Monday, April 9, 2012

Tool of the Trade: The Shot Timer

Various shot timers I have used over the years

It never ceases to amaze me when I meet a firearms instructor or self professed serious shooter who does not own a shot timer. Some have never even heard of one, let alone actually have one in their range kit. So first things first, what is a shot timer? An electronic shot timer is a device that gives off a start signal (usually a loud beep) and then listens for shots and records the time. Devices range from super fancy (like the PACT MK IV, that has more computing power than the mainframe that launched the first space shuttle) to simple like the PACT Club Timer III. There are even apps for the iPhone that will do the same thing.

Why a shot timer? As shooters, we are always trying to pursue that elusive balance: the perfect combination of speed and accuracy. Well, accuracy we can measure. We can look at holes in a paper target or listen for that satisfying ding on that steel plate.  Without a shot timer, we will never know what we are capable of in terms of speed. Feeling fast and actually being fast are two very different things. If you watch a top level competitor draw and fire, it does not look all that fast. But the timer doesn't lie. The reason for this is because that USPSA Grand Master is not fast because of sheer hand velocity, but rather, he has found the most efficient path in which to move. It is economy of motion. And there is no way to accurately measure this without a shot timer.

Without a shot timer, there is also no way to measure progress. With only a paper target to measure my ability, I can't tell if I am making any gains in terms of speed. I don't know if my first round hits out of the holster are in 2.0 seconds or 1.5. With the shot timer, I am able to measure my ability. I can map out my theoretical times based on my ability to perform certain tasks. For example, if I know that my first round hit out of a holster takes me 1.1 seconds, and my split times are .20 seconds, I should be able to complete a Bill Drill (six rounds from the holster on an 8-inch plate at 7-yards) in 2.1 seconds or so. Sun Tzu famously wrote, "If you know your enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles." The timer gives me the ability to know myself, to know what I am capable of and what I am not.

With all that in mind, it is also important not to get too wrapped around the axle about times. The timer is simply a way to measure mechanical skill, but speed should not replace accuracy or proper tactics. Don't get so wrapped up in shaving every tenth of a second off your times if it means you are giving up safety, tactical advantage, or consistency. Just because a technique is faster does not necessarily mean it is better for fighting; however, it is still important to have and use a timer to evaluate proficiency and efficiency when performing a particular task, such as an emergency reload or transitioning between targets.

Lastly, that shot timer adds stress. Anyone who has had shot on the timer knows the stress of being under the clock. This is a good way to add stress to your training and to evaluate your performance under that stress.

Which timer to get? A simple timer is the PACT Club Timer III. It features big, easy to activate buttons. Par times (times that you strive to meet, and are indicated by a second beep,) are easily set and the big LED display is easy to read. It is a good choice. I had previously been using the discontinued CED 6000, but it is getting a bit long in the tooth and some of the LCD elements have gone dead. For a do-everything timer, the PACT MK IV Championship Timer is the Cadillac of them all. It does everything including measure rate of fire, save strings of results, and can act as a chronograph if you have the screens to hook up to it. The only downside is that the MK IV will drain the battery even when dormant, so you will need to remember to take the battery out between range sessions.

At the suggestion of my good friend Hilton, I am also using the new CED 7000. It does everything my old 6000 did but in a smaller, more portable package. It has an internal rechargeable battery which I am not sure I like since that means I have to take it out of my range bag and plug it into the wall rather than just shove new batteries in it. The buttons are small and look somewhat cheap but the display is big enough to read and the small size and light weight are a plus. The timer does not come with a belt clip, which must be purchased for an additional $15 or so. That is a fail in my book, but I bit the bullet and it seems to be working okay.

If you have an iPhone, SureFire has a free shot timer app that works in a pinch. While it will not replace a dedicated shot timer, it will work in a pinch. I use the par timer function on it for dry practice training with my SIRT pistol. The volume can be adjusted in the app for indoor dry practice in my living room and won't blow out everyone's ear drums. It is in the App Store so check it out.

If you are truly a student of the gun, make sure you have a shot timer in your range bag and USE it.


Competitive Edge Dynamics (CED)

PACT Timers

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