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.