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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

Handgun Training at Front Sight, NV

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Hi again,

The firing line

Ready on the firing line.

I recently finished the Four Day Defensive Handgun course at Front Sight, a training facility just outside of Pahrump, NV. I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into. I’ve had lots of handgun training, so that wasn’t the problem. To be honest, Front Sight has a reputation out in the online gun community as a second rate facility.  I got a chance to go with a certificate that cost me $100 as opposed to the full price of $2,000. So off I went to the Feb 13-16 class.

It was outstanding.  It exceeded my expectations across the board. The instruction was excellent. Everybody there was helpful and professional. We did a lot of shooting.  I learned a lot. The biggest lesson I took away from it is that I didn’t know as much about this stuff as I thought I did.

I’m not going to chronicle the day to day activities.  A Google search will bring up lots of detailed summaries and reviews.  Here’s a good one.   I read it several times and it was very helpful.  I did learn a few things that were not mentioned anywhere else, so here are some thoughts on the Front Sight experience.  I think they would also apply to just about any other training program.

The Training Environment

Range break area

The only shade on the range.

1. This is the desert and they train all year. In February, the lows were below freezing and the highs were very pleasant. The week after my class, it got cold and snowy. Summer temps routinely hit 100. The shooting ranges themselves are constructed with 12 foot earthen walls on three sides. There’s lots of sun, not much shade and little wind. The firing line can get really brutal no matter what time of year. Plan accordingly.

2. It’s very taxing, both physically and mentally. Forget about hitting the casinos or taking in a show at night. You’ll be too tired.

3. All that aside, you don’t have to be a young stud to do the class. We had 44 students with a real mix of people. About 1/3 were women. There were several families there with their teenagers. The guy next to me was in his 70’s. This was his 18th time taking the course over a ten year period. He just likes doing it and he’s good. I’m 61 and I did fine.

4. Get a hotel room in Pahrump, which is only about 20 minutes from Front Sight. The two main ones are the Saddle West Casino and the Best Western- Pahrump Station. Both offer Front Sight discounts and fill up every week, so book early.  If not, you’ll have to stay in Vegas, which is an hour or more away. Pahrump is an ugly town but the people are nice. The town has stores, restaurants, gas stations and amenities plus some casinos, so you’ll have everything you need. Front Sight hosts up to 1,000 students a week in various courses and it’s big business in Pahrump. The town is a little nervous about all these gun fighters running around, so the lower your profile, the better.

5. The pace is fast and the days are long. Plan on being there until 5 or 6 PM. It’s pretty much non-stop with the exception of the one hour lunch break. Snacking, hydrating and loading magazines are done on the fly between relays or during transitions. That said, if you get tired or just need a break, it’s OK to sit out a relay.

6. Take with you to the range everything you need for the day – drinks, sun screen, ammo, snacks, etc.  Your car will be nearby but you won’t have time to make trips back and forth.  I had a range bag and a cooler. They have water there in a big vat, but it’s not very cold and it runs out. Plain water has its limitations. Be sure to take some Gator-Ade or something for electrolytes. A 50/50 water and Gator-Ade mix is ideal. Orange juice is good too.   I used the Gator-Ade powder.  Saves weight and room. I took an insulated water bottle and carried it all the time.  You can’t have it on the firing line but it’s ok on the ready line.  You want to have immediate access to drinks and ammo all day.

7. In four days, you’re going to draw that weapon, work that slide, push those levers and buttons and load those magazines thousands of times. By the end of the course, your hands will be cut up and sore – especially the fingertips. Take some medical tape or tough band aids to wrap them with. At night, use some hand lotion to heal them up.

8.  I took some disposable vinyl medical gloves with me to lather on the sun screen.  It keeps your hands from getting all slick and oily. Your firearm will thank you.  When I first started doing it, people just stared at me.  By the end of the course, several others were doing it too.

9.  I ordered the box lunch every day. It’s quick, convenient and filling. They run about 12 bucks. You can pre-order when you get your course confirmation email or do it when you get there.

10. They have a well stocked pro-shop and armory on site but they are outrageously expensive. A MagLula 9mm speed loader that I got on Amazon for 20 bucks was $70 at the pro shop.

11. Watch your speed on the road to Front Sight. It’s a target rich environment for cops, especially on Day 1.

Bring enough gun

On the line

If your firearm has a glitch, this place will find it.

12. MUY IMPORTANTE: The fact that you are taking a shooting course with a concealed weapon does not allow you to carry off site. Do not carry concealed off the Front Sight facility unless you have a Nevada permit. CCW reciprocity in Nevada is a circus. They honor almost nobody else and it changes all the time. In the past, students have carried, been stopped by the cops and busted. That’s a Class C felony. On the other hand, open carry is legal. So you can strap on your gun and motor on down the road if you want. Just make sure you don’t accidentally cover it up. Front Sight rules say no loaded weapons or weapons handling in the common areas. My advice: Lock it up in the trunk and retrieve it at the range.

13. Even if you have a Nevada permit (which I do), stay out of North Las Vegas and Boulder City (which is just up the road from Hoover Dam). They don’t like concealed carry and you’re in for a big hassle if they find you packing. Yeah, it sucks, but what can you do? If you want to take a test case to the Supreme Court, be my guest.

14. Forget about revolvers. You can use them but the course is built around the semi-auto handgun. A lot of what they teach is transferable to any weapon. My carry weapon is a S&W 642 .38. I took it to the range after I got back and was able to successfully apply things I learned using my 9mm at Front Sight.

15. Don’t take a brand new gun to Front Sight. Run several hundred rounds through it before you start training. There were a surprising number of gun problems on the range. Front Sight has a gunsmith on site who can fix anything. If your gun has problems, the staff will run it up to him. He’ll fix it and notify the range when it’s ready, usually within an hour or so. Take a back up gun just in case. If you have other guns you want worked on, like new sights or a trigger job, take it with you and drop it off. This guy is very good.

16. I gained a real appreciation for the new generation of striker fired, DAO semi-auto handguns – Glock, Springfield and M&P. I used a 9MM S&W Shield. My backup was a Beretta Px4 sub-compact, a sweet shooting piece which I’ve had for over 10 years. I’m glad I didn’t have to use it. In fact, I might even sell it. The Shield ran circles around it. IMHO, semi-autos with external hammers, thumb safeties and de-cocking levers are almost obsolete. That includes some fine weapons like Sigs, Berettas, Rugers and 1911’s, all of which I have owned. I’ll never buy another one.

17. Speed and accuracy are what we’re looking for and the aforementioned relics come up short. The benchmark drill at Front Sight is to draw from the holster and fire two rounds center mass in less than two seconds. Having a double action first round makes it almost impossible. A guy on a nearby target had his new Sig Sauer out there and he had trouble all week. Plus, all those extra levers and edges make it harder to work the slide in the fast aggressive manner needed for clearing malfunctions and re-loading.

18. Then there’s the weapons that you carry cocked and locked, like 1911’s and Hi-Powers. True story: The last day of the class, we had a guy shoot himself in the leg while holstering his cocked and locked .45. Fortunately, it just barely grazed his outer thigh, giving him about a four inch racing stripe. It barely broke the skin. His wife was shooting next to him and she was a basket case. After the paramedics patched him up, they got in their RV and left. Still want to carry that hog leg in Condition 1?

19. This new generation of handguns minimizes or eliminates those problems. Next time I go to Front Sight, I’ll be shooting the M&P full size 9mm and the Shield will be the backup.

20. Take lots of magazines, especially if you’re shooting a single stack weapon. Front Sight says bring at least three. I’d say a minimum of six. I had eight and I was still busier than a one armed paper hanger all week.

21. I had my ammo in neat plastic cases and my Israeli MagLula speed loader ready to go. I ended up putting about 50 rounds in my pocket and refreshing my magazines the old fashioned way on the ready line. I’d load them up with the speed loader in the morning and after lunch. After that, there simply isn’t time to pluck the rounds one at a time out of the box and employ the speed loader. Some of the students had trap shooter bags full of loose ammo hanging from their belts. That worked well. I’ll be looking into one of those for next time.

22. Front Sight catches a lot of crap from the handgun community because they continue to emphasize the Weaver stance. Actually, it’s more of a modified Weaver or Chapman stance. According to the naysayers, the Weaver is obsolete. Everybody now uses the combat isosceles stance. I personally like the Chapman and that’s what I shoot. It just works for me. If you get to Front Sight and are Hell bent to shoot isosceles, they won’t say a word other than to suggest you keep an open mind and try their stance.

The Front Sight business model

Range HQ

This is it. This is main street of the Front Sight resort community.

Front Sight was started in 1997 by a California chiropractor named Ignatius Piazza, who still runs the place. He had big plans. His vision for Front Sight was a “shooting resort” with ranges, adventure training, martial arts, homes, condos, shops, restaurants, etc. To move forward with it, he sold memberships, which cost up to $25,000. These memberships entitled you to free classes, prime lots and amenities like a Front Sight hat and T-shirt. (Seriously. That’s two of the many benefits he touts.)

Twelve years ago, when I first divorced, I almost bought a Bronze membership for $5,000. I decided against it. For at least two years after, I was bombarded with e-mails and slick flyers about all the things that I was missing. They went on and on about all the great things that were happening at Front Sight.

Well, most of it was b—s—t. None of resort stuff and luxury amenities ever happened. I drove into Front Sight expecting a desert oasis. With the exception of the ranges and house trailers used for offices, there’s absolutely nothing there. They didn’t even have running water until about four years ago. Ignatius Piazza has been sued repeatedly yet continues to bang the drum for all the great things going on at Front Sight and is still selling memberships.

This is the angle that gets most of the bad comments in the handgun community. However, I found a clear separation between the business end and the training program. The ranges are modern and well maintained and the staff are all very professional. At no time did anybody try to give us the hard sell. In fact, it wasn’t mentioned at all.  Don’t let the business/marketing thing turn you away.

The going rate for a Front Sight course is $500 a day. That’s the same as other trainers like Gunsite and Thunder Ranch. I took the course for $100 with a Front Sight certificate. Here’s Front Sight’s dirty little secret – nobody pays full price for a course. Here’s why. When customers buy full price memberships, they get a bunch of course certificates and full fledged memberships to give away or sell. I got my certificate through a friend. Then I came back, started looking around for another one and found a guy on E-bay who was selling memberships. It sounded too good to be true.Take any course I want any time I want for the rest of my life. I emailed and called the guy trying to coax out of him what the catch is. There wasn’t one. It’s a full blown, honest-to-goodness Diamond level life membership with a retail value of $7,000. It cost me $250. I’ve got my membership card, diamond certificate, hat and T-shirt. These things are everywhere on the Internet. If I had spent the five grand for a membership, I would not be a happy camper. Never pay full price for a Front Sight course.

One has to wonder how long they can stay in business like this. There have been rumors and reports over the years that they were going under, but I saw no evidence of that. I went into this with my eyes open and figured even if they close tomorrow, I got a $2,000 course for $350. I think they’ll be around a while. They have a large course offering and lots of students.

I had a very successful week. My score on the skills test the last day put me in the top 3 shooters. Now that I’m snowbirding in Arizona, I plan to go back at least twice a year. In addition to the full size M&P on my wish list, I may have to buy a new rifle and shotgun for those courses.

This post turned out to be longer than I planned, but that’s usually the way it goes. Hope this helps. Maybe I’ll see you on the line some time.

Semper Fi …. Out here …. Boris

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