Firearm Skills

One Handed Shooting

One of the main strengths of the handgun is the ability to use it one handed. Here's the case that you should be spending WAY more time building this skill.

March 9, 2019 3:24 PM


Hey ISG community, earlier today we were asked by about one handed pistol use. There's a strange phenomenon among shooters: while we all know that one of the chief benefits of a handgun is the ability to fire it one handed, it's difficult and no one likes doing it... mainly because it makes us look like we suck. There are plenty of reasons to shoot with both hands... but that's not always possible. So when and why would we need to practice this skill?

In this article, we want to establish a solid understanding of why one-handed shooting is an important practice and relevant skill. In addition, we'll spend some time talking about what we consider the four main situations in which one handed shooting is necessary. Finally, we'll discuss some drills that will help build the skill to a functional level.

If you haven't got time for the article, please take a look at the attached video, which gives a general overview of the situational reasoning for one handed proficiency.

Schools of Thought

It's pretty common to hear criticism of one handed shooting; why would you want to weaken control over the weapon, lose speed, efficiency, and time between follow up shots? Ideally, we wouldn't, but if bullets are flying, "ideally" has left the building. Just like we don't get to choose when a violent criminal altercation will occur, we don't get to pick the place, either.

This means, like many things in the shooting world, context is very important.

The Four Major Situations

There are four major situations that require one handed shooting skill. Once we identify these, we can rationalize why they're applicable, and begin training in a way that's meaningful.

  1. Transitional Tasks and Space: Transitional space is a topic we've taken on in previous articles, and we define those spaces as those which force you to switch tasks and focus. Transitional spaces could require that you turn on a light or use a handheld flashlight, open a door, use a phone or recover equipment from the environment. In short, anytime your focus narrows to a specific task, you can bet two things:
    Your overall awareness diminishes and you've opened a window for attack.

  2. Entangled Fight with a Handgun: Being in a fight is complex, and can turn on a dime and the presence of guns make them even less predictable. Handgun access while at conversational range could be a full class in and of itself (and it is), but for our purposes here, let's say this: A traditional draw won't be happening.

  3. Moving around People: Whether these people are your responsibility or not, shootings happen in public spaces. This could be at a dinner table in a restaurant, in a shopping mall, or while you're holding your child. In all cases, it's important to be able to retain and fire your handgun while controlling the movement of non-hostile others. In fights, movement is a critical component of survivability. For more, check out Greg Ellifritz's writeup HERE.

  4. Injury: Possibly the most important, is the chance you'll be injured. The U.S. Army's research on combat related injuries show that over half of their casualties had sustained injuries to the extremities. While warfare and gunfights aren't the same thing, it's important to consider.

Movement while Armed (Especially around people)

This topic doesn't get enough play. If we're being honest, and at ISG we always are, any monkey can get good at shooting. It's rote 101 type stuff. Tactics aren't a whole lot different, but they do require the ability to think on your feet. Arguing high ready vs low ready, for example; it generally depends on if you're getting trickle down from a SEAL or a Ranger. In their world, down means shooting the hull and up means shooting the rotors.

How about for a citizen? Well, who's upstairs? Who's downstairs? Do you have people with you? Are you in a car, a house, or some other packed public space?

For the citizen or police officer, the problems are as - if not more - complex, so let's hit a pet peeve of mine first: Don't commit yourself to drawing your pistol.

If you're not being actively engaged, you can keep that weapon concealed, especially if you're entering territory with unknown levels of threats, hostiles, and unknown proximities. If that gun is out and he sees it, it's now a fight for the gun, not a gun fight. Don't think you're going to out-grapple a con who just got out and has been pushing your body weight on the bench for the last 5 years, you're not. This goes beyond the scope of this article, but if you're not doing some sort of fitness plan or martial arts, and you're serious about self protection, you're wrong.

Don't waste another day.



SUL, keeps the weapon close enough to the body to resist fends, and pointed in a generally safe direction.

Position Sul was devised to give a close-to-the-body position for a weapon that didn't point it at others while stacking for entry. While Sul has it's critics, it remains a viable solution for moving around people without sticking a gun in their face (which, yes, sometimes is necessary).

Notice how the thumbs touch, and the pistol is braced against the support side hand? This is on purpose: If you have to use the pistol, or the hand for a transitional task, you can do that without the risk of putting your hand in front of the gun. Transitioning from Sul to "pointed in" is very fast and natural, and it facilitates shooting from a one or two handed position. It gets it's name from the Portuguese word for "South".

Temple Index:

The Temple Index: for when there is no safe direction.

If Sul has it's critics, the Temple Index blows the roof off the internet; the Temple Index is made for some extremely specific situations, and mostly for use in and around vehicles.

While it has it's weaknesses (occludes peripheral vision, and puts the pistol right by your head), there are times when there is no *safer* direction, and the temple index gives a physio-visual reference of the pistols presence. In short, it's better than flying a handgun out there like a flag. When dismounting a vehicle and moving to a protectee, the temple index can be a very useful technique. Incidentally, this is something citizens with children should consider, as they are their family's "protective detail". The Temple index gives you positive control over your weapon while moving a vulnerable person. However, it can be awkward to assume a solid firing position from.

Fend Positions:

Vertical Fend

The vertical fend is more or less the extension of a defensive movement that guards the head while the pistol is out. The contextual use here varies, and our goal is simply to familiarize you with it but it has two primary uses; defending the head and retaining the pistol, and it's easily adapted to off hand light use (though it's less of a fend in that case).

Horizontal Fend

Horizontal Fend: The way this is demonstrated is different from the way it's used. Under pressure it'll still present a challenge for retention, but moving in this position is very easy. Again, get some instruction before you think you can use this position effectively.

The horizontal fend is a retention position which works to accomplish a couple things: First, it makes a drawn handgun difficult to get to while giving the user the ability to fire consistent, unsighted shots.

It is a very useful technique for moving through a crowd that's losing their cool, as well as close quarters, such as narrow hallways. It is the only position discussed that allows the user to make shots without adjusting their gun hand, but it also requires extreme (and dangerous) proximity, and doesn't keep the weapon in a 'safe' direction while moving. Further, in a fight its common for limbs to go flying: it's important to remember that you must always know where that muzzle is pointing. Find an instructor and get a class under your belt before you feel like you know the Horizontal fend. What it does on the range, and what it does in a fight are two different things.

Vertical Fend: note the key components. The pistol is pulled rearward, indexed along the body (thumb pectoral index), angled to consistently make hits, and postured in a way that it's difficult to get at. The support side arm shields the head from attack. Get instruction - this is for familiarization only.


Training for one handed fights isn't as easy as you might think. Simple shooting with one hand requires a very solid set of fundamental skills, but to do it well and quickly demands repetition. As well, we need to devote time to actually working around other people while we're shooting. To work your way up to safely doing that, however, spend some time working on the following:

  • Drawing from the holster, one-handed headshot in under 2 seconds (3 meters)
  • Using support hand only, draw and fire one round to the body in under 3.5 seconds (3 meters)
  • From low ready, using strong side only, two rounds to chest in under 1.8 seconds (3 and 7 meters)
  • Drawing from holster, using strong side only, draw and fire two rounds to the chest, one round to the head in under 3 seconds (3 and 7 meters)
  • Drawing from the holster, using strong side only draw, fire two rounds to the chest, reload (using strong hand only!), two rounds to the chest in under 6 seconds (5 meters)
  • From low ready, using strong side only, 5 rounds to chest, 1 round to head in under 4 seconds (3 and/or 7 meters)
  • From low ready, using strong side only, 2 rounds to the chest in under 7 seconds (at 10 and/or 15 meters)

If you can, add a flashlight or cell phone to these drills. Working a flashlight under stress can be difficult, so this is a good opportunity to practice that as well! Check yourself, time yourself, and record the results. This will give you a working baseline and some general ideas of where you need improvement.

Advanced Drills and Single Handed Manipulations

Once you've become consistent on the above drills, it can be beneficial to work drills with a partner. We recommend doing these drills with an inert pistol to ensure safety. During these drills, the shooter should bring their weapon to bear, engage the threat, and bring the pistol into one of our discussed positions. Being careful not to "flag" your training partner, move around them and repeat. Try this as you get out of vehicles, and negotiate things like stairs. Keep in mind who is above and below you as you decide the best technique to match your clearing tactics. This will get you use to moving around people with a firearm in your hand.

In addition to these drills, keep in mind that firearms require procedures to keep them running. Please have a look at the following video for ideas on how to do that, while maintaining awareness and mobility.

Incorporate use of light, and after action drills such as communicating with your partner to call for police, render medical aid, or act as a look out until the scene is safe. This is where training and experience really bake the cake. You can assemble it, but without trying these techniques under pressure, it's difficult to truly understand how to apply them.

This post delves into the "tactical" and "technical" aspects that are often simply glossed over and lost. It’s easy to get used to punching holes in paper and feeling competent, but this is the stuff that will really make the difference in a fight. How do you train?

Let us know what you think.


Aaron YR

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