The concept of off-hand shooting is for the shooter to become proficient in shooting with their non-dominant hand. In other words, left-handed shooting for righties, and right-handed shooting for lefties. This concept is valid for both handgun and long gun, but for this article I will focus on handgun shooting. I hope this topic is worth addressing for the readers here as a valid point of discussion. With that discussion you’ll be able to make a more informed decision about whether you want to add this advanced skill to your shooting resume.
I purposefully avoid using “weak” hand. If you ever face a situation where you must shoot with your off-hand, the last thing you want in a report or on the stand is a statement that you were shooting with your “weak” hand. That just sounds “weak”.
Before I get too far into this topic I want to emphasize that the Staff here at Bluesheepdog.com are avid supporters of the shooting fundamentals. Without an excellent understanding and mastery of the fundamentals of shooting, you cannot realistically expect to add advanced skills with any manner of proficiency. The old saying is true – when it hits the fan we don’t rise up to the occasion, we actually fall back to our training.
This training topic is meant to add to those fundamental skills, and in fact is actually an emphasis on those skills – just from the off-hand side. Mastering the basics will become painfully evident when the shooter begins to shoot with the off-hand. Any weaknesses in your strong-hand will only be magnified when you transition to your off-hand. It is another reminder that mastering the basics is mandatory before attempting advanced skills.
Those basic but critical skills I’m talking about can be viewed in Richard’s article, Basic Shooting Skills, or in my previous articles, Combat Pistol Shooting: My 2 Cents.
WHY OFF-HAND SHOOTING
This is probably the first and most prevalent question asked of any firearms instructor who attempts to teach and promote off-hand shooting. The answer is really more simple than you would think. How can we be confident in our gunfighting skills, our survival skills, if we simply rely on our strong side to accomplish everything?
The ability to properly cut-the-pie requires officers to transition to off-hand. I’ve seen officers attempt to “slice” a left-handed corner while maintaining a right-handed shooting platform – it’s painful to watch. Nearly the entire upper body has to be exposed, in a very precarious and unbalanced manner to peer around the corner. That same corner can easily be defeated with very minimal exposure of the officer’s body, by simply transitioning to the off-hand (in this example the left hand).
Another great argument for training off-hand shooting is the expectation that “Murphy” will show up at the worst possible time during a deadly force encounter. If your primary arm or hand are injured, how are you going to be able to defend yourself or continue the fight, without knowing how to transition to your off-hand, and having the confidence in those skills?
If you haven’t gathered from these arguments I am a very strong supporter of learning and becoming proficient with off-hand shooting. More and more agencies are including this critical skill in their required proficiency drills, and for good cause. It’s your life, what’s it worth to you? What’s it worth to your family?
ARGUMENTS AGAINST OFF-HAND SHOOTING
The arguments against off-hand shooting tend to center around the “weakness” of the off-hand, diminished accuracy, the danger in transitioning, and the difficulties of reloads. Some will argue that the budget can’t handle the extra time and ammunition for off-hand shooting. These arguments, in my opinion, tend to sound like officers who simply don’t want to step out of their comfort box, and push themselves to new limits.
This situation is only made worse when commanders or administrators restrict officers from even training the off-handed shooting technique. I know this is true for at least one major U.S. city police force near me. The “old school” mindset is firmly embedded – “you’ll never need to shoot that way”. I think there is strong support for negligence in training, because it is a foreseeable and realistic occurrence. Where there is negligence there is liability. Not to mention how those commanders could live with themselves for choosing pride or money over officer’s lives. Unfortunately, even officer deaths are not always guarantees of organizational change to protect the others.
REQUIRED SKILL OR EXTRA TRAINING?
This is an important question. However, if you simply show the technique but do not require any kind of proficiency through testing, many officers will simply blow it off. What we inspect or test gets their attention. At a minimum I would recommend that a few shots are made from off-hand during a qualification course. I put off-hand shooting on the same level as being able to shoot proficiently with one hand. The distances required for this skill should start closer in, but as skills rise the distances should increase. Just like we train the dominant side. Again, we’re pushing for proficiency AND confidence in this skill.
OFF-HAND SHOOTING – THE TRANSITION
Alright, so back to the business of off-hand shooting. Before an officer should even consider shooting with their off-hand they need to master the skill of transitioning from strong to off-hand. This skill is necessary to accomplish the fundamental skill of safe weapons handling. To practice this technique the officer must absolutely ensure their handgun is unloaded. If you have access to one of the variety of plastic training pistols all the better. You should only attempt this advanced technique with a loaded firearm when you have become thoroughly familiar with how your hands and especially your fingers move around the pistol to accomplish the transition. SAFETY FIRST!
There are several techniques to accomplish this move from strong to weak-handed shooting. There are three transitioning techniques I’ll expand upon in this article. There are others, but I feel that these three techniques are the most realistic for the purpose at hand – quickly transitioning to an off-handed shooting platform. For obvious reasons, any transitioning should only occur when the trigger finger is safely indexed on the frame/slide of the pistol. The three techniques I’ll emphasize are:
- Between the Legs, and
In this method the officer can very quickly transition to off-hand from a standard strong-hand two-handed shooting grip. Simply extend all the fingers and thumb of the support hand while pressing the pistol grip into the support hand palm with the strong hand. Once positive physical contact is established, slowly extend the fingers and thumb of the strong hand while maintaining that positive pressure into the palm of the support hand.
When the strong hand fingers and thumb are clear, wrap the support hand fingers and thumb around the pistol in a mirror grip to your strong-handed grip. By mirroring your grip you should avoid the confusion that can be created with a break-down in shooting grip or platform. After the support hand is firmly in place, curl the strong hand fingers around the outside of the support-hand to complete the mirror two-handed shooting grip.
Many shooters prefer to have their “support” hand thumb against the opposite side of the pistol’s frame to provide the greatest amount of contact with the handgun during shooting. I prefer this method too, as I’ve found it provides more flesh on the overall shooting grip for a stronger grip. It also helps to reduce common shooting errors from limp-wristing, excessive or too little trigger pull, or heavy sympathetic reflex from the support thumb that is curled around the shooting hand thumb.
To accomplish this during transitions it simply requires the shooter to move their shooting hand thumb around the slide (or frame on revolvers) and place it first against the frame, before the off-hand (now shooting hand) thumb is placed along side the support thumb. So after the support thumb and fingers are extended, and the pistol is pressed into the support palm, rotate the strong thumb around the slide or frame to take up its new position on the support side of the frame.
I find the palm-to-palm method to be the best transition method. When practiced it can be accomplished fairly quickly and confidently, and perhaps even more important is that this can be accomplished from a variety of shooting positions (standing, kneeling, squatting, sitting, and even prone). Even in force-on-force scenarios I have been able to quickly transition and put rounds downrange with confidence and accuracy. With practice a transition can become quite seamless, and allow the officer to remain in the fight, and use cover and angles to their best advantage, without necessarily retreating or diving behind cover. Another great advantage to this method is that it keeps the firearm pointed downrange at our adversary, creating the quickest possible means for follow-up shots from the off-handed stance.
Some limitations to this technique is that it does take a lot of practice to work out the mechanics of the transition. Our shooting grip should be mirrored from strong to off-hand to help eliminate mental errors in the shooting process. Another limitation to this technique is that it will not likely be available to the officer should the officer’s strong arm or hand be injured. In other situations this will likely be the quickest and safest method to transition to off-hand, or back to your dominant hand.
The next method of transitioning to off-hand that I will cover is the grounding method. Just as the name implies, the shooter simply places the pistol on the ground and picks it up with the off-hand. The most advantageous method is to turn the strong hand towards the outside so that the strong fingers and thumb on the pistol are facing upwards, and the pistol is parallel to the ground with the barrel on the outside. Then the shooter can easily place the handgun on the ground, with the handgun positioned for an easy grab by the off-hand.
This is a very quick method, and can be accomplished from standing, kneeling, squatting, sitting, and even prone. It may even be quicker for officers who can’t quite master the mechanics of the palm-to-palm method. In the standing position the shooter could place the handgun on a hard object like a wall, car, shelf, etc. Regardless of object or ground used, the officer must let go of the handgun and then pick it back up with the off-hand.
The disadvantages of this method start where the benefits left off. Although this method can be quick, I never like the idea of letting go of a firearm. In the heat of a gunfight my position may become untenable and I’d hate to bail out without grabbing my firearm. In addition, what happens if my position is on a slope, in mud, snow-covered, dark with debris, etc. There is a lot of room for error, and error leads to failure.
Another problem is that to be quick the shooter must look down to retrieve the firearm. Most instructors teach to always keep your eyes downrange so you can observe what your adversary is doing. Sure you could feel your way around, but how long do you realistically expect that to last when bullets are snapping past your head? In force-on-force scenarios officers who have performed reloads well on the range, often revert back to looking down to reload when the SIM’s rounds are flying. Stress instills in us a maddening desire to be absolutely right – and we end up reverting back to previous bad habits.
BETWEEN THE LEGS
The alternatives quickly begin to drop off in favor, but there must always be a contingency plan when the best laid plans fail. In this method the shooter should rotate the pistol 180-degrees so the barrel is parallel to the ground and the pistol grip is facing upward. Obviously this should be conducted with a one-handed grip, with the trigger finger safely indexed.
At the same time the shooter brings the pistol to a point between their legs. During this movement the barrel will begin to point down towards the ground. I’ve found that just above the knees is the best location. If you place the pistol directly between your knees there is too much play from the natural pivot point of the bones. If you put the pistol too high there isn’t enough pressure to keep the pistol steady and ready for transitioning – unless you’ve mastered your wife’s thigh master … yeah, I didn’t think so. The shooter only needs to secure the barrel between the legs. This will allow the shooter to quickly and easily remove the strong hand, and transition to the off-hand.
Once the pistol is secured between the legs, just above the knees, the pistol grip should be sticking out to the front. Now the shooter simply mirrors the movement with the off-hand. Turning the off-hand over so the thumb and forefinger are facing down, the shooter is ready to grab the pistol grip and begin to remove the pistol from the legs. If there wasn’t enough pistol grip for an immediate solid grip, the the shooter can grab the pistol below the trigger well and gently begin removing the pistol until there is enough grip exposed to allow a solid off-hand grip.
After the pistol is retrieved the shooter can rotate the pistol from up-sides-down to right-side-up and they’re ready to fire. If able to, the shooter can bring the strong hand over to become the new support hand for stable two-handed shooting.
This technique is painfully slower, and has a much greater potential for an accidental shooting should the shooter not index their trigger finger, or pay close enough attention to what they are doing. This technique would best be accomplished from behind cover due to its obvious limitations in mobility. Cover may not be readily available in the heat of the battle. This would be my last resort technique, and would probably mean that my strong arm or hand has been injured.
However, this technique can be completed from a standing, squatting, 2-leg kneeling (both knees down), or sitting position. In a crunch, the prone officer can roll to their back, raise their knees towards their chest and complete the transition – but that takes even more practice. The prone officer would be best to either use the palm-to-palm method or the grounding method.
Another benefit to this method is when the officer is wounded in the strong arm and may not be able to hold their arm in a position to allow the palm-to-palm method. Grounding may not be an option, so the between the legs method might save the day. This method may be the slowest, but it could be much more sure-handed when the officer is wounded and desperate for certainty. In addition, this method is a viable method for reloading semi-auto pistols when one hand is injured.
Once the transition is complete we really have to focus on the basics of shooting. If we take things slow at first (just like we should have done learning strong-handed shooting) we can train our brain, body and fingers to operate from either side of the gun. The awkwardness will slowly begin to dissipate, until we are reasonably confident that we can continue the fight with our off-hand.
Another consideration when transitioning to off-hand shooting is the re-alignment of our feet. Most officers are shooting from a form of isosceles, or Weaver shooting stance. Either of those are great for straight on shooting, but the need may arise to shoot around corners. Many officers have a support foot positioned slightly behind them regardless of shooting style. This provides greater support and balance in shooting, and is much more natural when starting to move. If this is the case, transitioning to off-hand shooting will require the shooter to also transition and switch their support foot. Otherwise the officer will start suffering from the awkward positioning problems similar to those who try to shoot around off-hand corners without transitioning.
I’m not going to say that we’ll be as proficient off-handed as strong-handed. We have way too many repetitions with the strong hand to expect the same level from each side. However, we can train to be confident and proficient with our off hand, especially if we give off-hand shooting training time at most or all of our firearms training sessions.
One of the hardest things for cops to do is break old habits and learn new skills. How many times have you heard, “because that’s the way we’ve always done it here”? We are all students of life, and being a cop, or a shooter is no different. It has been said before, and is worth repeating here – you are either continuing to learn and grow, or you are losing the skills that you once knew. There is no status quo.
I encourage all readers to give off-hand shooting a chance; for your welfare give it a chance. I think that with time and practice you too will be confident in transitioning to the off-hand to stay in the fight. I’m a firm believer that this skill is a priority, and not a passing trend.
Let us know if you are already shooting off-hand, and if your department embraces this shooting philosophy. If not, let us know what has kept you away – we’re students too, and we like to receive all feedback.
Aaron is a sergeant with a midwestern police department, where he serves as a trainer, supervisor and SWAT sniper. In addition to his broad tactical knowledge, Aaron has experience in DUI, DRE and undercover narcotics investigations.
OK, so I just started practicing with my off hand, and it’s just awkward enough to make you feel like a beginner all over again. It’s going to take a while for an off-handed, two-handed grip to feel natural, but I am putting the shots where they need to be. The biggest surprise is the (duh) noticeable difference in grip strength, which lets my 9 jump and slows down target reaquisition. So my off-handed plan is two-fold: work on grip strength off the range, and start my off hand shooting practice with my Ruger Mk I .22, to improve my technique, before finishing up with the 9.
Aaron E says
It’s great to hear you are practicing with your off-hand shooting, a critical survival skill. It will be awkward at first, and doing grip strengthening exercises can definitely help. In the end it will become almost as natural as your primary hand … almost!