By the numbers–the draw, splits, and reloads

Suppose you are interested in improving your pistol scores in a game where time matters–a lot. USPSA, Steel Challenge, or IDPA for example.

How do you go about that? Well, practice, sure. But what do you practice? And how do you know what your weak areas are? It was several years ago (since this post is about precise units of time it was 12 years, 10 months and 1 day ago) but I took a class called Intensive Handgun Skills and learned some interesting things about this topic.

I’m not sure why but a lot of people spend a lot of time practicing their draw (I used to too). They will spend hours trying to shave another 0.1 or 0.2 seconds off their draw. 0.5 seconds faster? That would be awesome, right?

Maybe not. Let’s do some simple arithmetic.

Suppose you are shooting a fairly simple stage such as El Presidente. You draw (and turn), shoot six rounds, reload, and shoot six more rounds.

That involves one draw, one reload, and ten splits. If you were to cut 0.05 seconds off each of your splits you are just as well off as if you had cut that awesome 0.5 seconds off of your draw or reload.

What about something even simpler? A Steel Challenge stage has five plates and involves drawing and shooting five rounds (assuming you hit them all with one shot). So that is one draw and four splits. In order to match that awesome 0.5 seconds you worked so hard to gain on your draw you need to improve your splits by only 0.125 seconds each.

That doesn’t mean you can ignore your draw or reloads but it does mean, in absolute terms, your split times are generally more important than the draw and reloads.

But how much is there to be gained in your shooting? If you are already getting 0.25 second A-zone double taps on the USPSA target at 10 yards getting another 0.05 seconds represents a 20% improvement. If your draw is 2.5 seconds then 0.5 seconds also represents a 20% improvement to it. One might think that the effort involved should be about the same, 20% either way. Right?

It turns out that isn’t true. Or at least that isn’t the way to bet.

A better way to look at the problem is to compare yourself to other shooters and keep yourself “balanced”. If you improve your weakest areas you will get a better return on your investment in practice time and ammo.

Here is a table they gave us (I added the “Calculated El Presidente” row) at that class nearly 13 years ago:

Intensive Handgun Skills
From Greg Hamilton at Insights ( Standards: All Times Are With USPSA Target.  Range is 10 yards
IPSC: GM: 95->100%, M 85->95-%, A: 75->85-%, B: 60->75-%, C:40->60-%, D: < 40%
Approximate Level
Skill 40% 70% 75% 80% 85% 90% 95% 100%
Group Size (inches) 7.0 4.0 3.5 3.0 2.5 2.0 1.5 1.0
2 shots on one A-zone (split time in seconds) 0.80 0.50 0.45 0.40 0.35 0.30 0.25 0.20
1 shot on 2 A-zone (split time in seconds) 0.95 0.60 0.55 0.49 0.43 0.37 0.31 0.25
Low Ready to 1 A-zone (seconds) 1.50 1.00 0.91 0.83 0.75 0.67 0.59 0.50
Close Quarters To 1 A-zone (seconds) 1.50 1.00 0.91 0.83 0.75 0.67 0.59 0.50
Draw to 1 A-zone (seconds) 3.00 2.00 1.85 1.68 1.51 1.34 1.17 1.00
1 shot, speed reload, 1 shot (split time in seconds) 4.50 3.00 2.75 2.50 2.25 2.00 1.75 1.50
Immediate action (seconds) 6.00 4.00 3.66 3.33 3.00 2.66 2.33 2.00
Remedial Action (seconds) 14.00 10.00 9.35 8.67 8.00 7.34 6.67 6.00
Calculated El Presidente 16.10 10.40 9.50 8.54 7.58 6.62 5.66 4.70
El Presidente (2 each on 3 targets, reload, 2 each on same 3 targets) < 5.0
Demi Presidente (2 each on 3 targets, reload, 1 each on upper A of same 3 targets) < 5.0

In the table above it is assumed you are getting all A-zone hits. If you aren’t getting A-zone hits in practice you are going too fast. You should push yourself until you occasionally get a non-A hit but then you back off such that you are just on the edge.

So if you are already getting 0.25 second A-Zone double taps you are shooting at about 95% of the skill level of the best shooters in the world. But if your draw is 2.5 seconds you are at about the 55% level. If you spend your time on your draw you should be able to cut 0.5 seconds off of it much faster and easier than you could cut another 0.05 off of your splits. And probably you will get over a full second off of it without too much trouble.

This assumes you are using the proper technique. You may be hitting a “wall” because you are practicing the wrong thing. If you are way off “balance” and things aren’t getting better as fast as you think they should then get some expert instruction to make sure you are practicing the right thing. Remember what Say Uncle said one year and five days ago.

Similar trade-offs can be made for determining what other skills you should practice.

Keep it balanced and practice the right things.


1 thought on “By the numbers–the draw, splits, and reloads

  1. Good report.

    What I found interesting during a practice session a couple of months ago was that it required a conscious decision to pull the trigger faster. My ususal shooting “style” was the usual “front site, press, repeat”, but I’d worked so much on trigger control before I discovered IPSC, that my front site press routine was slow and methodical because I wasn’t shooting against a clock. My improvents shooting IPSC have been in draw, movement, and mag changes. None of my improvement came in the form of splits, because I never considered it to be an issue (single stack .45 shooting factory ammo) and I’d score in the 80-95% As, 5-20% B/C/D range.

    It was an epiphany for me when we were fooling around after setting up for our monthly match (we set up Saturday and shoot Sunday in our club). I’d switched from my Kimber to an STI Eagle 6.0 (six-inch barrel) in .40 cal. We were shooting one and two shot draws and checking draws and splits. My buddy, a B-class shooter like me, pulls the trigger like a madman and while our draws were nearly identical, he was killing me on splits, something like .20-.25 for him and .4-.5 for me. I’d found where I needed to improvement. The hard part is working it into dry fire practice, can’t fake the recoil, can’t reset the trigger, it’s more that I’ve had to just keep up a mental mantra of “must go faster, most go faster, faster would be better”.

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