Wednesday, November 10, 2010

There's trained and untrained...but how do you get there?

Despite being an American male, and contrary to public opinion and Intardweb common knowledge, nobody comes into the world knowing how to run a handgun. Rifles are pretty intuitive, and most people can do acceptably well with them with little training. That's not the case with the handgun. The fact of the matter is that pistols are hard to use really well. If you think of the Grand Master pistol shooters in the world, and how many of them there are as a percentage of the country's population, they are indeed a rare breed. Because most female shooters are saddled with instruction from their Paw Paw/old man/brother/uncle/boyfriend/husband (those are all supposed to be different people, and are except in certain states), they're already fighting an uphill battle, and that there are so many that can shoot so well is a testament to their will to win.

I've seen some really wacky things happen at the range. I've seen some folks trying to teach their pals or wives/girlfriends to shoot and doing them a total disservice in their instruction. The "why" of that is that the gun owner isn't trained, either. They're passing on what they think they know about shooting, but which they picked up from movies and TV. Unfortunately, they're watching The Shield instead of Street Kings, and not being able to tell the difference. Why? Because they have no formal training. Even Larry Freakin' Vickers didn't get to where he is by making it all up on his own. He got training.

Yes, you can attend a LAV (the "A" is, I think, the initial of the Latin root word for "Freakin'") class, but if you don't have some existing shooting skills, a base of knowledge and safe gun handling skills, you'll spend the whole time behind the curve and slowing the rest of the class down, making you That Guy. Even if you're female, you'll still be That Guy. Pat Rogers gives a hat with That Guy on the adjusting tab as a memento to That Guy in his classes. Often, that's a previously trained shooter earning it, which means that there wasn't enough training already. it ends up being a bit of a Catch-22: if you're not already trained, how do you progress in training? How do you get trained enough to get trained more, to get better and do so safely? How can one afford it? I'll explain some of how I got to where I am now (which is nowhere near as far along as I want to be), which will hopefully help and perhaps generate some ideas for both the readers of my blog.

I started off like most people do: I got my first rifle for Christmas when I was 16. I still have that rifle, and I wish I'd kept track of how many rounds it has through it; it's a significant number, as a brick of .22 was only about $10 in those days, and we rarely took less than 500 rounds out, every time. That wasn't shooting, though. That was plinking, and there was scant actual shooting going on. I shudder to think where I'd be if I knew then what I know now...

I owned a fair number of guns-most of them middle quality, none duty quality guns yet-and was OK enough that I shot better than most of my friends, and read a lot more magazines than they did. That made me the defacto expert, sad to say. I did realize that I needed some actual schooling to get better, so I started looking around at where I might get some training. I found that the local Community College had an Administration of Justice department, and that there were firearms classes available through that department, with the only prerequisite being the Introduction to Administration of Justice 110, which turned out to be a very informative, fascinating class. Those classes started with the building blocks of marksmanship: sight alignment, sight picture, trigger press and follow through, with an SnW 686 revolver. All courses of fire, which didn't go further back than 15 yards, were from the low ready, and always double action.

Those classes progressed from Beginning to Intermediate to Advanced, the difference being that the advanced class added some moving targets and moving to targets, as well as such things as 25 yard shooting and using barricades. It was more tactics based than marksmanship based, but those principles of marksmanship were there through all three classes. These were every Friday for three hours, for four months; a full semester length class. The fundamentals and safety rules were pounded into my skull and seared on my soul. Or something like that.

From there, I did some competing and shot with as many people that knew more than I did as I could find. About three years ago, I started shooting regularly with Matt E. and Paul J. Matt is a very well trained shooter (he's at a class right now, as a matter of fact), and Paul is one of the most naturally gifted shooters I've met. He's one of those guys that can do everything wrong, but his trigger control is so good he still gets tiny little groups. That's when I went from shooting to training. Working on specific drills, keeping track of times, trying to make every shot a perfect repetition. Now if only it always was a perfect repetition...

The NSSF recently started a new program aimed specifically at the new gun owner with little to no experience called First Shots. I don't know why it took so long for an organization to develop this idea, but the NSSF has done an excellent job with it. The whole point is to be able to get some classroom and range time under very controlled, supervised conditions. The site can be searched to find a club or range near you that is doing this program.

What do you do if you can't find a club doing that program near you? I've talked to a couple range owners that like the concept but have some differences in how they train new shooters, and don't want to be affiliated with an organization. By all means, contact the local range and inquire. It's possible that they don't know about First Shots, and may very well want to be a part of it.

Gun shops can be hit or miss on this topic. For every shop that has a squared away staff that knows what's going on around them, there are a whole pile of 'em that pass on really bad information. I don't really know how to get to the good ones. One must be discerning. If you hear something weird that doesn't jibe with what you've heard elsewhere, try to verify it. If you can't, file that bit of info away. Eventually patterns will emerge and you'll be able to tell who's straight up and who's full of crap. Remember though, it's in a shop's best interest to steer you right, so once you find a shop that can get you good info from, patronize them. Many times you will find a knowledgeable employee that has the ability to teach, who can get you started in the right direction. Grab your yellow pages and/or Google, and start with Gun Ranges. If that doesn't prove fruitful, try Gun Shops next. Don't leave out Rod and Gun Clubs. If they are to continue to exist, they need new members. They're a good resource for this sort of thing, as are local USPSA or IDPA clubs. The NRA does a lot with training, with a network of certified instructors all over the country. Their programs can be found here.

Expect to travel. Think about it: if you're buying a gun to trust your life to, how much is that life worth? You may have to drive to get to a class, but it's a small price to pay. Consider it an investment, and a savings in ammo not spent reinforcing bad habits and TV technique. Having to drive a couple hours is a small matter in order to get started off right.

If worse comes to worst, consider hosting a class. This is a lot of work and will be much easier when you've got some experience and have networked within the community, because hosting involves contacting the instructor and arranging the times and dates with a local range (can be private property, Police ranges, rod and gun clubs, stuff like that) as well as getting the word out to prospective customers. It's a lot of work, but it's not impossible. The instructors will have a lot of ideas for accomplishing the tasks.

Once you have that base of knowledge, you can move on to the more "high speed" courses, but you have to have decent gun handling skills and some shooting skills to be safe and to not be drinking from the fire hose the whole time you're in the class. I have to tell ya, though: quality training is addicting! Let's face it. Getting better at shooting is just plain fun. Go get some training!


DirtCrashr said...

!lightbulb! So It occurred to me as I wonder what to do in my unemployed semi-retired state, that a local Community College (Foothill or De Anza) with a class in Administration of Justice might get me into some very interesting stuff.
That's not something you think of every day, or by yourself, thanks.
Handled an M&P today at a local shop and found it surprisingly light and very handy. Might make the Sig think twice.

Haji said...

Ya gotta be careful with those MnP's. They're sneaky in their seductiveness. My bro Allen brought his new Pro Series .40 by the shop to let me check out. He'd just gotten it back from having it stippled, Warren FO sight set, and having the trigger worked over by Dan Burwell. Man, what a nice gun! I really didn't need another gun to want. LOL!

DirtCrashr said...

I have some immunity against the M&P and other new guns called financial despair... No guns, job first.

Haji said...

believe me, I understand!