Sooooooo . . . you’re going to take some coursework. Good for you!!! You should take “something” every year. I’ve shared any number of times about the idea of annual training. Set aside $1,200 every year for training. Buy 1,000 rounds of ammo every January for your 100-round range trips every month (allowing for two skipped months). Take coursework from a reputable trainer every year. And . . . document, document, document . . .
This whole process has been on my mind because I’ve entered what has become my “training season”. I’ve just completed Massad Ayoob’s MAG-20 course, I’m leaving for the traveling Gunsite 123 Carbine Class in Indiana on Thursday and have signed up for Rob Pincus’ Defensive Firearms Coach course in August. So much for a $1,200 budget . . . heavy sigh.
I wanted to take a bit of time to chat about how to prepare for a set of coursework you are going to take. How do you “get ready”? What’s important? Let me share my thoughts.
Attitude: a mental position with regard to a fact or state
a feeling or emotion toward a fact or state, a negative attitude an optimistic attitude
a negative or hostile state of mind
a cool, cocky, defiant, or arrogant manner
In NRA coursework, the goal for virtually every course taught revolves about developing a Knowledge, Skill and Attitude that allows the student to become proficient in what is being taught. Of the three traits, ATTITUDE is defined as the most important trait. The student’s Attitude will ultimately determine whether learning takes place.
A number of years ago I took a course from Rob Pincus. One of my fellow students was a C.O.G. . . . Crotchety Old Guy . . . Honestly, I have no issues with C.O.G.s, I am one. But, when it influences an individual to the point where their ATTITIUDE prohibits virtually any and all learning . . . nothing good comes of it. I watched this person over two days simply refuse to move, learn, try, embrace what was being taught. This student left with . . . nothing, not even a certificate because they refused to come to the AAR. So, why share this tale . . .
Because if, right now, as you are about to fill out your credit card info on line to sign up for the coursework you’ve decided to take, you are going to show the instructor and your fellow students just how much you know and how good you are . . . please . . . DON’T GO! STAY HOME! If you have the ability to be open minded – even in the face of information you may find you are resistant to . . . you will stand a much better chance of leaving the coursework having learned as much as you can!
So – number one on your list for course prep . . . have a good attitude! EVERYTHING going forward depends on it.
Know the requirements of the course. In college parlance, this would be the Syllabus of the course. It will describe the date, hours, location, equipment requirements, round count and any other details that are relevant. Pay Attention!!!
Make sure your equipment runs. Guns, flashlights, weapon lights, magazines, mag pouches . . . make sure everything is functional.
Arrive a day early. Now, for local courses, just make sure you are in place around ½ to 1 hour early. That will account for “Murphy”. For a traveling course . . . make sure you get there the day before with time to find the range and classroom the night before. This too is meant to try and sidestep “Murphy” though with distance courses if things go sideways on your way there . . . it can get tough.
Don’t stay in a fleabag motel to “save money”. If you can’t get a good night’s rest and meal before the next day’s course it will diminish your ability to get the most out of the course. That doesn’t mean a 5-star hotel, it would imply taking a pass on the $50 “economy” housing.
One is none . . . two is one. A favorite saying that allows for the whole “your gun is a mechanical device and mechanical devices fail” routine. The course I’m taking is a carbine course . . . and I will be taking two carbines. And two Glock 17s since part of the coursework is the transition from carbine to pistol. Yes . . . I understand expense. These particular weapons are, indeed, mine. One is my primary and one my alternate. But that doesn’t mean you can’t borrow a weapon for the course from a friend. But please . . . don’t go with just a single weapon . . . not that I would have any experience with that . . . nope . . . not me . . .
Know how to “run your gun”. This does not mean you need to be an “expert”, especially if you are taking the coursework for exactly that purpose . . . to learn the weapon. But please . . . don’t take it to the course and pull it out of the box for the very first time. So, what’s involved with “running the gun”. Let me roll through my carbine as an example.
Know how to load your magazines. Yes . . . I know you can’t believe anyone wouldn’t know such a simple thing . . . Be able to clear the standard malfunctions – failure to fire, failure to eject, failure to load and, for the carbine, a spent casing that rides over the bolt. Know how to load your weapon, and how to unload it and show clear.
Have your weapon zeroed. Yes, for a carbine class virtually the first shooting drill is used to check your zero . . . but you shouldn’t have to actually zero the weapon. For me I use the 50/200 yard zero process at 10 yards. I’ve been happy with this process as far as effectiveness and ease. Zero both your optic and iron sights. I typically zero the optic first, crank on the iron sights to co-witness the sights and then shoot to confirm and a final adjust. That works for me . . . but I will also listen to the recommendation of the instructors come Friday, because THAT IS WHY I AM GOING . . . TO LEARN FROM OTHER INSTRUCTORS!
Check all your lights. Make sure you have good batteries in your flashlight and weapon mounted light . . . and a spare of each light . . . and a spare set of batteries.
Clean your weapons. Both the carbine and Glock 17 in this particular case for me. And, while cleaning check for wear, damage and then properly lube them. For a training course that expects to send around 1,000 rounds of .223 downrange, heavier lube of the bolt lugs is recommended. Spend the time and get your weapons ready for a couple days of heavy use.
Ammunition Matters. The course specs will give you the minimum caliber weapon and the type of bullet – some courses require frangible ammunition in some cases. Buy reliable ammo not just the cheapest on the shelf. I have a personal fondness for PMC, Magtech and Blazer. That is what I buy and I’ve been pleased with the result. At a course a couple years back a fellow bought surplus 5.56 military ammunition. Military ammo has primers that are much “hotter” that commercial ammo. The result? In virtually every magazine there was at least one round where the primer literally exploded into pieces blowing back into the bolt lugs and locking the bolt forward. This required the shooter to “mortar” his weapon and on one occasion he forgot to close the stock down and simply broke it making the weapon inoperable. He had not brought a spare but the instructor had a limited number of loaners that he made use of while a fellow student brought an extra 1000 rounds that he bought so he could carry on. Don’t be “that guy/gal”.
Take enough ammo. My experience is that the 1,000-round count usually ends up to be 800-900 . . . or 1,200 – 1,500. Take extra.
Dress for Success. My lovely wife likes to ding me on my “shooter pants”, my “shooter boots” . . . heavy sigh. My typical advice to students is to wear “sturdy” shoes, long pants, high neck shirts, a ball cap. Wear a real, honest to goodness, gun belt. Thick and heavy enough to carry what you are going to hang on it. For this course I’ll have my Glock 17, two magazines of 9mm for it and two magazines of .223 for what would typically be somewhere from 10 rounds to 30 rounds. You might also include a dump pouch for your magazines (or big honkin’ rear pockets) and perhaps a minimal blowout kit. This translates to WEIGHT. Over the past couple years, as I have added weight to my belt for this type of coursework, I’ve also added some belt clip suspenders. It’s helped keep things in place specially in movement drills or drills that require you to flow between prone, sitting, kneeling and standing in a rapid fashion. Honestly you won’t now if any of this gear will really work for you unless you spend some range time prior to the course wringing things out. DO THE WORK!
Take a Boo-Boo kit and a Blow Out Kit. I’ve been shooting on ranges since 1968. I’ve never witnessed a shooting on a range. That doesn’t mean that one won’t happen this week. If you’ve not taken coursework in how to respond to an extra hole suddenly appearing in you or a shooting partner . . . please . . . find one, take it and carry appropriate gear. The Boo-Boo kit is for “slide bites” or other little inconveniences. The Blow Out Kit is to keep the “red” in until the professionals arrive. Take this crap serious! Do not let a friend go home in a Ziploc simply because you knew that nothing was going to happen on your range trip.
Have good standard safety gear. “Eyes and Ears” . . . have good ones. Yes, good is a bit more expensive . . . but they last longer and protect better. Spend the money!
Water bottles, sun screen, sweat towel and a couple Cliff Bars. Hydration, especially this time of year, is serious business. This Gunsite 123 course is rated for 3 days, 8 hours minimum each. Most on the range. Temps are projected to be in the upper 80s, low 90s. In similar circumstances, you will pour water out of your body. Drinking a gallon of water during the range time would be a minimum IMHO. I like Nalgene bottles and have carried them for decades on range trips, camping trips and paddles. Bottom line have water. The military first gave me a “sweat towel” as part of my basic issue when I hit Vietnam. I’ve carried them ever since. On a range they are great for sweat, a dry place to set a weapon on a wet or snowy range, they function as a sitting pad . . . well worth the bulk. Sun screen . . . should be obvious. Do you have some in your range bag? I also like to throw a couple Cliff Bars in a cargo pocket or in my range bag should I run out of gas. It’s cheap insurance.
Cleaning and Maintenance Equipment. Take an appropriate cleaning kit for your weapons. Honestly, it’s a tossup for spare parts. I typically do not take a parts kit since I take a fully configured backup weapon. But high-volume days on a range can take a toll. Chances are you’ve spent a good chunk of change on your coursework . . . take care of your tools.
Fitness. It’s no accident that I leave this to last since it is one place where I need to do much better. I have no doubt I am fit enough to shoot the course, or I wouldn’t take it. That said, I promise myself I’ll “get in shape” for “next year” only to fine that next year has arrived . . . and I’ve failed myself. Don’t follow my example. One other consideration for me was that I took a 24-hour carbine course this past November . . . and did some pretty nasty stuff to my right knee. It’s better but I will take both a brace and some fitted compression supports to lend a hand this week. Bottom line – pay attention to your body and take care of yourself.
Finally . . . Have Fun! Yep, coursework can be exhausting. It can be stressful. It should push you to failure once in a while. It should be challenging. And you should also be FUN as well.
I’m sure I’ve missed something . . . but I hope you get the gist of the process. Oh . . . yeah . . . MAKE LISTS!!! Cause it’s hard to remember everything on the fly, so don’t. For example, I’ve lists for lightweight back packing, base camping, “luxury” family camping, single and multiple day paddles . . . all of which I’ve refined over the past 40-ish years. And, I have them for coursework also. Make a list, review it over a few days and then pack a day early as you review the list.
Go forth, train, enjoy, learn, make friends . . . and then start thinking about next years coursework!
A few additional links: