Do we really need to fight over training with shot timers?

Shooting instructors tend to be a passionate and competitive lot. The latest kerfuffle in the tactical training realm has to do with the value of timed exercises, specifically for those who only carry a gun for self-defense and are not shooting in matches.

No one is arguing that all training be put to the clock. Common sense dictates that, as shooters develop basic safety skills along with installing the fundamentals as habit, any added pressure can be done at appropriate times, customized to the student’s learning style and class atmosphere.

One instructor with a widely read blog, Grant Cunningham, has recommended total abandonment of shot timers, and labeling them “meaningless increments of precision.” He admits having once used them in training.

No one chases increments of precision more than competitive shooters. And although most competitive shooting has rules and equipment far removed from the realities of daily carry, it’s proven that those skills translate into effectiveness on the street. The most recent, and probably the most high-profile example, is Jason Falconer, a part-time police officer and avid USPSA competitor who stopped a stabbing rampage at a Minnesota mall in September.

Before anyone credits Falconer’s police training, understand that handgun qualification standards vary widely from state to state, department to department. Shooting is yet another skill that we lose if we don’t use. His department training is but a piece of the pie, likely adding some distance shooting requirements that USPSA doesn’t offer.

Cunningham seems to think there’s a good-enough-for-gubmint-work rule that should be applied to civilian defensive training.  He decries the pursuit of both precise shot placement and speed. As a trainer of civilians and a civilian myself, I concede that the torso-size target-within-spitting-distance standard is the best a small segment of students will pursue and demand of themselves.  But most I’ve encountered, particularly in the past year, are interested in doing better. And the shot timer—along with realistic head shots and distance shots, among other techniques—is beneficial to their development.

“Know your envelope” is a phrase I like for both myself and students.  That means knowing how fast you can draw and make a center-mass shot and a precision shot from various distances, using your preferred method of carry. That envelope holds shorter time frames, and longer distances, only with regular and intense practice.  The envelope shrivels when ignored.

Good people don’t get to choose what kind of a threat they’ll face—determined or skittish, hostage-taking or not, wearing body armor or not. What they can control is their development of and confidence in their skill set. Every one of us has room to improve. And if we don’t, ignoring the range for a few weeks will do the trick.

Shot timers are a valuable tool for measuring success and preventing under- or over-confidence. When shooters are secure in their basics, shot timers and par times for certain exercises offer a bar for performance. The competitive atmosphere timers can create in a class, when managed by a competent instructor, grows students’ interest and confidence in winning.  A class shouldn’t be dominated by the timer, but enhanced by its use.

Self-defense is about winning.  Participation-ribbon psychology is appropriate for people still learning which end of the gun is which, or those who’ll, through passivity or lack of training, be bystanders or cannon fodder in a fight. Eventual winners don’t mind risking losing. There’s a huge swath of room between no-pressure training and harsh, abusive training. It’s the space in which most students thrive, and it’s the fertile field in which civilian peacekeepers grow and blossom.

The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the position of

Latest Reviews

revolver barrel loading graphic