Training Time: Taking Your First Rifle Training Class

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In the last four years there has been a tremendous increase in the number of AR15 pattern rifles on the market. Many shooters purchase a new rifle, take it to the range a few times and then wonder “what now?” 3-Gun shooting can be expensive, and many ranges limit the amount of rounds per minute you can fire and the shooting positions you can fire from. So what is an AR owner looking to do more than just plink rounds to do?

The answer is to take a training class. Right now is the best time to take professional training, as an abundance of quality training providers exist all over the country. But with the volume of instructors comes some pitfalls; without knowing what to look for a shooter could end up in a class that doesn’t meet that person’s developmental needs.

Know your Goals

The most important step to preparing for a training class is to know what your goals are as a shooter. Do you want to get better at general gun handling and weapons manipulation? Do you want to learn about employing an AR in home defense or an active shooter situation? Different classes are going to provide different types of instruction; and while “shooting” may be the theme that ties it all together the kind of shooting you see in a manipulations class is going to be different than a tactics class. Similarly, a class focused on running the rifle in 3-Gun will teach a different set of skills than a class focused on high-power rifle competition.

Know who is teaching

The instructor is the most critical component of any class you take. Without knowing your instructor’s background, it’s impossible to know whether or not they’re a legitimate instructor or just some guy that decided to teach rifle class as his new job. The problem is that it’s difficult to differentiate between one or the other without knowing what questions to ask. Some of the areas to look for are:

  • Whom have they trained with? If a trainer doesn’t list some people that they’ve personally trained with on their website, it could be an indicator of a lack of professional learning experience. If a trainer has never been a student, how can they understand enough to teach?
  • Whom have they trained? Depending on what your goal is, this could be important. If you’re looking for a class on civilian self-defense and home defense use of a rifle, and your instructor only teaches tactics to SWAT teams and Navy SEALs, you might want to consider looking elsewhere.
  • Buzzword bingo: When you’re reading a website about a trainer, and it’s covered in tactical buzzwords, or the instructor claims to be teaching secrets of gunfighting that are “too extreme” for Group XYZ, it’s probably time to move on.
  • Tearing down other instructors: Regardless of how Trainer A feels about Trainer B, he’s not going to tear Trainer B down in public. That’s unprofessional, and in and industry that lives and dies on referrals, it’s a major red flag.

 What to Bring

Most classes will post an equipment list that will likely include all the gun-related stuff you’re going to need for the class. Rifle, ammo, magazines, pouches, secondary weapon (usually a handgun), ammo for the secondary, etc. However, many times the gear list will leave out some important items that could be useful. For example, check the weather. Is it going to be hot? Will it be raining? Could it be raining one day and hot the next? You’ll need to pack appropriate gear to deal with the weather conditions. A few items that should live in your range bag are sunscreen, baby wipes, and Band-Aids. Sunscreen because the constant agony of a sunburn makes training difficult, baby wipes because you might be quite a ways away from a proper bathroom, and Band-Aids because you never know who’s going to cut themselves.

Along with all that gear, there are other considerations on peripheral gear. Obviously, bring water, but think about how you’re going to be moving your water around. At a recent class, a student showed up with a case of those tiny eight-ounce water bottles, which caused everyone to laugh at him until they realized he could stuff three or four bottles in his cargo pockets without compromising his mobility. Smart. Are you going to be shooting from unusual positions? Bring knee pads. Maybe even some elbow pads. There are some classes where a hockey/skateboard style helmet might even be a good idea. It’s pretty hard to keep learning with a concussion or a destroyed kneecap.

Dos and Don’ts

Once you’re at the class, regardless of whether it’s a Larry Vickers class, Gunsite, or any of the other reputable schools out there, there are some general guidelines to having a good class experience. Simple, easy to remember dos and don’ts will go a long way towards making your first training experience rewarding.

  • Do ask questions: If you don’t understand a drill, the reason for something, or are just confused, it’s okay to ask. Most instructors would prefer you ask rather than you fumble through a drill and not learn.
  • Don’t be “that guy.”: Everyone knows “that guy,” because everyone has had him in a class at some time or another. He’s the guy who asks questions just to hear himself talk or to have people pat him on the back about how smart he is. No one likes that guy.
  • Do help tape targets and reset steel: This helps keep the class moving at a good pace. Help tape/paste/reset and you’ll spend more time shooting and thus learning.
  • Don’t hold the class up because you don’t have enough ammo: If the course description says “you’ll need to be able to bring 50 rounds to the line at a time” then make sure you can do that. Have enough mags, and keep them topped off.
  • Do have fun: It’s easy to get caught up in the serious nature of practice and training and forget that you’re supposed to be having fun doing this. You may have given up vacation time for this class, so enjoy it!

Take More Classes

Hopefully you’re ready now to take your first major rifle training class. Once you’ve gone in to your first class, it’s important to keep building on that solid foundation. Take different classes from different instructors to broaden your skill base. Keep learning. You’ll find the more you shoot, the more you’ll want to learn, and the better you’ll be able to pass those skills on to other shooters, whether they’re friends, family, or just folks at the range.

It doesn’t matter if you’re learning about 3-Gun, tactics, self-defense, or even traditional rifle marksmanship. Attending a professionally taught training class by a reputable instructor will be a beneficial experience. Who knows, you might even find yourself walking the teacher’s path someday.

By Caleb Giddings. Originally published in the January 2015 issue of GunUp the Magazine.

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