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  1. #1
    Mike Barham's Avatar
    Mike Barham is offline Senior Member
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    Gunsite Vets 250 course review

    Like many companies in the firearms industry, Gunsite Academy is run by a group of stout-hearted patriots. The folks at Gunsite are very appreciative of the men and women serving in uniform in the Global War on Terror, and they put their money where their mouth is by offering free courses to returning veterans of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. I took advantage of their generous offer and signed up for the Veteran’s 250 class, a version of Gunsite’s traditional five-day defensive pistol course.

    We arrived bright and early Monday morning, passing under the black raven that adorns the front gate to Gunsite. There were nineteen of us in the class, and we were a mix of Army, Marines and Navy. After the usual paperwork and signing of waivers, the instructors introduced themselves. Our Range Master for the course was Ed Stock, a retired Arizona DPS officer and OIF veteran. Instructors were Larry Landers, Mike Hughes, LaMonte Kintsel and Bill Young. All but Bill were veterans, but more shockingly, we learned that all of them were teaching this week-long course without pay. It was their way of saying “thanks” to the veterans attending the class.

    The mix of guns and gear in the class was interesting. I counted six Glocks, two in 9mm and four in .40. There were four 1911s, three Kimbers and a Para. I saw five Beretta 92FS/M9s. Two XDs were on the line, one each in .40 and .45. Lastly, we had one each S&M M&P 9mm and HK P2000 .40. I was shooting my usual Glock 17.

    Holsters were one or another variety of thermoplastic, with the sole exception of one Galco Training Holster used by one of the 1911 guys. I used my old Galco ArmorTek on a 1 ˝” Reinforced Instructors Belt and a leather CDM double mag carrier.

    After a few briefings on safety and Gunsite etiquette, Ed spoke to us about gun and holster selection and gave an overview of the Modern Technique of the Pistol. He explained the Gunsite philosophy of gunfighting, and demonstrated some basic shooting and gunhandling techniques. The shooting stance Ed demonstrated was clearly influenced by Weaver, but had much in common with a squared-up carbine fighting stance, as well. I instantly realized that Gunsite was not mired in a dogmatic method of pistol fighting, as is sometimes perceived, and this was confirmed several times over the following week.

    Then we were off to the Hanneken pistol range to start some hands-on learning! We began with some slow-fire shooting with a strong emphasis on accuracy. The instructors walked the line behind us, offering tips, advice and coaching on stance, arm and hand position, sight alignment and trigger squeeze. I quickly learned that my pistol skills had grown pretty rusty in my year in Afghanistan, and my groups were larger than I’d have liked. Fortunately, I was able to improve quickly under the watchful eyes of the Gunsite staff.

    We progressed quickly throughout the week, moving from pure accuracy to the delicate balance between speed and accuracy. Ed Stock emphasized in all his coaching and demonstration the importance of the DVC concept – the balancing of accuracy, power and speed. The shooting became fast, and we were successfully engaging two turning targets with two rounds each in under 1.5 seconds. The instructors would then throttle us back, taking us to 15 or 25 yards for slower, more precise shooting, reinforcing the importance of front sight focus and trigger control.

    On the gunhandling side, the instructors taught us multiple methods for press checking and let us pick the one we liked best. This was valuable for me, since the press checking techniques I used on the 1911 I formerly carried don’t translate well to the Glocks I now prefer. The Gunsite staff was able to show me one that worked with the Glock and my smallish hands.

    We worked with three different reloading methods, learning the tactical, speed and administrative reloads. The instructors showed an interesting concept they’d adopted from a groups of Army Special Forces soldiers who’d come through Gunsite last year. For pistol manipulations, particularly reloading, Gunsite now teaches students to “work in the box” by bringing the pistol into an imaginary 12” cube just below eye level. This makes far better fighting sense than the older, competition-oriented speed reload worked out by the late Ray Chapman.

    The Wednesday morning lecture on mindset was excellent. It was mainly review for those familiar with Col. Cooper’s Principles of Personal Defense, but reinforcing proper fighting mindset and attitude is never a bad thing. Ed Stock gave me an opportunity to guest lecture on selecting concealment holsters, which I appreciated – and I tried not to push Galco too hard!

    The Thursday evening night shoot was very informative. I’d done night shoots before, and knew I could hit the target simply with good stance, even sans a usable sight picture. My Glock wears Meprolight night sights, so I was able to get center hits with ease, but even the students who didn’t have tritium sights were able to make good hits in low light. Ed showed us two flashlight techniques, the Harries and the Rogers, and encouraged us to experiment with both. I reverted back to Harries, which I’ve used for years, since I prefer the Surefire E2e for daily carry and Rogers doesn’t work well with my small hands and wide guns like the Glock.

    Each student got four runs through the simulators, two indoor and two outdoor. I learned a heck of a lot, particularly on the indoor simulator called the Playhouse. I probably would not have survived my second trip through the Playhouse, which reinforces my beliefs about the dangers of clearing structures alone. The ranges on the outdoor simulators are much longer, and some of the shots were fairly demanding. Fortunately, I was shooting much more accurately by the time we got to the simulators, and didn’t have much problem on the longer shots.

    Then it was Friday. We went through the basic drill and El Presidente for evaluation by the instructors, then moved to the steel targets for the shoot-off, which was handily won by Chad H., an excellent shooter who’d just retired from the Arizona National Guard. The top three finishers in the shoot-off were all shooting Glocks.

    The final results on gun reliability over the approximately 1400 rounds fired:

    * A Glock 9mm (one of six Glocks) failed to feed twice. I suspect limp-wristing, but can't confirm. My 17 functioned perfectly through 1380 rounds without cleaning. No ka-Booms in any Glocks, .40 or otherwise.

    * XDs, one each .40 and .45, no malfunctions.

    * S&W M&P 9mm, no malfunctions.

    * HK P2000 .40, no malfunctions.

    * Beretta 92FS/M9s. One malfunction, a failure to feed with low-bidder Check-Mate magazine (as expected). All ran flawlessly using OEM Beretta mags.

    * Kimber 1911s. All malfunctioned multiple times. I watched one TLE/RL II choke three times in a single five-round string of fire. A father-son veteran duo showed with two Kimbers. Both got excellent practice clearing malfunctions, which were even more fun during the night shoot. One Kimber shooter lost a shoot off (and a nice Surefire light as the prize) because his pistol choked.

    * Para-Ordnance SF45A (basically a P14 with a fancy finish). Constant malfunctions enabled the shooter to become highly skilled at malfunction clearance. Generally failed to feed at least twice in each mag. Had the additional feature of magazines that disassembled themselves for cleaning upon contact with the ground during speed reloads. Staff gunsmith was able to get it into marginal shooting condition (only one failure in every 25 rounds or so) after about three hours of work.

    Back in the classroom, we enjoyed a short graduation ceremony. Ed commented that it’s always nice to see students transform from a group of individuals to a team, supporting, helping and cheering each other during the course. That was true in spades of our group of veterans! Ed then asked who would like to tour The Sconce, the home of Jeff and Janelle Cooper. Most of our hands went up, and after graduation we walked to the Coopers’ home and spent an hour there with the gracious Mrs. Cooper. It was a fine and fitting end to a week well spent, though of course we were all saddened that we’d not had the opportunity to meet the late Col. Cooper.

    All the veterans in the class were extremely appreciative of the training offered by Gunsite. The instruction was absolutely first-rate, and the facilities are marvelous. It seemed like everyone, including the instructors, thoroughly enjoyed the course, and every student I talked to felt like he was taking away good new knowledge. Many of these vets will return to their units and pass along what they’ve learned.

    I was reflective as I left Gunsite, driving under that black raven for the last time. One of my goals in life, for the last twenty or so years, has been to attend Gunsite, but it always seemed like the time wasn’t right. When I exited through that gate, I felt like I’d ended one journey – but begun another.

    I'll post some pics in the photo section soon.
    Last edited by Mike Barham; 08-05-2008 at 05:52 PM.
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  2. #2
    JeffWard's Avatar
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    Great review, Mike. Thanks. Man, I'd LOVE to go some time... Maybe next year.

    What was the break down in terms of experience in the group?

    What was the shooting quality?

    Was it mostly USPSA/IDPA current and formerly-competitive folks, or average joes?

    What would you suggest as minimum experience/training for a guy signed up to go?

    I'm sure many here would like to know...

    Jeff

  3. #3
    Mike Barham's Avatar
    Mike Barham is offline Senior Member
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    Quote Originally Posted by JeffWard View Post
    Great review, Mike. Thanks. Man, I'd LOVE to go some time... Maybe next year.
    I recommend it to everyone who is serious about defensive shooting. While I might quibble with Gunsite doctrine on a couple of small points, it was without a doubt the best training experience of my life, and that includes courses at Front Sight, Ayoob's LFI and Chuck Taylor's ASAA.

    What was the break down in terms of experience in the group?
    All were vets, so everyone had at least a passing familiarity with pistols. Some were clearly very inexperienced, however, and probably only had the typical crappy pistol "familiarization" in the military. There were three guys like this in the class, all of whom benefited a great deal from the instruction. One guy clearly had a competitive shooting background, either IDPA or IPSC. He was a very good shooter going in, and only improved a little. Three of the other guys clearly had prior formal training (me included). I was very rusty and so improved a lot. The other guys improved only a little, but their skill levels were already pretty high.

    The rest of the class was in the middle: basically folks who were familiar with their guns and who'd shot a lot on their own without formal training. These folks took the most from the training, and it was one of these guys who was the top shooter in class.

    What was the shooting quality?
    By the end of day three, all but one or two students were shooting better than I've seen at most local practical matches, and actually better than I've seen some smaller state-level IDPA championships.

    Was it mostly USPSA/IDPA current and formerly-competitive folks, or average joes?
    Ed Stock told us that the vets classes are different from a regular 250 course. A regular 250 course always has some students who out of shape, obese, elderly, etc. Obviously, since our class was composed of recently-returned vets, we were all in relatively good shape and all of us were under 50 and relatively spry. This enabled us to take fewer breaks, so we could shoot more and learn more.

    And unlike spoiled civilian types, none of us whined when we were out in the elements for 10-12 hours at a time, sweating or getting rained on or sunburned.

    As far as shooting skill, the class was mainly average Joes who were disciplined and committed to learning.

    What would you suggest as minimum experience/training for a guy signed up to go?
    Very little, actually. It would be better to go without bad habits you taught yourself trying to learn how to shoot from watching others or, god forbid, on the internet.

    If you know (and live by) the Four Rules, and have a basic understanding of sight alignment and trigger control, you're ready to go to Gunsite. They'll teach you the rest.
    Last edited by Mike Barham; 08-04-2008 at 07:47 AM. Reason: I just suck. Suck.
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  4. #4
    Todd is offline Banned
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    Great write up! Makes me want to go .... someday.

    Interesting to see all the 1911 failures and only one from all the other autos combined.

  5. #5
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    Thank you for taking the time to put that review together. I have also been wanting to go for a couple years now.

  6. #6
    Wyatt's Avatar
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    Kudos to the instructors of Gunsite for providing this training without pay as a perk to our servicemen.

    I'd like to go but I'd just get sweaty, rained on, and sunburned.
    Last edited by Wyatt; 08-03-2008 at 10:06 PM.

  7. #7
    Mike Barham's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Wyatt View Post
    I'd like to go but I'd just get sweaty, rained on, and sunburned.
    Try Front Sight. It's closer to you (I think) and is sort of Gunsite Lite.
    Employed by Galco Gunleather - www.galcogunleather.com / Veteran OEF VIII

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  8. #8
    Mike Barham's Avatar
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    I put up a few pics in the photo gallery.
    Employed by Galco Gunleather - www.galcogunleather.com / Veteran OEF VIII

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  9. #9
    Snowman's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Barham View Post
    Had the additional feature of magazines that disassembled themselves for cleaning upon contact with the ground during speed reloads.
    HAHAHA

    Good writeup with the usual humor.


  10. #10
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    Great writeup, Mike. I would love to experience something like that someday, and I definitely plan on it

    -Jeff-

  11. #11
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    Glad it came off good for you Mike. There is always something good to learn at Gunsite. It has very high marks from all the people who have gone there.

  12. #12
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    Its not Gunsite, but if you want some good formal training, Frontsite is a good second. You can buy a “coupon” on eBay for around 100.00 that is good for 1 person 4 day class or 2 people 2 day class. It’s a very inexpensive way to get some good training.

    http://cgi.ebay.com/Front-Sight-Trai...6.c0.m14.l1318
    "Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it." -Mark Twain

  13. #13
    Mike Barham's Avatar
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    I had a short write-up published in The Tactical Wire today: http://www.thetacticalwire.com/featu...featureID=3765. It's basically just a chopped-down version of the one above.
    Employed by Galco Gunleather - www.galcogunleather.com / Veteran OEF VIII

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