The average range environment tends to box shooters into a situation that focuses more on safety than it does on developing the skills you need to survive a gun battle. The safety angle isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it’s just that most shooting ranges are designed to accommodate not only the expert shooter, but the first-time shooter who has never handled a weapon in his or her life. In order to accomplish this mission, ranges operate under a series of safety rules that prevent things like prone, crouching, or kneeling shooting positions as well as any sort of movement or deviation from the firing line. Drawing from the holster is usually not permitted, unless the shooter happens to be law enforcement. The net result is that range shooters will typically have an incredibly narrow and focused shooting ability that is far less tactical than their military or law enforcement counterparts.
While you may not have access to a shooting area that permits any of the above described alternate shooting positions, there is a segment of your shooting that you are probably not as well practiced at, one that you can practice in any indoor range – off-hand shooting. Sometimes referred to as weak-hand shooting (as opposed to strong-hand shooting), off-hand shooting is simply shooting with your non-dominant hand; if you’re right-handed, this means shooting with the left hand, and vice versa. To some people, switching hands results in the feeling of the gun being totally new and foreign to them; the feel is different, and the angle over the sights might even be different depending on how you normally hold the gun in your dominant hand. Everything about off-hand shooting is different when you try it for the first time – everything of course, except the fundamentals of marksmanship, which remain the same no matter the hand or the weapon you use.
It’s easy to say that the fundamentals of marksmanship remain the same no matter the hand you use, but it’s difficult to put into practice. Sight picture and sight alignment will be almost identical; same for breath control. Trigger squeeze, however, often presents a problem since your dominant hand trigger finger may have learned to gently but firmly squeeze the trigger over the course of thousands of trigger pulls, whereas your non-dominant or off-hand has no such experience.
So why should we even practice off-hand shooting in the first place?
- Because you have two hands, and by rights, they should know how to do the same things as each other, especially with regards to firearms.
- Because in a gun battle or firefight there is no guarantee that you will be allowed to use your dominant hand – circumstances will dictate with which hand you will reach for that gun.
- Your dominant hand may become injured or unusable prior to or during a firefight.
- You may be forced to shoot from behind a barricade or obstacle that favors your weak hand. For example, you are right-handed and lean up against a corner, and want to shoot towards your right side, around the corner. To expose yourself to the target the least, you will have to shoot with your left hand.
Off-hand shooting is simply a skill that you need to master in order to be prepared. Try it at the range by simply switching hands – it’s that easy! For handguns, most people will do just as good – or sometimes better – than they do with their dominant hand. This is because they tend to spend more time lining up the shot and are more careful than they would be with their dominant hand, and thus are just as accurate or sometimes more accurate. The downside is speed; few people unpracticed in off-hand shooting can crack off as many rounds as accurately as they could while shooting with their dominant hand – but thankfully that changes with practice.
As far as rifles or shotguns go, the learning curve is a little steeper because you are holding the gun on a different side of your body than you normally would. A pistol held in the off hand is still in the middle of your body more or less, while a rifle is fully on the other side of your body than it normally would be; it’s like viewing your back yard from a neighbor’s house – all the details are the same, but the viewpoint is from a different angle. Off-hand rifle shooting is a particularly useful skill for shooting around barricades that face the “wrong” angle and thus prevent you from using your dominant hand.
If you’ve never practiced off-hand shooting or if it has been a while since you last did, consider picking up that handgun with the other hand, or placing the butt of that rifle on the other shoulder. In doing so, you’ll pick up a new skill plus add a measure of versatility to your shooting.