Pros and cons of going prone in a gunfight

The fight is on.  You’re shooting and you’re getting shot at.  The distance and terrain are such that going prone seems like a reasonable option.  The $65,000-question is when is it a good time to assume this shooting position?

Remember situation and terrain determine tactics.

Prone with handgun

Personally, I don’t ever recommend going prone with a pistol.  When dropping to prone and holding a pistol in the strong hand, it’s easy for a shooter to flag himself, mainly his support arm, or flag bystanders.  Although there may be times to do so, the potential to break muzzle discipline is something I am not prepared to risk in the chaos of a firefight, especially when alternatives exist.

In its defense, if the situation demands a really far shot (which would be rare in most legal self-defense scenarios but not unimaginable), then maybe going prone is best option for stability.  There do exist a few tricks and techniques to make a prone position work well using a pistol and not compromise muzzle discipline, which a shooter could train.

I guess when nothing else is available, and no other stable platform can be used, I recognize that getting into a prone position with a pistol is an option, albeit one of the last.

Prone with a rifle

When it comes to rifles and combat, getting into the prone position also has it’s advantages and disadvantages, somewhat similar to those of the side arm but particularly more specific to a dynamic urban combat setting.  Here are a few pros and cons that I consider:

Pros of the prone supported position

  1. When used properly, the prone position provides an incredibly stable platform.
  2. Because the prone position is the most stable, you can shoot quickly with fast follow-up shots on target.
  3. The prone position, when addressing a threat directly in front of you, lowers your profile and thus limits the areas exposed to getting shot.

Cons of using a prone position during a firefight

  1. Lying prone makes it very difficult to look around to the six o’clock position for threats.
  2. If body is canted or legs are open and not behind cover, more parts of the body are actually exposed to lethal hits.
  3. Though your profile may be smaller, the prone position actually increases your target area to the face and neck, which are usually not covered with body armor.
  4. Likewise, incoming rounds can be skipped in front of you, especially on asphalt or cement.  These projectiles can bisect the the body, moving vertically through the clavicle or shoulder area down towards the pelvis, causing lethal damage.
  5. The prone position makes it difficult to get up and move off line or be mobile in a hurry.

I know I missed some pros and cons, but even at this point, when you add up the tally, I think the cons far outweigh the pros.  At the end of the day, I would never recommend going prone in a gunfight, be it with a pistol or a rifle, but only in relation to the most important battle axiom: situation and terrain determine tactics.  In that scope, I concede that assuming the prone supported position might really be the best option in a dynamic urban engagement—if you can do it fast enough and end the threat quickly.

Safety warning: Jeffrey Denning is a long time professional in the art of self-defense and any training methods or information he describes in his articles are intended to be put into practice only by serious shooters with proper training.  Please read, but do not attempt anything posted here without first seeking out proper training.

The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the position of

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