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Threat Centered Revolver Handgun Training

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Hi again,

I’m normally not one given to the use of superlatives, but as I write this, I am several days removed from THE BEST handgun training I have ever received. My mind is still racing with all the stuff we learned and my right hand is still sore from firing hundreds of rounds from my snubnose .38 during the two day class.  (Note to self: Ya’ might want a bigger gun next time.) The course was Threat Centered Revolver, developed and taught by Grant Cunningham. It was sponsored by Phoenix Firearms Training at the Ben Avery Shooting Facility on April 1-2, 2017.

Me jocked up for the firing line.

Here I am all jocked up and ready to go. From left to right. S&W Model 642 .38 caliber snubnose revolver with a Crimson Trace LG-305 laser grip. I run hot and cold on lasers but the grip itself is the best I’ve used. The laser turns on and off. Holster and belt by Simply Rugged , a small outfit in Prescott, AZ. The holster is their Silver Dollar model made for short barrel revolvers. I have Simply Rugged holsters for all my handguns They’re the only kind I use. Next, two HK36 speed loaders inside JOX speed loader pouches. They are a recent purchase. Made of Kydex, they hold the loaders securely and are the most concealable holders I’ve ever seen. I’m wearing them upside down. I find them more comfortable and concealable that way. I did dozens of reloads from the JOX this weekend. They worked flawlessly. A hook and loop pouch and speed loader pouch from Uncle Mike’s complete the training ensemble. I found the hook and loop pouch to be really valuable for loading up a couple of rounds during a lull. It’s a good skill to have. As you can imagine, firing hundreds of rounds with a five shot revolver kept me busier than a one-armed paper hanger. For every day carry (EDC), I use one JOX loader and the hook and loop pouch with a speed strip in the top row and six loose rounds on the bottom. Everything disappears under a loose t-shirt.

Six weeks ago, I’d never heard of him. I stumbled on to him and his training quite by accident. I was surfing on Amazon and a bunch of books showed up under the heading “Based on your browsing history”. One of them was Defensive Revolver Fundamentals by some guy named Grant Cunningham. I love revolvers, have carried one everyday for years and have looked for dedicated revolver training without success. It seems that nobody teaches revolver handgunning anymore. The preferred training platform is big, honkin’, high capacity semi-automatics. That’s fine. I own several of those too. I’ve trained hard with them and many of the skills are transferable – but not all. The revolver is a different animal. I’d pretty much given up and decided I might have to go the book learning route for revolver-specific skills.

So I bought Grant’s book – and read it cover to cover the first night. Then I bought another of his books – Protect Yourself With Your Snubnose Revolver – and devoured it just as quickly. Here was a fellow wheelgunner and he was speaking my language. I sent him an email and he answered. We corresponded several times. I also subscribed to his blog, where I found out that Grant offers revolver training and was bringing the Threat Centered Revolver class to Phoenix in just a few weeks. I signed up right then and there.

TCR class

On Saturday, April 1, five of us (three men and two women) were on Pistol Range 4 at the Ben Avery complex. The weather was perfect all weekend – sunny, not too warm with a nice breeze. This was taken at the end of the course. Me on the left. Grant on the right. The van belongs to course sponsor Jon Abel of Phoenix Firearms Training.

In his former life, Grant was a world class gunsmith and successful competitive shooter. He’s not ex-this or ex-that which I found to be refreshing. He’s like me – a regular guy who made the commitment to legally carry a gun for self-defense and be as proficient with it as possible.

Above all, he is an educator and an innovator. Two of the primary targets in his classes are conventional wisdom and dogma. It starts with the title of the class – Threat Centered Revolver. We don’t stare at the front sight to the exclusion of all else. To gather information on the threat, we have to look at it. Our primal DNA is going to make us do it anyway. We incorporate the front sight into the engagement. How much depends on distance, time and target size. I won’t get into a detailed description of the course. Instead, I’ll hit the highlights and some key lessons learned.

Targets

One of the target points on day 2. The combination of numbers, colors and shapes allows for almost unlimited ways to introduce uncertainty and randomness into the shooting. There are different versions of the target, so some people might not be shooting while the others are. Our exercises got progressively more complicated with math problems we had to solve before we knew what target to shoot. It’s easy to put in no shoot parameters too, like reds or odd numbers.

The pop up target next to it was the highlight of the class. It’s part of the Jedburgh System. The polymer silhouettes are wired into a logic controller that is run with a tablet. Specific scenarios can be set up or they can be completely random, which ours were. Among the randomness was the number of hits it took to knock it down. The guidance on day 2 was if your pop up appears, that’s your primary threat. Engage it until it’s down then finish the string on the target. Reload on the fly as needed and keep your eyes up scanning for targets, not staring at the reload. With five and six shot revolvers, it got pretty intense at times. One thing it makes you do is to keep the gun running. Check your ammo and be prepared to engage at all times. Expect the unexpected. You’ll get it in this class.

Good revolver shooting starts with the grasp on the gun. We don’t hold a revolver the same way we do do a semi-auto. The main difference is where the thumbs go. In a semi, they lay parallel along the gun. On a revolver, the support hand thumb crosses over and locks down the shooting hand thumb. Then we apply a crush grip that stops just short of making the gun tremble. This difference between “layered thumbs” and “locking thumbs” made a huge difference for me in steadiness and recoil recovery.

Grant will tell you that “Revolver grips with finger grooves are the work of Satan”. That’s a direct quote from the first hour. Grooved grips are one size fits all and break up the wall of fingers on the shooting hand that keep the gun under control while firing. That eliminates many popular and cool looking grips.

Self-defense shooting has to be viewed in context. Grant’s training takes place in the private sector context, as opposed to law enforcement, SWAT or the military. Private sector shooting emphasizes surviving a close and unexpected encounter by firing rapid, multiple and accurate hits to stop the threat. As a general rule, we don’t chase people, clear rooms or engage at long distances. The police and the military do that in the context of their environment.

Shooter engages

A classmate engages his pop up. Notice the new type of paper target. It’s used to develop an important concept in all handgun shooting – a balance of speed and precision. The bigger targets can be engaged quickly with point shooting. The smaller ones require some good sight alignment and trigger control. The range to the targets is also a factor. So once again, there are multiple variables involved. And of course, you never know when Mr. Pop Up is going to show himself. The Jedburgh System has the potential to revolutionize firearms training. It’s pricey, but Jon at Phoenix Firearms Training took the plunge and incorporates it into most of their classes. He also had to buy a new van to carry it all.

In a threat centered model, we spend most of our time training for the thing that is most likely to happen. In the private sector context, that is a sudden or rapid encounter within 3-7 yards – conversation distance. Farther than that gives you an opportunity to avoid the encounter. If you want to shoot at longer ranges, fine but there’s no need to overdo it. Closer than three yards is extreme close quarters combat which means fighting to your gun. That is not part of Grant’s instruction but it is offered by several prominent trainers like Craig Douglas and Cecil Burch.

I could go on but you get the idea. While we were learning all this and more, we were shooting. There was lots and lots of shooting. I lost track of the round count but I went through an ammo can full of .38 rounds along with a couple of full molle pouches. I’m guessing between 700 and 800 rounds total. That’s more than some four and five day courses I’ve taken.

In threat centered training, we don’t just line up and shoot at bulls eyes on command. Ohhh no. I had one situation where the silhouette came up as I was re-loading with a speed strip. I only had two rounds in the cylinder. Doesn’t matter. Reload’s over. Close the cylinder and start pulling the trigger. A couple of clicks on empty cylinders were followed by two solid hits that knocked it down. It was totally unexpected, unscripted and unrehearsed. Is that great training or what? The whole two days are like that. Training just doesn’t get any better.

Shooter on target

And still another type of target. We used these mostly on day 1. You’ve probably figured out by now that one of the central precepts of threat centered training is to put as much uncertainty and randomness as possible into it. It works best with an instructor or a partner calling out strings of fire. However, you can introduce some randomness on your own with cards or dice. You can also invent your own targets with some colored markers and butcher block paper. I’ve bought and shot my last bulls eye target.

The real strength of Grant’s training is the variety and innovation that he brings to the firing line. He’s invented his own targets and he uses them to make you think before (or if) you shoot. In threat centered training, the most effective drills introduce random factors into the scenario which you have to quickly process in making your shoot/no shoot decisions. That’s why you have to look at the target and not blur it out while staring at the front sight post.

I hope this page has given you a good overview of the Threat Centered Revolver class and threat centered training overall. I highly recommend Grant’s classes and books if you are serious about concealed carry. You don’t have to be an elite physical specimen or a pistolero. I’m a retired Marine in my mid-60’s who’s been shooting for decades. I left this class a different and much better shooter. Just bring your gun, a lot of ammo and an open mind. If you want to know more, check out the links above. When Grant brings this back to Phoenix, I’ll be there.

Adios amigos …. Boris

HDR photo #3 – Sabino Canyon, Tucson, AZ

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NOTE TO READERS: In keeping with our philosophy of lifelong learning, we are now on Twitter as @cachemaniacs. If you’re interested, there’s a Twitter follow button over on the sidebar or you can just click the link above.

Hi again,

There’s not many places in the Sonoran desert where you can capture an image of flowing water, green trees and Saguaro cactus covered mountains all in the same shot.  I found one in Sabino Canyon in the Catalina Mountains just northeast of Tucson.

Sabino Canyon

The green tree is a Mexican blue oak, which stays bright green all year. They only grow near the water. It’s called a blue oak because its roots leach a dark color into the water, giving Sabino Creek a deep tea color. Sabino Creek is one of the few Sonoran waterways that runs free year round. Even though the water was moving, I was able to freeze it with shutter speed. The mirror reflection in the water was an unexpected bonus.

Here’s a link to the full sized image.

Cheers …. Boris and Natasha

Tuzigoot National Monument, Clarkdale, AZ

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NOTE TO READERS: In keeping with our philosophy of lifelong learning, we are now on Twitter as @cachemaniacs. If you’re interested, there’s a Twitter follow button over on the sidebar or you can just click the link above.

Hi again,

If you like to explore off the beaten path, it’s hard to beat Arizona.  We recently checked out a place we’d never heard of before – Tuzigoot National Monument.

Tuzigoot (which is Apache for “crooked water”) is a puebloan ruin on the banks of the Verde River that was built and occupied between about 1100 and 1400. People lived here for longer than the United States has been a country. Then 100 years before the first Europeans arrived, the occupants moved on, leaving few traces or clues as to where they went or why.

Tuzigoot National Monument

The builders of Tuzigoot picked their terrain well. The pueblo was built on a strategic ridge that provided easy access to the river and was highly defensible. Construction was continuous for its entire 300 year existence.

The Verde River in northwest Arizona is one of the few in the state that runs all year. It has a watershed of almost 6,000 square miles along its 170 mile length. The Verde River Valley was a natural draw for the hunter-gatherers that migrated there. At its peak of pre-European settlement, there were at least 40 separate pueblos in the valley.

Defense of a pueblo.

This painting by Paul Coze appeared in the August 1951 edition of Arizona Highways. Pueblos were built for security, not comfort or convenience. There were few doors and none on the first floor. Ditto for windows. Access to rooms was by a hole in the ceiling and a ladder. That was also the only ventilation for smoky cooking fires and summer heat. Pueblos were at constant risk of raids, especially once the Apache showed up. That is thought to be one of the main reasons the entire area emptied out in the space of a generation.

After its abandonment, Tuzigoot spent the next 500 years wide open to the depredations of both nature and man. The National Park Service excavated and restored it in the 1930’s. It was designated a National Monument by President Roosevelt in 1939. The name Tuzigoot came from a member of the excavation crew who was an Apache Indian. It has nothing to do with the original structure or people.

Here’s a before and after picture comparison of Tuzigoot.

Tuzigoot in 1934.

A 1934 National Park Service picture of Tuzigoot before the excavation began. It’s taken at the southern end of the pueblo looking up the hill to what was known as the Citadel. Many more historical photos can be found in the National Park Service gallery.

The Citadel.

The same view taken in 2014. The re-construction you see dates to the original work in the 1930’s, although there is considerable maintenance.

The people who built and lived in Tuzigoot and the other pueblos in the valley are called the Sinagua by anthropologists. “Sin agua” is Spanish for without water. Dominating the skyline of Northern Arizona are the San Francisco Peaks, which can be clearly seen from the Verde Valley. Those 12,000 foot mountains have no rivers flowing out of them. The Spanish called them “sierra sin agua” – mountains without water. The name was applied as a generic name for pre-European native people in central Arizona. They were hunters, gatherers, farmers and traders. The Hopi, Zuni and Navajo all trace their lineage back to the Sinagua.

Rooms at Tuzigoot

There were around 110 rooms at Tuzigoot, built over the course of three centuries. They ran north-south along the spine and spread down the hill to the east and west. It was a sizable community. Excavations revealed that all the rooms had evidence of food preparation, unlike many pueblos where some rooms were used only for storage

Inside construction at Tuzigoot

Inside construction was solid, with wooden beams as uprights and also cross-members. Thatched mats covered the beams which were in turn covered with adobe to make a ceiling. The beams were cut from Arizona sycamore trees that grew prolifically along the river. Everything was done with stone tools and manual labor. The Sinagua had no horses and the wheel was unknown to the them.

Central Arizona has many pueblo ruins that are now under state or federal protection. Montezuma’s Castle, Walnut Canyon and Wupatki national monuments are within easy driving distance. So is Sunset Crater National Monument, site of a volcanic eruption that affected the surrounding area around 1000 A.D. For a different type of exploring, check out Jerome, AZ and Prescott, AZ. There’s also historic Route 66 weaving its way through the entire area. Like we said earlier, if you like to explore, you’ve come to the right place.

The Tuzigoot Visitors Center (click the link for a map) is located at 25 Tuzigoot Road, Clarkdale, AZ. Just follow the signs. The GPS coordinates are N34.7723230, W112.0278880. The visitor center is small and was built in the 1930’s as part of the re-construction. There is a 1/3 mile (500 m) trail that takes you in and around the pueblo. You can see the whole thing in about an hour.

There are geocaches everywhere in the area. Cell phone coverage is spotty, so caching on the fly can be challenging and there are few munzees. There is a healthy supply of letterboxes.

BTW, if you go to Jerome, try lunch at the Haunted Hamburger. Fantastic burgers with a view of the San Francisco Peaks. On weekends, be prepared to wait for a table.

One last note: Remember, this is the desert. Heat, sun, dehydration and things that bite, stick or sting are constant companions here. Pace yourself. Be alert. Be aware. Use caution.

Happy trails… Boris and Natasha

My 2nd HDR Photo – Arizona Sundown

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NOTE TO READERS: In keeping with our philosophy of lifelong learning, we are now on Twitter as @cachemaniacs. If you’re interested, there’s a Twitter follow button over on the sidebar or you can just click the link above.

Hi again,

I’ve traveled all over the world but desert sunsets in the American southwest are like no other. This was taken from our back patio. We’re forced to look at this every night – sundown in the Santa Rita Mountains.

Arizona Sunset

Once again, Photomatix HDR software has taken an average picture and made it better. The colors and the contrast really stand out but the glare from the sun has been eliminated. I used a lot less tonal mapping on this one. Just enough to bring out the colors and contrast that the human eye can see. Compare this image with the one in my Arizona Sunset post. They were taken the same night. Click the link to see the full-size version of the photo.

Cheers …. Boris and Natasha

Arizona Sunset

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NOTE TO READERS: In keeping with our philosophy of lifelong learning, we are now on Twitter as @cachemaniacs. If you’re interested, there’s a Twitter follow button over on the sidebar or you can just click the link above.

Hi again,

Here’s something we never get tired of.  Sitting on the back patio watching the sun go down. Sunsets in the desert southwest are the best. I decided it was time to get out the trusty Nikon D3100 and capture one. Two minutes later, the sun was gone and the desert night started to close in. It gets dark fast here. It’s pitch black and deathly quiet except for an occasional coyote.

Arizona sunset

Nothing off the beaten path here.

Cheers …. Boris and Natasha

The Wild Turkey Geocache

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NOTE TO READERS: In keeping with our philosophy of lifelong learning, we are now on Twitter as @cachemaniacs. If you’re interested, there’s a Twitter follow button over on the sidebar or you can just click the link above.

Hi again,

It’s winter. Even by Minnesota standards, it’s a brutal one. However, we’re in Tucson for four months. One of our favorite places to explore is the Santa Rita Mountains about 40 miles south of the city. Knifing into those mountains is Madera Canyon in the Coronado National Forest. Going from 2,000 feet at the bottom to 9,000 feet on top of Mt. Wrightson, it goes through nine different climactic zones – the equivalent of driving from Arizona to Canada. There are lots of geocaches but few gimmees. Most involve some hiking in steep terrain and many involve some rock climbing. This was one of them.

Natasha at the Wild Turkey geocache.

The lovely Natasha near Ground Zero of the Wild Turkey geocache. The container is a mini-bottle of Wild Turkey bourbon minus the bourbon. Just the log. It’s located in the rocks you can see in the picture and was a tricky hide. It was a challenging two mile hike up the Bog Springs Trail but the scenery was worth it. As you can see, we’ve got our back country gear with us and navigated with our Garmin Dakota 20’s. No cell phone coverage up here. Along the way, we got another geocache and a letterbox. Today, we cruised successfully off the beaten path.

Cheers …. Boris and Natasha

Titan Missile Museum – Green Valley, AZ

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NOTE TO READERS: In keeping with our philosophy of lifelong learning, we are now on Twitter as @cachemaniacs. If you’re interested, there’s a Twitter follow button over on the sidebar or you can just click the link above.

“Anybody who isn’t wearing two million sunblock is going to have a real bad day.”
……Sarah Connor, Terminator 2

Warhead of a Titan II ICBM

This R2D2-looking thing is a re-entry vehicle (RV) for a Titan II ICBM. It carried a single Mark-53 nine megaton nuclear warhead. That’s over 400 times more powerful than either of the WW II atomic bombs dropped on Japan. The Titan II would have carried this payload over 6,000 miles in roughly 30 minutes after a launch sequence that lasted 58 seconds. This RV is on display at the Titan Missile Museum in Green Valley, AZ. It is the only museum of its kind, safeguarding and preserving a piece of Cold War history – a complete Titan ICBM launch facility. If you get up to South Dakota, you can check out the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site  near Wall, SD.

If you lived in Tucson between the early 1960’s and the late 1980’s, you were surrounded by 18 of these bad boys and the Soviets knew all about them. That means in the event of war, there were probably 40-50 Soviet missiles targeted on Tucson – 2 or 3 warheads for each silo, the same as us.

Fortunately, it never came to that thanks to the deterrent effect of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD). When the Titans were taken out of service during the Reagan administration, the missiles were reconfigured as launch vehicles for NASA. The launch facilities were gutted except for this one. Launch Facility 571-7 was kept intact and turned into the museum that stands over it today. The 571-7 designation is shorthand for the 7th launch facility of the 571st Strategic Missile Squadron.

I admit it. I’m a Cold War junkie. I grew up in the days when we did “duck and cover” drills in school. I remember the Cuban Missile Crisis. Most of my 20 years in the Marine Corps were spent as a cold warrior. Now I’m a road warrior, but I’m still fascinated by the whole Commie/nuke/Dr Strangelove thing. Looking back on it now, a lot of the stuff was ludicrous (nuclear land mines, anybody?), but it was deadly serious back in the day.

So when we came to Tucson for the winter and discovered the Titan Missile Museum, it was high on the bucket list. I went there not knowing what we might find. Some of these military museums are little more than roadside attractions with a bunch of junk laying out on tables. Happily that is not the case here.

Blast door

These blast doors are found throughout the facility to seal off and compartment different areas. They weigh 6,000 pounds and are opened/closed manually. Even after hanging there for 50 years, they can be moved with one hand. The design and construction of these launch facilities is unbelievable. In addition to the obvious workmanship and attention to detail, everything is redundant and backed up. Nothing was left to chance. When all sealed up, the facility could survive just about anything except a direct hit by a nuke.

Tucked away in the Sonoran desert hills, the museum is a hidden gem. They have static displays inside and out, a documentary film and several kinds of guided tours that go through the whole underground facility. The silo contains a de-activated Titan missile. You’ll get a good look at it from above and below. There’s also a simulated launch conducted in the control room with the tour. Afterwards, you can walk around topside for as long as you want. Photography is allowed throughout. The all volunteer staff is knowledgeable and includes a couple of guides who worked as missile crew or contractors. Everyone is very informal and friendly. The cost is about nine bucks per person and is well worth it. The museum is a private non-profit entity and also a National Historic Landmark. Be sure to grab a hard hat when they offer them. There’s all kinds of head crackers underground.

The entire facility and tours are very informative. Some of the revelations are downright jaw-dropping. For instance, assuming they survived, what did the four person crew do after the launch? They had a 30 day supply of food and water but only two weeks of air in their sealed underground bunker. The hard reality was that there was no plan. They were on their own. It was assumed that the crew commander at some point would begin to probe outside the facility. Now there’s something to look forward to. If the main access route was untenable, there was an emergency escape tunnel that would take them outside. At least, that was the theory.

Titan II ICBM

The star of the show – the museum’s Titan II ICBM. The Titan II was the largest ICBM deployed by the U.S. during the Cold War, measuring 103 feet long and 10 feet in diameter. It also carried the largest warhead. The Mark-53 was an 8,000 pound thermonuclear bunker buster. We’ll never know what targets the Titans would have hit but with nine megatons of firepower, it was most likely command centers, military installations and industrial centers. The launch crew never knew either. A total of 150 Titan II’s were built. Fifty were used as test and evaluation platforms. Fifty four ended up in silos with nuke warheads. There were 18 each in Tucson AZ, Wichita KS and Little Rock AR. One of the missiles in Little Rock blew up in its silo in 1980.  Built in safety locks kept the RV and warhead intact. Twelve were used to launch the NASA Gemini manned space missions. Two launched the Voyager satellites on their journey out of the solar system. Others were used to launch scientific and commercial payloads from Vandenburg AFB. The last Titan II was launched in 2003.

In a way, the museum’s launch facility is still involved in a Cold War scenario. The 2013 START Treaty requires measures to verify the absence of weapons that may be in violation. The RV on display in the exhibit room has a big plexiglass cutout to show at a glance there are no weapons on board. Also, the 760 ton sliding silo hatch is locked in the half open position so Russian satellites can keep an eye on it.

Museum entrance

This is the place. GPS coordinates N31.9020636, W110.9995385. Click the link to find out all about the Titan Missile Museum. BTW, Count Ferdinand von Galen is a successful Arizona business tycoon and aviation enthusiast. He provided much of the funding to start the museum.

When you finish at the museum, you can get out your smart phone, fire up CacheSense and start gathering up some of the dozens of geocaches and munzees in the immediate area. Cell phone coverage is excellent along the I-19 corridor. Good hunting.

Do svidanya …. Boris and Natasha

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