Skip to main content

Getting Schooled

Getting Schooled

Looking for training? Read these tips before you go shopping.

One of the most important questions to ask yourself is whether you want a shooting school or a fighting school. They are not the same.

If you followed last fall's election, you no doubt heard a whole host of political experts talking about what they believed would happen. Their opinions varied, and for a very good reason: they were not offering learned opinion based on history and experience; they were offering their opinions on what they wanted, wished and hoped would happen.

Firearms instructors can be much like pundits: many teach what they want reality to be and not necessarily what reality is. They teach a doctrine--no, dogma--because their vision of reality is unchangeable even if they are proven to be wrong. Cops go in harm's way for a living and they need instruction based in reality, not hyperbole.

I am not in the firearms training business. I do teach a few classes, but my livelihood is not dependent on them. Simultaneously, i am a serious student of the topic, and i seek out training opportunities whenever possible.

I read books, magazines and watch training videos constantly to stay abreast of what is current. While much is being offered these days as "high speed/low drag," little of it is really new. Thus, let me offer you some advice: there are only so many ways to shoot a gun, and they have all been invented.

Ken hackathorn once told me that when he started teaching classes in the 1970s, there were probably 10 to 20 people teaching across the nation. "now there are probably 10 or 20 in each state," he said.

Too many people find a hunk of land, bulldoze a berm and open a shooting school, regardless of their knowledge level or background. The internet is full of training websites offering "solutions" for problems real, unreal, possible, potential and highly unlikely. Many of these people just want to be heard, to be recognized as an "expert" whether they are truly knowledgeable or not.


The economy is getting tight, with government and personal budgets shrinking. Many instructors will be trying very hard to draw your dollar to their school, so how do you recognize a good firearms instructor?

First understand that the instructor does not have to be famous; many regional instructors are excellent.

Second, decide if you just want to learn to shoot or learn to fight. For the law enforcement officer seeking training, fighting is essential. Thus, the instructor should have a verifiable background in combat shooting and tactics.

Some will argue this, but a person who has faced an armed adversary offers a viewpoint that a person who has not can never understand. The emotion that accompanies searching for an armed crackhead in a dark warehouse who might kill you cannot be explained: it must be felt, and this will be brought out in the instructor's lesson plan.

When inquiring about an instructor's background if he tells you "i can't reveal it; it's classified," walk away. I have met my share of delta, seals, green berets, recon marines and cia paramilitary types, and while it is true they may not be able to tell you what they did, none are restricted from telling you where they worked.

I also stay clear of swaggering, swat-clad individuals trying to teach techniques that are more appropriate for hostage rescue. This has little to do with what the street cop (or armed citizen) needs. Sure, it's interesting, but not useful.

I also have concerns regarding instructors who continuously name techniques after themselves. On occasion it is okay, but how likely are they to change if the technique turns out to be a turd?

Also avoid the instructor who is overly melodramatic--you know, the one who will not go to the rest room without strapping on body armor, two guns and three knives because "you just never know where an attack may come from." they have a point, but i am reasonably confident that an attack will not occur in the gun school privy.

A training class is not boot camp. It is a place for learning, and part of that process is correcting mistakes. A good instructor should build a pyramid, one stone at a time. The instructor should explain and demonstrate every technique so that the student has a clear understanding.

I admit that i am skeptical of an instructor you never see shoot. Making a mistake in front of a class happens, a confident instructor will merely say "the only person who never misses never shoots; let's try that again so you can see how it is done properly."

Performing a skill dry is not enough. The student needs to see that any skill can be performed correctly because it builds their confidence in said skill. During a gunfight, a shooter's ability to respond versus freeze will be directly related to his or her confidence in their skills. A good instructor will do everything he can to build a solid foundation under these skills.

Additionally, a solid instructor will not be afraid to say, "i don't know." there are just too many variables to know everything, and someone who pretends to know all of the answers is reckless if not dangerous.

As stated above, you will be wise to avoid the dogmatic instructor, the person who insists that you do it his way. With body styles, skill levels and physical handicaps in evidence, performing any action exactly the same is largely impossible.

Let's apply these guidelines to the nation's oldest and best known shooting school: gunsite. The vast majority of its instructors have law enforcement and/or military experience. I've met most of the staff, and they're knowledgeable without being condescending.

The gunsite facility does not look like a movie set, but it is well thought out, maintained and offers the student a diversified environment that can be made to simulate most any terrain a student may face.

Some will say gunsite has not changed its doctrine over the years, but this is not true. The instructors constantly change and tweak what they do.

I have taken courses there, and though they want you to at least try it their way, if you don't and you are shooting well, they leave you alone. I have a rebuilt left elbow and the weaver position is hard for me to do. No problem i was told; shoot the best way you can.

In the end a good instructor should be patient, well-spoken, personable, honest, secure without being arrogant, and experience

d. In the end, you should like the person who is teaching you how to save your life. It's not too much to ask.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

Recent Videos

Handguns Magazine Covers Print and Tablet Versions

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!


Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services


Buy Digital Single Issues

Magazine App Logo

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Handguns App

Other Magazines

See All Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get the top Handguns stories delivered right to your inbox.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Handguns subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Enjoying What You're Reading?

Get a Full Year
of Guns & Ammo
& Digital Access.

Offer only for new subscribers.

Subscribe Now