I think I'll listen to the people who actually do this for a living rather than someone who just likes to critize with no real reasoning behind their arguments.

David B. Monier-Williams wrote:
July 04, 2011

"The simple fact is that there is no best stance, only the best stance for a particular situation." I don't know what your background is, but that statement indicates you need a whole lot more training and experience.

David wrote:
June 08, 2011

I had an interesting point of view given to me in weaver vs. isosceles although it seems worse to stand full body if you do get hit the bullet tends to hit only one organ now if you switch to the weaver and the bullet doesn't deflect from your arm it goes through both lungs and the heart. just a thought.

Shepard Humphries wrote:
May 25, 2011

@bw: Your suggestion has merit, as do suggestions to the contrary. A good argument is that one's ability to rapidly accelerate in any of the 360* possibly necessary is best done from a balanced Isosceles. Excellent point ... as is yours! :) In the long run, I find a more bladed stance comfortable.

Michael wrote:
May 19, 2011

Any way you can, is the better way to put a stop to the BG. Better have a few more stances ready, for you know, not or when an attack will occure.

bw wrote:
May 18, 2011

Standing full body square toward someone shooting at you without body armor is foolish, stupid and often fatal. You're not punching holes in targets. You're shooting to save your and/or your family's life. Learn to shoot well with one hand!!! Keeping your body hidden as much as possible. At least turn sideways presenting the smallest target possibe.