Speed Test Extended Hold vs Magazine Well Hold.

Action competition shooters have been using a support arm extended hold for some time now.  The reason for this is it allows the shooter to drive the gun target to target faster with less over travel.  The more mass that is forward on the rifle, the better this technique works. Extended hold has gained more attention recently with Magpul Dynamics training DVDs.  There are also now multiple instructors that are former/active special operations that are teaching it as a practical technique.

In September/October of 2010, there was a debate raging on a local shooting forum about extended hold.  Some people believed it was only for “gamers”, lacking in practical value, and did not offer an appreciable advantage over mag well hold.

Mark P. (one of my local shooting cohorts) and I decided to run a test to see how much faster extended hold vs mag well hold was; speed being the primary advantage to using extended hold.  Here is his write up of the test.

We would evaluate both methods under controlled conditions using a shot timer and film the event for posterity.

Four test subjects were used including a female with no experience. This was her first time shooting a carbine of any type and her second time on a shooting range.
The other 3 subjects had varying levels of commercial training and competition history. Of those, two were veterans with OEF/OIF deployments.

The nature of the exercise, to determine which ‘hold’ allowed the shooter to transition laterally from one target to another on a level surface. Near and far ranges were tested to get an overall evaluation.

The target used was an IPSC official CLASSIC.
To remove any variables, it was decided to shoot targets from left to right with one shot each.
No effort was made to penalize the shooter for missing the target (only the novice shooter had the occasional miss).
The participants made every effort to score an ALPHA hit as quickly as possible.


Cav Arms lowers were used on three of the four weapons. A conventional lower was used on the last.
The female used a dedicated 22lr on a CA lower.
Two of the CA rifles had midlength direct impingement (DI) uppers with rail hand guards.
Cav Arms lowers are fixed A1 length with a 13” LoP.

The conventional lower had a carbine (DI) length upper with a surefire forearm with integrated light system.
All carbines employed the use of a red dot sight (RDS) and A2 flash hiders.


Drill One:

Conducted at a range of 25 yards with targets set at 15 yards apart . This created a shallow arc of movement.
Shooter centered between targets.
Shot strings was fired alternating between the extended and magwell hold.
The shooter started facing the left target and shot one round at each target.

Drill two:

Conducted at a range of 7 yards with the shooter centered between the 2 targets, thus creating an arc of about 160 degrees.
The shooter starts facing the berm center and upon the start signal, faces the left target, shoots and then engages the right side target.
The same protocol was used as drill one, varying strings between holds.

To determine if stock length had any measurable effect, I tested Drill two with the stock at full extension and again in its normal position.

Two subjects also ran drill two with body armor to determine it’s effects on the exercise.


The extended hand position on the forearm resulted in faster transition times for all four subjects. While there was the occasional string where the magwell hold was faster, by averaging the string times – the extended hold prevailed in every case. Anywhere from 0.1 to 0.29 seconds were gained by using the extended hold.
Granted, this was a small group sample with a narrow range of experience but we were able to see a trend developing.

Evaluators comments concluded that by using MW hold, the weapon would over track the target and extra time was necessary to recover.

The female shooter commented that by using the extended hold, the weapon was “more balanced.”
(Note; while the intent of using the 22lr for her was for familiarization purposes before using the center fire version, it was decided to remain with the low recoiling carbine to stay consistent with her experience level. She did decline the opportunity to fire the full size version after the testing).

When wearing body armor, the center of gravity of the weapon is placed forward away from the shooter. Adjustable stocks can compensate for this and hold the advantage for shooters of varying stature.

What does this all mean and why should I care?

To paraphrase Magpul Dynamics, a gunfight is a “time-is-life” scenario, do you want to give away up to 0.2 seconds to your opponent ?  The faster you eliminate your opponent – the less time you spend engaged in that fight. It may not reduce your injury threshold, only your exposure time in the event for that particular target.  As a shooter, it is up to you to determine the right ‘tool for the job’ and evaluate what works best for your particular circumstance.   The magwell hold is still viable, especially in tight/confined quarters using a sub gun for which it was developed. It remains up to the operator to know when to apply each method.

Raw results

Shooter drill Extended Magwell Conclusion
String Remarks
1 Matt 1 2.22 2.73
2 Matt 1 2.35 2.45
3 Matt 1 2.16 2.48
4 Matt 1 2.55 2.15
5 Matt 1 1.99 2.22
Total 11.27 12.03
Avg. Difference 0.152 Extended Faster
1 Maya 1 2.51 3.05
2 Maya 1 2.68 2.7
3 Maya 1 2.79 2.73
4 Maya 1 2.76 3.25
5 Maya 1 2.00 2.58
12.74 14.31
Avg. Difference 0.272 Extended Faster
1 Russell 1 2.01 2.35
2 Russell 1 2.06 2.11
3 Russell 1 1.96 2.01
4 Russell 1 2.03 1.99
5 Russell 1 2.04 2.15
10.1 10.61
Avg. Difference 0.102 Extended Faster

String Drill Ext MW
1 Mark 1 2.46 3.08
2 Mark 1 2.23 2.32
3 Mark 1 2.15 2.56
4 Mark 1 2.15 2.21
5 Mark 1 2.33 2.19
11.32 12.36
Avg. Difference 0.208 Extended Faster

1 Matt 2 2.44 2.52
2 Matt 2 2.23 2.25
3 Matt 2 2.16 2.36
4 Matt 2 2.06 2.28
5 Matt 2 2.16 2.2
11.05 11.61
Avg. Difference 0.112 Extended Faster

1 Maya 2 3.4 3.5
2 Maya 2 3.02 3.01
3 Maya 2 2.65 2.78
4 Maya 2 2.62 3.01
5 Maya 2 2.9 2.5
14.59 14.8
Avg. Difference 0.042 Extended Faster

1 Russell 2 2.26 2.37
2 Russell 2 1.96 2.11
3 Russell 2 2.11 2.34
4 Russell 2 2.36 2.44
5 Russell 2 2.07 2.58
10.76 11.84
Avg. Difference 0.216 Extended Faster

1 Mark 2 2.32 2.22 stock extended
2 Mark 2 2.08 1.93 stock extended
3 Mark 2 2.23 2.43 stock extended
4 Mark 2 2.23 2.44 stock extended
5 Mark 2 2.19 2.56 stock extended
11.05 11.58
Avg. Difference 0.106 Extended faster

1 Mark 2 2.13 2.45 stock collapsed
2 Mark 2 2.27 2.54 stock collapsed
4.4 4.99
Avg. Difference 0.295 Extended Faster

1 Matt-Armor 2 2.27 2.39
2 Matt-Armor 2 2.19 2.15
3 Matt-Armor 2 2.10 2.44
6.56 6.98
Avg. Difference 0.14 Extended Faster

1 Mark-Armor 2 2.08 2.23
2 Mark-Armor 2 2.05 2.51
3 Mark-Armor 2 2.14 2.37
6.27 7.11
Avg. Difference 0.28 Extended Faster

Mag well hold has it’s place, it is generally most effective with short guns with less mass out front and correspondingly with forearms that are too short to hold effectively.  It can also be a necessity if someone is forced to use a stock that is too long, while wearing armor or cold weather clothing, particularly with an optic with limited eye relief.  In that set of circumstances holding out far on the fore end is a physiological impossibility for most people, and mag well hold is required.  Another valid reason to run mag well hold is because it allows the shooter to square up and present more of their armor to a potential threat, and access some of the controls with the support hand.

I personally prefer extended hold because it is faster and is more consistent in viability across a wider range of shooting problems.  The support hand is always in the correct location to activate light switches.  For the circumstances where it is necessary to bring the support hand in closer such as going kneeling or prone, it is simple to slide the hand back while moving into position.  Likewise when shooting on the move at extreme angles the support hand can be collapsed in to allow for proper body geometry for a wider arc of fire.

Understanding the why behind different techniques is a critical component of knowing when they should be employed.  There are advantages and disadvantages to every technique, its up to the shooter to determine which one most effectively solves the shooting problems they may face.

About SinistralRifleman

I've been competing in the action shooting sports since 2002. I believe competition shooting to be an excellent way to build gun handling and marksmanship skills and encourage all gun owners to seek out some form of competition shooting. Anyone can become reasonably good at it if they devote the time and resources to do so. Winning, while nice, need not be your goal; bettering yourself through the pursuit of excellence is something we all can achieve.
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