Firearms Food for Thought: Positioning Shooting Prone

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In order to be a successful long-range shooter you must take a number of factors into consideration. From windage to optics to understanding the capabilities and limitations of your caliber of choice and everything in between, you’d better have it all covered. Of course, certain techniques seem to be a matter of preference. One I’ve noticed at a number of long-range events as well as on hunts has to do with positioning: shooting prone with the shooter’s body in a straight line or angled. Which one is right?

Shooters going prone at an angle tend to have differences when it comes to sharpness of angle as well as different parts of their bodies being angled. The variation in sharpness of the shooter’s body angle can actually be significant; different people angle their bodies anywhere from 10 degrees to 45 degrees. Others position their body straight behind the rifle but bend one leg – typically on the same side of their body as their dominant hand – at approximately a 45 degree angle. Sometimes it’s the shoulder cradling the rifle that’s being angled. There could easily be a discussion regarding the importance of specific degrees for various body parts, but for the time being let’s focus on angling as a whole.

Those who go prone and position their bodies straight behind the rifle also try to physically touch as much ground as possible. Toes are usually pointed outwards with the shooter’s inner ankles touching the dirt. The exception is for those whose knees or other joints simply cannot allow for it, and in those cases the shooter often points their toes behind themselves – or slightly inward – pressing their boot laces into the dirt. Digging in is often done as well, pushing the edges of the boots into the ground in an attempt to create a secure, stable position.

So is there a right or wrong answer to body position while shooting prone? Is it simply a matter of doing what proves most accurate for you, personally? Some shooting styles seem to be generational while others appear to be a matter of who taught you – and where that instruction took place.

What do you guys think?



katie.ainsworth

Katie is an avid shooter, hunter, military journalist, and Southern girl. Firearms are her passion whether at the range or on a spot-and-stalk after a big buck. She’s a staff writer at The Firearm Blog and writes about guns, hunting, and the military for various publications both online and in print such as Outdoor Life, Handguns, and Shooting Illustrated. Shoot her a message at ainsworth.kat@usa.com


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  • LegMeat

    A straight behind the rifle prone position tends to be better for full auto or high recoiling guns. Having your body in line with the recoil axis(straight body position) and more contact with the ground will help to absorb and dissipate recoil. An angled position will typically bring the strong side of your chest off the ground and reduce the effect breathing has on your natural point of aim (try both and see). It is more popular for target shooting where recoil control is less of a factor. No food for thought needed. Two different tools for two different jobs.

  • Evan

    I shoot prone the way I was taught in the Corps. Straight behind the rifle for better support, on the range with my legs spread out and heels touching the ground. In the field it’s different, but I haven’t done much prone shooting in the field since I got out.

    • LegMeat

      A straight position has several advantages for combat shooting. Better recoil control as I mentioned earlier but it also presents a smaller target to the enemy as your body position is lower. That is why the USMC teaches straight as their basic prone position. The Marines who shoot competitions use angled positions.

      • Evan

        Didn’t know that about Marines who shoot competition. The only one of those I ever met was my PMI (primary marksmanship instructor) at boot camp. As for combat situations, I was taught not to spread my legs out, and thereby present a smaller target.

  • Blake

    Personally I never liked shooting prone.

    Give me a rock or a tree trunk or something to rest the rifle on, a small bag or rest under the forearm to protect the rifle & let me position it the way I want, & I’m a happy camper.

    • Quantum

      Same here, Blake. Prone is uncomfortable and unnatural to me, particularly because I have not properly and consistently trained to shoot that way.

      But, if bulllets begin flying past you, and cover (or even concealment) is not an option, your ass is going to hit the dirt fast and hard, and if you wish to engage back, you’ll be shooting prone. Being a good shooter while prone on the battlefield is probably preferable to being a good shooter standing up shooting offhand.

    • Bill

      Indeed. From a fighting perspective it limits your ability to move and unless your target is far away you have to raise the muzzle up higher than you arms and body want to. That rock or tree may also constitute cover and/or concealment.

      If I have to go prone, I use the essentially the same roll-over prone I use with a handgun, just without as much rollover.

    • USMC03Vet

      Sling arms prone shooting is where it’s at, you heathen.

  • Joel

    I like the classic angled “military” prone, as described in The Art of the Rifle. One may find differences between that and the straight line prone used nowadays. Some of these differences include neck angle and eye relief but are, as the author noted, dependent upon shooter physique. When using iron sights, many shooters may find their head too far from a rear peep sight, for example, when using the straight line position.

  • Aaron E

    I’ve shot both straight and angled prone positions. Angled is more comfortable over longer periods of time since a part of the upper body is removed from the ground. This allows easier breathing. However, if you plan on any follow-up shots, then straight is the best option. Being straight provides greater recoil management and overall firearm control, allowing the shooter to get back on target faster.

  • Bob

    I can’t decide which of the two I prefer. My first Appleseed they wanted me to do bent leg angled, but I instantly hated it and kept everything straight and even (I’m skinny and my breathing isn’t much effected either way). Now I have somehow picked up the habit of going slightly angled with bent leg, no idea why, I just slipped into it.

  • politicsbyothermeans

    I wouldn’t say that there is a definitive right or wrong way to do it. I will say it definitely matters though. Throw armor into the mix and the sometimes relatively confined spaces from where you might find yourself interdicting a target and it becomes very important to understand how body position will influence your shot.

  • DiverEngrSL17K

    There are certainly advantages and disadvantages to both prone body positions, whether in target shooting, or full-on battlefield combat, and everything else in between. As LegMeat has pointed out, use the right tool for the right job. What I have found from hard experience is that the more comfortable position is what matters most in terms of accuracy and dialing oneself into the immediate battlefield situation. With regard to the straight-bodied position supposedly being better for full-auto or higher recoil weaponry, I will share this : In all my years in the service, I personally found that there was little difference between the two positions regardless of whether I was firing an M16A1, M16A1HB, L1A1 SLR or FN FAL in either semi-auto or full auto modes ( the SLR being, of course, a semi-auto only rifle ). The same applies, for me at least, to the AK-74 and AK-47 variants

  • Dougboffl

    I learned rifle as a LEO. Not really much training given and I adopted a slight angle but feet pointed outward & legs straight. Now I’ve attended a Project Appleseed and they insisted on right leg bent. Very uncomfortable with lower left rib in the dirt, feeling like I had broken it. They kept telling me I’d get used to it. Nope. I understand the bent leg lifts the diaphragm off the grade and thus reduces pulse effects on the sights but really uncomfortable for me. I shot my best score using straight leg, belly down. So all this to say I think a lot of it is what you are comfortable with.