Quantifying Your Defensive Shooting Skills, And Setting Standards

What level of defensive handgun skills does it take to win in a gunfight? Because no two defensive gun uses are exactly the same, and there are many variables, it's impossible to answer this question unequivocally.

However, don't think that you can't or shouldn't train to a quantifiable standard.

By studying many armed encounters caught on video, we can draw some basic inferences on things like typical draw speed necessary to get a shot on a suspect who has a gun at the ready position vs at their side. We can look at how many shots are typically necessary to get immediate stoppage based on where they hit the suspect.

These videos provide great real-life data we can look at to put together some general parameters on the proficiency standards that suggest a favorable outcome. But I want to reiterate that nothing guarantees you'll win a gunfight. Proficiency in defensive gun skills certainly helps, and that's what we are trying to get at.

Limitations to practice —

It is hard to train for the exact conditions one undergoes in a real-life deadly force encounter. Let's use professional sports as a comparison because athletes are required to perform under stress and make split-second decisions in response to a changing environment.

Professional athletes might practice a certain skill, say a wide receiver running a certain rout. The receiver practices to run the route perfectly with the exact number of steps and expectation of where the quarterback will throw the ball, so he knows when to look back. A coach could time the rout, look at the footwork and precision and compare that to how fast a defensive back can run and react to the receiver's movements.

But analyzing the rout alone can't even come close to saying whether the receiver will perform well on game-day.

Scrimmages or practices against actual players help paint a picture but still don't replicate real-life environments. For defensive shooting, force on force is terrific and probably the best tool for simulating real-world scenarios. Even so, force on force can't recreate the actual environment and stress that is associated with an actual attack on your life.

Training to the test —

So we don't want to practice one or two drills simply to get our times to the “acceptable” category. Drills are simply just a way to quantify how you can perform a specific skill. For example, if you practice a draw to first shot drill over and over, you could likely achieve an acceptable time standard. Does that mean you possess any of the other skills that, through analyzing video, suggest a favorable outcome? Obviously it does not.

Instead, if we can practice a multitude of drills that encompass many skills, we put together a more robust “skill set” that helps us perform consistently during the complexity of any given deadly force incident.

Besides shooting skill, situational awareness, understanding pre-assault indicators, de-escalation techniques, critically thinking, adapting to changing environment and physical conditioning are massively important. Shooting skills are just a portion of the complete package. We must not overlook these additional abilities just because they are harder to quantify.

shot timer

We have put a lot of thought into the basic skills and standards every concealed carrier should possess —

The good thing is that the minimum level of skill proficiency for everyday (EDC) concealed carriers is obtainable by nearly anyone who will practice.

I want to add that these are not the only drills you should be practicing. In fact, other drills can test the same skills that these drills focus on. The reason we selected these three drills is because they cover fundamental skills for EDC, and they do not require many rounds or complicated targets and directions. In addition, the metrics are straightforward to analyze and track.

You're going to need a shot timer. Yeah, I know, many people say that a shot timer is only for competitions.

Respectfully, that idea is wrong. Every gunfight has a ‘go' signal. And every gunfight has a par time. We just don't know what either of those will be beforehand. If you don't know how long you take to shoot a specific drill, you have no comparable metric to see improvement. You can't know how you compare to other shooters.

I can't think of any legitimate reason anyone would not want to know if they are getting better or how their skills compare to someone else's.

So what are the standards —

So we have come up with four different drills that test various skills. For each drill, we have three standards for you to see where you stand. The three standards are:

  • Master
  • Gold
  • Passing/Minimum

We came up with these standards after looking at hundreds and hundreds of shooters' times over the years.

We agreed that a passing/minimum standard is average. The person is basically competent in common gun skills a concealed carrier would need in a typical gunfight. However, you can aim to do better.

A gold standard shooter is someone who has a good level of automaticity for fundamentals like draw and sight tracking. Skills at this level are likely to be kept under stress.

Someone in the master class standard has achieved a high level of shooting ability. Maintaining a gold standard performance over time requires continual practice and maintenance of shooting skills.

What are the Drills?

The drills are simple to run and don't require a lot of rounds. In fact, if running through each of the four drills once requires 16 total rounds.

You will need a target with an 8″ circle and a 3×5 index card. Here you can download and print a target for free. You will position the 3×5 card above the circle just like you see in the photo.

We will run all the drills from 7 yards or 21 feet. You should use your everyday carry (EDC) handgun and holster for each drill. You should run all drills from concealment.

riley bowman drills

These drills are all run from 7 yards and use the simple target setup as seen in the picture.

Drill 1. Draw to First Shot

This drill is exactly what it sounds like. On the beep, you will draw from concealment, and fire one shot into the 8″ circle.

The time standards for this drill are:

  • Master = 1.0 second or below
  • Gold = 1 to 1.5 seconds
  • Passing = 1.5 to 2 seconds

Drill 2. Bill Drill

The drill credited to Bill Wilson uses 6 rounds. One the beep, draw from concealment, and fire 6 rounds into the 8″ circle.

The time standards for this drill are:

  • Master = 2 seconds or below
  • Gold = 3 seconds or below
  • Passing = 4 seconds or below

riley shooting

Drill 3. Modified Failure to Stop

On the beep, you will draw and fire 4 shots into the 8″ circle, followed by 1 shot into the 3×5 index card.

The time standards for this drill are:

  • Master = 2 seconds or below
  • Gold = 3 seconds or below
  • Passing = 4 seconds or below

Drill 4. One-handed 5 Shots

On the beep, you will draw and fire 5 shots into the 8″ circle using only your dominant hand.

The time standards for this drill are:

  • Master = 2.5 seconds or below
  • Gold = 3.75 seconds or below
  • Passing = 5 seconds or below

In summary —

We hope you get out to the range and see how your performance stacks up against these standards. Don't get discouraged. Automaticity doesn't come without repetition and practice. In this Shooter Ready Challenge, Riley talks about how you can track shooting metrics in dry fire. Buth you can use the same technique in your live fire as well.

The shot timer used in the video is our very own RangeTech Bluetooth Shot Timer. We think it is the best shot-timer for a bunch of reasons. Namely, because it is by far the most economical timer you can buy. Oh yeah, and we make them here in Colorado!

Also, if you're struggling with your draw, we highly suggest you try our Draw Like a Pro training course.

About Matthew Maruster

I follow my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ who is the eternal co-equal Son of God. I currently live in Columbus, Ohio with my wife and daughter. I served in the Marine Corps Infantry. I was a Staff Sergeant and served as a Platoon Sergeant during combat in Iraq. After I was a police officer at a municipal agency in San Diego County. I have a Bachelors's Degree in Criminal Justice from National University. MJ Maruster Defense.


  1. Jose on April 5, 2021 at 6:27 am

    Heck of good drills! No frills, no theatrics, no useless stuff. You do it or you don’t. If not, start working. if you pass, start working up to the next level.
    Thank you for sharing.

  2. Brooks Harris on April 9, 2021 at 10:32 am

    The drills are sufficiently challenging, but the times allowed are unreasonable for drawing from concealment which is how any prudent person should all carry.

    • Matthew Maruster on April 9, 2021 at 10:58 am

      If you’re having issues with the par times from concealment, it means you might need to work on your draw more. They are absolutely achievable. Just keep working.

    • Steve Miller on April 9, 2021 at 4:02 pm

      Brooks Harris, may I ask what you believe more acceptable times would be?

    • John on May 3, 2022 at 7:33 pm

      1. Evaluate your holster and position of carry IWB, OWB, and where strong side, appendix carry etc. I have opted for a strong side IWB for a colt combat commander. I wear a vest or light jacket for concealment so the weapon can be acquired with a sweep of my hand.(40 years edc) Decisions every shooter needs to make.
      2. No one can be proficient without training and practice.
      3. In 1980 while attending Jeff Coopers Gunsite I watched 2 women draw and fire 2 rounds to center mass at 10 yards in under 2 seconds at the conclusion of 5 days of training. They both were new shooters with little or no weapons familiarization.

      You can do it my friend.

  3. Brad Butler on April 20, 2021 at 10:14 am

    Any comparative should have a common starting point. Concealment requirements are different for different people. Concealment requirements can be different for an individual depending on the circumstances. I suggest the test should start with hand on the gun if you want to compare to some standard. Then, shoot it from your personal concealment with your hands ready for action but not giving away your intent. At this point the standard is your last best run ever.

  4. William Beluse on April 27, 2022 at 6:56 pm

    Regarding Brooks Harris’ comments, I would have to agree.

    From what I have found online concerning the version of the Federal Air Marshall Pistol Qualification Test (all courses of fire at 7 yds with QIT-99 target), the standard to draw from concealment and fire one round is 1.65 sec (well, actually, the standard that I found says do it twice and the sum of both cannot exceed 3.3 sec, so, I’m just averaging to 1.65 sec). Federal Air Marshall would seem to me to be extremely stringent standards, and suggesting that level of performance as mere “passing” here seems a little ludicrous. Not to mention the FAMPQ is shot with a QIT-99 target where its “milk bottle” silhouette presents a much larger target area than does an 8″diameter paper plate.

    Similarly for the “Bill Drill” presented here. FAMPQT specifies six rounds in 3 sec on a QIT-99 target…and from low ready…NOT drawing from concealment. Allowing an additional fraction of a second if drawing from concealment would suggest here that FAMPQ is “just passing.”

    Also, consider a third example. Looking at the 2019 FBI Pistol Qualification Test (presuming, once again, that what I found on the internet is gospel truth), one COF’s test standard, at 7yds, is 5 sec to draw from concealment and fire five rounds onto a QIT-99 target. Drill 3 presented here is four rounds onto a smaller target plus a fifth round onto an even smaller target, and then claiming bare adequacy to do so at an even more challenging time.

    So, yeah, I would have to agree that the standards presented here are probably a little tougher than what I would consider to be “just passing”, or “average shooter” and it probably wouldn’t hurt to tweak them a little bit to fall more in line with FBIPQT and/or the FAMPQT performance standards.

    Now, I suppose that it could be that these are actual standards to meet in order to get a certificate of passing from some well respected civilian defensive shooting schools. If so, then so be it. And if Matthew, Riley, Jacob, et. al., are shooting this drill at the Master Level, well, hats off to them! I’m envious! (My times aren’t even “just passing” yet for either of these three drills.) Nevertheless, all three of these are still great benchmarks to try to attain.

    Finally, with regard to Brad Butler’s post, most of the FAMPQT COF (that I found online) begin from the low ready position. This incorporates his thought for a common starting point independent of concealment method. This also facilitates the many indoor ranges where drawing from the holster, much less drawing from concealment, is forbidden.

    • William Beluse on April 27, 2022 at 7:58 pm

      PS – the “three drills” to which I referred above are FAMPQT, FBIPQT, and this four-COF drill presented here. Apologies for any confusion…

    • Matthew Maruster on April 28, 2022 at 9:13 am

      Hi William thank you for the thorough comment. You’re not wrong in your statement that the standards we propose aren’t a bit higher than the qualification standards you mentioned. We believe our performance on the range will generally be better than in a real life encounter. There are a bunch of reasons this would seem to be true. Even if we look at it anecdotally, I think it holds up as well. For example, if you were asked to shoot a bill drill this very second, no warmups or preparation, you likely wouldn’t achieve your best performance.

      So what we look at is training at a higher standard on the range, so we have more consistent performance even at higher levels. The performance standards are challenging for sure, but we feel that achieving them is doable for most shooters. And that if one achieves those standards, they have built in a skillset that demonstrate automaticity of the necessary skills.

      As far as the standards on most law enforcement qualifications, the sad reality is that they are not the based on a performance in the field standard. Yes, they test basic performance, but the qualifications also balance the necessity to keep officers on the streets. Unfortunately, many officers don’t put the time into shooting skills. If 20% of a department can’t pass the qualification standard, the department usually doesn’t spend more money on firearm training. They lower the standard slightly. I think overall, LE marksmanship training standards represent the bare minimum, not what is actually translates to the skills necessary perform successfully under the wide range of conditions we may be presented with in real life.

      I would say as far as your performance, don’t get discouraged or think the standards are out of reach. Sometimes it’s only a slight tweak that helps achieve consistent performance at a higher level. Your comment has me thinking that i could write a post based on this discussion where I kinda build out these thoughts a bit more. Again, thank you for your comment and for your time!

      • John on May 3, 2022 at 9:12 pm

        Hi Matt as a retired LEO your comment on LEOs is only part right. Many departments require multiple quals per year along with decisional shooting training as well. Yes you must be-able to hit your intended target but you must 1st decide who or if the person constitutes a threat to life or limb. Most departments view training far cheaper than a wrongful death suit.

  5. Jim K on May 1, 2022 at 5:40 am

    I own a range tech shot timer. During the video, Riley is able to run the drills without having to hit the start button on his phone each time he shoots. The time between drills is random, so it doesn’t appear to be pre-set. Is there a setting on the app to do this? When I use the timer I need to be near my phone in order to hit the start button. Thc

    • Matthew Maruster on May 1, 2022 at 6:52 am

      Hi Jim,
      You can use the blue button on the timer as the start button. You can set a range number of seconds from pressing the button until you hear the beep. You should be able to do this from several feet away from your phone. I hope that answers your question. If not feel free to email support @ concealedcarry and we can help you further.

      • Jim K on May 2, 2022 at 5:58 am

        got it. Thx

  6. DEFENDER on May 5, 2022 at 5:06 am

    These are also Drills used, often, in IDPA Matches.

    Among others I find useful in shooting IDPA. And practice for a Real fight.
    I know at least 1 National Level Instr(NRA Sponsored) who says IDPA is useless for training in Defensive Shooting Practice. And Said it is NOT Training and NOT Practice. I disagree. YOU ?

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