Each year at the start of summer I offer a small gun oriented defensive pistol class. The intent of the course is to provide an opportunity for people to practice with the smaller gun that is more convenient to carry in the hot weather. Use of pocket holsters, purses, fanny packs, and any other mode of carry that’s not a traditional belt holster is allowed and encouraged, since practice drawing from those methods is typically not allowed at commercial ranges and discouraged in other defensive pistol classes due to range safety concerns and the additional time/complexity associated with reholstering.
Part of the course includes shooting our 3 seconds or Less test (3SL) with both the small gun and a full size gun drawn from a belt holster, to measure the performance change (usually a loss) that occurs when switching from the larger gun to the smaller one.
Data from the 2019 and 2020 sessions
Small Guns: 2 DA/SA, 3 snub revolvers, and the rest were all striker fired polymer guns. The typical “small gun” was a single stack 9mm striker fired gun.
Large Guns: 4 single action (1911, CZ75 or Wilson EDCX9), one SIG 226, one CZ P01 fired DA/SA, one S&W Model 10-8, and a lot of striker fired polymer 9mm handguns.
Scoring: 5 points for each acceptable hit (20 hits possible, 100 pts possible). Earlier versions of the 3SL test shot on USPSA and IDPA targets awarded points for hits outside the 5 point zone. Current version is scored on a 5 or 0 basis.
Average small gun score: 69.17 out of 100 possible
Average large gun score: 79.63 out of 100 possible
Performance loss from shooting the smaller gun: -10.4%
The best shooters in the classes dropped 5% or shot the same with their small guns; the worst dropped 30-50% more points with the smaller gun.
Students passing the 3SL test with 70% or higher score using their small gun: 19 of 31 (61% passed).
Students passing the 3SL test with 70% or higher score using their primary gun: 24 of 31 (77% passed).
Students passing the 3SL test at the 90% level (desired) using their small gun: 3 of 31 (9.8% passed).
Students passing the 3SL test at the 90% level using their primary gun: 12 of 31 (38.7% passed)
Historical average of the entire data set of 91 shooters:
Small Gun score: 74.9/100
Larger gun score: 83.5/100
The 2019-2020 classes included 11 shooters assessed as “low” skill level based on their primary gun scores, 11 assessed as “medium”, and 9 ranked “high”. All had Texas carry permits, carrying one or both of the guns they used for the course at various times during a typical year.
Looking at the historical data set, those in the “low” skill level (unable to pass the 3SL test with the primary gun), dropped an average of 3 points switching to the smaller gun, indicating a general lack of shooting skill regardless of which gun was used. The spread of points dropped ranged from +15 to -30, as a few shooters shot significantly better with their small gun than with their primary.
Those in the “medium” skill level (70-89 points on the 3SL test shot with their primary gun), dropped an average of 6.5 points switching to the smaller gun, with the spread ranging from +12 to -38.
Those in the high skill level (90+ points with primary gun) dropped an average of 7.8 points with differences ranging from +17 to -48.
The Three Seconds or Less (3SL) test was designed to define an acceptable minimum performance standard for concealed carry pistol shooters. I describe as a simple go/no-go assessment. If you can pass at 70% with a particular combination of gear, that configuration is probably OK to carry in public. Being able to shoot 90% means you are well prepared and not just “OK”. 90% on the 3SL test is roughly equal to IDPA Expert or USPSA B class skill.
64 of the 91 shooters using their small guns could pass at the 70% level. Only 16 of the 91 could pass at the 90% level.
79 of the 91 shooters using their primary guns could pass at the 70% level, with 37 of 91 passing at the 90% level.
The data shows what we already knew: smaller guns are harder to shoot. Those with lower skill level shoot poorly regardless of gear. Those at higher skill levels shoot higher overall scores, but drop more points on average when switching to the smaller gun. That’s a result different from what was observed in years past, with a smaller data set. More than half the shooters capable of shooting 90% with their primary gun couldn’t do it with the smaller gun (19 of 37).
It’s convenient to have a large and a small gun, used as weather and type of wardrobe dictates. It’s good to be able to shoot at least 70% on the 3SL test with both, better to be able to shoot 90% with both. Being able to shoot a 70% or a 90+% score with the primary gun and gear configuration does NOT guarantee that you’ll be able to do it with the small gun.
Small guns are harder to shoot fast and accurate, deep concealment carry methods slow down draw times — but violent attackers are not going to attack more slowly to compensate for the difficulties imposed by the gear you’ve chosen.
- Shoot the 3SL test from open carry with your primary gun.
- Shoot the 3SL test from concealed carry with your primary gun. Assess the difference in score. More than likely draw time will be the problem, which means dry fire practice, changes to holster, cover garment and/or draw technique may be needed.
- Shoot the 3SL test from open carry with your small gun. Identify which parts of the test need improvement, and work on those skills with the small gun.
- Shoot the 3SL test from concealed carry with your small gun. Assess whether the concealment method and draw technique you are using needs changing. Or in some cases, accept that the wardrobe or other restrictions forcing you to carry in a way that has to be compensated for in other ways than changing carry method: being more cautious, reaching in your pocket to grip a pocket pistol earlier in a potential situation than you had in the past, giving yourself more space and time.
If you don’t measure it, you can’t manage it, as the saying goes.