Just the Basics – Best Caliber – Best Gun for you to carry . . .


I’ve seen this discussion pop up for years and years and . . . well, you get the idea – for as long as there have been handguns for personal defense – the argument over what the ‘Best” caliber and what the “Best” gun has been on the lips of many an expert.

Let’s set the context of the argument first. As a defensive firearms trainer, folks that come to me for training come for that specific focus – defensive shooting. They are asking me (and all defensive fire arms trainers as well) a profoundly important question . . . “What is the best weapon I can use to defend my life?” That’s a pretty weighty question. They deserve so much more than many of the canned answers out there . . .

“Can’t ever go wrong with a Glock!”

“Nothin’ better that a good old 1911!”

“I think this little pink 380 would do a great job for you!!”

Or the 5’ nothing, 100 lb woman being handed “The Judge” by the sales clerk with the words “Hell, just point this thing at them and they’ll haul ass!”

There are a lot of people who have gotten some truly poor advice – typically given through laziness, ignorance or simply the desire to “make the sale”. Let’s spend some time on this topic.

Use of your defensive weapon.

First, let’s look at why, exactly, you carry a defensive weapon. Its purpose is to defend your life, the lives of your family or folks in your charge . . . TO. DEFEND.THEIR.LIVES. ponder that thought just a bit. It’s not to make holes in paper, for entertainment on a range, for the enjoyment you get from taking challenging training, for hunting. At the instant you draw your weapon from its concealed location – you will either win the engagement – or go home in a ZipLoc. Once drawn – it is life and death. Take some time to chew on that just a bit because the intensity, the “stakes” of that moment are seldom part of the overall discussion.

Control of your defensive weapon.

In order to be effective in your defense – you must be able to control and manipulate your weapon. If you are unable to get “combat effective hits” (each “hit” does real damage to the threat’s ability to continue their attack) – your weapon is of little value. If you are unfamiliar with how your weapon works – your weapon is of little value. If you can only control you weapon through the first round – and are then unable to manage its recoil and rapidly get back on the threat – your weapon is of little value. If you experience a misfire, a failure to feed, a failure to eject, a double feed – and you are unable to clear these issues quickly – your weapon is of little value to you.

Bottom line – if you cannot use the tool you carry with you each and every day that you depend on defend your life, well – your weapon is of little value to you.

So let’s start there – with YOU – as we begin the examination of which is the BEST gun for you to use for your personal defense and which is the BEST caliber to use.

A quick story – I’d just gotten a call from my FFL that my Ruger LC9 had finally arrived. I had anxiously awaited its arrival as this was to be my new carry weapon. (long since relegated to a classroom demo gun – I’ve returned to by Glock 17 as my EDC gun – but that’s another story) A mutual friend of the FFL and me happen to be there as I opened the box for an examination – we’ll call him “Tom”. Tom is an older gent – late 70s but at that time quite an active guy helping the FFL at gun shows, golfing regularly showing little in the way of reduced mobility with his age. He had been looking for a new gun and was intrigued by its size so he asked to look at it. Being an “old hand” with firearms, his first task was to lock the slide back (there was no magazine inserted) so he could insure the chamber was empty. That’s where the issues began. It has a very tiny safety that is stiff and difficult for me to manipulate. For Tom, with the beginning of some arthritis in his hands – it was nearly impossible taking quite some time and “messing around” to get it off. Next was the fact that the return spring was pretty darn “stiff” making the simple task of racking the slide difficult as well. And, finally, the tiny little slide lock proved very difficult to engage while holding the slide back. After all these difficulties – he still ordered one only to find that the magazine spring was so stiff he has never been able to load it to full capacity. To the best of my knowledge it remains in its original shipping box in his gun safe – which is probably the best place for it because that specific firearm would be of little value to Tom should the need to defend himself ever arise.

You need to choose a handgun that “fits” you – with all your kinks, quirks, disabilities and physical characteristics – paying no attention to the caliber to begin with.

Revolver or Semi-Automatic

Running a semi-automatic handgun requires the ability to rack a slide, manipulate safeties, change magazines and clear cartridge failures “automatically”. This takes a couple of things – practice (lots of practice) and physical ability – especially hand strength and the ability to grip the weapon. The physical issues made the LC9 a poor choice for Tom – as similar firearms for many other shooters. Yes, there are special “techniques” a person can learn to help the processes – but under stress, with a bad guy/gal bearing down – is it wise to rely on special “techniques” to save your life? I would argue it is not. This is my decision point when recommending a semi-automatic (my preferred gun) over a revolver – can the shooter physically manipulate the weapon easily? If they lack the physical strength and dexterity to do so – a revolver gets the call for me.

On the revolver side – a whole new array of challenges comes when a shooter is required to reload quickly. Still, for those without the strength to manipulate a semi-automatic pistol, I find they typically can utilize the cylinder release and use a speed loader. Granted – fewer rounds, it can take longer to reload – yep, I get it. But, at least they CAN reload. As for clearing malfunctions, a simple press of the trigger advances the cylinder past the failed round – much easier that a “slap, rack and shoot” drill.

When making recommendations for which handgun a person should look at – please, take time to evaluate they physical abilities first. If they can’t run the gun physically, they have a real problem should the need arise.


As in anything from jeans to a ball cap – fit is important. Handguns are no different. Long ago and far away during the qualification round for my first carry permit the fellow in the lane next to me brought a Colt .357 6” Python as his qualifying weapon. I had a Colt Woodsman .22 (yep, the first handgun ever fired with my Uncle Ted). He was tall and slender (as I could only hope to be), took his stance, pressed the trigger for his first round . . . let’s be kind and say his qualification round did not go well. The qualification officer finally gave him a .22 Mark II and the fellow qualified just fine. My point? The Python was anything but a fit for the fellow as a defensive weapon.

A firearm should fit the shooter’s hand such that they can firmly and fully grasp the grip of the gun. The full 360-degrees of the grip should be enclosed by their hands without stress or strain. Next, it should direct the recoil straight back into the arm of the shooter. This means their grip should be high on the back strap and as close to being in line with the barrel as possible. Finally, they should be able to touch the trigger with the end 1/3 of their trigger finger without stress or strain and they must be able to press the trigger straight to the rear without the first segment of the trigger finger moving left or right.

Put these things together, and you have a firearm that physically fits the shooter.

Simplicity of Use

A firefight is chaotic, terrifying and mind numbing – at least first seconds . . . and all too often that is the deciding time between life and death. I am going to assume (yeah, I know . . . ass – u – me) that the typical individual that carries a weapon for personal defense DOES NOT train regularly, DOES NOT get more advanced training and does little more than hit the range a couple of times a year with a box of ammo and makes holes in paper . . . and that is all they do. IMNSHO – for these shooters – simpler is better which leads me to handguns with safe action triggers or long trigger pulls or a revolver as opposed to those with manual safeties. Fewer things to remember equates to a better first shot response time for those folks who simply do not spend time on the range.

Recoil Management

Once a round is fired, how quickly can the shooter get his weapon back on target to send a second round down range? That depends on their ability to manage the recoil of the firearm. If they have followed my suggestions about “fit”, the vast majority of the recoil is sent straight into their body. If they have trained enough to “follow through” and not try to see where their shot hit, a second shot can be nearly instantaneous. I like to use accelerated pairs to help a new shooter work on this along with a couple “Bill Drills” thrown in to get a real sense of what it takes to keep their weapon on target.


For me – caliber selection pretty much comes last. First you need to find a gun that fits the shooter, one they can manipulate quickly and easily. Can they get combat effective hits (read a center mass pie plate sized group) on a threat? And finally, can they control the recoil well enough to insure accurate follow-up shots with multiple rounds. It is at this point that caliber begins to make an entrance for me.

As I related in my story above about the fellow qualifying with the Colt .357 Python – size does matter. If their handgun is so big, so powerful that they only get one shot – they have a problem.

The typical rule of thumb is that is defensive rounds are typically .380, .38, .357, 9mm, .40 or .45. The lowly .22 seldom makes the list and I typically would agree. However, if I have a shooter who can only manipulate and shoot a .22 cal revolver due to physical issues – I would never withhold that as a viable choice over nothing at all.

And, on the other end of the spectrum – I wouldn’t recommend “The Judge” to a shooter who has a small frame and small hands just so they can “scare the hell” out of an attacker.

My typical recommendation is the largest caliber that they can manage the recoil on and get combat effective hits when stressed. That will tell the tale to me and help me make a solid recommendation to a new shooter as to what style and caliber of handgun they should purchase for their personal defense.

For a weapon to be of value for personal defense – the shooter must be able to “run the gun” and manage it when it’s fired. ALL of that goes into the mix when both selecting the gun and selecting the caliber of the gun.

It isn’t just about the caliber of the ammunition . . . it’s about the marriage of the shooter, the gun and the ammunition that will make it a true tool for the shooter’s personal defense.



Bill Keller

Eastern Iowa Firearms Training


M.A.P.S.I. Founding Member

M.A.P.S.I. Approved Advanced Defensive Pistol Instructor (ADPI) and Senior Instructor Trainer (SIT)

Training – Carbine Qualification Course


A few weeks ago a Scout of mine gave me a call. I gotta say I’m proud of this guy. From a Scout who definitely knew how to push all my buttons to an Afgan Vet, EMT, Fire Fighter and now Law Enforcement Officer with a BS in Criminal Justice – he’s definitely squared himself away!

The call was asking for my help to work with him to insure he’d pass his ILEA pistol qualification course of fire. Honestly, nothing pleased me more that he asked me to lend a hand . . . and to watch him move through the course of fire ultimately passing during our training session. It was a good day.

A text appeared a few days later stating that he had shot the course of fire 3 times for his training officer and had shot a qualifying score each time. He was a pretty happy critter!

This past week I received another text . . . he was due to shoot the ILEA Patrol Rifle course of fire for both 100y and CQB . . . would I lend him a hand? Yep . . . it sounded like fun.

Let’s chat a bit about a defensive carbine – in this case an AR with a 16 inch barrel. To me the key here is to keep it simple. A set of iron sights, some type of reliable optical sight – EoTech, AimPoint, a mounted flashlight and a sling. Past that . . . not so much.

The weapon “B” brought was fairly standard with a scope he had picked up from a local electronic sale site and a front grip with a drop down bi-pod “foot”. He’d forgotten his rear sight so I sent him off home to pick it up.

When he returned I had him remove the front grip, the scope and then mount his rear iron sight. I asked him if he’d already zeroed his carbine and discovered 1) he’d not sent many rounds down range with this particular rifle and 2) he had no real idea how to actually go about zeroing the weapon.

Brief detour here . . . this was a combat vet with a tour in Afghanistan under his belt. So I was curious how much weapons training he’d actually had before he deployed and went on patrol. The short answer is very little . . . very little. In fact not much more than I received back in 1969 before I deployed to VietNam. All sight adjustments were made by the range officers – not the shooter. Now – move to a Ranger battalion or special operations group, different story. But every day troop . . . pretty thin training.

So, his first expectation of the day was that he would spend most of it zeroing his weapon. To his delight I taught him the 10M – 50Yard zero method and within 6 round we were “home”. We took a final target out to 50 yards, made some last tweaks and he was putting the rounds in the black with little effort. A weapon zeroed in this method shooting a 55 grain 5.56 round will be zeroed for 50 yards . . . and 200 yards while shooting a tad over an inch high at 100 yards and a under 2 inches low at 10 meters. A very good “zone” to be in for a defensive carbine.

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We then mounted his scope well forward of the rear sight and began to zero it using the same method. We quickly discovered the scope was trash with the Windage adjustment spinning freely with no effect on the zero. It was a hard lesson to learn that a used $80 scope is probably not your best choice for gear you are betting your life on. It made its journey to the trash can and we moved on to doing some real work.

This is the ILEA CQB qualification course of fire. It begins at 50 yards and ends at 7 yards. It’s a 50 round course of fire and passing is a score of 90 meaning you can drop 5 rounds.

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Three primary positions were used – prone at 50 yards along with high barricade standing and low barricade kneeling. We chatted about each position, evaluated each of his positions and the executed the ILEA Rifle CQB course of fire. His first pass through saw a passing score. Not to say there weren’t any hiccups as can be seen by the Stage IV video. When you hear “load and make ready” you should . . . you know . . . load and make ready.


Since he had no optic the entire course of fire was iron sights only. Honestly, I’d encourage anyone shooting this type of qual course to do it with iron sights. That is your worst case scenario. If you grow dependent on an optic of some type to get hits out to 100 yards, “murphy” may well have his way with you which could prove to be a very bad day.

From here we moved to the ILEA Rifle Marksmanship course of fire with all stages at 100 yards. The first stage is supported and unsupported prone slow fire, the second is standing, kneeling and sitting and the third is standing and kneeling barricade. It was here that I learned yet another item about our current military training. It seems they no longer teach the sitting position. So, we took some time, worked through a couple different seated positions and found one that he liked.

His first effort at 100 yards proved unsuccessful with a handful rounds outside the silhouette. In glancing at his rear sight I noticed that he had failed to move to the small aperture opening on the rear sight rather than the large CQB opening. I’m fairly confident he would have brought in those rounds that slipped outside the lines. To give him an idea of what a holographic optic can do I pulled my Eotech from my carbine and mounted it to his weapon and shot the course of fire again . . . and this time he passed.

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There were a couple take-aways from both courses of fire. Fundamentals matter . . . period. A solid mount, smooth trigger press, good sight picture and sight alignment all matter when the rounds hit the paper. And, finally, don’t rush your shot. For example stage 1 of the rifle marksmanship had a time limit of 5 minutes for 10 rounds. He finished his course of fire, we walked down to check the target . . . and back to the shooting position . . . and still had 23 seconds on the clock. DON’T RUSH THE SHOT!

I offered him a couple suggestions – the biggest one was to find a nice single shot bolt action .22 and spend the time on the fundamentals of the 3 primary shooting positions and then use a bench rest position to really hone his sight alignment, sight picture and trigger press. They are fundamentals that will easily move between all his duty platforms.

It was a good day. 5 hours. Hotter than crap.

But I’m confident he’s ready to go shoot his qual course.

So how does my former Scout, now a LEO, and his need to shoot a qualifying score on two separate courses of fire apply to us – the civilian shooter. I think his requirements apply to us in a couple of ways.

First – it sets a “bar” for us to look at and meet. It is a particularly high bar? No, not really. Yet, it is one method for us to gage ourselves against both professionals and our peers to see how we stack up. And, it provides one level of “gut check” for us. If we can’t qualify on these two particular courses of fire . . . we have work to do.

Second – it helps us see what our fundamentals skills are. If we need a 9X scope and a spotter to pass the 100 yard marksmanship course . . . we have work to do. If we struggle with the different shooting positions . . . we have work to do. If our hits are scattered across the target . . . we have work to do. It’s hard to convince yourself you’re a “shooter” if you can’t get the hits. It’s not “right” or “wrong” . . . it’s simply a tool to hold ourselves accountable.

Finally, when was the last time you spent 5 or 6 hours on the range actually running your defensive carbine? If you’re like way too many shooters rifle time is typically spent bench rest shooting and trying to make the smallest group possible. The reality is that should you need to use your defensive carbine to resist an IMMEDIATE and LETHAL THREAT . . . it’s probably going to be at pretty much the same distances as you would use your defensive pistol at. Run your gun. Push your limits. Stress your weapon. Then, fix the problems . . . and repeat.

So there you go. “B” got good work done and we can use his example to insure that we are the best defensive shooter we can be with a carbine. Now, go spend some time at the range!

An Alternative To The Top 5 Excuses

In my work as an instructor, I get the chance to talk to a lot of people who are taking state mandated firearms training in order to qualify for a state-issued CCW permit.  My organization “polls” every student after every class in the form of a verbal “debrief” and through the use of a printed Feedback Form that is handed out for students to provide an evaluation of the training they received.  On the form, we ask them, A) if they are interested in taking more training, B) what additional classes they are interested in taking, and C) if they would like for us to contact them when those classes get added to our schedule.  Around 90% of respondents indicate that they do wish to take more training, and about 75% of those ask to be contacted when those classes come up on our schedule.  While those rather large numbers seem like something to get excited about, unfortunately, the number of those people who actually elect to take any follow-up training is much lower.  While I can’t account for students who go on to take additional training from other instructors, the number of them that return to my organization for additional training is only in the 5 – 7 percentile range, and I believe it’s reasonable to assume that, at best, only an additional 1 – 2% seek out additional training from other sources.

On that note, I’ve made it a point to ask people why they don’t take additional training, even though they, at one time, recognized the need.  While there have been a myriad of answers, I compiled the five I hear most often and have offered an alternative way to think about them in hopes that more people will consider a change to their priorities.  Remember, these are the responses I hear most often from people who have already completed the minimum, mandatory firearms safety training required to obtain a CCW permit from their state.

1.  “I don’t have the time to take any additional training.”

Alternative:  Do you really have time not to take additional training?  Time management is about priorities.  Human beings have an innate ability to “magically” make time for activities and opportunities that are a priority to them.  If we make training a priority, it stands to reason that we will find some time to make it happen.  With that said, we can simplify this process if we plan ahead.  Most instructors post their schedules a number of months in advance; some even post them for an entire year.  Find the class you want to take and reserve your spot early so it fits best with your schedule.

2.  “Training classes are too expensive.”

Alternative: Can you afford not to train?  I don’t know how many people have told me that they “can’t afford” to attend a training class, yet they are buying new guns, new holsters, and other new hardware every time you turn around.  Again, this is a matter of prioritization.  Quality training doesn’t have to be expensive.  I know of a number of quality, defensive-oriented training courses that cost under $200 (in some cases, WELL under $200 – All of the Defensive Shooting Courses my company offers are under $200) that are offered by local instructors several times each year.  Yes, it can be a bit more expensive to attend training courses at some of the national schools or with some of the nationally known instructors, though even some of them are offering fairly reasonably priced classes these days.  An investment in some new, upgraded software might well prove to be a better decision than an investment in the ever-growing pile of new hardware.

3.  “Good training is too far away.”

Alternative:  How far is too far to travel for quality training?  We are pretty fortunate here in my home state of Missouri to have a variety of good training resources spread throughout the state.  No matter where you live in this state, you are never more than a 3-hour drive from a quality training facility and program.  In addition to that, there are usually several nationally known instructors that come through the state each year to conduct classes hosted at in-state facilities.  A quick day trip is all the travel investment one needs to make in order to become better prepared to defend themselves and their families if the unthinkable was to happen.

4.  “I don’t need more training. Bad guys don’t train, so I am already better trained than they are.”

Alternative:  Are you sure that “bad guys” aren’t training?  Greg Ellifritz, from Active Response Training, recently penned an article titled, “Training vs. Experience”.  In the article, he cited an FBI study in which researchers concluded, “Nearly 40% of the criminal attackers in this study had received FORMAL firearms training (mostly in the military).  More than 80% of the criminal attackers regularly practiced with their firearms, with an average number of 23 Practice Sessions Per Year!”  (You can read the entire article here: http://www.activeresponsetraining.net/training-vs-experience). This doesn’t take into account all of the “training” that takes place each and every time one of these criminals serves another prison sentence.  How many armed citizens can honestly say they partake in meaningful, structured practice an average of twice a month?  And how many armed citizens are proactively improving skill sets and tactics by seeking out quality training at least a couple times per year?  The idea that the criminal element is untrained is romantic, but it is not reality.

5.  “The odds that I will ever have to use my gun to defend myself or my family are so low, that I’m not too worried about becoming better trained”

Alternative:  As far as statistical probability is concerned, you would be correct in saying that the odds are low that you’ll ever have to use your firearm to defend yourself or another.  However, the consequences for being ill prepared to use that firearm efficiently and decisively should the need arise, can be of the highest severity.   The truth is, we can’t afford to fail when the lives of our loved ones are at stake, or when our own life is at stake.  Defensive shooting skills are similar to life-saving emergency first aid skills, we hope we never have to use them, but if we do, it will be detrimental if we are not well rehearsed in their application.

In conclusion, I understand just as much as the next person how everyone has a limited amount of resources.  My resources are limited too.  It is not a unique situation to be in.  With that said, it IS something we can largely overcome if we exercise some due diligence, plan ahead, make some slight changes to our budget, and come to terms with the importance of the issue.  We owe nothing less to our families and ourselves.

As always, be safe!

Chris Shoffner


Can You Afford to NOT Train?

Personal Protection is a matter I take seriously.  I’ve spent the last few years of my life reading, learning, and training for something I hope I never have a need for.  Chances are that I’ll never be the victim of a potentially life threatening crime.  Why, then, spend the time and money to train?

In church one Sunday, my pastor asked, “You say you can’t afford the time it takes to pray.  I ask you, how can you afford not to pray?”  I pose this question to those who feel that continuing their training after their state mandated firearm safety course is complete is unnecessary, inconvenient, or too expensive.  How can you afford not to train?

I believe it comes down to the three “keys” on which everything stands.  The keys are knowledge, skill, and attitude.  One simply can’t achieve any significant strides in their skill level in an eight hour firearms course.  What you get is the necessary knowledge you need to develop those skills on your own.  A good instructor will help you evaluate your particular level of skill and then teach you the necessary knowledge you will need to further develop those skills.

When I explain this to most people, they can see my point, yet still aren’t willing to devote the resources into a training regiment. Why?


Without the right attitude, one will never spend the time they need to become good at what they’re doing.

With personal protection this means dry-fire practice at home when you can’t get to a range.  Live-fire practice every time it’s possible.  Training should consist of lifelike situations rather than just putting holes in a paper target.  You should also train to use your senses to increase you situational awareness.

Having the right attitude and applying your knowledge to develop your skill is an absolute must if you want to prevail in a life threatening encounter.  It would be very easy to justify all those hours and rounds of ammunition you’ve spent at the range if you ever had to explain yourself in court.  Likewise, it would be very difficult to explain your complete lack of training in the same situation.  Can you afford not to train?  The answer is a definite no.

Training – Are you “Proficient”?


Proficient: well advanced in an art, occupation, or branch of knowledge

There was a discussion among a group of trainers the other day regarding methods for determining if new officers were “proficient” with their firearms. It seems as though the focus became centered on their ability to shoot some type of defined “proficiency drill” with their service weapon.

My response revolved around the idea that this was a fairly limited POV and that there were other components to this particular concern as well. Knowledge of their service weapon. Ability to field-strip it, clean it and replace common components that could break (ejectors, firing pins, strikers, springs, etc). Ability to draw and engage a threat quickly and smoothly. And, finally some predefined type of shooting drill.

As is often the case with these types of “conversations” it got me to thinking . . .

As a defensive shooter, someone who had chosen to carry a defensive firearm daily . . .

Am I “proficient”?

All too often I see folks eager to get their carry permit (or whatever your particular state calls it) and they will do the minimum to fill the state requirement . . . and that’s it. It is all too likely that it includes very limited range time, little or no work drawing from concealment and a simple shooting test that demonstrates they can hit a piece of typing paper at 21 feet. And . . . honestly . . . I am OK with that, I am firmly in the “Constitutional Carry” side of the house. That said, I also believe that for a person who carries a defensive handgun as part of their daily routing there are oh so many more things they need to well and truly KNOW . . . that they are “Proficient” in. Let’s chat about that a bit.

Awareness: This topic is a bit of a rabbit hole depending on the instructor you chat with. The NRA preaches Unaware, Aware, Alert and Alarm . . . Cooper has White, Yellow, Orange and Red. The military adds Black to Cooper’s color code. What both are driving towards is a simple question . . . do you know what is going on around you? How about in general? How do things “feel” to you . . . in the country, your state, your county, your city or your neighborhood? As you walk down the street or slow for a traffic signal are you in your own little world subject to the whims of a predator or are you “aware” of your surroundings and paying attention to the things going on around you? Remember . . . the best way to win a gun fight is to not get in one. And your willingness to work on your level of awareness, to engage your surroundings rather than drift through them may well make the difference between seeing a threat and avoiding it or being yet another addition to some crime statistic.

Are you PROFICIENT in your ability to be aware of your surroundings?

Mindset: You’ve chosen to fill the squares to be able to legally carry a defensive handgun. Do you have a mindset that will allow you to actually use it to save your life, to work with it to be able to “run the gun” should things go sideways, to take a life if necessary, to dedicate a portion of your life monthly and annually to train on a range and take coursework in the use of your weapon? Are you serious . . . or playing at it . . .

Are you PROFICIENT in your ability to integrate a new mindset into your lifestyle?

Clothing: While the topic may strike some as odd, if you are going to enter the concealed carry world it will require a change in clothing for most folks. A sturdy gun belt is probably the most overlooked item. Pants a size larger to incorporate an IWB holster. Shirts/jackets that conceal. Sturdy shoes that allow rapid movement should the need arise. Clothing that still “fits in” and avoids the “shoot me first” signature.

Are you PROFICIENT in your concealment?

Gear: Have you selected a holster that fits your lifestyle and your gun? How about magazine carriers, belts, range gear including spare magazines, cleaning kits, range bags, eye protection, ear protection. Have you spent the time and done the research to insure you have equipment that works well together?

Are you PROFICIENT in the selection of your gear?

Your defensive handgun: Does your defensive handgun “fit”? Can you “run your gun”, clear malfunctions, shoot it well, maintain it including cleaning and the replacement of minor components? Do you have a reason you chose that particular handgun? Can you articulate it? Explain its advantages? How about your defensive ammunition? Why did you choose that caliber, that manufacturer, that particular round? Do you know its advantages? Can you articulate them?

Are you PROFICIENT in your knowledge of your handgun?

Can you shoot? : This skill will save your life. Can you draw and engage a threat quickly enough to give you a fighting chance to go home at the end of the day? While this seems to be the “go to” parameter when folks speak about “proficiency” – and it is vital – it is but a single component of the entire mix that is “proficiency” when applied to a defensive shooter. That said, can you draw/move, shoot, get combat effective hits, clear malfunctions and stay in the fight? Do you work at it? Do you set aside a couple hundred (minimum) rounds aside each month for your own personal training?

Are you PROFICIENT in your shooting skill set?

Do you take coursework and follow it up with individual training? Are you growing as a defensive shooter? To you travel to a trainer at least once a year for new coursework? Do your read, take DVD coursework, work with a training partner? Defensive shooting skills diminish over time unless you’re spending individual training time on the range keeping your skills sharp. Yep – it’s time consuming. Yep – it’s pricy. Yep – it can be frustrating. Yet, your life may well depend on your willingness to read, take coursework and hit the range.

Are you PROFICIENT in growing your shooting skills?

Can you keep the red stuff in your body? We are training with tools that can kill us. Have you taken a first aid course? Have you taken a trauma course? Do you carry a blowout kit ON YOUR PERSON when you’re on the range? Shoot yourself in your femoral artery you got about 3 minutes to live . . . unless you have the necessary skills to save your life or that of a training partner.

Are you PROFICIENT in the use of first aid and the equipment necessary to keep the red stuff in your body?

Have you taken some type of “after a shooting” training? If I put out the letters AOJP . . . do you have some idea what they mean? How about Ability, Opportunity, Jeopardy, Preclusion? Can you articulate a response to a possible shooting scenario? This is another field of study that needs your ongoing attention because winning the gunfight is only the first fight you will encounter. Our court system may well be just as dangerous to your life and freedoms and your threat was.

Are you PROFICIENT in defending your actions?

Proficiency – there is much more to that particular word than simply putting holes on a target. Demand excellence from yourself. Expect the best. Push yourself. Grow, learn, become better. Proficiency is not a static quantity. It demands ongoing work.

Start tomorrow . . . time’s a wasting . . .


Bill Keller

Founding Member MAPSI

Why M.A.P.S.I.? And why now?

I’ve had some folks ask me, “Why MA.P.S.I.? And why now?”. So with that in mind, I’d like to take a few lines to introduce you to M.A.P.S.I. and provide some background on the origins of the project as well as where we are headed in the future.

In the spring of 2014, my fellow founding member, Bill Keller, and I, began working with a team of trainers from around the country who were attempting to develop a new National Training Organization from the ground up. The idea was to develop brand new, up-to-date training curriculum that would be specifically geared towards the defensive use of handguns, shotguns, and carbines. The group was paired up in teams of two based on individual attributes. As it turns out, Bill and I were paired up to work as a team developing the handgun program for the organization. We were designated the “Handgun Program Directors” and were expected to write and develop an introductory defensive handgun program as well as an intermediate defensive handgun program.

Fortunately for the two of us, Bill and I were already friends. We had met a couple years prior in our NRA Training Counselor Workshop. We kept in touch and even trained together during the two year period before we were reunited to work on the new project. Bill and I were also of like mind when it came to defensive firearms training; we believed in building a solid foundational skillset, and then expanding on that foundation with simple, intuitive skill development exercises that were firmly rooted in data derived from empirical evidence. We both believed that, since everyone has fairly limited training resources – primarily time, money, and desire – a quality training program should remain focused on the types of skills, tactics, and techniques the average armed citizen is most likely to need to be able to use efficiently and effectively under the most probable types of situations, and should leave out all of the “fantasy camp” stuff that has little, if any, practical application in real life.

And so we began developing our coursework. While it can be a daunting task to sit down with a blank sheet of paper and develop what is supposed to become a “national standard” in defensive handgun training, Bill and I were already a step ahead. Bill had already been working on some basic defensive handgun coursework for nearly two years, and I had already been working on some intermediate level defensive handgun coursework for a year-and-a-half. In fact, we had both already run Beta tests on our respective coursework and had already run several dozen students through it in open-enrollment courses. So it didn’t take us all that long to take what we already had, make some amendments so as to meet the unique needs of the new organization, and have a basically completed, already-tested product in hand within a couple of months.

Bill and I eventually accepted an invitation from one of the other members of the group to take a trip out to Cleveland, Ohio to teach the coursework to a group of 20+ students and instructors over a weekend in November, 2014. This was to serve as further Beta testing for the re-worked coursework. While the weather and range conditions in Cleveland were less than ideal, it turned out to be a tremendous learning experience. We were able to obtain feedback from a wide variety of students and instructors, and the approximately 25 hours Bill and I spent traveling together across three states were absolutely invaluable. While Bill drove, I took notes from our conversation. We ended up with about 3 pages of notes and a ton of ideas just from our drive. We were energized and truly pumped up about our new coursework and could now very clearly see the direction in which the group we were involved with needed to go if they were to truly create a successful program.

Unfortunately, things don’t always work out like you want them to. While I won’t go into great detail, I will say that within a few weeks after our trip to Cleveland, the group we’d been working with for the past several months began to suffer from some internal problems. In my mind, ego got in the way of the progress that had been made, and indeed, in the way of the progress that needed to be made. Due to these internal “problems”, we went from having two basically finished pieces of coursework, to nothing. The energy and enthusiasm was gone, not just on my end, but by my observation, by nearly everyone involved. I submitted my resignation with the group the third week of December, 2014. I simply refused to allow my name and reputation to be tarnished by what I saw as a train wreck in the making – a real shame considering there were some really good people involved with the group.

Bill followed suit about a month later. It was at this time that we agreed we wouldn’t let all of the hard work, time, and money we invested go to waste. By now, I’d run about 100 students through my intermediate coursework, still experiencing excellent results. Bill had also continued to run more students through his introductory coursework to make sure any kinks had been worked out. I had also put together a regional group of instructors that were initially going to be my first “instructor candidates” for the (now defunct – at least in my eyes), new national training organization. This group was made up of one of my business partners and a group of instructors that obtained their initial Instructor Development training from my business partners and me. These were people I had worked with and trusted – people whom I had confidence in their abilities – people who would later become the Founding Members of M.A.P.S.I. Bill and I approached the group to see if there was interest in trying to do something with the coursework we had already developed. They were on board and work began with a renewed vigor.

Everyone in the group was in agreement that there was a lot of room for improvement within the training community. As it stands now, on one end of the spectrum, we have instructors with minimal experience who are simply ill-equipped to provide safe and effective defensive shooting instruction to a general population that requires solid, safe training. These people are basically out there “doing their own thing”, without any real sense of direction or any type of professional or ethical standard they are required to adhere to. In the middle, we have organizations that are now attempting to offer shooting instruction to students on-line because they have such little trust in their instructors to deliver the material in a safe, consistent manner – and they simply lack the resources and/or desire to address the problem at the instructor level. And on the opposite end of the spectrum, we have private training programs that require thousands of dollars of cash outlay from people who wish to eventually become certified to teach the programs – and some of them are using grossly outdated material to boot.

So in March, 2015, after hundreds of hours of meetings, conference calls, and online collaboration, our new group officially formed an Association called the Midwest Association of Professional Shooting Instructors, or M.A.P.S.I. for short. The coursework was, once again, modified in order to meet the new objectives of the new group. This consisted mostly of removing any traces of the now-defunct national organization, and cleaning up some of the more cumbersome aspects of the curriculum that the defunct organization insisted we have in place. With a lot of help and input from the new group, we also streamlined the coursework and “built in” more “breathing room” for individual instructors to work more closely with the individual needs of the students. Additionally, a lot of time was spent on developing the organization itself – what kind of standards we would hold ourselves to, how decisions would be made, developing an Instructor Code of Ethics that would be the cornerstone of our Instructor Development Program, and of course all of the legal and administrative aspects of the organization that were necessary.

We also enlisted more help. We had areas in which we needed additional “hands on deck”. We had legal concerns that needed to be addressed by someone who was actually qualified to address them. We needed additional experienced, qualified people to take a look at the coursework with an unbiased eye and help us perfect it. And we needed more input on the organizational and administrative issues that our fledgling group was encountering. This is where our three “Foundational Members” came into play. Each of them was approached due to their level of experience, expertise, and professional integrity. They have helped us continue to develop and evolve as an Association and their input has been invaluable.


As a group, we have already held two in-person training conferences this year; the first in March and the second in June. This has given everyone who will initially be teaching this coursework numerous hours of first-hand experience presenting it to other professional instructors who then provided feedback and objective evaluations. This is absolutely essential to proper instructor development. It’s simply not realistic to expect a trainer to just grab a copy of a lesson plan and “get it right” without actually having a chance to develop their presentation of the material in a structured, instructor-development type of setting.

As we move forward and continue to develop and grow as an association, we have plans to add more coursework to our training program including courses that cover advanced defensive pistol skills, defensive shotgun and carbine skills, vehicle combatives, as well as force-on-force gunfighting skills. Just as with the three initial handgun courses, you can expect this coursework will be fully vetted, peer-reviewed, and tested prior to its release for public consumption. Additionally, we intend to launch one of the most comprehensive professional instructor development programs of any organization in the country. We are looking forward to meeting you and making many new friends along the way! Thank you and welcome to M.A.P.S.I.!

As always, be safe!

Chris Shoffner

M.A.P.S.I. Founding Member