Safety and Training

To Shoot Faster, Stop Thinking

David Kenik demonstrating a right angle draw stroke

There are a couple of often-used axioms when it comes to speeding up our draw stroke and shooting: “Slow is smooth, smooth is fast” and “reduce motion to increase speed,” also known as “Conservation of Motion.” Both concepts are valid. It certainly makes sense that the fewer number of movements that you make and the less distance that you cover, the faster your action will be.

David Kenik demonstrating a traditional draw stroke
The traditional draw stroke has the shooter extending the gun, then lifting it to the target.

Likewise, it is good advice to smooth your movements as it takes longer to get a proper sight picture when having to correct a jerky draw stroke than by moving a bit slower, but smoother. When it comes to gun fighting, however, there is another element of speed not often discussed; it is what I call, “Conservation of Thought.”

Under the extreme stress of a lethal encounter, the body goes into a process called Body Alarm Reaction. Under stress, the body rapidly dumps large amounts of adrenaline and other chemicals into the system. This chemical dump has numerous physiological effects. The types of symptoms and their severity differ, but common effects are:

  • Increased blood pressure and respiration
  • Increased blood supply pumped to the major muscle groups
  • Decreased dexterity in the extremities due to reduced blood supply (due to blood being pumped to larger muscles)
  • Auditory exclusion (reduced or centralized hearing)
  • Tunnel vision,
  • Time distortion
  • Distance distortion
  • Reduced cognitive ability.

Simply stated, under stress, our ability to think, analyze, and make decisions is slowed and reduced.

Everyone reacts differently under stress. The number of effects that people experience will vary, as will their severity. The good news is that the more we train under stress, the less severe our ‘body alarm reaction’ will be. However, few us will ever have the opportunity to train under any conditions nearing the amount of stress we will experience with a real-life threat. What that means to us in practical terms is that we need to consider the likely physiological effects when developing defensive techniques and by extension, train accordingly.

David Kenik demonstrating a right angle draw stroke
The right angle draw stroke keeps the gun facing the target while being lifted to the chest and then extending forward.

Knowing our cognitive ability will be reduced during the stress of a gunfight, it is beneficial to reduce our need to think about our gun handling techniques. That way, we can reserve what brain power we have available, reduced as it is, for what is most important, conquering our attacker. The way that we do that is:

  1. Practice all of our gun handling skills: drawing, obtaining sight picture, trigger control, reloading, etc., to the point that we have obtained ‘Subconscious Competence.’ Also commonly known as muscle memory, it means that the actions are so well known to us that no thought is needed to accomplish them. This simply means, practice. Practice until you don’t need to think about the motions.
  2. Replace multiple techniques with a single technique that works in all situations so there is no need to waste valuable brainpower making a decision on which technique is appropriate for the situation at hand.

The first on the agenda to modify is the draw stroke itself. Many shooters use a typical draw stroke where the gun swings upward from the holster and the support hand meets the gun hand near full extension. Knowing that this does not work well when close to an object such as a desk or table (the gun will hit the object before being the target presentation) the close quarters draw stroke, also known as the right-angle draw stroke, is used when in a restricted space.

Having the two draw-stroke options does work. However, every time a draw is made, the shooter has to spend the time and brainpower to decide which draw stroke to use. This seems simple and effortless while on the practice range, but could be more difficult and critical in a gunfight.

Performing a tap-rack drill on a pistol
The author uses the tap and rack every time that is pistol manipulated: loading, reloading, clearing jams and unloading. Using the one technique for all actions speeds the process by eliminating the need to decide which method to use.

Every decision takes time and reduces our ability to concentrate on other, more important things, such as the attacker. Also, under stress, with reduced cognitive ability, the decision may not be as simple as it seems. Even if it’s only a split second lost, the time you spend making that decision could be the difference between winning and losing the fight.

The solution is easy; stop thinking by eliminating the decision-making process altogether. Have only one draw stroke. The right-angle draw stroke is effective when you are in close confines, but also works perfectly well for when space is not limited. Use the right-angle draw stroke exclusively and don’t spend another precious split-second deciding which draw stroke is appropriate.

Another step where multiple techniques can be reduced to a single one, is releasing the slide from slide lock. Options are to press down on the slide lock or rack the slide. The problem with using both techniques is that I often see shooters vacillate between the two techniques, wasting valuable time and precious brainpower.

Using the slide lock only works when the slide is locked back, but grasping the slide can charge the gun regardless of the slide position. The requirement of deciding which technique to use can be eliminated by always using the one that works in all cases—grabbing the slide.

It is the same concept when it comes to other aspects of gun handling. Every action that I perform with my handgun is a tap and rack. I tap and rack when I load my handgun. I tap and rack when I reload my handgun. I tap and rack when I empty my handgun and tap and rack when clearing jams. For me, every time that I need to do something with my handgun, I eliminate the requirement to think whether I need to tap and rack or just rack the slide by performing the same action in all instances.

racking the slide on a pistol
Rather than using the slide stop to release the slide, use the gross motion of grasping the slide on its top and pull rearward.

When it comes to jams, keep in mind that a tap and rack will not clear all jams, but it will clear all jams that can be fixed during a gunfight. It will not fix a double feed, however. A double feed is a multi-step process and takes too long to perform in a gunfight. When it comes to clearing jams, my rule is that if it is not fixed with a single tap and rack, transition to a back-up weapon or get out of Dodge.

When it comes to reloading, I perform the same tap and rack technique whether the chamber is loaded or the gun is at slide lock. I don’t stop to think whether the gun simply needs the slide released or to be fully racked. I eliminate the thought process altogether by tap and racking on every reload.


This brings up a salient and sometime contentious issue: with a loaded chamber, a round is ejected and lost when a tap and rack is performed. I often get push back against my technique of always performing a tap and rack, because of the lost round of ammunition. I justify it two ways:

  1. As discussed, by eliminating the need to make a decision regarding which way to reload the handgun, I have sped up the process and maintained my concentration on the threat.
  2. If a reload is needed during a gunfight, the most important thing in the world is to get that gun reloaded—fast. Any process that speeds up the reload is of value.
two security officers practicing shooting with a video simulator
Video simulators, such as this FATS system are a great training tool by inducing stress when replicating real-life situations.

You may be thinking that the time it takes to decide how to draw or cycle the action is so short that this concept is meaningless. This is true on the practice range, yet when under extreme stress, especially for those shooters who rarely, or never, have the to ability to train under stress, making even a small decision under stress can be quite taxing.

One of the best ways to experience this phenomenon is by training with a video simulator or through force-on-force training. When I first started using a video simulator, I noticed my attention focused greatly on the threat and a distinct reduction in my ability to reason. I also realized, that the more I trained under the stress with the videos, the less it affected me. However, as the stress ratcheted upward, the effects of stress reemerged. This demonstrates that the ability to think is diminished under stress and that continued training under stress reduces its effects.

As you shoot in various practice situations, pay attention to the specific techniques that you use. To determine whether you can reduce your need to make decisions, test thoroughly to see if any single technique can replace multiple ones, ensure it will work in all situations, and that you can perform it well while under stress.

Testing your techniques and gun handling skills under stress is not difficult. Increase your speed, add movement while you shoot, shoot under the pressure of a timer, shoot a practice drill with other shooters in a competition, have a shooting partner give you rapid commands, have a partner yell at you to increase stress, or shoot with an interactive simulator or take advantage force-on-force training. While none of these will impose the high level of stress that will be induced in a lethal encounter, these are useful to test yourself and your techniques in conditions other routine range practice.

Do you have tip a tip to faster and more accurately? Share it in the comment section.


David Kenik is the owner of Armed Response, author of the book, Armed Response, and co-author of the Armed Response Video Training Series.

The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (9)

  1. Good article! I spent 32 years with the SDPD and even when I came on back in the ’70’s, our firearms training was IMO excellent! Mainly due to the incredible firearms instructors who were either ex-military or senior officers who KNEW firearms! Our training was innovative, current with real situation events and very realistic!

    As a Patrol Officer I distinctly remember several incidents like confronting an armed suspect exiting a liquor store where after it was over, I have no recollection of me drawing my weapon, yet it was in my hand and pointing at the suspect…training! One instructor, a Viet Nam veteran and SWAT Officer taught ‘tap & rack’…he carried a 1911. His belief was to keep the rounds in the magazine ‘tight & right’. He also would push the top round in the magazine slightly forward so it would feed easier. Stay safe. Stay armed! Trump~Pence 2020!

  2. I’m unsure of the tap and rack method. Most of the new pistols I own that our magazine fed if you smack the magazine in Firmly the slide will automatically release. I will see you in a strong believer in practice drawing your firearm.

  3. Tap and rack, every time? Have you every worked in law enforcement?
    Nobody would take that time or make that extra movement and noise at night during a confrontation. Way too much going on, the radio blaring, bad guys getting out or every door, stuff in their hands, lights flashing?????

    I understand you write books and sell products, that is not my question. After 50 years f carrying handguns, mostly concealed, I think you are over thinking the process. You can also write a book called the 50 steps to maximizing riding a bicycle, but just riding also works.

    In about 1980 or so, research reveiled that thugs without training had better gunfight results than trained police officers. Even the idiots who held their gun sideways did better than traditional strong side carry, draw to a weaver stance then fire. That has not changed. What we learned is that all this training has complicated the brain. How many self defense shootings can you document where a private citizen was required to change magazines, tap and rack to continue a fight. It does not happen that way. Every case where I had guns come out, it was long over before, any need for a magazine change or some remedial action. I certainly support the video training but shoot houses and Hogan’s alley training are for superior. As far as speed training? If you really want to test and improve your skill go out and shoot rats or jack rabbits, starting from a holstered position. If you cannot do that, then you need far more than speed training. I think this article just makes it far too complicated. I have always taught new students to shoot white paper, 8 x 10, put the front sight on target, pull and prepare for another. Pretty simple and whatever speed they can develop will come. After a while we increased the range to the target.

    I actually learned my technique from the legendary Dan Combs, once said to the fastest man alive, before McGivern and McCuleck. Combs taught to draw and fire the instant the barrel cleared leather. He could fire 6 38 wadcutters so fast it sounded like one shot. He is also the guy that could shoot a 50 round burst from a Thompson submachine gun, at 15 feet into a single playing card, which I have seen. His training did not include any “thinking” just draw and fire over and over, getting faster naturally. Just saying. You cannot think you way thru this, just do it.

    Just my 2 cents.

    1. “In about 1980 or so, research revealed that thugs without training had better gunfight results than trained police officers. Even the idiots who held their gun sideways did better than traditional strong side carry, draw to a weaver stance then fire.”

      I remember that article: It specifically referenced getting lead down range & volume of fire. And I agree. Getting off the first shots may be critical, when it’s up close & personal. And clearing a jamb training can be very important. When using the terms slow and steady, they must be taken with the understanding of context. Speed is undoubtedly essential, but it must be efficient speed.

      When shooting in police pistol matches, before the introduction of semi-automatics; from the seven yard line, we had twenty one seconds to fire twelve rounds, the whistle blew, you drew, fired six, reloaded six more and fired them, before the whistle blew again. And this was before speed loaders were popular. With the right hand, you hit the cylinder release, the left hit the ejector, then pulled two at a time from your belt, closed the cylinder and fired six more.

      So, up close, when seconds count, engage asap, when cover is available, use it wisely and incorporate the author’s tips where appropriate. Remember, lining up those sights, especially with a semi, when speed counts, isn’t necessary, just look over the end of your barrel with the center mass above it and let er rip. YMMV.

    2. OG,
      I land on your side of this fence an ascribe to Your an Mr. Combs method an mindset..
      My father and grandfathers taught me my basic skill sets. My fathers dad was an LEO in the upper mid west an then in Montana just after WW1 an into the late 30’s. He taught me instinctive shooting and repetive movement to train mussel memory.
      Learning to be “fast” comes from being slow and deliberate.
      The “fast” that comes from slow an deliberate is almost always responsible for more accurate shot placement.
      The military honed an expanded my understanding and use of my existing game hunters situationl awareness, what my Dad called “ourdoor crafts” adding additional dimensions to that foundation.
      My other GranDa taught me how to shoot a long gun and get accurate hits under stress and excitement.
      I would have liked to see Mr. Combs and his Thompson.
      Thank your for your insite comments to this post!

    3. There was an AP article reprinted in our local paper a couple days ago about a shootout in NY between police (didn’t say how many), and an armed robber with a fake gun. The robber exited the store he had just robbed, pulling the trigger on his fake gun as though he were shooting — a death wish, maybe. The police managed to fire 42 shots, killing one of their own and wounding another. The robber was wounded but listed in stable condition in the hospital. I wasn’t there, but you can bet accuracy was sacrificed for speed with tragic consequences.

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