By David Higginbotham
Shot timers aren’t the sexiest addition to your shooting gear. Most are bulky, a bit boxy even. If you’re not a serious competitor, using a timer might even seem a bit pretentious, like you think there is something that needs to be timed. Yet a timer is one piece of gear that marks you as a serious shooter. A good timer implies that you’re serious about competition and serious about improving your speed. And now, thanks to the Shotmaxx from Double-Alpha Academy (DAA), the shot timer has gotten more functional, more stylish and a whole lot smaller.
Why do you need a shot timer?
There are two solid uses for timers. Those who compete need the ability to judge what we can’t humanly perceive. Most competitors are separated by fractions of seconds. With a shot timer, the numbers erase all ambiguity. How do you know if you’re fast? Time it and see.
The other use has less to do with competing with others and more to do with competing with yourself. A shot timer will let you know how fast you clear the holster and put a round on target. For years, I’d been playing out bogus spaghetti western scenes in my head, telling myself when to draw. The whole scene would slow down in cinematic flourish, and I’d pop a round on the target. It felt fast, and I felt like a bad, bad man. The first time I timed myself, I was shocked. What felt like a fast draw was actually much slower than I’d thought. I was damn slow.
Then I went to a tactical pistol class taught by Daniel Shaw at Thunderbird Tactical in Wichita, Kansas. He timed us at the beginning of the class, just to have a benchmark. At the end of the day, close to seven hours later, we timed ourselves again. I’d improved remarkably. I’d begun the day at about 1.8 or 1.9 seconds. The timer would sound, and I’d rip the GLOCK 23 from a Safariland ALS retention holster and pop a round on the steel silhouette. But that time is laughable, and I know it. At the end of the day, I was pulling the same gun from the same holster in 1.3 seconds. Even that wasn’t good enough, and I left intent on getting it down to an even second.
So the Shotmaxx timer sounds, you pull the gun and fire. The timer will tell you how long it took for the first shot to leave the gun. Then it will measure and record the time between rounds. The Shotmaxx has two basic functional modes. One uses a built-in microphone to listen for your shots. The second acts as an accelerometer that you wear on the wrist of your shooting hand. In that mode, when the recoil hits, the shot is recorded. The first mode is great if you are working alone. You can hear the beep, and the microphone can hear your shot. The second mode is ideal if you’re working at a crowded range, where other shots might trigger the auditory sensor. It allows you to keep practicing and timing yourself, even with other guns going off right beside you. The microphone is sensitive enough to pick up shots from suppressed guns. DAA even claims the timer works with airsoft (the microphone and the accelerometer).
If you’ve got any interest in shooting sports, like IPSC/USPSA/IDPA, you have to have a timer. Setting a timer for start times, measuring split times, keeping track of shot strings, providing instant feedback that will allow you to make adjustments on the fly during practice or competition—all of this is crucial. And the Shotmaxx can do it all. It even has something called Spy Mode (which is so secret that I didn’t know it existed until I began doing research for this review). Spy Mode lets you get ready and set for someone else’s signal. Start the timer, get in the ready position, and wait for the beep. When you move your hand for the draw motion, the Shotmaxx will start timing. There are a lot of options. The one problem that I had with the Shotmaxx had less to do with its functionality than with its complexity. There are a lot of settings to adjust, and the learning curve is steep. When you’re standing on a crowded range, trying to tweak settings, the options can get overwhelming. Back home, with the help of manuals or YouTube, I find it much easier. It does get easier, though, so stick with it.
The watch itself is such a logical addition to shooting gear. Most shot timers are significantly larger. While there’s a benefit to the larger design, especially in the ease of pushing buttons, the watch is simply more compact. Because it attaches to the wrist, it allows for the shooting accelerometer to assist in timing functionality. The screen itself is available with a black face with white type, or a white face with black type. The black background is good for use in bright light. When the lights dim, there is even a backlight that allows you to keep working. The speaker is not as loud as some timers, but it is loud enough to be heard through passive headphones.
And it is also a watch. While it isn’t really my taste in high-fashion timepieces, it does tell the time. It has an alarm function (which could be confusing and dangerous if you sleep with your firearms). It also has a stopwatch and preset countdown function. It is available with all kinds of accessories. There’s a convenient case that keeps it from getting crushed in a range bag. There are brightly colored skins that protect the watch (useful for the more hardcore training you might get into). There’s even an electronic power charging station.
The Shotmaxx is built into the housing of the Texas Instruments EZ430-Chrono. The only color available currently is a stylish tactical black. It is only slightly larger than a typical watch, and that extra size comes from the speaker. Yet the extra size is negligible. I forget I’m wearing it. I don’t normally wear a watch, and I forget I’m wearing it. I have left the range several times now with the watch still on my wrist.
When DAA sent us a Shotmaxx, we immediately took it to the range. We played with it several times before we decided it was really as good as it seemed. As there are typically two or more of us there, we bought another Shotmaxx, which allowed us to test them (and ourselves) against each other. For one of the more interesting tests, we used one in the traditional mode and one in accelerometer mode (both on the same shooter). This wasn’t even close to a scientific experiment. We started them, as close together as we humanly could, and then ran through the drills. I wanted to know how well the two modes compared. The difference in the two times was 2/100 of a second off, and I chalk that up to human error. The difference was in my button pushing abilities, not in the watch’s timing. Both modes work incredibly well.
Double Alpha Academy has an app, too, that lets you control the Shotmaxx through Bluetooth from your smartphone. The Shotmaxx can be synced with computers and tablets as well. If you plug the Shotmaxx in, you can download split times in real time. I’ve yet to play with the functionality of the software. My interest in the watch has kept me busy enough. After I master it, I’ll move on to the other Shotmaxx capabilities.
When the watch is being used as a watch, the battery (which is rechargeable) will last as long as three months. When the Shotmaxx is working as a timer, the life drops down to 24 to 30 hours. That is more than enough for several trips to the range.
Depending on the options, the Shotmaxx ranges in price from about $155 up to $175. It is a solid investment. If you are thinking about getting into competition, you’ll need to budget this into the equation. If you’re serious about improving your defensive shooting skills, this is a really valuable gauge of how effective you may be. Check out DAA and Shotmaxx. The company has a ton of tutorials up on its site and is adding things pretty regularly.