Outside of practical competition and top notch shooting schools, skillful gun handling is rare. Learning to present from a holster at speed is fun, useful and within the capability of anyone willing to put in a little work. However, a scourge common among gun owners, private and public, is attempting to shoot faster than skills allow.
Most POST (Peace Officer Standards and Training) shooting courses are established for non-firearm users required to qualify annually, thus any enforced time limits are generous. Military handgun training, when conducted at all, is even worse. Shooting from the holster is nearly unheard of there. Many public ranges simply forbid the practice. By the NRA’s own statistics, only one out of every 100 card-carrying members have bothered to earn a shooting skill classification of any level at a class or event. The general gun owning population is lower still, so there is an obvious need to educate. Fast gun handling is only potentially dangerous among the under trained.
Smooth Is Fast
The “smooth is fast” mantra is routinely regurgitated, often by those who don’t understand it, or at least can’t apply it. Rather than rely on catch phrases, lets analyze the process of good gun handling.
Typical human adults have 206 bones controlled by approximately 639 skeletal muscles. Movement happens through repeated contractions of many muscles at correct times, controlled by the central nervous system. Concentric contractions cause the muscle to shorten, changing the joint angle. Eccentric contractions elongate the muscle decelerating the joint at the movement’s end. Done with precision, this “smooths out” a movement. Skillful, consistent motion can be defined as the correct muscles tensing at the right time. This also means that any muscle not involved in the movement must relax at the appropriate time.
Any act of coordination requires both consistent movement and relaxation of those muscles not essential to the movement. If these non-essential muscles aren’t relaxed, extraneous movement or tension is caused and the result is both imprecise and slow. Watch a novice shooter—the grip and position is inconsistent, even in slow fire. When asked to shoot at speed on the clock, the movement is an odd mix of spastic motions. It probably feels fast to the duffer and all that motion gives the illusion of speed to the untrained eye, but the timer tells a different tale—assuming there are any hits on target to begin with.
Every attempt looks different because the novice isn’t yet coordinated enough to repeat the same motion twice. The wrong muscles are pulling at wrong times because the central nervous system has not yet programmed what “correct” is. It would be impossible to consciously control each of 600-plus muscles, so we have to repeat the same motion many times to embed it. A musician will first learn a scale or piece beginning at a pace so slow that it can’t be screwed up. This allows conscious control and begins the embedding process. The pace is quickened in even, gradual increments, as gauged by a metronome, reinforcing the movements by forcing the subconscious to take over until the tempo is beyond current skill level. Then the pace is dropped down and the process is repeated.
This takes many sessions. It can be dull and sometimes frustrating, and estimates of a 3,000-repetition minimum are common—that’s correct repetitions. Contrary to another popular catch phrase, practice does not make perfect. Repeating an inefficient movement, or a series of varied ones, will never yield the desired result. Sticking with a daily training schedule and the discipline to admit flaws and break things down at a slow pace are the real secrets of good shooting.
Following The Path
The first phase in developing a good draw (or any other shooting skill) is beginning a dry practice regimen. All good shooters know that this is where real skill is built. Live fire training—including practice, classes, and matches—is merely a supplement to and confirmation of dry practice. It costs nothing and can be done nearly anywhere.
After making a commitment to daily dry practice, the next step in learning a good presentation is developing a usable level of marksmanship. Shoot slow fire groups with dummy rounds randomly mixed in. If you’re flinching or blinking on the unanticipated clicks, fix that first or else any attempt at speed shooting is largely a wasted effort. The effort to draw and shoot fast creates enough tension on its own and a flinch indicates you’re unconsciously over tense already.
Once you can slow fire without flinching, your next goal is sustained fire striving for a five-round, 3-inch group at 10 yards in less than 10 seconds. Start aimed in on target and shoot five rounds taking about 2 seconds per shot, proving you can still control the pistol under generous time pressure.
With that nailed, we’ll modify the drill by shooting single shots from a high, or instant ready position. Aim at the target as normal then relax your grip and pull the pistol back towards your face. Only your arms should move and the rest of your body, especially your head, stays put. The front sight should appear below the target with the rear sight lower still. Now push the front sight toward the target, allowing the rear sight to rise up into alignment. You should have a good sight alignment and full grip pressure as your arms extend to your normal shooting position. From ready, your goal is to shoot one-shot in less than 2 seconds, still striving to keep all shots in a 3-inch group.
These drills are minimum standards, proving there is enough fundamental marksmanship chops at modest speed first. Furthermore, no holster is required to get started.
One Count Draw
Some schools push a four or five-count draw. Breaking it down by the numbers can help teaching fine points, but the goal is to have a fluid motion. Toss a coin in the air and watch it rise and fall. Along its path the coin completely changed direction, yet there was no apparent stop. Moving to the holster and then to the target should be the same.
Think of drawing to the ready position learned in the previous exercise. Go from holster to ready to target. Standing upright and relaxed, move toward the pistol until your hand is positioned where it will complete the grip. You know this by learning how to shoot a usable group first. Only your arms pivot at the shoulder with the elbow back. The head especially must stay put. Once properly positioned, the shooting hand begins closing around the frontstrap and lifting out of the holster in a nearly straight line as the arms continue toward the ready position.
I say nearly straight line for a few reasons. First, even with a fully adjustable speed rig that can position the pistol directly in line with the target, there are a few angles along the path. In addition to going out to the target, the sights have to be brought over to get behind the aiming eye and the wrists will have to bend from the holster to shooting position.
Second, and more importantly, you’ll want a visual index as the pistol is moving toward the target before the sights are on target. A common myth of point shooting is that aimed fire is slower. With good technique and training, shooting with the sights is faster because the shooter can confirm alignment on target while the gun is still moving toward it and can call a fired shot literally before the bullet has impacted. If the target is close or big enough, a shooter may be able to catch a glimpse of adequate alignment peripherally while maintaining a target focus or with no visual confirmation at all. Revolver ace Jerry Miculek demonstrated a pair of Bill Drills, 12 hits with a draw and reload, blindfolded for a History Channel special. This far surpasses any skill claims made by point shooting advocates.
Once at the ready position we learned before, continue the presentation until the sights are on target. The trigger is prepped as it moves from ready and the shot can be taken as soon as there is sufficient alignment to get a hit.
An honest half-second draw is possible. It is certainly within the realm of anyone capable of shooting in the Master class range with a speed rig, and better competitors than me having done it with street worthy gear. True, this is a single shot, unconcealed range drill, however, anyone carrying a holstered pistol for any reason benefits by having an efficient, practiced way to get it on target with minimal delay. Many non-competitors hide under the tactical blanket to conceal fundamental flaws in basic skill. Good technique produces good results. Regardless of any guru claims, the target and timer reveals the ultimate truth.
Outside of practical competition and top notch shooting schools, skillful gun handling is rare. Learning…
by Leroy Thompson / Mar 16, 2010