3 things to consider when taking a private firearms class
Follow this process to decide which classes will give you the best return on your investment
Your department will not and cannot train you enough. I’m sorry, but that’s the hard truth. Even those agencies that have basic academies consisting of several months of intensive training can’t possibly prepare a cop for what they will face on the streets.
This job requires a high degree of skill in a variety of areas and personal studies are the only way to even begin to excel. To enhance our knowledge and our skills, we must take “own time/own dime” classes to keep up.
On the weekend of August 29, 2020, I took "Shooting on the Move – Handgun/Carbine" with Steve Fisher, affectionately known as “Yeti” – he’s a big dude – of Sentinel Concepts at Meadhall Range near McLoud, Oklahoma. These classes aren’t cheap and cop jobs aren’t exactly high paying. We must choose our classes wisely. There’s a process I go through when I decide which classes will give me the best return on investment (ROI).
1. The instructor
I begin the process by vetting the instructor. I'd never taken a class with Steve before and all of my knowledge of him was from the Internet via podcasts and interviews. He has a sterling reputation as a trainer, but I’d never met him. I talked about ROI in the first paragraph. I know through mutual friends that Steve has made his classes available to cops and military folks and worked out payment as a secondary consideration. After that, I knew I had to train with the guy.
2. Your needs and weaknesses
When choosing a class, we (students) must focus on those skills we need. Look at what you do in your job. What threats are you likely to face? In today’s environment, shooting on the move is a much-needed skill for law enforcement.
We also need to focus on developing those needed skills with which we struggle. Manson’s Law of Avoidance teaches us that humans tend to avoid discomfort; be it physical or emotional. Embarrassment is uncomfortable and we are all embarrassed by not doing well in front of others. It’s a visceral fear. For me, I can shoot okay and I can move okay, but putting those things together has always been a challenge. This class was the perfect opportunity to train with "Yeti" and work on a weak point at the same time.
3. The venue
I’d heard Meadhall Range’s new owner Bill Armstrong had made some fantastic improvements. I took my first class there in 2015 before Bill bought it. It was a good facility with a climate-controlled classroom and solid range setup. I was more than a little impressed with the work Bill had done in the last few years. This range now has a new large classroom with both male and female restrooms, as well as a full kitchen.
The live-fire range has a running man target and remote turning targets that are controlled by a tablet. Keep in mind, I used to be in SWAT. I am unaccustomed to creature comforts during training. Meadhall Range may have spoiled me a little.
I sarcastically chided Bill, “You gotta’ stop making this place so nice. I’m going to hate going anywhere else after...” Before I could finish my statement, he smiled, “why would you?” I couldn’t argue.
How did it go?
Did my research pay off? Let’s talk about the class.
Steve has a reputation for being a great instructor and he lived up to it. He understands and demonstrates the teaching dichotomy between joking with a student to make the class enjoyable and embarrassing them when they make a mistake.
We shot paper B-8 targets for accountability within 30 yards and 2/3 IPSC steel at 40 and 50 yards. After shooting paper, Steve spoke to each of us about the results in a constructive way.
Shooting steel, though, is much more enjoyable for both the student and the instructor. The reason instructors use steel targets is that they give nearly instantaneous audible feedback for good marksmanship fundamentals and a deafening silence otherwise.
Instead of being derisive or insulting when a student registered a miss, Steve reacted to the horrifying absence of ringing steel with a “Whoopsie!” The reaction from the shooter and fellow students was a relaxing yet focusing chuckle and an immediate follow-up shot that invariably resulted in a hit.
Fisher consistently preached a relaxed and focused approach to both threat identification and shooting fundamentals. He was respectful, yet familiar and friendly. That’s what they call teaching, folks.
He gets it
Steve “gets” students. He picks up on little things that cause problems for shooters. He did so with me and, just like that, I can move and shoot substantially better than I could before.
The fix was something I would have never tried without a push in the right direction from someone who speaks from a high level of expertise. Fisher also gets the importance of realistic training and where to draw the line with safety. This is a class on shooting firearms before, during and after moving with a speed and purpose. There is no way to realistically train for shooting and moving without…shooting and moving, which is inherently dangerous. Fisher guided us through each drill with a demonstration to ensure there were no problems. I’ve never felt safer in this type of class.
One aspect of Fisher’s class I particularly liked: he asked for feedback and each student’s observations on every single drill. That’s something I’d never seen before. Every good instructor asks for feedback at the end of the class but not after every drill. I had to ask him about it. Fisher explained that it’s difficult to take notes on the live-fire range while managing equipment. He told me that he’d found that debriefing regularly allowed the students to recall things they’d learned and therefore remember them better.
There’s a terrible phenomenon in law enforcement training called institutional inertia. Cops hate change and cop administrators like me are the worst offenders. Evolution is difficult, but at some point, we have to admit that the way we are training is archaic. We must keep up with the most current methods and the only way to do that is to attend training like this. Did my research pay off? Yes, it did.