Handgun Ready Positions

I must admit that, as time has passed and John and I have written so many articles, sometimes I lose track of topics we have covered.  Rather than embarrass myself by asking John if either of us had written a full article on ready positions, I took the time to scroll through all the articles to check!  Seeing no such article, I thought I would tackle the subject.


It should go without saying that the following list of ready positions is in no way meant to be exhaustive.  Rather, it is meant to highlight just a few of the most popular positions, describe their characteristics, and highlight what are, in my opinion, some of the strengths and weaknesses of each.  I should also note that I am using what I have found to be the most common names for each of these positions.  Some, no doubt, go by other names.

Low Ready

The Low Ready position is popular with many instructors and is also used as the starting point of many shooting drills (e.g., Ken Hackathorn’s “The Test”, Claude Werner’s Baseline Efficiency, many of Tom Givens’ drills, etc.).  In its usual form, Low Ready features the pistol held with both hands in a firing grip but with the trigger finger outside the trigger guard and indexed elsewhere, such as on the frame or slide of a pistol.  As the name implies, the handgun is pointed downward toward the “feet” of the “target”.  What this means is that if the target is far away, the pistol will not be held very low as compared with a target at a closer distance. 

The Low Ready

There are a few disadvantages of the Low Ready.  First, it allows for only limited mobility.  I can walk all day with a handgun held at Low Ready, but if I have to run, it is far from ideal.  It limits my balance while my hands (and therefore, the handgun) bounce all over.  Also, as far as mobility goes, it is a poor option in the close confines of a building, as the arms lead the body, telegraphing all moves to those on the other side of doorways, etc.  Another issue is retention.  Holding the pistol away from the body does leave it exposed to a gun-grab by a hidden adversary.  Related to retention is the fact that the Low Ready position offers very limited combatives possibilities.  Muzzle strikes and similar moves are all but impossible with the handgun held at full extension and low relative to where bad guys might appear.  Along those same lines, holding the handgun low with both hands does little to protect the user’s head area from a surprise blow.  Finally, it is not the best choice if the user is in close proximity to others, as it is easy to sweep portions of others’ bodies with the muzzle.

High Ready

Though different instructors teach slightly different variations of the High Ready, I have worked with several instructors (all from similar backgrounds in Naval Special Warfare) who teach it virtually identically.  In the High Ready, rather than holding the handgun at full extension as in the Low Ready, the user, using the two-handed firing grip but with finger indexed outside the trigger guard, bends his or her elbows down.  The result is that the handgun points upward at a roughly 45 degree angle from the horizontal. 

The High Ready

This position offers a number of advantages.  First, one is able to be or transition to be much more mobile than when utilizing Low Ready (sprint fifty yards holding your hands in each position and see which is easier for you.).  Secondly, the position of the handgun and arms very naturally protects the head and neck area from sudden attacks.  Third, the position of the handgun lends itself very well to combative elements, such as a quick muzzle strike, to any individuals who require some “convincing” to comply with instructions.  It is also a useful position when operating in teams, as it makes the body a bit more compact, though the practitioner is mindful of the muzzle in relation to taller partners in close proximity.  Along those lines, it is also useful in situations where “friendlies” or those of unknown status are located at the same level or below the user (such as on a floor below), reducing the likelihood of an accidental or negligent discharge causing injury to unintended victims. 

The disadvantages of the High Ready are pretty much the advantages of the Low Ready.  The arms and handgun could block the user’s view of an adversary, while the pistol pointed towards the sky/ceiling may not induce compliance the way the Low Ready (pointed towards “sensitive areas”) might be more likely to.  It also may not be the best choice when there are friendly elements or those of unknown status located above the user. 

Compressed High Ready

The Compressed High Ready does not have as much in common with the High Ready as the name implies.  In the Compressed High Ready, the pistol is held as it is in the other two ready positions.  However, in this case, the pistol is pulled in straight toward the middle of the chest, perhaps below the dominant eye.  The inside of the wrists/forearms can touch the chest, and the elbows can drop down and touch the sides of the rib cage in a relatively relaxed position.  The muzzle of the handgun should be slightly elevated. 

The Compressed High Ready

There are many advantages to the Compressed High Ready, but they do not come without some pitfalls.  Advantages include one of the same advantages as the High Ready:  the ability to strike outward with the muzzle to induce compliance.  Other advantages include the fact that the position of the handgun is almost identical to where the handgun should initially be drawn.  Thus, the press out should be identical as on the speed draw.  This is key, as both the Low and High Ready force the user to find the sights in a manner different than from the draw.  Indeed, if necessary, a slight dip of the muzzle will allow the user to fire from this compressed position, something with which students in Craig Douglas’ Extreme Close Quarters Concepts classes should be familiar.  The Compressed High Ready is also a more relaxed pose and so can be utilized for longer periods of time and can be seen as much less threatening when viewed by a third party.  Finally, with the pistol held with both hands close to the chest, it is well-protected from gun grabs, particularly in the close confines of a building or other structure. 

As noted there are some disadvantages to the Compressed High Ready.  For one thing, the muzzle is nearly parallel with the ground, so the user must be EXTREMELY aware of where the muzzle is pointed at all times.  Secondly, its overall non-threatening look may look a little TOO non-threatening to anyone being held at or near gunpoint.    There are times when a more menacing position might be warranted.  Third, it is not the most mobile of positions.  It is easy to walk around a structure in this position without the arms leading through doorways and telegraphing every move, but running at full speed is all but impossible with the arms anchored to the chest.  Finally, while the position does offer some advantages in the combative elements, the position does not protect the head/neck area as well as the High Ready.


Readers may note the absence of positions like Sul or the sometimes controversial Temple Index.  To my way of thinking, these are not true ready positions.  Correctly utilized, they are both temporary positions utilized when moving through a structure, vehicle, or other people.  Some readers may disagree with this narrow interpretation, but several instructors with whom I have trained used such definitions virtually verbatim. 

Final Thoughts

No doubt I have only scratched the surface on the topic of ready positions.  However, I hope the reader can see that each of the ready positions has numerous advantages and disadvantages.  Since some positions offer benefits when others offer negatives, I feel like it is important to know the proper utilization—how, when, and where—of each of the ready positions so that the best one can be employed at the appropriate time.

As always, thanks for reading.  If you would like to add to the list of pros and cons for any of these ready positions or had questions or comments about these or other ready positions, please comment below or on our Facebook page, as we welcome civil discourse. 

6 thoughts on “Handgun Ready Positions

  1. Sorry, but any civilian who is not training far more in safety, and constant drills about the Cardinal Rules of Firearm Safety, than in Ready positions, is not ever trustworthy with a gun in a crisis.
    I am averse to rigid paradigms, whether in proper grip management, stance, ready modalities, or whathaveyou, but I get the value of what SUL represents – a controlled positioning of a gun to minimize risk to oneself or others while maintaining the ability to enter a Ready position if needed. All the Ready postures compromise muzzle sweep, or proximity towards others that seems premature.
    LEO may have different priorities, but the “civilian” in the name of the webpage should not be fostering the distorted reality, that every armed citizen is about to face armed maniacs. Although the common mass shooting definition which looks at four or more victims tallies 373 in 2018, the FBI criteria for “active shooter incident” counts for only 85 victims in the same year. Next to the 1646 unintentional shootings the same year, that makes for a pretty tepid tradeoff.


    1. Whydoubt,

      Interesting username choice, as I have some doubts right now!

      I’m not sure what your ill-conceived and poorly executed rant is all about, but there are probably medical professionals out there who could help you out.

      I’m not sure that you even know what a “ready position” is. It’s not like we walk around in these positions all day, “ready for action”. Was there a mention in the article about “maniacs”? Active shooters? I just re-read the article and see no references to any of those things.

      You claim that we should be preaching safety, but if you actually read the article you’d see that a good portion of it is actually devoted to the relative safety of each of the positions (issues with muzzle sweeps are mentioned, for example).

      In short, I’m really not sure where you are coming from and don’t much care. I’ll allow your comment just so our dedicated readers can see for themselves what kind of people are “out there” and what kind of craziness John and I must sometimes contend with. But this will be your ONLY comment.

      Thanks for taking the time. I guess.



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