Curing the Tactical Turtle

tactical turtle stance

Meet the Tactical Turtle Stance. I used to shoot like this, until I realized that it’s not very good. The image above is a screencap from this video. Today I’m going to talk about the Tactical Turtle and why it’s not a very good way to shoot a gun. Unfortunately, I am but a lone prophet in the desert, because the Tactical Turtle is rapidly becoming the dominant handgun stance in the “tactical/ccw” firearms community.

If we go back to the foundation of modern pistol shooting, aka the Modern Technique of the pistol, we find the Weaver Stance. Weaver is still taught at Gunsite, although the Weaver of 2013 looks a little bit different from Col. Cooper’s Weaver back in the day. Be that as it may, Weaver is Genesis for modern pistol shooting. As IPSC shooters pushed the envelope of shooting performance, Weaver fell out of vogue because it didn’t offer the physiological advantages of modern isosceles. The Tactical Turtle was born of Modern Iso when applied to rifle shooting. If you look at the Turtle, the head is down low, in a similar position to where it would be if you were looking through a rifle optic.

There are some benefits to the Tactical Turtle. It is an excellent stance for shooters who lack upper body strength for controlling recoil. It is readily adaptable from long gun to pistol and back. It also isn’t very good if you want to be really good at shooting.

In the action shooting sports, the concept of stance is somewhat mutable. We run around a lot, and shoot from awkward positions. You really only see consistent “stances” on classifier stages or in Steel Challenge. I’ll give you a little tip: none of the top GMs use the Tactical Turtle stance. In fact, to a man they all stand up relatively straight with their weight biased forward on the balls of their feet. There are some very good reasons for this.

First is vision. The Tactical Turtle stance puts your head down low, between the shoulders. That puts your eyes not in a natural line with the pistol’s sights, forcing you to look through the “top” of your eyes, or roll them up somewhat to see the sights. Contrast this with the “gamer” stance, where the pistol is instead brought directly into the eyeline, and the shooter can look directly forward, taking the most advantage of the way we see.

The next problem with the Turtle comes in the form of target transitions. With your head hunched down between your shoulders, the act of snapping your head and eyes to the next target for a speedy transition is harder than if you’re in a more erect posture. Try it. Get in the Turtle, focus on an object 5 yards away and then whip your head to focus on another object at the same distance. Now do it with a more upright stance. It’s easier when your head is up. Think about Steel Challenge, which is all transitions at high speed. No tactical turtles in the top 10 there.

Problem number three is muscle/joint fatigue. Hunching your shoulders like that is tiring. Locking your elbows increases the impact of recoil on that joint, which can cause all manner of problems (like tendinitis). Intentionally using a stance that causes muscle fatigue and joint pain doesn’t really seem smart to me.

Of course, the advocates of the Tactical Turtle stance will tell you that “under stress” in a “dynamic critical incident” your body’s startle response will force you to default into this position. So essentially, what they’re telling you is that there is no way to train yourself to be better than your startle response. That’s bullcrap. Most drivers startle response when something bad happens is to hit the brakes, regardless of whether or not that’s the smartest action. We see danger, we want to stop. However, driving schools can and do teach that sometimes speeding up and driving around is the best response. Race car drivers and cops are two examples of groups of people who have trained past their startle response. If they can do it, so can shooters.

Don’t train to be someone who panic stops. Train to be a racecar driver. Train to be better than your evolutionary survival reflex.


  1. I never learned that stance, actually no one ever really told me a particular stance but the first time I saw someone do the “Tactical Turtle” my first thought was that doesn’t look right and seems as if (similar to what you said) it would encumber you more than anything.

  2. Keep in mind that many of these tactical trainers have to teach to the lowest common denominator. Not everyone has the time or desire to dedicate themselves to becoming the racecar driver. Not everyone has even fired a gun before coming to some of these classes. However, that does not mean they don’t have the need to protect themselves.

    This is similar to the whole Cory07ink and Ron Avery draw thing that came up a while back. Cory posted a video of Ron instructing him on more of a “gamer” draw as opposed to the “straight up, straight out” draw many tactical trainers teach. The question there again was – If Ron’s technique was faster, why do many tactical trainers teach the “straight up, straight out?”

    Well, it’s because Cory is a skilled shorter who can pick up on the concepts safely and quickly. He already knows where his eye focus needs to be, he’s got a feel for not “bowling” or “fishing,” he’s got a handle on when to put his finger on the trigger, etc. etc.

    The “straight up, straight out” technique is something an absolute beginner can pick up relatively quickly and safely. That, combined with it only being marginally slower then a “gamer” style.makes it a good technique. The same logic applies to the “tactical turtle.”

    I agree that a dedicated shooter (and anyone carrying a firearm for a living or for protection should be) should strive to be better. They should move beyond the lowest common denominator. Unfortunately, the reality isn’t always that cut and dry.

    1. The whole idea of “they have to teach simple” because the shooters are not all that good makes no sense to me at all. Teach the best way so people don’t have to un-learn bad training. Teaching someone a horrible stance to shoot from is a great disservice to them.

      Speed is one of the best tactics in a fight. Most are over in less than a few seconds. For the ones that aren’t you need backup. Do you want to be the guy in the fight that can draw and deliver 6 shots on target in 2 seconds or 5 seconds?

      Shooting fast and accurate is a good idea. To be fast and accurate you need to be loose, that stance is anti-loose.

      1. @Matt – As I said in my original post, in a perfect world everyone would be a dedicated shooter who believes that the difference between 6 shots in 2 seconds or 5 seconds is a huge deal. Unfortunately, that is just not reality. No matter how much we want to believe everyone who carries a gun feels a need to be ultra tactical operator IDPA grand poobah, the truth is that most people don’t want that. They don’t care about 3 seconds. Agree with them or not, that’s reality. Not too mention the fact that if you can save 3 seconds by slightly changing stance then you’ve got other problems.

        These instructors have a self-imposed mandate to make sure their students are as prepared as possible after 1, maybe 2, days of training. Teaching techniques or mindset that require tens or hundreds of hours of practice (ie. ignoring body alarm responses, etc.) is not feasible and, one could argue, irresponsible. Especially when classes are billed as “Fighting this” or “Tactical that”. They’re not called “Beginner’s guide to eventually becoming good if you put in the practice time.” Again, agree with it or not, that is the reality.

        Most of the physiological arguments don’t really come in to play in these situations. These people aren’t going to compete, they don’t need eagle vision to see three targets ahead on the stage. They aren’t going to shoot enough to worry about tennis elbow.

        As much as I agree the “gamer” stance is better and that I wish these gun owners took their responsibility more seriously, it’s just not the case. These trainers do what they feel gives someone with no prior training, who may never have any future training, the best chance at success in a violent encounter where they may be subject to their bodies natural reaction.

    2. @Jeff Mancini
      Being new to shooting, it’s slightly offensive being categorized as “the lowest common denominator” by someone. Everyone has to/had to start somewhere (yourself included), not everyone is going to take it to the extreme and that’s a shame. My goal is to try my hardest to learn as much as I can, be as good as I can and maybe even try competing at some point, even try to become an instructor myself but that’s my passion and I just love guns and shooting that much. Not everyone is going to feel that, heck if someone is even willing to take a class I think that’s better than most that probably get a vague gist from some friend or family member and call it good at that point. I commend anyone who takes at least one class over no class at all.

      In a perfect world (ha-ha) everyone would be well trained and that chose to be armed.

      1. @Kalaryn

        I didn’t mean to use the term in a negative manner. A better way to put it may have just been to say beginner or new shooters.

  3. Caleb,

    How about a companion picture of your alternate stance? I know, I know, there are photos on the website, hell there’s a couple on the homepage at the moment, but the article gets linked and some folks don’t read so well…

    Regarding Aaron above: Whether or not Caleb’s ever been shot at is irrelevant, as being shot at doesn’t teach you anything in particular about firearms…except that the muzzle end is dangerous.


  4. A few years ago when I got back into shooting I got yelled at all the time for exactly the opposite. Holding my head way back. I wear prescription glasses with progressive lenses. The top is optimized for far and the bottom for near. If I want to see my front sight clearly I have to hold my head back. Head down my front sight is this very fuzzy blob that basically disappeared. Seeing my front sight clearly made my shooting better than “proper” stance and posture so for ccw/fighting using my normal wear glasses I’ll attempt to get my front sight in focus with my head slightly back and standing erect. For competition I wear custom glasses that only focus at two feet, the distance of my front sight. Everything else is fuzzy but not so bad I can’t see what I’m shooting at. With my shooting glasses no matter what my head position is I can generally see my front sight clearly. I stand fully erect with my head up which gives me greater freedom of movement, peripheral vision and faster/easier transitions. A proper grip takes care of recoil management. When I have to put my head down it puts my sight picture through an angled and thicker part of my glasses which distorts what I’m seeing and is a strain I can feel in the muscles of my eyes, head and shoulders. So fighting with my normal glasses, head back. Competition shooting with my custom glasses, head up. And yes, I do have to think about it a moment and search for that focus sweet spot using my normal wear glasses. A very slight cost in time more than made up for in overall speed and accuracy.

    And the term Tactical Turtle is very kewl.

    1. David, I contend with the same issue when wearing progressive lenses. I need to get custom glasses to better enable me to compete. Do you have any suggestions on what to look for, or where to go for good custom prescription glasses? Thanks.

      1. Actually my custom glasses are not very custom. Since I didn’t know what would work I went with simple and cheap figuring then I could decide what I would want in a set of prescription shooting glasses. I asked my eye doctor for a single vision prescription set to 24″ (often called office or computer glasses) which is the distance from my eye to my front sight on my primary gun. I found the cheapest set of frames holding large lenses (for better eye protection) and got impact resistant polycarbonate lenses. I picked up some side shields that slip on to the ear piece at a safety supply store (I see them at hardware stores) for about $1.50 a set. That was it. Targets are fuzzy and I can’t see the scoring lines or 9mm holes past 7 yards but that doesn’t matter. (In fact it is a benefit because I found I spent a lot of time looking for where I hit rather than calling my shot and moving on to the next target) I can see the middle of the target well enough and my front sight is nice and sharp. It was hard to get used to but given time it made a big difference in accuracy and speed. No more searching for that progressive lens sweet spot and my head orientation isn’t an issue when making shots from unusual positions. I had to unlearn some bad habits. They also come in handy when working on the car or anything involving close objects and looking through the top of my lenses. If you shoot outside get the sun changeable lenses or a set made as sunglasses. Now that I know it works I’ll probably spring for real safety/shooting glasses but what to choose???

      2. I use lined lens. When I had bifocals, I would bob trying to get the front sight in focus. When I had to get trifocals, problem solved. Use the middle band which is set up for computer screens which are about the same distance as front sights. Not sure why there isn’t a spot in progressives that does the same.

        1. “Not sure why there isn’t a spot in progressives that does the same”

          There is – progressive lenses are trifocals without the lines.

  5. Jeff,

    There are physiological reasons why the Tactical Turtle is a bad idea for ANYONE; whether newb or Obi Wan Hosemaster, Jedi Knight of the Combat Tupperware.

  6. I thought the tactical turtle was already going the way of the huge quad rail on ar15’s. As in a few people still hold onto it and love it while others have moved on to a more ergonomic and versatile option. It’s funny to see people still claiming to know what your going to do when you get into a gun fight. Taking hints from car wrecks fist fights and other stress inducing events I’ve never seen anyone naturally go into a tactical turtle stance or anything even close to that.

  7. It is an excellent stance for shooters who lack upper body strength for controlling recoil. … It also isn’t very good if you want to be really good at shooting.

    Well, I’m just screwzzored, then. If I don’t have my arms straight out from my shoulders, a four- or six-round string will force the gun back until the last round is broken from a “compressed ready” or whatever they call it these days when the slide cover plate on your gat is leaving Punisher skull bruises on your sternum.

    If I leave my arms straight out from my shoulders to lock the elbows and control recoil, but hold my head up straight to be cool like [insert name of current USPSA demigod here] and so nobody calls me “tactical turtle”, then I can’t align the $%^%&$ sights because they’re, like, six inches below my chin.

    What to do, what to do?

    1. @tam
      Without knowing exactly what position Caleb prescribes: Weightlifting trainers of all kinds (from high-rep kettlebell to low-rep powerlifting) with tell you to move your shoulders “down and back”. That is a very stable position. From that position most people keep their head in a more natural position with a neutral spine. That is a very comfortable position that removes muscle tension and allows you to keep focus longer.

      If the gun is not in your line of sight then, you do not need to bend your arms. You just angle them higher, not moving the shoulders but rotating arms in the shoulder joints. If you cannot raise your arms this way for the sights to come up in your line of sight, either you are a giraffe (so much for the old saying about dogs and the internet) or you have some mobility issues that call for remedial drills. Just google +mobility and +”shoulder girdle” or +”rotator cuff”

      So bent arms are not needed for that. For absorbing recoil instead of sacrificing your joints, it still is worth is. That calls for, in that order, grip strength, wrist strength, lower arm strength, upper arm and shoulder strength. There are dedicated tools and exercises for these, going from grippers (Captains of Crush are famous), wrist rollers to classic dumbell pushes and pulls. For me, the integration of a bottom-up kettlebell press was all that was needed.

  8. For eyeglasses, ask the optometrist or lab if they can put a bi-focal type area at the top of the lenses. You might try marking/masking a current pair of glasses with the placement of this area as defined by your preferred shooting stance. Unfortunately, the mall type vendors/labs don’t seem able or willing to try this. Might be an equipment capability issue for them.

  9. Why is everyone so agro?

    Either it works or it doesn’t. Either it works better or it doesn’t.

    Good article and articulation.

    Folks calling this article “frenzied” should look at themselves and the length of their posts.

  10. No more a competitor, but certainly a self-defense shooter getting on in years a bit.. with lined trifocals, fused C-spine and rotator cuff issues from 30 years of hoisting overweight patients. I have, and do, use my own modified Weaver that suits my needs and limitations. Each has his/her own needs/wants/goals; thus, to each his own. Try a few things for what you intend to do then stick with what works.

  11. Just to stir the puddin’…

    I was always told that the evolution from Weaver to isosceles (tactical turtle) came about in law enforcement pistol shooting. Cooper got everybody (sorta) shooting Weaver, and then cops started wearing body armor…but early body armor didn’t have side panels, and somebody got clever and figured that it was unwise to open up the spot that wasn’t armored (your side)…so isosceles was born. It was reasoned that if you were going to get hit in a gunfight, you’d best have your chest panels squared up so’s the bad guy doesn’t slip one between your ribs.

    Nowadays almost all decent soft body armor has side panels, so that argument is moot. Heck, you could even say (now that the sides are armored) that it’s better to blade your body and present a smaller target. Or…you could just shoot whatever position is comfortable.

    I do find isosceles in general to provide a more stable platform, but it is not as mobile as a modified Weaver, which is essentially the boxing-type stance we humans tend to naturally fight from. At any rate, I do know that one of the main takeaways from my USPSA shooting experience is that once you begin moving and shooting, a textbook stance of any type is just about a unicorn…

  12. Let’s stir together; Weaver to Isosceles to “Tactical turtle”… I love the evolutionary mental graph, I wonder who came up with this? I will withhold my guesses… A “modified weaver” is a bad Weaver. Perhaps that falls into the “sorta” arena. Weaver is not contrary to popular urban legend a fully bladed stance. Nor do many agencies I have worked with can they describe any stance they use other than stand around and shoot. And generally not that well. The squaring of the chest and feet facing the target so the strike plate faces the threat has been around for more than 30 years that I’m aware of. However it was instructed by HK international and Phil Singleton (former SAS) then it was picked up in recent years by the “new kids on the block”. But as you pointed out most competitive paper shooters and the big money guys shoot isosceles.

    With respect

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