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Fast Draw 101 with Howard Darby

The Fast Draw Resource Center

A Breakdown of a Fast Draw

by Jan Owen

This is to introduce you to the thumbing style I use; I suppose you could call it ergo-thumbing. It's a little different than thumbing styles used by others. I developed it to minimize the amount of hand & arm movement during the draw, and to make the draw as compact as possible. If you read this and follow the instructions, you won't end up thumbing just like me, because, for best results, you will need to tailor these moves to YOUR body.

I'm going to explain this draw in great detail. But you have to take this information and fashion it into YOUR thumbing style. Otherwise, it won't be natural to you. And if it's not natural, it won't be as fast as it can be.

A lot of what goes on during the draw isn't easy to see if you try to watch someone else. And they may not be able to tell you what they're doing in words you can understand. I don't know if I can, either, but we're going to find out right now. What we're about to embark upon, as far as I know, hasn't been done before. Not at this level of detail.

Before we go any further, for this to be helpful, you will need appropriate equipment. A fast draw rig that's suited to thumbing. Doesn't have to be fancy. A Mernickle FD1, FD6, or FD7 will work, but you will have to bend the shank a little for best results with any of them. Most of Bob's other rigs are more suited to slap cocking or fanning than thumbing. Any of Alfonso's rigs (A1, A2, A3) can be used for thumbing, but again, you may need to reshape the shank to suit your style. The Andy Anderson rigs are good for thumbing pretty much as they come out of the box. So are a lot of the Ernie Hill rigs. If you don't have one of these rigs, or something similar, it isn't going to be as easy to thumb as it could be. You can thumb with other rigs, but these will help you more than most of the others. You don't want to start out at a disadvantage, do you? More about holsters in a few minutes...

Next comes the guns. If you have a Colt clone, you can make do for a short time to get started, but you will need to upgrade soon, because clones will not survive long under the beating you will give them practicing Fast Draw. A real Colt would be better, but pretty expensive, and still somewhat fragile. I recommend a built-for-Fast Draw Old Model Ruger Blackhawk in .45 caliber. A Ruger, especially for a beginner, is probably the best, because it is the easiest to make reliable. And in .45, you can shoot all the events with that one gun. Whatever gun you chose, it should be tuned specifically for thumbing by a gunsmith who specializes in fast draw guns. These guns need very specialized work to make them function over and over again smoothly and reliably, and the average gunsmith has no clue how to do this work. I'm not going to go into the modifications necessary here. I have covered that elsewhere, and much of it is available in the Fast Draw Discussion Group Archives. The whole idea around tuning is to allow the gun's parts to work very hard, but to minimize the impact damage between the principal moving parts that fast draw imparts on these guns. You can do fast draw with an untuned gun, but you won't do it for very long...

Now that you have the proper equipment, it's time to get started on the draw. The first thing we'll do is find the right stance for you. Then, we'll decide what your proper hand & arm positions are. You'll need to know instinctively precisely how to get yourself lined up at the firing line so you'll hit the target every time. And then, the rig you're going to use will have to be married to the hand/arm position, so we'll probably end up altering the holster a little...

I really like the Ernie Hill 1999 model as a slap cocking rig. But out of the box, it isn't a great thumbing rig. The Mernickle FD-6 is a little better for thumbing, but it's not ideal out of the box, either. However, it does position the gun a little higher, and that's helpful. The following modification is applicable for many different rigs like these to make them more suitable for thumbing.

The shank (the reinforced piece that attaches the holster to the belt) on many of these rigs often has a kink in it, angling out, then down to position the boot (holster) out and away from your body, and cants the butt well away from your body. This places the gun in a perfect, or nearly perfect position (depending on the shooter) for slap cocking, allowing plenty room to sweep the hammer with your off hand and let you to get maximum leverage into your draw.

But we're not slap cocking. To make this rig usable for thumbing, you need to rebend the shank so that much of the dogleg is gone. Not all of it; the gun still needs to be away from the body so that no part of your body interferes with the draw, and far enough away to let you get a good set-up on the gun at "Shooter Set!" on the firing line.

Put on your rig and drop your gun in it. Rotate the whole rig until the boot is way out in front of you. That's not where you're going to shoot from; I just want the boot & gun completely out of the way for a minute.

NOW! Let your arms hang down at your sides completely limp and natural. Make no attempt to orient your hands or your forearms in any direction. We want your arms hanging TOTALLY naturally. Now, without making ANY compensating moves in your hand or forearm, I want you to simply raise the forearm of your shooting hand at the elbow until it is just a little short of level. Look closely at your forearm... You'll note that your arm isn't pointing straight ahead. It's pointing partially across your body toward the left front, if you're right handed. Without twisting your wrist in any direction, simply extend your index (trigger) finger. You'll see that it's pointing in exactly the same direction as your forearm.

Now, move the gun belt back around until the gun is exactly under your hand when your arm and hand are in that natural position with your forearm pointing toward the target. Now, move the belt around, and bend the shank as necessary until the gun butt lines up with your hand in that that alignment and is in perfect position to grasp it without moving your arm. Bend and/or twist the shank as necessary to position the gun in perfect alignment with your hand and arm, while keeping the gun butt canted away from your body far enough to allow you plenty room to grasp it without your body getting in the way. It should still be canted slightly outward, but quite a bit less than it came out of the box. The boot will now be angled across the top of your thigh, and pointed at an angle across in front of you and to your left, at the same angle your forearm points. If it isn't, bend it some more until it is exactly lined up with your forearm in it's natural position.

Now, it's time to get in front of a mirror. Face the mirror directly, and again line your hand & arm up above the gun, which should now be oriented in the same direction as your arm will point naturally; across your body. Face the mirror and slowly turn so that the gun's butt is facing away at right angles from the mirror. In other words, if the gun were to be lifted straight upwards and then the barrel tilted straight outward in the same plane until it's level, the bore would be looking exactly at right angles with the mirror's surface, or the barrel would be looking directly into it's own image. Once you are oriented so that the gun is pointed exactly at itself from that natural position, if you look at your position in the mirror, you will see that you are facing to the right of straight ahead (if you're right handed), and the gun in the rig is pointed downward at an angle at the floor, but is in a line directly toward the mirror.

This next part will be easier for someone who already has some experience with fast draw, or who has seen the Cal Eilrich video The Art of Fast Draw (everyone should have this video, and should have watched it so many times you know the script by heart). I'm talking about understanding how to throw your hips forward and your shoulders back as you draw your gun.

What I want you to do is simply, in slow motion, move your hips forward and bring your shoulders back while curling the three fingers of your gunhand around the gunbutt, and grasp the gun as your hips & shoulders move. This action alone will put the gun in your hand, without your making any attempt to actually draw it out of the holster. If you positioned yourself so that the gun in the holster was oriented directly toward the mirror, and you lined your body up to position your nearly horizontal forearm in the same alignment, the gun will now be pointed exactly at the mirror. Later, you will position a target in place of the mirror. But right now you want to be able to SEE exactly what's going on while you practice.

Now. If the gun isn't exactly looking down it's own bore, you need to reposition either the holster, your stance, or both, until when the gun comes level, it's exactly on target. Keep on adjusting until it is. Every time. Once you're lined up precisely, pay close attention to where your feet are pointed, because that's exactly how you're going to line up in front of the target on match day.

Now comes the coordination part. You can now sort of get the gun out of the holster and end up with it pointed in the right direction. While you're practicing this, you need to turn partway around, and look to ensure you're also bringing the barrel positively level and parallel with the floor. If you don't get level, you'll shoot low every time.

We haven't talked about the hammer yet. That's because you need to understand first how to get lined up and get your body into a natural position that it will return to EVERY time, if you practice this enough times. Once you're in control of these body moves, it's time to cock the gun.

Your hand position is already decided by the natural position exercise above, but we haven't exactly oriented your hand in conjunction with the gun. I position my hand beside the holstered gun with the three fingers that will grasp the butt well separated from the trigger finger and close to the butt. The trigger finger is more or less pointing straight down at the floor (not parallel with the barrel), right alongside the boot, and right next to the trigger guard. The thumb is widely separated, and poised just slightly in front of, and partially above the hammer, with the thumb's orientation nearly in the same plane as the hammer. The tip of the thumb is just toward the body rather than quite in the exact same plane as the hammer, so again, it makes for a fairly natural hand position, and still positions all the fingers where they need to be to start the draw.

So now, it's time to cock the gun & draw it. Make a sweeping move with your thumb, drawing the joint of your thumb across the hammer spur, cocking the gun. The thumb should be moving the hammer back with the outmost joint of your thumb, which crosses the plane of the hammer, not at right angles, but more closely in alignment with the direction of rotation of the hammer. You don't want the hammer spur either inside or outside of that joint. If you were to look at my right hand, you would find a callus exactly across that thumb joint, especially on the side that faces toward the rest of my fingers. That's from over a million thumb draws.

So now we can now do the full move. Draw your thumb across the hammer as you throw your hips forward, and your shoulders come back, while at the same time getting your three fingers against the butt, grasping the gun as it pops out of the holster, and you achieve your grip and lock the gun level, while at the very same time, pulling the trigger. If you've done everything right, the gun will be looking exactly down it's own bore as you hear the hammer hit the frame. You will have to make a fairly concerted effort to keep the gun vertical while doing this in keeping with WFDA rules. In these rules you will have to concentrate on pushing the butt down just a little to bring the gun's barrel all the way level as you fire. The twisting move is actually simpler in this regard.

Chances are, it won't be perfect the first few times, but that IS the move. What you want to do now is do it a few hundred thousand more times until everything I've described DOES really happen as described AUTOMATICALLY. And YOU are who will have adjust to make all this happen right. That's one I can't do. Do it in front of the mirror. The mirror is your friend. Practice your draw a huge number of times. And keep adjusting just a little bit until you can see that you are exactly on target every time the hammer hits. When you start beating that guy in the mirror, you'll know you're really fast! Then it will be time to graduate to targets...

When you get really good at this, you may decide you want to try an Open match. My Twisting Thumb move is very nearly the same as the move above. The ONLY real difference is that it's actually an even more natural move to let the gun roll onto it's right side with just the slightest twist of your wrist as your hips & shoulders are moving, you're cocking the gun, it's coming out of the boot & coming level, and you're pulling the trigger. It'll fire almost fully on it's right side, and your time will actually improve a little at the same time.

Voila!!! Two new moves in the same day! Actually, it has taken me about forty years to get this good, and I just keep practicing. As I get older, my reaction time slows a little, and I have to get craftier. That's why these moves have you shooting directly over the boot precisely as the barrel clears the front of the boot & is level. Any more movement is just time lost!

And now, after only forty years, I decided to try slap cocking. I'm only about three years along in THAT learning curve, as you get started thumbing.

That twisting thumb move can be just about as fast as a slap cock, with the primary advantage going to the faster lock time of a shorter stroke tight coil spring action, with fractionally smaller hammer. Assuming you use a Ruger, you may be able to pick up another few thousandths there.

Well, that's about it for my part. Now it's up to you. Using what you've learned, all that is between you and being a competitive shooter is practice. A LOT of practice. And more practice.

Then buy a good timer, and some targets, and practice some more! The key to becoming really good, is to learn the fundamentals, and then practice. Practice until everything becomes completely automatic. You'll always be practicing, but at whatever time you feel comfortable, you should begin to enter contests. It is here that you will begin to really learn how well your are progressing. And it is here that you will confirm for yourself just how much fun this can be!!!

Good luck!

Jan Owen

View the break down of a Thumbing draw
View the break down of a Fanning draw

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