How to select, use a shot timer

Shot timer being used to train an advanced tactical student. Photo courtesy Peter Burlingame

At its simplest level, a shot timer is a device that responds to sound of gunshots, recording the time that they occur. Most of them can give a start signal, usually a beep of some sort. Many are also capable of producing a stop signal.

By Peter Burlingame

A shot timer is one of the very best pieces of firearms training gear. To advance your skill, you must be able to measure it. One way to gauge your ability is with a target. It will tell you how accurately you are shooting and if you have any problem areas.  But while targets will tell us how accurately we are performing a task, it will not tell us how quickly.

In self defense training, as well as some forms of competition, time is an important factor in performance. (We recently discussed the ‘Speed vs Accuracy Equation’, here. ) This is where a shot timer comes in. To increase performance, you need to push the envelope and you need feedback on how you are doing.  A shot timer tells you have fast you are drawing, how fast you are shooting, the time between your shots, and the time it takes you to transition from one target to another.

The basic function of the timer is to give you a start signal and then record the time of each of your shots. Timing how fast you can fire a shot from the draw or ready position is one way to practice using a shot timer.   A typical time to draw and fire a shot at a close target is around one and a half seconds. How do you stack up against that? With  some diligent practice drawing from concealed carry you will be able to  fire your first shot at right around the one second mark, which is a substantial improvement.  Without a timer, telling the difference between a quarter of a second and a half a second is very difficult.

The review function on the shot timer shows you all the time information about the string of fire that you shot: when each shot was fired, and the time between shots.  A typical review might look like this: 1.45, 1.70, 2.05, 2.25. This indicates that 4 shots were fired, it took 1.45 seconds to fire the first shot, the second shot was a quarter second later, the third shot a third of a second after that and the final shot two tenths of a second after the third.

‘Splits’, or split times are the times between shots. In the previous example we can see that the splits varied from a low of .20 of a second up to .35. Consistency is a key component of shooting well, and the shot timer has shown that in this case our splits varied widely. With that information we can look at our technique and  figure out where the inconsistency is and work to correct the problem.

Measurements don’t have much meaning unless you have something to compare them to.  Setting up and shooting an ‘El Presidente’ drill in 8.36 seconds means something when you know that 10 seconds is par, 7 seconds is respectable, and the world record well under four.

Par time is a function that I look for on a shot timer. In this mode the timer gives a start signal and stop signal. You can program in whatever time you want. This is useful if you are trying to perform a particular skill within a certain time. It may be as simple as giving yourself 1.25 seconds to fire a shot from the draw, to setting it for 3 seconds and trying to shoot one shot, reload, and shoot again.

One benefit of using the par time feature is that you don’t need to fire a shot. For instance you can practice dry fire (see Dry Fire article here) using par time.  Following all of the safety guidelines for dry fire, holster your pistol, set the par time for 1.5 seconds and push the start button. At the beep, draw, find your sights and press the trigger. Did the click of the hammer come before or after the second beep?  When it is mostly before the end beep, lower the time to 1.25 seconds. Keep pushing until you finally find your limit.

Use par time to speed up your reloads. Enter 2.5 seconds for the par time, then put an empty magazine in your pistol  and lock the slide back. Have another empty magazine (or one loaded with snap caps) in your magazine pouch. Hit the start button. On the beep, dump the empty mag, stuff in the new one and let the slide run forward, find the sights, press the trigger. Can you do all of that in 2.5 seconds? The speed demons of the competition world can perform speed reloads in about one second.

Shot Timers come in many shapes and sizes. Towards the top end is the PACT mark IV which retails for just under $200.00. In addition to basic features like recording times of shot strings and par time, it will also provide you with ballistics information like trajectory and hold offs for wind drift and can function as a chronograph.

Mid range times like the Competitive Edge Dynamics CED7000, PACT Club Timer and Competition Electronics have all the functions that most shooters need in smaller and less expensive units running just over $100.00. the CED700 is about the size of iPod and like the MP3 player, you can get an arm band to carry it in to keep it handy.

If you own a smart phone go to the Apps Store and you will find a selection of shot timer applications ranging in price from free to a couple of dollars.

Above is a picture of a typical  timer display. At the upper left is the total number of shots fired in that string.  The 4.65 is the total time for the string, measured to the hundredth of a second. It is also the time that the 8th shot was fired. At the bottom left, the first shot was fired 2.06 seconds after the start beep. ‘Delay’ indicates that the timer is set up to give a delay between pushing the start button and the timer giving the start beep. This is useful when using the timer by yourself. You can push the button, then have several seconds to get ready before the beep. Finally, the .18 is the split, the time between the 7th and the 8th shot.  Using the Review function will show you when every shot was fired and the splits between them.

Shot timers are highly effective training tools. It is hard for me to think of another piece of gear that will do more for your shooting performance, and considering their low cost, there is no reason not to own and use one.

remuneror fidelis!

Peter Burlingame is the founder of The Self Defense Initiative, a 25 year old training school based in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Peter is a contributing member of the International Association of Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors and the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association. His articles have been published in the FBI’s National Associates’ magazine, “The Firearms Instructor” and “Survival Quarterly.” You may contact him at Videos at


About Author

Lee Williams can’t remember a time in his life when he wasn’t shooting. Before becoming a journalist, Lee served in the Army and worked as a police officer. He’s earned more than a dozen journalism awards as a reporter, and three medals of valor as a cop. He is an NRA-certified law enforcement firearms instructor, an avid tactical shooter and a training junkie. When he’s not busy as a senior investigative reporter, he is usually shooting his AKs, XDs and CZs. If you don’t run into him at a local gun range, you can reach him at 941.284.8553, by email, or by regular mail to 1777 Main St., Sarasota, FL 34236. You can follow him on Twitter: @HT_GunWriter and on Facebook @The Gun Writer.


  1. Benjamin Sendrow on

    Thank you for this clear, informative article. I found it while trying to learn what par times are. My timer’s manual explains how to set par times, but not what the term means, nor why you would want to use the feature. Your article answered my question perfectly. Thank you so much.

    Benjamin Sendrow

  2. Is there a shot timer that can record the data from a group of multiple strings…and then download the data to a *.csv or similar file?

  3. Pingback: Weekend Knowledge Dump- January 6, 2017 | Active Response Training

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