The prone is considered the bread and butter of a rifleman’s skill set. It is the position that has been taught and practiced for as long as there has been rifles and people to carry them. It removes the most variables from the shooting equation by keeping the shooter low and with as much body contact with the ground as possible. More contact means more stability. The underlying problem with prone, of course, it that’s its just not all that practical for most shooting situations outside of competition. In hunting, for instance, it will likely put the shooter’s line of sight below tall grass or other visual obstacles. In a military or police context, staying in the prone means that you are immobile. This may be fine for observation or precision shooting, but may not be practical if movement is required.
Despite that shortfall, the prone position is one of the best tests of a shooter’s execution of the fundamentals since it removes so many variables. There are three common variations on prone: military, olympic, and supported. The first two are more a matter of personal preference, while supported prone involves some technique changes to better take advantage of the support.
This picture is from Army FM 3-22.9; there are several things in this photo that I do not like, such as the shooters support hand position and support elbow position. But it does illustrate bringing the shooting side leg up to the side and using elbows for bone support.
When most people think of prone, this is what they are likely envisioning. Laying flat on the ground with the shooting side leg hiked up just like the little green army men we used to play with back in the day.
The position is characterized by keeping the body as low as possible to the ground. Your body will be offset from the rifle, as opposed to having your spine parallel with it. The support side elbow should be positioned directly under the rifle as much as possible. Try to use the flat just behind the elbow more than the bony point, as this provides more stability. This is your pivot point, which remains planted on the ground while the rest of position revolves or pivots around it. The firing side elbow should be planted to the side in a comfortable position. Don’t make it too far, nor to close…just right.
The firing side leg should be drawn up as high as possible (difficult if you don’t have very good flexibility). I have found that this movement forces me to shift weight forward just a bit, and puts a significant amount of tension on the shooting sling, which helps stabilize the rifle further. Both feet should be flat on the ground.
From this position, the shooter adjusts NPOA by moving around the planted support elbow. Move hips closer to the point to bring the NPOA down, away to move it up. Shift to the left or right to move the NPOA to the left or right. As a reminder, ALL NPOA adjustment should be done by shifting (or shimmying) the hips; do NOT move your support hand or elbow to change your aim point.
I have found that olympic prone is my go to for shooting in the prone position. I do occasionally struggle with a shoulder buck (a type of flinch), but this is mitigated by focusing on relaxing into the position for each shot.
Again, this is from FM 3-22.9, and will have to do until I can get better photos.
Military prone is very similar to olympic prone, except that the firing side foot is also extended backwards, and not hiked up. This places the hips roughly level with the ground, and gets more of the torso flat. Unfortunately, I have not been practicing with this position lately, and have no further information to provide as far as performance differences go. But, generally speaking, the choice between olympic prone and military prone is mostly personal preference. Individuals with a more prodigious gut may be more comfortable with olympic prone, as it raises the hips off the ground and provides more clearance to breath.
Supported Prone Positions
This is where things get interesting. There are really two variants here that I’ve seen, and I’ve only really played with one of them. The first is what I call “combat supported,” which is the style often seen in the field manuals and old instructional videos. The second is “precision supported,” which seems to be more common among the long range target shooters.
For combat supported, there is really very little difference than the unsupported positions above. The shooter simply rests their hand on a surface (such as a sandbag or pack), and then the rifle on their hand. For harder surfaces, I suppose a softer intermediary (such as a small beanbag) could take the place of the hand, and the shooter could place their support hand elsewhere (I tend to place mine on top of the hand guard, but I’ve also seen gripping the magazine well as an option). I have not yet experimented with combat supported prone, so I can’t offer any more detail.
The precision supported position, also known as bipod prone, is mechanically different in that the shooter lines up directly behind the rifle. If a line were drawn from the muzzle of the rifle straight through the stock, and continued through the shooter’s body, then the line should be parallel to the shooter’s spine. The feet are straight out back, and flat (as in military prone). The support hand, rather than supporting the front end of the rifle, is moved to support the stock (I use a small wedge beanbag) and provide elevation adjustment.
Like the traditional prone positions, I do have a slight buck when shooting, which means I tend to have an occasional errant shot. I’m working through this.