Monday, April 6, 2015

KA-BAR TDI Law Enforcement Knife and Edge/Equipped Sheath

A good knife has always been an essential for me. Back in my day, carrying my Buck 110 Finger-groove Folding Hunter on my belt in a leather sheath to high school was no big deal. Later on, that same knife was on my duty belt as a police officer in the late 1980s when Spyderco knives were just starting to make their way into folding blade fashion.

Typically... I carry two knives every day... a Leatherman Style on my keychain and a larger knife like my folding Buck Bones knife, but more recently my KA-BAR TDI Law Enforcement Knife in an Edge/Equipped sheath. Now I know that most knife-laden tactical ninjas will laugh at my Buck Bones knife... but I like it... and I still have a couple of Spyderco knives and a Benchmade Griptilian tucked away.

A defensive knife guru I am not, but I have had a couple of KA-BAR TDI knives for a number of years and I've come to appreciate the speed with which a person can employ one of these compact, fixed blade knives for defensive purposes. This past January, my wife and I attended the Sudden Threat Active Blade training presented by the ZNN Tactical Training Team. This is the second defensive knife course I've taken in my life and it was very well done with basic, straight-forward techniques that can be practiced, retained, and employed by every-day, average people.

Having noticed years ago how quickly the KA-BAR TDI knife can be deployed with minimal training and effort... especially since it doesn't have to be unfolded and locked in place... this most recent training and instruction made that even clearer. While the knife comes with a quality, plastic belt-sheath that can be configured in several manners, I picked up a sheath (yes, I bought it for the same price as you would) designed by my friend Matt over at Edge/Equipped in conjunction with LAG Tactical and I've been carrying the KA-BAR TDI knife almost daily in the E/E sheath for nearly four months now.

While the original sheath KA-BAR included with the knife is well-constructed and the belt-clip is able to be reversed for right or left hand access and positioning, I find the metal clip can be rough on clothing (yeah, I'm fat around the middle so it does rub when I sit in my vehicle or belly-up against things). Also, the metal belt clip doesn't fit well with some of the larger, thicker belts I wear that support my IWB and AIWB holsters I use to carry my EDC gun.

The soft and flexible, yet sturdy and non-stretching synthetic belt loops included with the E/E sheath work well with my belts and allow for various mounting configurations for the IWB Kydex sheath to suit the wearer's preferred carry position. The Kydex sheath is more compact and rounded than the KA-BAR sheath which I find more comfortable for every day wear. The snaps are sturdy and the "one-direction to snap on/off" type. They are a bit stiff to work and I often find myself just sliding the sheath onto my belt... but that is better than a couple of other holsters I have where the snaps are constantly coming unsnapped.

The edges of the E/E sheath are carefully finished during construction by LAG Tactical and the molded sheath fits and retains the KA-BAR TDI knife with just the right amount of tension, which is important for easy access, but also so the knife doesn't slip out as it is very sharp and after having these knives for several years, they hold their edge really well for me. You will also find the true genius of the KA-BAR TDI knife is the ergonomic grip angle and easily indexed finger groove that allows almost anyone to grip, draw, slice, stab, and gouge with the knife without extensive training and while not having to worry about holding onto the knife... even when it's wet with sweat, rain, or your attacker's blood.

I prefer to carry my knives on my left side... usually towards my center-line, as I carry my gun on my right side. That allows me to use the knife for weapon retention purposes. I'm amazed at how few regular people even notice the knife handle or grip when I carry it there. The placement of the rivets in the Kydex sheath allow a lot of flexibility in how and where you use the included Chicago screws to configure the sheath to your preferred carry position.

My main gal, the wife, liked this sheath a lot... so I ordered her a knife and sheath for her birthday this past March. Now don't bug E/E about the color as this purchase was a "one-off" item.  She has tried it out and really likes it so far. I find gals tend to need even more options than men to fit their various body shapes and clothing styles... so the almost infinitely configurable nature of the E/E sheath is an advantage there too.

If you've never tried one of KA-BAR's TDI fixed-blade knives, you really should. You will find the grip is just natural and your speed over your daily carry folding knife will probably be worth it.  The included sheath is good for many people, but you'll also find the E/E TDI Sheath worth the investment for the comfort, adjustability, and durability it offers.

Again... if you follow my blog... you know I don't just put a few shots through a gun and review it or try something out a couple of times and slap down my opinion. I have carried used this knife almost daily int eh E/E sheath for nearly four months and I've carried one of our KA-BAR TDI knifes on and off for several years with the included sheath... and I like it, especially for quick access and use for defensive purposes by an average, every-day kind of guy... So you may just want to consider picking up a... KA-BAR TDI Law Enforcement Knife and Edge/Equipped Sheath

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Try some drive-by dryfire practice...

A recent video posted online of the woman being kidnapped and robbed has generated a lot of discussion on the internet. Kathy Jackson over at the Cornered Cat has a great write up about that particular situation, but one question I have for those of us that carry a concealed firearm... are you ready to defend yourself while you're in your car?

Now realize a gun may not always be the only answer when you are threatened while seated in your vehicle. You may just want to drive away, make an evasive maneuver, or use your vehicle as a defensive weapon... but sometimes you need to draw your gun from concealment and stop the attacker or threat.

The gals and I happened to be blessed with our own shooting range here at home where we can actually practice drawing and shooting from concealment while we are in our vehicles.  Many of you may not have facilities that provide access for you and your vehicle to practice drawing and firing from concealment... so might I suggest you try some dry-fire practice while drawing from concealment while seated in your vehicle.

Have you ever tried drawing your gun from concealment while seated in your vehicle?  Have you tried drawing your gun from concealment while seated in your vehicle while wearing the typical heavier jackets and clothing many of us wear at this time of year? Appendix carry may be a lot easier to access and use with heavier clothing and jackets. The holster in the three-to-four-o'clock position might work fine or it might be pinned under your seatbelt or wedged between you and the center console or door - depending on whether you're right-handed or left-handed - in the popular "cockpit-style" design used in many cars, cross-overs, trucks, and SUVs these days.

Before trying some dryfire practice from your vehicle... ALWAYS make sure your gun and magazine are both unloaded... I always check and cycle the action at least three times to make sure... in fact, I don't even have any ammunition present in the area.  When you begin, think about the basics again.

Can you access and get a good grip on the gun with your carry rig, clothing, seat-belt, and obstacles in your vehicle while in the seated position? Can you readily reach your spare magazine or speedloader for a reload? Have you thought about unzipping your jacket or pre-positioning your clothing to draw your gun while seated in your vehicle? You may find your elbow hitting the seat-back when you try to reach back and draw your gun. Can you then draw the gun from the holster without getting caught on the seat-belt, seat, console, controls, or steering wheel?

Once you've drawn your gun from your holster, how do you get it into the firing position in the safest manner possible? I carry on my right side, so I draw and then bring the gun up and over the steering wheel to keep from muzzling my two femoral arteries which is what would happen if I crossed my lap with my muzzle pointed downward while getting into a firing position while seated in my vehicle.

As you begin to rotate your body and press out with a two-handed shooting stance while coming up on target, make sure you understand the constraints of your particular vehicle and how it may throw you off a bit in your shooting.  How much range and rotation of motion do you have while aiming and dryfiring from your seated position?

Practice drawing and dryfiring through the closed window simulating an attacker right up at your driver's door.  Practice drawing and dryfiring at an attacker with just your left-hand so you can still operate your vehicle with your right-hand.  Make sure if you are right-handed shooting out the left driver's door you don't muzzle your left hand or arm.  Practice drawing and dryfiring at an attacker approaching on your right, passenger side.  Practice drawing and dryfiring through your windshield at an attacker directly in front of you too.

Now don't forget to use a little common sense too... because doing dryfire practice while seated in your vehicle in the apartment parking lot or in the driveway in your neighborhood... might cause a bit of alarm. So, if you carry in your vehicle and haven't tried drawing from concealment while you're in your vehicle... maybe you should... Try some drive-by dryfire practice...

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Two are one and one is none...

I have often joked that the secret to a good marriage is to marry a woman who loves guns and motorcycles as much as you do.  My gal is a fiery, sassy redhead with a mind of her own... and the Good Lord knows we've seen a lot of guns and motorcycles come and go... and accumulate over the more than a quarter of a century we've been together.

We've had some ups and downs as any marriage or friendship does, but we've worked hard and stuck through it all... sharpened each other's iron... raised a daughter... shot and rode together... made a home out in the country together... even built a shooting range  and a couple of barns together...
Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
~Ecclesiastes 4:9-12
It's great to know we have each other's back... literally.  Facing off with a home invader is not something I look forward to, but it's also not too much of a worry for me... because I know that if you're coming after me... good... my gal is going to put a round in your ear.

Now it may seem a bit strange to be posting this the day AFTER Valentine's Day... but that is exactly why I am posting it today. We all remember the important days, and the important things... but it's the little things that slowly tear us down. Most of the time, there are very few things that change in a day, but our lives gradually slide away from us over time.  We don't get fat and out of shape over night... and we don't lose our shooting and self-defense skills overnight... and we don't lose our marriages and relationships overnight.

Just like shooting, self-defense, physical fitness, and other perishable skills, our marriages and relationships slowly fade away if we don't remain dedicated to regularly work at them, strengthen them, and vary our routines from time to time. Also, if your marriage or relationship is headed south... maybe your Situational Awareness isn't what you thought it was.

So again, it's not a special day today... it's just another day... and I'm reminding myself... and maybe you... that... Two are one and one is none...

Sunday, January 4, 2015

A home-defense gun and ammo for $246 bucks?

This idea has actually evolved over the past couple of years since I began to write this blog post.  It originated with a young mother who was referred to me by a friend. She has two young children, a dead-beat husband who up and left her two years ago, lives in a small rented house in a rural area, and was the victim of a burglary while at work... one of two jobs she holds to make ends meet. She wanted to get a gun for home-defense and had two-hundred dollars to spend... what should or could she get?

Greg Ellifritz, over at Active Response Training, posted on Facebook about his experience with a concerned, young lady who had just bought a gun... a cheap gun that was all that she could afford.  He re-posted it on his blog, so take a look here before reading on.  Owning a firearm is not an inexpensive endeavor anymore. You can't walk into a Kmart anymore and pick up a rifle for $59.97.

So, with skipping a couple of meals, turning the heat down to sixty-four degrees in the winter, and skimping on a couple of other necessities for daily living... this young mother scraped up a little more than $200... she has $246 bucks to get the best home-defense gun and ammo she could afford to defend her home. I agonized over my advice for her, realizing that she was a new shooter, inexperienced, lived in a rural area that might also require dispatching a four-legged critter or two... and recommended she buy a Ruger 10/22... a plain, basic, blued .22LR rifle. A Hi-Point 9mm was a real consideration.

Wait a minute... you recommended a Ruger 10/22 for home-defense? Are you nuts? Well, let me ask you this question: You have $246  to bucks spend. That include gun, ammunition, and sales tax, transfer fees, shipping, etc. What would you recommend to a new shooter for home defense? What pistol, shotgun, or rifle - with ammo - would you recommend within that budget?

Over the years, I have witnessed new shooters... without any instruction beyond "don't shoot your eye out"... take a .22 rifle and hit targets at five to fifteen yards without any trouble. Now I'm not advocating handing a gun to a new shooter without any instruction, I'm just saying I've witnessed it. Pistols take more time to build accuracy skills for similar distances and purposes than a short rifle... and shotguns are a handful for many new shooters. Except for the recent "ammo shortage", .22LR is typically available for reasonable prices to practice with and keep on-hand.

You can find a basic, new Ruger 10/22 on sale for about $219 and occassionally for $199. So in Ohio, that would be about $235 with sales tax. Pick up a box of fifty decent (as in not Remington Thunderbolts or Winchester Wildcats) .22LR rounds for the remaining $11... and you're done... $246 bucks spent.

Truth be told, she bought the gun back at that time... and I gave her a box of CCI Mini-mags, cheap uLine safety glasses, some foam ear-plugs, and some free training with time at our local range. So, just setting aside our judgmental tendencies about her situation in life, why she might be there, or why she doesn't save to get a real gun... the true reality is... she has $246 bucks to spend and extra funds for ammunition, practice, or training are probably non-existent for the foreseeable future. Don't get all judgmental... it's reality for a lot of people.

OK, I know you'll ask why the Ruger over the Marlin 60 or 795, or the Remington 795, or the whatever... my personal experience with semi-auto .22 rifles is that the Ruger is the best overall considering reliability, quality, accessories, value, and company support. Or why the Ruger over a shotgun or pistol... well, what would YOU recommend?

Now, YOU have $246 buck to spend. Here is YOUR exercise in critical thinking for the day...

What would you recommend and why? Fire back in the comments below. The situation is:

  • You're recommending a home-defense gun for a new, inexperienced shooter desperately wanting to protect her family via her God-given and Second Amendment-protected rights.
  • She has $246 to spend... maximum, that includes the firearm, ammunition, sales tax, transfer fees, shipping, or any possible cost involved.
  • Your recommendation must be a recommendation that is able to be duplicated... no one-off, "found a used, mint Model 10 S&W revolver in great condition for $125" on the internet baloney. If new shooters can't find at least a half-dozen for that price, don't recommend it. 
  • Disregard the recent ammo shortages and current .22LR shortage in your decision (because it's cyclical and has subsided for most calibers except .22LR), but do figure on current ammunition costs to have enough ammunition to try a few shots with the gun and have it loaded for self-defense,,, let's say... fifty rounds.
Can it be done? Have we reached a point where we're just dead-meat because $246 just won't do it... or have we reached a point where if a Hi-Point 9mm and a rock were our only two options... our egos and tacti-cool, ninja crap would choose the rock over the Hi-Point 9mm?

What are your thoughts or recommendations... for... A home-defense gun and ammo for $246 bucks?

Monday, December 1, 2014

A "grey man" in tactical pants?

Two statements I want to make as I begin are A) I wear either black or coyote brown 5.11 or Propper tactical pants most days and B) almost nobody notices or pays attention to them... I've actually checked with people... friends, family, acquaintances, students that know me... most can only recall that I seem to wear black pants most of the time. Now, I often wear a button-down shirt with a sweater vest or professional looking pull-over and on casual days out, a nice looking three-button polo... but few seem to really notice the tactical pants, or as I call them, "practical" pants.

First, let me provide some personal background in clothing selection. I grew up a country boy around farms and I often wore overalls or cargo pants purely for their practical utility.  You could keep tools, knives, and/or flashlights on you that you needed as you went about your day.  In my even younger years, you'd often find my brother and I in either Sears Toughskins jeans or hiking pants and shorts. Those hiking pants, or "camper" pants as we called them, had open-pockets and snapped-pockets and zippered-pockets and loops, and even snaps to hold a key ring.

A lot of people don't realize that tactical pants started out as utilitarian pants for mountain climbers originally designed and sold by Royal Robbins. In fact, the 5.11 pants get their name from the the rating system for the difficulty of climbs by mountaineers... the most difficult of which was rated at 5.11 at the time. The idea of being prepared for daily tasks lent itself to clothing being selected more for practical needs as opposed to fashion.

In my professional life, while I did work as a police officer for a number of years a couple of decades ago, I have been a photographer and designer for many years. The utility and practical aspect of "cargo" style pants for a commercial and advertising photographer doing studio and location work can never be underestimated. I've misplaced enough lens caps over the years to affirm this.

Long before people even knew what a "shoot-me-first" vest was, I was wearing a photographer's vest on a regular basis. I personally find that carry items in pants pockets tends to be less cumbersome and intrusive than vest pockets, so you rarely find me wearing the vest the last few years. The pants are still very handy in my current day job as I teach full-time and move about a university campus between computer labs and photography studios, but many others find practicality in "tactical" pants. I've seen university maintenance personnel and an electrician in 5.11s and one copier technician who wears "paramedic/EMT" pants to hold their tools.

But... but... if you wear tactical pants everyone will know you have a gun and you'll never be a "grey man". In my experience, not really. First of all, there are so many people wearing tactical pants whether the carry concealed or not, I don't think they really don't stand out any more... especially to those outside the "gun culture". Second, I've found that the large majority of the general population don't even know what "tactical" pants are and don't even pay attention to them.

A lot of people don't seem to look side to side, let alone below eye or chest level as they go through life. The few aware, concealed carry "sheep-dog-types" out there may notice, but I'm not usually concerned with them being a threat. While a criminal might think "Mr. Tactical Pants has a gun I could steal."... I'd imagine a lot criminals sizing me up are deterred overall by my dress and manor... and will look for an easier target. Most criminals are not stupid... they, like most predatory animals, look for the weakest, easiest target in the herd.

Two years ago, I tried a little visual experiment to gauge the visual observance of my students who are in a visual design field. I taught for an hour while wearing black 5.11s, a black sweater vest, and a maroon button-down shirt and my black, dress walking shoes. I placed a paper face down by each student and asked them not to turn it over until I left the room, then I left the room. They turned the paper over and I asked simple visual questions like "What was the background color on the Powerpoint presentation I went through?", "What color pants was I wearing?". "What color shirt was I wearing", "Was there anything special about the pants I was wearing?"

After going to my office and changing into plain black slacks, the black sweater vest and a blue button-down shirt, I returned about five minutes later. One student exclaimed to another student, "See, I told you his shirt was blue!" Only one student had noted something special about the pants... being that I always carried a Point-n-Shoot Canon camera in the one leg pocket, but he couldn't recall if I wore those pants that day since I was standing there in slacks. Only four of seventeen could accurately and confidently recall the background color of the Powerpoint presentation that I used for over an hour of lecture and Adobe Creative Suite demonstrations. Now this is not a truly definitive scientific study, but it shows that being a "grey man" is not that difficult in our tuned out society.

As far as being the "grey man", my wife, daughter, and I try to live a very visually bland life.  We have plain vehicles without bumper stickers that declare, "Kill them all and let God sort them out" or "Driver only carries $20 worth of ammo". Anytime someone looks at your vehicle and jokingly thinks or says, "he's compensating for something", you're not blending in. Additionally, our daily clothing choices are not flamboyant or attention-getting. I think you can dress nice and professional without looking like a complete tactical ninja or wearing look-at-me styles and clothing choices.

I think going "grey" as much as possible is a good thing for most people's safety. Our home, barns, and property are extraordinarily average in appearance. We have a shooting range behind our larger barn and most people who don't live near by and know us have no idea it is even there as they drive by. The most noticeable thing on our property are the "Miller Security System" signs on the home and barns signalling we have an alarm system in place and the two large dogs and canine-accessories like water dishes and chew toys that say, "Don't mess with our home."

My wife and daughter dress nicely, but they don't dress or carry purses that scream "look at me" or move them to the top of the "target" choices for criminals looking to score the most in a purse grab or sexual assault. (No gals, I'm not blaming any victims for their assaults, but if you don't think the way you dress and act matters... you're not living in reality.)

We don't flash cash around when we discreetly get our wallets out to pay for something. We don't carry smart phones with brightly colored or decorated cases. We definitely don't text or plug our ears with earbuds while walking around... if you're going to put yourself in Condition White with technological visual and auditory impairment, then do it at home in a physically secure environment, not in a high visibility area... and especially not if you're advertising what you have might be worth taking.

So being a grey man can be done in different ways and at different levels, but I ask you for your thoughts... is it possible to be... A "grey man" in tactical pants?

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Do you need a Grab-n-Go Two-Way Radio Bag?

In a day and age of smart phones, there isn't a lot of consideration for other modes of two-way communication by many people. While a lot of those in the prepping community are investing in HAM and MURS radio systems, I would suggest that there is still an important role for FRS/GMRS and CB two-way radios in day-to-day life.

We live out in the country and there are areas in our county where cellular service is spotty at best and depending on your carrier... non-existent in places. We've done firearms training at TDI about an hour from us in southwest Ohio and there is almost no cellular signal in the valley between the hills were they are located. Additionally, sometimes communicating with a group via cell phones is not as convenient either

Two-way FRS/GMRS and CB transceivers have come a long way since Smokey and the Bandit were saying, "Breaker... 1... 9..." and my friends and I were talking back and forth while hiking in the woods on a pair of Radio Shack walkie-talkies on the 27MHz frequency spectrum of the FCC's "citizen-bands". There are a lot of great sources of information about the various types of radios available for public use including this recent post by ITS Tactical.

I'm not here to argue the merits of various radio systems or be concerned with tactical operations and operational security (OPSEC). I just want to suggest that having some commonly available two-way communication radios that are easy to use and readily available to other people at a reasonable cost might also likely help in a lot of every day tasks, situations, and emergencies.

Did you ever have to run around and look for something you know you have, but you aren't sure where you last left it? I've been there and done that. That is why I'm a big believer in having or building "kits" and "systems" that have everything we need in a convenient location, case, or bag ready to go... just like our Bug Out Bags (BOBs). That is why we put together Grab-n-Go Two-Way Radio Bags.

Neighbor's child or dog is missing... grab the Two-Way Radio Bag. Friend lost a buck at the end of a blood trail in the woods up the road and need a few helpers to track it down... grab the Two-Way Radio Bag. Crawling through the attic to help a friend run coaxial cable down through walls all the way to the basement... grab the Two-Way Radio Bag. Going camping and want to keep in touch with the family throughout the campground... grab the Two-Way Radio Bag. You get the picture.

We have two identical Grab-n-Go Two-Way Radio Bags. Two is one and one is none. We picked up the Realtree Tool Bags at Walmart a couple of years back. Each bag contains two FRS/GMRS/NOAA hand-held two-way radios, chargers, and accessories; two CB hand-held two-way radios, chargers, 12-volt automotive adapters and accessories; one base-station FRS/GMRS/NOAA/FM radio and accessories; and one AA battery-powered USB charger with adapters to charge cell phones if needed.

We like our Midland GXT radios. There are a lot of good choices out there, but these come ready with both rechargeable battery packs and they take AA batteries too. Plus, a quick drop in the creek or a heavy downpour won't hurt these radios because they're JIS4 Water Proof. Don't try that with your cell phone. The voice operated transmission (VOX) with the included headsets makes hands-free operation a no-brainer.

The best thing about FRS/GMRS radios is that if any of your friends have bought walkie-talkies in the last few years, that is likely what they have, or at least FRS two-way radios... and you can communicate with them even if the radios are different brands. Most of these radios have "privacy codes" you can use if you want, especially if there is too much radio traffic on a given channel which works in most situations short of being at Disney World where you won't find an unused combination to transmit on.

The "base station" in each of our bags is a Midland XT511 Emergency Crank Base Camp model that has both AA batteries and separate rechargeable batteries that can be charged with a built-in hand crank generator. It's good to leave in a stationary location, or carry it if you want with the shoulder strap... it's light weight, but not as convenient for carrying as the other radios. The FM and NOAA weather channels, plus the clock radio and built-in USB charging port, come in handy too... especially while camping.

We also keep a couple of Midland 75-822 Handheld CB Radios in each bag. These operate from AA battery packs, rechargeable battery packs, and the 12-volt automotive adapter... all included with the radio. We still have a lot of farmers, truckers, and other people out here in the country and even on the interstates that use CB radios. Did you ever find yourself stuck in a five mile long traffic jam on the interstate and want to find out what's going on? Your smart phone probably won't help, but a handheld CB on channel 19 will get you all the info you need.

Don't think that having a cell phone still isn't a viable means of communication... at least until the batteries are dead and you're miles from a charger or outlet to use. We keep these handy Rayovac USB Chargers and extra USB cell phone cables in our Two-Way Radio Bags. We also keep them in our Bug Out Bags, Get Home Bags, at home, and my daughter has one in her college dorm room.

Of course, you've probably noticed a common theme here in our Two-Way Radio Bags... AA batteries. Everything in the bag can operate off AA batteries, so each bag has both extra lithium and alkaline batteries ready to go.

These bags are not set up for long-distance communication, tactical, or TEOTWAWKI situations. They are for quick, every day use in common, and uncommon, situations that require easy-to-use communication between two or more people where cell phones may not offer the best or convenient solution.

You might have other needs and expectations for creating your own Two-Way Radio Bags... but I think you'll find that if you create a "kit" that's kept ready to go... you'll wonder how you ever got a long without it and you won't be looking under the kids' beds for the other half of your walkie-talkie set.  So the question is... Do you need a Grab-n-Go Two-Way Radio Bag?

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Five thoughts for firearms instructors...

Over the past couple of years, I've read a number of blog posts and articles about what new shooters and students should look for when seeking out a firearms instructor. Most of the suggestions are pretty good and some are just common sense... suggestions that would work for finding and selecting an instructor or trainer for just about anything.

The problem I see is that no matter how hard you try to prepare as a student by doing your research, reading reviews and AARs, and planning... a student really won't find out how good an instructor is until they take the class or training and that is why they often seem to rely a lot on the opinions and recommendations of friends and acquaintances when selecting a place or person for firearms training so your reputation as an instructor may be you single biggest asset in this business.

Personally, I do pretty well as an instructor. I'm not nationally known and I've never been on Top Shot. I don't really advertise, yet have no problem filling most classes by word-of-mouth from previous students and friends who have shot or trained with me. I've trained literally thousands of youth and adults, men and women, kids and grandparents... and I still love every minute of it... especially that smile of the first shot fired, or when you hand that target with a solid group to a student, or even that experienced shooter who just corrected a poor trigger-pull habit that was dragging their hits down and left.

Ultimately, it's up to the instructors to provide safe, competent, and professional training and instruction... and if you do that well... it will benefit the students and you as the instructor no matter what your motivation is... building your business, promoting self-empowerment and the second amendment, doing service to society and common good, increasing your circle of influence, or whatever it is that drives you as an instructor. With that in mind, allow me to offer some thoughts to the instructors out there that will benefit them and their students.

Be Professional.

A good firearms instructor is safe, competent, and knowledgeable... and that is clear to his or her students. You should dress, act, and speak like a professional. Everything you do adds or takes away from your professionalism and reputation. I am a half-century old, overweight, gray-haired man, but I still do my best to dress, act, and speak like a professional. No matter where you are or what you do, you can always improve the professional presentation of what you do.

We have our own shooting range, and now we have a new, small-but-big-enough, multi-purpose building that is heated and air-conditioned for training and instruction. We've also built a brand new half-bath that the women love and even the men appreciate.

Yes, our classroom is a "barn"... but it is set up and appropriately outfitted to be a professional classroom environment. We, and you, are not running a five-star hotel, but make sure you present yourself, your materials, and your facilities as professionally as you can. Proof read your documentation. Clean what you can clean. 

If you're using a primitive range, then trade in that third tree on the left and rent a good, clean port-a-potty if you can or at least clean the one that is already there. Make sure your equipment is clean, usable or at least in good repair, and professional. Be set-up and ready when students arrive.  Greet them professionally.  Act professionally. Speak professionally and leave the four-letter words, gutter-talk and drill sergeant baloney for your buddies in the man-cave.

Speaking of women... I have a pretty good reputation with the ladies. What I mean is that my reputation is such that I have a lot of women choosing to take my courses. Guys, if you act like a professional... then the women will feel comfortable and confident with you as instructor. I don't think it's necessary for women to be trained and instructed by women, but there are a lot of neanderthals out there who don't know that women learn, think, and react differently than men and a professional instructor will know how to have the gals achieve success with professional instruction and a professional learning environment. Yes, I do own several FlashBang holsters, concealed carry purses, and other training aids just for the gals.

Be Honest.

You say that sounds like a no-brainer, but in our world of guns and tactical ninjas... that is a significant problem.  You have instructors who honorably served their country, but their four years as a 91L Construction Equipment Repairer with service in Iraq turns into a special op's gig with missions they still can't talk about for the sake of national security.  Worse, you have posers who just outright lie.  DON'T DO IT! Don't exaggerate your credentials!  The best credentials you have are your current reputation and you are continually building it. If one lie or exaggeration is found out, it will be assumed that all your credentials are lies or exaggerations. Just ask Cory over at Range Time.

I worked as a police officer in the late 1980s and early 1990s. I did a good job, learned a lot, and like most... was just plain lucky at times. There was no SWAT or SRT experience in my daily duties. Jeepers, we didn't even have ballistic vests back then and our main entry tool for breaching during a search warrant was an eight-pound sledge hammer the sergeant brought from home. 

I've had my gun pointed and ready to shoot a number of times when facing a deadly threat, but thank the Lord, I never had to shoot or kill anyone. Just because an instructor has military or law enforcement experience does not necessarily have anything to do with their worth as an instructor. For all you know, they did everything wrong in their last fire-fight and only made it out by the good Lord's graces, not their special-ops-ninja-like tactical skills.

Now, with that being said... Military and police experience can be very valuable to some instructors, but I don't think military or police experience is necessary to be a good instructor and I've met and have been trained by a lot of poor instructors over the years that had extensive military and law enforcement experience and conversely had excellent training from firearms instructors that never wore a uniform since Cub Scouts or Brownies.

Finally, if you don't know something... don't lie or fake it. There is not a single question I've ever been asked that I didn't have an answer to... but sometimes that answer is, "I don't know, let me check on it and get back to you." Then check on it in a reasonable and timely manner and make sure you get back to them!

Be Certified.

Some type of basic certification is essential. It gives you some starting credentials and a framework to use as a foundation and lets your students know that you have at least met some kind of minimum standards. I'm a big supporter of the NRA's training programs and certifications. If you follow the NRA's curriculum for each course... they have good materials, solid instructional design, and are very thorough.  That being said, there is a reason the NRA uses the word "BASIC" in most of their course titles.

There are other entities out there offering training and certification for instructors including Tom Givens' Range Master, Rob Pincus' I.C.E., the USCCA, and others. One of my goals is to complete Givens' Range Master Instructor Development Course in the next couple of years as time and money allow.

Be Safe.

You need to practice safety as if you had a zen-like, fifth-degree blackbelt in safety. No one wants to take a course from the instructor who shot himself in the leg or had a student accidentally shot. When my students walk through the door, I want them to feel safe. How I act, pick up a firearm, point a firearm, have them double-check the action and chambers in addition to me checking them each time I pick up a gun in the classroom helps ensure safety, it teaches them to be safe, and gives the students confidence that they are in a safe environment and that safety is paramount.

Just like every NRA Range Officer is taught, even in the classroom, I begin with a safety briefing. There is a sign in the classroom and at the shooting range that lists the local emergency numbers, the property description, the contact names for emergencies, and other pertinent information. They are shown where the first-aid kit is, the bathroom, the telephone, etc. Students who feel safe feel comfortable and confident in their instructor; and safe, comfortable and confident in their instructor learn more effectively. Ask if there are any safety or medical concerns you should know about as an instructor before or as the class starts. If you've ever had a diabetic student with a gun in their hand faint and collapse on the range like I have, you'd know what I'm talking about.

As an instructor you need to provide a safe learning environment in the classroom and on the range. I've taken some pretty advanced courses myself and it makes me cringe when an instructor says something like, "lock-n-load... big boys rules" because I have no idea who all these people with loaded guns are standing around me looking around as concerned as I am... especially the dude that looks as if he just took his AR out for the very first time and keeps dropping his magazine on the ground while trying to release the bolt. If I don't feel safe, I'm not staying because my life is worth more than my ego or a little embarrassment. I tell students to let me know if they ever see something or feel that something is not safe. I will explain it or correct it, even if it's another student doing it.

Also, I think it is just being a responsible instructor to get some basic, if not advanced, first-aid training and appropriate first-aid supplies on hand. First-aid and CPR training and certification are a good start and I recommend further training like some type of trauma first-aid training as band-aids and two-by-two patches of gauze are not going to fix a gunshot wound.

Finally, safety in numbers is something to consider. I often train small groups as I work alone or with with my wife on hand as an assistant.  Therefore, I typically keep classes very small as in four to six at most.  Sometimes I work with other instructors and at 4H Shooting Sports we work with one-to-one or one-to-two instructor-to-student ratios for safety. 

The first time I have new students on the range and they have loaded their guns I usually call a cease fire and have them unload their guns to see if they can do that safely.  That little exercise will tell me a lot about my students and their current skills levels. I've had veteran law enforcement officers drop their magazines and lay the gun down on the shooting bench and say they're clear and safe without ejecting the round from the chamber and locking the slide back so never assume anything about safety or your students' capabilities.

A final thought on safety is sometimes you can do everything right and it can still go wrong. Work with a competent attorney to have a legally solid liability/indemnification waiver and carry insurance. I carry instructor insurance through the NRA/Lockton program and while not inexpensive, it's not outrageously costly either.

Be Competent.

You need to be competent in the skills and knowledge you are instructing and be competent in being an instructor. You should be able to competently demonstrate anything you teach. Does that mean that I can out shoot any student? NO! It does mean that I can demonstrate and competently shoot anything I'm expecting my students to shoot? YES! I don't think a defensive line coach has to be able to block and tackle every three-hundred pound lineman on his team, but he should be able to instruct, demonstrate, and competently execute the knowledge and skills that are necessary.

You need to know guns, shooting, and techniques... so get trained. A good instructor is a good student... always learning and actively teaching. I read articles and blogs, watch DVDs and YouTube... but more importantly... I practice regularly, attend training from other instructors and schools, and even get personal coaching and training from other instructors. There's a reason Tiger Woods has a coach. There's a reason Peyton Manning uses a personal trainer.

When you attend training and instruction yourself, you can learn a lot about being a good instructor by observing, both good and bad, habits of other instructors. I have learned a lot by watching other instructors and have no problem borrowing or adapting something they do well. I've taken higher levels of training that I don't feel ready or competent to teach yet...  and that is OK, because as I've grown and progressed as an instructor... I've offered more to my students, but there are also other entities, schools, and instructors that offer more advanced training than I do and all I can say is, "Awesome, learning... go get you some!"  In fact, my wife and I have already signed up for the Advanced Concealed Carry course at the Tactical Defense Institute next spring. I know how to show a gal a good time!

Finally, every class I teach builds my competence. If I see a gun I've never laid hands on before, I'll ask a student if I can look at it... or even put a couple of rounds through it. Most are glad to share and oblige. Sometimes a student will have a product or holster I'm not familiar with. I'm not afraid to say so and ask about it to build my knowledge base. I can honestly say that after all my years with firearms and instructing, there are very few modern firearms that I haven't had the opportunity to shoot via friends, acquaintances and students... and that knowledge helps you to be a competent instructor and assist your students.

Final Thoughts:

For new instructors... don't get discouraged. I think I do a pretty good job, but it has taken years of learning, practice, acquiring firearms-equipment-facilities, attending additional training, and working with hundreds of students. I've built a collection of firearms, accessories, and training aids that allow students to try many popular brands and models, and learn more effectively through hands-on activities that provide instant feedback. 

If you're a really new instructor, consider partnering with or observing an experienced instructor and don't forget to get back to basics and fundamentals by occasionally taking a beginning or intermediate course or training yourself... you might refresh your skills and you may learn a better way to instruct something your doing.

As for bad instructors... get better or give it up... or you end up making all of us look bad.

So... take a look at what you do, how you do it, and think about some of the items discussed... maybe you can add some thoughts in the comments to help me learn and progress as an instructor...

And as my Good Book says in Proverbs 27:17... "As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another."

...and there you have it... Five thoughts for firearms instructors...