Whither the Weaver Stance and the 1911 Heavy-Duty Self-Loading Pistol at Gunsite?

In my last post I gave a broad overview of the similarities and differences in the Modern Technique of the Pistol at Gunsite then and now. Here I want to continue that line of thinking by considering the status of the Weaver Stance and the Heavy-duty Self-Loading Pistol, two major elements of the Modern Technique that have changed some over the years.

Looking at what is taught in the classroom and on the range explicitly gives a good sense of how the heavy-duty pistol and the Weaver stance are handled at Gunsite today.

Gunsite 40th Anniversary Colt 1911 pistol, from http://www.gunsitestore.com

In the opening lecture of the 250 Defensive Pistol course, Rangemaster Bill Halvorsen – who has taught at Gunsite nearly 30 years, since 1988 – explains that the overall objective of the course is “to ensure you become well-grounded in the Modern Technique of the Pistol.”

He elaborates that part of the Modern Technique involves a heavy-duty pistol, which he says is a .45 ACP, adding the old joke, “Why a .45? Because there is no .46.” I can imagine at the beginning of time, when Col. Cooper was running the course, that the point would end there. Suggesting a clear evolution, Halvorsen continues, “But seriously, use a gun you can control effectively and make hits with. It may be a .22.”

Halvorsen later reiterates the point about the heavy-duty semi-auto pistol saying, “That means whatever you can put rounds on target with.”

To be sure, 4 of 7 instructors the week I observed carried 1911s, and far more students used 1911s than I have ever seen in another class – 7 out of 29 (24%). At the same time, some students who rented guns from Gunsite were given Glocks, and two-thirds of the students shot 9mm pistols.

Thus, although there is a clear preference for the .45ACP 1911, there was no sense spoken or otherwise conveyed that using something other (“less”) than that was somehow insufficient.

Gunsite Instructor John Hutchison demonstrating a fighting stance with feet reversed. Photo by David Yamane

As for the Weaver Stance, it is certainly part of the Modern Technique, but Gunsite has evolved on this toward the language of the “fighting stance.” As the course book I was given (dated 2006) reads, “The essence of the modern Weaver Stance is the achievement of a balanced fighting stance” (emphasis in original).

Gunsite 250 instructors use this term both in the lectures and on the range, with one notable exception that I observed. At the first range session of the week, immediately following the introductory lecture, Rangemaster Bill Halvorsen talked to the students individually, checking their guns, holsters, belts, and magazines. He then discussed and demonstrated the stance, saying, “I would ask you to try the Weaver. If you shoot isosceles, work with me.”

On the fifth and last day of the class, Halvorsen continued to suggest the Weaver stance to students who are struggling to shoot well.

Which raises the question, what does Halvorsen mean by “Weaver”?

He definitely does not mean an extremely bladed stance. In a follow-up conversation I had with the other Rangemaster for the week, Steve Hendricks, the issue of the myth of the bladed stance was addressed. Hendricks recalled that even when he was first becoming an instructor at Gunsite back in the early 1990s the stance was more square than bladed. He told me there used to be a cable running across the range and shooters were told to “toe the line.” A photo in the 1991 book, The Modern Technique of the Pistol, supports Hendricks’s recollection.

Pages 68-69 in The Modern Technique of the Pistol by Gregory Boyce Morrison

To be sure, the feet are not perfectly square, but I wouldn’t call the stance bladed.

It seems to me that what many people identify as the “Weaver” stance has to do with the iconic position of the arms, in particular the straighter dominant arm and bent support arm. In reference to a right-handed shooter, the Gunsite course book asserts,

“The right arm may be straight but is better slightly flexed. The left arm is flexed from 30 to 45 degrees depending on the bone structure of the shooter.”

This is the position Halvorsen adopts when he demonstrates the stance, adding that the grip is “push-pull,” with 30% force pushing with the strong hand and 70% pulling with the support hand to help control recoil.

Again, when I spoke to Steve Hendricks about the Weaver stance, he emphasized the importance of creating this isometric push-pull tension as fundamental to the Weaver stance he learned from Cooper. But as shown in the picture below, Hendricks’s stance looks awfully isosceles to my newbie eyes.

Rangemaster Steve Hendricks presenting pistol. Photo by David Yamane

Whatever terminology is used, it is clear that on these two aspects of the Modern Technique – the heavy-duty self-loading pistol and the Weaver stance – what is taught at Gunsite Academy has evolved.

In my next post, I will explore another aspect of the curriculum that has evolved, perhaps even more so: mindset.

7 comments

  1. Reblogged this on and commented:
    There’s no, one stance fits all. With semi-auto pistol, I like a Modified Weaver stance. With the service revolver, we were trained in turret stance.
    In shooting event #1, I used the sitting behind the steering wheel stance. In shooting event #2, I used (a)perp #1, (b) perp #2, the Wild Bill Hickok draw from the holster and fire, (c) perp #3, kneel behind cover stance. In shooting event #3, that was in darkness, looking at motion of dark figures/shadows, fired from turret stance.
    Nothing in life is perfect. Get a strong foundation, then build up, from there. Different events could have different sets of variable factors. The one thing I have noticed, is that I never thought about, what stance. I do not recall ever seeing the sights. Practice is important, so that instinctively, the shooter can employ whatever the situation requires, in stance, and shooting, without ever hesitating to think about it. You just know, and do it. That is why, you train the way you fight, and fight the way you train. Try to keep it simple, and quick paced.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I think Ayoob noted* that the arm position holding the gun can and will change depending on where the threat is in relation to you when you have to draw. “Squaring off” is what your body will want to naturally do (if you’ve ingrained “fight” into your reflexes anyway) but is not always possible or desirable given real world terrain and footing.

    While when I took his class recently it was an Isocoles fighting stance being taught, he demonstrates treating your upper body as a turret on the lower, like Brittius mentions. If you can’t move your feet to square your shoulders off, just turning your torso and bending your knees to engage to either side or behind will cause your arms to assume the different “classic” positions while the relationship between your crush-gripped pistol and your eyes (the important part) stays the same. “Screwing yourself into the ground” to shoot behind yourself is the phrase that stuck with me from one of the books.

    We had a Trooper up here have to drop a charging moose with his sidearm (S&W 40 at the time, iirc) when he was in hip-deep snow facing mostly away from it. There was no way he had the time or ability to move his feet, so he had to “turret” around to shoot and stop it. That’s going to end up looking a lot like a Weaver once you get to about 90 deg off center.

    * which means you’ve probably heard it too 😉

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  3. Seems another consideration is trying to minimize yourself as a target. Is there some consideration for presenting the smallest possible target to an adversary, in addition to having a stable firing platform yourself?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Most of the numbers I see show that people are either aiming, in which case they can likely still hit or miss a 15″ bladed torso as easily as an 18″ squared, or they are tunneling in on the gun which will always be more or less centered over the torso regardless.

      If wearing armor, blading exposes the arm hole and side gap which, along with various stability, body reaction, and “natural point of aim” arguments, is one reason law enforcement and military have gone to more squared off.

      One thing Awerbuck used to point out, which hunters learn but defensive shooters shooting on square ranges at squared off target shapes often don’t, is that an angled target means you can’t keep shooting at the same physical surface point on the torso.

      You are shooting to get the bullet into the vitals, shooting at the center of the sternum on a target bladed at even 20 deg is likely to have the round skim along the rib cage, not penetrate. He would teach with paper targets stapled to have a rounded profile and set at various angles to show that the “center mass” or “center of what you see” point of aim on an actual 3D target is different than “same place on the target torso you’ve always shot at”.

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      • Geometry. That’s what I recall from deer hunting days. A shot was a geometry problem unless the deer was at right angles to the hunter. The day I badly wounded a deer and had to follow it down a ravine, I took an angled shot but the round nipped a small tree branch and was deflected from the point of aim, which was an angled shot in the vitals. It hit the deer behind the rib cage and came out through a back leg, shattering the leg.

        If one wants to see gun violence in action without going to jail, take a lousy shot at a deer and have to finish it off while it struggles to stay alive.

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