According to Jeff Cooper in The Art of the Rifle, “The shooter’s body is the gun mount. It not only stabilises the rifle so that efficient sighting can be achieved, but it also affects trajectory initiation by moving slightly as the projectile moves from the chamber to the muzzle. Prone is the most stable of the standard positions, and a good shot can hit about as well from prone as he can from the bench rest.”
The prone positions are used for hunting or competitive shooting. They’re stable because more of the body is in contact with the ground than with the standing, sitting or kneeling positions. There are two primary positions: the cocked-leg and straight-leg prone positions. You should choose the prone position that best fits your shooting purpose or body shape.
Remember, the rule is to always shoot from the steadiest position from which you can see the target.
In the straight-leg prone position (ideal for those with slim bodies) the shooter’s legs are straight and flat behind them on the ground. This is very quick to assume because you simply lie down on your stomach with your legs straight. But for those wider around the middle, the cocked-leg position may be better suited. This takes the pressure off of your stomach and chest, making it easier to breathe, which in turn reduces your pulse rate. You simply bend the right leg, which rolls you slightly onto the left side of your chest, taking the pressure off of your stomach.
So, the steps are to find the right position, practise the position without the rifle, practise with the rifle, align the position with the target, dry-fire the rifle at the target, shoot groups at the target with live fire, adjust sight to centre shot group on target, and finally continue to shoot groups from the position.
Alas, the prone position is slow to get into and out of. Furthermore, the surrounding vegetation might block your shot. But when all’s said and done, the prone position is still the best test of raw marksmanship.
Unsupported prone position
In the unsupported prone position, you simply drop to the ground and aim your rifle. Your muscles and skeleton are the only things holding the rifle up. Your spine will be offset from the rifle, as opposed to completely in line with it. And it’s perfectly fine to rest the magazine on the ground to help stabilise the shot.
Supported prone position
In the supported prone position there is the old style: you rest your hand on a surface like a pack or a sandbag and then place the rifle on your hand. Note that you rest the rifle on your hand.
Precision supported position
The precision supported position is mechanically different. Your body and the rear of the rifle should form a parallel line with your spine. The feet are straight out back, and flat. The support hand, rather than supporting the front end of the rifle, supports the stock. Sometimes you might use a squeeze bag to help adjust elevation. The straight parallel line of the precision prone position means much better recoil control.
At Marksman’s Nest
Geoffrey Coetzee, chief ranger at Marksman’s Nest said, “You should practise your shooting fundamentals in all the positions. While practice makes perfect, do it knowing that you won’t get it perfect when the pressure is on. So, get into and out of correct positions quickly.”
There are many more prone positions that we cover at Marksman’s Nest shooting range: Rollover prone, Reverse Rollover Prone, Jackass-Hawkins Prone and The Hawkins Position for serious marksmanship.