Getting Ready for Shooting School

Paul Markel © 2013

Students receive instruction on the firing line at Gunsite Academy.
Students receive instruction on the firing line at Gunsite Academy.
Student of the Gun
Student of the Gun

LUVERNE, AL –-( We all love to buy guns and gear. However, buying gear does not impart the ability to use it effectively.

All responsible American gun owners should at some point in time take the opportunity to attend professional training.

If you have booked a seat in a shooting school you’ve likely already decided what gun you are going to take and which holster.  Our desire in the next few paragraphs will be to discuss several items that you might not have considered.

Planning a trip to a shooting school is a big deal.  You block out the time and cash in some vacation days.  From a monetary standpoint you have to factor the price of tuition, travel, lodging and meals.  Don’t forget to consider the ammunition cost.

With all these things in mind you want to make sure that you are getting the most out of your experience.  Showing up without the proper gear, poorly made gear and/or no foul weather clothing is a recipe for disaster.

Head to Toe 
It doesn’t matter how tough you perceive yourself to be, if you are cold, wet, and have sore feet your attention isn’t going to be on learning.  Starting from the ground up, ensure you have comfortable, well-fitting boots or shoes.  Better yet, pack out two comfortable, well-made sets of footwear that you can use on the range.

All training schools that I’m aware of operate rain or shine.  Unless there is severe weather and lightning, you can expect to be outside training.  If your boots get soaked the first day they aren’t likely to be dry by the next morning when you need them.

Believe me.  You don’t want to start the day off putting your feet into wet boots.

Along the same line, pack quality socks.  Pack one or two more pairs than you think you’ll need.  They weigh next to nothing but are invaluable if you need them.  Ditto for t-shirts.

Regarding weather, take the time to research the average temperature and weather forecast for the area where you will be traveling.  Think layers.  Cold mornings in the high desert give way quickly to hot afternoons.  Conversely, a sunny morning in the mid-west can easily become a rainy afternoon.  You’ll never regret taking a quality rain jacket with an insulated liner.  However, it’s easy to regret forgetting to do so or going ‘cheap’.  A $2.00 rain poncho will be ripped and torn after your first drill.

As far as normal classroom and range wear, long pants and long sleeve shirts are the way to go.  There is going to be brass flying and that stuff is hot when it lands on bare skin, particularly rifle brass.  Knee pads are another investment you will appreciate if your class is more dynamic than simple marksmanship training.

Read the List
I know most men are visual, hands-on learners and they don’t ask for directions but, do yourself a favor, read the recommended gear list.  Most every school has a detailed, recommended gear list.  They do this for a living, take their advice.  They know what you should bring.

Regarding the style of holster you need to bring, it is very important to follow the school’s guidelines.  Most professional shooting academies do not allow shoulder holsters and cross-draw rigs on their ranges.  If the school recommends that you bring at least three magazines for your pistol, don’t try to short cut them and bring one or two.  There is a method to their madness.  Stuff breaks, you are better off to have extra than not enough.

Regarding gear, especially magazines, take the time to mark it all before you go to the school.  Every GLOCK 17 or Beretta M9 magazine looks like every other one.  Sharpie markers and paint pens from the craft section are fantastic for marking your gear.  Trust me, at some point in time you’ll drop, misplace or forget a piece of gear.  If your name is on it, chances are good you will get it back.

It should go without saying, ensure you have the correct safety gear.  Wrap-around shooting glasses and protective muffs.  If you have the means, spend the extra money for electronic hearing protection.  These cut down on some of the frustration from not being able to hear the teacher and having to constantly take the muffs off to listen to instruction.

Physical Fitness
Few privately run shooting courses will rival the Marine Recon Indoctrination, nonetheless, expect to exert some physical effort.  At very least you’ll be spending a lot of time on your feet.  If you have a genuine physical infirmity your instructors will work with you, but soft and out of shape is not a legitimate handicap.

You should have plenty lead time before the course.  If you haven’t gotten any exercise lately, this might be good time to start.  Remember, you are investing in yourself.  You are not doing it for the instructors or your peers.  I’m not telling you to prep for a marathon, but you should be able to make it to lunch without a nap.

I have deliberately saved this subject for last, not because it is of least importance, it’s just the opposite.  Regardless of the guns and gear you are equipped with, your attitude is the most critical factor in determining how much you will get out of a training course.

Park your ego.  You are not going to the school to impress the instructors with how much you think you already know.  Mouth closed, ears wide open is the best advice I can give.   Take a notebook and a pen with you to record copious notes and don’t be afraid to ask pertinent questions or to seek clarification.

Because of the constraints of time, the instructors must put out a great deal of material during a relatively short time span.  You will never regret taking plenty of notes so you can refer back to them once you’ve returned home.

Ken Hackathorn and Paul Markel
Noted instructor, Ken Hackathorn, observes the author, Paul Markel, during a recent training course.

Parting Thoughts
For those outside the of the military or law enforcement realm, planning a trip to a professional firearms academy is a bit of an adventure.  You are getting out of your ‘pond’ and leaving your personal comfort zone and that is a good thing.  It’s nearly impossible to grow or improve in any area of endeavor without professional guidance or at least honest peer critique.

The best firearms instructors in the nation are those that constantly travel to schools other than their own.

Retired Master Sergeant Paul Howe, who owns CSAT a school in Texas, recently wrote, “Training, like selection, is a never ending process.  We begin learning on day one of our life.”

Whether you are planning a weekend or a week at a professional training course, you will be well served to take the time to prepare your mind, body, and kit bag.  Never kid yourself by thinking “I’ll just pick up ‘x’ when I get there.”  Referring back to my Marine Corps days, you should be ready to go as soon as your boots hit the ground.

Paul Markel c 2012

Follow Paul Markel at Student of the .

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Tom Hadden

Very well explained and properly put.

Fanfare Ends

Great article!