Sunday, February 22, 2015

Review - Rangemaster Tac Conference 2015


Picture your dining room table, with the family gathered around for Thanksgiving dinner. Spread before you is a traditional meal – turkey, dressing, cranberries, potatoes, pies, green beans, traditional family specialties, deserts . . . a meal that will leave you an a tryptophan and carb coma on the living room floor while you watch the afternoon football games. And while you try your best to not gorge yourself – you fall prey to all the good food and simply stuff your face . . .

That is the Rangemaster Annual Tactical Conference in a nutshell. A “meal” of some of the best trainers in the country spread across 3 days from 8AM until 5PM each and every day. Allow me to say . . . it was delicious!

The three days covered 38 topics and provided over 70 hours of instruction including classroom lecture, FOF and live fire on the outdoor range. Classes were spread between two classrooms, two indoor ranges and an outdoor range. To see all the coursework that was covered, you can view and download the 2015 schedule here.

The process of selecting what to attend was particularly frustrating – I found I wanted to go to about 80% of the offered material. Obviously that wasn’t going to happen. Instead, I intended to focus on shooting coursework. This worked well for precisely one course block, the very first block on Friday. By the end of the 3.5 hour block the ground was covered in ice, heavy rain and sleet was falling and the rest of the range day was canceled. While Saturday was much warmer – sleet had turned to rain with the day’s tally at well over an inch again canceling the day’s range work. The weather had cleared by Sunday but other classroom material put the kibosh on additional range time. So, while getting one solid 3 hour block in on Friday, I transitioned to classroom material which turned out to be a great choice as well. Let me roll through the sessions I went to with my thoughts.

My Block 1 – 3 hours – Heightened Gun Handling

Instructors: Shane Gosa is a Georgia POST certified general and firearms instructor, and Georgia Association of Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors executive board member. Lee Weems is the Chief Deputy of the Oconee County Georgia Sheriff’s office, a certified police firearms instructor and Georgia POST general and firearms instructor, and a Georgia Association of Law-Enforcement Firearms Instructors board member.

Course Description: This block of instruction will focus on the use of sound judgment while involved in defensive shooting scenarios. While knowing how to shoot is important, so is knowing when to and when not to shoot. This class will give you alternative ready positions and siding/indexing methods to use in high stress or densely situations. You will learn how to maximize your ability to stay alive while minimizing liability and threats to innocent persons. This class is based off of one designed for peace officers and draws from the International Association of Chiefs of Police model policy for the use of force.

All Rangemaster range work begins with accuracy first. All shots to the target were to be delivered as precise shots. We began with a single pair center mass and moved through multiple engagements center mass, a single round to the head and various cognition drills involving shots to called numbered / colored / or “math problem” drills requiring mental calculations before shooting the designated target area.

Also included was a moving 3 dimensional target requiring a headshot on a hostage taker holding a small child and surrounded by friendlies.

It was a great course to begin with, did a good job of getting rid of the first day jitters and presented some of the latest material from the law enforcement / armed citizen community.

The only downfall here was the weather. By the end of the range block we were wet, getting more than a little chilly and nearly had to crawl out of the range pit because the walkways were simply too slippery to stand up on. It was to be my first and last shooting block of the conference – but one I truly enjoyed. Here is my target for the day . . .

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My two flyers up by the “2” Circle were support hand shots while the two outside of the center box were simply sloppy shots. As I said the emphasis was on accurate shots only, period, explanation point! I obviously have more work to do.

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My Block 2 – 2 hours – Gunfight Video Study

Instructor: John Murphy is an experienced and talented trainer with a broad tactical education and actual field experience, including ten years with the Marine Corps. He now operates FPF Training in Virginia.

Course Description: In this session, John will teach how to incorporate the now ubiquitous surveillance videos into training programs for instructors or individuals. His goal is to facilitate the initiation of action/speed through Recognition Primed Decisions. He will relate the methodology we use to analyze post-IED attack Jihad footage and apply that to self-defense incident footage. This is a method of "gaining experience" without getting shot and giving people the capacity to speed up their decision-making process to take prompt, decisive, and CORRECT action. John will also discuss the limitations of video as a training tool and the dangers of having too much of a "canned" response. The latter part will be illustrated by using dash-cam footage from an unfortunate shooting that took place in South Carolina.

We are awash in multimedia information – from cellphone videos, to dash cams, to body cams, to surveillance video to news reports. We are under constant observation as some level 24/7. There is good news and bad news in this. For us, as armed citizens, the good news is that much of the violence that occurs today is recorded and available for review and to learn from. John provided a number of methodologies to capture, review and to evaluate video information that allows us to see what went wrong during various violent attacks and those times when things went the defender’s way.

One of the most interesting videos simply showed raw street violence with one individual running from one person to another bashing them over the head with a shovel. His purpose in showing this? He finds the majority of folks that come to his class have little understanding what simple, raw violence even looks like. It’s a sobering lesson for many.

My Block 3 – 1.5 Hours – Defining the Threat

Instructor: Tom Givens has been carrying a gun professionally for 44 years, teaching firearms and tactics for 35 years, the last 19 years full-time. He has been certified as an expert witness on firearms and firearms training in both state and federal courts all over the US, is the author of five published textbooks on the subject and over 100 published magazine articles. He holds a Master rating in three IDPA divisions and holds instructor certifications from numerous organizations including the NRA LE Division and the FBI.

Course Description: This is a lively PowerPoint presentation going into some detail about how to set up a defensive firearms training program for private citizens and others who go armed in plain clothing. Much use is made of data from over 60 Rangemaster student involved shootings plus data from the FBI, DEA, Bureau of Justice Statistics, and other sources.

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Tom was our host for the weekend. The focus of the program was to differentiate the training requirements for the armed citizen as opposed to military or law enforcement shooters. This then helps focus the material a civilian shooter should focus on and refine. He used a combination of federal data and Rangemaster data to draw a number of conclusions. Bottom line, focus on the basics and getting accurate hits . . . not the tacticool training.

My Block 4 – 7 hours – Performance Under Fire Part 1&2

Instructor: John Hearne has been a law enforcement officer since 1992, a Rangemaster staff instructor since 2001, and a serious scholar of self-defense for many years. He holds a Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice with a concentration in Research Methods. John has trained multiple times at Gunsite, Thunder Ranch, the Rogers Shooting School (to name a few), working with trainers such as Louis Awerbuck, Ken Hackathorn, Pat Rogers, Larry Vickers, Scott Reitz, Bruce Gray, Todd Green, and more. He is a Rangemaster-certified Advanced Firearms Instructor. John’s full-day training segment is a condensed presentation of the ongoing data collection that he has pursued over his career.

Course Description: This cornerstone extended training session is the center piece of the conference. John’s lecture series is the culmination of several years of research into who wins gunfights and who loses, and how their prior training affected the outcomes. Training psychology and current theories of adult skill learning and decision making are examined in detail with an eye toward devising a more effective training program for those who go in harm’s way. Due to the length and intensity of this presentation, it will only be offered on Saturday (Session A from 8am to 12:30pm; Session B from 3pm to 5:30pm).

This was probably the most valuable block of the conference. Starting from the very beginning of the human’s existence to today John evaluated how we got to where we are and what this means as far as the human’s ability to fight, how we react physically and mentally and how we can make this all work to our benefit. 300 slides, 7 hours all presented by a self-professed research geek with a Master’s Degree is the research sciences. This is one of those sessions that a person simply digests over a long period of time. He offered a great handout with each of his slides presented . . . I’ve got more than a little review to do.

My Block 5 – 1.5 hours – Court Proofing Self-Defense

Instructor: Marty Hayes is a former police officer with many years of law enforcement experience and a degree in law. He founded the Firearms Academy of Seattle, a nationally recognized firearms school in Washington. Marty is the president of the Armed Citizens Legal Defense Network (ACLDN) and a frequent expert witness in legal matters pertaining to firearms use. The ACLDN is committed to the legal defense of citizens who are forced to use lethal force in legitimate self-defense. Marty is a published author and a firearms instructor, certified by numerous organizations including the NRA, Massad Ayoob Group, and Rangemaster.

Course Description: This presentation will examine the actions a lawfully armed private citizen can take before a critical incident in order to forestall future unmeritorious claims and charges. Marty will discuss training, equipment, and personal lifestyle adjustments that can keep you out of trouble in the event that you're forced to use a firearm in self-defense.

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I’ve written on this topic before and I was nice to have some verification that I was on the right track. Marty reviewed everything from how to document your training and range time to some solid advice on what to do should you ever be involved in an actual shooting. He recorded the entire lecture and will be providing it at no cost via YouTube. When it is edited and complete, a link will be provided on the ACLDN website.

This is information every armed citizen should be aware of. If you carry for personal defense now, today, this very moment you should begin to get your legal defense in order – because after a shooting you world will turn to crap in a very big hurry!

My Block 6 – 2 hours Training / Reality Mismatch

Instructor: Gary Greco is a recently retired career officer from the U.S. intelligence community. He specialized in counter-terrorism with service in Lebanon, Panama, Somalia, Bosnia, Africa, Iraq, and Afghanistan. In his last assignment, he served as the Senior Intelligence Advisor to the Commanding General Joint Special Operations Command. He has been heavily involved in firearms and tactics training for many years. From a teenager, he was lucky enough to study weaponcraft under long forgotten firearms instructors Major Larry Thorne, Ambassador John George, Police Officer Brian Felter and Korean War Veteran John Pepper. Additionally, Gary was a founding member of a self-supported training and study group in the Washington, DC area comprised of local law enforcement, federal agents, military personnel, U.S. intelligence professionals, and concerned citizens that have now trained together on a monthly basis for over twenty years.

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Course Description: This presentation will examine modern firearms training and explore the appropriateness of TTPs and weapons for private citizens. Discussion will also enter into possibly controversial topics of your training resume, the development of fantasy and gamification of the firearms training industry, realities of the criminal justice system, and crossing personal Red Lines and Stupid Lines. Additionally, we will discuss weapons, caliber, tactics and mindset that participants in the recent Global War on Terrorism have successfully employed. The session will also take a realistic look at the current threat to the U.S. posed by terrorists.

Probably the most interesting block of the weekend. Gary has the real world type of experience few have and few physically survive. We are faced with a broad range of threats that we need to consider and he did a “deep dive” on a broad range of topics. I’m not sure where the average citizen would find this type of information, yet here I was receiving they type of intel briefing few in our nation and government receive. More than interesting. And a reminder that the world continues to be a dangerous place.

My Block 7 – 2.5 hours – Secrets of Successful Gunfighters

Instructor: Darryl Bolke retired from a Southern California police department as a Sr. Corporal after 19½ years as a full time officer due to injuries sustained during a violent on-duty confrontation. He was a Firearms Instructor and Armorer for the Special Weapons and Tactics Team for 17 years and the primary instructor for all firearms systems used by his agency. He also provided mandatory firearms training for the fire department Bomb Squad and Arson investigators. He assisted on the investigation of over 75 officer-involved shootings, assisting the administrative investigation team with the firearms portion of these investigations. He has provided expert testimony on firearms and police tactics in numerous court cases.

COURSE Description: This class will center on training lessons learned in police agencies with highly successful street records, including Darryl’s former department, the LAPD Metro and SWAT units (with whom he has trained extensively), and other agencies that share a similar approach to training gunfighters. Actual shooting incidents will be studied, along with the implications from the training of the officers involved.

We can learn a lot from “winners”. Why do certain law enforcement officers, who work some of the most dangerous areas of the country, have a propensity to win their fights. The short answer – rigorous training. Quick, accurate shots end the fight. Period. Darryl reviewed 4 cases from his own time on the force in detail, detailed his training regimen and how we, as armed citizens, could adapt that type of training to insure we are prepared to win the fight should one come our way.

My Block 8 – 3 hours - The Five Ws of Risk

Instructor: William Aprill possesses a rare combination of different types of experience. He has worked in law enforcement, is a seasoned competitive shooter, has an advanced rating from the famed Rogers Shooting School, and is a licensed psychologist. He has trained extensively with numerous shooting and tactics schools and holds an Advanced Instructor certification from Rangemaster.

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Course Description: Techniques, tactics, and procedures for the active, emergent context of violent assault are as common a topic as the weather, it seems. Abundant material on the aftermath of this sort of event is also available. However, the preparatory period, what Craig Douglas has referred to as the pre-kinetic phase of such encounters, is given limited, if any, attention by the vast majority of erstwhile defenders. This presentation will review common errors made by practitioners as they attempt effective preparation for defense against violent aggression as well as common pitfalls and limitations in thinking about lawful violence. Attendees will also be exposed to a programmatic method for undertaking the pre-need decision-making that will underpin a sound self-defense and survival mindset.

The bottom line of this session was – where to the street predators come from? How can we categorize them? How can we defend against them? His parting comments brought the entire weekend into focus . . .

“When you leave here today, right now . . . you will be in the “pool” with them.”

A sobering thought.

And the conference ended. My tally? 22 hours of range/class room time on 8 very broad topics. Where on earth can you find such a plethora of information in a single location in such a compressed period of time?

It’s been a great weekend!


  1. Sounds like a great trip Bill. Wish the weather would have cooperated a little better, but it signs like you squeezed a lot of quality training into one weekend.

  2. That sounds like a seriously well presented program.

    1. Yep Darin - it was a great trip! Not sure how I could have fit more into the weekend. :)

      Larry - It was really well organized. I wondered if you know Gary - I suspect you may well have traveled some of the same paths . . .

  3. Envy! That is a quality program!!!

  4. Envy! That is a quality program!!!