Course Review: Dave Spaulding – Handgun Combatives – Adaptive Combat Pistol Course; April 21 & 22, 2018 – Watkinsville, Georgia.

I hate to start off by apologizing; however, it is easy to see that this course review is long overdue. The reason, my trusty write in the rain notebook has been missing in action ever since attending this course. All was right with the world when it was found yesterday afternoon under the rear seat in my vehicle, no idea how it got there, but sure am glad it was only temporarily misplaced as there were a lot of good notes from a few recently attended courses in there that would have been a shame to lose.

Ever since attending the Handgun CombativesVehicle Combatives course in Coffeyville, Kansas last September it has been a priority for me to try and take as many courses with Dave as my schedule will permit. Call it a thirst for knowledge if you will; however, Dave’s teaching style and his self-admitted warped sense of humor suits me well. I leave with better skills and also with some excellent information that I am able to transfer to the students and instructor candidates that I train in the process.

The day before the course I made the eight-hour drive to Athens, stopping to have a late lunch with a friend of mine just outside Atlanta. I arrived at the Comfort Inn & Suites on Atlanta Highway about 5:30pm and after grabbing dinner and making a stop Franklin Gun Shop I filled magazines and made sure all my gear was ready to go for the morning.

On TD1 of Handgun Combatives Adaptive Combat Pistol, we met at the range and Dave started with a brief introduction and presentation on his training methodology as most of the class had never taken a course with him before. If you follow Dave on social media you will see him with his trusty Webster’s dictionary by his side every so often on “Thoughts from the deck with Crown Royal” his definitions of the following are key to the program of instruction in this course.

Adapt = Change as required by circumstances.

Adaptive = The ability to change as required by circumstances.

To be Adaptive = To be able to change as required by circumstances.

Combative = Be ready and willing to fight.

After explaining these definitions and why he uses the words he does Dave went into Fundamentals vs. Essentials. Fundamentals are needed to form a foundation. Essentials are what is absolutely necessary and you should have a mastery of the essential skills.

Developing a combative mindset is first, followed by a list of things we all understand, e.g., grip, stance, presentation of the pistol on target the same way each time, etc… Dave went on to emphasize that in order to develop your essential skills, you need consistent, significant practice that is directed at fighting, also having an imagery of real-world threats and understand what violent encounters really are, not what you see in movies or the stages of a USPSA match.

On the range both days we started out with a three-round fade-back drill. Personally, I feel that I had a few too many “yips” on TD1 as you can see by my target below. In case you have never fired Dave’s fade-back drill it’s pretty easy, all you need is a 3×5 card target like the one pictured below, some ammunition and a range that allows you to shoot out to 25 yards. Start at 3 yards and fade back to 25, things get a little tough hitting that 3×5 card back at 20 and 25 yards. The course host, Chief Lee Weems shot a clean target on TD1, he was the only student to do so.

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The rest of TD1 was chalk full of one-handed shooting drills and the one-handed gun manipulations that go with them. The drills presented were excellent for establishing that foundation of skills Dave talked about prior to the range portion of the course. (Yeah, his program of instruction is well thought out) I liked the bucket drill and let’s face it, I like drills that help me identify things that I need to work on and those that I can share with others to make them better practitioners/students of pistolcraft.

Ever the coach, Dave keeps a watchful eye on his students offering some well-placed tips on how to get better with what you are working with. He also splits the class into two relays allowing himself time to give some individual coaching on the range, leave no doubt he gives his students 110% during the entire course.

Once we adjourned for the day the majority of us had a little BBQ at a local restaurant in Watkinsville and then a touch of Crown Royal at Chops & Hops.

On TD2 we did a lot of work behind simulated cover and some distance shooting. For the simulated cover drills, we used both plastic 55-gallon drums and a VTAC barricade working through the latter using many unconventional shooting positions. the distance shooting went out to 25 yards and culminated with the 5 in 5 drill, 5 rounds from 5, 10, 15, 20 and 25 yards in 5 seconds from the holster. You can see an explanation and demonstration of the drill by the man himself in the video linked here.

The very last thing in the course of fire was to shoot Dave’s 2x2x2 drill. 2 rounds in 2 seconds from 20 feet from the holster on a 3×5 card target. Current LEO’s are allowed to use their duty gear, responsibly armed citizens all must start from a concealment holster. Those who are skilled enough to get two solid hits on target in the time allotted earn a Handgun Combatives engraved belt buckle and belt made by Ares Gear.

Unfortunately nobody earned a belt and buckle from this course; however, several students came very close. My effort produced two hits on target; however, I was overtime by .12 seconds. My mistake, letting the front sight settle a little too much looking for that perfect sight picture instead of just getting an acceptable sight picture and pressing the trigger. Maybe next time…

In summary, this is a course that tests your cognitive thinking abilities through the entire course of fire, Dave presents you a problem and you have to solve it, period. Same as a gunfight, your assailant will present you a problem and you will need to solve it or possibly die during the process. I mentioned it above, Dave’s course content and interactive personality (That will probably make him laugh) are what I enjoy about attending Handgun Combatives courses. Would I recommend this course? You bet I would and I think there are several Adaptive Combat Pistol courses on his remaining 2018 schedule that have a seat or two left in them.

Speaking of the Handgun Combatives training schedule, 2019 is published on his website and has only half of what 2018 had on it, Dave has been very public about teaching a more compact schedule in 2019 and beyond, so if you want to train with him I suggest you look at his schedule and make it happen, you can thank me later.

 

Gear used in the course is listed below:

Sig Sauer P320 X-Carry

Henry Holsters AIWB with V-Development Group AIWB Large Wedge

JMCK AIWB Mag Pouche(s)

5.11 Operator Belt

Surefire E2D Defender Ultra

My training ammunition was Federal American Eagle 147gr Flat Nose FMJ purchased from Target Sports USA.

 

(Featured Image Credit to Dave Spaulding and Handgun Combatives)

 

Until next time, be vigilant, be the best…

As always, live life abundantly; train hard so you can fight easy!

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Course Review: SIG SAUER Academy Dynamic Performance Pistol; April 9th & 10th, 2018, Epping, New Hampshire.

Earlier this month I was at SIG SAUER Academy to attend “Gun School” for the fourth time in nine months, and so to say that I might be familiar with the Southwest Airlines nonstop between Tampa and Manchester would be an understatement. As with my three previous trips I stayed at the Hampton Inn & Suites in Exeter using the SIG SAUER Academy discounted rate.

Since my visit in October, the student check-in process has changed slightly. All students now report to the Academy Pro Shop on TD1 of the course that they are attending to sign in and receive their course book. I would suspect that this is a welcome change to the staff as the students can select and pay for lunch from Hammersmith Sandwich Company in the morning and then pick up their lunch in the Indoor Range without interrupting the staff of the Pro Shop while they serve customers and of course Kathleen, the Academy Training Coordinator to pick up their lunches.

The course started for the eight of us inside classroom #7 out in Area 51 along with Academy Senior Instructor, Steven Gilcreast. We went over some basic safety rules and of course the differences between performance-based training objectives and outcome-based training objectives.

Dynamic Performance Pistol is an Intermediate level course and everything is geared to the student being focused on shooting each drill a minimum of three times, and having a goal to set a time and beat our time on the two subsequent runs or if it was a scored course of fire we were trying to beat our score with a higher point value. Sometimes the drill was a combination of both, scored for points and time adding in any penalties. I tend to like this method of training as it allows me to focus on what I can improve on to make each run better than the last. The difference between outcome-based and performance-based training objectives.

Once on the range, all of us were subject to 28° temperature and even though it warmed up to 40° later in the day, the windchill factor never rose above freezing. Personally, I have not experienced cold weather like that in nearly twenty years and candidly, I don’t see myself going back to the Academy for an outdoor course unless it is in June, July, August or September.

Our first few drills were designed to work on fundamentals mostly with respect to pressing the trigger properly using different cadences from 1s per shot to .50s per shot and even down to .25s per shot. Steve noticed I was pinning the trigger on my P320 X-Carry and not resetting and prepping for the next shot under recoil, and honestly, this is a problem that I struggled with off an on during the day. I fixed it later and yet I was still having some accuracy issues at distance. The good thing is I was able to identify these issues in training and since arriving back home I have gone back to shooting more bullseyes.

At the end of TD1, we had shot right at about 400 rounds running more than a half dozen drills three times each. At the end of TD1, I think all of us were looking forward to getting inside out of the cold.

After dinner at Telly’s Restaurant in Epping, I went back to my hotel and work on some dry practice and also to work on movement and footwork in the small gym that was located across from my first-floor room.

TD2 started on the range with a quick warm-up exercise and then we were right back into the drills. On this day we worked mostly on drills that involved a lot of movement and how to shoot accurately while on the move; however, one TD2 drill, Steve’s “Dirty Thirty” on an IPSC target didn’t involve movement, it involved shooting 30 rounds from 30 yards, trying to complete the drill in under 30 seconds. We practiced this drill from a couple shorter distances before venturing out to 30 yards, by doing this it helped work on technique and accuracy. I believe this is an excellent drill and the only one that I will give you the course of fire for in this review.

The Dirty Thirty: Starting with three 10 round magazines on the command, draw and fire 10 rounds in a two-handed standing position, reload and fire 5 rounds using strong hand only, then 5 using opposite hand only, reload and fire 5 rounds kneeling and finish with 5 rounds in the prone position as mentioned on an IPSC target.

If you are considering attending this course it is important for you to know that Steve is excellent at adapting the Dynamic Performance Pistol course of fire to fit the abilities of the students; however, this course is an Intermediate level course. Additionally, Steve teaches by the SIG SAUER Academy training methodology of “EDIP” or Explain, Demonstrate, Imitate, Practice. After explaining the drills he demonstrated several different ways to progress through the drill, even physically walking some of them and doing it faster than most of us as we ran it.

Just so you know, two students ended up ringing the gong on TD1, for not knowing the status of their guns. It was a sound we heard a couple times in the distance from other the ranges located on the property. Thankfully nobody from our course had to ring the gong on TD2.

My Gear and Equipment:

Gun(s): SIG SAUER P320 X-Carry and P320 full-size RX with Romeo 1.

Holster: Comp-Tac International strong-side OWB. (SIG SAUER Academy requires you use a strong-side hip holster in this particular course)

Ammunition: Federal American Eagle 147gr Flat Nose FMJ, this has been my preferred practice ammunition for the last two years, it is very accurate and I have had no ammunition related stoppages in the cycle of operations of my handguns while using it, so I’ll stick with what works.

Flashlight: Surefire Dual Fuel Fury Tactical 1,500 Lumens

In summary, this is an excellent course that will test your skills in both gun handling and shooting. From the strict focus on accuracy and the use of a shot timer on nearly every drill to moving with unholstered firearms. The course of fire is true to the advertised 1,000 rounds and I highly recommend it for the Intermediate to the Advanced Practitioner.

I look forward to my next visit to SIG SAUER Academy this summer.

 

Until next time …

As always, live life abundantly; train hard so you can fight easy!

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Course Review: SIG SAUER Academy Bullets and Vehicles; October 23rd, 2017, Epping, New Hampshire.

After spending a couple absolutely beautiful fall days in Green Bay, Wisconsin teaching my Handgun Essentials course, it was back to SIG SAUER Academy for my third trip this year. (I previously attended the Master Pistol Instructor course in June and the P320 and M400/M-16/M4/AR-15 Rifle armorer’s course along with the Low-Light Pistol Instructor course in August)

Upon my arrival at Manchester airport, I was immediately embraced by all the fall colors that New Hampshire has to offer, and for someone who has not seen a change of seasons in seventeen years, this was certainly a welcome sight.

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(Some of the fall colors found on property at SIG SAUER Academy)

Our training day started promptly at 0830hrs in classroom #6 with ten students with various backgrounds in firearms training. Both of our Instructors, Dylan Kenneson and Chris “Cav” Cavallaro were excellent and spent a lot of time coaching us all throughout the day and as with all SIG SAUER Academy courses, the lead instructor explained and demonstrated all the drills before having students run them dry-fire and live-fire.

Once we got our “chow plan” figured out and completed all of the Academy paperwork, we got into introductions and then on to the range. Before we started any range exercises our Primary Instructor Dylan Kenneson outlined our Emergency Procedures, this was also reiterated after lunch.

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(Our Course Emergency Plan)

Once on the range, our first exercise was a modified version of David Blinder’s Dot Torture drill that was made famous by the late Todd Louis Green of Pistol-Training.

After being dot tortured (Pardon the pun) we got into some dry-fire exercises from seated positions on the range. We practiced all of the exercises dry-fire with a strict emphasis on safety and then moved on to live-fire once both Dylan and Chris were confident that we had the proper technique down.

Once we got in the first vehicle it was all about getting solid hits on the SSA-BM1 “Brett Target” named after Brett Martin, a former SIG SAUER Academy employee. Each student got the opportunity to be in the driver and passenger seat, engaging targets from two different distances. You couldn’t just point and shoot in this drill, you needed to take well-aimed precise shots especially from the passenger side of the truck as the target was about fifteen yards away.

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(SIG SAUER Academy Instructors Dylan Kenneson and Chris “Cav” Cavallaro watching closely over our live-fire exercises. Coolest license plate ever … “-SIG-” New Hampshire, “Live Free or Die”)

After a short break, a vehicle was delivered on a flatbed truck with major front-end damage, yet it had all its glass still intact to give us the chance to see how certain projectiles fared through windshields and of course side the window glass. In the course description, we were asked to bring some duty/carry ammunition and this proved educational as to what projectiles do when traveling through windshields.

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(On this target you may be able to see some of the markings as to what brand and the specific load that was used. We shot from the driver’s seat and the target was placed at a distance of five (5) yards away with the majority of shots taken with the muzzle positioned back from the glass. Our point of aim was to be the square box underneath the eight-inch center chest area circle. Look closely at the hole at the very top of the target, that shot was taken with the muzzle directly on the windshield using the Hornady Critical Duty 135gr +P load. The high deflection was due to the design of that particular projectile with its “Flex-Tip” design. The second shot with that load from back about six inches away from the windshield hit the target just to the right of the zipper, in the neck/collar-bone area)

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Important Note: When presented with a threat like this, your best option might be to mash the accelerator and run them over. If they have a weapon such as a handgun you would more than likely be justified in doing so as long as you can articulate and authenticate the presence of a threat of death or great bodily harm.

The course also included a block of instruction on escaping a vehicle in an emergency using many different tools to help with extraction. This block of instruction also included some innovative solutions to gaining access to a vehicle from outside as well. Personally, I carry a Benchmade Houdini Pro in the console of my vehicle and I also purchased a ResqMe in the SIG SAUER Academy Proshop to carry on my keyring as a backup. (See photo below)

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(In the photo above Victor from Sierra Element is engaging a threat through the rear window with Instructor Chris “Cav” Cavallaro coaching during the SIG SAUER Academy Bullets and Vehicles course October 23rd, 2017 in Epping, New Hampshire)

After lunch, it was on to some debussing drills and using cover to engage threats outside the vehicle. Our scenarios led by both Instructors and were all done with the utmost concern for the safety of the students and of course to ensure that learning was taking place while offering feedback on our techniques and more importantly keeping us focused on our performance.

(Just a couple guys out for a drive on a nice fall day in New Hampshire and then we start taking gunfire)

Teachable Moment: Getting out of the driver’s side seat and over the console of this Jeep Grand Cherokee proved difficult for a big dude like me. In this scenario, I was to engage our threats and provide cover for Victor to exit the vehicle. Once he was in position, he did the same for me as I exited the vehicle. This drill was very educational in the fact that if you’ve got to de-buss you need to do it quickly from any position inside the vehicle even if it is climbing out over the console. I also found that my Comp-Tac holster needs a little tightening down on the retention screws so it will hold my SIG SAUER P320 X-Carry a little more securely.

Lastly, several of us were given the opportunity to shoot through the Saturn in specific locations with several different calibers from .22LR to .45ACP in pistols and then a variety of long guns including a suppressed SIG SAUER MCX, M400 (AR-15), a Century Arms AK-47, a 7.62×51 sniper rifle, a 12 gauge Mossberg pump gun loaded with birdshot, buckshot, and rifled slugs. Then lastly, there was the behemoth below that Cav is point shooting without a scope, the .338 Lapua.

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In summary, the Bullets and Vehicles course does an excellent job in establishing some foundational skills for fighting in and around vehicles. Once again, SIG SAUER Academy does not disappoint and their Instructor Cadre, both Dylan Kenneson and Chris “Cav” Cavallaro proved themselves as two of the top trainers in this industry with their excellent instruction and positive coaching every step of the way. I also owe a big thank you as well to SIG SAUER Academy Training Coordinator Kathleen Randolph for getting me a seat in the course when it was already sold out. I wish that my schedule would have allowed me to stay for a few more courses before returning home to teach this past weekend.

Another benefit this trip gave me was the ability to reconnect with my friend Victor from Sierra Element. We took a little side trip to Kittery Trading Post in Kittery, Maine and had a couple good dinners together at places like The Holy Grail Restaurant and Pub. I can see Victor and I attending many more courses together in the future, he is a high-quality individual whom I will not hesitate to recommend as a trainer. If you live in Southern California, you can find a list of his courses by clicking here.

Lastly, this will probably come as no surprise; however, I am already looking forward to returning in 2018 in order to work some more on my skills and learn a lot more things that I can bring back to my students.

SIG SAUER Academy is a world-class training facility with world-class people that everyone should experience at least once in their lifetime. So, what are you waiting for?

 

Until next time …

As always, live life abundantly; train hard so you can fight easy!

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Course Review: Training with a Legend! Ken Hackathorn Advanced Pistol Course; October 7th & 8th, 2017 – Los Angeles, California (Host: Aztec Training Services)

Back in late April, I spent some time with industry giant Ken Hackathorn at the NRA Annual Meetings in Atlanta and during our conversation I asked him if I could get in a course he was teaching in Couer d’Alene, Idaho in June. Ken said, “no way, the course was way oversold by the hosts” and we both said, “See you at Burro Canyon.”

Fast forward to last weekend. In between visiting family that I don’t get to see very often and meeting with some television executives about providing technical advice to them on firearms and empty hand skills for their network actors and actresses, I attended Ken’s Advanced Pistol course at Burro Canyon Shooting Park high up in the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument.

On Saturday morning I woke up early because my body clock was still on Eastern Daylight Time, three hours ahead of the local time and because I might have been just a little excited to train with a man so well respected in the firearms training industry that everyone should do their best to get in one of his last courses before he retires full-time. So, shortly after sunrise, I found myself driving up to the range so I could be ready to learn from a man who has been on my list to train with for years.

Burro Canyon Shooting Park has nineteen bays ranging from forty-five yards to just under one-hundred ten yards in length.

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(The photo above is courtesy of the Burro Canyon Shooting Park website.)

At 0900hrs we started with Ken greeting all twenty of us and holding a short classroom session on the range before we got down to business running our handguns.

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(The photo above is of Ken giving a short classroom presentation at the back of the range on TD1.)

During the classroom presentation, Ken spoke with us about how he has been a “Student of Weaponcraft” all of his adult life. He said that current training is in decline right now due to oversaturation, and I agree. Unfortunately, a significant percentage of the firearms training community have no business instructing anything at all, they either have untested POI (Program of Instruction) or they cannot explain why they teach what they teach and how it applies to the responsibly armed citizen. Sadly, many of them cannot figure out the adult learning theorem either. These same folks are the ones that get into arguments to raise their social media status and are desperate to sell tickets to Gun School.

Ken started instructing after meeting United States Marine Corps Lt. Col. Jeff Cooper at a course he was teaching in Colorado a few years before the Colonel started the American Pistol Institute, you would recognize that institution now as Gunsite Academy. The story of how Ken got in that course was excellent and you will need to attend a course with Ken in order to get that story from the man himself.

By happenstance, United States Army LTC Robert K. Brown publisher of Soldier of Fortune magazine was also attending that same course in Colorado back in the early 1970’s and a short time after the course Colonel Brown offered Ken the opportunity to become a regular contributor to the magazine, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Just so you know, Ken is very serious about retirement. Yeah, many people have heard him say that he is retiring over the past several years; however, this year he conducted four courses and next year it will be only two and only one is open enrollment. So, fair warning to you, I suggest that if you want to train with Ken you had better find a way to get in that one open enrollment course. (There are hints all over this blog postings with links to the course registration) Ken told us that he has goals in life to see some things like Yosemite, and the Cody Museum and one can’t blame him, for Ken has been training members of the United States Special Operations community, sworn Law Enforcement Officers and of course responsibly armed citizens for over forty-three years, he’s due a break.

Once we were on the range Ken started us with a drill shooting five shots at the “A” zone of an IDPA target from the ready position of our choice. Ever the evaluator and coach, Ken doesn’t miss anything on the range and he is constantly coaching his students. He is well prepared and has a course of fire planned out in his head, I never once saw him refer to any notes, this kind of experience is what you pay for when you attend a course with an industry giant like Ken Hackathorn who was one of the founding members of both I.P.S.C. and I.D.P.A.

Over the two-day course I never once heard him “undress” a student for not doing things his way as you see with some of the “traveling road show instructors” these days. Ken showed us techniques that he has perfected over his career as a sworn Law Enforcement Officer and as an industry expert; however, while we were shooting his drills he left it up to us to us to figure out what techniques we were comfortable with.

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(The photo above is typical of the weekend, Ken on his way to give some personal coaching to one of the students on TD1.)

We were constantly evaluated by the timer and by our target. Ken’s scoring system is based on time measurements, and you must add time for misses outside the designated target area for the drill. There are two things don’t lie in the shooting world, the timer and your target.

Speaking of that, Ken told us a few stories about how some top level shooters and even some regular Joe’s would boast in his courses how they can run certain drills and score times that are absolutely over the top ridiculous. Ken said that he used to tell them, “Well, today I am from Missouri, and you’ve got to show me.” More often than not these folks would make excuses and or embarrass themselves by not being able to perform as they said they could just minutes before.

Many of the drills we shot over this two-day course are drills that you have heard of, e.g., the Bill Drill, the El Presidente’ and countless others. What made this educational was the fact that we shot just about all the drills individually on the timer in front of everyone else, talk about pressure to perform, that was some kind of pressure. We then evaluated our targets, pasting our bad memories and adding up our scores using Ken’s scoring method.

Ken’s 20-second pass/fail par time.

A = 11 seconds and under
B = 11.1 seconds to 14 seconds
C = 14.1 seconds to 17 seconds
D = 17.1 seconds to 19.9 seconds
20 seconds and above identifies the shooter as someone who needs a little more personal coaching.

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(The photo above is of Ken demonstrating his slide-lock or empty-gun reload technique on TD1.)

My scores over the weekend were consistently in the B/C range, as with everything when you apply yourself and focus on what’s important now at Gun School, you can do well. Once again, attending a course of this caliber helped me identify some things that I can work on to increase my skill level and also gave me a lot of things that I can pass on to the students that I train as well.

During the two-day course, Ken taught to the adult learning theorem of explaining, demonstrating, and then coaching students through his drills each and every time, and as I have said many times before, this style of teaching works really well for me as both a trainer and of course as a student.

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(The photo above is of Ken using his own personal Wilson Combat Lightweight Commander to demonstrate his “Strong Hand Only” shooting technique.)

My gun of choice for the course was my SIG SAUER P320 X-Carry, using a Comp-Tac OWB holster. I ordered one thousand rounds of Remington UMC 115gr FMJ ammunition from LAX Ammo and had it delivered directly to my hotel. The ammunition and the gun ran flawlessly; however, I did have a small hiccup with my X-Carry when some sand and dirt got in it from putting it on the ground to run the weak hand only shooting drills. The “Lightening Cut” in the top of the slide is certainly cool looking, but if you get any dirt inside the action, bank on it creating stoppages in the cycle of operation.

Additionally, I ran all the drills in the two-day course from concealment as did one or two other students who were from counties where the Sheriff will issue a California License to Carry.

Ken Range 1

(The photo above is courtesy of Aztec Training Services.)

Speaking of Aztec Training Services, Chen and Andrew did a great job as hosts. You may know that when Alias Training & Security Services “closed it’s doors” Aztec was formed almost overnight and they either represent or host some of the biggest names in the firearms training industry, e.g., Ken Hackathorn, Larry Vickers, Jeff Gonzales, Buck Doyle, Daryl Holland and Matt Graham. Quite frankly, I wouldn’t have been in this course without being able to speak with Ken at the NRA Annual Meetings, but Aztec Training Services played a significant role by always being there to answer questions for an out of town traveler like me. Check out their website and course schedule in the various links I have placed in this posting.

In summary, this course is all about building your skills as a combative shooter. If you apply yourself and take good notes you will take away a lot of information that you can use in your personal range training sessions when you get back home. Again I encourage you to get in Ken’s open enrollment course next year if you want to train with him before he fully retires from teaching.

 

Until next time …

As always, live life abundantly; train hard so you can fight easy!

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Photo Disclosure: Featured photo courtesy of Aztec Training Services.

My experiences at the 2017 NRA Annual Meetings

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Last weekend I attended the National Rifle Association‘s Annual Meetings of members in Atlanta, Georgia. The NRAAM was held at the Georgia World Congress Center (GWCC) and attendance has been announced right at 81,000 for the weekend. I wonder if President Donald J. Trump was counted in that number. Isn’t it refreshing to have a pro-second amendment President after the eight years we endured from January 20th, 2009 to January 20th, 2017? Sure, gun sales, accessories and ammunition sales set all time records year over year, but it sure is nice having a “friend” living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Overall, the Georgia World Congress Center was excellent. Save one set of escalators being broken, there were enough elevators and other ways to get up and down the five floors of this enormous facility, and I didn’t see adding a hundred or more steps to my daily total as a hindrance. Even the restrooms had maintenance workers stationed near by to ensure cleanliness and the security guards were attentive and tried to be helpful whenever possible with directions etc…

The show floor could comfortably fit eight football fields inside and still have room left over. There were booths on each floor with the NRA Store situated on the fourth floor, you can be well assured that I left a little lighter in the wallet after my visit.

This NRAAM showcased the NRA’s new Insurance and Training products, NRA Carry Guard and NRA Carry Guard Training. More to come in a separate blog posting very soon, stay tuned!

So, it all started for me on Thursday afternoon and candidly, I owe my friend Marty from the Armed Citizens Legal Defense Network an apology for not helping both he and Vincent with the heavy lifting. In case you didn’t know, Marty and his wife Gila are a couple titans of the firearms training industry. They have built a firearms training academy that is in the top tier of what this industry has to offer in little old friendly Onalaska, Washington. If you are looking for high quality training and want your skills tested by some of the top trainers in the country, make sure to attend a course at Firearms Academy of Seattle; you will leave with far better skills than what you brought. Oh by the way, Marty and Gila were chosen by the worlds premier firearms training academy, GunSite Academy to host several off-site courses in 2017, that speaks volumes about these folks, both of whom I am honored to call friends of mine.

My volunteer efforts at the NRAAM afforded me access to the exhibition hall while the vendors were setting up their booths and displaying their products on Thursday afternoon, kind of cool to get a “sneak peek” that was authorized; however, at 3:00pm I was firmly seated in room B-203 attending the Firearms Examiner meeting. My volunteer commitment was Thursday afternoon and Friday morning, then to be on-call Saturday and Sunday to inspect any firearms that may have come in late and make sure they were inoperable, even if loaded with a live cartridge.

After checking somewhere south of five-hundred (500) guns the three person team I was assigned to decided we could not do anything more as the vendors in our area were not set up yet.  So, we returned on Friday morning at 7:00am to start again in our designated section and finish checking the guns we were assigned. Thankfully there were no unintended or negligent discharges at the NRAAM this year. (By the way, those tend to happen at these events when ignorant people administratively handle their “carry gun” and show it off to others, never a bright idea)

If you get a chance to volunteer at the NRA Annual Meetings, do it. NRA Certified Instructor, Greg Baird, the NRA’s volunteer coordinator is a class act in every way and he and his team need help is many areas like; the NRA Store, Eddie Eagle, Membership Registrations, NRA Youth Day, the air gun range and of course Firearms Examiners.

Just after the ribbon cutting ceremony on Friday morning I was able to get a photo with someone I have respected my entire adult life; NRA Board Member, Richard Childress. I am a big fan of his, not only because of his unwavering support for our Second Amendment rights, but also because of the way he conducts his business as a person and as the owner of one of the most successful NASCAR teams in history. For me there is Richard Childress Racing, and everybody else is a few laps down at the start-finish line.

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A little earlier Friday morning I received a text message from my good friend Santiago Cuellar, from Godspeed Firearms School. Santi is a sneaky devil, surprising me by saying he was coming to the NRAAM for a few hours before heading home to south Florida after a business trip. Santi is an excellent trainer and a really good friend, I was very surprised and delighted to see him in Atlanta.

AAA Me and Santi Cuellar

After saying goodbye to Santi, it was time to get “Brother Vern” registered. I have known this guy a long time. Seems like yesterday I was a Sergeant and he a Private in the Green Machine, but that was 30 years ago when I met my main man “Vern.” Him flying down to Atlanta just to spend the weekend with me and attend his first NRAAM made this a real special weekend. V-E-R-N thoroughly enjoyed himself, but got quite distracted by all the shiny things to see everywhere. I ended up saying “squirrel” a lot just to make him laugh. This guy is one of my very best friends, one that I would want in a foxhole with me. Those who served know exactly what I mean by that, V-E-R-N is 100% my brother.

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Later on Friday I hosted a dinner for some pretty awesome people. Many of these folks are NRA Training Counselors. We met at Ted’s Montana Grill on Luckie Street. The proprietor there, Michael St. Bernard is a great guy, he and his staff did a fine job. Everyone said their food was excellent, having been to Ted’s before I knew that would be the case and part of the reason why I chose this particular place to host our dinner. So, what’s a gathering like this if we didn’t take a group photo? Again, I’d like to give a big thank you to everyone, several of you have suggested that we make this an annual event, and I think that is a great suggestion.

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On Saturday morning I woke up at my usual 5:30am not the 4:30am I had the previous two days and went to work out in the hotel fitness center, then I waited for Vern to get his heart started so we could head out to the NRAAM.

Saturday was all about hitting as many exhibits as we could, I was still on-call for my duties as a Firearms Examiner, but my first stop was at the Benchmade Knife Company booth so I could drop off my Mini Reflex II automatic to get sharpened and a deep carry clip added. Both were done free of charge and they sent me a text message when my knife was ready for pick-up. Now that’s what I call great customer service. Thanks Benchmade, I am a customer for life!

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Saturday at the NRAAM is the day that John Howard, NRA National Training Manager hosts his annual Trainers’ Update. This years update started off with John introducing the speakers and immediately Dr. Joe Logar took the microphone and gave an excellent presentation on the NRA’s Adaptive Shooting program. If you are an NRA Certified Instructor, Training Counselor or Coach you need to get to know Dr, Joe Logar, he can help you with ideas to train those athletes and responsibly armed citizens that have physical challenges. Dr. Logar can be reached via email at jlogar@nrahq.org

Next up was NRA Training Counselor, Klint Macro and his presentation on the new Pistol “Program.” Nothing really earth-shattering here, just information that if you have received the NRA Trainers’ Updates via email you would know already. Unfortunately many people do not receive those updates and the NRA needs to fix this so everyone is getting information disseminated directly from the Education & Training Department via email and not having to rely on asking questions of the “hive” on Facebook even though their Training Counselor should be their first point of contact.

Klint’s presentation went a little long and led John Howard to announce that we were going to take a break before National Coach Trainer Daniel Subia’s presentation on the NRA Coaching program. This break totally broke the inertia of the update because nearly everyone in attendance flocked toward John and his staff to ask questions and get their face-time. I have attended the Trainers’ Update three of the four years they have been held and I have never seen John call for a break, not once. When the five minute break was up, Daniel and his guest presenter had to wait until everyone finally exited the room to start their presentations and they were left with maybe a dozen of us. IMHO, the coaching program presenters should have been afforded the same courtesy in making their presentations to the entire assembly of Instructors, Training Counselors and Coaches just as Dr. Logar and Klint were able to do, unencumbered by a break. Extremely poor time management led to this ball being dropped, and it is a shame because we need more people in the coaching ranks. Maybe in 2018 Daniel can lead off the Trainers’ Update.

There was no information given at the Trainers’ Update on NRA Carry Guard Training, I bet you a cookie that all of that information is being closely held by Ackerman-McQueen who handles all of the advertising and marketing for the NRA and the NRA Carry Guard Insurance and NRA Carry Guard Training programs.

One of the really cool things in the back of the room, Tony and Rob Lambraia had a makeshift UTM firing line set up for all Instructors to try the UTM training cartridges. If you are not using UTM in your training, you might want to consider it, they are excellent for Force on Force scenario-based training. Find out more about UTM by visiting their website at: https://utmworldwide.com/

After the presentation on coaching, I was able to meet and speak with Mike Hughes, Founder and CEO of NextLevel Training, Mike is the man behind the SIRT Training Pistol. I shared a real success story with him about a student/instructor of mine who greatly improved his defensive marksmanship skills by using a SIRT Training Pistol over a period of about a month. This student had a target grouping that looked like a shotgun pattern in my defensive pistol course and I worked with him to make some improvements during the course; however, after working with the SIRT for a few weeks he came back to me for another course and qualified easily, with a really tight grouping all the way back to 15 yards. The SIRT Training Pistol works, you just got to buy one and put in the time and effort to press the trigger correctly to get the desired result. It’s called “practice” yes, we talkin’ ’bout practice. (Thank you Allen Iverson)

Of course the NRAAM is also about meeting old friends and new ones as well. On Saturday afternoon I introduced my friend to “Uncle Mas” and bought him a gift membership to the Armed Citizens Legal Defense Network, so he is now part of the ACLDN family. I wanted to get Uncle Mas to call him “Young Brother” but that didn’t happen; however, Vern did get a signed copy of “Gun Safety In the Home.” Thank you Marty, Gila, Vincent, Uncle Mas, Gail and all of those with the ACLDN family.

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Additionally on Saturday I was able to spend some time at the Colt booth talking with firearms training industry giants, Ken Hackathorn, Larry Vickers and Daryl Holland. I was fortunate to be able to spend a fair amount of time with both Ken and Daryl, but Larry had a book signing at the booth, and business is business. I will be taking a course with Ken later this year, and hope to have dinner with him as well. Later in the afternoon I found Ken once again and showed him a photo of my friend Steve standing next to him at a course in Arizona a couple years ago. Ken recognized him immediately and said, “I remember him, he was shooting a Glock 19, and was a good shooter too” both observations were spot-on.

Daryl Holland and I spent a little time talking about hog hunting in Florida, I had no idea he used to live just a few miles from me in Land O’Lakes. I proceeded to ask him for some suggestions for my Colt M4 platform rifle, e.g., what optic he recommended for it and such. It looks like I will be buying a Trijicon MRO® – 2.0 MOA Red Dot. I am a minimalist when it comes to optics on my M4 and this red dot fits that mold. I wanted an unbiased suggestion from a recognized subject matter expert on what he would use and I believe he gave it. I left with Daryl’s contact information and said that I might see him at Universal Shooting Academy for his handgun/carbine course with Shannon Smith in January 2018 or I would host him myself in the Tampa Bay area. One way or another, I will run my gun in a Daryl Holland course in the not too distant future.

Next up, Vern bought a standard edition “Vickers Guide: AR-15 Volume 1.” Larry autographed it for him and was very gracious. Many people tell me that Larry is unapproachable and kind of surly. I call B.S., I found him to be neither of those in fact, quite the opposite. Larry did an execellent job in putting this book together, should we expect anything else from someone of his caliber? If you are interested, you can purchase your copy of Larry’s book directly from him at https://www.vickersguide.com/ – You can also find more products in the link below. I am a big fan of the floor plates that he designed for Glock magazines. They work very well when you have to strip a magazine out of a gun because of a stoppage in the cycle of operation. http://www.vickerstactical.com/products.html

By the way, you can be sure that I will do my best to host Larry in the Tampa Bay area in 2018.

AAA Vern with LAV

On both Friday and Saturday I spent some time at the Sig Sauer booth talking with Steven Gilcreast about my upcoming trip to Sig Sauer Academy, Steve checked his schedule and it looks like he will be my Instructor later this summer. I was also fortunate enough to meet Adam Panchaud the Vice-President of Sig Sauer Academy, both Steve and Adam are keenly aware that I am looking forward to training at Sig Sauer Academy.

Now, have a look at this beauty below. Meet the Sig Sauer P320 X-Carry, it is due to be released in about a month. Check out that flat trigger, undercut on the trigger guard and enhanced beaver tail. This gun also has a relief cut on the top of the slide and is milled for a Mini Red Dot as well. I am told that this gun will be added to the Active & Retired Law Enforcement/Military & Instructor discount program at 25% off MSRP. I am currently working with the fine folks at Sig Sauer to get one for Testing & Evaluation so I can write an article that I have been asked to do for one of the gun magazines. Stay tuned!

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Saturday ended with dinner and a great conversation with Paul Pawela and his girlfriend Linda along with my friend, Vern. Paul is Director of Law Enforcement Training at the American Police Hall of Fame & Museum in Titusville, Florida. He is also a former Special Forces Operator and sworn Police Officer; his company, Assault Counter Tactics specializes in reality-based scenario training. I plan to host Paul this fall for a Vehicle Counter Ambush Course in the Tampa Bay area.

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Sunday morning I started again with a workout and then it was off to breakfast with Vern before heading to GWCC. Sunday’s are great at the NRAAM, you can actually walk though the exhibits most of the day without worrying if or when someone will step on your heels. Vern bought a couple barrels for his rifles and I had Travis Hall (Retired Special Forces Medic) educate me on how to properly pack the Blue Force Gear; Micro Trauma Kit that I purchased on Saturday afternoon. You can learn more about Travis by following his business Facebook page at Second Chance Medical Consulting or on the world wide web at http://secondchancemed.com/.

Also on Sunday I made another stop at Patriot Ordinance Factory (POF-USA for short) to see Tony and his team there. POF-USA makes a superb rifle, I have always liked their Gen4 lower and have had my eye on a P415 Edge or a Renegade+ for a while now. I like the gas piston guns like the P415 Edge, but I am also partial to direct impingement guns like the Renegade+, I need to flip a coin or just get it over with and buy both of them. Take a look at them in the hyperlinks that I created above.

Finally Vern and I zig-zagged the exhibit hall for a couple more hours and then then we decided to leave and get some chow at Twin Smokers BBQ. When we entered the restaurant there was NRA-ILA Executive Director, Chris Cox enjoying his dinner. We had just met Chris and shook his hand on the floor at the exhibit hall a couple hours prior. When he left he waived and shook some hands and thanked everyone for coming to Atlanta and attending the NRA Annual Meetings. Chris and Wayne LaPierre are the two hardest working people in the building located at 11250 Waples Mill Road in Fairfax, Virginia. They are both on the front line every single day protecting our Second Amendment rights.

Once Chris left, Vern and I went about our business of smashing some barbecue and talking about the old days when we were younger, had better eyesight and could run four or five miles out the back gate at North Fort Lewis with our rucksacks on for PT. Yeah, my man Vern is a one of a kind, I am grateful that he came down to visit and enjoy his first NRAAM. “Squirrel”

The only thing I didn’t get to see at the NRAAM was President Donald J. Trump. The President gave a speech to the NRA-ILA Leadership Forum, if you missed it, I have placed a link here.

In summary; I had a great time, I always do at this event. As I said a few times, I met up some old friends, made some new ones and got some possibilities for future course offerings from some of the top names in our industry.

Ironically I will be back in the Atlanta area next week attending the new Glock Operators Course at the “mother ship” in Smyrna. Be looking for a course review here on Thursday when I return home. I will also be submitting an article on the course to a few of the gun magazines as well, so stay tuned.

Live life abundantly my friends!

Until next time …

Stay Safe & Train Hard!