THE MODERN GUN CLASS YOUR GUIDE TO PICKING THE RIGHT COURSE AND INSTRUCTOR
By: Mark Williams
About the time I realized I was going to leave my military career and my combat training wouldn't automatically allow me to carry a pistol in the civilian world, I quickly began hunting for a CCW (Concealed carry weapon permit) training company in my home state, nearly 3 thousand miles away from where I was sitting on my computer in Camp Pendleton, California.
I didn't know anything about civilian instructors, but what I did know was that the lack of information about classes and instructors runs rampant. Albeit, I was searching for a class that even back then had more options than cheap socks at Walmart. The point is, it wasn't an easy process to navigate. When I asked my father about CCW permits, because after all, he had one and he was my father, he recommended a local guy that he trusted. I didn't know the dude teaching the class but if my Dad recommend him, I should trust it, right? When I went to the class, I learned that the only legitimate part of the class was that he charged a lot of money for his bogus lectures and he was wrongfully giving people the right to carry a firearm legally in my community and around my family.
I also learned that aside from the hunter safety, concealed carry permit classes, competitive workshops and a few defensive classes sprinkled in here and there, there wasn't much going on in the firearms education industry.
Enter 2015. In the past several years, with both wars finally winding down, a very large Veteran populace has been returning back to communities and work places. Some of those Veterans are highly trained, highly experienced, and in turn, highly motivated. We have seen a boom in the military culture that has transformed the firearms industry and obviously the firearms education community in a profound way.
With a simple Google search, tons of firearms training groups can be found everywhere in the country. Civilians are no longer just interested in basic marksmanship classes, concealed carry permits or even competitive clinics. They are wanting the best training we have to offer. Dynamic pistol gun fighting, carbine gun fighting, extreme long range target interdiction and any of these almost fictitious names are becoming more real every day. And what's more, people are spending a lot of money and time to learn all of this stuff. Some say it's for self defense, others, for the pending 'doomsday' and a smaller and maybe more realistic group; "Just for the experience".
Whatever the reason, with this explosion of military culture, firearms training is in a substantial growth period. But it is not only Veterans that have taken hold of this "wild west gold mine", law enforcement and civilians who are looking to make some money are also getting in on the action. Because of this, there are some very scary groups emerging. Some are under educated, under experienced and illegitimate. Others are looking to use their title as a cop or even a special forces operator to validate an unfair price for a class they are offering. Whatever the case, it's time to investigate a bit more before you purchase a firearms training class. After all, just like looking for a good college is a very important step in potentially being successful in life - learning how to protect yourself and family in a deadly altercation shouldn't be any different.
In today's article, were going to discuss some of the important things you should investigate prior to spending money, effort and time on a firearms training class. Thing's aren't what they used to be and it's time to be a bit more prudent.
Finding the right class for you.
Before you can begin to navigate the arduous task of researching and validating an instructor or a team of instructors, you need to pick the class you are looking for. Whether you are looking for a defensive firearms class, long range course or something else, a simple google search for your area will aid in your query. Also, using long standing "forum" sites likesnipershide.com and ar15.com ;can also begin to direct you to the right places. Facebook and other social media sites can also be a very fast and efficient way of looking for a class to attend. More information is at our finger tips than ever before, it just takes some prudence to start pressing the keypad buttons.
To simplify things, their are five main disciplines most firearms instructors teach: Defensive methodology (mindset, home defense, theory), Pistol employment, Carbine/AK employment, Shotgun employment and Precision rifle marksmanship. There are of course, different names and varying terms, but they usually all arrive in those basic forms. The cool thing is, many of these courses, although defensive in nature, run parallel with the competitive camps many are looking for.
Many times, people who are new to the firearms education community don't even know where to begin, if that is the case for you, it is always recommended to find a reputable retail sales rep., trusted friend, or even a reputable instructor to meet with and discuss options and plans. A trusted source is critical, as many times, instructors are finding unique ways to advertise a given class or course. At the end of the day, it is important to understand, when choosing a specific class, a description on a website should always be investigated. I have attended several classes where the description and actual content was no where near accurate which left me frustrated and a little lighter in the wallet.
Also, be cautious of classes and instructors using eccentric names to fill seats in a class: G.I Joe, a U.S Navy SEAL, teaches the class: "Dynamic car fighting for the civilian operator". Although that is meant to be a joke, it's not. At all. In fact, there is a video circulating YouTube right now of an instructor (I think), that is teaching students how to make combat rolls out of vehicles while simultaneously engaging targets down range. Honestly, this stuff cannot be made up. And while most are calling bullshit on said classes, some are also soaking it up. To sum it up, fancy names can sometimes be a bunch of fluff and smoke up the ol' rear end. Classes designed to teach civilians how to stack up on entry doors and coordinate assaults on houses using old vans and Honda civics is a bit outlandish. Use some common sense and prudence prior to signing up for something that might make you into the next Rambo.
So after you have done some research, met an instructor or decided on a specific class, you need to now look back at yourself for just a moment. In my experience as an instructor, one of the biggest experiences I have dealt with, is accepting students who think they have the required experience to attend a class. Many times; two groups of people generally have issues with the topic, that includes: the truly basic shooter and the shooter with an ego and thinks they have seen and done it all. Although infrequent, I have had to disqualify students from the word go based on experience level or the lack of experience. Many instructors require pre-requisite classes or certifications prior to attending a specific course. That little benchmark may be your first identifier that a class has been properly thought out, organized and ran. Many times, students begin a class and in the first few minutes, realize they just paid for something they are not prepared for. Although good instructors are usually very flexible and understanding, students may be disqualified, or dropped on request because of this reason. A legitimate company should have a way for you to access prior experience requirements or provide an out line of what is exactly expected of you to take a particular class.
Our company, for example, has a very detailed guideline for pre-requisites that students can read prior to paying for a class, that spells out exactly what will be expected of them. Additionally, almost 90% of our retail and services staff have taken our classes so when customers or possible students ask questions, the staff have first hand knowledge of the minimum skills required. If questions still linger, one of our instructors is always available for a phone call or email to clear an issue up.
The last thing to discuss on the topic of Finding the right class is a bit of reflection. You may have found the perfect class, but to take it a step further, self reflect on some of these questions: What do I want out of a class? How much time am I willing to commit to this after I leave the class? Do I have a enough in my budget to attend several classes
Remember, It is incredibly important to understand that no one, two or even four day class will provide you with enough content, repetition and supervision to walk away from the class retaining 100% of the knowledge that was presented. Many of the bigger and more prestigious training groups offer some type of fringe benefit that may be very attractive to those who complete a course. I know for my students, we offer discounts on future classes and unique quarterly "alumni" classes that are much cheaper than attending the same, full class. Other companies may have similar benefits or even just informal "get-togethers" to keep skills sharp. Whatever the case, like a good service plan on your new Harley Davidson Dyna-Glide, good instructors work hard to make sure you are taken care of for the long haul.
How much will this cost me
In the professional instruction industry, you don't always get what you pay for and not all instructors are equal. The spread of class prices is so varied, it is almost impossible to fore-cast how much a specific class should cost. Their are some benchmarks you can follow to reduce the chance of "getting taken".
Most instructors have Facebook accounts, yelp, Google, or other review platforms. Scan those reviews and see what people are saying about the price vs. quality aspect. You can also look around at similar courses in your state or region to see what similar classes are going for.
In my experience, and this is only my experience, introductory classes for a novice or new shooter should range anywhere from $50 - 100 dollars an hour for private instruction and no more than $100 - 250.00 for an 8 hour course. Expect to pay up to twice that for an instructor or team who has a regional or national reputation and will generally be teaching classes with content that is of the advanced level and requires an instructor to hold higher credentials or experience.
Also, look at classes that run seasonally. States like Arizona, Colorado, Florida, New Mexico and Texas and are very popular states where the "big name" instructors like to hang out. It may be more cost effective for you to book a one or two week holiday in the summer time and attend several courses at once. That may save cost on buying multiple plane tickets, ammo shipments, and time.
It's also important to research cancellation or refund guidelines. Guys and gals, this is HUGE. Classes will usually get cancelled for three reasons: First, the instructor may have an emergency. Second, the weather may not allow for the safe instruction of a course and finally, the class did not fill with the minimum amount of students. Although the first two reasons are unfortunate, the third is more likely to happen. The issue is, certain instructors will not offer discounts for some or all of those reasons. I know countless folks who have bought high dollar classes, plane tickets, and gear all for the class to be cancelled without a return or exchange. Ouch. Big ouch. Most reputable places will offer discounts up to about three to four weeks prior to the start date of the class, and sometimes more. Also, many will allow a student to move his or her seat to another class that year, or in a given time. Most places, including my company, will not reimburse expenses due to travel or logistics but will return everything else if a class is cancelled. I suggest that students call a month or two prior to attending a class and ensure the status of a pending class. For our students, about 2 months prior to a class we will notify students of the expected status and provide some peace of mind.
They didn't mention any hidden cost.
As I mentioned earlier, if you think an instructor is asking to much for a class, do some research in the area and see what other places or charging for similar classes. Also, pay in mind, sometimes, additional fee's like food, t-shirts, lodging and required books/material may or may not be included in the price.
Unfortunately, I have seen many classes come with a line up and reasonable cost, but then I look at the other obvious cost you may have to incur; gear and equipment and get turned off. For example, a 2 day, $500.00 class may look really good, but when you see a round count of 2,000+ rounds, it can get expensive, really quick. Some of the best instructors design class that charge the "Best bang per a round". This can also be what truly separates the good from the best. If someone tries to rank a class by the amount of rounds you shoot, that is simply incorrect. Good instructors should be able to take a fraction of those rounds and provide more efficient and better training with less ammo. In my experience, the majority of top instructors will usually require 250 - 500 rounds a day. I was once told by a mentor that anything over 8 hours of instruction or 500 rounds will start to overload a student's physical and mental ability for a full days class. Although that may be subjective, I find it pretty accurate after doing this for nearly a decade.
Lastly, one of the most under rated talking points, while discussing cost is understanding instructor to student ratio. In regards to military and law enforcement doctrine and even the National Rifle Association, most institutions suggest to maintain a ratio of 1 instructor for every 4 students. Also known as a 1:4 instructor to student ratio. This is generally considered the gold standard in most realms of professional instruction.
The problem is, for instructor teams and the individuals who attend those classes, that can be very expensive to pay for. Understandably, adding several instructors to the ticket can be abundant. Many of the best instructors in the Nation carry a ratio of nearly 1:20. Imagine having 20 students in a class and only one instructor to supervise and critique all of those shooters.?Some instructors, who understand this, have designed classes to mitigate the problem, but others, who are out there to make a lot of money, without much effort may take advantage of over populating a class. Food for thought, you may want to investigate that ratio a bit prior to investing in a high dollar class. On the flip side, you may also want to think about investing the extra money in a company that provides a 1:4, 1:5 or even a 1:6 ratio.
Who is my instructor
Arguably the most difficult part of choosing a class is finding the right instructor(s). Instructors come from all walks of life. Not only are their military folks (which does not validate them to begin with) but also law enforcement, security contractors and of course civilian instructors. This is also a time to point out that some civilian instructors have also been the most prolific in the industry and does not rule them out just because they are not tenured in public service or military service.
An instructor should have the required credentials to teach in your state or country and also carry some type of liability insurance should anything go wrong. For the most part, the National Rifle Association is the biggest accredited training organization in the world. Most instructors (including myself) hold NRA credentials. Their are other credentials one can possess but, that is the biggest I have found that will immediately give someone, at least the smallest amount of validity. Also, be aware that an Instructor should be able to product credentials (like real paper stuff) in a timely fashion, if you have questions on those credentials, or insurance, just ask.
Finally, any instructor who is legitimate should have some form of resume, CV or biography on their website or available in person. I have come to find out that many instructors who are intimated by the "Been there, done that" crowd may be hesitant to publish what they consider lacking biographies, but in today's online era', it's not good for business. Additionally, if an instructor is not willing to tell you their history or experience based on current operational security (op-sec), that should raise suspicion for you. In all honesty, most instructors who are currently teaching civilian courses gave up or lost that privilege when they entered the civilian market. albeit. there are true quiet professionals who are legitimate and will be honest with you and tell you the right amount of information you need to gain your trust.
My Instructor just said what
Just like the profession, instructors come from all walks of life, backgrounds and professional settings. More-over the firearm's industry is already a politically motivated community and full of emotion and opinion. Many times, instructors try to hard to impress their opinions amongst students that may be in bad taste or even worse, dangerous. The point is, a legitimate and professional instructor should be able to navigate a course without presenting to many aggressive and dogmatic opinions. Even renowned instructors from time to time may use a swear word or talk bluntly about a specific topic, but the words and statements are used to get across the severity or seriousness of a given discussion. Instructors who criticize, shun or even get hostile over political topics, other instructors or even a students ability to pick up a new technique should be dealt with accordingly.
On a similar topic, although uncommon, an inexperienced or new-to-civilian-world instructor, may use terms from the military or law enforcement jobs that result in the end user being really confused. Understand, many instructors who have been teaching cops or infantryman for years may need some time to re-learn terms and reduce acronym usage. Be patient, and ask questions if you are confused.
My Soap Box...
The last thing I want to talk about are some professional courtesies you should expect from instructors who want to earn your return business. I say that because their are several benchmarks our team has worked very hard on and many whom I respect and in turn, in turn, earn my repeat business.
First and foremost is safety. Whether you are new to the shooting community, or have been in the game for a long time. Safety should always be the top of any instructor or companies list. This can come in the form of safety briefs, but more importantly, the tenacious drive during every class, and every minute to maintain a safe atmosphere for both the students and instructors.
Secondly, an instructor should have the training and equipment needed to render emergency first aid in the event a person suffers from a traumatic event or has a serious medical problem while aboard the range. Instructors should be able to render first aid for the most obvious injuries one may face on a live fire range and also insure students know what to do in the event of a medical emergency. In fact, our company is proud to have over half of all instructors certified at a NREMT First Responder, T-CCC or higher level. Additionally, instructors carry individual first kits and a trauma first aid kit and defibrillator is always within 5 minutes. We don't stop there, we also work with local first responders to coordinate transportation and transfer of care. Although that may be a bit more than most instructors can afford or allow, it is something we pride ourselves on.
Finally, instructors should be people who advocate moral and ethical use of force and self defense. Many times, I have shuttered at the stories students have told me. An instructor who waves the proverbial "Don't tread on me flag" in the face of a bunch of sheep may need to rethink his or her training philosophy. We at Trigger Time Training believe in the right to defend yourself, your family and your fellow citizen, but we also recognize that a gun fight is the last thing we hope anyone to have to experience. Like in the military, we train for war but hope for peace, we do the same as instructors of civilian firearms courses. We hope to better the shooting community instead of hurt it. An honest, integral approach to the deep topics is important and we hope students appreciate that regardless of the instructor or training company.
Colleges have teams of advisers ready to assist you with finding the best classes and pathways for you when navigating a college degree or perhaps, even when taking a single credit class on something that excites you. Why is the thought of really researching, understanding and paying for a legitimate firearms instructor and respective lesson plan any different
Their are some of America's best war fighters, cops and civilian shooters looking to do honest and good work in educating our populace on being safe and learning how to prevent loss of life should something get to that point.
It's time realize, this is a community, an industry and a place where people can get "Taken". . We need to start being prudent and doing a bit more research before committing to something that we may not be ready for. As one of my LT's used to say to our junior Marines prior to a long bout of liberty on the parade decks in Camp Pendleton: "Be smart, make good choices and don't go finance a car with 20% interest." (I'm really not joking)...I think that is a fitting line to conclude.
About the author: Mark Williams, the Chief Instructor for Trigger Time Training has been involved with the shooting community for nearly a decade. While serving in the Marine Corps, Mark quickly learned about the need for good gear and training that can hold up to the abuse it may receive during combat operations, life or death situations or competition settings. Mark appreciates the need for good gear and training discussion...just without all of the cheese. Questions or comments? Reach mark at: email@example.com
About the team: Trigger Time Training is a group of seven professional instructors spanning military, law enforcement and competitive realms based out of Longmont, Colorado. The T3 guys teach for the Trigger Time Gun Club which has a full retail pro shop, gun range, and rifle builder. Visit us at T3 Main for more information on what we do and who we are.