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Courses and Instruction
At some point, a survivor is likely going to need the benefit of training courses and good instruction in order to make progress in shooting skills. Fortunately, there are a lot of decent options available for the shooter who wants to get quality instruction.
Traditionally, survivors have relied heavily on military training and experience to learn about shooting. I use the word "traditionally" in reference to the last twenty years of the survivalist movement where shooting skills have not normally been handed down informally through family and schooling. Yes, it is a fact that shooting fundamentals were taught in schools as late as the mid-1980s but even then it was getting rare. Now, high school shooting teams are all but unheard of and most recruits entering the military have not fired a rifle in their life, let alone an assault rifle. Thus military training in shooting fundamentals is mostly universal, but the competence and willingness of most military trainers to teach actual combat shooting skills is questionable. Still the training has its merits and perhaps the best part about it is that it is paid for by the government.
Next in line are various police academies and related programs, some of which you can get access to through your local junior college. These vary greatly from pretty good to pretty lame, but they all give some range time and some perspective on the subject. These are usually going to be more relevant to handguns used by security guards and police. The great majority of rifle courses taught by police academies and accredited institutions will be restricted to police officers. They often claim to be open to active duty and reserve military personnel, but this is usually not happening unless those military personnel are combat arms, military police, or special operations. The advantage of publicly sanctioned courses is that they usually involve certificates which can be used in employment and are tax deductible expenses under several circumstances.
The National Rifle Association has hundreds of affiliated clubs throughout the country that teach shooting fundamentals. Usually, they just stick to the fundamentals, but they are very good at getting new shooters up to speed. Cost of these programs is usually pretty low, so you don't have to spend a lot of money to get with these people and start sending rounds downrange. People who are unfamiliar with their weapons, or worse, unfamiliar with shooting, will do nothing but slow down the rest of the class and degrade the learning experience that everyone else is paying for at the courses offered by the more advanced schools. It is a touch subject with a lot of the instructors who do not want to scare people away or seem snobbish about the training atmosphere, but if a course is predominately "new shooters" you can expect it to be less valuable than a class that is made up mainly of experienced shooters looking to hone their edge. Unfortunately, a lot of the well established schools will require that everyone go through their basic course before going though their advanced course.
Note that the level of firearm skill needed for hunting and game foraging is not nearly as high as what is generally desired for a combat shooter but that is not to say the hunter can get by if he is unskilled at shooting. Hunting and game foraging involve stalking skills and strategies unique to those activities and it is my opinion that game stalking in particular can and probably should be practiced without the use of firearms. Game populations in most of North America simply cannot be sustained if every aspiring survivalist takes up hunting and killing game animals as a recreational past time or even as survival training. On the other hand, a "hunt" can be nearly identical whether it concludes with photographing the animal or shooting it.
I personally do not recommend anyone take any "high speed" training courses until they have completed at least some training through the military, a police academy or the NRA. Most of the shooting schools have this requirement too, in the form of a requirement to take their own in-house basic courses before attending their advanced courses. In some rare instances, you may be able to join a shooting club that has high quality training activities like IDPA, PPC or something similar. You can also usually find NRA certified instructors that will give private lessons in basic marksmanship for a nominal fee or quite often at no charge. Other organizations that will sponsor basic gun handling are hunter education courses, FFA, Boy Scouts and Explorer scouts. In some rare cases, there are militia groups that offer semi-formal training that is usually led by people with extensive military training and or who have attended multiple shooting schools. Yes, you can probably enroll at one of the high speed courses and they will gladly take your money and let you in, but lacking the fundamentals to take advantage of that skill would be like hiring a college professor to tutor your third grader on a college professor wage scale. That said, shooting instructors who can and will teach more advanced techniques will charge more, usually on par with private martial arts instruction. $20 to $100 per hour is not unheard of, with the average usually being around $100 for a two hour range session.
Sometimes you can be fortunate and encounter a particularly well versed shooter or person who has had quality training and they can pass that knowledge along to you. Note, however that although someone may be very good at doing something, they may or may not be so good at teaching it. Just look at the number of sports champions who have made lousy coaches, and the number of lackluster athletes who have coached people from mediocrity to championship. The same theories are going to apply to combat shooting skill and you should be aware of this when you seek instruction from someone.
There are a several well qualified shooting instructors who have passed from law enforcement and the military into the private sector and created a phenomenon in the availability of quality training that draws on their considerable experiences as everything from executive bodyguards, to street cops, to commandos, to international mercenaries. Most of them offer a combination of private, small group, and large group instruction.
While there have been a large number of training camps, ranches, and sites that have come and gone in the last 20 odd years, a small number have remained, and an even smaller number have reorganized into new associations and organizations. On the other hand, there are several such places that maintain a low profile because of the nature of their clientele. While I have taken private training from some well placed people, I have not attended one of these training schools and my information is based on a combination of their on literature and reviews of people I met who attended the courses. Make no mistake, all of these people are into their game to make money, so expect to have some significant cash costs associated with attending these courses. They will usually require you to bring all of your own weapons, gear and ammo although it is not entirely unusual for someone to have spares in case you encounter a breakdown. One thing to watch out for is making sure you have a supply of ammo BEFORE going to the course. Most common ammo retail outlets do not carry enough ammo for just one student at the course, let alone two or three going in and buying their ammo at the last minute. I also highly recommend sighting in your guns before attending the course and have a gunsmith give them a checkup if at all possible well before you go.
Don's show up to a training course with a firearm that you are totally unfamiliar with. Worst of all is to show up with a brand new gun you never even fired. This simply slows down the whole program for everyone else there and cheapens the experience that everyone else has put out good money for. If your rifle uses any kind of electronic sight, make sure you have some spare batteries around. At the very least, make sure your rifle is zeroed and can usually cycle through a magazine without jamming. Have some cleaning supplies handy so that you can keep your guns reasonably well maintained throughout the shooting course - and make sure to actually use the stuff.
|To the right is a typical required gear list from one of the
weekend courses taught by OPS but it is typical of these kinds of courses:
Note that their course structure was set up to integrate both handgun and rifle tactics so the gear list includes some of the handgun related items (pistol, pistol ammo, flashlight).
It is likely that the prohibition on cross draw holsters and reloaded ammo is a range safety regulation. Crossdraw pistol holsters are rarely allowed at public ranges.
I would also add that you should wear comfortable loose fitting clothing that you would not have a problem getting down in the dirt with, along with shoes or boots that have good traction and soft soles because you will spend most of your time standing.
750 rounds for carbine and 200 rounds of pistol ammo
for Tactical Rifle classes
Slings for long guns (Tactical slings recommended)
All ammo MUST be factory loaded!
Strongside belt holster (no crossdraws
or shoulder holsters)
Eye and ear protection (muffs recommended)
High Intensity Flashlight (example: Surefire 6P)
Minimum of three magazines or speedloaders (total)
Raingear (We shoot rain or shine)
Hat and sunblock
Knee and elbow pads (optional)
Drinking water (Camelback strongly recommended)
Pen and paper
Kent Turnipseed - Teaches rifle, pistol and shotgun techniques both on site and at scheduled sessions on rented ranges, mostly in the south western US. Kent has developed some advanced and revolutionary techniques that are definitely cutting edge and proprietary. To the best of my knowledge, nobody has a duplicate course going.
Front Sight Institute - A large facility in western Nevada that caters to California residents. They offer courses in handgun, rifle, shotgun, submachine gun and occasionally sniping. I have met two of the instructors from this place and they seem mostly competant, although they tend to generally run light on military experience. The good side of that being that they run shooting courses, not "military camp".
Gunsite - Probably one of the most famous such schools. It was started by shooting guru Jeff Cooper, who is almost universally regarded as a longstanding grandmaster of combat shooting. He is semi-retired and no longer runs the school, but many of his accomplished students have taken over and I never hear about people who attended the course and felt ripped off.
International Training Group (Steele Foundation ITG) - Runs a series of courses back to back in a comprehensive "school" geared toward executive security professionals who are tasked with thwarting attacks against VIPs. Very little time is actually spent on the shooting range although classes include extensive integration of tactics and task related skillets. This is one of the very few schools in the world to teach dynamic integration of shooting and driving, driving a vehicle that is being shot at, and shooting from a moving "civilian" vehicle. They run a short "executive protection specific" pistol shooting course that deals specifically with tasks relevant to bodyguarding and executive protection details. The course is intermediate in content and very task specific to executive protection and may not be suitable for persons who are primarily looking at protecting themselves. This is due to a more selfless mindset that is expected of the Executive protection operator. ITG is one of the few schools that has gained respect and credibility in the bodyguard / protection industry in addition to government services. It is a recruiting ground for several groups and companies, but primarily the sponsoring corporation, the Steele Foundation. The school is run by Kirian Fizgibbons, a senior executive with the Steele Foundation risk management firm. Mr. Fitzgibbons personally oversees most of the training, but individual classes are usually taught by specialized instructors. I have attended some of their courses and am working on an article you can read by clicking this link.
- Operated by a controversial former California police officer
who has relocated to Arizona, although Suarez International has mobile training
operations that are hosted at local facilities around the
world. This school teaches modernized gun fighting techniques
which are geared toward winning gunfights at close ranges in something of a
martial arts style. Mr. Suarez openly states that the techniques are
designed to meet real world high risk survival situations, and may be at odds
with some legal opinions. Mr. Suarez has been involved in some
disputed shooting incidents but has prevailed in court. Suarez
has continued to be a critic of the legal system on several issues and has
developed a significant following of unapologetic loyal students. To
quote a page at his site "Our training
courses are the most advanced and effective in
the training world. We teach you to win the fight. Period.
This is not the usual "police course" where you begin late, break for
a three hour lunch, and listen to the trainer's war-stories until happy hour.
Neither is our training like the typical "politically-correct"
avoid-getting-in-trouble-at all-costs academy course. Nor is it taught by
internal affairs attorney's whose only focus is avoiding lawsuits. If that
is the type of training you seek, .please don't waste your time with us.
You won't be happy with the training.
Heavy claims, but apparently backed up by both his loyal students and his enemies who consider Mr. Suarez to be a capable trainer and gunfighter but potential liability in the courtroom. Critics of Mr. Suarez and his methods openly threaten potential students that shooting related court cases may be tainted by association with Mr. Suarez. Make your own intelligent adult decisions about training with this outfit or keeping records of such training if you do. Anybody this controversial has to prove at least a little bit interesting. Interestingly, methods which Suarez claims are unique to his program are purportedly used in training programs from other shooting schools. Having spoken with a number of his students who wish to remain anonymous, Suarez is liked and respected for the quality of his training although the black cloud over him in the form of hatred from others in the law enforcement and training community affects their willingness to openly associated themselves with him. Suarez is rumored to also run a very discreet executive protection program.
Thunder Ranch - Recently relocated to Oregon. Reviews of Thunder Ranch course have been mixed, with most people satisfied that the training is good for the dollar. The majority of their training courses are two days long and cost is consistent with other schools. Clint Smith and his associates can also custom tailor training for individuals and groups to the tune of $700 to $2000 per day plus expenses. Thunder Ranch is one of the oldest and most respected shooting school operations in the USA. Courses are costly and waiting lists are long for these first class courses.
OPS (Options for Personal Security) - A relatively new and growing school whose head people are trying to bring in more of the survival community, although the bulk of their training is directed toward law enforcement. Located in Florida, but with a mobile training unit that often works overseas. OPS also offers training in several other security related fields including martial arts. Their courses are almost all two days long and cost $295, which is fairly moderate.
Tactical Response Incorporated (OPS SE) - Another relatively new and growing school opened in conjunction with Lightfighter.com and located closer to military bases along the Eastern Seaboard. OPS-SE in Woodlawn Tennessee also has off site training available to those who are willing to pay facility and travel expenses for their qualified staff. This is one of the fewer schools that integrates more non-shooting training into their curriculum. This includes police and security level instruction in a number of less lethal and operational skills. They offer a specialized course in home defense which integrates professional level skills with a realistic focus on citizen priorities.
Blackwater USA - Another school located in the southeast, (South Carolina) that caters more to a military and law enforcement crowd, with an emphasis on special operations and training for high end security professionals. Not all of their training courses are open to the "public" as the organization revolves around contracts for outsourced government paid training. They also provide security services, apparently from a mixed pool of full time staff and people they have available on call. They have a world class training facility, and I understand world class prices. Blackwater has gained a name in the private security industry as being a magnet for special operations personnel who have transitioned to the big bucks private sector. Most of their cadre is made up of former Navy SEALs.
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