I recently returned from the inaugural Rangemaster Master Instructor Development & Certification Course, held November 15-17, 2019 at Shawnee Outdoors (formerly BDC Gun Room) in Shawnee, OK.
This course is part 3 in the Rangemaster Instructor Development curriculum. You must have passed both prior courses (3-Day Instructor Development, Advanced Instructor) to be eligible to attend the Master course. Interesting to note that Tom Givens announced this course a little over a year in advance (around Oct. 31, 2018), and it sold out in 5 hours. It’s been a long wait.
Shawnee Outdoors (formerly the BDC Gun Room) was an excellent facility for hosting. Good sized and outfitted classroom. A 25-yard state-of-the-art indoor shooting range (with excellent air-handling). Fantastic lunchtime catering provided by our host, Jack Barrett. And being at a good range, there were supplies and gunsmithing available if needed. Plus, Bill Armstrong provided some supplies and barricades to help support the course curriculum.
The course was 3 days, Friday through Sunday. Each day started at 9:00 AM and scheduled to end at 6:00 PM, tho we tended to finish a bit early each day.
We had 18 candidates from 7 states (with Texas and Oklahoma strongly represented). Wide variety of equipment and styles (gun make/models, red dots vs. irons, IWB vs AIWB, etc.), but a make-up one might generally expect from such a group of people. That said, the complete equipment and supply list for class was a long one. Not only your usual carry gear and about 700 rounds of ammo, but a full size and small size revolver (think both a K-frame and J-frame), about 300 rounds of ammo for it, various revolver loading tools (speedloaders, speed strips, dump pouch), holsters for the revolvers (hip, pocket, ankle, etc.), mirror image holster/setup for your normal carry gear, “tactical” flashlight, and a drill (more on on that below). And of course, note-taking material; you will take lots of notes.
My gear, since people tend to be curious:
- S&W M&P9 M2.0 4″ Compact. Apex DCAEK. Dawson Precision sights (0.100″ red fiber optic front, 0.125″ serrated black Charger rear)
- Dark Star Gear Orion, with Dark Wing (AIWB holster)
- My old Comp-Tac dual mag pouch (worn 9 o’clock)
- Sig P365 with a Dark Star Gear Hitchhiker (brought due to initial course requirements; but wasn’t used).
- Federal Syntech 9mm 124 grain
- S&W Model 66 3″
- JM Custom Kydex AIWB holster for a 4″ K-frame, 1.5″ PTD loops
- S&W 640
- Desantis pocket holster
- My .38 Special reloads
- HKS speedloaders (for both revolvers), TUFF speed strips (8-round)
- Surefire Stiletto on a RCS Pocket Shield
Drove up with Tim Reedy of TDR Training, and stayed in house (Vrbo) with him and the Legendary Lawman, Marshall Chuck Haggard of Agile Training & Consulting.
Day 1 was mostly in the classroom. Tom gave his presentation on the history of modern pistolcraft, which I’ve seen/heard before but it’s so full of information it’s one you enjoy hearing again and again. The next block was not just about holster design, but specifically the evolution of retention in holsters. This was particularly interesting because it makes it evident how many people “innovating” today are unaware of the past.
Tom spent a block on vehicle defense, but this wasn’t about shooting in or out of cars. Rather, that many people spend a lot of time in and around cars, in and around parking lots, in and around the street. What sorts of things can be done to help manage those situations – and it has nothing to do with shooting. How to park, where to park, and simple things like… lock your doors, keep your windows up.
A block then on low-light techniques. This was especially interesting because Tom didn’t just list off techniques, but he provided history and context for technique evolution. One point on techniques many don’t consider is how technology and technique went hand-in-hand. For example, the FBI technique is as it is because the flashlight technology at the time was the old Ray-O-Vac flashlights that had lots of spill and not a lot of power. Second generation techniques like Harries and Chapman/Ayoob were because of the Mag-Lite style. History and context matter.
Later in the afternoon we went to the range. Tom loves cold shooting, so we started with the FBI qual (2019 edition). Tom made it slightly more difficult, since we were using the RMTS-Q target, we scored by the rings (vs. the “hit in the bottle or not” scoring the FBI uses). Oh yeah… the score was recorded. I shot a 95.6%.
After that, we did some work with barriers and barricades. Then some work with low light. The cool part of this was being indoors, light-levels and light direction were easily manipulated. For example, we could simulate “darkness” as it might be in an urban environment (which isn’t pitch black), or simulate as if headlights were behind us.
Packed out and a number of us went out for supper. There is good Mexican food to be found in Oklahoma!
At the end of TD1, Tom told us to leave off our normal EDC and come to class wearing our revolvers. Yes, plural.
We started in the classroom, talking about revolvers. Advantages, disadvantages, and other realities of the revolver. It was evident Tom has a deep experience with revolvers and does enjoy them. But Tom also asserts they aren’t the best for self-defense – technology has evolved. I may be getting the exact words wrong, but two quotes from Tom:
Nostalgia is great, until someone is trying to kill you.
And something like: “Why do you take a revolver course? To learn why you shouldn’t carry a revolver.”
This caused a lot of “rustled jimmies” on the Internets, which I’ll talk to later.
On the range we worked revolver skills. Shooting, trigger manipulation, reloading techniques. It culminated in shooting a revolver qualification for score. We had 3 perfect scores on the qual: Michael Labonte, Lee Weems, and myself. That resulted in a 20-round shootoff. Michael had a well-deserved win.
That evening, I don’t know what everyone else did, but I got a bit of 80’s/90’s hair metal nostalgia. John Correia of Active Self Protection met the lead singer of the band Warrant, Robert Mason, on a flight home a few weeks prior. They kept in touch, and by chance Warrant was playing at a casino not too far from Shawnee. So John, myself, Ka, Chuck Haggard, Spencer Keepers, and John’s friend Mason went to the show, met with Robert after the show, had a great evening (the car-conversations were gold).
Don’t expect that perk in future runs of the class. 😉
TD3 started in the classroom, but only as a formality. Straight to the range we went.
And what did we start with?
Rangemaster Bullseye. Cold. For score. Nothing like 25 yard timed group shooting on a B-8 target to wake you up in the morning.
After that, the Super Test. Scored, but I’m not sure it was part of the class aggregate.
And no Rangemaster event would be complete without a running of the Casino Drill! We actually ran it a number of times, each run a different variation: 7-7-7, 6-7-8, reverse order, odds-evens. Then of course, we ran it for score (part of aggregate). I dropped a number of shots on 6 and it made for an embarrassing score.
After that, we ran the new Rangemaster Master Instructor qual. It’s a typical Rangemaster qual, just the toughest. I’ve got a number of RM quals, such a his old Level 5, the regular Instructor qual, now this. You can see they are all similar (the shooting problems we face don’t change, but our skill level and ability to address those problems can change), just get progressively more difficult. I shot a 91.5%, which passes, but I’m far from happy with it. This is the other score that went onto your certificate.
The afternoon was spent on candidate drills. Each candidate had to come to class prepared with a drill: could be their own invention, could be someone else’s. Doesn’t matter, just have a drill that takes about 5-15 rounds, can be run with 5-10 people in a single string (no individual runs, not enough time), and you must bring the targets (plus anything else you might need like a whistle, stopwatch, timer, etc.). Tom calls who is up. You explain your drill: background, philosophy, how we could use it in our own classes or training, the COF itself. Then you run the line and administer the drill. If after shooting there’s any post, e.g. scoring, summary discussion. And then onto the next person. With 18 candidates, this took all afternoon, but it was a ton of fun to do, shoot, and I picked up a few cool things to add to my personal drills list.
Before we left the range we had a special treat. I’m not sure if this is a normal part of class or just a lucky extra because Chuck Haggard was in class. But Chuck pulled out some ballistics gel and ran a bunch of ammo through it. He put up 4-layer denim and shot various 9mm loads like Gold Dot, HSTs, Critical Duty, some .38 loads, etc. While it’s not a huge data set, it was fairly consistent with other data I’ve seen. It continues to affirm my choice of Speer Gold Dot 9mm 124 grain +P (Chuck’s choice too). I also have started to use Federal Gold Medal Match .38 Special 148 grain wadcutters for a snub load, and seeing the ballistic gel performance in person continues to affirm that for the sub-optimal .38, this remains probably your best bet (and it’s “low recoil” too). (Note to self: probably should have used it during the qual…)
We wrapped up in the classroom with certificates (everyone passed, which should be expected at this level), and Ed Monk of Last Resort Firearms Training took Top Shot, with Lee Weems coming in first loser (it’s a joke, Lee and I rib each other a lot; but he did shoot consistently well all weekend).
I don’t know how to adequately convey the gravity of training with Tom Givens. Tom is one of the few remaining that bridges between the old guard (i.e. Jeff Cooper was his mentor) and the modern world. But he isn’t stuck in Cooper’s world; he grows, he learns, he’s still a student. He’s forgotten more than most people know. And he can still outshoot most of us too. The depth and breadth of his knowledge is impossible to capture here – you just need to train with him. And like it or not, Tom’s not a spring chicken; he won’t be doing this forever, and you will kick yourself if Tom stops teaching and you didn’t take the opportunity to train with him. I have 126 hours of formal training under Tom (out of my now 795 total firearms training hours), and I value every one of them.
In particular, the Master course felt like the right capstone to his Instructor-level training curriculum. It covered topics that aren’t fundamental, but are important in being a well-rounded and deeply-knowledged instructor. It also has the highest and toughest requirements of any single course, and consider because of the two-prerequisites it means you’ve had to pass 1 written test, 6 shooting qualifications, and a number of other qualifications, contests, and performance evaluations. You have to be able to perform, in front of others, and know your stuff. Furthermore, all of those are performed over time… years, for most people. That means you just can’t have a hot weekend, you must have and maintain that skill over a long period of time. And remember Tom does NOT give out these certificates: they are truly earned (there’s a decent wash-out rate in the first class; and I’d expect by the time you get to Master level you ought to be capable, competent, and serious enough there’s no washing out – but it’s still totally possible).
This certification has meaning. I don’t think there’s any other certification in this industry (and even in other industries) have have such rigor, such demand of knowledge and performance over time.
That out of the way…
Were there hiccups? Yup. It was the first time the course was offered so there were some kinks. But Tom was aware, and in fact one of the last thing he asked the class was for feedback on the class itself. We had honest and candid comments, and Tom took them all. Nothing too bad, just kinks worth ironing out. I’ll be curious to see how the future iterations of this class adjust and improve.
So… revolver day turned into a little fun on The Internets.
At the end of the day, John Correia posted an observation from the day. Boy, that post sure “rustled a lot of jimmies”, as John says. Numerous shares/reposts, which generated a lot of comments, and especially a lengthy response from Darryl Bolke. Lee Weems also wrote about it in part 1 and part 2. And in fact, I’m writing this about a week post-class and things are still buzzing about this matter.
As I wrote elsewhere, I think everyone got caught up in the Internet of it all.
The point was mainly this:
Today there’s still the pervasive notion that revolvers don’t break, don’t malfunction, are more reliable and easier to operate (and maintain) than semi-autos.
That is patently false. It’s a myth.
Witness our class. 18 “hobbyists”, a low round count day (no more than 300 rounds), and numerous problems. And not just our class, but in Tom’s multi-decade experience. Yes, our class may have been above average, but the point remains: revolvers aren’t this infallible thing, no matter what the guy behind the gun store counter tells you.
And that was the point of it all.
Actually, it is a little more than that.
People wanted to know what revolvers they were, if they had been gunsmithed (either backroom or gamered or whatever), what sort of ammo (in fact, most people are chalking up our day to being an ammo problem and not a well-maintained revolver problem), whatever sorts of information they could find to blow off the problems as isolated to our case and thus an anomaly to be discarded.
Folks: it doesn’t matter.
It’s key to note that when a revolver malfunctions – because the gun itself, because ammo, because simple bad luck – most likely the only corrective solution is going to involve a bench, tools, and maybe a gunsmith. Or, drawing your backup revolver. That fixing the problem is going to take more time and trouble than you will have in the middle of a gunfight. Even normal reloading is a slow endeavor. This is why “in the old west” they carried more than one gun: gun fails or runs dry, you drop it and draw your next gun. That “New York reload” is the most reliable remedial action one can take.
Technology advances. It’s why we don’t use telegraphs but now have iPhones. It’s why we don’t use horseback but drive Teslas. Indoor plumbing. Air conditioning. We have things that make our lives better. And modern semi-autos on the whole are more reliable, have greater capacity, and malfunctions are often able to be remedied in a fight and not be majorly costly.
Does this mean revolvers can’t work? No. Does this mean semi-autos can’t fail? No. None of that. In fact, if you really look at what people like John, Darryl, and most of all Tom are saying, they’re pretty much on the same page. Again… people just wanted to get caught up in the Internet of it all. Lots of conclusion jumping. Lots of assumptions and poo-pooing. Few, if any, checking with one of the 20 people actually in attendance at the event to get first-hand information (at least when the initial reactions were posted). And while people might want to dismiss the observations of 19 of the attendees, ultimately the main point was really one that Tom himself was making. And we all know Tom Givens knows nothing about revolvers…
I must admit, it’s not how I wanted to end my 2019 work.
In 2019 I chalked up 149 hours of formal training in combatives, medical, and firearms from a host of top-flight instructors. It was probably my best year of training in terms of material studied and progression of skill. Two notable classes were Lee Weems’ Deliberate Speed Pistol, and Gabe White’s Pistol Shooting Solutions courses. Those were transformative, and really broke me through some long-standing plateaus in my skill, mindset, and thinking towards my shooting. If not for Lee’s class, I don’t think I would have learned my Light Pin in Gabe’s class.
I went into the Master course expecting to continue on that upward trend, but instead I regressed.
It’s pretty simple.
I became results-oriented.
Tom’s one of the few people who can induce a high level of nervousness in me. I have a deep respect for Tom, and any time I shoot poorly, I feel I’m letting him down. Plus, being the first Master Instructor class, the desire to pass, the desire to not be the dude that failed out of the first class… then couple seeing the quals and all that we were going to do, the people I was going to be doing it in front of – people I respect deeply, new people who would be forming first opinions of me – well… it all added up to be being too focused on the results and not just on the process (and letting the results come).
But I should also have expected it. While I’ve been trying to change to being process-focused in my shooting, it really took Gabe’s class just a month prior to this to give me the breakthrough to apply it how I needed to apply it. There’s no way for that to have become myelinated in such a short period of time. So… I fell back on what I was, what was myelinated.
It was still good enough to pass, but I can see other embarrassing things throughout the weekend. John Correia has a great 10-round assessment drill, and I dropped the 2 head shots on it? I did my worst Casino run ever. I’d have 1 shot on a qual that was “out of bounds” and lose a bunch of points (the scoring of Tom’s drills are brutal on dropped shots, and rightly so). All because my head was where it shouldn’t have been.
But… it was a good learning point, and I know long-term I’m going to be thankful things went as they did. I told me where I really was, and what I need to do in my training going forward. I’ve already been formulating my plan to work on stuff.
That all said tho? Cleaning the revolver qual and going into a shootoff with Lee Weems and Michael Labonte will forever be a cool moment in my book. Two great guys, two great shooters. It was the highlight of my weekend.
All the other non-shooty things were cool too. It was great to see Tom. It was great to see my “extended Rangemaster family”, and extend it more by meeting a bunch of new people (some brand new, some known from the Internets and seeing in person the first time). Great food. A fun off-event seeing Warrant. And Tim Reedy’s never-ending bad jokes. 🙂
All in all… a good weekend. I’m fortunate to have been a part of it.
Looking forward to TacCon 2020!