Get Trained!  A Beginnerís Guide On How To Get Started and What To Expect

by Matt Olivier

photography by Boge Quinn & Matt Olivier

March 3rd, 2020

Click pictures for a larger version.



Author trains at Gunsite Academy.



Author trains with Battleline Tactical at Pike's Peak Gun Club.



Gunsite instructor Chris Currie.



Gunsite instructor Ed Head in the classroom.



Gunsite instructor Ed Head on the range.



Ed Head and Bobby Tyler, with Ed's engraved Ruger Bisley by Tyler Gun Works.





So, youíve taken one of the best self-defense decisions you can and decided to get some formal training.  Now what?  Where to start?  There are so many options to choose from.  Let me walk you through how I did it, not so long ago.

First, and foremost, decide on how much time you can devote to your training...can you only spare one day?  A weekend? Or an entire week?  This will help dictate what training you should look for.  If you can only afford to take one day out of your schedule, you may need to stay local and look for training in your area.  A weekend?  Maybe you can make it a little farther...perhaps up to 5-6 hours away from home so you can get there after work on Friday, still get a good nightís sleep and train the weekend before heading home on Sunday evening.  Dedicating a full week takes more planning, but gives you more options as you now have a weekend before and after to get there and back.

Ok, you know how much time you have.  Start doing some research.  Decide what type of training you are looking for...self-defense? Close quarters?  Vehicle?  Security (places of worship, sanctuaries, etc), long range rifle?  Sporting rifles?  Shotgunning?  The options are almost endless.  The internet is equally endless and will get you started on what are options for your training needs and desires.  Check out your local ranges; many offer routine training, some offer ad hoc classes where they bring in a trainer.  There are trainers that tour the country to teach and use different local ranges all over.  Also donít forget to research recommendations from past students, this will give you a good feel for what to expect, not only with course content, but instructor qualifications and expertise, facilities, usefulness of the training, amenities, etc...

Once you find one that fits your schedule and travel constraints, donít forget to look at your budget!

By budget, donít just look at the cost of the training, but look at transportation (airline, rental car, gas), hotel, and food.  Make sure you have all of that planned and factored in.  Donít forget to look at the curriculum and make sure that you also budget accordingly for ammunition costs  (some courses will have you shoot 1000+ rounds, which adds up), and donít forget the gear you may not have...knee or elbow pads, flashlight, etc...

Having gone through that process a few times, I decided that I needed some formal self-defense training and that a weeklong course would suit my schedule and needs.  Looking at available options, I settled on the grand-daddy of them all, and booked a basic pistol self-defense class at Gunsite Academy in Paulden, Arizona.  This course, named the 250 class, would hopefully provide me with some good, solid, fundamentals.

Gunsite, founded by the late Colonel Jeff Cooper in 1976, is the premier gun-fighting school in the world.  Teaching not only marksmanship, but also gun-handling and The Combat Mindset, and with around 3,000 acres, over twenty different ranges, around fifty instructors, both men and women, who have a background of military, law enforcement, or have a high degree and experience of training in their field, the training experience offered is almost unlimited. From basic pistol square range, to indoor and outdoor simulators, long range rifle, and force-on-force, there isnít much that you canít train on there, and it makes for a perfect venue to test and evaluate weapons.

I eagerly booked my class, hotel room for the week, found a good flight and rental car, and impatiently waited.

During the wait, I went through endless permutations of what gear I should take.  Being founded by Jeff Cooper, there is a strong penchant for the 1911 pistol at Gunsite, but my research told me that any handgun of acceptable caliber would be adequate.  There was no need to buy a new pistol (darn, I was looking for a good excuse to buy another gun!).  If you arenít sure of what pistol to take, or if you live in a more restrictive locality where handgun possession is difficult, ask your training facility if they rent pistols.  Many do, and that can be a viable option.  Already having a few 1911 pistols in my collection, I decided to use my Ruger SR1911 in 45 ACP.

Once youíve settled on a handgun, make sure you have an adequate holster.  Most facilities, instructors, and gun people will insist on a sturdy holster made of either leather or some sort of hard polymer, like Kydex, that will provide not only a secure and sturdy means to carry your handgun but will also ensure ease of re-holstering it once finished using your handgun.  Being more of a traditionalist, I knew I wanted a leather holster.  I contacted my good friend Rob Leahy at Simply Rugged Holsters, who set me up with one of his wonderful leather Holsters, the Cuda, which is designed for both concealed carry and range use.  With the holster, I also purchased three single magazine pouches, so I could carry my spare magazines on my belt.

Spare magazines...wait a second, how many would I need and did I have enough?  A quick check with Gunsite confirmed that it would be best to have at least 6 for in the gun, 2-3 for on my person, and a few spares, as magazines tend to hit the gravely and dusty Arizona deck during reloads and can get damaged.  Ok, I had enough spares, but what else did I need?

Sturdy belt, check.  Hat, check.  Safety glasses, check.  Hearing protection, check (I strongly recommend electronic hearing protection as these help hear instructions and basic communications, but good old ear plugs work just fine too).  The Gunsite 250 class does have some teaching of different shooting positions such as prone and kneeling, so I opted to bring some knee pads, just to be safe (and I wasnít sorry), which I found used at a local Army surplus store.  Is there some night time shooting?  Flashlight, check.

I also made sure I had lip balm, sun screen, and a pair of comfortable shoes.  On the topic of shoes, make sure you bring a pair of shoes that you will be comfortable in being on your feet for 8+ hours a day.  You donít necessarily need combat boots, but a good pair of hiking shoes that have been broken in will make the experience much more comfortable.  Your training class is not the right time to break in your new hiking boots!  One item I didnít think of ahead of time, but went and bought during my class, was athletic tape.  I didnít adequately anticipate the rubbing, chafing and blisters on my hand from shooting all those rounds and found that a few pieces of strategically placed surgical tape helped protect my hands and fingers.  Trust me, your nicely checkered front strap can feel like a cheese grater after only a few hundred rounds over a few days.  I now keep a roll or two of tape in my range bag all the time.

Itís also not a bad idea to have a cleaning kit with you, just in case. Even if itís just a basic kit with some rags, bore brush or bore snake, your favorite lubricant, etc.  It can sure come in handy!

Some training facilities will have ammunition for sale there, others will require you to bring your own.  Make sure you find out before you get there and make the necessary preparations.  Shipping ammunition to yourself ahead of time can get expensive but is an option; so is stopping at a sporting goods store on your way there, but Iíd strongly recommend you donít wait until the last minute to roll in to the only place in town, 5 minutes before close on the day before the class and risk finding out that they were cleaned out of your caliber ammunition by other students also waiting for the last minute and beat you to it.

Donít forget medication, emergency contact information, range necessities such as snacks and water (hydration is critical!).  A small range bag helps carry your gear easily, along with some ammo.  You donít need anything fancy, but something sturdy enough.

Once you have all of your gear (did you make your list and check it twice?), make sure you get some good rest before and during your class.  You need to be fresh and alert, not only to maximize your training and learning but, most importantly, to be safe to yourself, other students, and the instructors there with your gun handling.  This is much more easily done when you are well rested and alert.

Now itís time to train!  Get to your class on time, be safe, and donít be afraid to ask questions; thatís why the instructors are there.  Maximize your training opportunity by taking advantage of repetitions (for example, if one relay isnít full, ask the instructor if you can jump in and shoot again!).   The old clichť of practice makes perfect applies here.  Enjoy your training, have fun and learn how to be better.

Remember, proper preparation prevents poor performance!

Well, youíve read my thoughts, from personal experiences, now get trained and let me know what you have learned from your own experiences on how to better get ready for the next training.

See you on the range!

Matt Olivier

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Mike McNett of Double Tap Ammo tests loads at Gunsite.



Elise Bennett shoots the 250 Course at Gunsite.





Jeff Quinn at Gunsite.



Jeff Quinn at Gunsite with instructor Il Ling Nu.


Some dear friends (L-R): Rob Leahy of Simply Rugged Holsters, author Matt Olivier, and Scott Tschirhart.



Ed Head with Rob Leahy at Gunsite.