The Handy Off-hand Position

Unsupported SHOTS ARE critical in the field
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Dave thinks the Ruger American Rimfire is ideal for economical off-hand practice.

It’s one of the paradoxes of hunting and shooting — the novice hunter, most likely not very skilled at shooting off-hand, is also the one most likely to use the off-hand position in shooting at game. The veteran hunter, even if he does have some skill in off-hand shooting, almost always looks for a rest of some sort and seldom shoots without support in the field.

Personally I can hardly recall the last time I fired off-hand in the field. I’ve devoted columns to encouraging the use of rests such as bipods, backpacks and shooting sticks, or improvised rests such as rocks, fence posts and trees. If no support is available I’ll shoot either prone or sitting, if the terrain permits.

Nonetheless I do think abandoning off-hand shooting altogether is a mistake. There can be circumstances when off-hand shooting skill can be very useful. It’s a tool every competent rifle shooter should have in the toolbox.

Even if you never fire an unsupported shot in the field there are benefits to off-hand training. Off-hand shooting is tough, no doubt about it. In terms of accuracy, results are never going to be very impressive. The fact it’s hard is what makes off-hand training worthwhile. Off-hand shooting can improve your technical skills, especially trigger control, and it might make you more demanding of your shooting equipment.

The late Barrie Gwillim was one of the best riflemen Dave has known. Barrie demonstrates his off-hand stance with a 1948 Winchester Model 70 .30-06.

David Tubb is one of the very best competition rifle shooters of all time. Here he demonstrates the position used in NRA Standing Rifle competitions.

Practice Makes Perfect

To acquire skill in off-hand shooting you have to practice — a lot! I wish there was a shortcut but there isn’t. On the plus side, it doesn’t have to be expensive. A great deal can be learned by dry fire, which won’t cost a thing except time. I’m a great believer in the benefits of dry fire. The lack of recoil and noise helps prevent (or cure) bad habits such as flinching or blinking. A serious shooter needs to allocate time for dry fire. The trouble is it’s boring.

Fortunately, there is a solution to boring in the form of air rifles and .22 rifles. The tools I use for training in off-hand shooting are: an 8" diameter steel target; a safe place to shoot to at least 100 yards; an accurate, reliable, well balanced .22 rifle with a decent trigger; and a couple of thousand .22 cartridges.

Since I mostly hunt with bolt-action rifles, I prefer bolt-action .22s as well. Since the .22 will likely be shot more than any other, I don’t mind stretching the budget a bit for an Anschutz, CZ, the new Tikka and don’t overlook the Browning T-Bolt. However, in terms of performance and value for the dollar, it’s hard to beat the Ruger American Rimfire.

My favorite version is the Compact model. It is accurate, durable, handles well and uses the reliable Ruger rotary magazine. The factory trigger is usually adequate out of the box and can be tweaked a bit as well. I treated myself to the Timney replacement trigger, which is just splendid. For not a lot of money this is a great combination, easily as capable as rifles costing twice as much. I have many fine .22 rifles on the rack but the little Ruger is the one I seem to reach for most.

Dave modeling his own off-hand including a lowered right elbow. Rifle is a new
Winchester Model 70 Featherweight .264 Win. Mag. with a Leupold 6x scope.

The trigger of the Ruger American Rimfire is good out of the box but Dave splurged on a Timney trigger to make the gun even better.

Get Set

The photos show examples of off-hand shooting stances but don’t be afraid to modify them. The objective is to be consistent. Sight the rifle in carefully and start shooting off-hand at the 8" steel plate at 100 yards. Make it 50 yards if you are just starting to learn off-hand but get to 100 without undue delay. You want to get to the point where you hit consistently and never – hardly ever – miss at 100 yards.

When you reach this point, the temptation is to reduce the size of the target. Don’t do it. If you are hitting every shot, the majority of your hits are likely in about a 4" circle. Reduce the target to 6" or 4" in diameter and you get slower and more deliberate, which is not the point of off-hand shooting. If there is time to be slow, there is time to find a rest.

Instead, stay with the 8" target but work on getting the shot off more quickly. A shot timer is great if you have one; there are some free timer apps you can use with your smart phone. Start with the rifle held as you might while still-hunting; at the signal bring the rifle up, release the safety and fire. Never sacrifice accuracy, you should still be hitting every shot, just do so without unnecessary delay. Think smoothness and economy of motion — the speed will come.

When you can go from start signal to shot (and hit) in four seconds, you can handle about any practical field situation requiring an off-hand shot. If I’ve kept up my training I can generally get down to two seconds, which is likely no big advantage — sure is fun though!

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