A year ago today, I was excited with the prospect of earning a Rangemaster instructor certification. I wasn’t sure I would be able to meet the standards and I had no plans in place to do something with that certification assuming I earned it. It was something I wanted to do out of curiosity more than anything else. I hadn’t imagined I would also proceed to earn an advanced instructor certification, let alone the master instructor certification I recently achieved just a few days before starting to write this after action report.
The Rangemaster Master Instructor Development Course is the third instructor development course offered by Rangemaster that is focused on defensive pistol instruction. It requires the student to have successfully completed the Advanced Instructor Development Course which requires the student to have successfully completed the Basic Instructor Development Course. Like its prerequisites, this instructor development course requires the student to pass two pistol shooting qualification exams in order to graduate and receive the certification and, once again, the qualification standards are more demanding.
The three (3) day class was led by Tom Givens and was hosted by TDR Training located in Bandera, TX. The facilities were made up of a local community center which functioned as the classroom and a bay at the Bandera Gun Club range, an outdoor range, which was located a couple of miles away.
Before getting into the class, let’s start with the gear I used since it will inevitably be asked.
- Mag pouches: Concealment Solutions Venom Single Magazine Carrier x2
- Speedloaders: Safariland Comp III
- Speedstrips: Bianchi Speed Strips
- Speedloader pouches: Safariland 333 Speedloader Holder
- Belt: Concealment Solutions 1.5″ Python Gun Belt (Horsehide)
With gear out of the way, let’s get back to the course. The course felt like a natural continuation of its prerequisites both in terms of classroom content and pistol qualification standards. I suspect this will become more apparent as we dive deeper into it in this post. The overall flow of the class was very familiar with Tom Givens running the tight ship that I’ve come to expect. Every day began with lectures in the classroom and ended with time on the range. Like in the prior courses, students were provided with a supplemental workbook.
The first day started in the classroom with lectures covering the history and development of firearms training from the early 1900s all the way up to present day. The lecture interweaved the introduction and advancement of notable target designs and competitive sports as they related to firearms training. Now I’m pretty bad at history. People, places, events, and dates are things that I don’t retain very well and have to constantly look up. However, exploring the history and the number of times the wheel was reinvented provides valuable context that enriches our understanding and appreciation of the current state of the art firearms training. Moreover, it sheds light on where some of the suboptimal techniques that some folks continue to use and teach came from.
We jumped right into live fire drills as soon as we hit the range. Several drills were run on an LTT-01 target such as a modified dot torture drill that started with a ten (10) round pistol where we fired one shot at the top 2” dot, two shots at dot below the top one, three shots at the next dot, four shots at the one after that which forced a reload before finishing with five shots at the bottom dot. We spent some time firing one shot at a time at the 1” square from five yards which is fairly equivalent to hitting a 5” target at 25 yards. We also used the 4” circle around the 1” square to fire five round strings as quickly as we could keep the hits within the 4” circle. The work on the LTT-01 target was wrapped up with shooting the Rangemaster Baseline Skills Assessment drill on the untouched B-8 center targets. We also shot the Rangemaster Bullseye Test on a fresh B-8 target.
One of the things that was different about this course compared to its prerequisites was that students were instructed to take a step back and observe multiple students on the opposite relay when they were shooting rather than focusing on coaching an individual student on the opposite relay. As Tom Givens pointed out in lecture earlier in the day, there would be less opportunities for individual coaching in this class. In large part, this was due to the fact that students in this class have a more advanced level of skill on average than in the previous courses so there would be less to correct. Additionally, this helped students practice the observation skills needed to run the firing line when it was their turn to run and lead their own drill.
The first day ended with the first third of the student-led drills. Each student was given a homework assignment before class which consisted of picking a drill to run the class through and procuring the targets needed for that drill. The assignment was pretty open ended with only a few constraints. First drill had to be static and shot on a single target. Transitions were allowed as long as they could be done on the selected target. Additionally, a round limit of 10-15 rounds was requested in order to keep the class in line with the class’ expected round count. Lastly, we needed to be able to articulate the purpose and etymology of drill to the class prior to running the line through the drill.
I suspect the value of student-led drill varies from student to student based on their experience as an instructor. For me, it was quite a novel experience. Picking a drill based on what it works and running myself or another person through it wasn’t new. However, selecting, preparing for, presenting, and running a drill for a fifteen person relay was very much outside of my comfort zone. It shed light on several things I will have to work on including adjusting the difficulty of the drill to the student audience. Choosing the right tools to adequately communicate a start and stop signal with sufficient volume to be heard over the sound of gun fire. Lastly, I wish I would have done a better job at taking detailed notes of the 29 other student-led drills as there were plenty I had never been exposed to before and would have been great additions to my practice, training, and instruction toolbox.
We returned to the classroom the following day where the lectures began with a historical review of holster design. Once again, the exploration filled in a lot of gaps in my knowledge providing a lot of explanation behind the features that make up a good modern holster. Some of the old holster designs were also quite fascinating. In my opinion, the icing on the cake was being able to touch and feel some of those holsters that exist today in Tom Givens’ collection which were passed around the classroom.
Our attention then turned to revolvers in the context of self defense. There was a lot of meat in this lecture which started with a deep look at the practical advantages and disadvantages of using a revolver for self defense. Various aspects of operation were covered including opening and closing the cylinder, modern grip technique, trigger operation, and reloading technique. What was the most eye opening aspect of this topic for me was everything that is involved in preventing malfunctions with revolvers which often require the use of tools and a workbench. A wheel gun simply isn’t the pinnacle of reliability that it is frequently associated with.
The range work that afternoon began with the revolver. We spend quite a bit of time dry firing and working through the reload procedure. The live fire drills that followed started with simple one shot strings, which were followed by shooting pairs, then triples, and then a full cylinder. Reloads were done frequently, which is a side effect of a revolver’s limited capacity, with both speedloaders and speedstrips. Both of which are relatively slow procedures compared to the time it takes to change the magazine in a semi automatic pistol. The culmination of the revolver work ended with shooting the Rangemaster Defensive Revolver Qualification.
It’s worth noting that fatigue from shooting occurs much faster with a revolver. Contributing factors to this include the heavier double action trigger pulls, the fact that recoil energy is transferred directly into the shooter’s hands without any being used by the gun’s mechanical function, and the very frequent complex reloading procedures. In my case, this work aggravated the arthritis in my hands quite a bit and recovery took place over a couple of days following the end of the course.
The next block of range work involved mirror-handed shooting. That means students equipped themselves with an opposite handed holster and performed all of the shooting and manipulations as an opposite handed person would. This is yet another eye opening experience for anyone who hasn’t attempted this. In many ways it’s like learning to shoot a pistol over again. I found myself having to forcefully consciously think about every detail for each manipulation. Every single time I allowed my subconscious to take the wheel resulted in some suboptimal or compromised technique. Nothing unsafe, but just bad form. For example, something as simple as indexing the trigger finger in register would often result in me attempting to also index my support hand index finger on the slide. Attempting to draw the pistol without thinking about proper master firing grip placement resulted in a pistol that was wildly misaligned with my forearm. Perhaps, the craziest part of the experience occurred when we wrapped up this block and switched back to our regular holster which initially felt awkward and I was momentarily confused as to which side the pistol and magazines were located and oriented. Thankfully that feeling was momentary and only lasted a few short moments, but it made me more aware how quickly myelination starts and how easy it is to begin forming habits regardless of whether they are good or bad.
Another block of student-led drills followed. However, before calling the day a wrap, the students got a practice run at the Rangemaster Master Instructor Qualification that we would be required to pass the next day.
The final day once again began in the classroom where Tom Givens provided us with details surrounding ten student-involved self defense incidents and the lessons that can be gleaned from them. We then turned our attention to the evolution of flashlight technology and associated shooting techniques. By comparison with the previous two days, the lecture time on this day was brief, but it was nevertheless just as insightful as the other days.
Range time kicked off a Rangemaster Baseline Skills Assessment shot cold. This was an excellent barometer for how the rest of the day would go which included the upcoming qualification tests. My hands had not recovered much from the revolver work on the previous day and it showed.
The assessment was followed by two opportunities to earn a class challenge coin which is awarded to the best performance on a drill. The first drill was the Rangemaster Advanced Bullseye Course. I didn’t expect to find myself in a shoot off for the first coin, but Tom Givens scored my target much more generously than I scored it for myself. The shoot off consisted of a quick 10-10-10 drill, also known as “The Test”. I lost with a score of 96 against a score of 100. While I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed, I was still happy with my performance given the state of hand.
The next challenge involved the Casino drill. However, we worked on that drill quite a bit before each student was individually timed for a chance at the coin. The first go around was the standard drill which consisted of using three seven round magazines to shoot the six shapes in numerical order with the number of shots indicated by their number with a par time of 21 seconds. The next run used the same par time and shooting order, but called for one six round magazine, one seven round magazine, and one eight round magazine which were randomized making the reload much less predictable and forcing the shooter to make active use of their cognitive abilities to remember the target and number of shots fired to that target when each reload was needed. We then took one more stab at the drill using three seven round magazines but shot the targets in reverse numerical order. After all that was said and done, the standard drill was shot and timed individually for the coin.
The Old West Test was up next. This drill involves shooting five rounds into a 3×5” playing card at five yards in five seconds. However, this drill, which I’m fairly certain every student was expecting, had a twist. Rather than shooting it as a relay where those who met the par time with all five hits in the card could have their card signed by Tom Givens, each student shot it individually and if the par time was met Tom Givens then signed it and noted the time it took to complete. I choked. I managed to get all my hits, but was over the par time by 0.2 seconds. This was arguably the biggest disappointment I experienced in this class. Nevertheless, I didn’t attend the class for a signed card or a coin. I was there to learn and earn a master instructor certificate.
The qualification tests followed. The first test for a score which required a 90% or better in order to pass and be one step closer to graduation was the Rangemaster Master Instructor Qualification on a RFTS-Q3 target. It looked as if the second test was going to be the same test but using a reversed cardboard silhouette from ShootSteel.com which would have no visible target scoring zones. However, the weather had other plans and the wind forced the cancellation of that course of fire. That may have just been an exercise that wouldn’t have counted towards graduation, but it did not appear to be the case. Regardless, we shot the Rangemaster Baseline Skills Assessment one last time for a score which also required a 90% or better in order to pass and graduate.
The final range block consisted of wrapping up the remaining student-led drills. We then returned to the classroom to receive our hard earned certificates.
Like all of the other Rangemaster Instructor Development courses, this was not a “give me” class where attendance guarantees a certificate. It required work and was not a walk in the park. At the same time, the classroom content increases and deepens the students knowledge in firearms and instruction while the range work pushes the student to take their already developed skills to the next level.
Another benefit from this course work continues to be the opportunity to make friends with other instructors who are dedicated to the craft. This time around I got to meet and connect with folks like:
- Benjamin DeWalt, Founder and Senior Instructor at OnSight Firearms Training (Awarded Top Shot in this class)
- Pascale Green, Lead Women’s Instructor and VP of Operations at Green Ops
- Johnny Jones, Chief Firearms Instructor and Founder at Black Star Training Group
- Kari Grayson, Founder and Creator at License2Kari
- Alexandra Nikolov, Instructor at Low Pro Consulting and Las Vegas Facilitator at A Girl & A Gun
- José Morales, Instructor and Owner at Philly Firearms Academy
- Luis Arias, also known as Instructor Arias
Folks who are considering becoming a Rangemaster certified instructor can find upcoming classes on Tom Givens’ Eventbrite page. There are currently several instructor development courses, a handful of advanced instructor development courses, and a couple of master instructor development courses available to pick from. It’s a worthwhile endeavor for anyone who is serious about instructing others in defensive pistolcraft.