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Defensive Handgun 101, part 3
by Tim Siewert
As I stated in the beginning of this series, one should always remember and practice the four rules of safe gun handling. I believe that this can not be said too often. But before I get into the draw, I would like to discuss equipment first.
The minimum equipment required to properly learn the draw is a belt and a holster. The beginner should also wear a pair of jeans or pants with belt loops that are large enough to accommodate a sturdy enough belt that adequately supports the holster. There are holsters available that are referred to as “retention” holsters. Some of these holsters necessitate a separate movement to be able to pull the gun from the holster. I do not recommend this style of holster for a beginner. I have one that I use for shooting matches and it does take a while to become accustomed to using even from an experienced shooters perspective. All the beginner needs is a plain holster, whether it is made of leather or some synthetic material. Almost all holsters designed to be used with a belt are designed for a minimum belt of 1 ½” width. There are holsters that can be used with a wider belt, some up to 2 ¼”. A simple holster and belt set-up for learning purposes can be obtained for $20.00 or less.
There are several styles of holsters available: cross draw, shoulder holsters, ankle holsters, and “small of back” (S.O.B.), are available for a wide variety of guns and varied barrel lengths. While most of these holsters, if not all of them, facilitate concealed carry they are not good for the beginner to learn a proper draw. The reason for this is that most of these holsters require additional movements to bring the gun into use; movements that are not required with a strong side holster worn on a belt. There is a style of strong-side holster that is in common use today and that is the paddle holster. While this is yet another good option for concealed carry use, I do not recommend that a beginner use one to first learn the draw. Typically, paddle holsters are “retention” holsters also, and therefore may require a separate movement to bring the gun into use. Paddle holsters are designed to hold the gun close to the body for concealment purposes. This sometimes is a hindrance when first learning the draw.
I would like to point out one other issue where holsters are concerned. This is the issue of shooting in matches. Eventually the new shooter will want to test what he/she has learned. Shooting IPSC/USPSA style matches is an excellent way of doing this. To be able to shoot an IPSC/USPSA style match, a shooter must have a holster, belt and magazine pouches (or speed-loaders and corresponding pouches if the shooter is using a revolver). The holster can only be a strong-side holster; and not even a drop-leg style holster. The reason for this is that the other style holsters, mainly shoulder holsters and cross-draw holsters, place bystanders at risk when the gun is drawn. When the gun is drawn from these style holsters, it is pointed in a direction other than forward, or down, from the shooters perspective. This is an unsafe situation and also something to keep in mind for consideration when choosing a holster for CCW use.
The belt must be sturdy; the stiffer the better. You do not want a belt that will deform under the weight of the holster with the gun in it. A typical gun-belt is made from a minimum of 9 oz. harness grade leather or multiple layered nylon. When I shoot pistol matches, I use a separate belt that is called a duty belt; these are very stiff. My holster and magazine pouches live on this belt. I use belt keepers to secure the duty belt to the belt on my jeans. I mention all of this to illustrate the point that ones' gear is only limited by ones' finances.
The draw consists of three distinct parts: the grip; the pull; and the presentation.
There are some people who like to separate the presentation into two parts: rotation; and then presentation. I believe that this may be confusing for some people because in actuality what are you rotating? In my mind, the only thing that is being rotated during this whole sequence is the shooter’s shoulder.
The Grip- The grip when drawing is the same as when shooting except the supporting hand is not employed until the presentation. It is imperative to obtain a firm grip immediately when commencing the drawing sequence. To do otherwise precludes the effectiveness of the whole sequence. The beginner should start by slowly practicing obtaining a firm grip. The beginner should already have practiced, and know the grip. This is why I recommended learning the draw after learning and practicing basic shooting procedures first. Only after the new shooter has a well practiced grip can he/she start practicing the draw. To do so otherwise will only serve to reinforce bad habits. The grip can be practiced at home with a safe gun. I recommend practicing just the grip from a holster at least for a few sessions.
The Pull- The pull should be straight out of the holster. Again, the beginner should start learning this part slowly. Start by obtaining a firm grip and pulling the gun out of the holster to the point of exaggeration. That is, pull the gun up as far as you can for the first few times. The whole idea here is to reinforce correct muscle memory. This should be done with an experienced instructor at first. The instructor should be able to immediately identify any incorrect nuances and help the student make corrections.
I know all of this may sound rather childish; initially doing all of this slowly and with an instructor watching and all. But like everything else, I have my reasons. I am a self-taught shooter for the most part; particularly when it comes to handgun shooting. Yes I am a Marine and a trained Marine rifleman but until recently, I never had any formal handgun instruction. I found that I had developed some poor habits and needed to correct these. With the help of an experienced tutor, who has since become a friend, I was able to improve my handgun shooting ability. If the new shooter employs the services of a good teacher initially, then hopefully he/she won’t develop bad habits. I have been emphasizing slowly at first because when I first started shooting over 40 years ago, I wanted to be FAST!!; much like any teenage boy. I thought to be fast one had to practice fast. This is not the case as I have since learned. Once one has learned the correct movements in the correct order with sufficient practice, the speed is automatic. This is especially true when the adrenaline starts flowing; this I know from life experiences.
Getting back to the pull- When starting the whole sequence of the draw, the new shooter should start with the supporting hand in the same location for learning purposes. The particular location really does not matter; whether it is at ones side or on your chest, stomach, or belt; as long as it is the same place. A high-master rifle shooter told me a very long time ago that as long as a shooter does the same thing the same way and in the same order every time, said shooter will shoot good scores. This is with the understanding that said shooter is following the basics correctly. The same thing can be said for handgun shooting. The one thing I have conclusively learned is that it is a good idea to start the draw with the supporting hand open. Starting the draw with your fist clenched is not a good idea. Martial arts disciplines also teach this.
The Presentation- Everything comes together during this final stage of the draw, literally. The supporting hand should come up to position as soon as the gun is brought to the forward position. The gun is then brought up to eye level and a good sight-picture is immediately acquired. Again, this all needs to be learned slowly at first. A good way of immediately acquiring a good sight-picture is to bring the gun up with the muzzle of the gun slightly elevated. This facilitates immediate acquisition of the front sight; the front sight will not be obscured by the gun. Also, the gun is brought up relatively close to the body, with a proper sight-picture acquired, and then the final part is to “push” the gun towards the target by finally extending the arms. All of this can be demonstrated by an instructor to clear-up any confusion.
In conclusion- Some shooters like to have their elbows slightly flexed and some prefer to have their elbows locked. This is a matter of personal preference and what works for the individual. Another point: Some shooters tend to keep their head erect. I tend to rest my check against my shoulder when I shoot strong-hand-supported; almost as if my shoulder is the stock of a rifle. I do this almost unconsciously (I think it is a rifleman thing). I mention this merely as a suggestion to illustrate different possibilities.
I hope that this series has been of benefit. I plan on doing a similar series on rifle and shotgun basics as well.
Concerning training and different aspects thereof I plan on having an article entitled “Why we train”. This article will be submitted by a knowledgeable instructor and personal friend of mine. I am looking forward to reading it as I hope you will be, too.