Friday, January 25, 2013

Teach you how to shoot? Sure thing!

When I started teaching "Introduction to USPSA" a few years ago,  the first thing I noticed was:

Whoa!  There's a WHOLE lot of people in this class!  (Actually, there were fifteen of them, and one of me.)

The second thing I noticed was:

Whoa!  This guy doesn't know how to hold a gun; and this guy has a pistol he's never used before --- and he isn't even aware that his 1911 has a safety!
So I made a deal with the Range Master: he would accept applications (usually phone calls the night before the class) and 'vet' them to insure that they had at least the equivalent of Basic Handgun Training.  If they didn't qualify, he would quietly recommend that they took the "Basic Handgun Training" class offered by the club before they tried to learn how to shoot in Practical Shooting Competition.

That worked for about a year.

Today, prospective new students contact me directly, and I have to do whatever "vetting" can be done.  And yes, I still get students who decide at the last minute that they want to take the class.

Being the kindly ol' Grandfather-type of gentleman that I am,  I accept them into my class 'anyway'.  I do give them some basic information which I call "Boilerplate" (see below) and warn them about a few basic safety considerations.  (I may also recommend them, if they have NO experience with handguns, to first take the Basic Handgun Class --- which is scheduled for the weekend FOLLOWING the USPSA class.)

Here's the deal:
  1. We want to encourage all safe, experienced shooters to join us while we play our silly raindeer games;
  2. We want everyone to be safe
  3. Not everyone is safe
  4. Not everyone is experienced; we can give them the minimum of experience to compete in a match
  5. This class not only teaches people how to compete ... it weeds out people who cannot meet the minimal safety requirements
 I have had people point pistols at me.  They never showed up for their first match.

A few people demonstrated the will to succeed, but not the ability.  I have offered them 'extra training' on my own time.  Those who accepted the offer have all managed to get through their first match safely ... but have not always come back for subsequent matches.   Some have, and they have performed adequately.

A few people have been so entirely unable to handle the stress of training, I have 'blackballed' them from competing at ARPC matches, and I've made their names available to the club.  None of these people have ever appeared at a match.  They realize from their training experience ... or I have told them directly .. that  ". .this is not your sport").

I am not above using pressure to encourage students to learn safe gun-handling skills.  When I see a student who has learned bad habits,  I will invariably point it out to them when they have "done wrong".  If it is a deeply-ingrained habit, , when they still revert to their bad habits by the end of the class ... as soon as they break the safety rule they invariably hang their head and say "I know, I did it again".  They either never go to a match, or when they do they are SO focused on safety that they put "It" on the front of their minds and complete their match safely.

They do not, however, typically return for more matches.  They have proved to themselves that they can do this, and that seems to be enough for them.

"What Does It Mean, Gene?"

I've talked to other instructors.   They have all said,  without much coaxing, that some people are just temperamentally unable to handle their guns safely in a high-pressure competitive environment.

Or more frequently; they CAN ... but it's just not as much fun as they had expected.

I don't consider that a 'negative' thing.  I can't drive a car competitively, so I don't do that.  I can't work up the nerve to try sky-diving.  I don't do that either.  Many of the people who show up at the classes are highly trained professionals, with skills/education/training/experience in arcane activities which I could NEVER be trained to perform in capably.  And even if I could 'do it' ... it wouldn't be fun.  Saints Preserve me from trying to be a CPA, but my Darling Daughter loves "working with numbers";  for me, it doesn't sound like fun.

So, yes, I will accept "almost anyone" into my class.  If I have to teach them the basic gunhandling skills, though, it takes time which could better be spent teaching experienced shooters how to turn their experience and abilities into a competitive 'edge'.

I mentioned the shooter who didn't realize his gun had a safety?  That's not a typical experience.  A lot of people, though, don't have all the equipment they need to compete.

That's why I made the plea a few months ago for folks to donate equipment to the program.  I want to report that this has turned out to be an unqualified success!  At almost every class, there's a student who doesn't actually have the equipment he or she needs.  Usually it's a magazine carrier.  Sometimes, they need a decent holster.  Occasionally, they need an extra magazine.  So far, we have usually been able to bring out The Big Pink Box O Gear and find something which gets them through the class, even through the first match.    If they need their own gear still, at least they have the first match to help them understand whether this is an activity which interests them.  Then they can buy their own gear (and now they have a good idea what they need).

And if they find it's not all that fun?  They've saved some money learning that lesson.

Usually, they show up at their SECOND match full of piss and vinegar, and proudly sporting their own new gear!

There was one bad event last summer, though, when a guy with a 1911 .45 didn't have what he needed for his First Match, and I couldn't find what he needed in The Big Pink Box O Gear.  In frustration, I dragged out my own gear and loaned him my holster, three magazine carriers, and three Chip McCormick Single Stack magazines ... just to get through his first match.

I never saw him again.

No, he didn't show up at his First Match.
No, I didn't write down his name.
No, I never got my own personal gear back.

But now I know to register the names of EVERY person who borrows gear, and what they took.

The thing about instructing people is ... the students are not the only ones who learn from the experience.


You're welcome to the ARPC"Introduction to USPSA" class  on mm/dd/yy.  You're now enrolled.

So there isn't any confusion, the class is always presented on the first Saturday of each month.  In , that would be the (nth) day in [month, year] .   

The class is in three parts:

Part one is a one-hour classroom discussion, on First Saturday.

 Part Two
That is immediately followed by a "Live Fire Exercise", where you actually get to shoot your gun for two hours in a graduated series of simulated match stages.
Part Three takes place the following weekend (which might take place at a later date, if your schedule does not permit you to attend the match on that date) during which you must complete the match "safely"  ... that is to say, without being Disqualified by virtue of having failed to observe all of the safety rules.

After having complete these three stages, you will be awarded a Certification Card which warrants you as qualified to shoot as a USPSA/IPSC competitor at any range in the Columbia Cascade section.    (That's a bit complicated; if you're not a member of a club, you may have to become a member before you can shoot "in practice session" ;  but you CAN shoot at any match in the section regardless of membership status.)

Here is a link to the Columbia Cascade Section, of which the Albany Rifle and Pistol Club is a member:
(Copy and paste)

There is a link there to the Albany Rifle and Pistol Club, or you can go directly to:
(Copy and paste)

There is some standard information which may make it easy to answer any questions which you may have before you come to the class: You will find that information below.


My name is xx (Jerry The Geek) xx, I'll be the instructor in ARPC's "Introduction to USPSA" course, available on the First Saturday of every month (next class: ).   The class will be on the North Range, probably in Bay 7

Before you show up for the training class on Saturday (at 1pm), you and all other attendees need to read the manual, print and complete the "Final" test, and bring that completed test to the class.  If you have not already received the manual you can download it from its online location at

Please print the Final Test.  Answer the questions (write your answers) on the printed page, be prepared to turn in your test (not the whole manual) at the beginning of the class.  You'll also be asked to write your name(s) on a sign-in list, so I know who everyone is and how to spell your names on your certification cards.  You will be rewarded these cards when you have safely completed your first USPSA match, usually at ARPC on the following Saturday (Month, Day, Year).

During the "live fire" instruction you will be expected to demonstrate the basics of safe gun-handling.  This includes familiarity with the firearm you will be using, its controls, and how to respond to malfunctions.  You should be aware of the Three Basic Rules of Firearms Safety:
  1. All firearms are assumed to be loaded.
  2. Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot.
  3. Never point your firearm at anything which you are not prepared to destroy.
You will not be required to memorize these rules, but you will be expected to be aware of them.  They will be emphasized in training, and they are epitomized by the range commands with which you will be familiarized during the class.

The instruction is presented as a 3-hour course. 

The first hour is a review of the test questions, so it's important that everyone has read the manual and completed the test, because we will discuss the questions, your answers, and be responding to follow-up questions and other issues as they occur during our discussion.  (Again, please print the test and write your answers on the test-page.  We will be referring to these answers during the first hour.  Don't forget to PRINT your name on the test.)

Failure to complete the test, or to read the manual, is not cause for any kind of punitive action.  You know best how to apply your available time.  However, the manual does contain information which is important for you to know, and if you have not already been exposed to it we may find it necessary to spend more time discussing these issues.  This will take time away from live-fire training, which is more fun for you and for me, so I do most heartily encourage you to read-and-complete the test. 

The other two hours (and they will take the entire time ... with more time available if you wish to expand the exercises and if the available daylight hours allow) will be spend doing the actual shooting exercises.

During this period you will have actual on-hands training on the following subjects:
  • Familiarity with range commands
  • Familiarity with the Safety Errors which may lead to a Match Disqualification ("DQ")
  • Following the range commands (see the manual)
  • Familiarity with Safety and Competition requirements, including penalties
  • Familiarity with Stage Procedures, and how your individual score is calculated
  • Loading, unloading and reloading during the course of fire
  • Safe movement with a loaded firearm
  • Scoring your performance in competition
  • Engaging IPSC Targets (cardboard)
  • Engaging IPSC Targets (steel)
  • Indexing between targets
  • Use of a Bianchi Barricade
  • Range Etiquette (more important than you may think)
  • Other tips and hints as may be appropriate
The fee is nil; ARPC wants to encourage every prospective participant in USPSA competition.  You don't pay for it, I don't get paid.  We just want you to enjoy the safe use of firearms in a competitive environment.  

The purpose of the course is to make it easier for you to get started in USPSA competition by learning what to expect at a match, and to ensure that you are aware of and familiar with the safety considerations of "running and gunning".    Safety is always the primary consideration, but having an enjoyable day shooting at targets is also important.  I teach the class because I enjoy the sport so much that I think anybody who is able to compete safely should be allowed the opportunity to do so, and because I will someday shoot on the same squad as you -- and I want you to be a safe shooter.  I consider myself to be the best available instructor, and it is to my benefit to see that you receive the best instruction available.

Shooting in USPSA competition is statistically safer then playing high-school football.  We want to keep it that way.

And it's fun!

Here is a list of the minimum 'hardware' requirements for the course; requirements for competing in a match are the same, but an actual match will take about 200 - 300 rounds of ammunition.  As a general rule of thumb, I always bring at least 50% more ammunition than I expect to need to complete the match or the exercise..................  

To take the live-fire course, you will need:
  • a handgun, minimum caliber is 9mm
  • about 50 rounds of ammunition
  • at least 2 magazines .... or speedloaders for revolver shooters ....  depending on variables which we will discuss in the class; you may decide that you will need 4 or 5 (or more) magazines to compete in a match
  • a holster which fits your handgun, and which covers the trigger (if the holster doesn't cover the trigger we will apply tape over the holster so the trigger is covered --  you will not like that).
  • at least one magazine carrier; the rule of thumb is that you will need two magazine carriers less than the number of magazines you plan to carry on the stage.  It is MUCH faster to reload from magazine carriers than from the pocket, and time is a factor in your final score.  (Points, less penalties, divided by time.)
  • a belt which threads through the loops of your trousers, and is sufficiently rigid that it will easily keep your holster and magazine carriers standing up so they are easy to access
  • Eye protection (safety glasses) and ear protection (ear muffs, or soft inserts or custom-made ear inserts)
  • a really good attitude about learning to shoot in competition ... SAFELY!
If you have the equipment listed above, bring it.  IF you do not have the equipment, but can get it before the class, do so.  If you find yourself 'short' of the above equipment, let me know before the class day -- we'll see if we can find 'loaner' equipment in our donated stock of holsters, magazine carriers, and magazines.  (If you plan to shoot a revolver, of course, the requirements will be slightly different.  We'll work it out.)

If you have new equipment which you have not previously used (eg: a new holster, or a new pistol), please let me know during the first hour of class.  We'll try to de-bug it for you before you start the live-fire portion of the class.

I'm looking forward to meeting you and however many friends you bring with you.   Please let me ahead of time if you intend to bring other people who will be students at the class.   You are welcome to bring spouse, family members, or friends who may be interested, or just want to watch.  Photography is permitted .. always.  I'll be on the range before 1pm -- the scheduled starting time.  Look for signs to find the correct bay on the North Range; we will probably be on Bay 7.  Remember, eye and ear protection is mandatory any time shooting is going on ... ear protection not mandatory during our first-hour classroom discussion. (Protective classes are ALWAYS REQUIRED while you are on the ARPC range-- anywhere on the range; not just in your bay.  I'll have my glasses on when I get there.  You should, too.)  [The Range Master]  will confirm for me the bay assignment when I arrive at the range.  Look for my car [description included]) ; I'll be at the nearest bay.  Introduce yourself.  The key code at the gate is [9999#].  You do need to press the pound sign to complete the key code.

If you have problems getting to the class on time, you can reach me on my cell phone at (541) xxx-xxxx.

And please feel free to email me directly if you have questions or concerns.

PS:   If any participant is a minor (under 21 years of age, under Oregon law), they should be accompanied by a responsible adult.  If any participant is a juvenile (under 18 years of age), they MUST be accompanied by a responsible parent or guardian.   USPSA is an entirely 'family friendly' sport, but we must be assured that the responsibility for each individual rests upon the participants.  We will not accept responsibility for injuries incurred during training, as unlikely as it may be.


Anonymous said...

You are doing God's work teaching these budding shooters safe gun handling as well as USPSA/IPSC 101, and you should be commended. It is a sad state that in a country where shooting is supposedly part of our DNA, that there are so many young and not so young adults that have had no exposure to firearms whatsoever. Thank you for toiling to help hold back that long dark night that we seem to be heading for.

Jerry The Geek said...

Antipoda, Baby, I know I'm "Doing God's Work". Whether I'm "holding back that long dark night", however, makes me wonder if you're not being just a LITTLE facetious.

What? You? Facetious?

Sorry. I misspoke.

Anonymous said...

Entirely sincere, not facetious. Are you getting paranoid in your mid-life years?

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I did not imply that you, all alone, were holding back the cold dark night. Just that you were helping.