Saturday, July 15, 2017

Rangemaster Combative Pistol, Take Two

See also: Rangemaster Combatives Pistol, Take One, which was posted a few weeks ago, when I really thought it would take me a day or two to finish this.

Here is the description of the course curriculum from the Rangemaster Web Site:
This is an intensive weekend course that covers all of the essential skills involved in fighting with a handgun. There is an all day session Saturday and Sunday, 9:00am to 6:00pm.  Topics covered in this course will include:
  • Rapid presentation from concealed carry
  • Effective gun handling techniques, designed to work under stress
  • Rapid reloading techniques
  • High speed accuracy at close ranges
  • Precision shooting at mid-ranges
  • Shooting effectively with one hand, with either hand
  • Fixing malfunctions rapidly and reliably
  • Proper defensive mindset, personal tactics, and more.
Expect to fire about 800-1,000 rounds of ammunition. This course is designed expressly for the armed citizen who carries a concealed handgun, or the plain clothes or off duty police officer.  You will need a good handgun, holster, belt, and magazine pouch, at least three magazines, a ball cap and concealment garment (vest, jacket, windbreaker, etc), eye and ear protection, and rain gear (we train rain or shine). A cooler with soft drinks and snacks is a very good idea.
You will need a quality handgun and gear. It is a good idea to bring a second gun just like your primary, in case something breaks on your primary gun. Please bring good quality ammunition. You will shoot better, your gun will function better, and you will learn faster. Leather or kydex holsters are fine—PLEASE NO flimsy nylon or cloth holsters.  Your primary instructor will be Tom Givens.
The class started out in the classroom, with the obligatory review of the facilities and of safety rules.

Tom gave a brief introduction to his experiences as a police officer in Memphis, Tennessee; generally ignored by the media is the fact that Memphis has, and has had for decades, a violent crime rate that rivals or exceeds those of Chicago and Detroit.

Tom says that, "not counting active duty military", he has trained over 40,000 people, and that of them he has confirmed that 66 of them have been in gunfights. Of those 66, three have lost the fight.

Tom gives the stats as "63-0-and 3", explaining that all three losses were actually forfeits, since all three violated what has become known as "Rule 1 of Gunfighting: Have a Gun."

We also reviewed the basics of "Defensive Shooting Technique".

(From the class handout:) Proper defensive shooting technique could be defined as "a standardized system of training and operating designed to produce rapid, accurate, decisive hits under stressful conditions."


The shooter needs a balanced, poised, defensive posture, one which provides stability, flexibility, and mobility. The feet should be shoulder width apart, knees unlocked, and upper body weight biased slightly forward. "Keep yous nose over your toes."
I underlined those words in my copy of the workbook.

Also written in my notebook is this quote from Tom:
You should drive the gun, not ride the gun.
That is, (in my words) you should control the whole shooting cycle, including recoil.

In discussing the grip, Tom advocates a Thumbs High technique. My take on his explanation is that this will minimize lateral pressure on the fingers, allowing the trigger finger to move straight back, and avoiding unduly influencing the grip. Some pistols, for example, are notorious for having controls placed where the shooter who doesn't take care may find his slide locked back when the magazine has rounds in it, or not locking back when the magazine is empty.

This is well-known; what is less well known is that pistols with squared-off Block-y grips (so to speak) there is liable to be space between the fingers of the shooting hand, which can lead to poor control; a Low Thumbs technique may exacerbate this, leading to a gun which shoots low and left or right.*

*(Often diagnosed as a result of "limp-wristing", which rarely if ever has anything to do with it.)

Tom made some comments on sights that struck me:
  • The sights are reference points for the barrel
  • Sight Alignment refers to the relationship between the front and rear sights
  • Sight Picture refers to the relationship between the sight and the target.
  • Gabe White refers to "the sight movie"; this tends to help the shooter accept the fact that the sights will move. 
  • Tom refers to this as the Wobble Zone, and says one must Accept The Wobble Zone.
Throughout the two days of the class we returned to the classroom periodically, for lunch or to view relevant videos. This always seemed to be timed pretty well; for anyone who has not taken a class like this, it may sound like a lot of fun to blast away for two days straight, but doing so in the context of a class, with 17 other students all doing drills to a time and accuracy standard, can be draining, beyond the physical demands of being on one's feet all day, with gear on ones belt, and holding unaccustomed positions.

Among the significant videos we viewed are the dashcam video from the Dinkheller murder, and an interview with LA watchmaker Lance Thomas. (This one, I think.)

We also viewed a detailed reconstruction of the 1986 FBI Miami shootout. (Link to Wikipedia article.)

Tom made the comment that the FBI gunfighting experience is probably more relevant to "civilian" defensive shooting than state or local LEOs or military, since
  • The majority of LEO shootings involve domestic or bar fight calls, and the FBI does not do those.
  • The FBI does not wear a uniform, which leads to the fact that...
  • The majority of FBI Agent shootings every year do not involve actual FBI duties, but rather some agent stopping at the Stab and Rob for milk, or whatever.
While the Miami Shootout did not involve the kinds of activity that will lead to Joe Citizen to getting in a gunfight, Tom used these three videos to review the essentials of the Mindset necessary to prevail in a gun fight. Lance Thomas made the decision that he was not going to be a victim. Deputy Dinkheller, sad to say, made what he thought was a routine traffic stop, and simply never made the transition to realizing that there is no such thing.

What made bad guys in the Miami Shootout so dangerous is that they had made the decision that they would not be taken alive; the event itself has been dissected, analyzed, misinterpreted, Monday Morning Quarterbacked and dramatized enough that I will say that, if all you know about it is what you read in some novel -- you probably know the one I'm talking about --  you probably don't really know what happened.

Other memorable quotes from the classroom sessions include:
  • You are never 60% involved in a gunfight.
  • The most dangerous place in America, in terms of crime rates, are Walmart parking lots.
  • What loses gunfights is running out of time; missed shots are wasted time as well as wasted ammo.
  • A rifle is easier to shoot than a pistol, because, unlike a pistol, the rifle weighs more than the trigger pull.¹
Moving to the range: This class is specifically intended to develop skills related to concealed carry for self-defense. As such, the first thing we practiced on the range was drawing from concealment.

Discussing concealment garments, Tom made the observation that if one is wearing a lightweight shirt, like a fishing shirt, then the draw stroke will, probably be easier if it is worn buttoned up, instead of open. Otherwise, adding some lead weights to the hemline at the opening may help the shirt to stay out of the way during the draw. (An easy way to do this is to put a safety pin through the hem, and add some barrel or pinch-type lead fishing weights to it. Lead is recommended because it is non-reactive, and won't corrode or stain the fabric of the shirt if you leave it on while washing the shirt.)

Tom broke the draw into four movements and, just like practicing drill and ceremonies in the Army, we practiced them "by the numbers" and "in cadence."
  1. Shooting hand attains grip on gun, support hand moves to sternum, on centerline.
  2. Support hand does not move; gun hand moves up along side.
  3. Gun hand moves gun along chest towards center, under dominant eye. Support hand attains grip on pistol.
  4. "Gun is thrust, in both hands, upward and forward." The trigger does not enter the trigger guard until the sights are on target!
These all sound simple, but clearing the cover garment from the pistol so that it stays out of the way for the duration of "1" and "2" can be challenging. (Thus the discussion about adding weight to the hem, and buttoned up vs. open.)

Then you have re-holstering.  What? Why do you have to discuss/practice re-holstering?

There are no prizes for re-holstering first, but some people seem to think the faster the better.

Then, too, many if not most negligent discharges seem to occur either during the draw -- and we are careful to discuss not putting the trigger finger inside the trigger guard until the sights are on target -- but the need to make sure nothing creeps inside the trigger guard during re-holstering is often neglected. Many a police officer has fallen afoul of the fact that his uniform jacket has a toggle to adjust the waistband right where you don't want it.

(Toward the end of Day One, it was pointed out that while I wasn't rushing to re-holster, I was inserting the gun in the holster with enough force to increase the risk. I was later told that slowing down seemed to make the movement much smoother.)

We then did the classic "Dime Drill" to get students used to the proper trigger pull². This involve balancing a dime on the front sight and Dry Firing; the soother the trigger pull, the less likely the dime will fall off. This is where a nice, smooth trigger pays off.

Later on we used dummy rounds to practice malfunction drills; some drills were run with magazines deliberately "downloaded" to force reloads.

A note on reloads: There are few, if any examples of defensive gun uses which involve reloads, Nevertheless, changing magazines can be regarded as a form of malfunction drill, so practicing reloads under a time limit to simulate the stress and pressure of a gunfight does have practical application.

A further note on malfunctions and reloads: Tom favors using the "overhand slide manipulation" technique versus slingshot or using the slide catch. The reasons are that the overhand method ends with the support hand closer to the grip than the slingshot, and some guns don't have slide catches that are useful as slide releases. "And since most of us have ore than one gun, we should standardize our techniques as much as possible."

Drills for the day used one of two types of targets:

Style of silhouette targets used. Note the two, 2" circular targets at the upper left and right, known far and wide as "The parrots" perching on "The Pirate's" shoulders.

Some drills used the "parrots", but most used the fist-sized "A" zones found over the heart and the "nasal/ocular" points on the face. (Somewhere along the line Tom commented that referring to "Center of Mass" as the aiming point may be easy, but that the actual center of mass on the human body is usually several inches lower than the actual, proper, "A Zone.")

Casino Drill Target. Clicking the link, you will see that the target sheet consists of six targets, numbered 1 to 6, two each of which are red, blue, or yellow, AND square, round, or triangular. Various drills can and were run on this target: Tom would call out "2, 5", and we would fire that many shots at those targets. Or "Square" and we would fire the appropriate number of rounds at the square targets.

The point of these drills was to add some stress to the process of target discrimination. This culminated with the Casino Drill, in which one starts with three magazines loaded with seven rounds each, and shoots the targets sequentially, reloading as necessary. 1+2+3+4+5+6=21; the point is, you have to remember where you left off when you do your reload. The reloads come part way through a target, so you have to reload, complete that target, and move on to the next one in the sequence.

Sounds easy sitting there reading this, but unless you have a Count von Count degree of Arithmomania, you're likely to find this rather difficult.


Tom made the observation that accuracy tends to go to pot after a transition, since sight alignment may be off, and especially after a malfunction drill or reload, because these tend to cause the grip to shift. I certainly found that to be true.

We also practiced shooting on the move, specifically, moving laterally. Tom made the point that Bad Guys are as likely to suffer from "tunnel vision" in a gun fight as the White Hats, and by practicing "getting off the 'X'" we can reset "Dude's" OODA Loop.

The Workbook for the class included a page on Dry Fire³ Drills, also available on the Rangemaster web site. (Suggested Drills – Rangemaster – Self-defense and firearms training for the real world). Tom makes the point that
The amount of practice one does may not be nearly as important when the flag flies as how recent your last practice was.
 So what does one practice in dry fire/practice? The draw, to both the "ready" position and the "present" or "on target" position, and re-holstering. One can practice transitions between targets. Depending on one's pistol or training device, one may be able to practice the trigger pull and reloads.

This was definitely an excellent training and learning experience, and I would highly recommend it for any armed citizen.

While it is not intended as any sort of advanced course,  I do think that a beginner would be well advised to take the "Introduction to Handguns" class at their local range, and carefully read the class requirements. We lost one student after Day One, a gentleman who showed up Saturday with a Smith & Wesson Shield and one spare magazine. By halfway through Day One he admitted he was in over his head. A shame, from what I saw on Saturday I think he would have been fine if he'd had a few spare magazines and a magazine loader, like an UPLULA.

Also, at least one student had old-fashioned ear muffs, not electronic muffs, which are a great help not only in hearing range commands, but also (especially) hearing instruction and explanations; this is a class, after all, so you want to hear what the instructor is saying...4

How does it compare to other classes I've taken?

The shooting is probably a little more advanced than the range portions of MAG-40 (AKA Mag-20 Range)

On the other hand, MAG-40 (especially MAG-20 Classroom) covers a lot of territory not covered in the Rangemaster Combative Pistol class, i.e., it prepares you to interact with the legal system post-self-defense pistol use.

Ernest Langdon's Tactical Pistol Skills class covers similar, but not identical shooting skills, but is not oriented to concealed carry.

If I were to be asked to recommend one class for the prospective student new to pistol training, I would probably recommend MAG-40, for the legal component.

For a two-day class,  go for MAG-20 Classroom; for a 2 day shooting class... I don't know. It may depend on the student, how experienced they are.

The fact of the matter is, for most people it is actually going to be a matter what's available, when and where; that is, of checking calendars and taking the class(es) you can afford, convenient to you geographically, when it is convenient to your schedule.

The fact is that we have some excellent "traveling" instructors these days,  and you would be well served by consulting the Firearms Training Hub website, looking at when and where training would be convenient to you, and making your plans.

It turns out that several of the other students were members of, including Rick who was also in the Ernest Langdon class I took last fall. Several AARs are posted in this thread.
1. Attributed to Larry Vickers. Don't ya hate it when someone says something so obvious you fell like giving yourself a Gibbs Slap for not have seen it before?
2. Tom does not actually favor the term "pull the trigger", because he feels it leads to improper manipulation. Mas argues that what you call it doesn't matter as long as it's done right.
3. The term "Dry Practice" is often preferred these days, as encouraging the mindset that there should be no ammunition in the area when one is supposed to be practicing without it. 
4. I note that electronic muffs have come far down in price in the last 15 years or so: electronic earmuffs; when I first heard of electronic sound muffling ear muffs a pair of Peltor muffs cost a couple of hundred bucks on sale,and were designed more for the use of SWAT teams and Operators who were hunting Bin Laden in the caves of Tora Bora. (Honestly, I think it's neat that I can hook up my muffs to my hand-held amateur radio, but I am hard-pressed to justify using that ability.)

Previous, related, posts:
The Clue Meter: Gun Skool Thoughts, Part II
The Clue Meter: Gun Skool Thoughts, Part I -- Pugetopolis
The Clue Meter: Ernest Langdon Tactical Pistol Skills AAR, Take 2
The Clue Meter: MAG 40 -- Thoughts 

1 comment:

Old NFO said...

Tom and his folks DO teach an excellent course! Thanks for the detailed AAR!