When you call coyotes or foxes or station yourself to glass a slice of prairie or wait where you expect predator traffic, you sit. Standing, even with support of a tree, tires you. You’ll last a little longer kneeling, but you’ll eventually sit. The most restful option, it’s also a steady firing position. Only prone helps you shoot more accurately.
Whenever possible, I “go prone.” Credit my long tenure in competitive prone shooting or the missed shots that have embarrassed me from higher positions. In prone, you press your body to the earth so the rifle points naturally at the target. Alas, prone isn’t flexible; you’re about as fixed as a missile silo. Neither can you glass effectively prone. Down in the weeds, you see too little. It’s also uncomfortable.
When sitting, you can see above grass and low bush and easily swivel to glass a broad swath. Because a comfortable sit relaxes your muscles, loads your bones and affords the rifle “tripod” support, it’s a stable shooting platform. Because it’s a lower position than kneeling, it’s steadier.
Three basic sitting positions are open, crossed-ankle and crossed-leg. The open position, which has knees in front of you and heels planted in the ground or snow, is most versatile. It’s quick to get in and out, and especially useful when you must fire from a slope dropping away toward the target.
You can easily shift your feet and spin, or broaden your base to steady yourself on uneven ground. I throttle the wobbles with a Brownells Latigo sling. The rifle points naturally across my left little toe. My lumbar muscles pull the backs of my elbows against the faces of my knees. Albeit casual at a glance, this position is X-ring steady. It’s no trick to keep bullets inside a coyote’s chest at 250 yards. Resting with your back against a rock or tree, rifle over your knees, you’re ready to fire with little movement.
The crossed-ankle position is popular in the National Match course, where riflemen must shoot sitting from standing (traditionally with service rifles) at 200 yards. When the targets appear, the clock starts for this rapid-fire stage. You drop instantly to a sit, lean over your legs, crossed below the knee and trigger aimed shots as fast as you can. Crossing those ankles while upright and waiting for targets saves a second. On uneven ground, the crossed-ankle sit doesn’t work as well as the open position, because your feet are not spread to form a broad, triangular base. Stiff recoil can rock you from a crossed-ankle sit. As with the knees-up option, you’ll shoot best leaning well forward, elbows in front of knees.
Shooting four-position matches in high school and college, I adopted the tight crossed-leg sit. It’s a natural sit, calves resting on opposite insteps — a peace-pipe sit. Ideally, you’ll be bent so far forward your elbows will drop in front of your knees, tension from your lumbar muscles locking them together. Stretching leg and back muscles to get as low as needed for such a snug position gets harder with age. If you plan to use this sit on a hunt, commit time to practice! Those muscles will stretch, but not until you’ve forced them beyond comfort. Fellow rimfire competitors and I used to watch television and study for college exams from the sit, 11-pound match rifles slinged in our laps to load our thighs and backs. Elbows won’t reach your shins? You can get acceptably steady tucking them into the bend of your knees.
Whichever sitting position you choose, you’re smart to check it before each shot. Accuracy is a measure of consistency, the result of a consistent shooting routine. Your rifle must point naturally to the target. On the trigger in practice (and in the field when you have time!), close your eyes and relax into the position. Take three deep breaths. Open your eyes as you exhale. The sight should come to rest on the target. If it doesn’t, adjust your position from the base up. Don’t move the rifle with your arms (a fast fix that may be your only option when a coyote is ready to bolt). Forcing the rifle introduces tension you can’t maintain when the trigger breaks. Any position is best held by bone support and relaxed muscle.
You’ll find in every position — increasingly as you raise center of mass — pulse and muscle tremor put uncontrollable movement into your sight. Offhand, this movement can be so violent and its amplitude so great that shooters seek therapy or turn to golf. Sitting or kneeling, the reticle bounce that confirms you are indeed still alive is more manageable. Kneeling, you’ll see lateral swing, generally 3 to 9 o’clock. Sitting, it could be diagonal oscillation, a slanted oval circuit or a figure eight. Trying to time a shot, you’ll succeed about as often as do investors timing the stock market. Squeeze through the movement. If your position permits the rifle its natural point of aim, the sight will spend most of its travel near the middle. Try to snatch a bull’s eye as the sight hiccups toward center, and you’ll jerk the trigger — if not this time then the next.
Muscle memory influences how you act and react, whether you’re firing a rifle, hitting a golf ball or driving an automobile. If the rifle’s recoil hurts, you’ll develop a flinch. If you commit your weekends to shotgunning or three-gun matches that emphasize fast repeat shots with close-up, steel-plate precision, you’re practicing routines of little use when you bear down on a coyote a ¼ mile yonder. Train your mind and muscles instead with deliberate dry-firing or shooting carefully at paper targets that show exactly where every bullet lands.
Ease into a shooting routine as you would any exercise program. Muscles respond best when you give them time to adapt. A cross-legged sit is very steady. But it stretches thigh muscles, painfully at first. Taking full advantage of bone support, you won’t need inordinately strong muscles so much as you will compliant ones.
A steady position, sitting or otherwise, frees you to focus on other elements of a successful shot. You’ll come to breathe deeply without thinking, to pump oxygen to your eyes for sharper sight pictures. You’ll find your finger pressures the trigger without horsing it, that your attention stays on target at the shot. Cycling the action fast in practice is also a good idea. In the field, you’ll want to.
Call each shot as the trigger breaks. You should know where the bullet will land because recoil should freeze the image of the sight picture in your mind. If a bullet doesn’t strike where that image told you it would, you’re not in touch with the rifle at the instant of ignition. A bullet that misses where you predicted is still a bad shot, but it’s also a correctable shot. A bad call leaves you adrift. You don’t know what went wrong, so you’re doomed to repeat the miserable shot routine that caused the miss.
The first step to a shooting routine that helps you hit small targets (i.e., predators at distance) is a solid position. Shy a rest or putting-green vegetation that lets you go prone; a practiced sit is probably the steadiest platform for your rifle. It is certainly the most versatile.