Skin Your Smoke Wagon

There’s no way to know how many rounds I’ve fired between training, practice, qualifications, and teaching – but I estimate the number to be in the high tens of thousands.  Since beginning my law enforcement career some 15 years ago, the vast majority of rounds I’ve fired have been handgun rounds, and most of those rounds have come during drills that required me to work from a holster.  Possibly the best thing about law enforcement handgun training is that it requires the shooter to rack up a high number of pistol-drawing repetitions.  After all, if you’re not skilled at deploying the gun, it doesn’t really matter how proficient you are at shooting it.

I’ve been fortunate to have trained with a wide array of firearm instructors – not only in a law enforcement capacity, but in the private sector as well.  The late James Yeager, founder and “MFCEO” of Tactical Response in Camden, TN, developed a draw-stroke method that I adhere to above any another technique I’ve ever been privy to learn, and if you were to train with me, you’d be taught the same method.  James frequently said, “It’s not the great shot that wins a fight – it’s all the small mistakes you don’t make.”  One mistake I frequently see among students, even cops, is an improper draw-stroke, and in many instances the error goes uncorrected by the instructor cadre running the range.

Before assuming that the physical act of drawing a pistol is merely common sense, look back to the West Freeway Church of Christ shooting on December 29th, 2019, to see just how tragic it can be when good guys don’t know how to draw their firearm.  It’s likely that the incident would’ve turned out differently had the good guys undergone quality training beforehand, but that’s just educated speculation on my part.

When drawing your pistol, safety and efficiency should be the goal – not speed.  Speed will come through practice.  As my friend Brian Sparks often reminds me, “The fastest way to do anything is to do it right the first time.”  Thanks, Brian.  If you execute a safe draw-stroke (making sure you don’t point the gun at anything other than your intended target – especially yourself – being sure to keep your finger OFF the trigger) and develop the physical mechanics to make your safe draw-stroke repeatable, efficiency will be a natural biproduct.  “Slow is smooth and smooth is fast” couldn’t be more applicable than it is here.  

The most common error I observe when people are executing a draw-stroke is that they don’t secure a proper, strong-hand grip on the gun while it’s still in the holster.  On the range one can simply adjust their grip once the gun is out of the holster – but in a fight for your life, you’re only going to have one shot at obtaining a perfect grip on your weapon, and that grip must be established the instant you touch your gun – every time.  Using a crappy holster will only exacerbate this problem.

People also tend to stand still when drawing their gun.  When your hand goes to your gun, the rest of your body should be moving too.  Ideally, you want to move your feet and then keep moving them.  Moving targets are harder to hit with bullets or fists, so why on earth would you stand still in a fight?  If bipedal movement isn’t an option, perhaps you need to get low by dropping to a knee, or into a supine position.  Regardless, movement will always be a vital part of a well-executed draw-stroke.

If you have to draw your gun in self-defense, it’s almost certain that you’re going to say something.  You might scream or you might yell out your favorite expletive.  You know you have one.  Either way, some sound is probably going to come out of your mouth hole.  Because of that, you should issue a loud verbal command when practicing your draw-stroke.  The word “STOP” is the most effective.  It defeats most language barriers, and single-word commands are easy to remember and to replicate under stress.  Something like “stop in the name of the law, you scumbag!” is too long, and if firing becomes necessary before your verbal warning is fully stated, you’ll finish your sentence before pressing the trigger.  It’s just the way our brains are wired, and that could cost you valuable seconds.  Practicing this skill may also prevent you from calling an attacker an ugly name before sending him to the afterlife. Consider two possible statements that could be made by witnesses to the police; “I heard Bill call the guy a MF’er, then he shot the dude in the face.”  “I heard Bill yell ‘STOP’ and then the shots rang out.” Isn’t the latter preferable to the former? 

Will you be drawing your gun from concealment?  If so, have you had any instruction on how to defeat a cover garment?  Different types of clothes require different movements to access the gun.  When covering your gun with a t-shirt VS covering your gun with a sport coat the draw-stroke is the same, but accessing the firearm is wholly different.  Ladies tend to wear a broader variety of clothing, and therefore usually require multiple carry options.  Whether it’s a thigh holster under your dress, a bra holster, or any carry option that allows you to keep up with current fashion trends, you should be practicing with every setup so that you can draw your gun safely and efficiently should the need arise.

Bottom line, if you need your gun, you need to know how to access it.  There’s more to deploying a handgun than just pulling it out of a holster.  You’re more likely to shoot yourself when drawing or holstering your gun than almost any other time.  For that reason alone, you should be proficient at skinning your smoke wagon, because if you shoot yourself in a fight, it still counts – just for the other team.  If at the end of each day when you take off your gun, you perform one, smooth draw-stroke, focusing on your mechanics, you’ll have 365 free reps per year.  That’s more than most gun owners will get in a lifetime.

In closing, I’ll leave you with this quote by Colonel Jeff Cooper, founder of Gunsite Academy – “The only acceptable response to the threat of lethal violence is immediate and savage counterattack.  If you resist, you just may get killed.  If you don’t resist you almost certainly will get killed.  It is a tough choice, but there is only one right answer.”  

To create a savage counterattack, you must know how to get your weapon into the fight – it’s the only fighting chance you have when bad people put you on the victim menu.  Until next week…

Avoid what you can.  Defeat what you can’t.


Please submit your questions to Ryan via email at

 (Ryan Barnette is not a licensed attorney or a medical provider, and no information provided in “Slicing the Pie,” or any other publication authored by Ryan Barnette should be construed, in any way, as official legal or medical advice.)

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