First and foremost I do not consider myself a gunfighter of any sort. I have been around the block a time or two, shot some combat-style matches, was a LEO for a bit and put more than a few rounds downrange. Enough to know good advice when I see it from folks that have ‘been there and done that.’
Now, Wyatt Earp was and is a controversial fellow. He was at various times a Lawman, a Gambler, a pimp and who knows what all else; it seems he was sometimes the good guy and sometimes the bad guy. But even his harshest critics will generally concede he’d been in more than a few gunfights, and knew a great many gunfighters. His peers considered him among the most accurate and deadly of gunfighters, despite the fact that he was by no means a ‘fast-draw.’ Late in his life he shared his thoughts on the subject in an interview, which makes for very interesting reading.
“The most important lesson I learned from those proficient gunfighters was the winner of a gunplay usually was the man who took his time.”
History has shown this to be true; there are innumerable accounts of police and others standing in the face of overwhelming firepower and carrying the day with determination and accurate fire.
When I was shooting a combat-style match back in the mid-1980s I got top score on a stage despite being a middle-to-low ranked shooter. I did not experience an uncharacteristic burst of speed, I wasn’t having an exceptionally good day and it wasn’t luck, either. Some sadistic stage designer had put the stop plate at fifty yards. This is an 8″ round steel plate, and until you knock it over the clock keeps running.
I watched better, faster shooters than me completely blow this. Since time is factored into your score the faster you finish the more points you get, and these folks were in a hurry to hit the plate and stop the time. They missed, got flustered and then hurried even more and kept missing. Many of them had to reload, and one fellow reloaded twice. I took a lesson from this. I shot at my usual pace with my usual accuracy, and when I got to that fifty-yard stop plate I took the time to aim carefully and knocked it over with the first shot. This added maybe a second to my time, but firing one careful shot was enough to win the stage.
Earp was also known to tell people they needed to “learn to take your time in a hurry.” Great advice, but how the hell do you do it? The answer is simple: practice. Of course not just practice, but how you practice is important.
We’ll go back a bit further in time to Fior De Battaglia, written by Fiore in 1403. This work describes training for both armed and unarmed combat as well as a great deal of useful advice. Among that advice was the instruction to ‘Practice slow; in the fight anger will give you speed.’ It’s important to note this is translated from medieval Italian; ‘anger’ in this context refers to the excitement and jolt of adrenaline that hits you when the fight starts.
Further reading makes it plain that he means you to perform the techniques only as fast as you can do them correctly, and this is excellent advice.
Drawing From the Holster
It’s pretty simple, right? Unload your gun, maybe chamber a snap-cap, put it in the holster you carry it in and repeatedly draw it as fast as you can. What could go wrong? Well, you could push too fast, fumble the draw and fling the gun through your TV screen. You might laugh but I know a fellow it happened to, and wasn’t his wife just thrilled? Worse, you’ll actually teach yourself bad habits that will compromise your ability to defend yourself.
So, the basics. The way to train to draw fast is to not draw fast. Learn to draw right and it will be fast when you need it. Start by placing your hand on the grip. Focus on getting a correct grip that you will not need to shift when the gun comes out. If your holster has a thumb-snap build releasing that into this phase of the draw. Practice this a lot; everything else flows from this. If this is hard to do experiment with holster placement and even different holsters until you find one that works. Once you can grip the pistol naturally and correctly without thinking about it you are ready to move on.
Now draw the gun slowly and smoothly. Try to minimize the motion needed; think about what’s happening, where your elbow goes etc. and try to eliminate any unneeded motion. As the gun clears the holster make sure your trigger-finger is on the frame above the trigger, not on it. Bring the gun to eye level, again focusing on removing unnecessary motions. As the gun comes up pick up the front sight as it comes into view and center it in the rear sight as the gun moves into the firing position. Don’t do this any faster than you can do it right.
It helps to have some sort of target to aim at; I cut a small IPSC silhouette out of cardboard and used that. When all of this is working and feeling good then you may elect to dry fire after a pause, and of course the goal is to keep the sights steady and on target through the trigger-pull. The pause is important; in a stressful situation you will do as you trained. You may need to draw the gun and find you don’t need to shoot instantly, and the conscious pause may keep you from shooting automatically when you don’t need to, or worse yet shouldn’t.
OK, got it? Good. Now repeat several thousand times. No, I’m not kidding; you need to drill this until the motions are automatic. In a self-defense situation you’ve got more important things to be paying attention to than your draw. You will need to continually reassess the situation, check your backstop, keep an eye on other people, innocents and bad guys alike, and you may also need to move, take cover etc. Making the draw automatic frees you up to give all these things the attention they need.
You can do this at the range too, if they let you work from the holster. Mix it up; draw and fire one shot, then three, then two, then five etc. The idea is to not train yourself to fire one shot and stop, or for that matter any set number of shots. Again, don’t try to shoot fast, shoot right. Put the bullets where they need to go.
Another simple thing you can try is firing at the blank back of targets. After all unless you are shooting at an inept super-villain they wont have a convenient bullseye on their chest.
How effective is this sort of training? Look, people are different and we all have our own ‘speed limit,’ but properly done when the excrement hits the fan you’ll draw as fast as your body allows. After practicing this extensively in my youth I could draw faster than a man could click the button on a stopwatch. You might not be that fast… or you might be faster. More important than absolute speed is getting accurate hits on the target.
Once you have the basic draw on autopilot then practice it sitting, crouching, lying down and any other way you can think of. Your not likely to find yourself in a western-movie style shootout, after all. If people start shooting your first priority might be to get behind cover. Practice one-handed draws and firing too, and shooting with your weak hand.
Even when not drawing from a holster practice raising the gun so that the front sight is the first part you see, and focus on that as you bring the gun to bear just as you do practicing the draw. Do it the same each time, and do it no faster than you can do it correctly. Train to have a proper sight picture for each shot, and don’t fire faster than you can do this and exercise proper trigger control. Yes, rapid-fire is fun, and I usually use it when evaluating a gun. No reason you can’t also, but don’t focus on it; it’s extremely easy to train yourself in bad habits this way.
What you are trying to do here is train ‘muscle memory,’ for several reasons. One reason is because you will fight as you train; if you train to do it right the odds are that in extremis you will also do it right.
Another reason is that so you won’t be thinking about it when you need it; you’ll have attention free for other matters as mentioned at the beginning of this article. I trained this way, and when I needed to draw a gun in the course of duty I usually became aware that I had done so when the sights intruded on my line of sight; my brain was occupied with analyzing the situation. In at least one case this saved a very stupid person’s life.
Last but not least this trains you to point the gun very close to your point-of-aim. In an actual shootout, which might happen too close and too fast for a sight picture, you’ll pretty much be on-target.
You should also train to do reloads and to clear jams. These suck if you are using a revolver, since clearing them generally requires tools and perhaps a trip to a gunsmith. You can always chuck it at the baddie, I suppose. I mean, even Superman ducked when they threw a gun at him… (if you’re old enough to remember that congratulations on making it this far.)
Combat-style competition is also useful, but that may be too committed for many folks. It’s usefulness is primarily that matches are stressful, and learning to operate under that stress will help if things ever get so bad you have to use a gun.
If you plan to carry (and why else would you be practicing your draw from the holster?) invest in a good gun-belt. These are thicker and stiffer than normal belts, and they sometimes contain inserts to give the holster additional support. As I’ve said before having a good gun belt is a life-changing experience. They come in leather, synthetics of different kinds and a wide variety of styles so you can get one that matches your normal style of dress.
Holsters are another place where it really pays to not ‘go cheap.’ Do some research and experiment to find what works for you. You may want more than one option for higher or lower levels of discretion and different seasons. There’s one thing to pay careful attention to, especially with leather holsters. Whether it’s inside the waistband or out, make sure the mouth of the holster is stiff enough that no part of it is likely to fold in and actuate the trigger when holstering the gun.
There’s a lot you can do if you care to; training for armed self-defense can become a lifestyle. Classes, seminars, gadgets… it goes on and on. Bear this in mind, though; history is full of people who have, with no training at all, managed to successfully employ a firearm for self defense. Criminals by and large want easy pickings, and no person with a firearm fits that category. So you get can safety training, learn to shoot and practice the manual of arms for your weapon and odds are you’ll be fine. Or you can take the red pill and see how deep the rabbit-hole goes.
Michael Tinker Pearce, 4 April 2021
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