The Quest for the Sub-Second Draw

I am not sure when the quest for the sub-second draw became a thing, but clearly it did.  I am happy to not be on Facebook anymore, but whether it’s on Reddit, YouTube, or on the gun forums, it seems like this is the Holy Grail for many handgun owners.

What is the sub-second draw?  If we’re going to talk about it, we should probably define it.  For most, it would seem that this is defined as a draw of the handgun on a beep, from concealment, with a hit on a USPSA A-zone, at 7 yards, all in less than 1.0 seconds.

Full disclosure:  I cannot do this now, have never done this in the past, and, unlike many, I am not currently on a quest to do so.

This became a bone of contention a couple of weeks ago when our friend, Chief Lee Weems, recorded an episode of his podcast, “That Weems Guy”, titled:  “Bryan Eastridge on Things More Important Than a Sub-Second Draw.”  Whoa!  While I am sure some pleasantries were exchanged on social media, I saw a particular blow-up on one of my favorite firearms forums.

In one of the great—if not surprising—ironies, the person who took the most offense to this podcast title ADMITTED THAT HE HAD NOT LISTENED TO THE ACTUAL PODCAST!  Imagine that.  So it seems that the clickbait/provocative title did its duty in causing a bit of a stir.  As it happened, Weems and his guest did not even spend much time on this topic during the podcast.  However, after “the great controversy”, Weems, in a subsequent podcast, spoke with Spencer Keepers of Keepers Concealment, where they focused even more on this topic.  In my opinion, both episodes are well worth a listen, especially if you have a long drive in front of you or if you, like me, have an energetic dog who insists on five walks a day while you’re on vacation.

Regardless, it seems as if the major arguments by Mr. Offended (who recently had the USPSA Grandmaster title bestowed upon him) are that the sub-second draw indicates not only that the person has a fast draw, but also that it is a surrogate for other skills.  In doing so, he referenced a chart found in “Strategies and Standards for Defensive Handgun Training” by Karl Rehn and John Daub.  This chart originally appeared on pistol forum (I believe John Hearne was its primary creator), but this is the only book I have ever found it in.  John and I both own signed copies of this book.  I do not see “sub-second draw” on the chart, but I would assume it would be in the area of USPSA Grandmaster (?).

Okay, so, backstory out of the way, I thought I would take a few moments to explain why I personally am not currently on the quest for the sub-second draw.  In no particular order:

1.  I don’t regard the sub 1.0 as a “surrogate” for any other skill.  It is what it is.  It MAY be indicative of other skills, but I hardly think it’s a 1:1 correlation as per Karl Rehn’s chart (I know this because I personally am all over the place on that chart!).  I think it was Mike Pannone who once said that a better measure is to draw and fire 2 shots.  One shot allows for a sloppy grip.  With two shots, your grip may fall apart between shots 1 and 2.

2.  All of the “been-there, done-that” (BTDT) people I know and have trained with agree that the mechanics of shooting makes up a very small percentage of gunfighting.  ALL of them.  While none of them would poo-poo less skill in general, most would agree that once a certain level of proficiency in an area is attained, one should move on to other skills before trying to fight the law of diminishing returns on that first skill.  Personally, I think there’s a reason that many government agencies use the 1.5 par time for that same skill.  Indeed, in Paul Howe’s handgun standards (on his CSAT target, which is similar to a USPSA target), the standard for this skill is 1.7 seconds.  And I don’t think too many people would scoff at Paul, his standards, or his achievements in actual fights.

3.  Draw time matters way more in match scenarios than elsewhere due to accumulated time.  In a match of 8 stages, if you are .25 seconds faster than me on the draw, then that’s 2 full seconds by the end of the match, which can be a lot.  For all the marbles, I can’t see too many situations where you’d be drawing multiple times, so you’d just be .25 faster than me.  That quarter second CAN be significant, but most of the BTDT crowd seems to agree that it probably will not be.

4.  Consequences.  On the square range, in a match, etc., there is no reason NOT to push it.  Maybe a hurried miss or grabbing cloth with pistol will cost you a stage or even a match.  But when it’s truly for everything, I’d rather take the extra beat to be sure I have the clean draw, the sights I need, etc.  There are legal and life and death consequences that come with being too fast by .25 seconds, but not many that come with being too slow by .25 seconds.

Notice, I am not saying that it is good to be slow!  I think the fastest I ever achieved on this skill test was a 1.29 as recorded some years ago by Mike Pannone in class.  Typically, cold, I’m around a 1.6 in my regular attire (note:  unlike some guys with blazing draw speed, I don’t get to stroll around in a hoodie all day).  Just this past weekend my training group timed everyone at 5 yards doing a hard off-line movement, concealed draw, and trying to hit an equilateral triangle (six inches per side) drawn on the chest of an IDPA target (thus, the target was a little less than 18 square inches….a USPSA A-zone is about 66 square inches).  My time:  1.77 seconds. 

Mr. Offended said that everyone should be able to achieve the sub-second draw with just 10 minutes of practice per day.  Well, let’s see.  If you practice six days per week (on Sunday he rested), times 52 weeks in a year, that’s 52 hours per year spent working on the draw.  Hmm.  I think I would rather break up that 52 hours spending time with my kids, practicing my tourniquet applications, working out, reading books, studying use-of-force law, taking training classes, being a decent husband, etc. 

Let’s look at another technical shooting skill:  the reload.  I have no idea what my current time would be on something like a 1-reload-1 drill.  So, to define, let us just say 7 yards, starting at low-ready with a  single round loaded, on beep fire the one round, perform a slide-lock reload, and fire one again.  Assuming all hits are in the A-zone.  I would imagine a USPSA grandmaster can perform that drill in around one second (?).  Clearly, this is a skill that is necessary for matches, as each stage in a match might require several reloads.  A person who is .25 seconds faster than everyone else might end up a second or more ahead PER STAGE just on the reloads.  But, based on data from John Correia of Active Self Protection (who, last I heard, has looked at over 10,000 gunfights on video) and Tom Givens’ 68 students who have been involved in armed encounters, reloads NEVER happen.  So an aspiring grandmaster might put in hours of time practicing reloads, thinking they will be of vital importance in an armed encounter, when, statistically speaking, we know that they probably never will perform a reload in such an encounter.  Would that training and practice time have been better utilized working on other skills once some basic competencies have been mastered?  I’ll let you be the judge.

I think if you have the time and will to train to that sub-second standard, go ahead.  There is nothing wrong with more skill.  To me, though, I look at it like this.  Mr. Offended is like the equivalent of Usain Bolt, putting up a world record 9.58 in the 100 meters.  Impressive?  Hell yes!  But how would Usain Bolt do in the Decathlon, where he would also have to run 400 meters, 1500 meters, do 110 meter hurdles, throw a discus, a shot put, a javelin, then also do the pole vault, high jump, and long jump? I would say there is probably a reason no decathlete holds the world record in any single event.

I spend my training and practice time trying to be a decathlete, not a sprinter.  There are only 24 hours in a day.  I have to follow the advice of all of my BTDT friends and, once I have reached some core levels of competencies, move on to other things that could also prove to be really important in a fight for life.  As my primary mentor told me once, in reference to another USPSA Grandmaster shooter:  “he has to be fast because he would not see the problem coming as fast as I would.  In fact, if I saw it early enough, I wouldn’t even be there.”  This is the same guy who, upon first meeting me, had me shoot less than 20 rounds from a concealed draw and promptly said, “Okay, you’re good enough.  Stop with all the square-range classes and start doing things where you’re thinking with a gun in your hand.”  I went through 16 realistic scenarios in force-on-force class last year (under his ever-watchful eyes).  I did not need a sub-second draw in any of them. 

As always, thanks for reading.  We would love to hear your thoughts on chasing the sub-second draw and other such measurable standards.  Feel free to comment below, as we always welcome civil discourse.

Edit to add: I have written a Part Deux to this article. Please read it here.

14 thoughts on “The Quest for the Sub-Second Draw

  1. I’m at BTDT guy x2. I live by a couple of simple axioms. 1) Space gives you time, time gives you options. 2) Never shoot faster than your Guardian Angel can fly. I have shot IDPA and USPSA over the years, but I made my living as a soldier and a cop for almost 40 years. Speed is fine, but accuracy is final.

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    1. Bob,

      Amen! I think an argument COULD be made that the faster you are provides more time for cognitive “work” to take place. Like the hand-to-hand black belt who knows he can probably handle many different situations(physically), he can use his head to problem solve vs. worrying about what skills to use.

      But, to me, the time and work it takes to get to that level of speed/skill vs. using that same time and work to develop other skills just isn’t worth it (once a certain level of skill has been mastered).

      Thanks for the comment!

      -Robert

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  2. I’m gonna take another stab at this. Let’s look at my training schedule, I dry practice occasionally not daily but often, some days Many times. The session last 2-5 minutes and unless I’m trying for a FAST coin have very few reloads in them. What they do have is the Fastest draw I can do cold every time…. Then I work to refine the draw for a few reps I like to call them “ Learning “ reps, then turn the heat on ALL of it. So I’m not necessarily saying I’m doing a sub second draw. But I’m doing it as FAST as I can for the “ Performance” draws These are the ones that when you need them you need them NOW. From my FnF experience (and kudos for doing that) only two draws work. One Right NOW. And some form of a stealth draw. Anything else will likely have A negative outcome. So with that in mind. Why would you not practice to draw the gun as fast as you possibly can??? Now will that result in a sub second draw? Well if done Efficiently very well might. And it’s not costing you time.. your practicing anyway…. Think of speed like Strength or Knowledge in a fight , I don’t know how much I’ll need but I sure don’t want less of it.

    Also trying to always go fast makes you learn were your limits are , but also allows you to push those limits.

    I’ll leave you with probably my only original quote. You don’t know how to do it till you know how to do it at Speed.

    Oh and Had the gun in the video had a FAST draw .. maybe he could have got the gun in play instead of just getting stabbed…..

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    1. Spencer,

      Thanks so much for the comment.

      No argument from me. I never said I’m on the great quest to be slow, or the great quest for mediocrity. I’m just not on a quest for speed for speed’s sake. In general, faster/more accurate/more skilled = better. No argument there. When I dry practice my draws, I will do some as fast as I can and some excruciatingly slow (depending on what I’m working on). Neural pathways, yadda yadda.

      Agree on the video. That guy didn’t have a sub-second draw. The end result may have been the same, however, though I suppose we’ll never know.

      Agree on the “different draws”. In FoF, of the 4 situations in which I shot, one was an HD scenario so the pistol started on a nightstand, one was a fast draw (where mine was “fast enough”), one involved a bit of a chase with gun drawn whenever during the run, and one was a surreptitious draw. And most of the scenarios were designed in full or in part by “the guy” you mentioned in your podcast with Lee Weems. He’s the mentor I mentioned in my article.

      Thanks again for the comment.

      –Robert

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  3. Very well written article. I found the outrage from the “technical shooting side” to be a bit much. While I am a strong believer in overlearning crucial skill sets, there is also a time demand. Getting to the point of a sub second draw, and then more importantly, MAINTAINING it over your life, requires a substantial amount of time spent working a niche skill while ignoring the skills that can be absolutely shown to be far more frequently needed.

    At this point in my life, I have taught, been the assistant instructor, or participant in multiple thousands of FoF evos. In all that time, I can count on one hand with fingers left over the times I have seen a super fast draw to be a determining factor in a win or loss. I have seen much more often when a really fast draw led to an inappropriate shooting where the shooter would most likely have faced murder charges in real life. Some of those instances were committed by people fairly well known in the training community. And the times when draw speed contributed nothing at all to the win is on an order of magnitude greater than any time it factored in.

    Further, in the past couple of years I have been in many shooting classes that also had people who were “pro-sub second draw” and even had talked on social media that they achieved that feat, yet in none of these classes – with John Murphy, Tom Givens, Mike Pannone, Ernest Langdon, among others, did any of these folks mange to get a sub second draw under recorded time even during a class when they were warmed up and had already shot plenty. So color me a bit skeptical that this magic metric has a snowball’s chance in hell of being performed under life or death stress in a surprise violent encounter.

    Since your mentor is someone who I turn to for advice in exactly these areas, and the fact that you and I know he has actual real world experience in both shooting at and get shot at, I will listen to him before I will some range expert.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Cecil,

      First, color my blog partner John and I happily surprised that people with experience and skill levels like you and Spencer have chosen to comment here, and thanks for the positive feedback. John and I met you briefly at NOLA airport the day before TacCon 2019…..we were with “the mentor”, and you were with Larry L.

      There’s nothing I can really say to your post, honestly. I think you summed things up (in fewer words) than I did! I believe that competitive shooting has a strong and important role to play in defensive training. But far from the ONLY role. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the quest for excellence, as I know you’ve achieved in BJJ, but I KNOW that there are gun owners out there whose training does not venture outside YouTube/Instagram who think that the sub-second draw is the be-all end-all of defensive handgun use, and we know that could not be further from the truth.

      Thanks again. Stay safe!

      –Robert

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  4. Since I’ve been in martial arts for over 40 years and have seen many a very fast individual.

    Yea speed helps… and if you are very close to your opponent speed can be a DOMINANT FACTOR (you don’t have to be good.. just fast.)

    Drawing speed will depend on just how close you are to your opponent and how badly you ‘need’ that gun. If your fist indication of being in jeopardy is seeing a guy with a knife at 2 yards… yea fast draw speed might be a good thing to have.

    Yea yea I know all about ‘awareness’ but.. s*it happens.

    If you can get below a 1 second draw from concealment.. achieve it!

    I can get below 1 second from the appendix position using a J frame Centennial with no problem. Much harder to do with a behind-the-hip holster, coat, and Glock.. much much harder.

    Just like Jeff Cooper’s IPSC logo, Diligentia, Vis, Celeritas (DVC), “precision, power, speed”, train for all three. But note Cooper said precision and speed can compensate for power. Become very fast and accurate.. and yes, keep aware of your surroundings.

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    1. Deaf,

      I’ve got a Part 2 of this article in the works.

      Please note, however, how the sub second draw is defined in this article you just read. We’re talking 7 yards, NOT up close and personal. With a larger target and/or a closer distance, I have found that I do indeed have a sub-second draw.

      I think some people focus on the time and completely ignore the distance and target size. They just declare they have a sub second draw, but then you find that this is on the broad side of a barn at 3 yards!

      Thanks for the comment.

      –Robert

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  5. Robert,

    Have you tried ‘point shooting’ (I know I’ll hear screams over this.) And that, to me, means use the top of the slide to get a fast ‘point’ right below whatever one is focusing on. I find at 7 yards that works very well if one practices that way.

    Now I know there is this ‘sighted fire’ .vs. ‘point shooting’ argument since cavemen times and I have been in THAT argument for a long time.

    I am aware of ‘flash sight picture’, ‘front sight focus’, ‘target focus’, ‘see what you need to see’ (Brian Enos), etc… ways of aligning oneself with whatever one wants hit. I am also aware of two handed shooting ‘stances’ from Weaver to Chapman, to Reverse Chapman (Fistfire), to Isosceles… And the ways to ‘grip’ the gun!!

    I confess I’m a long time IPSC and IDPA shooter. But I am also a long time Jeff Cooper, Charles Askins, and Bill Jordan man to!

    I do think sub 1 second draw from appendix position and decent hit at 7 yards can be RELIABLY achieved. I also doubt from behind the hip using real concealment it can be done.. reliably. Especially if wind or such messes up the concealment garment.

    Can it be done by someone who practices maybe once a week? No. Practices daily.. yes.

    And speaking of practicing daily… a gent named John Wesley Hardin was known to do just that kind of practice… but for most of us folks, we don’t do that unless we wanna be a top ‘action’ shooter.

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    1. Deaf,

      Again, I have a Part 2 coming (probably next week) that will address at least some of this. Hope you come back to read it.

      Thanks!

      –Robert

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