Gunfighter School

Posted: Nov 13, 2014 2:15 PM

Gun owners can learn a lot about themselves from just one trip to this desert gunfighting academy. Editor Bob Owens reports for the November issue of Townhall Magazine. 

I thought I was a decent shot with a pistol.

That was before I spent a week at the world famous Gunsite Academy in the high desert outside Paulden, Arizona in mid- August. After five days and one night shooting I’ve drastically revised my opinion of my skills, and that’s a good thing.

Prior to getting an invitation to visit Gunsite from owner Owen “Buz” Mills, I’d viewed myself primarily as a rifleman, if I was any kind of a shooter at all.

I had my concealed carry permit, but didn’t shoot pistols very often. I could hit the target at three, five, and seven yards at my local indoor range as I made sure to follow the long list of range “don’ts.” I uncased my pistol on the firing line, didn’t dare use my holster, didn’t “rapid fire,” and never ever dared to contemplate the mortal sin of moving in any direction.

I had been conditioning myself to punch paper at a steady cadence from a statuesque position without endangering the delicate constitutions of firing range liability lawyers, but I was not learning how to survive a violent confrontation.

My handgun courses had been limited to safety-oriented personal defense classes offered by the NRA that one instructor admitted “were primarily geared to keep you from shooting yourself with your own gun.”

Gunsite, however, is a gunfighter’s school, and has been since it was founded under Col. Jeff Cooper in 1976. Cooper was relentless in his desire to get to what works—examining, paring down, and then melding together ideas used by police, military, and competition shooters. The result of his synthesis became referred to as the Modern Technique of the Pistol.

From the first day, our 250 Pistol class was structured on building a strong framework from basic techniques, and expanding on those core skills as we gained competence. We started shooting at close range on stationary targets, and over time added distance, time constraints, different firing positions, and movement, culminating in indoor and outdoor simulators that rattle your nerves and send your heart rate up.

Shooting a large paper target on a square range at seven yards? That’s easy.

Try walking through the mud, sand, and fist-sized rocks of the gully known as the Donga, where anorexic steel targets hide in ambush behind brush and in side canyons, and often refuse to go down with a single hit, while plump little “no shoot” targets simply beg you to take the easy—and wrong—shot.

The open-air range of the Donga caused my heart to pound, but the claustrophobia that set in within the indoor “Fun House” was excruciating. The air felt stuffy and the walls crushed in, like a starched shirt two sizes too small.

We had to stealthily and tactically clear hallways and rooms, never knowing what might await around the next door, or the next corner, and much to my dismay, outside the window.

Yes, I “died” three times at Gunsite.

In two runs on different indoor simulators I got tunnel vision. I cleared the rooms with deliberate intent, focusing so closely on every interior corner and angle that I simply failed to notice solitary bad guys standing outside the windows as I passed by.

My third “death” was simply mortifying. I successfully cleared a room, and then encountered a target almost right on top of me in the narrow hallway beyond. I pointed, instead of looking at the front sight, and yanked the trigger instead of pressing it. I missed twice at five feet.

As momentarily depressing as these temporary defeats were, they were teachable moments that I can build from going forward.

Yes, I thought I was a decent shot before going to Gunsite. Now I know that before I drove through that front gate, I simply didn’t have enough training to know all that I didn’t know.

I have a long way to go to become legitimately good with a pistol, but I’m much further along than I would have ever gotten on my own thanks to a week’s investment of my time. Better yet, I have the tools and training to begin extending my education in classes a bit closer to home before I head back to the desert again.

You see, 250 Pistol is just Gunsite’s introductory class, and I’m quite curious to see what the 350 Pistol class has to offer. •