AAR – Suarez International “HITS-8 Defensive Knife” 08/28/2015 – By: Chris Shoffner – www.mapsitraining.com

Course Title: “HITS-8 Defensive Knife”
Instructor: Steve Collins
Date of course: 08/28/2015
Location: Armed Missouri, Inc.
Class time: 8:00 – 5:00

How do you take a person who has no experience or knowledge in the application of a knife for self-defense, and turn him or her into a knife-fighting expert in just 9 hours? You don’t. It simply can’t be done. How do you take a person who has no experience or knowledge in the application of a knife for self-defense, and provide him or her with a solid foundation from which to start utilizing the knife as a defensive tool in just 9 hours? You enroll them in the Suarez International, HITS-8 Defensive Knife class, have them show up, pay attention, and put in the work!

That is exactly what happened with me during my participation in this class. I’ve been carrying a knife for years – since I was a young man even before high school. I’ve used a knife in most any way you can imagine – as a cutting tool, as a saw, wire cutter, carving tool, deer skinner, meat processor, and even a hammer on a few occasions – but I’ve never used one as a defensive tool, at least not in a practical sense. So I came into this course a blank slate. I was ready to learn, ready to put in the work, ready to be humbled, and ready to improve.

The SI Defensive Knife class is billed as, “……a compressed version of our two day Defensive Knife program…”. The course description goes on to say, “……You will learn knife grips, angles of attack and defense, ballistic cutting and thrusting tactics, use of the live hand, footwork concepts, dynamic training drills and exercises to develop spontaneous and unplanned reactions. We will dispel the commonly held myths of the knife and leave you with a respect and a skill-set for this close range weapon that equals or surpasses your skill with the CCW pistol and allows you to begin integrating the knife and the gun…”. While this all might sound a little intimidating, the format is actually very well thought out and presented in a very logical order, so the intimidation factor drops off pretty quickly once the class begins.

The class starts out with a safety briefing and an equipment check to make sure everyone has possession of a training knife on their person, rather than a true blade. Next is a bit of lecture regarding theory and concepts of using a knife as a defensive tool. From there, it moves into some penetration and slicing demonstrations using a variety of blades and a pork roast that is wrapped in 20 or so layers of plastic rap around a broom handle. Steve lovingly referred to this as “Pork Man” throughout the demonstrations. It took no less than the very first demonstration for the students to realize just how serious of a tool a quality blade is. “Pork Man” suffered stab after stab and laceration after laceration. Even the small, 2-inch blades left nasty cuts and slices all the way to “the bone” (the broom handle). When Steve deployed what he called “the comma cut” with any of the blades, “Pork Man” sustained damage that would have taken a talented surgeon to try to piece back together.

With a good understanding of just how efficient a good knife blade can be at piercing and cutting, we then began actual work with our training blades. In all, we had 5 students enrolled in the class. Everyone was instructed to bring both their daily carry knife as well as a replica “training blade” facsimile of it. We started off with some basic fighting strokes, (5 strokes in total) which each of us practiced on our own, one type of stroke at a time, until each of us had the mechanics down pretty well.

As we progressed, we started combining the strokes together, so a practice drill would comprise of drawing the knife from the sheath, then moving into one or more fighting strokes, then eventually back to the sheath. After a little more work combining different strokes on our own, the students were paired up and used each other as compliant “sparring” partners. The bulk of the morning consisted of adding new components, practicing those new components on our own, then practicing them with a compliant partner.

At one of our hydration breaks about an hour into the class, I remember mentioning to Steve that I had “….learned more about knife fighting in 20 minutes of hands-on participation in his class, than I had in the past 43 years of my life….”. And that was the truth. I was no expert, but I already felt a lot more competent, confident, and knowledgeable than I did just an hour before.

After a short break for lunch, the group returned to the range and we began working on counter-measures to the fighting strokes we had worked on all morning. This involved all of the students partnering up in pairs and working through the drills over and over again. Similar to the fighting strokes we’d learned in the morning, the techniques Steve taught us to counter those moves were kept as simple as possible to allow for as little tie-up time with the adversary as possible. Being able to end the fight quickly and make a quick escape is definitely preferential to engaging in some kind of long, drawn out knife fight. And, just like the morning block of instruction, techniques were learned one at a time, then Steve would teach us how to start combining multiple moves and strokes for a more effective, less predictable defense.

As the day progressed, we experimented with a variety of different grips – a few different forward grips and some reverse grips. We also started working from different angles of attack and the training partners became less compliant as the day progressed. We eventually ended the class with about a half hour of discussion followed by a quick debrief as all of the students in attendance were scheduled to attend the next two days of Force on Force training together.


Honestly, it is rare that I take a defensive oriented class where I am not at least somewhat familiar with some of the material before it starts. In this case, however, it was like sailing into uncharted waters. Knife fighting is simply outside of my realm of experience and was definitely outside of my comfort zone. There were many times throughout this class where I felt awkward like a kid trying to ride a bike for the first time. That said, Steve has a way of keeping things simple and he doesn’t mind demonstrating something 2, 3, or even 10 times if a student needs it (and all of us required plenty of remediation throughout the day). He was quick to point out that we needed to focus on proper technique and application of technique before we worried about trying to develop more speed.

In addition, I learned a new appreciation for the capabilities of edged weapons in a defensive role. Knife fighting is up, close, personal, violent, and bloody business. It is absolutely something you do NOT want to engage in unless you have absolutely no other option. You are not insulated by distance in a knife fight – it all happens inside of two arms reach. There is no mercy from a blade – it will cut to the bone and pierce to the vital organ faster than you can imagine. Incapacitation comes from blood loss – a LOT of blood loss – or from starvation of oxygen due to a slashed wind pipe or punctured lung.

Of course, I also subsequently learned that the knife IS a viable secondary weapon to the handgun, or even as a primary weapon in non-permissive environments. A very capable blade can be in the form of an innocent looking folder in the pocket, a fixed-blade boot knife, or a hefty blade carried in a centerline position, easily accessible with either hand – and the carry options are almost limitless (though some modes of carry make for much easier access and presentation than others).

Lastly, I confirmed that, just like my choice in defensive firearms, I want my blade to be as simple to operate as possible. The guys using folding knives in this class, no matter how good they became with their presentation, simply couldn’t deploy and utilize the weapon as quickly as the guys using the fixed blade knives (all else being equal). There were times where even the assisted-opener models failed to open due to a minor mistake in the draw stroke or due to catching on some clothing. That never happened with any of the fixed blade models. They came out of the sheath ready to fight every time.

In closing, Steve Collins, once again, proved himself to be a capable and diverse instructor. He brings a deep level of experience and expertise, and always presents the material in an easy-to-understand format with a realistic level of humility and the right amount of seriousness.

As to the coursework itself, I believe it is well suited for the novice like me. Just like nearly any other discipline, there are certain fundamental skills and concepts a person must learn first before moving on. This class provided me with those fundamentals. I didn’t leave the class a knife fighting expert (nor was I supposed to), but I did leave with the confidence and competence to start carrying an edged weapon in a role that surpasses that of a common pocketknife/utilitarian mode. I will be looking forward to hosting and attending this class again, hopefully sometime next year, as a way to reinforce what I learned and as a way to evaluate the progress I’ve made.

As always, stay safe!

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



AAR – Martial Arms Tactical Vehicle Gun Fighting Skills

Date: 9/26/2015

Instructor: Steve Collins

Some have asked why I would spend my time taking a course like this a second time.  The answer is simple; there’s no way to adequately remember the lessons learned in such a course by going through only once.  Too much time passes from the beginning of the course to the end of the day and there isn’t sufficient time to take notes even if note taking were more practical on an outdoor range.

That said, as a previous graduate of this training course, I had a pretty good idea what to expect as I was going into it.  Although the course is basically the same, there were a few minor changes to the lesson plan and, of course, the scenario based shooting was different out of necessity.

The day began with a safety briefing and explanation of how the course would progress.  Once everyone understood the special safety considerations involved with moving and shooting in, from, and around vehicles, we moved over to the actual vehicles we had obtained for use in the class to discuss some basic concepts about defending oneself around a vehicle.

We had acquired a 1991 Ford Tempo sedan and a 2003 Plymouth Voyager minivan from a local salvage yard.  Steve began by going over each vehicle’s best and worst areas of cover as well as a few “don’ts” such as defending with one foot on the ground and the other in the vehicle.  We also discussed when and where people are most vulnerable and what ways we could help to make ourselves a more difficult or less desirable target.

After a thorough look at the best cover areas on each vehicle, we moved to the range and started with some warm up shooting.  I should add at this point that it is an instructor’s responsibility to begin shooting classes with some fairly basic shooting to ensure each student is “up to speed” and doesn’t need remediation before moving on.

The first shooting exercise was simply to draw and fire a single round using a two-handed grip at full extension.  We did this ten times at our own pace.  We then were instructed to draw and fire multiple shots using a two-handed grip at full extension.

Then we moved up to arm’s length of the target and shot using a “guarded” position in which the dominant hand would grip, draw and fire from retention while the other hand would come up to the side of the face to protect from incoming blows or cuts.  Adding a layer of complexity, we then turned toward our dominant side and were told to first strike the target with our non-dominant hand, turn toward the target and then perform the previous exercise of guarding, drawing and firing.

These two exercises were run through dry many times before live fire was permitted.  I personally noticed a very real possibility that, if guarding with the non-dominant hand incorrectly, a shot could be put right into the elbow of the non-dominant arm.  Dry fire practice is vital to work out these kinks to ensure a safe shooting exercise.

The idea of this exercise was to simulate putting a child or cargo into your car and being approached by a would-be carjacker.  I should mention that it was firmly pointed out that at no time should we use the “speed rock” method due to the off balance nature of that position.  Instead, we were instructed to take a more aggressive position and lean in to the target.

Once we had performed these drills we moved chairs to the line and worked from a seated position in order to get used to drawing and firing from a seat.  The chairs faced the targets on the first set of exercises and then we turned them to our dominant side.  This proved to be especially challenging to the left handed shooters on the class as they realized accessing a gun that may be up against their driver’s door would be very difficult.

The warm up done, it was time to move the junk cars into place and set up scenarios.  Steve took great care to make the scenarios believable and challenging, since the bad guys rarely make things easy for you.

While it’s difficult to describe the drills run from the cars in any great detail, I will mention a few major points that I took away from my participation in each scenario.

  • Shooting your attacker(s) is less important that not getting shot.
    • Don’t stand your ground behind a flimsy car door to shoot back if you have the ability to move behind more substantial cover.
  • It’s always better to move forward.
    • Moving backwards or sideways is less natural and, therefore, less efficient and provides a greater opportunity to stumble or fall.
    • Moving forward sometimes requires the gun to be transferred to the non-dominant hand. When it can be done, it should be done but it isn’t the end of the world if you don’t do it.
  • Running the drills alone is one thing but running them with a partner is totally different.
    • This isn’t something you’ll just do without taking the time to discuss and plan your actions well in advance of the need for such actions.
    • Now, throw an unarmed passenger or kids in the backseat into the mix and see how easily you come up with a “solution” to the “problem.”

In all, we each had the opportunity to run through several scenarios at least twice each.  Some were performed on our own and others were done with a partner.  Steve allowed us to use our best judgement to go through most of the scenarios.  If, during dry practice, he noticed something that needed improvement, he would interject and have the student try it again.

Personally, I have come to realize that there are many “right” ways to get the job done when someone is attacking you.  Some of these right ways are better than others but the end result of surviving speaks for itself.

There are also plenty of wrong ways to defend oneself and that’s why we each need training like this to help eliminate our tendency to go for the wrong way to begin with.

The last hour or so was spent doing a Test and Evaluation of various calibers of ammunition through various firearms at various parts of the two vehicles.  We used a .380ACP, 9mmx19, .40S&W, .38SPL, .357 Magnum, .45ACP, .454 Casull,  7.62×39mm, 12 Gauge Buckshot, 12 Gauge Slug, .44 Magnum (through a lever action rifle), .30-30, .50 BMG.

We shot at front doors, rear doors, B-pillars, and a tail gate.  With few exceptions, most of the above mentioned rounds failed to fully penetrate the Tempo from one side to the other.  Several of them failed to penetrate the first door leaving anyone inside relatively safe until a follow-up shot in the same location finally breaks through.  Even the 12 Gauge Slug failed to penetrate the B-pillar of the Tempo.

On the other hand, the .30-30 had little difficulty penetrating the tail gate of the Voyager as well as the rear seat and front seat.  It would be likely to be seriously injured in the event someone shot a more potent round tough the rear of a minivan or SUV.

The .50 BMG, on the other hand had no difficulty penetrating pretty much anything we shot it at.  It went all the way through the minivan leaving a fist sized hole in the firewall before becoming lodged somewhere in the engine.  On a second shot, a five gallon bucket of paint left in the cargo area of the van was struck leaving paint throughout the vehicle.  There was even paint on the dashboard and windshield.  It bears noting that this paint and the human body have roughly the same consistency.

It’s no surprise that a round so powerful would have such a devastating effect.  It was designed to disable military vehicles from a distance.  Thankfully, your average gang-banger thug doesn’t have access to such a weapon.

In general, cars are more bullet proof than you might think but there’s always that chance that something will make it through.  Your best bet is to get out and get behind as much solid material as is possible.

The day ended with a quick debrief and certificates were handed out.  As usual, Steve Collins met the superior expectations that I have come to have for his instruction.  He has taken a lifetime of military experience and masterfully translated it into the civilian world of moms and dads getting groceries or going out to eat.

I will take this course again as it is not only very informative but it is also extremely fun.

Review – AAR Long Range Shooting with Jim See 9/19/2015


The very, very short version . . . what a fun day!!! Made solid hits at 435y and 500y and tagged a 16” steel plate at 800y a couple of times. Jim See is a very good instructor that is well worth your time and money! So, let’s spend some time on the details. This feels like a long post so grab an adult beverage and settle in!

I want to address this AAR in a couple different chunks.

What is the definition of “long range” shooting?

My weapon of choice. Why the heck are you shooting a short barreled .308 carbine? Increasing the accuracy of the LM-308 platform. Why replace the trigger group? Why that scope? Why a scope level? Why that bipod? What round for familiarization and what round for the coursework?

I want to chat a bit about Jim See, provide some links to his company and the company he shoots for and finally, an evaluation of his teaching style.

Homework. While I’ve spent time in the past reading about LR shooting and rifle shooting techniques – I really hit the books/videos/websites prior to start of this course. Let’s spend some energy on these resources as a starting point.

Sure Shot range is newish to our area – I’d like to spend some time on describing the range, its facilities and capabilities.

Finally, we’ll roll through the day – both classroom and range work. It was a busy day and while one might think the round count was a bit on the light side (I shot around 50 rounds) the learning that went on awesome.

What is Long Range Shooting?

It seems to be that the right answer to this is “whatever I say it is!” If you talk to most hunters it seems to be anything over 350 yard-ish. That is the most distant range it seems most are willing to say they are confident of making a solid kill shot on an animal. Of course there are those hunters who really work at their craft that will push this out to 400, 500 maybe even 600 yards. All that said, once these folks cross 350 yards, most see it as long range shooting.

Then there are the target shooters who typically practice at 500 yards and beyond with 1,000 yards plus just being part of their shooting distance. For these folks those distances beyond 500 yards would be defined as long distance shooting.

And then there are the real competitors – like Jim See. They shoot everything from 100 yards to 1,000+ yards. They are all simply part of the work that needs to be done. When I listened to Jim talk he put as much effort into the 100 yard shot as the 800 yard shot that we all had the chance to work on. I’m not sure he even thinks about “long range” – he’s more interested in bullet dope, ranges, elevations, wind direction, wind speed. I simply see Jim as a real, honest to goodness “shooter” regardless of the distance.

For me, I’m going to toss my hat in with those that feel that 350 yards or more is “long range”. My reasoning? It was quickly apparent that at the 500 yard distance wind was a tremendous factor and making the hit became much more a factor of being able to read the wind and compensate “on the fly” than being able to have a solid hold for elevation at the shooting distance. Your definition may well differ – no worries.

My weapon of choice.

Why the heck are you shooting a short barreled .308 carbine? Increasing the accuracy of the Panther Arms AP4 platform. Why that scope? Why a scope level? Why that bipod? What round for familiarization and what round for the coursework?

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My weapon for the day was a Panther Arms AP4. This is my “heavy” rifle that was purchased primarily with personal defense in mind. Should the wheels come off in a truly big way, and defense of family and friends becomes a high priority, this type of platform is one I am familiar with, the cartridge is large enough to do real work over long distances and it also provides a solid hunting rifle should food gathering become a priority. (ok, tin foil is going back in the box . . .) Would I consider this a long range precision rifle? Probably not at first blush but after yesterday’s coursework I have no doubt that I can make a solid first round hit out to 500 yards easily provided all my fundamentals are solid.

I did do some work to enable me to be more accurate with my AP-4. First I added a front tripod. I mounted a Harris Bipod #5 Adaptor to the barrel guard. This involved drilling an appropriate sized hole centered on the bottom to the front guard just over 2-inches back from the front edge. I inverted the rear plate, slipped it inside the guard and screwed the mounting bracket through the guard and into the rear plate. This was a simple process requiring around 20 minutes.

Harris Bipod #5 AR-15 Bipod Adaptor

Next I added a Harris S-BRM tripod. This had a number of advantages. The mounting plate “rocks” left and right so I could level the weapon once I was in my shooting position insuring I was level when I broke my shot. The extendable legs also have locking segments on both legs allowing me to “click” in each leg to identical lengths quickly and easily. Finally, just their reputation – they are widely acknowledged as making one of the best bipods on the market.

Harris S-BRM Hinged Bipod

The stock trigger on the AP4 is “stiff” and somewhat variable from time to time. Replacing the trigger group with a more reliable one seemed a no brainer. I chose the Timney AR-10 4lb trigger pull group. Installation was very easy due to the trigger group being fully assembled in a solid aluminum housing. It required less than 20 minutes to remove the old trigger and drop in the new one. This is probably the single most important upgrade that I made on the weapon – it made a tremendous difference in my ability to shoot accurately.

Tinmey AR-10 4lb trigger assemply

Honestly, I could have chosen a better scope had I looked a few years into the future. I wasn’t thinking “long range shooting” or having to correct on the fly for variable winds. My mind set was much more in a close range, defensive shooting POV, with hunting as a backup need. My choice was the Nikon 6320 Prostaff 3-9x 40mm Matte Riflescope with a BDC reticle. The final result on the range though was nicely surprising. We’ll talk about this in more detail but by way of explanation our “final exam” was three 14×14 plates at 435 yards, 2 rounds on each plate in 30 seconds. I dialed in the dope on the scope, bagged up and was quickly rewarded by two solid first plates. After that I just lost it . . . but it was me, not the weapon or the scope. To mount the scope to the picatinny rails I used TMS Heavy Duty 1” mounts. Again, in hindsight there are much better choices I could have made but I have no room to fault the way the mounts performed during this course. To insure my scope was level, I added a Vortex Scope Level. While shooting at longer ranges a scope that has a slight cant to it can significantly impact the hit by a number of inches. The Vortex scope was solid insurance.

Nikon P-223 3-9x40 Mate BDC 600   Scope Mount 2

VORTREX Scope Level

Finally, I added a combination of rear shooting bags that allowed me a range of adjustment from around 2 inches all the way up to around 10 inches. The idea of these are that you gently squeeze them for final adjustments of elevation before you press the trigger. If you rely on muscle control to provide a stable platform, over time you will see tremors in your scope because your muscles become tired. Using a good bipod and a set of rear bags help insure you have a stable platform before you break your shot. They definitely make the difference when shooting at these types of ranges.

I used two types of ammunition in preparing for the course and actually shooting during the course. For the precourse work I used Winchester .308 150 gr power point. It was very consistent throughout the 100-ish rounds I fired in preparation for the course. For the actual course work I used Hornady’s 178 gr, BTHP match cartridge. Its performance was flawless and the dope for the scope was very precise when dialed it in for 435 yards.

Let’s chat about Jim See . . .

Jim is the owner/operator of Center Shot Rifles LLC of Decorah, Iowa. He is also a team shooter for Surgeon Rifles. He has two PRS season wins in 2015 with his most recent being a first place finish in the 2015 Heatstroke Open. In the 2015 Precision Rifle Series Jim is currently ranked 6th nationally. When he picked up his team gun and demonstrated specific things he wanted to clarify, it became quite apparent that his national ranking is well earned.

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I arrived at the range a bit early just as John – the owner – was preparing to take our zero targets downrange to the 100y berm. Hands were shaken and introductions were made . . . and conversations began. I found Jim to be one of those instructors that are open, willing to talk, willing to share, intent on making sure everything he said and intended to pass on was understood. If any of us had a question he paused, thought a second or two and then jumped into as detailed a description as was needed to make sure the question was fully answered.

John is personable, obviously knowledgeable and has the ability to take what he knows and accurately share it with his students. He is NOT a “do it this way because I said so” but much more a “this works for me because . . . see if it works for you” kind of guy. He is a solid, clear, direct and experienced shooter and instructor. If you get the opportunity to take coursework from him, do it, without hesitation!


As I have said earlier, I am not a long range shooter. That does not mean in any way that I can’t become a long range shooter. Once I signed up for Jim’s course I “hit the books”. I began looking for foundational material. Since all the work was to be done in the prone position I looked for long range schools that published written material or provided online videos on how they taught this position. There is a lot of very good information out there and the vast majority of it tracked with what Jim taught.

I also ordered and watched the first 2 DVDs of MAGPUL’s “Art of Precision Rifle”. I must say I learned a great deal of the fundamentals from the first 2 DVDs and will make sure the remaining 3 are viewed in the next few weeks. There is nearly 10 hours of information in this series.

I also spent a fair amount of time on the JBM Ballistics website learning about how the bullets I was shooting would act over the 500 to 800 yard distances we would be shooting. They have a tremendous amount of information free for the taking – it is well worth the effort to spend some time on their website.

And, finally, spent a fair amount of time making sure I understood both the MOA and mil dot ranging systems. My scope is MOA but what I found was that while Jim was giving wind corrections, he invariable gave it in tenths of a mil dot. There in great value in understanding both systems well before you attend a long range school. As an intro to mil dot, Trijicon has as good an introduction as any out there.

There are dozens of ballistic calculator apps out there for smart phones. I have a Samsung Note3 that runs the Android OS. I chose the Strelok Pro app to use for this course. It’s very comprehensive allowing you to define specific guns, it has the ability to download specific cartridges and bullets, let’s you connect to local weather via the internet and provides clear doping information at the touch of a button. I’ll do a more comprehensive review later but I found that the Strelok Pro gave quick and accurate data.

Sure Shot Range and Gunsmithing

John Fetzer is the owner of Sure Shot. He built it on his farm in rural Iowa near Mount Auburn. It has been a work in progress over the past few years and currently has a 5-10 lane 50ft pistol bay with berms on three side, a set of steel plates located at 435 yards, 500 yards, 800 yards and two zeroing berms at 100 yards and 200 yards. He has a nice heated shooting building that allows full access to all these ranges during the winter and a heated classroom to round out his facilities. John is a friendly guy and quickly made all 8 students in this course feel like they were visiting a friend . . . which turned out to be exactly the case by the end of the day. He had a plentiful supply of water throughout the day and provided fixings for ham and cheese sandwiches during lunch.

The target group at 800 yards is new and we were essentially the first group to shoot on that part of the range. In Iowa there are very few ranges that offer targets at these distances. I suspect Sure Shot and John will see a pronounced increase business as word gets out about his facility. If you are in eastern Iowa and are looking for a great range to visit, give John a call!

Finally . . . to the course!

The day was an ambitious day! I’m not sure what Jim’s expectations were, but he was presented with a mixed bag of shooters that ranged from very new rifle shooters to one shooter who cleaned the dueling tree at 500 yards. The rifles we brought – and their associated optics – also varied a great deal as well. The criteria for the course was a rifle capable of shooting a 1-1.5 MOA group. So the specifications were a bit “loose”. Bottom line, by the end of the day – regardless of the weapon – we all were getting hits on the plates at 500 yards with we weapons we brought. At the 800 yard plates a couple got hits with the weapons they brought or, we were able to use Jim’s match gun – again, we all got at least a couple hits on the “large” plate – 16”.

John competes in the Precision Rifle Series and is a competitive shooter for Surgeon Rifles. Prior too many of the matches Jim offers a “Train-Up” course for the shooters. Much of what he covers was presented to us as the coursework for the day. His outline looked like this . . .

· Equipment preparation

  • Position Building
  • Wind Negotiations
  • Elevation Corrections
  • Performance evaluation! How to become a better shooter.
  • Corrective Action!

While the classroom time was limited to about 2 hours it was packed with information covering rifle selection, optics, bipods, rear bags, the prone position, using the rear bag, gripping the weapon, proper finger placement on the trigger, trigger press, position building from everything from prone through cattle gates – it was comprehensive to say the least.

He also covered various types of range equipment, the Kestrel weather station, the JBM website and how to print dope charts for your specific cartridge and bullet, the use of ballistic phone apps to name just a few pieces of gear.

He also integrated stories from his various competitions to make specific points about everything from building positions when presented a wide variety of shooting problems to how to approach a competition and get the most out of each specific stage.

Jim knows his stuff, shared freely and I left the lecture portion much clearer on many aspects of what would be expected of us during the course of the day.

To the range

Our first stop was the 100 yard range – the shortest we would shoot all day . . . and the longest I had ever shot. We were asked to bring 9 rounds with us and we were each given a target with three diamonds on them.

I was asked to get into the “proper” prone position – directly behind the gun with the barrel drawing a line that passes slightly to the left of my right heel. I adjusted the legs of my front bipod, placed the rear bags and squeezed to come up on target. Honestly, this position was profoundly uncomfortable and I found I rushed my shot. After a couple rounds Jim just asked if it was comfortable to shoot this way – “Nope.” Said I. Then he just asked me to get comfortable – so I moved my body a bit more to the left, snugged in and found a comfortable spot. Full disclosure here – I’m a bit of a “big guy” meaning I carry far more in my gut than I care to admit. Even “comfortable” was a bit of a stretch but I could stay on target, quiet my breathing and obtain a solid sight picture and sight alignment. Obviously I need to work with this much more, but I was surprised that I actually found a spot the worked as well as it did.

Jim made a 2-click adjustment on my windage, had me send a couple more rounds – and came to the realization the issue was my positioning, not a scope adjustment. He took it off – now it’s back to the zero I came with – tweaked my position and I was done.

THIS . . . THIS RIGHT HERE . . . is why in person coursework from a knowledgeable shooter is important. All the videos you want to watch, all the books you want to read will not get you to where an instructor will put hands on you and work with your position behind the gun, fix the weld in your shoulder, work with the way you are gripping the pistol grip and refine how you place your finger on the trigger. THAT WHOLE PROCESS IS PRICELESS and simply cannot be accomplished via video – it needs a human touch!

Finally, we were off to the 500 yard line. THE 500 YARD LINE?!?!?!? I gotta admit my head did a bit of a holy crap!! I took out my Strelok Pro ballistic app on my phone, punched in 500 yards and touched the “reticle” button. This showed me what my reticle placement should be on the target 500 yards away.

When it was my turn I took up my prone position on the concrete pad, loaded on command and placed the spot on my reticle dead center but just off the left edge of the target. Then I sent a round down range – I missed left and low. Jim had me adjust to place the reticle centered and on the top edge . . . and I got 6 hits out of the remaining 8 rounds. To say I was surprised would be an understatement. To say I was pleased with myself . . . would also be an understatement.

We rotated 3 shooters at a time. This is the other thing that in invaluable in a live class vs just watching a video . . . you get to see how the instructor corrects other shooters, what suggestions he makes, how he makes “calls” to adjust elevation and wind (which was gusting throughout the day). And, you get to ask the “why” and “how come” questions as he does it. Let’s just say much learning – on the part of everyone – occurred.

Three of us brought AR platform guns and Jim wanted to make sure we had a chance to shoot a “real gun” (meaning bolt action) so he allowed us to run a half dozen rounds down his 6.5mm Creedmore competition rifle. Ever go from a Jeep (my gun) to a Corvette? Yeah . . . it was like that. So I got just a bit cocky and asked to try the dueling tree. I got 2 of the 6 plates. Jim wanted to “check his gun” so he settled behind his gun and cleaned the plates in about 15 seconds . . . obviously it wasn’t the gun! But just working his gun with his Vortex mil dot scope, his 16 ounce trigger pull . . . like I said, Jeep vx Corvette.

This brought us to lunch time. We all made sandwiches and ate while we chatted about the day so far, heard stories from Jim’s PRS competitions and then started to talk about building positions that are not “standard” . . . cattle fences, concrete walls, telephone poles, steel barrels, vehicles . . . and what it takes to get your gun stable enough to take that kind of shot.

Back to the range

We then moved to the 800 yard range. With my Prostaff scope and the AP4 combination, my weapon pretty much topped out at 600 yards with a 100 yard zero. Jim allowed all of us to send half dozen rounds down range at the 800 yard target set. They ranged in size from a 16” circle to an 8” circle (I believe). Jim went first and within one round just beat the small plate to death. Pretty darn impressive!

My turn brought my big “ah-ha” moment for the day. I was having a hard time even hitting the large plate – I kept hitting left – so far that I actually hit the small plate to the left. Then the light bulb when off – and I felt just plain stupid. When Jim made the wind call . . . I was holding off to the opposite side. No idea why I was doing this but my “head math” was just the opposite. Once I realized that, with his competition gun, my rounds dropped right on the large plate. I made an 800 yard shot. Again, pretty darn happy with myself.

Once we had all rolled through the 800 yard targets – with many doing VERY well, we moved on to non-standard shooting positions. Jim demonstrated telephone poles, steel barrels, barrels with the top cut out, cement walls and barricades . . . all with the fundamental idea that stability of the weapon is paramount. And, he demonstrated any number of ideas on how you would go about getting that job done!

Finally, it was our “test exercise” where we could put all of this together. Our shooting exercise was to put 2 rounds on each of 3 plates at 435 yards while building a position on top of a blue barrel. For this I used the Strelok Pro calculator to calculate that at 435 yards, with my cartridge and bullet, I had a 9” drop – exactly. I dialed it into the elevation turret and loaded my magazine with 6 rounds and waited my turn.

When you came up to the barrel you had about a minute to build your position with an empty weapon. Once done your took your weapon to port and waited for the starting buzzer. When it was my turn I adjusted the legs on the bipod, Jim suggested I slip a bag under the magazine and I squeezed the bag, the crosshairs rested directly center target . . . I was ready to go. I took the weapon to port and waited to the start of my 30 second run. “standby” . . . BEEP!

I loaded the magazine, set the bipod on the barrel, put the bag under the magazine, squeezed the bag until the crosshairs were on the target . . . and pressed the trigger. “HIT!!” I hear. Repeat. “HIT!!” Now I shift left one plate . . . and I just completely lost it! I could not hit squat again to save my soul. I sent 4 rounds down range – at the largest target I might add – without a single hit. Couple thoughts on this – I obviously let the “time” issue grind on me. And I forgot what I harp on to every single student – make each shot “deliberate”. I obviously opted for speed over good sight alignment, sight picture. I get it . . . which is yet one more VALUE OF LIVE COURSE WORK! As you watch videos of training for any type of shooting – including long range rifle shooting – it is all too easy simply seeing yourself making each and every hit that guy in the video is making. Sadly, life does not work that way. Standing behind a barrel, in a live course, with 9 other people watch just you . . . is a much better test that leaning back in your recliner as you watch a shooter in a video make hit after hit after hit . . .

And with that I had to leave about 15 minutes early. It was a great day! I proved out my weapon system, it will do the type of work I want it to do. I will more than likely upgrade the optic but for a $150 piece of glass I have no complaint at all. I’m happy with the rifle and while there are certainly more appropriate rifles for long distance – I will stay happy with the AP-4 for the time being.

Again, many thanks to John Fetzer of Sure Shot for his time and the use of his facility and many thanks to Jim See for a day of learning that’s, frankly, hard to get. Jim, it was great getting to know you, you ran a great and very informative class, and I look forward to your next visit to your next course offering.

And that folks, is that. If you have the opportunity to take coursework from Jim . . . send a check tomorrow! You’ll meet a truly nice guy and learn a great deal from a real shooter.


Bill Keller, http://eiaft.blogspot.com

A Little Less Talk and a Lot More Action

Tactical Ted is my favorite hypothetical person.  Despite his complete and utter lack of any formal training, he considers himself to be an “operator” and, unlike me, he knows every answer to every question in the defensive shooting world.  Sometimes Ted shoots only occasionally and sometimes he shoots every week.  Sometimes he shoots competitively and sometimes just for fun.  In spite of all of his shooting experience (or lack thereof), Ted is all knowing.

The problem that Ted often runs into is that most of his “knowledge” comes from unreliable or inaccurate sources.  He tends to believe the popular gun blogs that he reads and takes them at face value without stopping to consider the source or motives behind the article.

When I ask Ted about a method or tactic for a particular situation, he is confident in his response.  He always knows exactly what he would do in that situation.  He knows because he read about it somewhere on the internet and a buddy confirmed the information after reading the same article.

My problem with Ted, of course, is that he talks what sounds to many as a good game but has nothing to back it up.  He may have had some minimal training, perhaps a state mandated course to get a permit to carry a concealed weapon, but has never taken it past that very basic level.  Even though that’s all the training he has had, he still knows what to expect in a fight.  He knows because he has watched a lot of action movies.

That sounds silly doesn’t it?  After all, we all know that movies rarely mirror real life…

Or do we?  You’d be amazed at how often I hear people paint their planned response to an attack as if it were in a Die Hard script.

I see Ted all over Facebook and other social media spouting how he would have responded in the recent shooting everyone is talking about.  He goes on to say that if he had been in the theater, there would be one dead bad guy and everyone else would have survived to post their videos of his heroic victory on YouTube.  His situational awareness can never be broken.  He sleeps with one eye open and all that stuff.

He comments on a post about what he would do if ever faced with someone holding a hostage at gun point.  He knows he would be able to take the only possible shot to the head of the hostage taker and that the shot would be perfectly aimed and timed.  He knows this because he can place a one inch group into the head of a B-27 target that isn’t moving and doesn’t have a hostage while he isn’t under the stress involved in a real life threatening encounter.

He talks about how he always uses his sights because one should never shoot unless they have taken a proper sight picture.  He knows this because he shoots competitively and knows where each target is beforehand and can take the necessary time to acquire a sight picture.

He may even discuss his reason for choosing to carry a gun.  For him, it’s so he doesn’t have to run.  Or so he doesn’t have to fight.  Or some other equally mind-numbing tired old argument.

He never carries with a round in the chamber because he’s just that fast.  He only open carries and the second amendment is his carry permit.  Smith & Wesson is his security system.  He carries a .45 so he only has to shoot once.

I sure am glad that Tactical Ted is merely a hypothetical person and that none of us know any real person like that.

So what’s my point?

Tactical Ted’s are all over the internet.  They have an extremely small amount of good, useful knowledge and a whole lot of bad, useless and inaccurate information in their heads.  They talk a lot but, when it comes to obtaining more good information, their inaction speaks volumes.  They would rather remain ignorant of reality than humble themselves by taking a more challenging defensive shooting course.

Don’t be a Tactical Ted.  Talk less, learn more.

Just the Basics – Prep for a Long Range Shooting Class


I’m preparing for a long range shooting class in about 2 weeks. As I’ve said in the past, I’m not a real long range rifle shooter, it’s just not my thing. That said, the opportunity to take a class from someone who has competed and succeeded on a national level . . . how could I pass that up. So, I’ve been working on getting my AP-4 prepped and ready to go. I’ll go through all of that, as well as an AAR on the course once it’s complete.

That said there was a local guy who is also taking the course. He’s the employee of a friend of mine who runs a local gun store. He’s a young guy and has virtually no experience at all in sighting in his rifle using a scope so my friend asked me to give him a hand. I was more than happy to do so.

His rifle is a FNAR .308 with a Burris 4.5-14 scope and a bipod. I have no experience with this particular gun – in fact neither does the shooter – so we jumped in together. It is a magazine fed, piston driven weapon with an AR style grip and a 20” barrel with a 1:12 right-hand twist. We would literally be sending the very first rounds down range.


Burris Droptine 45-14

“Zeroing my gun” has become one of my pet peeves at my local range. Seems like every time I see a shooter at the bench and I ask him what task he had set himself/herself today . . . it’s “zeroing my gun”. Oh . . . and I’m starting at the 100yard bench . . . heavy sigh. So with this shooter I had a clean slate and someone truly willing to learn . . . the session was just plain fun!

I’ve completely jumped on the 10yard zero bandwagon. I’ve written about it when I used it for my backup .223 prior to my CFS carbine course in June. I’ve also used it a number of times since. For today’s session I used the same target I use for the .223 but added a hash mark approximately .86 inches below the POA. If you run the ballistics on a 150 grain .308 cartridge at 10 yards the bullet is .86 inches below a 100yard zero. So that was our starting point. Take a quick look at the image reflecting our initial efforts . . . holy crap what a piss poor start!!! The hits were so bad I covered the backer board with a SEB target so I’d have some idea where the hell the rounds were hitting . . . from only 10 yards away. Are you shittin’ me???

20150910_164402 (Large)

You can see the first group of rounds on the far right edge of the target. And, you can see the results of my crankin’ on the Windage and elevation as I walked it left . . . and up . . . and tried to get the damn thing down. WTF over?????? Finally I just STOPPED . . . and looked . . . as the shooter did as well. “Ya know, that scope just doesn’t look right.” he says. Sure enough, it does look cockeyed. A closer examination showed that the front mount for the scope was more than a little catawampus. So, into the tool kit and out with the torx set. I loosened the scope, reseated and tightened everything.

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PRESTO!! We were back in the game. After about 6 rounds I changed targets and with another six we were pretty well shooting out the hash mark. Moral of the story . . . do now ASSUME your new gun has been set up properly . . . check it carefully from top to bottom.

Next we moved to the 100yard range. I posted 4 targets down range, set up my spotting scope and spent some time working on his position at the bench.

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Butt of the stock pulled firmly into his shoulder, cheek welded behind the scope, rear bag under the butt of the stock for fine vertical adjustment. And we were ready to shoot. If you look at target #1 (top left) you will see the results. Our work at 10yards got us on paper with the first 3-round group high and right. Our first adjustment moved us pretty much on as far as Windage and our 3rd completed elevation with two of the three rounds painting just over a 1 MOA group center target. We made no more adjustments to the scope from this point on. Next we worked on the shooter.

Even shooting out to 100yards minute body movements can easily affect your shot. So we worked on things in stages. On targets 2 and 3 we focused on body position, bringing the weapon into his body, use of a rear shooting bag and trigger press. The improvement in shot placement is obvious with 2 of the 3 rounds it both cases being about 1 MOA. If you are working with a new distance shooter . . . there is no need to adjust the gun if you see results like this . . . it’s the shooter that’s throwing that 3rd shot. Next we worked on the final two components – breath management and follow through. I specifically use the work “management” because you CAN’T CONTROL YOUR BREATHING! You can work with it, you can be aware of it, you can manage it . . . but you can’t control it.

My preferred method is to “pause” for an additional second or two on the exhale part of my breathing cycle. I know some like to pause at the peak of breathing in. And a number of other options as well. I teach what I do, what can I say. So, for the 4th target we focused on bringing it all together. I kept up a running “reminder” conversation . . . position, use of the rear bag, good sight picture, smooth trigger press straight to the rear, follow through between each shot . . . his results were gratifying, two rounds touching and one just over one MOA away.

Not bad for a fellow had never shot this particular rifle/scope combination. For a fellow who’d never shot a scoped rifle period. For a fellow who had no idea what “Moment of Angle” even meant. For a fellow who had never used a bipod and rear bag. For a fellow who had never sighted in a rifle. Not bad!

So, after the final three rounds it was a wrap . . . until we take the course in a couple weeks. A few final thoughts.

If you are starting something new and need a hand . . . ask. His comment was that if he’d come out by himself he would have probably started his zero process at 100yards. Since he couldn’t hit paper at 10yards, can you imagine what his frustration level would have been? Find a friend, find an instructor who can take a bit of time and share what they know with you.

Do not assume your new gun was fully prepped. A poorly mounted scope caused us to waste a dozen round or more . . . look things over really well before you send rounds down range.

There are dozens of bits and pieces that need to work well to place accurate shots at ranges of 100yards and beyond. Your shooting position. The use of a bipod and shooting bag instead of your muscles. Good equipment. Smooth trigger press. Good follow through. Breath management. And the patience and focus to do this over and over and over and over . . . It takes a bit of time and rounds down range to put this all together. You are not going to be a “shooter” after a single range trip, that simply is not going to happen.

But, with time and dedication and focus – you will be surprised how quickly groups will tighten.

As I said earlier . . . I do not see myself as a long range shooter . . . or even a 100yard shooter. But, after a couple weeks of real effort I gotta say it’s kinda cool! As for Trent . . . he’s going to spend some range time over the next week or so to polish things a bit. Then he’s going to join me and 6 other shooters and learn from a real expert. Our max distance will be 500yards . . . sounds like fun.

Good job Trent!


Bill Keller

Founding member M.A.P.S.I.


Just the Basics – “Three to five rounds, High Center Mass”


My purpose, when I head to the range for a couple hours work, is to keep my defensive shooting skills as sharp as I can. Range time for me is limited by both time and money. I’d love to shoot every day – I can’t. Few can. So, when I do carve out a block of time I go with purpose.

To do this I employ a couple tools. First is the target with my long term favorite being the LE SEB target. Yet there are many others available – some that show internal organs, some specific to local police training academies, some simply “popular” like the B-27 and some favored like the FBI Q target. All have value, all have uses.

Target 2 (Mobile)   Target 1 (Mobile)b-27e-black_La (Mobile)   ILEA-Q_L (Mobile)q-wh_L (Mobile)

The second tool I use are drills that I record on my cell phone and then play via my phone’s Bluetooth earpiece. There are 10 drills that run 30 seconds each. This is typically enough to execute the shooting portion, complete a scan/assess and the reset for the next drill. On the “up” or “fire” or “threat” command I execute 3-5 rounds “High Center Mass”. On a number/shape command I execute a single precise shot. What I’d like to focus this particular post on – the idea of “High Center Mass”.

While we all pray that there is never a need to draw a defensive weapon to protect ourselves, our family or someone in our charge – the reality of today’s world is that our prayers man not be answered. Past that there is a continuum of possibilities as to what may happen. We may well be able to escape a confrontation – best way to win a gunfight is to not get into one. This should be our very first choice.

Should that be impossible the next best thing would be for the individual acting as the threat seeing a drawn defensive weapon and decide it would be best if they beat a hasty retreat.

Should those options not be available – we may well find ourselves in a situation where we need to shoot to stop the threat. This, in itself, is a source for multiple posts and not the purpose of this particular post. Again, let’s focus on the words “High Center Mass” and define that more clearly.

Once you engage a threat the best for all involved is to end the fight quickly. One option, in very specific cases, is a head shot. I have covered that in depth here and do not to address again in this post. The second option is very frequently taught as “3 to 5 rounds “High Center Mass”. On most range targets listed in this post there is some kind of outline or indicator what your point of aim should be. In the real world it’s difficult to get a threat to pause while you spray-paint an outline of the area you wish to shoot. Hence the phrase “High Center Mass”.

The importance of this area is that it is a confluence of the three major systems that allow a human body to function – the nervous system, the respiratory system and the circulatory system. In this location on the human body all three converge. Your ability to put solid hits in this region quickly and accurately is your best chance at quickly stopping the fight. The problem is that many times it’s difficult to merge the work we do on well-drawn targets with the real world of shirts, jackets, parkas and other cover garments. In real life, how do we find High Center Mass? Well, perhaps if we “drill down” a bit we can do that.

Body Composite 3

Image 1 shows the area I mean when I say the words “High Center Mass”. Put the bottom of your palm centered between the nipples with your fingers extending upward. This is roughly equal to the 4”x6” box that is popular on some targets. On a covered person this spot is located approximately half way between the elbow and the shoulder.

As we “drill down” through skin and muscle and bone you can see that this 4”x6” region provides you an opportunity to do real damage to all three systems – stopping the fight as quickly as is possible. In the best of cases – this should be your primary “go to” spot on the threat.

The next time you go to the range – take a look at how your practice, the drills you run, the targets you use. Are they the best you can get to work on your defensive skills? Are you clear on what you must do to stop a threat? Do you know what “High Center Mass” means and can you consistently hit that region at typical defensive distances?

If your answer is a firm yes . . . As Han said – “Don’t get cocky . . .” Keep working on your shooting skills and keep them sharp. And, if you can’t – make finding some good coursework part of your training goal over the next year.

One other disclaimer here as well – defensive shooting covers a broad range of possibilities. This is but one, a “perfect” one that all too many people limit themselves to. Make sure your training involves a good assortment of training scenarios that will enable you to widen your skillset.


Bill Keller

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


Carry Your Gun

Sometimes it blows my mind when I hear some of the ridiculous excuses made by folks when it comes to why they don’t carry their gun.  They have put a lot of time and money into buying a gun, taking a state mandated safety course, paying for their carry permit, and buying a holster and other equipment but choose, instead, to leave their gun at home.

Let’s look at some of these excuses and see why they are invalid.

It’s not comfortable.

I hear this one most often.  They don’t carry regularly because it’s just not comfortable.  This excuse is shattered by two simple facts.

Proper carry equipment will make you much more comfortable.

Carrying in a $10 nylon holster attached to your $15 Wal-Mart belt is likely the culprit.  The added weight and bulk of a gun takes the right belt.  I have used a 5.11 TDU belt daily for about ten years.  It’s a great value at around $17 but it is very high quality.

The right holster is also essential for daily carry.  Most people I know have a bag of holsters they have tried but abandoned due to various factors.  Most of them were just not comfortable.  You don’t have to spend $100 on a holster to find the right one but it’s unlikely the $10 nylon holster is going to cut it.  You should expect to spend between $40 and $80 on a decent holster.  All you need to do to help eliminate the bag of holsters collecting dust is a little research to make sure you’re getting something with a known reputation for comfort before you buy it.

Additionally, you will probably need to adjust your wardrobe to accommodate your gun.  It may require purchasing pants a size larger and wearing your shirt untucked.

Carrying a gun shouldn’t necessarily be too comfortable.

While we all want to go through our daily lives without discomfort, it’s important to realize you are carrying a tool, which if used or handled improperly, is capable of inflicting serious physical injury or death upon yourself or another person.  This responsibility should never be taken lightly and, therefore, the weight of the gun should never be so comfortable that you take it for granted.

It’s important to remember a gun is not a magical talisman that can ward away evil doers by its mere presence.  Despite that, I’m still much more comfortable internally if I have my gun with me than I am when I am forced to be unarmed.  I know that I at least have the means by which to meet violence with an equal or greater amount of violence if necessary.

There are just too many places I can’t carry the gun so I just don’t take it.

I’m going to be blunt here.  This excuse is generally the result of laziness.  Either they are too lazy to learn the laws regarding the carrying of a firearm in their locale or they are too lazy to disarm when required.

Of course, each state and municipality may have its own set of laws governing where you may or may not carry your gun.  Some states are quite restrictive but most states are much less so.  It should be a relatively easy matter for you to choose to patronize businesses that have not posted signs prohibiting firearms in their establishment.

It’s best to become intimately familiar with your state’s carry laws.  Never rely on what a friend or relative, or even an instructor or cop told you regarding what is and what is not legal.  Many of these people don’t know the laws as well as they think they do and it could be to your detriment to take their statements as fact.

Regardless of what the laws are where you live, there may be times you simply can’t carry your gun.  I recommend a good gun storage box for your vehicle so you can unload it and lock it up when necessary.  I prefer to use this method even if it means I have to lock my gun up several times in a day just for the simple fact that I would rather have my gun on my person as often as possible rather than not carry it because it’s inconvenient.

I only carry when I think I’m going to need it.

I actually hear this one a lot.  Unfortunately, those that use this excuse haven’t thought logically about their statement.  I avoid places I think I will need my gun.  If you thought there was a chance, even a small chance, you would need your gun, why would you ever go to that place?  A wise person would avoid a place where they think they will need their gun like the plague.

Of course, what they really mean by this statement is that they only carry when they are going to a place in which they are more likely to need their gun.  The problem with that lies in the fact that violent criminals don’t only choose to prey on victims in “bad” neighborhoods.  Many violent criminals are opportunists and they will attack if you appear to be an easy target or, sometimes, because they just felt like it.

A gun should be considered as emergency equipment.  Fire extinguishers, first-aid kits, emergency candles, etc…  These are things we keep on hand at all times just in case there is an emergency and they are needed at that time.  We don’t run out and buy a fire extinguisher after our kitchen stove catches fire.  Likewise, a gun should be kept with you as often as possible should the need to use it arise.

There are relatively few things in this world that I am totally certain of.  One of these things is this:  You definitely can’t shoot back if you don’t have your gun.

Don’t make excuses.  Find what will work and do it.  Carry your gun as often as possible.

Is Your Instructor Certified or Qualified?

Part two in my series of “gun people” getting words mixed up will take a look at who you are receiving your training from.  Many people, especially instructors, confuse the words certified and qualified.

Certified can be defined as “having or proved by a certificate” or “guaranteed; reliably endorsed.”

Based on these definitions, it is reasonable to view a certified instructor as one who has met certain requirements to obtain a certificate in a specific discipline.  This means that this instructor has attended a training course, school, or seminar that, at the end, provided this person with a certificate of sorts that allowed him or her to conduct training exercises or classroom material compiled by the certifying agency or organization.

Qualified, on the other hand, is defined “having the qualities, accomplishments, etc., that fit a person for some function, office, or the like.”

The question I pose is this:  Can an instructor be “qualified” but not be “certified” and can an instructor be “certified” without being “qualified?”

The answer to both parts of this question is a resounding YES.

Example One, Hypothetical Instructor Sam:

Sam becomes interested in the use of firearms for self-defense in his early twenties.  He takes many highly reputable defensive firearms courses, reads many books, and watches many videos from reputable sources over the next ten years.  Eventually, Sam becomes a practical expert in the subject of the defensive use of firearms.  He realizes he has knowledge that he would like to share with others.

Despite never having taken an actual instructor development course, Sam develops several courses on his own that can take a person from novice shooter to competent defensive shooter.  He finds he has a talent for teaching and spends the next ten years teaching and developing courses while, at the same time, continuing his own education in the self-defense world from other reputable instructors.  He continually finds new information that he incorporates into his own curriculum in order to provide students with the best training experience possible.

Example Two, Hypothetical Instructor Jim:

Jim grew up around guns.  By the time he is in his early twenties, he decides to become a firearms instructor so he can pass on his knowledge to others.  Dave takes a two-day instructor development course offered at a local shooting range.  He passes the course with relative ease and obtains a certification through a nationally recognized organization to use their curriculum in a single course entitled Basic Target Pistol Shooting.

Jim organizes several of these courses over the next couple of years but decides he wants more from his training business.  Despite never having taken a course other than his instructor development course, Jim writes course material for a few defensive shooting courses so he can offer his students something more advanced than their initial course.  Jim bases the material in his course on his own experience as a shooter, common sense, and what he has learned from several friends that are in law enforcement and the military.

Of the two examples above, it’s pretty obvious that Sam is the “qualified” instructor that was never “certified” and Jim is the “certified” instructor that really isn’t “qualified” to teach much of the material he is teaching.  If I were attempting to vet these two instructors and I had all of this information available, I would most certainly choose Sam over Jim any day.

Example Three, Hypothetical Instructor Dave:

Dave develops a serious interest in firearms at a young age.  When he is old enough, he begins taking defensive shooting courses developed by a highly reputable nationally recognized training organization in order to develop his own knowledge.  After a few years, Dave begins taking the instructor development courses of the same defensive shooting courses in order to teach others what he has learned.  Eventually, Dave earns certifications in ten different shooting disciplines.  Using his extensive knowledge, Dave conducts his courses based on the curriculum provided by this nationally recognized training organization but is always diligent to ensure he is teaching the most valid and up-to-date information.

Dave is an example of a well-rounded instructor that has both certification as well as qualification.  He encompasses what most people should be looking for in an instructor.

Sam is a close second choice.  Anyone that has put in the effort to develop their own training courses consisting of valid and relevant information based on all of their previous training is someone I would recommend training under.  I might take a moment to question why Sam never acquired an official certification but his track record speaks for itself.

Unfortunately, Jim is the instructor I fear I see all too frequently.  He may have some legitimate knowledge but has failed to ensure what he is teaching is something worth learning.  His level of instruction has exceeded his level of qualifications by leaps and bounds.  This kind of instructor should be avoided completely.  If he isn’t willing to spend money and time to develop his own knowledge and skill, why would you trust him with your money and time to help you develop your knowledge and skill?

In the end, the difference between a qualified instructor and a certified instructor is pretty obvious.  You should always vet your instructor.  Don’t be afraid to ask them questions about their experience or for professional references.  If they get defensive or evasive when asked, move on to someone else.

Worthwhile instructors tend to spend more energy talking about the value of their training program to you as an individual rather than the “cool factor” that they can provide in their classes.  A good instructor shouldn’t have to draw people in with the promise of “flying ninja” moves or the opportunity to shoot “machine guns” during their training courses.

In other words, don’t discount the less “flashy” of us.  These often overlooked instructors are quite often the best the industry can offer.

Review – New LEO Firearms Training AAR

A number of months ago a friend who is the primary training officer for our community’s police force gave me a call. They were in the process of reworking our town’s reserve officer corps, adding some new fulltime officers and he was interested if I would like to “play”. Take a guess at my answer . . .

So, a mini phone interview began covering everything from my firearms training to my military experience. He liked what I heard – and so did I! Then there’s was a bit of a pause . . .

Officer E: I gotta ask Bill, just how old are you anyway??

There’s a bit of a pause on my side also . . .

ME: mumblemumblemumblemumble . . . 65

Officer E: Damn . . . really?? You don’t look that old!!

So, while my ego was given a bit of a shot, the mandatory retirement age for LEOs in Iowa is 65. Heavy sigh . . . seems I had reached my expiration date! Crap!!!

Officer E: Well, we still can use a hand with the range work and training of the new officers – are you interested in helping us out?

Does a bear crap in the woods? Does the sun set in the west? Is “Star trek 4” the best frickin’ movie ever made?????

So, a few weekends ago I found myself in a large local quarry with Officer E and his other trainer Officer B getting ready to work 6 new members of our local police force through their training course of fire – 800 to 1000 rounds – including the requirement of shooting two consecutive qualification scores on the Iowa ILEA qualification course of fire. It’s a 50 round course of fire with a required 80% to pass. The target is a standard FBI “Q” target and a “hit” is a hole inside the silhouette on the target. The distances used for the final course of fire were 25y, 15y, 7y, 5y and one arm’s length. Also included were combat reloads, tactical reloads and clearing any malfunctions that happened along the way. If you’d like to see the actual course of fire, you can find the document here.

The students included a number of individuals who had been reserve officers in other communities, a former Marine, a security officer from a local nuclear plant and a fellow who hand shot a revolver 20+ years ago. They were required to conduct the training in full gear – duty belt and vest and have a total of 3 magazines on their person.

Day 1 began with a range brief and then working through a predefined set of drills designed to familiarize the new officer with each of the 4 shooting positions. We began close in and then worked our way back. The round count for the “training” portion was approximately 600 rounds with another 200 set aside for qualification rounds. They were required to shoot 4 qualification rounds and pass 2 of them consecutively.

We did catch a couple of breaks. It was a breezy day and it only got in the low to mid 80s. Not bad and since we were fairly deep in a rock quarry, it could have easily turned into an oven. Instead, it was reasonably comfortable.

I continually harp on “fundamentals” – be able to run your gun, be able to clear malfunctions, be able to consistently draw and drive to the threat, have a solid stance, have a firm grip, control your weapon and get the hits. Frankly getting the hits turned out to be the easiest part of the 2 days. The mechanics, the foundational work . . . that is what took the time and required the most focus over the course of two days.

By noon of the first day it was apparent that the new shooter simply needed to be taken aside. So Officer E took him off to our south and spent a number of hours working through the foundational stuff. With the remaining trainees – we simply “buffed, polished and waxed” their skill set. Some moved along faster than others but every one shot the drills, refined their skill set and, with the exception of two trainees – shot their two passing qualification rounds.

So what can we – as civilian shooters – draw from the training of law enforcement officers? A couple things.

Fundamentals matter. The basics, the foundation, the ability to draw, drive, engage, clear, reload – is the difference between life and death in a gunfight, for law enforcement officers as well as you, the civilian who has chosen to carry a defensive firearm.

Hits – good hits – count! “Fast is fine, but accuracy if final!” This particular topic is one of “those” rabbit holes that shooters and trainers love to talk about. But, in under all the discussion, your level of skill should allow you to get quick, accurate and effective hits at will. If you can’t – be honest with yourself and work on it! While a round mid-thigh may well change a shooter’s mind . . . they may well have all the time they need to place a solid shot in the middle of your chest. Work on it!

An officer can be called on to deliver an accurate shot over a broad range of distances. The qualification course of fire covers everything from 25 yards to and arm’s length. What distances are you training at? Can you get solid hits at 25 yards? How are your combat reloads? Can you run your gun? Again – be honest with yourself and work on it.

Finally, we ask our law enforcement officers – men and women – to put their lives on the line each and every day. They deserve our full support. Give it to them. And, should they find that some of your skills as an instructor may prove helpful to their training program – jump in and play! You will help them be able to better defend themselves, you’ll gain some solid friends and it will make you a better shooter.

Thanks for the invite E . . . looking forward to the night shoots!


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


Are You Training or Practicing?

The words we use to describe a particular activity are important.  If we use the wrong terms it can lead to a gross misunderstanding by others of what we hope to convey.  This is especially true in the use of text since there is no variance or inflection of voice to help get the point across.

With that in mind, I have noticed many people in the “gun world” using the wrong words to describe all sorts of things.  One pair of such misused terms is training vs. practicing.

Recently a friend of mine posed the following question on his Facebook wall:

“How often do you train and what kind of training do you do?”

He got a number of responses.  Most of them included the some form of “I’m at the range every couple weeks,” or “I shoot 200 rounds a month.”

While it’s actually quite commendable for anyone to take the time and money necessary to spend every other weekend at the range shooting a hundred rounds or so each time, these responses completely failed to answer his question.

These folks have failed to recognize the difference between training and practice.  Let’s take a look at what it takes to do both effectively.

By definition, training is “the education, instruction, or discipline of a person or thing that is being trained.”

In other words, in order for one to be training, they must be in the process of acquiring new knowledge or skills.  It is entirely possible to go to a firearms course, listen to every word the instructor says, and perform every drill as instructed and still NOT be training.  If all of the information presented in the course is something at which you are already adept and if you fail to acquire new knowledge or skill in the process of the course, you have not been training.

Practice, on the other hand, is defined as “repeated performance or systematic exercise for the purpose of acquiring skill or proficiency.”

Once training has taken place and you have acquired your new skills and knowledge, you must hone them to get better.  In order to do this you repeat them over and over.  This process is called practicing.

Going to the range and putting a bunch of lead downrange is practicing NOT training.

If you are one of those people that spend five hundred to a thousand dollars each year putting holes in a paper target you might want to go back and reread that last sentence.

Don’t misunderstand me.  There’s nothing wrong with practice.  Practice is an essential part of the use of firearms whether you are a beginner or an expert.  What is important, however, is the distinction between the two.

You are short-changing yourself if you set aside several hundred dollars each year with which to pay range fees and purchase practice ammunition if you never set aside anything with which to acquire new knowledge and skills.  You are deluding yourself if you have convinced yourself that spending all that time and money at the range is training.

What’s the solution?

A well-rounded defensive shooter requires a balance of training and practice.

If you spent a lifetime on learning about the subject, you could still never know everything about the art of self-defense.  Therefore, it stands to reason that the average person has much to gain from regular training courses.  And those new skills must be put into use through regular practice as well.

I challenge you to set aside just a few hundred dollars each year from your “practice budget” and use it for training instead.  Attend one course each year at minimum.  Vary the subjects that these courses cover.  They may not even be shooting related courses.  You might also consider medical, knife, and hand to hand courses to round out your skillset.

Find a good instructor with good, relevant, up to date course material.  These don’t have to be the best known schools or the most expensive courses but they must fill a need in your skillset.

Once you have acquired the knowledge and skills from these training courses, spend the next year honing them while you search for the next course to sign up for.  I think you’ll find the training side of self-defense is more fun than simply putting holes in paper once you start doing it regularly.