Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Looking for a few good instructors...

I'm a GREAT instructor! (tongue firmly planted in cheek)... I am now in my third decade of teaching and training folks and kids with firearms... pistols, rifles, shotguns. I'm highly recommended by former students, my post-course evaluations are always excellent, women in particular find my instruction on-target for them and regularly recommend me, I have books full of certifications from the NRA, 4H Shooting Sports, firearm training entities, and from my days in law enforcement... I'm even an NRA appointed Training Counselor who can train other instructors. So I wouldn't recommend me...

See, with all that being said, ya'll should know that you should never, ever take a firearms course from me... if it focuses on door-kickin' ninja tactics, thousand-yard long-range shooting, or even Filipino knife-fighting techniques. They're just not my areas of expertise and my knowledge, qualifications, and experience are limited in those fields of firearm discipline.

There are a lot of folks who ask me about my courses and classes, or want recommendations for good firearms and tactics instruction. Kathy Jackson, over at The Cornered Cat, has a number of posts about what makes for good training and good instructors. I've also read other posts on this topic and with that I'd like to share my thoughts in case you're thinking about finding a good instructor... which also should be related directly to instructors who want to be good. So here goes some of my thoughts, though not in any particular order:

Good firearm instructors are good students, life-long learning students. As an instructor, I'm continually learning.  I seek out and attend training on a fairly regular basis, I read constantly, watch videos, constantly try out new techniques and products.  I'm proud of my NRA and other certifications, but truthfully... those are evidence of basic competencies as an instructor, but not necessarily proficiency or mastery.  Good instructors will learn more than just the minimum.  For example, some men might not admit it, but I even own a Gun Tote'n Mamas leather purse and a FlashBang holster among the piles and boxes of training aids and materials I continually acquire for my students to better learn in my courses.

Good firearm instructors are proficient and effective with their tools of the trade. Yeah, I understand the ol' coach doesn't have to be able to kick a forty-yard field goal or pass sixty-yards on the run to be a good coach, but when it comes to firearms... a good instructor is more than just competent, they are proficient.  Can I out-shoot Todd Greene on the FAST test or Rob Leatham on steel... nope. Can I shoot pretty darn well with what would be considered above average in the firearms community... meaning proficiently and effective... yes.

Good firearm instructors know their limitations. "Dirty" Harry Callahan famously said, "A good man always knows his limitations." While firearm instructors have to take the first step into teaching and training various things, they shouldn't do so without being well practiced and prepared. After extensive planning and preparation, I often have couple of direct and honest friends do a complete, live, run-through of any course, tactic, firearm, or technique with me before I even consider trying instructing it for the first time in a regular class. Please realize though, every instructor has to begin somewhere, so as long as they are beginning in an area that is appropriate for their skills and abilities... that's ok. I highly recommend to new instructors, and follow the advice myself, to work with observe, and collaborate with other, more experienced firearm instructors when they can to learn and get constructive feedback.

Good firearm instructors don't need to have law enforcement or military experience. Don't get me wrong, there are many good folks who have served our country and citizens -and- who have acquired terrific experience and training that helps them greatly as instructors. There are others who have not kept up on their skills and knowledge, or spent their time driving a truck or calculating logistics (admirable and appreciated, but not really related to being a firearm instructor), or have to run through qualifications three times to keep their gun on their hip while on duty. There are also a lot of good folks out there who have no law enforcement or military experience who have developed excellent teaching skills and abilities while acquiring outstanding, real-world skills without driving a cruiser on patrol or engaging the enemy on foreign soil.

Good firearm instructors can readily recognize and assess the abilities and limits of their students. I've been to some more advanced classes over the years where there were some students who were completely beyond either their abilities or limits. This can at a minimum slow the class down, taking away from students who are at the requisite level and at most it can create unsafe and even deadly situations. That doesn't mean a student shouldn't take a class to push themselves and provide a challenge, but a good instructor sometimes needs to tell that student who obviously is in a course or learning situation they are in no way ready or qualified to attempt or continue that it's time to call it a day... and a good firearms instructor will recommend, adjust, or provide appropriate levels of training or recommendations for the student.

Good firearm instructors are professional. They act and treat folks with respect. They don't berate or embarrass students. A professional firearm instructor should avoid language and actions that are prejudicial or biased regarding race, gender, ethnicity, etc. If an instructor is disorganized, looks like a slob that slept in their fatigues for the last three days with enough food stains they could boil their camo down for a pot luck soup... it probably indicates a lot about their training. That doesn't mean you might not get dirty during instruction, but a professional should act and look like a professional.

Good firearm instructors ALWAYS maintain a safe learning environment. While I'm not perfect either, you shouldn't be muzzling your students even if your finger is off the trigger. I don't know who these other six guys I just met ten minutes ago in class are, so I don't want to walk out on the range to hear the instructor say, "We're operating by 'big boy' rules today." A good instructor teaches safety and maintains safety expectations at all times. I've actually seen an instructor get down range from his students to take photographs of the firing line... yeah, I know, Darwinism at it's best.

So if you're wanting good firearm instruction, do your homework... check reviews... speak to other students... be honest about your own abilities and limitations... and be prepared to properly compensate for your instruction. Good firearm instruction may not be cheap and good firearm instructors have invested a lot of time and money into their training, materials, preparations, and hardware... and remember... good firearm training is not an expense, but an investment. This May I'm teaching firearm classes on my own and I'm also taking firearm classes down at TDI... to practice what I preach.  TDi, between the ammo and the instruction, isn't cheap, but it IS a good investment for me.

So if you own a firearm, you should be seeking out opportunities to regularly learn and train... which means you should be... Looking for a few good instructors...

I know there are other firearm instructors out there, so whether you're a student or an instructor... feel free to "fire back" in the comments...


  1. I agree completely! One other thing to look at is "how well are the instructor's students doing". The ultimate goal of the firearms instructor is to improve his students' skills and knowledge. If his students are doing well, it's a mark of professional instruction.

  2. Well said! I just completed my first ever formal pistol training course, with Hardwired Tactical Shooting in DFW. I have nothing but praise for the two instructors of our class. Please feel free to look them up online and verify their creds and course schedule. I'm glad I took the class.

  3. Thank God for good people like you. I am also a thirty year NRA Trainer, one of the few ranked as a Master Training counselor. This enabled me to train over two dozen Training Counselors, and endorse them for appointment. I have focused my work closely with the Boy Scouts, and the NRA has increased their support of that marksmanship training organization, partly as a result of my efforts.
    The standard I set was that No One should ever have to unlearn anything you present, that you are laying the base for further growth.
    You don't know what people will do with your instruction. I learned one of mine was Squad Designated Marksman in Iraq. A young lady kept bringing back medals as part of the University of Michigan Rifle team. One did not continue actively training shooting sports, but became a first rate trainer in Scouting programs. One turned his attention to guaranteeing the future of our Constitution, and serves as his state coordinator for Friends of NRA. One assisted a policeman who was loosing a physical struggle with a motorist he had stopped. One is working with the military to make their vehicles stronger than IEDs.
    Every responsible citizen should know firearms safety, and those who "Keep and Bear" should build and maintain their skills throughout their lives.
    Thank you for all you are doing for the Nation, and for the National Rifle association.
    ~Don McGaffey
    NRA Master Training Counselor

    1. @Don... thank you for the kind words...

      Dann in Ohio

  4. Brand new NRA basic pistol trainer with a 40 year career spent mostly instructing. Primarily taught others to train their dogs. Ex K-9 MP and LEO. Taught some school bus drivers as well as other skill sets also.

    Said all that to say, agree with everything you have written. My success rate in dog training was above 98% with clients and animals of every stripe, and I credit that with NEVER thinking I knew it all. Constant study and a desire to improve a little bit every day maximizes your effectiveness.

    I read somewhere, thankfully it was early on in my learning curve, the following - "You can have 20 years experience, or you can have one year of experience repeated 20 times."

    Appreciate your post.

  5. NRA Training Counselor here, always looking for more folks who want to take the pistol courses and train as instructors so that we have more folks trained and less likelihood of losing our freedoms.