Sunday, September 28, 2014

Training - A Scouting Shoot-O-Ree!!!


“Yep . . . about the only thing “he” trains is scouts . . .”

I’ve heard this comment made about trainers . . . both Instructors and Training Counselors for the NRA. Its typical context is meant with more than a little derision with the implication that the Instructor or TC weren’t “real” shooters but rather “wanna bees”.

So, I thought I’d take a moment to introduce folks who visit here to their replacements . . . to the shooters that will be having a similar conversation long after you and I have had the lid closed on our life . . .

This past Saturday our local scout camp held a “Shoot-O-Ree” with a broad range of activities targeted to Cub Scouts. They had planned on 180 cubs . . . hey hosted 250 . . . plus parents. It was quite a day. There was a broad range of shooting sports . . . I’m sure you’ve heard of them . . .

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Here you see a typical “Marshmallow Blowgun” range . . . a 12” length of PVC acted as the blowgun, targets attached to the tarp provided the challenge while the tarp also kept the marshmallow out of some fairly wet dew-dampened ground.

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Next, a sling-shot range with pie tin plates as targets with large-dog, dog food as ammunition. The area critters had quite a feed I suspect once the tarp backdrop was dropped and the “ammunition” dispersed in the area.

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Some pretty spiffy rubber band handguns were next with the inverted cups acting a targets.

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Next up was the archery range. A hard day’s shooting was available from 10 am through 4 pm.

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Finally, what every new cub waited for . . . the BB Gun Range. In years gone by it seemed that with training, travel and “settling down” some very excited critters most shooters only sent around 5 BBs down range. This year they were “banded” with different colored bands and assigned specific time periods to shoot with each period being 30 minutes long. We began at 10:15 am and the last shooter left the range at 4 pm. 24 benches . . . every bench filled and some with shooters on both sides of the bench . . . for every period . . . PLUS lunch . . . AND a “walk in” batch at the tail in. The day’s tally?? 250ish shooters were handled with each sending 30-50 BBs down range! A very good day. One mom looked at me and said “He say’s this is the best day OF HIS LIFE! He’s going to frame his target!” That was a pretty typical sentiment actually. The boys – and a large number of sisters – all shot. Another great thing . . . the number of mom’s that were helping their sons and daughters shoot! Very nice to see.

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We started the range brief 10 minutes before the end of the current session. Gave the shooters 3 minutes to exchange the target they shot with a clean one for the new shooter. After the targets were replaced and the “old” shooters had left the range, the new batch took their places at the benches.  We did the first shot by command, helped as needed and they were off!! From the 2nd shot on they were “on their own” with the help of their parent or range staff.  There was plenty of time to coach the shooters as needed with 5 of us pacing the line lending a hand where needed. It is amazing how well these scouts did as a whole. I also worked with 3 cross-eye dominant shooters who quickly went from grumbles of frustration to “that look” a shooter has when he shoots a really good target.

So please, next time you harp on an Instructor or TC because they spend time with scouts or train new instructors who’s focus is scouting just remember . . . these are the shooting community’s future! If we loose them we will be doing real damage to a craft we all practice and love.

Don’t you just love seeing a mom or dad and their kid on the range . . .?


Sunday, September 21, 2014

Training - Qualifying . . .


As a general rule . . . people hate to be “judged”. It’s not difficult to do a quick tour through the Internet and locate article after article about the “wrongness” of being judgmental. Yet . . . if we are honest . . . we make judgments, particularly about people, virtually every day. How people dress (honest to goodness, the bill of a ball cap is to SHADE YOUR FRICKIN’ EYES!!! and not to protect your neck from sunburn), how folks interact (well he could have been a bit more polite) and sometimes . . . how a person is acting towards you (I feel just more than a little uncomfortable – I’m going to go someplace safer . . . NOW).

Judgments can also get very personal . . . especially when they are directed an YOU.

In the shooting community, there is always a bit of “measuring” going on . . . best target, fastest reload, fastest draw and engagement, best round for the day . . . it’s an ongoing process. And there’s a lot of good that comes from this regarding us as shooters – it pushes us to be better, faster, more accurate. It feeds our passion to be the best shooter we can be.

There are distinct points in time though when we – as a shooter – are evaluated in a very specific manner . . . and we must “qualify”. My first experience with this was during basic training in ’68. Classroom work, written tests and finally range work - a black silhouette at 100 yards. 100 rounds total, 25 rounds each from standing, sitting, kneeling and prone. A round on the target was a hit. If memory serves 80% was passing with anything over 95% qualifying as “expert”. I did, indeed, shoot expert . . . but still had a long way to go to be – in my opinion – “qualified”. And yet . . . between the exams and the range work, a judgment could be made about my skills. I understood how a M-16 worked, I could maintain it and I could shoot it accurately - at least on a range, in good weather, with no one shooting back. It was a minimal benchmark - one that was established for everyone in my training flight.

For those of you taking firearms training in today’s shooting community, there are any number of types of “qualification” courses you can shoot. And that’s what I’d like to chat a bit about today. What’s their purpose, what should they cover, do they actually have value and – on an individual level – when you go to the range, what do you expect of yourself when it comes to a “qualifying score” for the day.



  • to give (someone) the necessary skill or knowledge to do a particular job or activity
  • to have the necessary skill or knowledge to do a particular job or activity : to have the qualifications to do something
  • to pass an exam or complete a course of study that is required in order to do something

Examinations given at the end of classroom time fulfill the same purpose they have for hundreds of years . . . have you retained the information shared with you by your teacher? Bringing to mind the NRA training courses, your written exam judges two specific individuals – you, the student . . . and the course instructor as well. Do you know the parts of a revolver, SA Semi-Automatic pistol, pump shotgun . . . the fundamentals of aiming, how to find eye dominance . . . there is, indeed, much to learn. Especially for the new or inexperienced shooter. And for the instructor – did he do his job and teach you what you are expected to know?

Once you take to the range – a whole new skillset is being evaluated. At the very root of all range work . . . are you safe? Your instructor is continually evaluating you for obedience to the safety rules you were given whether they be the Big 3 from the NRA, Cooper’s four or some other set of rules designed to keep you safe on the range.

At the end of the coursework, after the instructor has taught you their shooting method, their drills, shared their ideas on their particular approach to shooting, there is typically a “qualification” course of fire at the end . . . a shooting test . . . to evaluate whether you have learned the skillsets and can demonstrate them back to the instructor and – typically – to the whole class.

It is here that another purpose of “qualifying” is shown, it introduces a higher level of stress into the exercise. We all want to do our best, no one wants to “fail” or look stupid in front of a group of our peers. It forces you to focus on the task at hand and to step-up to the challenge . . . or not.

In some cases, qualifying is also part of the “entry pass” to specific coursework. For most of the NRA instructor coursework there are pre-course qualifications that need to be met, including a shooting qualification. Here the purpose is simple . . . you need to be able to shoot in order to be able to teach someone else to shoot. The pre-course qualification covers this as well as basic knowledge of the particular course you wish to teach.

What does a “qual test” cover?

For the shooting community, let’s break it down between classroom and range. In a classroom setting we are typically trying to confirm our knowledge of specific pieces of information. Safety rules, parts of a firearm, awareness of our surroundings, mindset, pieces of equipment, broader skill sets such as first aid. Much of this is covered by both a written exam – whether a pre-qualification test to determine if you should even be in the class – or a final exam to determine if you learned and retained what was taught. Most instructors are also doing a running evaluation of students in their coursework. A poor attitude is one of the quickest ways to have a door hit you in the butt on the way out.

On the range – for a prospective instructor – a qualification course of fire is used to determine if the person has the necessary shooting skills to teach the coursework. No pressure . . . but if you can’t shoot the course of fire, you can’t take the course to become an instructor. That said, isn’t that what we all want really? If I’m taking a shooting course . . . shouldn’t I be certain the instructor actually knows how to shoot?? Yep, no brainer there.

So what about the person who trains the trainer . . . what check is there on them?? Honestly, it’s the same – they’ve all been in the position of having to have proved themselves through coursework. But, most of them . . . the good ones anyway . . . will actually shoot the qualification course of fire first – in front of the prospective instructors. Why? First, to demonstrate that passing the shooting qualification is possible. Next, to keep pressure on themselves to maintain their skills. Finally, to prove to the students that they can actually shoot . . . why would any student take advice from an instructor if they can pass a simple qualification course?

For the student on the range, it is proof – raw, physical proof – that they have actually learned the skillset being taught. It allows for everything to come together and gives them the opportunity to demonstrate to themselves, their peer group and their instructor that . . . Yep! I got it!! It may also be your “key” to show that you have learned the material well enough to be awarded a certification.

In a broader sense, they also provide a common baseline of knowledge and skill. Presented to the shooter in the same way . . . with the same round count . . . same time limits . . . same equipment requirement . . . same type of draw (concealed or OC) . . . they offer the ability to compare shooters on an “equal footing”.

There’s perhaps no more “quoted” qualification course of fire than the FBI’s. If you are looking for a baseline “standard” it is probably better than most. And, it is one that has changed with time as well with the current iteration being adapted in within the last 2 years to reflect what they have learned through their real world experience . . . over the previous 17 years, 75% of their shooting engagements were within 3 yards. The full article is here. The meat of the article . . .

“Until last January, the pistol-qualification course required agents to participate in quarterly exercises in which they fired 50 rounds, more than half of them from between 15 and 25 yards. The new course involves 60 rounds, with 40 of those fired from between 3 and 7 yards.

The new exercise also requires that agents draw their weapons from concealed positions, usually from holsters shielded by jackets or blazers, to mimic their traditional plainclothes dress in the field.”

And, a link to an excellent discussion of the new course of fire can be found here.

Notice that the qualification course of fire is shot quarterly . . . 4 times a year . . . frequently. Keep that in mind. If you aren’t going to the range, aren’t drawing your weapon, aren’t working on your skillset . . . it may well not be available should the need arise.

Specific coursework that is teaching a specific skillset will typically have their own final qualification course of fire. This past June I took the Combat Focus Shooting course from Rob Pincus. I wrote a full AAR of the course here. His final qualification course of fire was a “Figure 8 Drill” one student at a time. Specifics being evaluated were moving while drawing, target identification, strings of fire rather than 1 or 2 rounds per engagement, full scan and assess after each engagement, movement during reloads, ability to provide precise shots on command. This is what that looked like . . .

The qualification course of fire fit the purpose of the course. It allowed me to be evaluated to insure I had learned what he intended me to learn.

Bottom line, your “Qual course” should cover all the bits and pieces your instructor believes are important – from shooting skills to raw knowledge.


The primary value examinations and qualification courses of fire provide you, as a shooter, is a benchmark for that day of your knowledge and your ability to shoot your defensive weapon quickly and accurately. Over time, they provide you information of where you have improved, where you need to spend energy working on specific knowledge or skills and they build confidence. If you can go to the range and shoot a qualification target cold . . . or do a perfect draw from concealment and engagement . . . it provides you confidence in your ability to use your weapon.

There is also an ability to help you should you ever be involved in a defensive shooting – they can go a long way to help show you are a skilled and accurate shooter. Ongoing documentation of your range visits also can help provide proof that you practice your skillset on a frequent basis and that you have the ability to accurately hit your target. (And if you can’t do that today . . . perhaps it’s time for a little range work.)

Individual Rangework

You can – and should – shoot our own qualification course of fire every time you go to the range. Your requirement for accuracy is up to your own specifications. Your expectations are also up to you. For my range trips I expect a round to be within or touching the boundary of by target area be it head shot triangle, high center chest or pelvic girdle or unique target shape or number . . . the accuracy is on me and my expectation is 80% or better. This is a sample target from last year . . .

qual target

If you are a target shooter . . . expect to up your score and make your groups much tighter. Shoot a qual target before you leave. Date it, score it, take a picture of it . . . and document your range trip.

If you are a defensive shooter . . . use an appropriate target, develop a set of drills that can be used in a qualification course of fire and follow suit as above – shoot the qual course, date it, score it, take a picture of it and document your range trip.

And if you are wondering what a qualification course of fire might look/sound like – here is an example.   (If you want to save the file simply click  “Save the page as” and store the audio file where ever you wish.)

I have this in my cell phone and I listen to it via a Bluetooth earpiece I wear under my “ears”. It’s 5 minutes long, 10 commands 30 seconds apart. “UP!” means multi-round engagement center mass. Otherwise it is a single precise round fired at the box, number or head as it’s called out. Each engagement is from concealment with a full scan and assess prior to reholstering. This particular audio file is one I happen to have sitting on this notebook right now – there are others. But, I think it gives you a good example of how you can build your own.

So, there you have it.

Do you “qualify” as a solid shooter?? If not . . . why not? No excuses – get out there, hit the range, take some coursework, practice your skill set . . .

If you’re going to be a “shooter” . . . make sure you can live up to exactly what that means!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Review - Smith & Wesson M&P Tactical Pen


I’m a bit of a pen aficionado . . . I love pens. My first memory of “true love” was with a fountain pen I found in my dad’s trunk. It was green with a gold lever to draw the ink into the internal ink sac. I had a bottle of black (nope! NOT blue . . . black!) ink. My first major project was in Mrs. Atkin’s 5th grade class, a map depicting Allen Shepard’s flight in Mercury 7 – a 110 mile sub-orbital flight. I remember it as a true work of art . . .

Time and years have lost that particular writing instrument – but the fondness for a good pen continues.

As does my practice of personal defense . . . hence this review of Smith & Wesson’s M&P Tactical Pen. I meant this to be written a half year or so ago, but it “took up residence” in my daughter’s couch and was recently retrieved and returned to my EDC and front left pant’s pocket.

Personal defense is actually a layered defense. It begins with situational awareness – the NRA calls it “levels of awareness”. Jeff Cooper coined it his “color code” in his 1972 book “Principals of Personal Defense”. Being aware of your surroundings, what is going on around you gives you the opportunity to use the maximum number of options available to you at the time.

Leaving the area is typically your best choice with movement towards a safer place . . . parking lot to store entry . . . sidewalk to store entry . . . sidewalk to opposite side of street . . . all of these are options other than continuing on in a direction that you feel may offer a threat to your safety.

Should a move to a safer alternative be impossible, you may well be faced with the need to defend yourself against a threat. Hopefully you have an array of options. In those parts of the country where concealed carry is an option . . . carry your damn gun . . . every day. Carry a defensive knife. Carry a good flashlight that can be used as a defensive weapon.

And . . . a couple of years ago I added a Tactical Pen to my EDC.  The Smith and Wesson M&P Tactical Pen/

M and P Tactical Pen 2

Here are the basic specifications for the Smith & Wesson SWPENMPBK Military and Police Tactical Pen, Black.

  • 6.1 inches overall, weighs 1.4 ounces
  • Made of T6061 aircraft aluminum
  • Features a click on-off cap
  • Utilizes a Parker and Hauser ink cartridge (included)
  • Has a black finish

The pointed end of the pen body is NOT the writing end. The writing tip is housed under the cap on the blunt/flat end-cap.

I have a pretty high expectation about the performance of a writing instrument. For pens I expect the pen to feel good in my hand, I expect the ink to flow consistently and smoothly and the ball should glide across the paper, not have to be dragged across the paper. The M&P Tactical Pen exceeds all of my writing expectations.

My one bone to pick with them is the pen clip – a typical weakness for pens. As you can see in the image, the clip here is missing. It’s in my desk drawer and I suspect that’s where it will stay. Regardless of how I try to coat the screw threads that hold the clip onto the pen – after 2-3 months they are loose and need to be retightened. I finally missed a sequence and lost one of the screws. Rather than fight it, I simply removed the clip and I have the pen ride – point up – in my left front pocket next to my flashlight. That’s been an OK choice.

The pen has substantial weight and feels good in my hand. It’s overall length provides a sizable part of its body for defensive purposes. The striking face is NOT the writing end, that is protected by the cap. The pointed end that is available while the cap protects the pen is the striking face. This is made of T6061 aircraft aluminum and very tough. As you can see by the wear marks on this pen, it easily stands up to daily wear and tear though with time the paint does wear.

As a defensive tool it provides a sharper edge than a kubaton giving it the ability to inflict real damage to an attacker while you attempt to change their mind about attacking you. Here are a few images from an article written last year in Personal Defense World. Please, take the time to read the entire article, it’s well worth your time.

                   Eye Strike                                                 Jugular Strike


                      Rib Strike                                               Temple Strike


There is much more information in there excellent article – you can find it here:

So . . . if you are considering adding a Tactical Pen to your EDC, I would encourage you to give serious thought to the M&P Tactical pen, I do not believe you’ll be disappointed.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Training – Drills . . . they serve a purpose


So I check into one of the training groups a few days ago and there’s an on-going “discussion” going on between one trainer who has posted a video of a “transition drill” and a number of other trainers trying to figure out what the  purpose of the drill was. The stated purpose was to demonstrate how to make a transition from a primary defensive weapon that was a long-gun that had run dry to a tertiary defensive weapon – the trainer’s handgun. Only it didn’t really demonstrate that. Because in the first couple runs, the long-gun wasn’t dry. Because after the “drill” was finished – signified by a draw and single round engagement – the handgun was quickly reholstered . . . immediately . . . without a scan and assess . . . and seemingly while turned directly towards the cameraman. In fact, the focus of the on-camera discussion focused much more on the speed that the trainer ran the drill than on actually learning the proper mechanics of such a transition drill.

It got me thinking . . . how many times do we see the same thing on a training range? The shooter “does a drill” – or multiple drills – yet in retrospect, when they are played back in our mind’s eye – they seem to be incomplete. Perhaps that’s for one simple reason . . . they are.

So let’s chat a bit about what goes into building a “drill” . . . from start to finish.


A drill must have a purpose. And, if it is meant to be part of your training regimen to enhance or maintain your defensive skills, it needs to be something more than simply making holes in paper. Each drill should be used to reinforce our foundational training . . . all of our foundational training, from the draw all the way through to the reholster.

It should make us think

My intent is to train “thinking shooters”. While there are occasions that parts of our communities look like the wild west, you do not have the luxury of just blasting away at a perceived threat without considering where your rounds might go should you miss.

You must clearly identify the threat, evaluate your ability to engage, decide whether you should even engage or whether it’s smarter to leave as quickly as possible . . . and . . . if you do engage, you need to be confident in your ability to “make the shot” and . . . you actually need to make it.

It should be “reality based”

While the example above – a transition drill – is certainly something that happens in real life . . . it happens when the primary weapon runs dry or has a hard malfunction and is no longer functional. A shooter doesn’t just “decide” to switch from primary to tertiary on a whim. A more reasonable way to simulate such an event would have been to load a magazine with 1 or 2 rounds, run the gun dry and then switch. That would have simulated a transition drill much more accurately.

Don’t time the damn thing

Yes . . . I understand that timers have their place. They increase stress. They measure performance. They compare shooter’s performance in competitions. They look cool on video, especially if you have a great run. And they can push you way past your current level of skill – just to look cool on the tape. That said, I do use a timer from time to time – but I use it to simply start a drill and sound a preferred par time.

Cameras . . . it’s a toss up

As the trainer mentioned above responded to some of the questions asked by fellow trainers, he got just a tad defensive. His fallback argument finally settled on . . . “let’s see your damn video” . . . I make use of video from a couple points of view. I typically train alone and it is my only way to watch my performance . . . and find the dozens of little things I hammer myself on. And, it’s the only way I can share those mistakes – and successes – with folks that pass through the blog. And learning from my mistakes is one other way I can pass information on the “new and inexperienced shooter”.

So what would a “drill” . . . a complete drill look like? All In My Not So Humble Opinion anyway. Well let’s pick one – one that I have some video on that has the good, the bad and the ugly in it. How about a simple draw and engagement with some precision shots required throughout the 6 minute or so video you’ll get the idea of what I mean. But, look for the key points . . .

  • It should have a defined starting point
  • It should begin with a simulated startle response
  • It should also begin with movement while you draw – draw from concealment, NOT open carry
  • A specific “target” should be called out – “up” means center mass, or head, or a specific numbered area
  • Engagements should be multi-round with the exception of the precision shots like the head or numbered area
  • When the shooting stops a complete scan and assess should be completed

Repeat this process until the drill set is complete – in this case I stop after I’ve run through two 15-round magazines. Oh, and stick around for the mag change . . . it’s a real treat!! Heavy sigh.

This is a “drill” I can justify and explain. It simulates a multi-round engagement on a threat. It incorporates a startle response and movement. It forces me to perform precision shots. It makes me do a speed reload (ok, honestly, watch the tape . . . and stop laughing). It provides me the ability to train my physical actions as well as learn from my mistakes. And, in sharing with “new and inexperienced shooters” it allows me to teach . . . from the composition of the drill, the flow of the drill, the things that went well and also from those that didn’t go very well at all.

And isn’t that the purpose of drills? To learn, to teach . . .

So we all become better, more proficient and more lethal shooters?

Plan your drills . . . shoot your drills

From the very beginning . . . to the very end.

Oh . . . and for a chuckle . . . and hopefully some good stuff as well . . . here’s the video.

And here’s the final target of the day . . .

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Friday, September 5, 2014

Commentary . . . . It’s cancer Bill . . .


I was sitting across from the Doc R, in one of those roll around chairs sometimes found in hospital exam rooms. It was Tuesday, my wife working a day shift – for which I was eternally grateful. It had taken 7 months to get to get to this exact spot . . . and probably a year or so to acknowledge that I should have “things” looked at . . .

There’s kinda a running joke about “times” in a guy’s life that all the fellows that read this will understand. Turn 40 . . . “I can see shit anymore, better see if I “need” glasses”. Yep, I did.

Turn 50 . . . on trips with the family . . . “Dad – are you stopping to pee AGAIN????” Or in the middle of the night – along about 3AM . . . “You getting up again sweetie?? You OK??”

We joke about them . . . but they may well indicate a change in your body. I put things off for a year or so – just ignoring it. As sexist as it sounds, my wife and our female friends that rode along on trips/vacations/weekend jaunts kinda liked the fact that I stopped first to hit the head . . . though they would usually quickly say something like “I may as well go too . . .”.

“You were sure in there a long time . . .” Susie would say. Yep – It. Took. Forever. To “finish my business”. Heavy sigh . . . well, I was over 50 after all.

By August 2002 my body knew something was off . . . my head was really arguing against it all . . . nope things are fine!!!!!

Mid-August I found I couldn’t set aside the “concern” that was nibbling at the back of my mind. I had lots of windshield time with work and anyone who has been in that spot knows how a person’s mind simply spins. So, I made an appointment with my Doc.

I heard the usual – Brian looks at me and says – “you really need to lose some weight, otherwise your blood work is OK but I want to draw again so we can recheck your PSA – it was quite a bit higher than I’d like to see it.” An alarm bell began to go off fairly softly in the back of my mind. “It’s probably nothing, I just want them to take another look.” Off to the lab I go and an appointment is set for the following week.

The results of the second lab aren’t any better. Honestly, summer is about over – kids are going back to school and the business is truly busy – when Brian lays out my options – see a specialist, let it ride for a bit or do nothing – “let it ride for a bit” sounds good to me. A new test is set for just before Christmas. Yippy – Skippy.

It is stunning how fast 4 months can go – and again I am seated across from Brian, fresh test results in his hand. Brian and I aren’t particularly close – but I like him because he’s very direct. Tells you what he thinks, no candy coated stuff – I like that. “Your blood came back the same, your PSA is much higher than I’d like, I want you to make an appointment with Dr. R for next week, have him look at things.” The alarm bell goes off with just a bit more urgency and I consciously quiet myself – already thinking of the evening’s conversation with Susie.

We’d had an experience with the “C” word with her in ’82-’83. A gut wrenching, profoundly life altering 6 months followed by 5 years of “what if it comes back” then followed by another 5 years of just confirming our challenge was over. We just had our 42nd anniversary – her challenge remains over.

The conversation goes as I expect – white face, tears, body shakes . . . fear of the unknown. Heavy sigh. On my side I button that crap up – hard. I use mental shoe boxes, throw the shit in there and put it in a “closet” until there’s time to deal with it. Until then I have a business to run, an exchange student coming to our family the next year and a son and daughter that needs my attention. No time to invest in worries – I simply need to slap one foot in front of another.

The Holidays insured nothing was going to happen immediately, the appointment is set for mid-February on a day the Urologist visits our community. Another two months were really nothing for me – boxes – closet – I was good. It was tough on Susie – her mind running full speed reliving her experience and seeing me going through the same thing. Tough couple months. The February appointment was short – more blood, a bit of a “meet and greet” with the doc and a new appointment set a couple weeks down the road.

Doc R came into the exam room with “that” concerned doctor face on. Honestly, they must teach that in med school because every time I’ve been in a doctor’s presence as things were about to go sideways – I’ve seen that exact face. The PSA count is higher, he wants to do a biopsy just to confirm what he fears. Neither of us say “the word” . . . but it’s hanging in the air. The appointment is set for mid-March. And another long evening for us and a challenging month until the biopsy.

I could describe the appointment . . . and the biopsy . . . the use for the 20 ea. 18” long, hollow stainless needles . . . the rectal probe . . . but I won’t. Honestly, there was no pain for me while they did this . . . discomfort – yep . . . some embarrassment at the level of exposure – yep . . . but no pain. The result of the biopsy leads me back to the start of the story, seated in a roll around chair, knee crossed and looking at Doc R. He’s a good guy, warm, intense, focused and direct. “Well Bill, the test was positive for Prostate Cancer. It’s in about 25% of the right node. You have a couple of options – radiation, chemo or I could simply remove it totally. Some doctors are doing a new freezing treatment – I won’t do that. You have any questions?” Hell of a question to ask . . . yep, I had a few – but I was throwing them is “shoe boxes” as quick as I could!!! “If you were older – I’d tell you to just take a pass. Most men have Prostate Cancer when they die – over two-thirds. But that isn’t what kills them. You’re 52 . . . we need to do something about it.” I’m thinking so . . . I have a newly married daughter, kinda like to spend time with future grandkids. The boy – 13 – and I are headed to Philmont in July – only 4 months away, for a 70 mile trek. I got things to do, places to go . . . damn right we’re gonna do something about it. A new appointment is made for the following week to review my choice and get the ball rolling.

It was a tough call. Sitting in the car I call Susie at work. She’s a hospital pharmacist – knows way too much for her own good about cancer, drugs, reactions, probabilities . . . “Hey Kid!” “So . . . what did he say??” You can hear the tension in her voice . . . “It wasn’t what we wanted to hear kiddo . . .” and I hear the gasp, squeak, cry on the other end . . . Heavy sigh.

She came home. A friend offered to drive her home but she sucked it up, gritted her teeth and headed home . . . to help me/us decide on a direction for me.

I’m a data geek – more information is better. Even in March of 2003 access to information was pretty damn good so I searched . . . and read . . . and searched . . . and read . . . and finally we decided full removal was the way to go. It’s very successful when the cancer is found early. The only downside is possible incontinence . . . full incontinence. At the appointment the following week I lay my choice out there – and Doc R has no issue with the choice. In fact, he did little to recommend a specific path – just wanted to know that I fully understood my options. The date for the surgery was set . . . for the day after my birthday . . . April 14th, 2003. Before we get rolling I ask him what the chances were for incontinence . . . 40% chance of full incontinence was his reply. I encouraged him to “have a good day”. Next I’m in the OR, nurses being busy and Doc R telling me to start counting . . . .

. . . and I can feel them lifting me on to a bed, asking me to wake up . . . seemed that things were over. I had reminded the Doc I had a 70 backpack trip coming up in just over 3 months before I went into surgery. He needed to make sure however he patched me up, that it would heal quick enough for me to make the trip . . .

And he came through on all counts. My son and I made the trip and I’m still kickin’ a little over 11 years later.

So why even tell this tale? Well, September is Prostate Cancer Awareness month. While many of the Big ‘Cs” get lots of press, the little walnut sized gland that causes guys so much trouble . . . not so much. In the gunny community there is a movement called Kilted for Cancer. Three if the driving forces behind the effort is Ambulance Driver, JayG and Borepatch. All look rather dashing in kilts . . . and I have no intention of joining them. But, please, head over to their sites and click on their team donation buttons. Each have a personal stake in this disease and go the extra mile every year to raise awareness for this all too common male malady.

And finally, if you’re a guy and notice some of the symptoms I’ve mentioned . . . get to a frickin’ specialist! Found early, this is very treatable. Found later, it’s very manageable. But you ignore it at your own peril . . . so please pay attention to your own body . . .

Monday, September 1, 2014

Training – Hot Ranges . . . Cold Ranges . . . and what does it mean to YOU??


There was a discussion going on in one of the NRA groups I participate it that started out on the topic of the instructor finding that a student had a new gun along with 50 rounds of ammunition in the classroom. To say this is a NO NO in a NRA class is an understatement. As it was for the coursework this  instructor was teaching – which WAS NOT a NRA class, he just wanted to discuss how fellow instructors handled a substantial breech of course rules. He got a solid set of answers and then . . . as these discussions are warrant to do . . . we started down the “rabbit hole” of side discussions . . . finally getting to the point of chatting about instructors that run their coursework “hot”. “Alice?? Alice??”

So let’s chat about “hot” coursework and what it means to YOU. I want to do this from two different points of view . . . the Instructor’s POV and then the student’s POV.

From the Instructor’s POV

Running a course that permits a “hot range” is a significant “step up” from NRA coursework. As the instructor, you need to have an honest heart-to-heart with yourself. Most instructors I know are a couple levels past “Type A” personalities. Honestly, that’s a necessary trait for a weapons instructor – but it needs to be tempered with a substantial dose of reality as well. Let’s start out with some basic questions . . .

Do you run “hot”? As you read this post, can you reach out with your dominant hand and draw a loaded weapon to defend yourself? If not – the specific answer to why not can be very telling. Are you more comfortable with a weapon on your hip . . . or with it in the safe? What percentage of the time do you carry? Do you carry everywhere you can or only when you “feel the need”? My point here is that if YOU do not carry a loaded weapon with you every minute it’s possible . . . how can you teach that skillset to someone else? If you don’t find innate value in living your life as an armed citizen, why would your students?

Are you “intimate” with your weapon . . . hell, are you “familial” with it? Do you know how it feels, how it functions, how to “love it”, clear it, use it . . . without a thought, a hesitation, a doubt . . .? Again, if you are not, if you can not . . . how on earth are you going to possible teach a student to truly become an armed citizen?

If you put a round through your femoral artery . . . are you going to die?? Think on that one just a bit . . . Tomorrow, when you go to the range all by yourself . . . and the 1 in a 1,000,000 accident happens and you press the trigger during a draw driving a round through your femoral artery . . . are you going to die? Now, multiply this absolute worst case by the number of students you intend to run on your “hot” range . . . and ponder that just a bit. Bottom line – get trained, have a BOK in the center of your back . . . before you take a single step towards the range again.

Are the 4-Rules a part of your DNA . . . or simply something you preach in the safety of the classroom? Do you cringe every time you see improper weapon discipline onscreen? Do you place your finger outside the trigger guard . . . when you pick up your battery powered drill??

How come?? Why on earth do you want to teach a live fire course with a “hot” range to begin with? Answers like: “Well, it’s just the next step!” . . . or . . . “The NRA doesn’t offer anything else after PPOTH!” . . . or something similar are NOT A FRICKING REASON TO BEGIN TEACHING MORE ADVANCED COURSEWORK. You simply must have a deep seated passion to want to lead an individual to a higher level of being able to defend themselves and their families. And you must do this by example, by life style – not just by running a course.

Do you know how to develop a course? To lead a less experienced shooter to a higher skill level? What are the steps . . . how do you get them there? This whole part falls under a general topic called “Methods of Instruction”. The NRA teaches this via their Basic Instructor Training course . . . yet there is much past that. How much time to you study how to teach? How much actual teaching (outside of the basic NRA courses) have you done? Again, if you can’t teach the skillset you are looking to convey . . . if you can’t outline the steps to get them “from here to there” . . . please, start there before you hit the live fire range.

How about personal range time? One of my personal hot buttons is making sure instructors shoot the first drill on the range. I know, it’s a little thing, but the point is to demonstrate the drill and help instill confidence in you, as the instructor. That said, you simply must keep your individual skills sharp. Perfect . . . no, sharp . . . shouldn’t we all be doing that?

Finally, have you evaluated the risks . . . ALL the risks? You come home dead because of some flagrant range violation. This would actually be GOOD news, because it’d be YOU that was dead and would no longer be concerned with the fallout. Your family may well still bear the brunt of your stupidity. On the other hand, you may be sucking air just fine while a student is taken away in a ZipLoc. I want you to ponder long and hard the affect that would have on your life. I’m not slapping this paragraph together to install doubts in you (if it is you should NOT think of offering a course at all . . . of any kind), but to make sure you understand the seriousness of the topic. Lives depend on everyone doing everything absolutely correctly . . . every frickin’ draw and trigger press!

So, if you’re done reading this so far – and you look in the mirror and still feel the drive and confidence you did 10 minutes ago . . . you are probably as ready as you ever will be. Keep your head in the game, be safe, fill any “holes” you may have . . . and be the best teacher you know how to be.

From a Student’s POV

“Hot” ranges offer the student a taste of “real life” should the whole world go sideways in a really big way. The only reason to ever draw your loaded weapon from your holster during your everyday life is that you’re about to die . . . period! There simply is no other reason what so ever. (OK, going to a safe area to clear your weapon for cleaning . . . ) What “hot” courses do is to allow you to simulate, on the square range, how you typically lead your life – with a loaded weapon on your hip. Honestly, it shouldn’t “feel” different. Your actions shouldn’t be radically different either, holstered until you execute the drill. You can easily top off a magazine without drawing your weapon and magazines in your carriers are just . . . empty magazines – fill them.

Where things can go sideways is simply lack of focus, especially as the day wears on and you become fatigued, dehydrated or just plain run out of gas. At that point you do actually become dangerous – not because of the loaded gun, but because of your diminished physical abilities. You instructor and his/her RSO should be watching you for this. Many “hot” courses work with a shooting partner where you shoot drills in rotation – take care of your partner.

You too should be responsible for your own safety. If you shoot yourself in the femoral artery . . . are you going to die?? Your instructor and their RSOs will have BOKs . . . but if you are on your home range . . . do you? Do you know how to use them? If not – fill that hole YESTURDAY!!!

You MUST be disciplined enough to handle your weapon safely each and every time you touch it. There are no excuses, no short cuts, no quick answers . . . only being safe every time you touch your weapon. Follow all range rules and commands IMMEDIATELY. Period. You place everyone in danger otherwise. Nuff said!

When you are about to take a course – any weapons course for that matter – check out the instructor. The Internet is a great tool and it’s impossible to hide in today’s training world. Research the instructor, read reviews of their coursework . . . do your research. And, if an instructor is reluctant to pass on references if asked . . . perhaps there’s a reason – keep lookin’ for an instructor that’s forthcoming – they are out there.

Finally, realize that if you carry . . . your life is “hot”. Coursework on “hot” ranges are typically more advanced courses teaching you skills that may well be life saving . . . don’t avoid them . . . learn from them.