The Weaver Stance

Everything old is new again. And, as always, there are those who viciously fight for what is old and new. I’ve pretty much come to the conclusion that many people just enjoy being contrary, and the anonymity of the Internet makes that unfortunate characteristic even more prevalent than it ever was. So it is with how to hold and shoot a handgun.

For about the first 700 years of its history handguns were pretty much held with one hand. There might be an occasion where a support hand was used, but it was rare and ineffective. Then in the late 1950s Jeff Cooper and his Leatherslap amigos started experimenting with ways to more effectively and efficiently utilize a pistol for self-defense.

A couple of the Leatherslap crew were Jack Weaver and Ray Chapman, who were at the time deputies on the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. These two, along with a handful of world-class pistoleros formed a team that won the 1955 combat pistol championship in Toledo, Ohio using both one- and two-handed holds on their guns.

Jack Weaver developed the Weaver stance in the 1950s to better control his Smith & Wesson Highway Patrolman revolver. A member of Jeff Cooper's Big Bear Leatherslap crew, they modified the original stance slightly to accommodate semi-auto pistols.

Jack Weaver developed the Weaver stance in the 1950s to better control his Smith & Wesson Highway Patrolman revolver. A member of Jeff Cooper’s Big Bear Leatherslap crew, they modified the original stance slightly to accommodate semi-auto pistols.

Weaver carried a Smith & Wesson Highway Patrolman—now known as the Model 28—as a duty gun and had huge hands. Along with Chapman and Cooper, he found that he could control the revolver better if he gripped it firmly—but not a death grip—in his right hand, while wrapping his left hand around the gun and his right hand with his left index finger up firm and fast against the bottom of the trigger guard. He tried locking his elbows at full extension at the center of the body—what is known as the isosceles stance—but found he could control the revolver better and address targets that were not straight ahead of him by bending both elbows slightly and pulling them closer to his body. In this way, the arms acted as a sort of shock absorber and allowed the shooter to recover from the recoil of the first shot quicker and, hence a second shot was also quicker and on target.

Cooper and company made some slight modifications to Weaver’s stance in order to accommodate the semi-auto pistols—predominantly 1911s at the time—that were gaining favor with men whose lives depended on their skill and use of a handgun, and who jettisoned any preconceived notions of pistolcraft in order to determine the best guns and tactics. Others have made further modifications, including one that held some popularity 30-plus years ago that had the shooter tilting his head slightly and cheeking the bicep of his strong-side arm, ala shooting a rifle. Most of us have shunned that modification of the Weaver stance, finding it more difficult to locate and address additional targets that are not out front.

Many—perhaps most—pistol shooters today have adopted the isosceles stance. A lot of them are of the mind that it is somehow new and innovative; the latest thing that all the cool kids use. It is not. Instructors of various skills insist their students use one or the other, often chiding them if they vary from the official doctrine.

I make no claims to be a great instructor of shooting, but I have been shooting in one form or another for more than a half century. In that time I have taught or introduced probably a couple of dozen people to shooting—everything from my mother who at one time was vehemently anti-gun, to kids and even some older folks. When it comes to pistol shooting, I show the newbie both isosceles and Weaver, tell them to try both and explain the advantages of both, and let them choose which suits them best. All but a couple found the Weaver stance more comfortable and efficient to use. Not everyone is built the same, and we all should have figured out by now that we are not all in lock step about damn near anything. And so it is with shooting. Some do better one way, others with a different manner. Of course, some are so enamored with their contrary nature that they will go to their grave doing it their way, regardless of the circumstances or consequences.

That’s fine with me; it’s why we live in a free country.

Dave Campbell
Dave Campbell began his hunting career with a spear off the southern California coast in the late 1960s. It did not take long for him to graduate to the gun on land. Campbell is the founding editor in chief of the NRA’s tremendously successful Shooting Illustrated magazine. In 2006 he also edited the iconic book of terminal ballistics, Rifle Bullets for the Hunter—A Definitive Study. He returned to his beloved Wyoming in 2007 as a freelance writer, though he usually refers to himself now as a “recovering editor.”
  1. Lee Smith Reply

    I recently took a class from the fellow who — almost but not quite single-handed — puts on the defensive pistol matches at my gun club. He argued what I gather is the line of the United States Concealed Carry Association, that the isosceles stance is “more natural” and, more than that, that almost everyone will “naturally” revert to it under stress in a real-life deadly confrontation — even if a person has trained using the Weaver stance, which he argued is “not natural” and puts unnecessary strain on the shooter’s musculature. I didn’t argue with him because it was his class, but as someone who was taught the weaver stance (by Mickey Fowler and Mike Dalton) when first beginning USPSA competition and has been using it in practice and competition ever since, I don’t agree with him. I agree with you, Dave, that each shooter needs to find out what is “natural” and comfortable for him or her. I hope I never get to discover what stance I would revert to in a real-world gunfight, but if I had to guess, I would guess it would be the stance I’ve been shooting in for about three decades.

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