Better And Better

If you don't draw yours, I won't draw mine. A police officer, working in the small town that he lives in, focusing on family and shooting and coffee, and occasionally putting some people in jail.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Training, with firearms. (Pt. I)

Over the years, I've taught a few people to shoot. While I've shot untold thousands of rounds of pistol and rifle fire over the years, and snapped at least as many more dryfire practice shots, I don't take it upon myself to teach a lot of people to shoot.

Why? Because, frankly, it's a lot of trouble to do right, and I'll be damned if I'll do it wrong.

I finally settled on teaching the most basics:
  • Safety
  • Sight Picture
  • Safety
  • Trigger Control
  • Safety
If I had a dollar for every time that I've quick-sketched something like this
during my safety lecture... well, I could buy a couple more boxes of ammo.

Frankly, if my student can recite and explain and demonstrate The Four Rules of gun safety, can demonstrate that they understand and can implement a good sight picture and trigger squeeze, then my work is done, for a beginner. I'll let them shoot and shoot with just attention given to those issues before we move on to Reloads, Positions, and Presentation (intermediate) and Speed With Accuracy (advanced). I suppose that expert falls into shooting on the move and at moving targets, and perhaps shooting accurately with specialty guns (like pocket pistols).

Oh, sure, I cheat up on myself a little. I start my beginner students with a proper general stance, so that they get used to how to hold the firearm correctly. But I don't dither over the details when we start. Frankly, this is where a quality air rifle or .22 rimfire rifle is mandatory, in my opinion. Sure, your student may plan only to shoot a pistol, but they will get sight picture and trigger squeeze a lot faster if you have them plunk a few rounds into the target at about 5 yards with a light long gun that will not recoil and punish them for holding it wrong.

Soon enough, you point out how much better that they do with their cheek to the comb, and they get that. Soon enough, you point out how much better they do with the butt firmly in the pocket of their shoulder, and they'll get that, too. With the rimfire or airgun, they learn with a carrot, rather than a stick. This is a Good Thing.

Then comes the fun of rimfire handgun shooting, and a good, accurate, long-barreled (5" minimum) revolver or semi-auto is the best tool. A Browning Buckmark 6" or a heavy-barreled Ruger (any mark) or a S&W M19 or a longer-barreled Kit Gun are just outstanding in this role. Moving on to reactive targets makes all the difference. Students soon find their own reward for shooting better, and then the training becomes infectious, and you couldn't stop the train if you tried.

This is how I've done it quite a few times. And it works.

Sure, I've had some errors. And, following the rules of trial and error, I seem to have learned as much from my mistakes as through my successes.

My very first student, who was (and still is) my best friend Scott Minke, was not wearing eye protection. This was obviously my fault entirely. The instructor is the range safety officer, and part of safety is seeing to basic safety equipment (How had I remembered ear protection but not eye protection?). Scott, a natural athlete, was doing so well with a borrowed Browning Buckmark .22 LR that we quickly moved on to centerfire pistol. On his very first magazine (possibly his first shot?) of firing a Series 70 Mark IV 1911 Colt .45 acp, a primer gave way, and burned, burning, and unburnt Unique powder spewed from the back of the chambered round. Most of this was contained within the pistol, but some of it was flung out upon recoil, and a fleck found its way into Scott's eye. Fortunately, Scott wasn't permanently injured, but the shooting session was over. It easily could have been far worse, and I've remembered that basic lesson ever since.

Another lesson that I've learned is to NOT let my students start too far away from the targets. This lesson is one that I neglected to follow early on, because I wanted to shoot, too. Three to seven yards just isn't much fun when you're interested in your groups at 25 yards. But your student learns little when he or she doesn't get feedback instantly. And there is a hidden lesson here: don't abandon your post. If you're focused on doing your own shooting, then you're not acting as a good instructor, nor as a good RSO for your newbie. Leave that to another time. I'm afraid that I probably wasted a lot of valuable time and a fair amount of ammunition before I got that one through my head.

That first time that I went out to teach, my father had cautioned me with a rule that I'd practiced, but never really thought about before: "Don't let guns dangle. When not shooting, reholster, case them, or put them down." This helps prevents violations of the Four Rules, and makes for a safer range.

Come Monday, I finally take a class that I've been meaning to take for some years: the TCLEOSE Police Firearms Instructor course. I've been a trained Range Safety Officer for years, but this course has eluded me to take. It's only 40 hours, but that week's worth of training requires that my shift be covered by another officer while I'm getting paid to basically have fun burning up the department's ammunition. Add to that the fact that I wasn't even eligible to take the class until I first had three years' experience and an instructor's license (another 40 hour course, see above for problems), and you can see how much of a pain it is to get a supervisor to sign off on taking this. (And tempting as it was to take this course on my own dime, that really ruins it for everyone. Start down the slippery slope of paying for your own training, and departments will expect you to pick up the tab for your mandated in-service training before long. Not Good.) At any rate, this is an opportunity that I've waited for, and I'm pretty pleased. But I'm also taking it seriously.
Stay tuned for Part II.
(I'd like to note right now that Blogger's spellchecker doesn't recognize "rimfire," "centerfire," or "reholster." Huh.)

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At Wednesday, September 30, 2009 8:18:00 AM, Blogger MCSA56 said...

Personally, I always wondered why the NRA Pistol courses were so heavy on formality when a less-is-more approach with total newbies generally works better.

I mean, I appreciate that they codify some modicum of standards, but...

Anyway. I digress...


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