How to Speed Up Draw Time from a Holster

The first to get shots on target in a gunfight usually wins. Here are some tips on how to improve your draw time. (Hint: the key is practice)

Thanks to Instagram and other social media, the firearms community is full of videos of people showing off their crazy fast draw times, be it drawing a gun from concealment or drawing from an open carry holster. People love to show off their impressive times on their shot timer, and for good reason. In competitive shooting and in the firearms self-defense world, getting the first shot on target is quite important. In the self defense world in particular, draw times are especially important as the first person to get shots on target usually wins.

Why you should care about draw time

Many conceal carriers don’t believe they need a fast draw time from a holster – and that is a poor idea to have. A fast, and more importantly, consistent draw from a holster is critical for any conceal carrier. Don’t believe me? Go watch some videos of real life self defense on Active Self Protection. Violent encounters happen quickly, you don’t have a lot of time to go digging for a gun, especially if you’re trying to counter ambush an attacker.

Most criminals don’t telegraph their intentions. You need to be able to draw your gun out of its holster and into the fight at a moment’s notice. Take a look at these idiots trying to rob a gun store and how important a fast draw stroke was to ending the threat.

Could you get your gun out fast enough to end the threat here?

A good draw time from concealment is about 1.5 seconds. A great draw time from concealment is under one second.

How to speed up draw time from a holster

The only way to speed up draw time from a holster is practice. But this practice can’t be just any practice, it has to be deliberate practice of good technique. Practicing bad technique only makes things worse. Practicing without purpose won’t help shooters obtain mastery.

Here’s the breakdown of a good draw stroke and tips on how to improve it.

How to draw a pistol from concealment

The first step in speeding up your draw stroke is making sure you have an efficient one. If you haven’t taken a conceal carry class, go take one. Unfortunately, a license to carry class doesn’t count as I don’t know a single state program worth a darn when it comes to teaching actual technique. Seriously, go take a conceal carry or other handgun class and it’ll really help you become a better shooter, even if you think you’re already a good one.

In the meantime, here’s a quick video on drawing a handgun from a concealed holster.

Break down the entire draw stroke

Slapping on a holster and pulling the gun out a thousand times won’t magically make someone a better shooter. It’s critical to break down an entire draw stroke into individual steps and focus on each individual skill. Start slowly, and make sure to build good habits. If the firing grip is sloppy, it doesn’t matter if you get sights on target quickly. If the draw stroke is fast an efficient, poor sight alignment will nullify the speed of the draw stroke.

When practicing drawing from a holster, pay attention to each step in the draw stroke and what your sights do as they get on target. Pay extra attention to consistency. Getting a 0.9 second draw stroke once doesn’t matter if your average is 2.1 seconds.

Get a consistent firing grip

The first step of a draw stroke is obtaining a solid firing grip. A poor firing grip will invalidate all other steps of the draw stroke done well. The handgun should be put in a consistent place on a strong gunbelt – the last thing anyone wants is to have to seek around to find the gun.

When grabbing the gun, make sure to get as high of a grip as possible on the pistol – a grip that doesn’t require any adjustment after the pistol leaves the holster. Grabbing the gun in the holster is an excellent drill in of itself. No need to even draw the gun. Simply grab the gun, over and over.

If you’re drawing from concealment as a CCW holder, practice clearing your garment while you’re at it. If you’re drawing from an open carry position with a retention holster for law enforcement, deactivate the retention.

Jerry Michulek Drawing a Pistol

Build an efficient draw stroke

Efficiency means removing all extraneous movement. Most shooters have more excess movement in their draw stroke than they realize. Not only does extra movement slow down the draw stroke, but it also increases the chances of error. Erring in a draw from concealment during a defensive encounter can result in a failed defensive encounter.

John Lovell has some excellent tips on an efficient draw stroke. Jerry Miculek also has an excellent video reviewing all of the steps of a fast draw stroke. Both videos are well worth watching.

Follow the advice of either of these excellent instructors and you’ll do great.

Obtain habitual sight acquisition

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and the same goes for shooting technique. Drawing a handgun out of its holster quickly for those Instagram likes means nothing if shooters can’t actually hit what they’re aiming at. Obtaining a good sight acquisition must be instinctual.

It’s been shown that most shooters don’t actually see their handgun sights in force on force situations. So if proper sight alignment becomes instinctual, then the sights will be on target or close to on target without even realizing it.

Shooters need to acquire their sights so many times they can close their eyes, draw the handgun from a holster, and have the sights be aligned after opening their eyes. It’s easier than many people would think – it simply takes lots repetition over time. It’s an important skill to develop as it means you can instinctually point a handgun and have your sights aligned and mostly on target.

Don’t go “fishing” or “bowling” during the draw stroke

An efficient draw stroke means you push the gun out. It’s difficult to explain via text, so be sure to watch any of the aforementioned videos to ensure you know this process. Pushing the gun out during the draw stroke gives you the option of firing the gun from close retention in an emergency and it also allows you to acquire your sights during the draw stroke rather than after the gun is already all the way out.

What a lot of shooters do is raise the gun up instead of pushing it straight out from their chest or bringing the sights over the target and back down onto the target. Think of it like going bowling or fishing.

When raising the gun up during the draw stroke, or “going bowling,” the front sight is down below the rear sight and not visible. This results in the shooter delaying their first shot while hunting for the sights or firing without seeing their front sight and missing what they’re aiming at – both are bad.

When coming over the top during the draw stroke, or “going fishing,” the gun is pointed over the target and blocking your view of the target. This also creates a delay in lining up your sights because you can’t see your target until after the sights have already passed it.

When properly pushing the gun out during an efficient draw stroke, your sights should be lined up long before your arms reach full extension.

Improve general reaction time

A very fast draw stroke doesn’t matter if you take a second to react and go for the gun. So improving your reaction time can help. Check out The Human Benchmark and test your reaction time. Mine is right around 220ms while the average is right around 260ms. If you’re above average, awesome, you’re off to a great start. If you’re below the 260ms average, you might want to work on this a little bit.

I wouldn’t dedicate an entire training day to improving reaction time, but making an extra effort to improve reaction time would certainly help. The incorporation of a shot timer into a training regimen is a great way to improve reaction time while training other skills.

Measure progress

Measure progress

If you’re serious about being fast out of the gate with a pistol, I strongly recommend getting a dedicated shot timer. The phone app shot timers aren’t very accurate and aren’t worth your time. A dedicated shot timer will help test part times and provide quantifiable data on progress. The Pocket Pro 2 is the shot timer I use.

Here are some tips for using a shot timer in dry fire practice.

Videoing your draw stroke from multiple angles is another way to measure progress. A third person view is an excellent way to identify problems in your draw stroke. Maybe when drawing from concealment you have some extraneous movements with your arm, that can be difficult to identify yourself, but can be easy when playing back video in slow motion. It’s also quite gratifying to go back and watch an old video and see the progress you’ve made over time.

Build a training plan

A fast draw stroke doesn’t happen by accident, it requires dedicated practice. Build out a training plan and focus on each individual component of the draw stroke. One day focus on clearing a concealment garment while another focus on building a good firing grip or obtaining sight alignment. If you’re struggling with one area, repeat those drills the next day.

Remember, all shooting skills are perishable, even drawing a gun from a holster. This is no different than any other skill. Practicing every day for a month and then not practicing for the rest of the year will result in losing much of that proficiency. It’s better to practice a little bit every few days than to have long training hiatuses.

All of the skills reviewed in this article can be practiced at home through dry fire. That means no cost of ammo, no range fees, and all you need is 15 minutes of spare time.

Here’s some tips on how to dry fire.

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Photo via the US Air Force

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Brian Purkiss
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Brian Purkiss is a firearms instructor, competitive shooter, proponent for individual liberty and Second Amendment rights, and a web developer. He enjoys competing in and organizing Run and Gun Competitions, as well as shooting in USPSA, Outlaw matches, and 3 Gun.