Decreasing the time to draw your gun

Via email from co-worker Chet.

Although I haven’t heard any trainers directly address this it has been hinted at by some:

Scientists discovered that people move faster when reacting to something than when they perform “planned actions”.

In an experimental “duel”, published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, they studied the speed of these two types of movement.

Pairs of participants were put in a button-pressing competition with each other. Each was secretly given instructions of how long to wait before pushing a row of buttons.

“There was no ‘go’ signal,” said Dr Andrew Welchman from the University of Birmingham, who led the research.

“All they had to go by was either their own intention to move or a reaction to their opponent – just like in the gunslingers legend.”

Those who reacted to their opponent were on average 21 milliseconds faster than those who initiated the movement.

During one or more of the classes I took from Insights Greg Hamilton told the students to “use your startle reflex” when the buzzer goes off to decrease your draw time. It works.

You can actually see it other shooters. New shooters take a lot longer to start moving their hand toward the gun and it moves slower when it does move. Tell them to use their “startle reflex” and after a few repetitions you will see their hands jerk into motion and reduce the amount of time required to get their gun deployed.

Apparently we have different pathways in the brain and we can consciously reroute the signals to decrease the time.

This strengthens the wisdom taught in NRA Personal Protection courses about “drawing a line”. The students are told they must have a mental threshold past which they will take some sort of action. It might be something like “the door opens” when someone is trying to break into your safe room. Or “they come around the corner of the counter” when the bad guy is advancing at you with a knife. You are reacting to something the bad guy did. In addition to increasing the speed of your response to a threat you are less likely to suffer from a “boiled frog” situation where the situation escalates and you keep postponing your response because “it’s not that bad” yet.

Update: See also the Scientific American podcast via Say Uncle.


5 thoughts on “Decreasing the time to draw your gun

  1. Did they do any precision motor skills tests, or is this a question of who can draw and miss first?

  2. The study quoted above didn’t use a real gun. They were just pushing buttons on a board.

    At Insights we were shooting into IPSC targets and had to get A-Zone hits.

  3. 21 milliseconds? My measured reaction time (buzzer to shot with finger on the trigger) is around .20 which is good. Maybe somebody extraordinary can do it in .15, but adding in .021 is the difference between a 1 second draw and a .979 second draw. I don’t think that this is significant if your opponent starts moving first–I don’t think that there are any two shooters that evenly matched. The way to test this with real guns is to set up a mirror such that the “reactor” can see the “aggressor” start his draw. You’d need a stop plate, but hey, this sound like a fun steel stage!

  4. 21 mS in their tests.

    Do the tests with a student using a gun as I described and you will see something that is very visible to the naked eye. I’m guessing it is on the order of 200 to 500 mS.

  5. I have no argument that someone can drop their reaction time considerably by using their startle reflex (or as I learned it from Guy via Kevin: train yourself to react to the START of the buzzer). The UK test, as I understand it, was to see how fast, relative to an opponent, someone can react and get off a shot.

    If we are talking about starting a draw in reaction to an opponent starting his draw I think that the initiator is going to have a time advantage that a well matched reactor will not be able to overcome due to a .021 advantage.

    I think we can test this with a mirror and a crossover popper.

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