Unusual shooting positions can encompass just about anything your imagination can come up with. The birth of an unusual shooting position is usually the result of a worst-case scenario becoming reality for a sniper. Most often, these types of positions are indicative of combative shooting or hunting, and shooting in nontypical positions is difficult. It tests your ability to apply the core fundamentals of marksmanship and remain consistent through a wide range of positions and personal comfort levels. Once you begin to practice these positions and see how accurate you can be, they become a constructive challenge.
As precision rifle shooters, our training usually begins in the supported prone position or on the bench utilizing some type of gizmo that allows us to maximize accuracy from our rifles and ammunition. Obviously, we can purchase the finest components in a rifle, its optic and ammunition. However, in order for this package to reach its full potential, we need to properly manipulate the trigger. For some shooters, the bench is satisfying. For military and law enforcement snipers, seldom comes an opportunity to make a shot happen in perfect-world prone. I believe that most shooters get themselves into a certain comfort zone, and it's within this comfort zone that the shooter feels content with his performance. For an operational sniper, once the rifle is zeroed and the fundamentals are learned, it's time to test one's ability as a marksman — and that means getting out of prone.
Before going into a few of the unusual positions, we first need to discuss the mechanics of our optic. Without a doubt, being proficient with a scoped rifle system means understanding eye relief, line of sight (or optical axis) and parallax. Proper sight alignment results from the shooter seeing a full field of view of the reticle, which means that the shooter's eye is the proper distance from the objective lens and perfectly centered along the scope's optical axis. Generally speaking, when a shooter sets up his rifle for getting into the prone, he gets settled and moves the scope in the rings to obtain proper eye relief. He also raises or lowers the rifle's cheekpiece to obtain that perfect alignment. Now, this works fine for the prone position, but what happens to the stockweld as he moves into different shooting positions? It changes.
Some positions change a shooter's cheekweld with the stock more than others, while some don't seem to affect it at all. The point is to be aware of the potential for change and take notice. The cheekpiece height may be perfect in the prone, but how's it looking in a low kneeling or a sitting position? No matter the scenario, you must always strive to achieve the lowest position possible. Operationally, several things — such as time, available cover and the distance of the engagement — will dictate the type of position we can achieve. The closer we are to the ground, the more we can use its inherent stability. When you do get into position, be sure to use your bone structure for support. Bones don't get tired like muscles do.
In the realm of unusual shooting positions, pretty much anything goes. There are a couple of positions, however, that visually stands out as being unusual but are actually quite normal for some shooters. One is the Hawkins position. The Hawkins is one of the oldest prone supported positions I know of. How far back it goes is unknown to me. Some would say that its name is derived from the Hawkins muzzleloader fond of trappers and bear hunters used throughout the mid-19th century. Regardless, it is a position that is still taught to modern snipers of the British army. Interestingly, it is a required position as part of their known-distance course of fire for qualification.
One of the advantages of the Hawkins that immediately stands out is that the shooter can get extremely low to the ground. As a matter of fact, the rifle stock is actually making contact with the ground. This makes for a very low profile, ideal for snipers attempting to remain concealed. The shooter would move into a position, and once satisfied with it, dig a small trench into which he would place the stock's toe. This becomes the rear support. The front support is nothing more than the shooter's fist of the nonfiring hand. Most of these snipers are taught to grasp the rifle's sling at the front swivel. Elevation adjustments (if needed) are usually small. A simple squeeze of the fist will result in an elevated point of aim, and vice versa for a drop in elevation. The shooter's armpit is actually over the top of the heel of the stock. Eye relief and sight picture are an important consideration in this position. When the rifle is fired, recoil control is taken care of by the earth, so follow-up shots can be made quickly.
The limitations of this position as it relates to other prone positions are few, but still present. The ability to make large elevation adjustments is virtually nonexistent. Anything lower than a flattened hand and you've got the rifle on the ground. Obviously, shooting uphill just isn't going to happen here. By digging a trench for the stock, the shooter is limited by the amount of traverse, and, of course, eye relief and sight alignment present potential problems. The Hawkins is very accurate nonetheless.
MODIFIED BUFFALO HUNTER
On one end of the position spectrum, two positions are probably the most unusual you have ever seen. The first is what I like to call the Modified Buffalo Hunter. Ever see an artist's rendition of a buffalo hunt in the 1870s? If you have, you've probably seen a shooter lying on his back with the long barrel of his Sharps resting in the crook of his crossed legs and the stock seemingly buried in his armpit. This was also a popular position with long-range competitors of that same era. With a scoped rifle, there are some important considerations, particularly the ridiculously long eye relief.
Ideally, this position is best utilized with a pack on, looking downhill and when you don't have the time to get into a prone position. The rifle's stock is in contact with the shoulder, and the shooting hand grips the rifle as normal. The nonshooting hand grasps the rifle's sling, and the shooter should pull the rifle into his shoulder, further adding support. The knees should be bent and ankles crossed, allowing the rifle stock or barrel to rest in this crook. Bringing your crossed ankles closer to your body or pushing them farther out can help to make minor elevation adjustments.
Another position, which I've dubbed the Side Saddle, is also useful in very hasty downhill shooting situations. As with the Modified Buffalo Hunter, it's very helpful to have a pack on your back to give you something to lean against. The shooter lies on his side and assumes something resembling the fetal position. The legs are bent at the knees, and the rifle rests on the upper thigh. The use of a sling really makes this position stable.
Detach the sling from its rear anchor, and tightly wrap it around your upper thigh twice. Grasp the rifle as normal with your shooting hand, and let your elbow rest naturally. Use your nonshooting hand to grasp the rear of the stock, and manipulate the rifle so that you can obtain some semblance of sight alignment and sight picture. Eye relief is nonexistent here, and the shooter should dial back the magnification on the optic to make the exit pupil as large as possible. In order to make an accurate shot, every effort must be made to keep the exit pupil centered within the ocular lens of the scope. With practice, you'll be surprised at how far out you can be accurate. The shooter should also consider the effects of recoil in this position since the only thing that keeps the rifle from moving is the sling wrapped around your leg.
Other positions that can be considered unusual, though effective are buddy-supported positions. Not employed very often, they are useful in situations that don't allow the shooter to obtain a better support. Buddy-support positions can be assumed anywhere from the standing to the prone. The key to maximizing the support in these positions is the use of a sling and teamwork. Traditionally, the observer drives the shooter. However, buddy-supported positions require the shooter to drive the observer. Buddy breathing is necessary to control, meaning that the shooter must tell the observer when to breathe in, breathe out and hold to make the shot. The observer can also assist in the support by grasping the sling of the rifle system and applying downward tension. When using a buddy-support position in the prone, use the back of your thighs as the rifle's rest. Although on his back appears to be the most stable way for your observer to lie, his breathing cycle creates excessive movement for the shooter.
One item that I always have on my rifle is a sling. There are literally hundreds of sling designs out there, and you must pick the one that suits you and fits your needs. I prefer to use a Tactical Intervention Quick-Cuff. It offers great features at a reasonable price, and it's highly functional. Traditional sling-supported positions are obviously not unusual, but I don't think an article on shooting positions would be complete without touching on them. A sling is a valuable tool that's all too often forgotten in the realm of precision rifle shooting.
With the advent of bipods, there wasn't really a need to learn the traditional loop sling. Granted, bipods allow us to mitigate the felt effects of recoil by permitting the shooter to place his body directly in line with the bore, therefore allowing the weight of the body to distribute the energy evenly. Bipods are mechanical, and according to Mr. Murphy, they are therefore bound to fail at some point. If you have a sling on your rifle and are trained in the sling-supported positions, you will remain an effective force multiplier in the event that you don't have the luxury of a bipod in the field.
JUST FOR YOU
When using a sling-supported position, know and understand that everyone's body mechanics are different. What works for one shooter may not work well for you. I know from personal experience that the low kneeling position offers more support than the high kneeling, as the body's center of gravity is closer to the ground. No matter how much stretching I do, I can't get into a low kneeling position. My ankle just doesn't roll that way. On the range, I used to envy those on the 300-yard line who could get into that rock-solid low kneeling.
I encourage everyone to break away from your comfort zone and push the limits to see where your limits really lie. I think you'll be surprised as to how accurate you can be once you settle in. For military and law enforcement snipers, not stepping outside that comfort zone could cost you your life or someone else's life that you're charged with protecting. Anything can get you killed in combat, including doing nothing. When the day comes to utilize a tool from your box and an unusual situation presents itself, pulling together an unusual shooting position won't seem so unfamiliar if you practice.