Bob Owens

Editor's note: This column is cross-posted on

“This is a fighting school, not a shooting school.”

Rangemaster John Hall set the tone as he welcomed us to the 250 Pistol class is that is the core of the “Gunsite experience.” The 19 students in the class paid close attention as Hall introduced us to the concepts that Jeff Cooper introduced in the Arizona desert for the first time 38 years before. Nineteen of us were taking part in a five-day class to learn how to fight with a pistol, using methods that have become the standard by which all other forms of handgun fighting are judged.

Our four instructors averaged roughly 25 years of experience. Hall, who was performing rangemaster duties, has an Army and police background, including time as a SWAT team leader and department rangemaster. Bob Whaley has retired from nearly three decades of police work, including 15 years in St. Louis SWAT. Sergeant Major Walt Wilkinson spent 30 years in the U.S. Army, include 26 years in Special Forces. Provost Chris Curry spent 22 years in the Marines.

The students themselves were an interesting mix.

Norm, a retired Navy veteran and grandfather, chose a week at Gunsite over a week at the CIA… the Culinary Institute of America.

Ollie, on break from dental school, ran one of the first 9mm 1911 pistols I’ve seen in person.

Walt is an attorney from Kentucky and took the class with his wife, Lisa.

Chris is from Texas. His wife Stephanie was born and raised in Korea. They met and live in the San Francisco area.

Noah is a young Army reservist and college student.

“Top” is a career Marine who drove all the way from Maryland to Arizona to take the class.

Eric, a Bearing Arms reader, somehow recognized me before I even made it across the parking lot.

Bob B. lives in Arizona and runs a nearby stone business. He was one of the Gunsite veterans in the class who return time and again to hone his skills. Many people return to take 250 Pistol every year to keep their skills sharp. I didn’t get a chance to spend much time with everyone in class, but it seemed that several of the other students might have been on return trips to Gunsite as well. 


Originally founded as the American Pistol Institute (API) in 1976, the school that became Gunsite Academy was the first dedicated private shooting school in the country.

Bob Owens

Bob Owens is the Editor of Follow him on twitter @bob_owens.