Skip to main content

The Quick and the Dead

The Quick and the Dead

Hollywood fast draws aren't what win the fight.

The belief that we must possess the ability to draw our defensive handgun at blinding speed spans generations. For me and others who grew up during the 1950s and early '60s, the Westerns of film and televison had the heroes almost always winning face-to-face gunfights due to out-drawing the bad guy. The quick-draw craze that took hold had formal contests of blanks-firing competitors engaged in shoot-outs where they dueled against downrange balloons. TV and film stars got into the act as well, with appearances in which they demonstrated their abilities in yanking, twirling and shooting their cowboy guns from quick-draw rigs.

A visibly aggressive draw telegraphs your intent and should be avoided in street situations. Slow, smooth and relaxed is more likely to carry the day.

Adding to the apparent importance of having a quick draw, an exceptionally talented lawman named Bill Jordan, a U.S. Border Patrol Inspector, also appeared on TV where he repeatedly demonstrated his fast draw from a uniform duty rig. He'd showcase his draw by starting with a ping pong ball on the back of his hand, which he held waist-high above his holstered and blanks-loaded revolver. He then drew, fired and hit the ball before it could drop into the holster.


This obsession with a fast draw might have gone away, as do most fads, except for the introduction of a new combat shooting game: IPSC. International Practical Shooting Confederation contests had (and still have) competitors begin most courses of fire with their handguns holstered and, as time was one of the major factors in determining a winner, the quicker the gun was put into action the better the score. (Assuming everyone would also be able to shoot as well as they could draw, of course.)


Rational thinking was quite scarce at the time, as few looked back at the holsters successfully worn and used by generations of armed men, the design of which did little if anything to enhance the ability to draw a handgun quickly. In short, many of us spent altogether too much time developing and maintaining our quick-draw abilities.

In those dark ages of no economically priced electronic timers, defensive handgun quick-draw practice was often simply done by using a coin on the backs of our hands, outstretched and extended at shoulder level. The goal was to draw and fire before the coin hit the floor. (This works out, depending on your height, to about two-fifths of a second.)


I got so good at this that I was able to do it from waist height, but I abruptly stopped such practice when I was so quick that I triggered a round into the floor in front of me. (Others simply shot any number of defenseless mirrors, as well as themselves.)


With this rich history, it's not surprising that this emphasis on drawing one's handgun as fast as possible remains with us today, but I see it as a continuing impediment to learning and practicing more-important self-defense skills.

Let's be clear about one thing. Few, if any, gunfights ever were--or are--won based on a quick draw. If you beat the bad guy's effort and shoot him first, well, he'll simply shoot you second. Of course, you could manage not to be shot if you shoot accurately enough to shut him down right then.

Going along with this, drawing and firing into an already-drawn gun is a final act of desperation, done when you absolutely know you're going to be shot right then. And the aforementioned quick-draw results are still applicable.

Why, then, do we continue such practice, attempting to shave tenths of a second off our draw time? The simplistic answer is because we can, and we can see improvements--and, besides, it's fun.

Sure, there are instances where a fast draw has either stopped the fight without any shots being fired or the quick-draw artist shot first and the opponent stopped his activity simply due to having been shot--not because his "circuitry" had been interrupted.

I've made such a draw probably fewer than six times in my entire career as a lawman and never as a legally armed, non-sworn citizen. However, smoothly producing my handgun has been a fight-stopper countless times. This smoothness, coupled with the lack of posturing before drawing my gun, has been a life saver--both mine and theirs.

Recently, during a defensive tactics seminar I was conducting, one of the participants commented on my draw. He said I drew the gun and shot with the same motion and effort as I might use in handing a newspaper to someone. Well, he nailed it. I explained that what I want to achieve with this draw is not having the threat realize I have drawn a gun until either I fire it or he's looking down its muzzle.

The questioner then pointed out that in a recently held IDPA skills improvement class, Scott Warren, an FBI firearms instructor and national IDPA champion, taught the students to assume and use a very aggressive shooting stance. I explained that both Scott and I are correct; one is for winning a game and the other is for survival. What I suggest doing involves more than the most efficient means of delivering multiple rounds on target in the shortest amount of time. What I suggest is what to do when other options are not workable.

Telegraphing intent by the slightest body movement is something of which both sport and street fighters are well aware. Both read their opponent's pre-attack signals. What I suggest is minimizing if not eliminating these signals when possible and use body movements to misdirect or divert the threat's attention like a magician does.

Assuming a gunfighter stance simply puts the threat on guard; the more relaxed stance tells him nothing. While the aggressive shooting stance may well be quicker, I like "handing newspapers."

One truism remains for both, however: Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast. Or, as this relates to those of us who now have many years to our name: Old age and treachery beat youth and speed every time.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

The New Speer Gold Dot G2 Duty Handgun Load

The New Speer Gold Dot G2 Duty Handgun Load

Speer's Jared Hinton shows OSG's Lynn Burkhead the new Speer Gold Dot G2 Duty Handgun load.

Performance Center M&P Shield M2.0

Performance Center M&P Shield M2.0

From Smith & Wesson, the M&P Shield M2.0 is a great option for a carry gun with optics option.

Dealing with Subcompacts

Dealing with Subcompacts

Jim and Rich cover the benefits and the challenges presented by very small pistols.

Teaching New Shooters

Teaching New Shooters

Julie Golob of Team Smith & Wesson guest stars, joining Jim and Scott for a discussion of how best to introduce new shooters to the sport.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

Small, compact semi-auto pistols are popular with concealed-carry firearm buyers, and these two models – the KelTec PF9 9mm and the Ruger LCP II .22LR – are no exceptions. They are effective for personal protection but only if you put in the time to practice.Compact Carry Pistols Are Effective With Practice Training

Compact Carry Pistols Are Effective With Practice

Handguns Staff - August 14, 2020

Small, compact semi-auto pistols are popular with concealed-carry firearm buyers, and these...

Do you remember the first time you fired a gun? If you're like most, you were somewhatPro Tips For Controlling Recoil Training

Pro Tips For Controlling Recoil

Richard Nance - April 11, 2017

Do you remember the first time you fired a gun? If you're like most, you were somewhat

With the introduction of the XD-M Elite line of pistols, Springfield Armory one-ups itself.Springfield Armory XD-M Elite Precision Review Reviews

Springfield Armory XD-M Elite Precision Review

James Tarr - August 21, 2020

With the introduction of the XD-M Elite line of pistols, Springfield Armory one-ups itself.

One of the newest in the Micro 9 series, the Kimber Micro 9 Nightfall is a serious pistol designed for personal defense.Kimber Micro 9 Nightfall Review Compact

Kimber Micro 9 Nightfall Review

Jeff Chudwin - January 29, 2019

One of the newest in the Micro 9 series, the Kimber Micro 9 Nightfall is a serious pistol...

See More Trending Articles

More Training

When training with your concealed carry gun, train for how you conduct your daily life.Concealed Carry Training: Practice for Your Reality Training

Concealed Carry Training: Practice for Your Reality

Richard Nance - November 13, 2020

When training with your concealed carry gun, train for how you conduct your daily life.

Good stance capitalizes on posture and joints to minimize the effects of recoil.Shooting a Handgun - Stance Matters Training

Shooting a Handgun - Stance Matters

Eve Flanigan - June 14, 2018

Good stance capitalizes on posture and joints to minimize the effects of recoil.

Dry fire training is a great way to keep your skills sharp.Dry Fire Training Training

Dry Fire Training

Richard Nance - September 18, 2019

Dry fire training is a great way to keep your skills sharp.

The Keepers' Test comes to us from Spencer Keepers of Keepers Concealment Holsters, and it's all about draw speed from concealment and pinpoint accuracy.Shooting Drills – Keepers' Test Training

Shooting Drills – Keepers' Test

J. Scott Rupp - January 30, 2020

The Keepers' Test comes to us from Spencer Keepers of Keepers Concealment Holsters, and it's...

See More Training

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE Arrow

Buy Digital Single Issues

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Handguns App

Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Handguns subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now