Safely drawing a pistol efficiently and effectively is an important skill to develop for both defensive and competitive applications. In both of those contexts, speed is of the essence but it must be balanced with consistency and ensure a quality in order to establish the best foundation possible to support quick delivery of accurate hits. This isn’t the first time I’ve written on the topic and it probably won’t be the last, but this time around I want to share the current approach I am using to improve my draw with more detail that I have previously as it has evolved into a more structured approach that incorporates things I’ve learned since I last wrote about it.
Let’s back up just a little. Over the past couple of years, I’ve received a fair amount of formal instruction and taken to heart several notable phrases and expressions used by the instructors while incorporating drills and techniques into my practice sessions.
For example, I often make use of Gabe White’s on-demand and pushing practice modalities frequently. This is apparent in several of the drill posts I’ve published where I often reduce par times until “the wheels fall off” and then back things off. In practice when I experience “the wheels falling off”, I can often hear Tom Givens saying, “you can’t miss fast enough to win”, as I start to recall his instruction. As I let off the gas pedal, I then recall Ben Stoeger telling the class, “don’t slow down, fix it.” Which begs the question that I ask myself after finishing the drill, “how do I fix it?” In order to fix it, I have to diagnose the problem which isn’t easy. There are several things happening parallel very quickly when engaged in pushing practice. Whether or not I diagnose the problem correctly, I do often conclude that the problem is often the result of tension that worked its way into the execution of the drill which ultimately led to the mistake (or combination of multiple mistakes) that resulted in the “wheels falling off”. The concept of tension being the culprit that leads to errors is another concept that I picked up from Ben Stoeger.
I’ve learned several approaches to eliminate or correct technique errors. I won’t name and describe those approaches for the sake of brevity. The common element those approaches have in common is that they all work towards the same goal – allowing one to execute the mechanical skill correctly at speed. The vast majority of those approaches have the same limitation which is they rely on correctly identifying the problem since most approaches are remedies to a specific issue. This isn’t a bad thing in of itself, but it can be a challenge depending on the practitioner’s ability to self diagnose.
All of this preamble brings us to the structured approach I’m currently using, which is heavily influenced by a video John Correia posted on YouTube over four years ago to which attributes the approach to a video posted by Travis Haley. In all honesty, credit for the core of the approach I’m using goes to them. I’ve only added a few things around it and will share how I have internalized it. I suggest viewing the video in full right now and resume reading the rest of this post.
The structure approach I am using begins using the time reduction approach described in John Correia’s video with the goal of not beating the time limit, but rather matching the time limit. Another way to think about this is that we are adapting to the draw to specific temp or cadance which begins slow and then picks up the pace. After doing this, I’ll mix and match a few additional drills free from the cadance to measure what we can do. Some days, I also begin with a drill or two that will be added at the end to have a baseline for comparison.
This activity can be performed with dry or with live ammunition. Whichever method is employed, don’t neglect to adhere to cardinal rules of safe gun handling.
Let’s break it down.
The 5-second draw is where we begin. Five seconds is a lot of time. The idea here is not to just simply be deliberate, but to allow enough time to be aware of everything happening in the desired sequence. Is the concealment garment being defeated without any unnecessary motion? Are you sure? What are the elbows and shoulders doing and is any of that movement necessary? Was a master grip properly established prior to pulling the pistol out of the holster? Did we establish a proper pectoral/thumb index? Where is the support hand positioned when that index occurred? Where was the support hand grip established and was full grip pressure applied at the right time? Where along the presentation are we beginning to stage the trigger? Did we pick up the front sight or dot at the right place? Was the muzzle and target alignment disturbed as the trigger was pressed all the way to the rear? There is a lot to be aware of and this is the time to do it. The idea is to establish and repeat the most correct draw we are capable of while using the entire time allotted in a fluid motion. Avoid finishing early and waiting at the end to break. Nothing in the motion should be rushed. If one needs more time, then increase the time allowed. Repeat as needed until the draw is consistent and matches the tempo regularly.
Once we are happy with the 5-second draw, it is time to start increasing the tempo. I like to reduce the time one full second at a time until I get down to two seconds and end with a one and a half second window (this is where the wheels start falling off for me today). Other folks might want to reduce the time in half second steps while others may combine the two or use smaller reduction increments. While I find using increments other than full or half second difficult to time, there is no right or wrong step size here. The goal is to compress the time gradually until one can no longer perform the draw correctly. Or as Gabe White would say, until we find ourselves in a pushing modality.
As the tempo increases gradually, one will notice a few things. First one will notice the draw will feel familiar and even though the tempo has increased it should be relatively easy to remain relaxed. We may not be able to be aware of everything that is happening with the same level of detail, but we should find that it is not necessary because we just know what to do. This is myelination at work.
At some point the tempo will be too fast for us to keep up, this may be due to physical limitations or not having developed the skill necessary to draw the pistol and press off a shot at that pace. In other words, we are pushing beyond the limit of our abilities and this is a good place to stop in order to avoid developing bad habits such as rushing out of a holster without a good grip, failing to establish a good support hand grip, or pressing the trigger without a sufficiently refined sight picture for the difficulty of the shot. If one is doing this live ammunition, the shots outside of the target area are a good indication of this. For dry fire, I like to use the shot score from the MantisX as scores below 85 are an indicator to me that the “wheels are starting to fall off”.
After reaching my limit with the tempo based drills, I like to finish with one or more timed “draw to first shot” drills. For these drills, I am specifically looking to beat the par time by as much as I can, but without rushing and without letting tension creep in. I also like to mix up the difficulty of the target. When performing this dry, I like to work the “Hostage Rescue” drills on the MantisX which is looking for a shot score of 85 or better after coming out of the holster with a time limit. When using live ammunition, getting 10-ring hits on a B-8 at a distance of 7 yards works well for this. Use a time limit that is suitable to your skill level. Here are some suggestions (which I’ve taken directly from the time limits of the Hostage Rescue drill available on the MantisX application):
- 4 seconds is a good place to start and will help build confidence
- 2.5 seconds is a reasonable goal to aim for by defensive carry practitioners
- 1.7 seconds is spicy and a high level of skill indicator
The time limits can be adjusted for different target difficulties. It’s a good idea to change it up.
As I mentioned, sometimes I like running a drill before getting into the tempo based work to serve as a baseline. When I’ve done this, I find that the end drill almost always ends up with better results than the results of the cold drill done at the beginning of the practice session. This is expected as the practice that is done warms us up for the closing drill and gets everything dialed in for it. However, I find that being able to see the improvement provides a sense of accomplishment that can help motivate folks to keep on practicing day after day. This is especially true when the improvement is notable. For example, starting off with ten repetitions of the described drill with five successful completions and then ending with ten out of ten attempts at the end of the session feels pretty darn good.
Logging the scores of the initial and final drills of the session allows us to see the improvement over time. Seeing that one is now averaging seven out of ten repetitions of the cold drill compared to average of five out of ten repetitions the week prior helps to keep motivational levels high and helps develop objective confidence in one’s proficiency with this particular skill.
I’ve had really good results with this approach in a short period of time and now I’m curious if I can adapt to other skills such as reloads or transitions. I suppose I will have to give it a try. When I do, I will share the details assuming I see positive results.
I hope those of you who give it a try find positive results from it as well.