I had the privilege of attending Defensive Training Institute Inc.’s (DTI) Armed Response to a Terrorist Attack (ARTA) taught by John S. Farnam and hosted by Defense One, QSI Training and DTI alumni Joe Prepper. Also helping John run the class was Tommy Teach of Fortress Defense Consultants. Tommy Teach is the creator of the Bruzer, a less-than-lethal pistol.
This was a two-day course that took place at Ahlman’s Gun Range in Morristown, MN over the weekend of July 7th – 8th, 2019.
The course is described as being designed “to prepare armed citizens against the threat of terrorist violence and other active-shooter events.”
Class began at the Military and Police Range at Ahlman’s at 0800. The class had already met John the night before at a pre-class dinner at The Depot bar and grill in nearby Faribault, MN. where most of the class were staying for the weekend. For those of you haven’t met John he is a treasure trove of knowledge and wisdom in the art of defensive firearms training. John started off the instructor-student introductions. There were 13 students and 5 instructors in the class.
The Basics Reviewed
We hit the range and immediately began working on pistol drills. All pistol drills started with drawing from concealment. Since ARTA is a course with a lot of emphasis on training the armed citizen or off-duty/plain clothes LEO, who’s primary and immediately accessible firearm will be their concealed carry handgun, lot of the basic material covered in most defensive and fighting pistol classes was covered in the first couple hours of the class. In the class I participated in there was only one active LEO and the rest were civilians. I heard some grumblings from a few of the student’s during the break about needing to review the basics. There’s always going to be varying levels of skills and experience in any open-enrollment classes and sometimes the instructors need to initially see where everyone participating is at. This was certainly necessary with our class as the levels of skills were all over the place.
For example, a couple students needed to be reminded of some basic firearms handling skills. A few others needed to be taught or refreshed on drawing from concealment. Others, like me (at the time), didn’t have a ton of carbine experience, whereas the students who didn’t practice daily CCW were mostly competitive shooters, hunters or folks who had invested in defensive carbine training. I was personally thankful for the later as they helped me out later in the day before the night shooting.
Note: the DTI crew and the hosting schools/instructors have since come up with a protocol to address this and will be implementing it during future ARTA courses. This new protocol will help the students who may not have the full proficiency needed to participate catch up and have a better learning and skill development experience.
The class practiced shooting four shots in a ladder group in which the first shot is aimed at the navel and the following three shots are fired up the middle of the torso in a vertical line ending at or below the neck. The students are first introduced to a human silhouette attacker target with four hollow boxes stenciled onto the target.
We were assessed on our ability to made one shot into each box, starting low and working up the vertical line. I was familiar with this drill as it is one that we use at QSI Training in our Defensive Handgun classes.
After a few reps of this drill fresh targets without the stenciled ladder were hung up and we practiced shooting those in the same pattern.
“What do you want?”
We moved on to head shots. Specifically, double-taps to the cranial ocular cavity. The class performed a few repetitions of the drill and then had a no-shoot target added to the silhouette to simulate non-threat targets, such as hostages. A verbalization piece was added to the drill in which the shooter/student starts with their pistol in the Sul Position and says to the bad guy “What do you want?” which is immediately followed by a pair of shots to the bad guy’s cranial ocular cavity. The idea is to challenge the bad guy’s OODA loop/cycle with the verbalization and cause a second or two of delay as the bad guy starts to answer and allows the armed citizen defender or LEO extra time to shoot and stop the threat. It probably sounds sneaky to some of you ready this and it is. Which is the point. In a battle with terrorists or active killers you need to gain any and all advantages you can, and this seems to be a pretty effective way of messing with the bad guy’s OODA loop/cycle. One of my fellow students and I played around with this technique during force-on-force and later during a break at ECQC while practicing weapon retention and disarming techniques and we found that it’s a pretty effective and buys that extra time needed to bring the gun up on target and get the well-placed shots needed to stop the threat.
Day 1 Morning Wrap-up
The class finished the morning’s training learning and practicing more defensive handgun/fighting pistol drills at various distances. Different reloading techniques, malfunction clearances and basic pistol marksmanship were covered before we broke for lunch.
The class met up on the rifle range after lunch and began with a series of close and medium range target shooting drills. Again, this was to see where everyone’s individual carbine handling and shooting skills were at. I was the slow kid here. A few days prior to the class I had gone to my local range and checked the zero on my iron sights and my red dot and everything was dialed in and accurate. That changed when we were checking our zeros in class and my shot groups were all over the place! Not good and John himself gave me a look of disappointment in not having this detail squared away beforehand. “Well, you know what you need to do. Get it figured” he said as the look of disappointment morphed in to a look of confidence that said you’ve got this. The class broke around 1700 hours to go into town for a long dinner break. I needed to have my carbine zeroed before the low-light shoot after 2000 hours.
Unfuckulating The Problem at Hand
Another student in the class was having also having zeroing issues with his red dot as well. We decided to skip the dinner break and social hour and set up a couple shooting benches on the rifle range and got down to re-zeroing our carbines. He had far more expertise in this area than I did and stuck around to help me out, even loaning me different ammo to see if that may have been the issue. It wasn’t. I re-zeroed my irons and started getting tighter groups from the bench. I then ran a few drills moving and shooting with the irons at various ranges and had significantly better results. At least I had my irons but with my rapidly aging eyes I wanted to have the advantage of the red dot on my carbine.
I remounted the red dot and spent a good amount of time (and ammo) trying to zero the damn thing. My classmate set up a couple of targets and helped me get it zeroed. The groups were getting tighter but still not where I was aiming. Finally, he noticed something and said, “Stop!”. He took my carbine, fired a few rounds from the bench and standing and got the same results I was getting. He handed my carbine back to me and said, “You need to check you mounting hardware on that glass.” Yep. That was the problem all along. I had not tightened down the mounting hardware of the red dot on the top rail of the carbine. Somewhere between zeroing it at my local range earlier in the week and up to the moment I uncased it for class the red dot had gotten knocked loose on it’s mount. A fairly common problem but to have done this twice was ridiculous!
I remounted the red dot and checked the zero one more time. My groups from bench and standing were way tighter. After a few windages and elevation adjustments I was getting nice tight and consistent groups. I spend the rest of the dinner break running a few drills I had learned from previous classes and was getting the hits I needed for the rest of the ARTA class.
The rest of the class met up at the M&P range around 1930 hours. John came up to me and asked, “Well, did you get it fixed?” I help up my target and showed him the zeroing process (and progress) and answered, “Yes, sensei. I’ve got it fixed!” I apologized for not having this detail squared away beforehand (or thought I had it squared away). John gave me a pat on the back and said, “I knew you would figure it out. Nice work.”
A lot of you reading this I’m sure are shaking your heads at that story, as am I. My advice to anyone who doesn’t shoot rifles or use optics of any kind and wish to do so, you need to seriously invest some time and resources into not just zeroing your gear but truly understanding the zeroing process.
It was getting near sunset and the instructors set up a course and
targets for us.
The course started on the M&P pistol range and finished on the adjacent rifle range located a few yards away from the pistol range.
We were introduced to shoot/no-shoot targets with different overlays which included cell phones and handbags as well as various firearms. The scenario involved responding to one or more threats and no-threats in the dark with our pistols and WML (Weapon Mounted Light) for handheld flashlights. John went over a couple techniques for the hand-held lights and everyone not running WMLs settled on the Harries technique except one student who was used to the Rogers/Cigar technique. John emphasized to the class the importance of the flashlight as a crucial tool in our defensive toolkit and said, “In the dark, you’re going to need the information that your flashlight is going to give you. Operating in the dark without one makes you a serious liability.”
After we successfully (or unsuccessfully) engaged the threats with our pistols, we were to transition to our rifles and move to the rifle range where another series of targets were set up. We were instructed to have our rifles in the condition we would have them ready in either our homes or vehicles. My home method wasn’t really an option here, so I just worked from a hardcase staged at point with one of the instructors conducting RSO duty at the rifle-staging station.
After we got our rifles ready, we moved on to the rifle range and continued the scenario.
The students went through the drills at least twice each and had a variation on the targets and threat details each time.
When the scenario was complete the instructors would debrief with the students after their run through the course and tell them their target results (lethal/non-lethal hits) and go over what they did well and what they could improve upon.
I did well in these drills except for the second pass-through where I missed a target that I mistook for a non-threat. The target was an image of a teenage boy holding what I thought was a smartphone (overlay). It turned out the overlay was a small pocket-sized pistol (a Walther PPK) in his left hand at his hip but not aimed very well. Otherwise I made well-placed lethal hits on all the other threat targets including with my carbine. The red dot remained zeroed.
We wrapped up the day and headed back home (or our hotel rooms for the out-of-towners).
The class started at 0830 hours back at the M&P range. John and the instructors reviewed the material and drills we covered the from the day before and answered any questions or concerns we had about them.
The class started with some warm-ups on the pistol range, reviewing the shooting drills we had conducted on the morning of Day 1.
We moved on to the rifle range where an old car (a 2001 Toyota Echo) was set up with various paper and steel targets. Here we practiced in a scenario that simulated an ambush facing multiple armed threats while in a vehicle. One of the targets was a no-shoot of a woman running out in front of the vehicle. We started the first run at the drill with three armed threats at various angles and distances who were armed with pistols and a shotgun. We were to determine which threat was the greatest priority and engage each accordingly. In the first scenario we were faced with an attacker armed with a shotgun in a tree line at 10 yards to our left (9 o’clock driver’s side), the female decoy at the hood in front of the car and two male attackers, one at 15 to 20 yards at 11 o’clock and the other at 7 to 10 yards at 2 o’clock, both armed with pistols.
John went over a few techniques and tactics to address fighting from a vehicle, including dealing with the seat belt, drawing from concealment while seated, muzzle awareness and discipline and using parts of the vehicle as cover and concealment. I was surprised that John left open the option for us to engage the threats through the (intact) windshield, “Though” he said, “I strongly recommend you do otherwise as you might not want to be breathing in the fine dust of exploded glass, but, it is an option you may have to consider.” John went over why shooting through windshield with handgun rounds wasn’t ideal as far as velocity and accuracy were concerned but suggested shooting on the lower part of the windshield above the wipers was a more optimal location if we had to do so, but again, nothing about shooting through a windshield is perfect while citing the recent case of a suspect in Oklahoma who had been shot while being pursued by an Oklahoma state trooper . None of us elected to shoot through the windshield.
Most all of us prioritized the shotgun-wielding attacker as the first threat priority since 1. We were the most exposed to his line of fire exiting the vehicle with virtually no cover and 2. He was armed with a shotgun.
Each student had a few pass-throughs of this drill which was harder than it appeared as many of the students weren’t used to shooting in a semi-nonlinear range environment. Those of us who had had prior law enforcement or military tactics training or had training in a shoot house had a decent time of it.
The next iteration of the drill involved partner tactics from a vehicle. We were paired up with a partner, each taking turns being the driver and the passenger. The tactic taught for this scenario was for the passenger to cover the driver getting back behind the wheel and readying the vehicle to move.
The scenario went like this: the two students drive up to a location and are ambushed by attackers on the scene (parking lot at a mall, busy urban street) – remembering that this was aimed at the potential of an mobile active killer event or a terrorist incident or attack. Both the driver and passenger(s) were armed for the scenario. The passenger(s) would provide covering fire as the driver, also engaging threats, could get back behind the wheel and signal to the passenger(s) when they were ready to roll.
On the first run I was the passenger and the one LEO in the class was the driver. John came up to us and said, “Okay, fellas. Get in the car and drive across town to Madam Fong’s.” We climbed into the car, clicked our seat belts and started our commute across to Madam Fong’s. Sometime later one of the other instructors signaled our arrival at the destination. As we got out of the car, we heard the command “Fight!” and we began to engage the threats. My partner engaged the threat to his left, I engaged one at the 1 o’clock position and we both engaged a third target at in front of the car. The driver climbed in and I engaged another threat further away at 11 o’clock. The driver gave the signal which was “Go!” and I climbed into the car and we drove away. End of scenario.
John debriefed us and reminded the class that you can worry about putting on your seatbelts after you’ve driven away from the threat(s).
My partner and I switch roles of driver and passenger and repeated the drill with similar results. One thing that you realize doing this scenario is that things happen suddenly, and you don’t really have any time to respond to the threats and you have to keep your response and communication tactics simple, effective. Also, when you respond, you MUST do so suddenly and with a lot of aggression and violence towards the threat(s); lots of well-placed shots!
Repetition, repetition, repetition
The class was divided into two groups for the rest of the day to run two separate scenarios and get repetitions and practice at each with various changes in details of each one.
My group stayed on the rifle range and ran more vehicle scenarios, this time as a solo defender. The second group went to the pistol range and ran pass-through drills engaging various targets set up by the instructors.
For the vehicle defense drills the addition of transitioning from our pistols to our rifles was introduced. The scenario was set up a bit like the one we had ran during the low-light night shooting class in which we used our pistols to fight our way to our rifles. In the vehicle defense scenarios, we staged our rifles in the vehicle in the way we would carry/transport them in our own vehicles. Everyone had a different approach to doing this. Since the trunk of the junker Toyota Echo was stuck shut the option of going to draw the rifle from there was simulated by placing a rifle case (or in guitar case for one student) at the rear of the car. Tommy Teach ran these scenarios and gave us a few pointers like how to increase the cover of the car by opening as many of the doors as possible on the way out of the vehicle and when going to retrieve the rifle. Tommy showed us how to quickly open the rear passenger door if we were moving from the rear of the vehicle. He pointed out several situations where law enforcement uses this tactic of opening all the doors on a stationary line of patrol vehicles to increase cover and concealment. I had seen this similar tactic used with the hood (bonnet) with the St. Paul Police Department in of August 1994 when during a manhunt for a suspect who murdered two of our officers and a K-9.
The scenario started with the student behind the wheel driving along until the instructor running the scenario yelled “Go!” which was the signal for the student to remove their seatbelt, draw their side arm and exit the vehicle while engaging any threats on the way to their rifle.
For my first pass-through on this drill I placed my carbine on the backseat of the car to simulate carrying it behind the seat of my pickup truck where I might’ve had my carbine stored in transport mode. I climbed into the driver’s seat and clicked my seatbelt. Tommy leaned down to the driver’s side window and we started chatting about how much headroom was inside the Toyota Echo which made for a roomier drive for bigger-sized guys like us and… “GO!”
I unbuckled the seat belt with my support hand as I dropped down across the passenger seat and flung the passenger side door open. I raised up to open the driver side door as I drew my pistol, moving the muzzle over the top of the steering wheel towards as I exited the door frame. I got down low behind the driver side door and engaged a threat few yards in front of the car at 12 o’clock. I made my way to the rear driver side door and retrieved my carbine, moved to the rear of the vehicle, chambered a round and scanned for additional threats. I moved to the rear passenger side corner of the car and peaked around the corner for additional threats. There were two threats at various distances with non-threats in and around them. Not difficult shots to make but timing and deliberation were necessary to avoid collateral damage.
I engaged the threats and noticed on the second one noticed something red flying past my face to my right. Turns out it was pieces of the tail light that burst and flew away from the pressure off the muzzle of my carbine.
I moved back to the driver’s side of the car and went to reload my carbine. As I did, I looked down at the ground behind the open driver side door and noticed two well placed GI magazines lying on the ground almost as if they were placed there for me. They were actually the two magazines I had in my mag pouches of my old 5.11 cargo vest. I later found that the Velcro hook and loop tabs were worn out and had come loose when I exited the vehicle and dumped my rifle mags on the ground.
I retrieved the mags from the ground, stuffed one in the rear water bottle pocket of my vest and loaded the other into the mag well of my carbine. I chambered a round, came up behind the cover of the driver side door, found my target, disengaged the safety, put the red dot on the target, pressed the trigger and click. Tommy laughed “Ha! Ha! You have an unloaded mag!” I dropped back behind cover and moved to the rear of the car and performed a malfunction clearance and discovered that, no, I did not have an empty magazine, I had an upside-down magazine.
Note to self: replace those hooks and loop tabs and get some Ranger floor plates on those GI mags.
I rotated the mag, reloaded the carbine, chambered a round (successfully this time) and returned to the A-post of the driver side door and successfully engaged the target.
I completed the pass-through without any further hiccups and a new homework assignment to drill with my carbine and gear to make sure the above failures DO NOT repeat themselves!
On my second pass-through I applied the lessons learned from the first pass-through and mentally ran how I would approach getting the cover and concealment improved and deploying my tools.
What was different on the second pass-through was that right after I un-clicked and threw off the seat belt, I grabbed the driver and passenger side door handles through open both doors simultaneously while staying prone-out on over the front seats of the car. I sat back up in the driver’s seat, drew and deployed my pistol in the same method over the steering wheel as before and engaged the initial threats from the A-post. I moved to rear driver side door, opened it, leaned in across the back seat and threw opened the rear passenger side door, grabbed my carbine and moved to the rear of the car. I peered around the rear corner of the car and did not have a clear shot at the first threat. I moved along the passenger side of the car and closed the rear passenger door and moved up to the cover of the open front passenger side door. I found this method worked pretty well in providing adjustable layers of cover while moving back and forth alongside the car.
After I got behind cover, I took up a firing position and engaged two threats at 25 yards and 45 yards, while again avoiding the non-threat targets. I rushed my shots and had a couple misses.
Lesson learned: slow down, get more done!
I moved to the back to the rear of the car and almost made a big tactical mistake of peering over the top of cover. That’s a big no-no. Around or under, but never over cover. I moved to the driver side of the car and engaged two more targets at 30 and 60 yards, the later being difficult but I managed to hit them with all the rounds I fired. Tommy the instructor yelled “Go! Go!” which was my cue to get back in the car and drive way. I put the carbine in the front passenger compartment of the car with the muzzle down on the floor board and “drove away”. End of the scenario.
Tommy debriefed me after the scenario and said that my second pass-through was the best one he had seen in sometime of running the scenario in the other ARTA classes he’d been running recently. I explained that I improvised on improving the added open-door coverage he’d demonstrated with a twist of getting all the doors open to create 1. the illusion of several passengers disembarking from the car and screwing with the threat’s OODA loop and 2. Increasing the layers of cover and concealment and improving the defensive position.
Close-Up Threat Engagement
Between the first and second vehicle defense pass-throughs our respective groups switched over to the pistol range where a pass-through scenario was set up for us. This was similar to the pass-throughs we run at the end of QSI’s Advanced Handgun classes which involves moving to and from and firing from behind cover as well as no-shoot targets interspersed with threats and a hostage taker or long range threat.
On my first pass through I ran through all the ammunition I had in my EDC which was a total of 50 rounds for my Glock 19 (15+1 from the holster and two 17 round reloads). After I ran out of ammo for my Glock 19, I transitioned to my backup gun, a Ruger LCR in .38 special, and engaged more targets with two more reloads, firing a total of 13 rounds until the instructors called the end of the scenario.
On my second pass through I brought along my happy mag, a 31 round ETS magazine in red for my Glock 19, which the instructors decided I needed to clear a few random malfunctions and reloads. I most certainly did not have to go to my back up gun on the second pass through.
We concluded the ARTA class around 1630 hours, and everyone started heading out.
The class was a good assessment of where your individual skills and abilities (as well as your equipment readiness) are at. I learned and applied a lot of new knowledge and got the opportunity to improve on my previous skillset and solve some critical problems in a controlled environment, learning what will work and won’t as far as techniques, tactics and equipment are concerned. I left the class with a good deal of homework to do running my defensive rifle and gaining more training, experience and competence with that platform as well as working it with the sidearm. Due to the limitations of the facility where the class was conducted, I think the instructors did not get to run as many exercises as they had planned or would’ve like to. On the other hand, I think the team of instructors did an outstanding job of working with what they had on hand to run as advanced of a class as they did and I’m looking forward to participating in the future DTI classes at Ahlman’s.
The author, Mike Treat (Condition Orange Preparedness / QSI Training) and the Legend himself John S. Farnam (DTI).
The following is article is part two about my experience taking the four-day Pistol Immersion Course at Valor Ridge with Reid Henirchs and will cover the third and fourth days of the course covering austere conditions.
Outside of the marksmanship standards, the austere conditions that Reid puts the students through aren’t too difficult but are certainly a challenge if you’re not used to doing much training past your standard square range shooting courses. It is a much more advanced class and the pre-requisite of Pistol Craft 1 is most definitely needed beforehand. Those of you who’ve taken force-on-force, Shivworks ECQC or have competed in USPSA will adapt to the physical movements of this course.
This certainly will not be a comprehensive report, but I’ll cover an outline of what I remembered and gained the most from the experience.
Day 3 Goal: Make Good Hits at Faster Speed
The class started a bit later with everyone arriving around 0930 hours and class beginning on the range at 1000 hours. We began with a brief review of what had been covered in Pistol Craft 1 and then got down to business with the shooting drills.
We started with practice drawing from the holster, demonstrating the fundamentals and reviewed one-handed shooting and clearing malfunctions. Our drills were timed as Reid continuously hammered into our heads shoot correctly and miss slowly. This was particularly true for a couple of students and myself as we were the ones in the greatest hurry and missing quickly. Reid dropped a history lesson on us about how Wyatt Earp always did everything deliberately and stayed calm, cool and focused in battle at shot what he meant to shoot and demanded we did the same. Or as I’ve come to learn, slow down and get more done.
Reid increased the repetitions of the drills and shots we were making and kept the down time to near zero which was awesome as two days is not a lot of time to get as much out of training with your students. We worked mostly from 3, 5, 7, 15 and then 21-yard distances, with most of the drills from the 5 and 7-yard lines.
Austere Conditions Begin
One of the first drills that Reid started us out with was shooting from retention. Reid taught the most commonly known method of shooting a pistol from retention in which the pistol is drawn, the elbow of the shooting arm thrust back and canted no more that 45 degrees down and away from the body. The butt of the pistol (magazine plate) sitting low against the shooter’s ribcage and the muzzle pointed toward the target.
To determine if your muzzle is on target you can used the gap between the pistol’s slide and the frame and orient that line towards your target. Reid made a couple of minor modifications that he said he had learned from some Russian instructors he’d trained with. One of those was placing the support hand on over the firing hand instead of on the shooter’s chest (or grabbing a handful of their shirt).
This drill was performed at 3-yards from the target (approximately one arm’s length away). The shots made from this distance and point of aim aren’t meant for precision. Rather they are for creating distance between the threat and the defender, backing off the attacker.
I had never practiced this method of retention shooting before this class. I prefer the High Pectoral Indexed position taught by Craig Douglas in ECQC. The method of retention shooting that Reid taught us was put into interesting use the next day.
The more common method of shooting from retention.
Shooting from the high pectoral index position as taught and used in ECQC by Craig Douglas of Shivworks.
We went on to practice and drill one handed manipulation drills of loading the pistol and clearing stoppages and malfunctions. This was one area I have quite a bit of experience in teaching new defensive pistol shooters and I’m glad I did as it would come in very useful during another drill we had later in the day!
Like many classes that teach one-handed manipulation drills Reid gave us a few different options for loading and cycling the pistol.
For reloading the pistol, depending on which hand you’re using to operate the pistol one-handed, placing the pistol back in the holster and swapping out the magazine was a preferred method. For support hand, the pistol was placed muzzle down and pinched between the knees with the magazine well pointed forward away from the shooter.
Most of you all have learned and practice racking the pistol slide off your belt buckle using your rear sights. The heel of the boot is another place to do this one-handed. Everyone has one that works better for them than the others but you should practice at them all since you may not be at a position to do one or the other. For me the belt buckle method worked best. After several good repetitions and demonstrating that the everyone in the class was getting the one-handed manipulations down we moved onto…
The Tueller "Drill"
Yes, I know it’s not the Tueller Drill or even the Tueller Test. Sorry, Denis Tueller, but I have to refer to those terms as it is what the readers will commonly know of it as.
The Valor Ridge method of doing this exercise involves three students, the shooter, the runner and the spotter with the instructor standing at the shooter’s 5 or 7 o’clock position (depending if the shooter is right or left handed).
The shooter stands 7 yards (21 feet) from the first (target #1 on the target line). Upon the instructor’s command shooter draws from concealment and fires at their target, aiming for the upper chest area of the torso (the black square on VR targets).
The runner starts at another location away from the shooter (for obvious safety reasons). Upon the instructor’s command, the runner would sprint towards their “target”, which would symbolically be the shooter (at 21 feet away). The runner’s goal, in a separate measured area (again for safety), is to run as fast as they can and cover the distance of at least 7 yards (or more) before the shooter is able to draw their pistol, present, fire and make well-placed hits on their paper target.
The spotter monitors the runner’s progress and marks where the runner’s feet land (finish line) at the sound of the shooter’s first shot fired.
It was interesting that few of us, who could draw, present and shoot fast and accurately did not get our first shot on target until the runner was well past the 7-yard (21 feet) line! In fact, several of us didn’t get our first shot fired until the runner’s feet landed between 30 to 35 feet from their starting position! Reid had everyone (who could safely do so) take turns at being the runner in order to demonstrate that different people with varying ages and physical abilities can cover those distances in a very short amount of time.
For example, the class consisted of ten adult males ranging in ages from early 20s to late 60s and early 70s with fitness levels of peak athleticism to weight and knee problems (those with knee problems abstained from running). The older and heavier set students managed to cover the distances faster than one would think they could, thus illustrating that 21 feet and further can be covered faster than shooter can draw and place an accurate first shot in the upper body of the threat charging at them. My left-handed friend who was in his early 70s, a bit overweight with joint and knee problems (and was coincidentally going through stage 3 cancer treatment at the time of the class) covered 40 feet before one of the younger, quicker and extremely fit students with a rapid draw stroke and solid marksmanship was able to get off his first shot on target!
The data gained from watching and participating in this drill was a very eye-opening lesson. That lesson: an armed, aggressive, determined and deadly attacker can close a long distance between you and them before you can respond with defensive force of your own faster than you (or others) may perceive that they can!
A bonus lesson: never make assumptions about who looks like a threat and who doesn’t!
But, that’s a whole other article.
Dizzy Shooters and The Gangsta Lean
Reid ran us through a drill that involved spinning ourselves around until we were slightly dizzy and testing our ability to make accurate shots. One at a time each student went up to target number 1 and stood at the 5-yard line. The student would bend forward, place their hands on their knees and upon Reid’s command, begin spinning slow and steady to the student’s dominant hand side (gun hand). Reid would give the command “Fight!” at which point the student would look at their target/threat, draw and fire 3 shots onto the black square (upper torso) of the target.
Of course, you’re going to be dizzy as hell when you do this drill and that’s the point. The drill’s purpose was to simulate being disoriented, for example after having your bell rang. It was quite comical watching each of us take turns at this and several of us began leaning onto our dominant side foot in what I coined as the gangsta lean. Throughout the drill Reid was there to make sure the shooter’s muzzle stayed down range towards the target.
Here’s what I learned from this. Those circle drills we performed during the second day of Pistol Craft 1 came into play here and helped with timing in a proper sight picture acquisition, trigger control and most definitely follow through. You really want to focus pressing the trigger only once you see the front sight right on the area of the target you want to hit. If you practice the techniques mentioned above you’ll be surprised at how well you’ll actually be able to perform this drill.
Everyone performed the drill surprisingly well and it was a great reminder of how important it is to get down the fundamentals of pistol marksmanship.
Boxing Gloves, Heavy Bags, Belts and Steel Targets
A few other drills that Reid introduced us to involved boxing gloves, a heavy bag and partner drills that were designed to test our focus and dealing with stressful stimulus while trying to manipulate and fire a pistol and maintain good marksmanship results.
I was originally going to break these down with in-depth descriptions and details of each. However, I think in the interest of safety and propriety, I’m going to leave it to you to enroll in the class and experience them for yourself.
But a few of these drills involved a pair of boxing gloves, a heavy bag and shoot/no-shoot steel targets and a partner drill where the shooter is introduced to the physical challenges of what I could only describe as trying to make well placed shots and reloading a pistol in the middle of a stampede with an earthquake going on! The drills are not as dramatic as they sound, in fact, their pretty comical to watch and participate in. But they are a lot of fun and you learn a lot about the importance of good pistol fundamentals and marksmanship as well as problem solving skills outside the box of your typical square range sessions.
Moving and Shooting Through Crowded Areas
Another one of the exercises taught and performed in Pistol Craft 1 was moving and shooting in and around people. Many of you have seen this performed. For those who haven’t the exercise consist of the student’s lining up on the 7-yard line facing every other target. On the instructor’s command, the student-shooter moves in a serpentine in and round the line of students on the 7-yard line. The student moves with their muzzle pointed up at temple index. The student-shooter stops to fire a string of shots at every other target (usually the even numbered target spaces) before returning their pistol to temple index position and moving to around the next student before them and firing their next string. This repeats to the end of the line of students. The purpose of this drill serves to improve the student’s muzzle awareness (muzzle consciousness) and get a mental movie of what it looks like to move and fire shots through a crowd. It’s a great stress inoculation drill!
After lunch the class returned to the line and was treated to a new drill of austere conditions: shooting with slick hands. The class lined up and were “treated” to a generous coating of some scented homemade liquid soap.
The drill went like this.
Facing their targets, each student drew their pistol to a low-ready position. Reid applied the doses of liquid soap on the pistol’s slide, the student’s hands and the pistol’s grip. Each student worked the soap into their grips until their hands and the pistol was slick. The student’s loaded their pistols and upon Reid’s command performed the drill by firing at their targets with one reload and a finishing by firing a full magazine at their targets. During the drill we fired our pistols with both hands and with our dominant and support hands only. We were told to clear any stoppages or malfunctions that may occur throughout the drill.
I experienced a double feed while firing with my support (left) hand.
I had to get a bit creative to lock the slide back in order to remove the magazine and clear the stoppage while doing so in a safe manner!
I pointed the muzzle down at the ground, pressed up on the slide latch lever and racked the slide back using the rear sights pressed on top of my belt buckle (an SOE belt with a cobra buckle). I then used the one-handed technique (described above) to remove the magazine. Once the magazine was removed, I worked the slide, racking it off my belt buckle three time and proceeded to reload it using the one-handed reloading technique (described above). I managed to get my pistol reloaded and operational in about 12 seconds which is a lot of time to have your gun out of the fight.
However, I did manage to get better shot groups thereafter and completed the drill with no further problems.
We wrapped up the afternoon’s training session at the pavilion where Reid went over basic pistol cleaning and maintenance as well as sharing his personal history of how he came to find the Glock 19, in his opinion, to be about the best overall pistol after having spent a lot of time, money and resources on industry trends and misinformed influences. That’s certainly something that a lot of us can relate to!
The class broke for a long dinner break around 1700 hours with the class to rejoin at the pavilion a little before 1930 hours (just before sunset).
Most of the class left the training grounds and headed back into town for dinner. A few of us stayed behind and hung out around the Valor Ridge fire pit and enjoyed cigars and coffee with Reid while we discussed gear, deep sea diving, religious history and origins of holidays as well as the upcoming book Reid was about to publish on Pistol Craft. A little-known fact about Reid is his love of deep-sea SCUBA diving. Other than teaching firearms, SCUBA instruction is one of Reid’s other passions and we were treated to a ton of information about the subject and some of the trips he had been on.
I’m a bit claustrophobic about diving, but in a short time I was sold on giving it a try myself after hearing Reid’s enthusiasm and answers about my concerns of trying it someday.
The class regrouped at the pavilion a little before sunset at 1930 hours for the low-light portion the Austere Conditions class.
Reid went over the importance of carrying a handheld flashlight on your person at all times. He covered the features he prefers in a tactical/defensive flashlight such as a tactical tail switch and no less than 150 lumens, the more lumens the better.
Next, four different techniques for coordinating and operating the flashlight with the pistol were covered which included the Harries, The Cigar (or Rogers) and the neck hold and a variation of the Harries technique.
The class broke up into two lines of shooters after sunset and met down on the range. We were instructed to try out each flashlight technique Reid taught and find one that worked best for us. I’ve always used the Harries but practiced a bit with the Cigar technique. I’ll get into the pros and cons of each of these in a future article sometime.
I noticed the class was pretty even on 2-3 of the students adopting or using each one of the techniques. No one had a WML (weapon mounted light) which surprised me as I see at least two in almost ever handgun class I’ve taught or taken. My only disappointment was that there were a couple students who did not have a flashlight of any kind on their person, in their vehicle or in their possession in anyway at all! They either bought whatever they could find in town during dinner break or were loaned one from their classmates.
The low-light shooting went well. The class’s marksmanship results were about on par with the daylight shooting. One observation that I’ve had in low-light classes is you’ll see quickly who regularly uses a flashlight in an administrative fashion and who doesn’t. A few of us in the class who have either been in law enforcement or private security. By administrative fashion I’m referring to normal use like illuminating a dark area your patrolling, searching or perhaps assisting a stranded motorist. Again, I’ll write a future article about administrative flashlight use.
To be honest, I was seriously distracted throughout most of the low-light shooting drills when it wasn’t my group’s turn to be on the firing line. The reason was the “star lab” above us. Being an urban dweller, I had not seen that clear of a night and that much of the heavens as I had on the mountain where Valor Ridge is located. Even on a road trip in late 2017 where I hung out in five different deserts in the western US did I see as many constellations, planets and satellites orbiting overhead. I’m pretty sure we saw the International Space station at one point. Even with my aging eyes I could make out the lit-up windows of a passing passenger jet. At one point, Reid called a ceasefire, had everyone holster up and said, “Gentlemen, if you’ll focus your attention to the sky directly above you, you’ll notice those large wavy patterns of stars are galaxy dust.” Reid treated us to a quick three-minute lecture about what we were seeing and answered a lot of the questions we’d been asking each other about it. I know this had nothing at all to do with low-light pistol shooting, but you have to stop sometimes and appreciate things like this and the awesome bonus that came from training at Valor Ridge.
After we completed the initial set of low-light shooting drills, Reid moved the class back up to the areas of the pavilion and the classroom building where he discussed understanding and using our natural night vision abilities as he demonstrated moving about in the darkness and reappearing somewhere else around the group. This is where having enough lumens was emphasized, especially when you’re dealing with a potential threat operating on familiar turf.
We returned to the range and completed the class with a set of timed low-light shooting drills. I was surprised to learn that I shot better in low-light conditions than I had been doing earlier in the day.
The second day of Pistol Craft: Austere Conditions began in the classroom where Reid covered emergency trauma care (ETC) or gunshot wound treatment. He covered the types of injuries that are sustained in shootings and which tools and techniques to use for each, when and where on the human anatomy. He outlined a very comprehensive ETC kit to for the students to carry in their EDC kits.
There were a couple of students for whom this was slightly new information but I was very happy to see that everyone in the class had already had (or taught) some form of ETC or TCCC. We were also treated to some additional and highly valuable information by one of our fellow students who was a nurse at a high- level security prison and serves on his city’s volunteer fire and rescue department.
Everyone had their own pocket dumps of what they carried for ETC gear which ranged from ankle rigs, belt pouches and large Ziplock bags stuffed in their cargo pockets. Everyone carried a CAT, SWAT-T or SOFT-T in their TQs.
Back to the Range
The class returned to the range to work on more of the drills we had covered the day before up until lunch. After lunch we returned to the range and spent the rest of the day working on precision shooting drills which were a real challenge for me as I learned my gear was a greater problem than I’d realized, more on that later when I’ll cover the gear I used throughout the class.
We started with shooting ten-inch bullseye ring targets. For this drill the students were partnered up and while one was shooting the other was diagnosing and helping to correct their errors. I was having trouble with good trigger control that I’m certain fatigue had a major contribution with. Excuses aside, Reid came over and spent a little one-on-one time helping me correct my trigger control and get things smoothed out to a passable performance. But damn did I learn what I sucked at and needed to work on.
The next drill before a reloading and hydration break was attempting 100-yard shots!
After returning from lunch I had changed pistols from my Gen 3 Glock 19 to my Gen 4 Glock 26 which I used on the 100-yard shot. No, it’s not the ideal pistol to try and perform 100-yard shots with. My reason for switching to it was that it had the original factory sights and my G19 had XS big dot sights that I had been using for the past year for all the close quarter and short-range defensive shooting I’d been training in. It took me six shots to dial-in my sight picture but I managed to hit the damn steel target from 100 yards out with the little G26. Note: I had pinky extensions on the magazines so it was about the same as griping and shooting the G19.
Reid discussed with the class the importance of knowing the abilities of a pistol and it’s operator and that the argument could be supported tactically and legally for defending against an attacker firing with a pistol at 100 yards and making hits as we had seen all of us make the shot ourselves, including most of the class who did so in a couple rounds and three of the students pulling it off on the first shot! Reid encouraged us to continue elevating our performance standards with the pistol to the point where we could fire one with as much certainty and accuracy as a carbine.
We returned to the range and partnered up and continued the afternoon with more precision shooting drills on the bullseye ring targets and shooting smaller one-inch black squares above the bullseye rings. One of the drills that Reid had us run through was overcoming our anticipation of the shot and recoil. This is something that I was having a lot of difficulty with and fatigue was making it worse. At this point I realized that slowing down, controlling my breathing, relaxing and focusing on each sequential step of the shooting fundamentals was the key. My partners helped me out a lot here as I was hyper-focusing, tensed-up and overworking myself and missing what are normally easy shots.
The drill that we practiced was handing off our pistol to our partner on the firing line, with the muzzle’s down range. We would walk a few paces behind our partners and face the opposite direction out of ear shot of our partners. Our partners would take our pistols, which were loaded, and would either set up the pistol and hand it back to us on the firing line with either a loaded or unloaded chamber, but always a fully loaded magazine.
The point of this drill was to help us focus on proper trigger control and follow through and to inoculate recoil anticipation. I had a lot of difficulty with this and I kept throwing my shots down to the 6 and 7 o’clock positions on the bullseye rings. Reid stepped in a couple times to correct my grip and follow-through but I knew one of the things I would need to seriously work on immediately after I got back to my home range in Minnesota. One thing to be said about Reid’s training methods is that his approach is as a genuine educator first and firearms expert second because he not only helps you understand your deficits but gives you the knowledge and tools to do your homework and improve upon them. If there’s anything that I would consider of high value from the Pistol Immersion Course this would probably the most important one!
We moved on to shooting the 10-inch bullseye rings at longer distances. We started at 3 and 5 yards and progressed to 15, 20, 25 and then 50-yard distances. Even with better sights on my pistol I still had a difficult time getting shots on target at the longer ranges.
But, Reid came along and worked with me a couple others who were struggling with the long distance shots and gave us some things to work on to improve hitting the targets and then getting tighter groups.
I started to improve when we returned to the 5-yard line and shot at the 1-inch black squares. This was where the focusing on the top of the front sight clicked and from there on I began to make improvements in my shots and groups. Nothing great but improvements nonetheless.
We finished the day with shooting the Valor Ridge standards that we had previously performed on the second day of Pistol Craft 1. I shot a bit worse than I did on the first round of the VR standards two days before. I was beginning to understand and apply a lot of what I had been learning that four days of Pistol Immersion training and continue to do so. I was recognizing a lot of bad habits developed from poorly maintained form or just plain old bad and ineffective training I’d been taught or ignorantly adopted over the years.
We ended the fourth day of Pistol Immersion in the classroom where Reid gave us parting words and went around the room asking us what one thing we learned and were taking away from the training was. I was stumped at first as there was a ton of information to review and process. However, I shared my newfound appreciation for quantifying the results of your training to see if you’re improving upon your results or not confronting your deficits and honestly looking at how to improve upon them.
Reid said that a lot of the training we did on this final day was to instill in us the ability to pass on a good marksmanship standard to others as it’s inevitable that some of us would become instructors or would be the expert that family, friends and associates would be initially looking to for advice and guidance in pistol shooting and marksmanship. Reid’s best advice to aspiring and current instructors is to be humble and earn and maintain the trust of your students.
So, I decided to talk about the gear I used for the class at the end of this article. On the Valor Ridge website you can find a list of required and suggested gear and materials to bring to class with you.
For my handgun, I ran a Gen 3 Glock 19 with XS Big Dot night sights, an aftermarket large beavertail backstrap and a rubber grip sleeve.
The XS Big Dot sights are great for close-up, force-on-force situations, but after having done both ECQC and the Valor Ridge Pistol Immersion courses fairly close to each other and shooting at distances of clinch to 100 yards, I can say that sights are used and do matter in defensive pistol shooting. Take a force-on-force class and you’ll see this for yourself. The XS Big Dot sights are great and a lot of people have come to rely on them. I, however, failed to understand their limitations for good marksmanship results.
On the third day of Pistol Immersion I was struggling to get shots even on the human silhouette of the VR targets. At one point Reid came up to me and said, “You know why you’re missing those shots don’t you?” I said it was my grip and trigger control and then my follow-through. Reid shook his head and said, “Nope, it’s none of those, your fundamentals are fine Mike, in fact they’ve improved. It’s those sights. They’re not good for the kind of shooting you’re trying to learn here.” Usually it’s operator error and not the gear’s fault for poor performance. But Reid shared an experience he had with me that convinced me to later switch out those sights ASAP.
Reid said that two years earlier he was taking the Rangemaster Instructor Development course with Tom Givens. Reid was running the exact same pistol with the exact same sights that I was during the three- day course and was having a lot of the same problems that I was hitting the target very well, or in my case at all! He said that Tom Givens himself came over and said, “You’ve got to change out those sights. They’re causing you to have a lot of misses that I know you shouldn’t be making.”
The day after Pistol Immersion I stopped at TNT Tactical in New Tazewell, TN and picked up and installed a set of Trijicon HD XRs with the orange dot on the narrow sight post and the U-notched rear sight. A couple days later I tried them out on my home range and saw dramatic improvement in my accuracy. I still needed to work on everything else but the change in sights made huge difference going forward.
For magazines I had two 15 round and three 17 round Glock factory mags and three 17 round PMAGs (which I really don’t like). I’ve found that for pistol classes five 15 or 17 round magazines that you keep topped off will keep you and your equipment ready to get as much drilling time in without having to stop and reload totally depleted mags. In my case, I was always topping off and swapping out mags in from my holstered pistol. Reid said he preferred that I let the gun run dry to get in reps of tactical and emergency reloads. I’d argue that it’s better to keep your mags topped off as much as possible and load your gun when you want to, not when you have to. That said, you should be practicing reloading drills a lot as you may not have time to consolidate magazines in the middle of a fight!
My spare gun was a Gen 4 Glock 26 with factory sights, three 10 round factory magazines with pinky grip extensions, the large factory beavertail backstraps and outfitted with Talon Grips.
I brought along 1500 rounds of GECO 124gr 9mm FMJs. I think I ended up shooting about 1200 rounds total throughout the four days of training. I’d found a good deal on this ammo at about $6.00 USD a box and every round ran just fine.
I made sure to have an UpLula mag loader (in lime green) for this class to save my thumbs.
After this class I made sure to get a small dump pouch to haul along a couple hundred more loose rounds and save time running back to the gear table.
My holsters were Bravo Concealment. Yes, there are better holsters out there but at the time that’s what I had on hand and they worked just fine for this class. I’ve since started to look into better options.
But as many of us in the shooting world know, the quest for the perfect holster is never ending.
I had an SOE EDC belt and mag pouches from On Your 6 Designs.
Outside of that I didn’t need much else for gear or equipment.
Certificate for Pistolcraft: Austere Conditions
Reid Henrichs (Valor Ridge) and Mike Treat (Condition Orange Preparedness)
The following article is about my experience at Valor Ridge taking their four-day Pistol Immersion course. It will be presented as two separate articles with the first being the longer of the two. I won’t cover every single detail of the classes curriculum but will give you my experience and share a bit of what was covered in the class.
In 2018 I sought to improve my skills as both a student and an instructor in the art of defensive firearms and tactics. Specifically, handgun marksmanship skills at longer distances and under difficult conditions. The Valor Ridge Pistol Immersion taught by Reid Henrichs course was the course I was looking for. There are a lot of instructors and their courses being offered both locally and nationally and I would encourage everyone reading this to seek out and train with as many of them as possible. I should note that this was not an instructor development course but I would recommend instructors to take this course.
Location and Facility
Valor Ridge is located in Clairborne County, near Harrogate, Tennessee which is about 10 miles south of the Cumberland Gap Historic National Park The school itself is located on an 82 acre farm with steep hills up in the mountains of Clairborne County. Driving the roads to get there will require a bit of technical driving too if you’re not a local. My advice, slow down on those curves and watch out for the occasional stray goat from the local farms in the area, especially in the morning when the fog can be thick. Otherwise it’s a scenic commute with beautiful views of the Cumberland Mountains. I was there in early fall just as the leaves were turning and the temps were more tolerable for someone coming from Minnesota.
Services and Accommodations
I stayed at one of the hotels recommended on the Valor Ridge website, the Tazewell Motor Lodge located in nearby Tazewell/New Tazewell (pronounced TAZZ-WELL, like Tasmanian Devil). The TML is a family owned and run place with an extremely friendly and hospitable staff. The manager Patrick was very helpful with recommendations for restaurants, shopping and other logistical needs. If you’re flying to Tennessee and are planning on staying at the TML you can have your bulk ammo shipped to the hotel. The management, however, asks that you contact them beforehand to plan for them to receive and hold your packages before you have them shipped to the hotel.
There are also FFLs and gun retailers in town as well including TNT Tactical and Mike’s Gun Shop. However, these shops aren’t usually open before or after class hours so you may need to check their business hours and contact them to make afterhours arrangements.
Outside of a couple trips to the local Walmart, a supermarket and a couple fast food joints, I didn’t spend too much time in town as I usually just like to get back to my room after class and focus on preparing for the next day of training, so I didn’t check out any of the recommended restaurants in the area. That’ll be a different story on my next trip.
The first two days of the course consisted of one of Valor Ridge’s signature courses Pistol Craft 1 and was taught by Reid and his better half Rachel - The Patriot Nurse - who was his AI: assistant instructor.
A lot of you reading this know Reid and Rachel as a YouTube and Full 30 personalities and like me have probably followed their internet presence over the past few years. It was Reid’s academic approach and presentation to the art coupled with his prior experience and training resume as a U.S. Marine, police officer and school teacher that had the initial influence on my choosing to train with him at Valor Ridge. The rest of my decision was made from Reid’s down-to-business approach. I also made the decision to train at Valor Ridge after speaking with a few VR alumni including Hank Strange and the courses they offered seemed to encompass the training I sought. Reid and Rachel were very generous and supportive hosts and I felt like a welcomed guest while I was there. Which leads me to mention…
The Blessing and Curse of YouTube
One of the problems of being an instructor who is also a public figure and running an open-enrollment school or facility is that you’re bound to have uninvited guests and visitors and this has been a problem for Reid Henrichs just as it has been for YouTube gun celebrity Hickok45, who once had to go as far as releasing a video asking fans and subscribers to kindly not show up at his home uninvited. VR has certainly had their share of unscheduled and uninvited guests dropping in on them. Reid shared some of these stories with the class including a time that a couple had driven over a thousand miles just to drop in on them unannounced and were seriously upset to be turned away. Like Hickok45, they kindly ask that their subscribers and followers respect their privacy and residency outside of scheduled business hours.
Posted outside the and past the closed, locked gate.
The class began on Sunday morning at 0830 hours in the main building. The students introduced themselves by name, occupation and what they were looking to get out the class. There were twelve students present on the first day and the group consisted of people from different backgrounds and locations around the country. There was a Krav Maga instructor from North Carolina and a husband and wife who traveled from the southwestern United States, in which the wife said that her school where she teaches fifth graders permits their staff to carry their firearms on school grounds. There was also a truck driver from Montana in the class who was almost late arriving to class as he was delayed a whole day from an early season blizzard while going through North Dakota!
Gun Safety, Handling and Fundamentals Reviewed
“The deliberate handling of firearms is a dangerous and calculated risk. Reckless handling of firearms is the wanton, negligent disregard for risk or consequences. You/we decide what pistols do or do not do.” – Reid Henrichs
Pistol Craft 1 is intended for the beginner and as well as the experienced shooter and like a lot of classes the information presented at the beginning of the class may be totally new for some and a bit redundant for others, but it is always valuable to review and learn the fundamentals from a variety of instructors as you’ll always pick up something to add to your knowledge and skills of defensive firearms use.
Reid covered the four rules of firearms safety as well the range specific rules, what the expected student/instructor conduct were and presented an outline of what the class would be covering for the rest of the day. Muzzle awareness, or rather muzzle consciousness as Reid prefers to call it, was emphasized as a crucial safety rule. Valor Ridge also has a firm and strictly enforced policy regarding NDs – negligent discharges. At the time I took the class they have only had one student ND and fortunately it only resulted in the student being dismissed from the class. Outside of this one incident VR has an impeccable safety record.
The lecture continued with some facts and statistics about carrying and using a pistol for self-defense along with information about the effects of handgun ammunition.
One of the things that Reid (and many other firearms instructors will attest) is that a great deal of his time in the classroom (and on the range) is spent unteaching a lot of wrong or bad information that the public comes to class with. An example is the Hollywood misconception that everyone who’s shot with handgun rounds will stop and go down immediately followed by a very detailed explanation of the different responses people have when they are shot.
The class was taught in depth about the fundamentals of pistol shooting with an emphasis on sight picture and trigger control.
Before heading out to the range Reid gave the class tips and advice to help them learn and perform well in the class including, watch and imitate what you want to do and for each student to go at their own pace: concentrate on your learning and performances during the drills; it is not a competition with the other students on the line.
On The Line
The class moved out to the range around 1030 hours. There was pavilion where we staged our gear and ammunition. Usually there’s always a few students who haven’t come to classes with loaded magazines and there were a few who were rushing to get loaded up. We met up on the 5-yard line with our cased and unloaded pistols. Reid gave step-by-step instructions to uncase them and while keeping muzzles downrange. We began with chamber checks which were done with two reps. Reid says, “If I’ve checked that the chamber is cleared then there’s nothing to say I can’t check it a second time that it’s cleared” latching the slide back, visible and tactile confirmation the chamber and magazine well are empty, releasing the slide forward and repeating the process.
I was at the far right of the line with a left-handed student to my left. His new out-of-the-box Glock 19 Gen 5 was pointed right at me as he conducted his chamber check. I asked him to turn to his left and get his muzzle downrange. Just as he was doing so Rachel was on him, correcting his handling and stuck with him for a bit to get him safely started. But it didn’t come without a stern warning from Rachel to the lefty, who, would go on to be one of the safest shooters who made the most marksmanship progress throughout the next four days especially his marksmanship, as Reid said to him “You are born again hard!”
Again, gun safety and handling at Valor Ridge is not taken lightly!
The class practiced drawing from the holster with all the students doing so from concealment with an even ratio of strong side hip and appendix carry holsters. It is always immediately apparent at this point in these types of classes who carries and practices their defensive handgun on a regular basis and who the beginners are. A few of the students, including my new left-handed friend have all had CCW permits for several years but did not carry their guns on a regular basis with the consensus reason being I don’t think I’ll ever need to carry wherever I’m usually going. As the days progressed these students came to have a clearer understanding of the importance of being prepared to defend themselves and their families with their handguns which starts with being a willingly armed citizen defender.
The Environment is 360 Degrees
Even though we were shooting on a lateral square range, Reid wanted the students to begin thinking of the environment they were fighting in as being in 360 degrees. A point that I have heard from numerous other firearms instructors such as John Farnum. So, we were taught to keep our heads on a swivel and take constant assessment of the who was in the environment around us and what were they doing. For those taking the Pistol Craft: Austere Conditions course this is clearly demonstrated in a few of the exercises Reid runs the class through (more on that in part 2).
Time to Shoot
Like many defensive pistol classes, the early portion of the class is run cold and dry, meaning everyone carries their pistol and practices without live ammo until they have learned and demonstrated their abilities to carry and handle their pistol safely.
The class was run through basic safety and handling drills which included drawing to presentation and re-holstering. All the drills were first were practiced dry (no live ammo). Each drill was broken down step-by-step and then practiced until the students were able to perform the drills in one smooth motion.
The class then began practicing the fundamentals Reid discussed earlier in the classroom. This is where everyone got then individual attention and corrections, we each needed. Grip was big factor for many, sight alignment for others and trigger control for the pretty much everyone. During the trigger press, Reid explained to us how to diagnose where we may hit or miss with our shots by paying attention to our trigger presses.
For example; now the trigger breaks to the rear noticing where your front sight is at the moment of trigger break, is an indication of where the round just fired went to. If the front sight was at a 7 o’clock position now of trigger break, that’s likely where your shot would go. This was proven to be the case when we began shooting with live ammo a few minutes later, with the class starting and working at the 5 yard and 7-yard lines.
Once the class showed a grasp of and ability to draw and fire and safely re-holster our pistols, we took a break and returned to the range hot meaning we were carrying our pistols loaded with live ammo throughout the rest of the class.
It was during this break we lost a couple of students from our class, the husband and wife who came up from the southwestern US. I’m not sure specifically why they left but I noticed that they were struggling a bit and their gear wasn’t in the best working order. The wife had a used Glock 26 the husband had selected for her and it was not cycling and loading properly. Several times Reid and Rachel had to stop the line and assist her with getting her pistol operational. I spoke with the couple on the side during the break and encouraged them to stick out the class, but they were adamant about leaving. Even though what we were learning was very basic, beginner level skills, they were both struggling with performing the exercises. I can’t, nor will I speculate on why they left the class, but it was rather sad to see them quit and leave after only a couple hours and after having come so far away.
We returned from break and Reid moved the class onto a series of drills and exercises that included shooting single and multiple shot strings to the upper chest area of the VR designed targets: a 5-inch black square inside an 8-inch subdued clear circle. The area on the VR target is anatomically correct for shot placement to the heart of a human attacker. We also practiced shots to the head, specifically the cranial ocular cavity; a triangular space that consists of the area of the eyes and nose area. We conducted several drills at these specific targets at ranges of 5, 7, 15 and 25 yards including the Mozambique drill (or Failure Drill for you Marines); two shots to the chest/heart area and one shot to the head.
All the drills Reid taught and ran us through on the first day prepared us to shoot the FBI-Q (qualification) at the end of the first day and the VR-Q on the second day of class.
The class shot the FBI-Q before finishing with the last drill of the day. Reid said at the beginning of the class day that we would all be shooting and passing the FBI-Q by the end of the day. He was correct. We were given two scores for our FBI-Q, the first was the FBI standard score and the second the VR score. My performance score was 90 for FBI standards, 70 for VR standards.
We ended the first day of Pistol Craft 1 with shooting at an 8-inch white circle on the “chest” area of an IPSC style steel target from the 50-yard line. This was difficult for me and a few other shooters in the class as we were running our pistols with XS Big Dot sights. It took me a few shots to hit the target. A lot of the issues I was having was with my grip and trigger control. I’ll admit that I had not had much experience with shooting pistols at ranges further than 15 yards and even then, I had difficulty. I had recently been training at a small range, doing CQC in force-on-force classes and ECQC with Craig Douglas where most shooting distances were at clinch distance to 7 yards.
Again, this is why I came to VR and was taking Pistol Craft 1, to improve upon my weaknesses and I left that first day immediately understanding what I needed to work on and how to begin the correct practice to improve my long-range pistol marksmanship skills.
Class began on the shooting line at 0900 hours. Reid said we should focus on drawing from concealment and getting as fast and accurate shots on target as possible but that those skills will only come with higher repetitions of quality practice. We started off the day with the following drills:
Valor Ridge Standards
The final activity performed on the range on the second day of class were the Valor Ridge pistol marksmanship standards. These consisted of 13 drills total performed with multiple shots and increasing distances, some from drawing from the holster, some from the low-ready position.
Reid has a video demonstrating the Valor Ridge standards.
I learned what I needed to seriously work on my draw and presentation speed, trigger control and follow through as I did not make the par times. Mine were not passing scores by VR standards.
My times for the 13 standards were:
Par time: My time:
Pistol Craft 1 Wrap-up
After we finished the remainder of the class day in the classroom where Reid discussed various topics such as fostering a personal awareness by developing passive and active observation skills.
Having a martial attitude and taking responsibility for one’s own safety and security as well as the importance of continuing practice and improvement with our defensive tools with a quote from Col. Jeff Cooper “Owning a gun does not make you armed any more than owning a piano makes you a musician.”
An explanation of Col. John Boyd’s OODA loop/cycle was explained to the class.
A discussion about the 3 common criteria for using deadly force: AOJ
This was followed by what steps to take in the aftermath of surviving a deadly force encounter and interacting with the police.
“We shoot to save lives, never to take them. If there is any doubt, then don’t shoot.” – Reid Henrichs
The last part of the class was what Reid called the spiritual component of Pistol Craft 1. He shared with us some of his philosophical beliefs about the individual’s responsibility to be ready and willing to fight. To be armed means your pistol is in a ready condition: clean, lubricated and vetted with the ammo you carry, zeroed and ready, loaded with a charged magazine, a round chambered and, on your body, (or within one arm’s reach). To be ready and willing you will fight for your life and your family’s lives, knowing if you don’t shoot, you or another innocent person will be killed by a deadly threat.
Ultimately, it is up to each one of us to determine who and what it is we’re fighting for and are willing to make to the greatest sacrifice for.
Reid also made recommendations for defensive carry ammo - Gold Dot Spear, Winchester Ranger, Federal HST. He said each pistol “likes” different ammo. Meaning the exact same make and model and generation of a pistol may not shoot the same type of ammo with the same results and different types of ammo should be tried out in each owner’s individual pistol/handgun to find which works best for their own gun. Another tip he gave the class was to assure that your ball (practice) ammo and carry ammo both perform with the same POA/POI: Point-of-aim, Point-of-impact.
He concluded the class with a quote from Gen. Robert E. Lee:
“Do your duty in all things. If you cannot do more, you should never wish to do less.”
I Made a New Friend
Being a farm, Valor Ridge has it’s share of critters. The goats that used to live there were gone to another family. But there were a couple of cats chasing each other around and there was a red dog called Chuck who took a fondness of napping under my pickup truck. Chuck is hustler and hustle me he did. At the end of the first day I had to bribe the little guy to get out from under my truck before I could leave. My offer was beef jerky from my lunch bag. Fortunately, we worked out a place not under my truck at the end of the day for him to receive his treat and learn a few simple tricks before he sent me off for the day. There’s a picture of Chuck hanging up at the pavilion that says, “I like to steal people’s lunches, so make sure your bags and coolers are secure.” Chuck would greet the students as they arrived in the morning and would hangout in the classroom for a bit and then wander off to patrol the property.
Keep your lunch coolers closed and in a secure place when Chuck is around.