Decisions and Drawstrokes – What’s really important?

A recent discussion about a man unintentionally shooting his stepson got me to wondering “How fast is too fast?” A little research was in order, so I did two experiments. One was a decisional drill that’s an evolution of the Thinking Drills in my Concealed Carry Skills and Drills ebook. The other was a comparison of the times between Cooper’s original Five Count drawstroke and the Four Count drawstroke it has evolved into.


The Red Black Double Target Decision Drill uses playing cards as a decisional tool. One target is marked red and the other marked black. Both have a high center hit area as well as a head hit area.

red black targets

The shooter’s back is to the targets with a deck of playing card in front. Turn a card over; if the card is a number card, turn to targets, draw to Low Ready (tennis ball between targets), and then engage the target of the appropriate color. If the card is a face card (Jack, Queen, or King), fire a head shot. The Joker is a no-shoot, in which the turn and draw is done but no shot is fired.

red black setup

red black shoot

Shooting the drill requires the shooter’s brain to be engaged in more than just holding and triggering the pistol. What the target is has to be remembered and then correctly engaged. Simultaneously, the physical skills have to be brought into play to execute the mental decision process.

“How fast is too fast?” is shamelessly paraphrased from Dennis Tueller’s article “How Close is Too Close?” and an update in the Armed Citizens Legal Defense Network Journal

The second experiment was a comparison of the Five Count and Four Count drawstrokes. Over the years, the Four Count drawstroke has become fairly standard in the training community. Even though Gunsite currently teaches a Five Count drawstroke, it looks a lot like the Four Count version taught elsewhere.

  • Grip
  • Clear
  • Click (rotate)
  • Smack
  • Look (at the sights)

However, the original Five Count originated by Jeff Cooper was somewhat different. My late colleague Paul Gomez explains it in this video.

The Counts were the same but their meaning had some difference.

  • Grip
  • Clear
  • Click
  • Smack
    • Although the term Smack has been retained, that count was to the Guard position, or what we would call Low Ready now
  • Look (at the sights)
    • In this Count, the pistol is now traveling upward from being pointed below the subject’s feet to the eye-target line, so a shot can be made.
    • There’s an unstated implication in this that if a shot turned out to NOT be necessary, the defender could remain at the Guard/Low Ready position and make a decision about what further Course Of Action to take.

To test the time difference between the Five and Four Count methods, I set up an experiment using two targets and a J Frame revolver.

5 count v 4 count setup sq

One target had a tennis ball at the base, which would be the point drawn to on the Smack Count followed by a presentation to the target and a shot fired. The other target was drawn straight to and a shot fired. Five draws were done for each. The results were as follows:

Five count four count difference

Since the Five Count drawstroke is not what I usually do, let’s examine the Best 3 of each.

Five count four count difference best 3

J on target

How important is ½ second in the context of NOT shooting someone you shouldn’t? Since the vast majority of DGUs don’t involve gunfire but rather the readiness or display of a gun, I think that’s a question at least worth exploring.

The training community almost universally places its emphasis on ‘winning a gunfight.’ However, as my colleague Tamara Keel put it, “most Level 101 defensive handgun courses, which is about all that anything but 1% of shooters are going to experience, cover a lot of the wrong skills, and do nothing to teach the skills to prevent negative outcomes.”

John Farnam likes to say,

The best gunfight is the one you’re not in.

To that, I would add “as is the one where you don’t end up in handcuffs or a state of emotional regret for the rest of your life.” ‘Training Scars’ are a periodic topic of conversation in the training community. I’m not sure the Four Count drawstroke doesn’t fall into that category, although I’m open to further discussion about it.

If you would like to purchase Concealed Carry Skills and Drills, the link to the downloadable ebook is here.



4 responses

  1. I’ve been thinking about this recently — and I know my comment here is not going to be an adequate reflection of my total thinking (this would be good conversation over a nice Manhattan).

    Our industry puts a lot of emphasis on speed. How fast can we draw from concealment to first shot. How AIWB allows things to go even faster then 3 o’clock. How we can shave off another few tenths – because second matter. Etc. I mean it’s all impressive feats of human skill, no doubt. But like you said, put it into a context like this and does that 0.5 seconds matter?

    But while all that speed is good, could the speed get us in trouble? Because we’re acting (with our “muscle memory”, if you will) and not necessarily processing (tho yes, this starts to get into matters of unconscious competence and how that frees us TO process). It’s harkens back to how some PDs (LAPD?) are expicitly emphasizing something like 0.5 second splits.

    But another take is to think that perhaps some of us are making the decisions BEFORE the gun even comes out. Thus if the gun is coming out, the “shoot” decision has been clearly made thus you need to get it out as quickly as possible.

    So I don’t know. I go back and forth and have no real answer here; still searching for an answer.

    I will say it makes me think that both skills are worth having. That is, there’s worthwhileness in having the skill for a sub-second draw, but also the skill to make proper decisions and explicitly go slow (or go fast) depending on what the situation dictates.

  2. Good discussion, thanks for bringing it up.

    At Gunsite we retain the five count presentation because the four count eliminates “Clear”; you come straight up out of the holster to the “Click” or “Rotate” position. We’ve kept “Clear” because of re-holstering. We want folks to STOP and carefully find the holster, finger straight, safety on/decocked prior to placing the pistol in the holster. Moving quickly from “Grip” to “Click” also implies moving quickly from “Click” back into the holster (“Grip”).

    And you are correct, Cooper’s original presentation went to Guard then up on target. Now, we drive the pistol straight into the target, much like throwing a punch, from “Click” but we also spend a lot of time having the students draw to Guard, along with drawstrokes straight into the target. We’re not programing them to shoot every time they present the pistol.

    By the way, by coming up high, muzzle rotated to the target, on Click we’re also establishing a retention position that we can use for close quarters situations or when opening doors, handling people or otherwise needing to protect the pistol from being grabbed or knocked away.

    Enjoy your commentaries, keep up the good work.



    Dilegentia Vis Celeritas

    Ed Head U.S. Mail: P.O. Box 4677 Chino Valley, AZ 86323 Fed Ex and UPS: 2355 N. Resting Pl. Chino Valley, AZ 86323 Cell: 928.308.3493 email: Feature Writer: Sportsman Group Field Editor: Shooting Illustrated magazine (NRA) Rangemaster, Gunsite Academy NRA Benefactor Member

  3. As usual this a thought provoking article and greatly appreciated.

  4. […] Speaking of Claude Werner, he’s got a great look at what’s really important for armed citizens. […]

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