Earlier this month, I spent a week at the legendary Gunsite Academy in Paulden, Arizona. I took their 250 Defensive Pistol otherwise known as “The Gunsite Experience”.
There are many articles on the web providing a blow-by-blow description of the class. This will not be one of those articles. Instead, I’d like to share some of the insights I gleaned from the class and how I’ve been transformed as a shooter by making the investment in Gunsite training.
From the minute you step onto the Gunsite grounds, the four principles of gun safety are delivered as gospel.
- All Guns are Always Loaded
- Never let your Muzzle Cover Anything you aren’t Willing to Destroy
- Keep Your Finger off the Trigger until your Sights are on the Target
- Be sure of your Target and What’s Beyond It
You’ll probably notice these aren’t verbatim, because I wrote them from memory. Every student is required to memorize the principles and follow them religiously. If you have a negligent discharge during the class, on or off the facility, you’re gone. No exceptions.
I thought I was a pretty safe gun owner, but at one time or another before coming to Gunsite, I now know I’ve violated all four of these rules. Dry firing upstairs in my office instead of in the basement (pointed at a brick cinder wall) to prevent a negligent round from leaving my property. Inadvertently covering a small part of my body during gun handling drills. Not visually and physically verifying that my gun is unloaded every single time I bring it to safe. It takes unwavering discipline to ensure safety while handling firearms. Gunsite instruction instills that discipline.
NEVER RUN TO YOUR DEATH
This was one of the most common mistakes made in the simulators. In the first practice run, once breaching the “Funhouse” or stepping into the ravine that served as an outdoor simulator, people moved quickly from area to area like you see on TV. I was more methodical than most but I was told I still needed to slow down.
My next run was more deliberate; “pieing” each room, carefully considering angles and keeping distance, while still maintaining marksmanship and good ammo management.
DON’T SKIMP ON THE CARDIO
Stress wreaks havoc on the body. In the simulators, at the end of each run, my heart was racing and my breathing was heavy. This made shooting accurately at the end even more difficult. Gun Fighting is a martial art. And like any martial art, you need to train your body to withstand its rigours and achieve optimal performance. Even after years of training in Moo Duk Kwan, Tae Kwan Do, and Isshinryu, I wasn’t thinking that way going in. I am now.
SLOW IS SMOOTH, SMOOTH IS FAST
The instructors at Gunsite weren’t fond of the saying because most of the time, slow is just… slow. Instead, they wanted us to go as fast as we could while still being smooth (and safe).
It’s a subtle change in mind-set but important when fights often come down to how fast you can put rounds accurately on target or get your gun back in the fight after reloading or clearing a malfunction.
WHEN IN A FIGHT, FRONT SIGHT
This by far made the biggest difference in my shooting. The instructors preached multiple sight pictures. If you shoot once, then it’s two sight pictures (before and after). If you shoot a controlled pair, then its three sight pictures. And so on. Even when engaging multiple targets you need to take the millisecond to get that last sight picture. The difference between a shot hitting or missing (once I cleaned up my gun handling, stance, and footwork) almost always came down to site alignment and/or front sight focus. And often times, it was front sight focus.
YOU CAN NEVER MISS FAST ENOUGH
Suppression fire is great but in the end you’re just burning ammo. And are you considering what’s around or behind your target? As one of our instructors pointed out, what would scare the bad guys more? Putting rounds into their cover or putting rounds into the other bad guy next to them? If you can’t get a good shot off then they preached moving until you had a better angle. And target verification was always an important topic.
I hope I never get a chance to use the skills I learned at Gunsite in a true life or death situation. But, if I do, I now feel much more confident in my abilities to protect myself and my family.
The original ‘American Pistol Institute’ (API) now known as Gunsite Academy offers firearms training to elite military personnel, law enforcement officers and free citizens of the US. A schedule of classes and descriptions can be found here.