Yes . . . I understand that the 2nd Amendment is your right to carry . . .
Yes . . . I understand you spent time in the military, time in the jungle, time in the sandbox (and – truly – thank you for your service, your sacrifice is what keeps our country safe and free from foreign attack) . . .
Yes . . . I understand that YOU are the instructor . . . and that YOU teach coursework and simply do not have time to actually take coursework . . .
Yes . . . I understand you visit the range “frequently” and send rounds downrange . . .
I get all that. I also understand that there are a number of top tier sets of coursework out there . . . and that many disagree with methods and techniques taught by other schools. Yet, the “good” instructors will be able to clearly articulate the WHY of their approach, their methods, their drills, their flow . . . without disparaging their professional competitors. It is YOUR responsibility as a shooter to see if what they are offering fits within the choices you are making. Bottom line here . . . no one has ALL the answers or has the single BEST set of course work . . . yet each dedicated professional instructor does their absolute best to deliver to the student the “best” of what they teach each and every day of each and every course. I was NOT DISAPPOINTED with the Gunsite 150 course in any way, shape or form.
This year the coursework I chose to attend was the Gunsite 150 course. I chose this particular course because it “travels” from the home base of Gunsite Ranch in Paulden, AZ. At “the ranch” their primary pistol course is the “250” course – 5 days including both indoor and outdoor simulators. The 150 course omits those exercises that are conducted using the simulators and focus on the square range work. This drops the length by 2 days and allows it to be more flexible so that it can be taught off site. The Indiana 150 course I took was conducted at the Putnam County’s EMS building for the classroom portions and their newly refurbished pistol range right next door. The facilities were excellent and the hospitality shown by the sheriff’s department was great. As a side note one of the Sheriff’s Deputies as well as a “soon to go to the academy” Sherriff’s recruit were students in the coursework.
I’ve chatted about budgeting training dollars each year – for coursework, travel and ammunition. Quality coursework costs money – simple as that. If you have to travel to take it, that also costs money. It also costs time . . . something, frankly, that is typically a little tight for me. A 3-day course in Indiana with two of those days being on a weekend – I can do that. A 5-day course, plus travel, in Arizona gets much more difficult to accomplish. That was another reason for the choice of the Indiana 150 course. A reasonable summary of the course costs would be . . .
· Course Cost - $850
· Lodging – 4 nights total with some meals included - $650
· Misc travel expenses - $100
· Gas – 800 miles R/T – 42 gal - ~$2.50/gal - $105
· Ammo – 1,000 rounds - $220 (we used approximately 700 rounds)
· Total course cost . . . $1,925
Now . . . before your heart stops and you gasp at the price . . . just a quick reality check. Let me say this slow one more time . . . GOOD COURSEWORK COSTS REAL MONEY . . . period . . . get over it.
Gunsite is one of “those” destinations that is simply a “have to” in my book, and this was the most cost effective way I could find to accomplish this particular goal. If you live in the Midwest I would urge you to consider it.
There are also many “preconceptions” on what a course will be like, what they will teach, how they will teach . . . and I am no exception to this particular phenomenon. I read all the reviews I could (most were years old), I’ve read most if not all of Col Cooper’s writings, watched many of the interviews of him on youtube . . . I tried to do my homework. I came away with a few things I thought I “knew” . . . the “Modern Technique” would focus on the Weaver Stance, emphasize the 80/20 push pull grip and all the instructors would be shooting (and pushing) the .45cal 1911. Yep, I just knew this is how it would be. (reality proved to be much different). Bottom line, I’d never taken any formal instruction in the “Modern Technique” and saw this as a way to fix that particular problem.
One other player in the equation was the weather – so let me mention it, and then I will leave it out of the equation for the rest of the discussion. It was “hot” . . . as in the gates of hell hot. The shooting pad was brand new – we were the first shooters to use the range since its update. It was the standard very light grey crushed limestone which acted as the perfect reflector for the sun that seemed intent on cooking us where we stood. Temps remained in the very high 80s to low to mid 90s with heat indexes in the low 100s. Hydration, good cover clothing and sunscreen were simply a necessity. The first day I drank 6 quarts of water . . . without a single “head call”. So I continued to drink heavily that evening and the next morning and finally “caught up”. If you take summer coursework . . . drink water . . . constantly . . . period.
The beneficial part of the extreme heat is simply the stress factor. It truly helped me – and most I think – focus their efforts on the task at hand – gun handling and marksmanship.
Let’s chat a bit about gear. When I take coursework I always shoot my carry gun – a Glock 17 with the claw rear site and a trijicon large green square front site. And, I always take a duplicate (with the exception of Truglo front and rear sites) Glock 17 with me. Old saying “two is one, one is none” may well prove accurate and – as I said – this coursework costs real money. Nothing would suck more than to get on the range and have your one and only firearm die in your hands. Take two . . . always . . .
I typically like to shoot the coursework the way I carry – concealed at 4 o’clock with a blade-tech IWB holster and a single magazine in my rear left pocket. Since the instructors have no idea of the level of skill of the shooters – their requirements are a bit different. LEOs shoot in their duty gear. Civilians must use an OWB holster (I used the Blackhawk Sportster), a two-mag pouch carrier and all shooting is done in an unconcealed manner. The differences are minor as long as you place the holster in the same location and the mag carriers as close to the rear pocket as you can.
The other thing that was encouraged was to throw 50-100 rounds of ammo in your pocket so you could top off magazines while the opposite flight of shooters were on the line. This is kind of a toss-up instructor to instructor. About half I’ve taken from like this idea and half like to take a break to reload and chat about the previous drill. I like the ammo in the pocket – it saves time and gets the shooters more time on the line.
You can have the absolute best coursework available . . . but if the instructors presenting it have no real teaching talent . . . little is learned. The “do it my way ‘cause I said so” days within the firearms training world are long since gone. If that is the primary fallback position of your instructor – or if that is YOUR primary fallback position – find a different instructor, or become a better instructor. I believe we had 17 shooters in the class that was divided up into two flights of 9 and 8. We had 3 instructors which gave a 3-1 ration of shooter to instructor on the range. That’s a nice ratio! They all paced the line offering a word here and there – insuring what one might have missed another caught.
Jay was the lead instructor. A former marine and retired LEO he was what I would consider a modern day “warrior” with approximately 16 years under his belt teaching Gunsite coursework. He was very skilled in the use of his carry weapon but also trains in various types of hand to hand work, knife fighting and even some sword work. He made clear that this coursework was a “gunfighting” class and that was indeed the focus of virtually all drills. How can you insure that you get the first accurate hit should the world truly go sideways in a very big way?
He was tempered and direct in his feedback, honest, progressively more demanding as our time went on and always perfectly clear in what he wanted and expected.
Pete is an LEO and trainer from South Philadelphia. I believe he said he’s been teaching Gunsite coursework for nearly 10 years. He too also falls easily in the category of a modern day warrior. Of course he is still on the street as part of his work as both a trainer and patrol officer with the police department in Philadelphia. He could bring to the fore how the techniques they taught played into his daily life as a LEO. While some instructors imply how things work, all three of ours brought real world experience to the table. He would take the time to help adjust the smallest things. For me specifically it was the positioning of my dominant foot and the way my support hand joined my dominant hand during the presentation of my weapon. Little things that made big differences.
Jerrod was a local officer that had been a Gunsite trainer for 6 years if memory serves. We had the honor of shooting on a pistol range named in memory of his father. You could tell that meant a lot to him. The description of “warrior” applies to him as well with a broad range of training from firearms to hand to hand to knife fighting. All three had a very broad base of fighting knowledge. He too would deliver specific parts of the lectures as well as offer feedback to individual shooters during the drills. The best piece he offered me came during a “headshot” drill. The previous drill at 3 yards went well. At 5 – not so much. His comment . . . “How the heck did you go from hero to zero so quick??” Heavy sigh. In watching me he noticed I was taking longer to press off the shot. He simply said “when you sight picture is right, finish the trigger press”. It seemed I was waiting for the perfect alignment . . . while when I finished my drive, with the slack taken up . . . I truly was already on target. So, I simply finished the press. The result was MUCH BETTER with rounds quickly falling into the “ocular cavity”.
Little things, little things, little things . . . foot position, trigger take up, smooth press, earlier joining . . . all fine-tune a shooter . . . and all make them a quicker and more accurate gunfighter.
Things I “knew” going in to this . . .
· All instructors would shoot and promote the .45cal 1911.
· The “Weaver Stance” would be demanded.
· The concept of “Modern Technique” would be hammered home.
The reality was something quite different . . . there was not a single 1911 amongst the instructors to be found. The Weaver Stance had been replaced (and is being replaced throughout their coursework) with a “Balanced Fighting Stance” and at the end of three days the phrase “Modern Technique” meant to me – placing rounds on target quickly and in a combat effective way.
The primary argument made for the selection of a defensive weapon revolved around elements of the Combat Triad . . . Gun Handling and Marksmanship. If you can’t run your gun . . . what good is it. And, if you can’t hit what you’re aiming at . . . things won’t end well. We had a segment on Terminal Ballistics in one of the lecture periods. The bottom line is that if you look at a 9mm, .40 or a .45 the differences between terminal ballistics of a modern defensive round is virtually non-existent. So, find a defensive weapon – in any of these calibers – that you can run and shoot well.
One thing I have noticed in coursework I’ve taken is that many times folks simply don’t run large volumes of ammunition through their defensive carry weapon. The result being that they truly have no idea whether they can run their gun or not. One of the shooters on the line was carrying a full sized .45 1911. While they were certainly accurate with the firearm, the presentation was very slow and they had real difficulty simply running the gun. The first two days all three instructors worked with the shooter to make sure they were getting the most out of the weapon that they could but in the final analysis the gun was simply too large physically to make a good match with the shooter. On the 3rd and final day someone loaned the shooter a 9mm M&P Shield. The difference was remarkable and the shooter left the course much more confident and ready for a shopping trip!
First day was an in brief, the distribution of course material – name tags, name placards for the desk, course book, review sheets, emergency contact info, hold harmless agreements, a metal water bottle, a pen . . . everything needed to get things rolling.
We covered Coopers 4 safety rules, talked about the Combat Triad (Gun Handling, Marksmanship and Mindset), outlined the flow of the course, answered initial questions, went through introductions and the remaining administrative items. Then we headed to the range.
The target shot was the Speedwell Gunsite Target. The entire target is covered in a sand colored camo with very indistinct outlines of the desired “hit” areas – “high center mass” area as well as the “brain box”. The idea for this style of target is to get the shooter used to shooting at an area on a threat rather than shooting at a defined and outlined target area.
The afternoon began with simple single round shooting drills from the low ready. The holster was a storage device at this point, not the starting point for the drills.
Day one was simple drills – single rounds to high center mass from 3,5 and 7 yards. Faster, controlled pairs were introduced at the end of the day. Everything was examined – stance, grip, our extension, shot placement, sight pictures were adjusted . . . all the little things like I referred to earlier were worked on. The idea – to get everyone ready for the accelerated pace that would begin the following day.
At the end of the day was the first shooter on shooter competition. Two lines, 30 feet from two 18” steel plates. On the fire command the first to draw and hit the steel moved on . . . the other went home. I got my first hit then waited through the line again. I was the very last shooter and the two in front of me missed . . . so I took home the first Gunsite challenge coin.
The range was run as a hot range. From the very first “make ready” command until the final exercise at the end of the day where you put your weapon in the state you wanted to put it when you left the range, all firearms were loaded. Many, when leaving for the day, simply changed out ball ammunition for their defensive carry ammunition. I was staying at the “Inn at DePauw” which was on the university campus, so I cleared my weapon and left it locked in the vault in my vehicle for the night.
The first day ended with the cobwebs brushed aside, the first round jitters gone and a building excitement for the rest of the week.
Day – and Night – Two
Day two was simply building on day one’s work and increasing our speed. There were a small group of engagements – single round, controlled pairs and finally a “hammer” – two rounds as quickly as you could press the trigger off a single sight picture.
We also worked on precise shots by through the use of a single shot to the “brain box”. Drills were worked at all three distances – 3y, 5y and 7Y. The feedback also continued with suggestions, tweaks, nudges . . . all with an eye toward making us accurate at increasing speeds.
It was also here that folks really began running their guns better. It was the logical time to introduce malfunction clearing, speed reloads and tactical reloads. Ammunition management was also worked on during this time. Breaks were at specific junctures in the coursework and not simply because you ran low on ammo. Fully loaded magazines when drills commenced, a pocket full of an extra 100 rounds and topping off magazines while the other flight shot their drills kept everyone on the line and the drills moving at a pretty quick pace.
I read an article just this morning on how “Tactical Reloads” will get you killed and it was a bit of a reminder that the word “never” is dependent entirely on context. The argument against tactical reloads is why on earth would you want to drop a partial magazine in the middle of a gun fight. Short answer – you wouldn’t. But – you have a very low magazine, the bad guy in front of you is down and likely dead . . . and their might be a wingman parking the car . . . wouldn’t it make sense to move forward from this point with a fully loaded handgun? There method was very similar to others I’ve learned and taught and – in context – it makes perfect sense. So, we worked on tactical reloads and at the end of every drill we were given the opportunity to holster a weapon prepared in the manner we wished to start the next drill.
Finally, for the day shoot another coin was up for grabs. This time for accuracy. Same lines, same targets, same “out if you miss” but this time a hit earned you the right to shoot from a farther distance. I popped out of this one pretty quick. The winner was two stages back from the 25 yard line . . . let’s call it 40 yards before his competitor dropped a shot. Very nice shooting.
The first session ended early with an evening start time around 8PM. This was a low light / almost no light session to get some familiarization with using a flashlight and shooting in low light. This is something I’ve done while helping training our local PD but virtually none of the “civilian” shooters had ever shot in low light. Most found it enlightening and definitely a skill set they wanted to work on. The two primary methods taught was the “FBI Method”, hold your flashlight high and away from your body while pointing it at the threat. And, the Harries method – flashlight held in your support hand, brought up under your dominant hand with the back of the hands pressed together. That pressure helps stabilize your shooting. Again, these were introduction drills with all of us expected to work on them when we returned home. So ended day two.
We started with a “cold shoot” - “Hammers” from 3y, 5y and 7y with head shots added in. Next we were introduced to the “Failure Drill”. You’ve engaged a threat with a “Hammer” high center mass . . . and nothing – the threat is still up and fighting. The failure drill is simply a “Hammer” – two rounds high center mass off a single sight picture, and a single round to the “brain box”. In gunny terms – the Mozambique Drill. While I see much poo-pooing of this drill – in context it again makes sense. If you have an immediate threat intent on your demise – why hit them with two rounds and wait and see” Or 3,4 or 5 rounds? Two rounds center mass and one to the “brain box” will go a long way to making your day better. As with all of these drills – context, context, context . . . one size will never, ever fit all.
We moved on to use of cover and ended the day one more time with two lines at 30 feet, two 18” steel plates . . . miss you’re out, fastest you move on, slowest – you’re out. I gotta say with just a touch of pride that I managed to bring this challenge coin home as well.
We finished with a brass pick up, final Q and A and the handing out of certificates for the completion of 24 hours of training from Gunsite.
Very good course. Beyond excellent instructors. The flow was well thought-out with one drill building on another. Virtually no wasted time – we were either talking gun fighting or practicing gun fighting – never hanging around shooting the bull. The instructors were profoundly knowledgeable, clear spoken, direct, helpful, demanding and enjoyable. Bottom line – tons of value here folks, definitely worth looking at should you be in need of coursework later this year or next!
Gunsite was founded in 1976 by Lt. Col. Jeff Cooper, author, columnist, professor, WW II and Korean War combat veteran. Col. Cooper intended Gunsite to be the vehicle for spreading the Modern Technique of the Pistol, which he created during his years in Big Bear Lake, CA.