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.