The Combat Draw Stroke

Simple concept--in order to fire your handgun to save your life, your pistol must be in your hand. The mere presence of a pistol on your belt or elsewhere does nothing to stop a deadly attack. Furthermore, once the pistol is drawn, your shots must hit your intended target as misses: a) won't stop anyone, and b) create a secondary problem of ending somewhere unintended (possibly in an innocent citizen).

A draw stroke or the presentation of the pistol must be:

  • Consistent
  • Secure from takeaway attempts
  • Quick on target
  • Methodical
  • Realistic
  • Practiced to a subconscious motor program level

The Draw Stroke

There was a time in law enforcement when arcane comments such as, "The only time my pistol comes out of the holster is when it's smokin'!" Such nonsense has thankfully gone by the wayside. I have pointed pistols, shotguns, sub-machineguns and .223 carbines at hundreds of suspects in my patrol, DB and tactical assignments. That said, as a firearms instructor, I have marveled at police personnel at the range that have clearly not practiced their draw and lack a consistency in their actions from draw to draw. A well performed draw stroke presents the pistol smoothly and ends at eye level in a two-hand hold (preferably in a modern isosceles hold, which is best in high stress situations).

  1. The draw or presentation begins with acquiring a good three-finger grip of the pistol while in the holster. The middle, ring and pinkie fingers get a solid grip high on the backstrap of the pistol while in the rig. The thumb disengages any thumb-break and the trigger finger is straight or bent outside the holster. Obtaining a solid grip here is vital, as shooting to save your life does not allow a re-grip of the pistol later. The support hand is chambered at the chest. The off-hand is used to block, parry, strike or fend off an assailant.
  2. As soon as the muzzle clears the edge of the holster, the pistol is rocked toward the threat and the wrist is locked. The pistol is held at the side with the thumb indexed on the outside of the pectoral muscle. Although some cant the pistol downward at this point, toward the low abdomen or pelvis, I prefer to point the muzzle forward at what would be the chest height of an average adult male. I have heard of this position referred to as "CQB" or "Wing-Guard" position.
  3. The gun hand moves around the front of your torso and meets the support hand at sternum level with both forearms on the sides of the chest. The pistol is centered on your upper body with the top of the slide no further down than the distance of one outstretched hand from your chin. This position is now referred to as "low ready" in many training programs and has replaced the old 45 degree low ready, which cannot be held for long due to fatigue and does not point the pistol at a threat.
  4. Up on Target--as the pistol is pressed outward in a straight line toward the threat, the shooter can begin consciously (or subconsciously) tracking on the front sight or bringing the pistol to eye level. If a shot is necessary, the trigger finger moves inside the trigger guard to initiate the press. If the shooter has time, the front sight is indexed prior to shooting. If the threat is close or the attack spontaneous, the shooter merely "shoots through the pistol."
  5. If the threat has been neutralized or there is no need to shoot, the pistol is returned to position three at chest level in "low ready." The shooter takes a breath and pauses. No one ever won a gunfight by being the first back in the holster.
  6. Position Sul and check your six. Tactical trainer Max Joseph developed and propagated Sul (Portuguese for South). Position Sul points the pistol at the deck in front of the shooter with the support hand opened up and placed on the chest. This position allows the shooter to "check his six" (look around both shoulders to the rear) for additional threats.
  7. Recover to the Holster--the last step is conducted by keeping the support hand at the chest as the gun hand lowers the muzzle toward the deck, and inserting the muzzle into the holster. The thumb of the gun hand is placed on the rear of the slide or on the back of the hammer (in external hammer pistols). The trigger finger is outside the trigger guard and then outside of the holster. The thumb break or hood is then re-engaged.

The Purpose of the Positions

Each of the foregoing steps is a shooting position in and of itself as well as a method of moving and/or searching with the pistol. As soon as the pistol muzzle clears the top edge of the holster, you are in CQB chest-tuck position and able to shoot. If the threat is right on top of you or you are struggling with a suspect that suddenly presents a deadly threat, the off-hand or forearm can be used as in Tony Blauer's S.P.E.A.R. System, Henk Iverson's Shield position or an old football shiver technique.

When the hands meet at position three, you are in a solid two-hand hold that can be used to accurately fire at close range threats. This low ready position can be held for extended periods of time and due to being close to body center is very secure.

A two hand isosceles position at eye level with the admonition to "shoot through the pistol" is preferable to one handed shooting at the hip. Although one handed shooting must sometimes be made, it should be done at eye level. The Fairbairn "three-quarter hip" one-handed position is being pushed by some instructors, but is extremely inaccurate as compared to the Applegate-style eye level shooting position. At the ILEETA conference in Chicago this year, I had a conversation with Applegate proponent Sgt. Mike Conti from the Massachusetts State Police, and author of the excellent new book Police Pistolcraft. I asked Sgt. Conti his feelings about the hip and three-quarter hip positions. Mike believes, as I do, that if you physically have enough room, you should bring the pistol to eye level because of the vast improvement in hit probability. For instance, I recently ran six shooters who had been trained in the Fairbairn method, through force-on-force with airsoft. All six shooters missed four to five rounds while shooting at me from a distance of six to eight feet. All errant rounds went to the shooter's right and low. Only when the shooters brought the pistol up to eye level did they score hits on their adversary (me). This eye-level shooting has been scientifically studied and verified. Recently Dr. Lewinski of Force Science, Ron Avery of the Practical Shooting Academy, and Randy Revling and others from Northeast Wisconsin Technical College conducted a naïve shooter study where non-law enforcement personnel with little to no shooting training were tested. According to Randy Revling, in excess of 99% of the shooters instinctively brought the pistol to eye level and were capable of amazing accuracy (headshots) at close range.

A consistent draw places the pistol on target with a concept that Col. Jeff Cooper meant when he said, "The body aims and the eyes verify." The whole package of the draw from placing the hand on the pistol in the holster to eye level two- or one-handed shooting, forms a system that can be performed under life threatening stress and delivers the maximum accuracy potential based on hand/eye coordination. So unload your pistol, double check its empty status, and practice. Daily practice draws will quickly develop the skill you'll need on the street to save your life. Then when confronted with a deadly threat, the pistol will be in your hand and up on target without conscious thought. That's the purpose of the draw and your practice will allow you to save your life!

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