Presenting the Pistol/The Combat Draw Stroke

By Brett H

This is both a loose set of instructions and/or considerations on a safe and efficient methodology on how to consistently and quickly bring a pistol or a concealed pistol into immediate defensive readiness. As with all firearms training, safety is paramount. Ensure your gun handling is safe. Always practice muzzle management and trigger finger discipline. Before presenting the material, here is a review of the Cardinal Rules of Firearms Safety. 

The 4 Cardinal Safety Rules are always in effect.

  1. Treat all firearms as loaded at all times.

  2. Never let the muzzle cover anything that you are not willing to destroy. (Muzzle Management)

  3. Keep your trigger finger off the trigger until your sights are on target and a conscious decision to fire has been made. (Trigger Finger Discipline)

  4. Be sure of your target, the surroundings and beyond.

Ultimately, we recommend and believe there is no substitute for in person professional firearms instruction from a credentialed, insured and vetted firearms instructor. Ultimately, we encourage everyone to get quality training. Some of our favorites are John Benner of Tactical Defense Institute and Tom Givens of RangeMaster. Think about visiting them, someone like them, and of course we definitely appreciate you training with us. If the cardinal rules are abstract to you, do not attempt trying these tasks. Initial introduction to this material should be with a simulator like a SIRT Pistol or dry fire only.

A quick note on our philosophy: Green Ops teaching presents techniques, not the technique. We know we present a way, or a path if you will on how to accomplish specific tasks. We know it is not “the way.” Our techniques have been vetted by armed professionals with decades of real world experience, but we acknowledge there are other effective techniques that may be good options for you. We encourage people to develop their own ritual. Consistency is a corner stone to repeatable accuracy and speed.

Back to presenting the pistol. Presenting the pistol is done in one smooth motion. However, that motion is composed of four distinct counts. Here is a brief description of the Four Count Presentation. We recommend the counts are learned first independently, put together and then performed in one smooth fluid motion.

Count 1 – Grip the pistol. Primary hand closes on the pistol grip while support hand comes to center chest. Support hand is kept out of the line of fire and ready to meet the pistol at index. This motion should be conducted fast like a startle response.

Count 2 – Clear (or Up). The pistol is quickly pulled straight up almost into the armpit. During the upward pull the thumb of the primary or firing hand drags along the torso to provide a frame of reference. This motion should also be performed fast.

Count 3 – Index (or Hands together). The pistol is rotated to the target by quickly dropping the elbow and locking the wrist. This position is known as the Guard. The pistol is kept tight close to the body to protect it from being grabbed by a close contact assailant. The thumb index is critical because this is the kinesthetic frame of reference confirming barrel alignment (toward threat/target) and clearance of bore (muzzle is not lasering any part of the shooter’s body) to permit close quarter unsighted firing. When two-handed arms-extended firing is to occur, the hands are brought together in the “touch and roll” [1] fashion. The location of this joining together of the hands should occur underneath the dominant eye, near high chest to under the chin, where the top of the slide, specifically the sights, are visible in the bottom of peripheral vision. This allows early sight acquisition, which permits a driving of the sights to the desired point of aim. The index finger of the support hand is “touched” to the bottom of the trigger guard and the master grip is formed by “rolling” the wrist forward, locking the tendon and extending the thumb straight towards the target.

Note on timing of trigger finger and trigger contact – For a committed shot (target is positively identified and the decision to engage is made), somewhere after Count 3 and before the complete extension to Count 4 the trigger finger should contact the trigger. Slack or pretravel may be taken up depending on individual ability. This is known as prepping the trigger. For safety assurance, trigger finger contact prior to Count 3 is never permissible!

Count 4 – Presentation (or Extension). The pistol is extended to the target. The master-firing grip is completed at extension. At full extension the hands should firmly grip the pistol with the support hand providing a strong clamp. Muscles in the hands, arms and shoulders should engage to brace and support the pistol during firing and to aid in recoil mitigation and recovery. Avoid throwing a double fisted punch toward the target at this point. The thrust or punch feels fast. However, it causes a irregular bouncing of the pistol and sights at full extension that must subside prior to accurate sighted fire commencing.


Simply present the pistol smoothly toward the desired point of impact on the target. This extension should be quick but not violent. This motion is similar to pointing your finger at something that is close enough for your finger to touch. Pick up your sights as soon as possible. This should occur near the body, definitely before completing half of the forward presentation movement. Then simply let the sights guide your extension to the desired point of aim.

Note on Effective Grip Pressure – the firing hand should be firm, like a good firm handshake, as if holding a hammer in preparation of driving a nail. The firing hand pressure is mainly applied directionally from the front of the grip and from the back of the grip. A caution about over gripping with the firing hand: this can produce erratic trigger pressure and bad accuracy. The support handgrip clamps with almost vice like pressure. Support hand pressure is mainly applied from side to side. Indexing the support hand thumb forward along the pistol frame directly toward the target significantly helps achieving the tendon lock necessary to provide maximum recoil mitigation.

Note on “On Target/On Trigger” or “Work” and “Off Target/Off Trigger” or “Home” Concepts [2] – words to absolutely live by here! During the draw, at Count 3 with a conscious decision to engage made, shooters may place their trigger finger on the trigger based on their comfort level. Even though the shooter cannot visually see their sights at Count 3, the sights and the barrel are aligned toward the target. When putting the pistol back in the holster the shooter simply retracts from Count 4 to Count 3. Prior to rearward pistol movement the shooter must return his trigger finger to register (placed flat along the frame or slide, preferably the slide).

Defining “Home” and “Work”, the only two acceptable places for a trigger finger. The trigger finger is allowed to be at one of two places. Those places are either at “Home” also known as “Register” or at “Work”. Home is a safe place. Being at Home means finger off the trigger and flat along the frame or even better along the slide. Work is a dangerous place. Being at Work means trigger finger on the trigger for the purpose of firing or preparing to fire. If the shooter is off target his finger must be at Home. If the shooter is on target and has decided to fire his trigger finger may be at Work. Without surety of target and a conscious decision to fire the shooter’s trigger finger must be at Home with appropriate muzzle management.

Return to the Holster is the 4 Count Presentation in reverse.

Count 4 – Trigger finger returns to Home and pistol is withdrawn back close the body near high center chest.

Count 3 – Support hand is removed and returned to near the body at center chest.

Count 2 – Pistol muzzle is oriented down. Do not laser your body!

Count 1 – Pistol is carefully and slowly placed back into the holster, prior to holster insertion trigger finger is deliberately extended away from the frame outside of the holster. Firing hand thumb should contact back of slide or back of hammer to ensure the pistol is and remains in battery while placing the pistol back in the holster.

Placing a pistol in the holster is one of the most potentially dangerous things that is performed with a pistol. Deliberateness and care are essential. It should be performed reluctantly. It is OK to glance at the alignment of pistol and holster if you need to. Glance it in though. Do not watch it in. 

Garment Clearance:

For open front garments like a vest or jacket, hooking and sweeping works well. Hooking with the primary hand’s thumb or closed fingers and thumb produces consistent results allowing good hand orientation to promote quick initial grip establishment. The jacket edge is contacted and pulled back aggressively. Ballast in the bottom of the garment edge can aid in positive clearance and tends to keep the garment suspended back momentarily allowing positive grip access. Sewn in fifty-cent pieces work well as ballast.

For closed front garments like an untucked shirt grasping and ripping up works well. Support hand closes on the shirt bottom near centerline and lifts up toward the primary arm’s shoulder. Loose fitting shirts that extend below the belt line approximately 1-2 inches tend to work well. 

Appendix Carry Considerations – The 4 Count Presentation remains the same. Coming to the Guard requires the wrist to be straightened and the elbow to be drawn back, only if the Guard is necessary. Safety – always follow the 4 Safety Rules, especially when returning the pistol to the holster. With appendix carry, lasering must be avoided by forcing or rocking the hips forward and up while slowly and carefully placing the pistol back into the holster.

Note on Speed – Speed is economy of motion or the lack of wasted or excessive motion. Many shooters when simply trying to go fast torque their body causing an unnecessary twisting of the abdominal trunk or core. Try to avoid this. Moving only one hand or arm at a time quickly tends to cause an undesirable twisting of the core. Simply moving both hands together as if they were imaginably tethered together reduces a lot of unnecessary core twisting which slows down pistol presentation time.

When to go fast and when to go slow. People have a hard time changing pace. When training for speed, everything tends to be performed quickly. This can be counter productive to defensive performance and downright dangerous. When presenting the pistol, time is of the essence and therefore controlled speed is highly beneficial. However, there is no need to place the pistol back in the holster quickly. In fact doing so can be extremely unsafe. Putting the pistol back in the holster is one of the most dangerous acts of pistol shooting and where most accidents happen. Draw as if your life depends on it, for some day it very well may. Put the pistol back in the holster “reluctantly” [3]. There is no prize for quickly putting a pistol away; it could be a tactical error.

A last consideration for learning the 4 Count Draw. Go slow at first. Correctly learn the individual motions for each count. Once the correct motions have been developed then begin to reduce the time it takes to present the pistol. Start step by step with no time limit. Then move to a four second time limit. Once you can achieve that speed, work to achieve a three second time. When able, reduce to a two second interval. Ultimately you should strive to be consistently able to perform a sub-second non-concealed draw and a sub-second and a half draw from concealment. The faster, the better. Some garments and methods of carry allow for equal speed, whether concealed or not. The technique in final form is still comprised of four distinct counts. However, no observer would be able to perceive that. The presentation in its final form is one smooth, efficient and quick motion. The pistol is drawn straight up the side, hands come together around high chest below the chin under the dominant eye, and the pistol is presented straight to the target at the desired point of aim, aligning the sights as you extend your arms forward. Develop the technique without concealment first. Once you have a solid grasp then add the garment clearance work. A good shot timer like a CED7000 will be invaluable to you in your progress


Seek quality training. Train hard. Be safe and develop your ritual.

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[1] The concept of “touch and roll” comes from John Benner at Tactical Defense Institute

[2] The concepts of “Home” and “Work” come from Tom Givens of RangeMaster

[3] The concept of returning to the holster “reluctantly” comes from the NRA’s Law Enforcement Pistol Instructor’s curriculum.


Michael Green