How to Achieve the Sub Second Draw from a Holster
Retrieve a handgun from a holster efficiently & consistently, then present the sights on target with sufficient precision for the area of acceptable accuracy.
The sub second draw is generally seen as the gold standard for drawing from a holster, doesn’t matter if it is a draw from concealment, draw from a retention holster, or even from a competition holster. But it is a good time standard for an important handgun skill.
The good news, a sub second draw from a holster is very obtainable. It simply requires a shooter to apply consistent efficiency of motion.
What is a good Draw from Holster?
Retrieve a handgun from a holster efficiently and consistently, then present the sights on target with sufficient precision for the area of acceptable accuracy.
What helps a good Draw from Holster?
- Build a firm and consistent grip on the handgun
- Minimal and efficient movement
- Obtaining a consistent sight alignment
- Consistency of movement to help obtain a consistent point of aim
- Eyes locked onto a precision point on target
- The pistol’s sights are stable when getting to full presentation
- Repeatable no matter the hands’ start position
- Repeatable even while moving to a position
- Support hand meets up with the handgun during the presentation
- Both hands move at the same time
- Sights level out as soon as possible, even if they aren’t lined up with the eyes yet
- An athletic stance, with shoulders squared up on target
- Straight spine with good posture
- Handgun moves at a consistent speed during the presentation
- Consistent deactivating of external safety (if applicable)
- Consistently clearing of cover garments (if applicable)
- Consistently deactivating holster retention (if applicable)
- Relaxed muscles, particularly in the shoulders
What hurts a good Draw from Holster?
- Poor hand placement on gun from holster
- Weak and inconsistent grip
- Flagging support hand with muzzle
- Inconsistent hand placement of support hand on gun
- Delayed hand placement of support hand on gun
- Excess movement in the body/head/shoulders
- Handgun doesn’t move in an efficient path to full extension
- Sights bounce around when arriving at full presentation
- Handgun “goes fishing” – up and over eye level to full extension
- Handgun “goes bowling” – down and then up to full extension
- Excess muscle tension, particularly in the shoulders
- Inconsistent deactivation of external safety (if applicable)
- Inconsistent movements
- Hands move one at a time
- Speeding up and slowing down multiple types during the draw
- Catching the handgun on gear and/or garments
- Imprecise point of aim
- Inconsistent (or missing) sight alignment
These are all general guidelines. For example, if we’re drawing a handgun on the move, can’t have a perfect stance squared up on the target. That’s fine. Different situations require different methods of execution. Simply apply the guidelines as best as possible to the situation.
Draw time standards
What is a good draw from the holster time wise?
- More than 2.0 seconds – Needs Work
- Sub 2.0 second draw – Average
- Sub 1.5 second draw – Above Average
- Sub 1.0 second draw – Expert
Why is a fast draw important? Time buys us options. Spot a threat coming? The most options are available. Threat already here? There are few options, but the faster the draw, the more opportunities there will be for a counter ambush.
John Correia’s study of thousands of defensive gun uses (DGUs) show us how distracted an attacker needs to be for each draw speed. (source) The more distracted an attacker, the longer it will take the attacker to recognize the counter ambush, choose which action to take, and re-train their pistol/weapon.
- 2.0 seconds: bad guy has to show you the back of his head and one shoulder in order for you draw on him.
- 1.5 seconds: bad guy has to show you his ear. Full side presentation of the head.
- 1.0 seconds: bad guy has to take his eyes off you. Look away from you directly.
A fast consistent handgun draw is a critical for any self defender. Emphasis is placed on the word “consistent” instead of “fast.”
So let’s dig into the mechanics of drawing a handgun from the holster.
How to draw from a holster
When it is go time, both hands move at the same time.
If drawing from concealment, the support hand clears the cover garment. Get a solid handful of the shirt and raid it enough that the shirt is consistently out of the way, but not so high that it is unnecessary extra movement.
If drawing from open carry, the support hand moves to a consistent point on the chest/belly so it can meet the handgun during the handgun’s presentation.
If drawing from a retention holster, the hand jabs down to defeat the retention methods of that holster.
The primary hand goes straight to the handgun – hitting a point high up on the grip so there’s no gap between the hand and the beavertail. The positioning of the primary hand on the handgun while it is still in the holster is important, as it can determine the quality (or lack of quality) of the grip on the handgun.
While moving both hands, the torso and head should stay un-moving if it is a standing draw. If it is a moving draw, the legs should be driving the movement while the upper body posture remains “proper.” Beware of movement of the shoulders and head – it’s common and creates inconsistencies.
As the handgun clears the holster, the handgun should strive to level out as soon as possible so the sights can be acquired as soon as possible during the presentation.
The path the handgun takes ideally would be in a straight line to the full presentation since the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. A common alternative is to raise the handgun to the chest and push it out, forming an upside down L shape. That is slower, but it can aid in the acquiring of sights during the presentation.
If the handgun has an external safety, somewhere at this point the thumb will de-activate the safety during the presentation. If working with a handgun that has an external safety, this is a very important step. I’ve seen many a shooter draw the handgun, pull the trigger, nothing happens, safety flips off, then the handgun shoots. That is bad no matter the scenario.
Strive to move the handgun at a consistent speed during the presentation of the handgun. Don’t speed up and slow down and speed up and slow down. Choppy movement like that is slow and inconsistent. Be smooth and streamlined during the presentation.
While presenting the handgun, the support hand should meet up with the handgun while it is getting pushed out. Have the support hand pointer finger meet up with the pistol’s trigger guard so there’s a concrete and repeatable point of contact. Wrap the support hand onto the handgun and clamp down with that support hand. A firm solid grip is important for controlling recoil and preventing “limp wristing” malfunctions.
Keep the primary hand thumb out of the way so it doesn’t get tucked under the support hand.
Acquire the sights as the handgun is pushed out to full presentation.
Move the trigger finger to the trigger during the draw. A skill that requires additional practice would be to take up the slack on the trigger while presenting without letting the trigger break. This is called “prepping the trigger.”
Beware of over tensing muscles, particularly the biceps and the shoulders. If all of the muscles in the upper body tense up, they all fight against each other, slowing down the draw and making it less consistent.
And there’s the end – the handgun has been drawn from the holster.
How to draw from concealment
The principles of drawing from concealment are the exact same as drawing from an outside the waistband holster. The only difference is the hands go to different places, and the support hand must clear the cover garment in order to complete the draw.
When it’s go time, the support hand must move to clear the cover garment out of the way. Grab the shirt and lift it up and out of the way – move it high enough that the primary hand won’t get caught but don’t move so high that it adds excessive movement.
Once the handgun is out of the holster, let go of the cover garment and build the grip while the pistol is moving to full presentation. All of these movements should happen all at once in one fluid motion.
Don’t forget to drop whatever is in your hands when drawing the pistol. There’s videos online of people getting caught up in defensive gun uses and not dropping the item they have in one of their hands, even though it is something completely trivial and not worth holding onto. Stress does weird things to people. Get both hands on the gun and go to work. Consider even running drills to practice dropping stuff.
How to get the sub-second standard
The answer is simple: consistency and efficiency.
Work to shave off every thousandth of a second and tenth of a second possible, bit by bit.
… That’s it.
While there are lots of nuance to the execution of drawing a handgun from the holster, there’s no shortcut to fast times other than being efficient and being efficient consistently.
Efficiency and consistency both are earned through putting in the work. So put in the work.
Thankfully draws are easy to work on (for free) in dry fire at home.
Build a solid and consistent grip on the pistol
A fast draw is worthless if it isn’t consistent. A sub one second draw isn’t truly a sub one second draw if it takes thirty two tries to achieve it.
Even if the sub one second draw can be consistently achieved, it is equally worthless if the grip on the pistol is so poor that the second shot is slow and inaccurate. An extra few tenths of a second to ensure a quality repeatable grip is well worth the trade off.
A consistent grip during the draw starts by having a solid and consistent grip as a skill independent of the grip. Build and Release Tension is a good drill for helping ingrain the correct grip pressure on the handgun. Once a consistent grip can be built without the draw stroke, then work on building the grip during the draw.
Get the support hand to the pistol as soon as possible. Both hands should be moving at the same time to be building the grip.
The primary hand should get high up on the grip and fill that gap in the beavertail.
The support hand should get the pointer finger touching the bottom of the trigger guard during the draw to get both hands on the gun.
When building the grip during the draw, be sure to clamp the hands down firmly on the gun. A loose grip leads to slow and/or inaccurate follow up shots and potentially even malfunctions.
It is very possible to have a good firm grip locked in while the handgun is still getting presented to the target.
The 90/10 rule for the draw
Efficiency of motion in the draw
I keep on talking about the importance of efficiency – doesn’t matter the pistol shooting skill. Efficiency is critical for speed, accuracy, and consistency.
A lot of pistol shooters perform a lot of fast movements. It looks fast. It feels fast. There’s fast movement. But it isn’t truly fast because it takes so much extra time to complete the same action.
If I want to run from one side of the room to the other as fast as possible, I’m not going to run quickly in a zig zag across the room. I’m going to move in a straight line to my destination.
This is what efficiency of motion is in practical pistol shooting – across all skill – including drawing from a holster.
If a movement doesn’t help get the pistol from the holster to full presentation in the shortest path possible, then the movement is excessive and therefore unnecessary. Unnecessary movement will slow down the overall draw time, reduce the accuracy of the first shot, and make the entire draw less consistent.
Efficiency is key.
Vision during the draw from a holster
Drawing on the move
Efficiency is about accomplishing multiple actions at one time. Drawing on the move shouldn’t be drawing then moving, or moving then drawing. I commonly see the draw and movement separated out, when they should be accomplished at the same time. The feet should be moving while the hands retrieve the handgun from the holster.
This doesn’t need to be a complicated process, it isn’t. Simply practice both skills so they don’t require active thought and can be worked at the same time.
One of the most common forms of negligent self inflicted gunshots happens during the holstering of the gun. Doesn’t matter if it’s an inside the waist (IWB) holster, outside the waistband (OWB) holster, hip carry, or appendix carry (AIWB). Negligent self inflicted gunshot wounds during holstering can be deadly.
Notice how I said “negligent” instead of “accident.” Shooting the self while holstering is not an accident – it’s negligence. It’s also easily avoidable.
Negligent discharges while holstering can happen because the finger is in the trigger guard, a piece of brass is down in the holster, some clothing is sticking out and in the way of the holster, or any other number of freak accidents that gets something in the trigger guard and pulls the trigger. Even the holster itself can cause a ND if it breaks.
There’s no race to get a pistol back in the holster. Holster intentionally and carefully anytime the pistol is loaded.
- Look the gun into the holster – check for obstructions while holstering
- Keep your finger high on the side of the gun while holstering
- Don’t flag your arms or hands or other body parts while holstering (or your friends!)
- Don’t point the muzzle at the body – keep the muzzle pointed away from the body
- Shift the body so the holster is pointed away from your legs
- Keep the holster maintained and in good condition – replace broken or worn holsters
Recap of the steps for a fast draw from the holster
- Move both hands at the same time
- Keep the head, shoulders, and torso stationary during the draw
- Get the primary hand on a good spot on the pistol
- Merge the support hand with the primary hand and build a firm grip
- Move the gun in a straight (ish) line at a consistent speed
- Acquire the sights while prepping the trigger
Drills drawing from the holster
Avoid one shot drills – be it draw to one shot or 1 reload 1 drills. They are quite poor drills and practically encourage and reward bad habits. Instead, get at least two shots on target. The second shot forces a good firm and consistent grip.
To save on ammo, the second shot can be a snap cap. This is a nice blend of live fire and dry fire training as an added bonus. The first shot on the draw will go bang, put a hole in the target for review, register on the shot timer for those all important social media likes (sarcasm there), and it’ll load the dummy round. The second shot will go click – if the grip or trigger pull is bad, the sights will jump around without any recoil to hide the sight movement. The goal is to have the sights stay effectively still on that second shot.
Self analysis on the draw
Film yourself drawing from the holster. I’m not talking about filming your fastest try out of 30 tries to post on social media. I’m talking about filming yourself during a training session so you can watch yourself and study your movements. A third person view can be quite eye opening when analyzing your shooting skill, especially for the draw.
Try watching the video with the sound off and in slow motion. Are there any motions that don’t help? Does the gun move in an efficient path? Is there a hesitation? Do the sights bounce? Look for all the little details and try to smooth them out.
Smoothing out those little details takes the draw time down a fraction of a second at a time – but that’s how we achieve that sub second draw – shaving off inefficiencies a fraction of a second at a time.
Further Training with:
Written by Brian Purkiss - always a student, sometimes a teacher.
I don't consider myself a competition shooter - I think of myself as a performance pistol shooter. I am all about performing at as high of a level as possible. Towards that end, I am obsessive about learning how to perform. I spend a lot of my life learning from the best across the entire firearms world and even into other areas of performance and other sports. I am a USPSA Carry Optics Grandmaster, currently working towards my second GM title in the Open division.