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Everyone is a shooting instructor and tactical "operator."

Pardon me if I am not impressed.  In the last few years there has been an exponential growth of shooting schools, shooting experts and "new" techniques. Well, actually the techniques aren't new, just renamed. 

I have been a handgun and long gun shooter since 1969 when my Grandpa taught me to shoot. Things have changed significantly since then, but the basics of marksmanship have remained the same. Some techniques have evolved for the better, often as a result of competition or combat shooting.

But really the modernization of practical shooting began well before my birth, during the 1940's. WWII handguns were much like our handguns today, considering they carried S&W revolvers and 1911 pistols. What improved dramatically from the late 1930's through the 1970's were the practical shooting styles that incorporated "combat" techniques, replacing formal target methods. Once techniques such as a two-handed hold and boxer's stance were widely accepted as superior for combat, it didn't take long for the same styles to dominate competition.

During this period of combat and competition handgun shooting evolution, many men developed teaching methods and became famous for their handgun shooting research, doctrine, and schools they operated. Rex Applegate, Jeff Cooper and others did thorough research and taught what they learned to countless others through their writing. This was a time of great discovery and advancement of better handgun shooting techniques. Certainly the giants of the pistol shooting world brought us out of the dark ages during that time. There is no disputing that the genesis of "combat" or "tactical" shooting was the result of these men endeavoring to improve handgun shooting skills.

Now fast forward to 2010. It seems every self-proclaimed "operator" is an expert, and he has a school or self-named shooting technique, and he is a gunzine writer, and he might even have a corny TV show. It goes without saying that he was either: a Special Forces member; a dark ops undercover intelligence operative; or a cop (usually a part time reserve volunteer... or maybe he was a just crossing guard at the local elementary). This of course qualifies him as a tactical operator.

But what makes him a qualified instructor, let alone an expert? Even the real combat veteran or SWAT team member is not necessarily a good teacher, because that is a whole different skill set! For that matter, who says he can even shoot better than you? 

A shooter who genuinely wants to improve his skills will find that there are plenty of "experts" out there. Therefore I am putting forth these qualities needed in a shooting instructor, especially one who charges money for instruction. But this also applies to someone writing a book, a magazine article, or appears on TV telling me how to shoot:

- you had better be able to shoot better than me.

you better be more experienced than I am.

you must be a skilled teacher.

you better improve my skills and knowledge.

- you had better be able to prove all of the above... on demand.

Gee, that seems kind of harsh. But you know what? I am tired of self-aggrandizing poseurs who babble on in tacticool speak and strike a pose in Oakleys on a shaved head while facing nothing more dangerous than a camera. Enough already -- there are untold numbers of real shooters who can out-perform me, and real "operators" who face dangerous badguys on a regular basis, and damn few of them are shooting instructors. No, I am afraid the fact is that most of these TV, gunzine, and school "operators" are actually experts at marketing and salesmanship, not combat shooting.

So forget shooting schools that have a trademarked gimmicky "system" or an instructor who is arrogant and berates students. Here is a newsflash: becoming an expert shooter takes time and effort, and that does not mean shooting 2,500 rounds in three days!

This diatribe may seem endless in its attack on shooting schools and instructors. Actually, I am all for seeking and receiving quality instruction, which is unfortunately rare in a market that is crowded with Johnny SWAT wannabes.

So I recommend you are picky when seeking instruction, and use any of these hints:

- Pick a school that is established, such as Gunsite or Thunder Ranch.

- Find former students of the school and instructor(s) for real recommendations.

- Look for a school that is based in shooting fundamentals, not a gimmicky system.

- Look for a school that will teach you skills in which you need improvement.

- Choose an instructor who is known, experienced, and qualified (Such as Hackathorn, Ayoob or Smith).

Stay away from schools that push a named "gadget system" or that requires any of the following:

- Fire a certain number of shots as a "standard response".

- Use of only sightless fire (point shooting).

- Use of the "SUL" position (a hold actually meant for entry or assault teams, and has no purpose for an individual other than to look cool).

- Require that you habitually rotate your head like an owl. This is a fairly recent fad that supposedly conditions you to scan for threats, but those who promote it have never applied it in a real shooting. Every situation is fluid and unique, so we never require "standard responses" in training because it creates a habit, not a tactical application.

Also stay away from schools that mandate you use a particular stance or hold. Avoid teachers who demand you use a particular eye or require you keep both eyes open. We are all different, so an instructor should know how to teach individuals, not force you into his system!

This is just a portion of what you should consider when choosing a shooting coach, attend a shooting school, or even when reading some "expert" opinion, INCLUDING MINE.

Most of the current gunzine writers and and shooting schools have more to do with inflating the ego of the "expert" than helping you become a better shooter. Take your time to do some research, and you can find good firearms instruction from a qualified instructor who wants to improve your skills. Look for an established school that is based in fundamentals, and you are off to a good start.

If you don't know where to begin, post a message on this forum requesting more information on shooting schools. The Firearms Forum has many seasoned shooters, students of various schools, and even some very qualified shooting instructors among the membership!  (7 Feb 10)

Author with his police K-9 during his full-time SWAT years.  As editor/publisher I chose this photo to accompany the article.  The author would probably have preferred a simple head and shoulders shot but I thought our readers should know he is a 25-year member of a major metro police department, former SWAT member, long-time police firearms instructor, and is not talking out of his hat.  The man can shoot. --mef

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Uploaded: 1/7/2010