From: email@example.com (Barry Needham)
Subject: Trip Report, Gunsite ATP-II
Date: 30 Oct 1995 22:33:30 -0500
Advanced Tactical Problems
Class motto: We don't train for our best day... We train for our
Kathy and I took this class a few weeks ago and I would like to share this
experience with the net. Over the years, I have taken a lot of classes -- at
Gunsite and elsewhere -- and I have taught a lot of classes, my primary
impression of this class is:
This was a very high speed class. I think I had an opportunity to experiment
with and apply all of the techniques that I have learned over the years. The
class wasn't so much about shooting, although we did shoot nearly 600 rounds
over 3 days. The class wasn't even so much about tactics, at least not with
respect to the static understanding of tactics. This was tactical problem
solving in real time; learning how to solve problems in real time. With a
critique not on shooting skills, everybody was shooting too well for that, but
on the ways that you solved the problem and what your alternatives were at
each step of the process. But I'm getting ahead of myself....
Gunsite was running four classes that week, a ladies pistol class, a general
pistol 250 class, the first week of the tactical rifle (AKA: Sniper-I) class
and ATP-II. That's about as broad a mix of students that I've seen at
Gunsite at one time. There was everything from some women who had no firearms
experience at all to somebody from an "unspecified government agency" who came
complete with a suppresser can on his .338 Laupa magnum (which worked pretty
well BTW). And then there was the ATP group.
There were twelve people in the ATP-II class, which is the maximum that
Gunsite was prepared to handle. It was amazing to me, but out of the twelve I
had shot with seven of them before at various Gunsite classes or clinics. We
even had a total of four people (including me) from my first 250 class,
several years ago; that might have been a very special 250 class, thanks to
Dennis Tueller and Jeff Cooper. There were two married couples in the class,
both from the San Francisco Bay area. Two MDs, two other software types --
both from Silicon valley, three law enforcement types -- all from California
and a special forces weapons instructor -- a PJ (Para-Jumper, Air Force search
& rescue medics with an attitude who go into enemy territory after downed
pilots) stationed out of Nevada. There were seven 1911's in .45 ACP and 10mm,
five Glocks in .45 ACP, 10mm, .40 S&W and 9mm, a Smith & Wesson autoloader
(didn't catch the model number) in .40 S&W, a Beretta in 9mm, a .38 Smith &
Wesson airweight and a .380 mustang. If anybody notices that the weapons
count exceed the number people in class you get bonus points for observation;
several people had backup/hideout pistols with them.
After the normal Gunsite introduction and legal overhead we headed immediately
to the range. Our range master was Bill Jeans -- operations manager at
Gunsite and their most senior instructor -- and Ed Head, who's real job is
with the Border Patrol, was assisting. One indication of the overall level
and quality of this class is that we did nothing "dry", everything was done
with fully loaded weapons. All exercises were done as cold as possible, there
were intentionally no opportunities to warm up or practice things in advance.
We started with the standard Gunsite exercises, ending with prone at 25
meters. There were a whole lot of X hits in those targets and everybody was
well within time. I would estimate that most people were finishing in 60% to
70% of the time allowed for the exercise. With standing drills requiring
response in less that two seconds from the holster, that's moving right along.
This is a good time to note that the standard Gunsite target has changed, it
has become more anatomically correct. The X ring in the body has shrunk from
a eight inch circle to a six inch, somewhat offset and higher eclipse that
represents the major blood vessels in the thorax. The X zone in the head has
become an inverted equilateral triangle with the apex centered on the bridge
of he nose; this more correctly represents the location of the central nervous
system. We continued with failure drills out to 10 meters and then some 499
drills, shooting while moving, advancing and retreating then turns. There
were still a whole lot of X hits in the targets. We finished our short
morning with a one time only El Presidente. I was happy with the fast time of
just under seven seconds but I pulled at least two shots. My feeling was that
the whole mornings exercise was to give the instructors a feel for the
capabilities of the class members.
We did an indoor and outdoor simulator Monday afternoon. We were warned that
these would be the only "easy" simulators. If these were easy it was going to
be a very interesting few days. On the outdoor simulator we had very "hard"
poppers at 35 to 50 meters that my 10mm wouldn't take down with even multiple
head hits. We had poppers in the trees and up on the banks. It was one of
the harder outdoor simulators that I've seen at Gunsite. The indoor simulator
had a wide variety of target systems including our favorite hidden balloon
reactive targets. There were lots of targets that would talk back to you and
give you different options on how to solve the problem. By the end of the day
I think that everybody was doing failure drills on all single targets and
going back to pick up head shots on the crowd scenes.
After a brief dinner break we reconvened just as the sun was going down. I
took advantage of the break to do some cleaning; I really hate to deal with a
dirty, balky, pistol in low light. I function fired before class. I now
refuse to carry a "clean" pistol; something I learned in ATP-I. We did a
little low light square range work. Normal stuff, with and without
flashlights. Everybody in the class had night sights and Sure Fire
flashlights. The only variations were between regular and laser models and
which filter/defuser was used. The only person who had a unfiltered Sure Fire
was the PJ. His comment was that they use night vision most of the time
anyway. We had red filters, blue filters, #3 and #4 defusers. It nearly
looked like Christmas! Most people seem to prefer the #3 defuser. People
with good night vision seem to prefer the red filter and the MDs liked the
blue filter -- makes it easier to find blood. Then we went off to do a indoor
and outdoor night simulator.
Night tactical exercises are always hard, and very good for getting your
adrenaline flowing. The instructors are picking up the pressure, encouraging
us to move as quickly as possible. The theory is that a rapidly, aggressively
moving opponent is harder to deal with -- as long as you are moving both
rapidly and tactically correctly. In addition to the usual excitement we had
more hard poppers, poppers covering poppers and multiple target engagements.
The inside drill was interesting. I attempted to do a little "snoop and poop"
through the windows but Ed wasn't going to let me get away with that. Lots of
shoot/no shoot decisions in this one. And once again we had a full range of
reactive targets. I think the instructors were somewhat disappointed that
almost everybody was dropping multiple rounds in multiple areas of each
target. I blew right past one room, I just didn't recognize the closed door
in the middle of a wall. I guess that I was moving a little too fast in that
We wrapped up about 22:30, the end of a long day that started at 08:00.
The class began again at 08:30 Tuesday morning. We started with advancing and
retreating drills, moving targets and then moving targets while the shooter
was moving on a different axis than the target was moving in. Then we went
into disabled drills. That was a hint of what was to come. While we were
doing one of these square range drills my normally trusty Glock 20 went down
hard; major jam and failure to extract. I just dropped it on the range, drew
my backup Glock 23 and continued with the retreating drill against a moving
target. I was carrying it in a left hand IWB Mad Dog holster. It was a left
hand draw, first shot was from a left hand isosceles, second shot was from a
right hand isosceles and subsequent shots were from a right hand weaver, all
while moving backwards. My partner on the line thought it was a really nice
move, he was wondering when I would find a reason to go to my backup.
Somebody said that Bill looked shocked and then he smiled.
The problem was a broken extractor, this is a problem that I have been having
on and off but it was not usually enough to take the pistol down. That Glock
does have something over 70,000 rounds through it now. My theory about the
problem involves both problems with a batch of Glock extractors (heat
treatment?) combined with brass that is not completely re-sized after being
expanded by the slightly oversized Glock chamber. I note that I don't seem to
have the problem with new brass, but other people have had a swarm of broken
extractors with new factory loads. After running Gunsite out of Glock
extractors (it happened three more times) I switched to new brass with one of
my backup Glocks. End of problem.
After lunch we did another set of indoor and outdoor simulators. This is
where things started to get really creative. The indoor simulator had three
different hostage situations and in the last one the hostage had a gun as
well. When is a hostage not a hostage? There were also some intentional
no-win situations that you had to react to. You would clear a door and start
to engage a target marginally in front of you and while you were doing that
another target would pop out around a wall on about your 110 degree line.
Turn and engage that one as soon as possible. I understand that there were a
lot of people doing speed reloads during that part of the exercise.
The outdoor simulator got down and dirty. Most people were moving very
tactically by this time. People were down in the dirt to take advantage of
various sight lines, both inside and outside. Everybody was reloading behind
whatever cover was available and whenever possible. People were incorporating
tactical retreats and advances to deal with large number of targets within an
individual engagement area. In this exercise Bill changed the rules.
About a third of the way through this simulator Bill stopped the exercise just
after I took down a particularly artfully camouflaged popper. He took my
pistol out of my hand and informed me "your trusty Glock has just failed". I
already had my hand on my backup when he walked around me and tried to take
that one out of my belt. We went through a series of retention moves while
Bill convinced me that I really had to do it his way. I let him take my
backup but I had my Spyderco out in a fighting stance before he had moved
around in front of me again. He said: "The good news is that it appears that
your opponent has left a weapon behind that you might be ably to use."
Off to the side, wrapped in Bill's jacket, was a S&W model 19 military &
police. I went over, retrieved the revolver and noted that there was also a
handful of loose cartridges in his coat. I checked the revolver, about four
shots had been fired. I reloaded it, pocketed the extra ammunition, went
through the pockets of Bill's jacket (found nothing worthwhile), searched
underneath and around his jacket (found nothing worthwhile) noticed a plastic
bag of extra ammunition in the tree which I attempted to take, but Bill
wouldn't let me. I engaged a couple of more poppers with the revolver,
reloaded, engaged another popper and then things got even more interesting.
Bill stopped me again and said: "In spite of your best efforts you are having
a really bad day. Your right hand has now been disabled." Then he gave me a
piece of red pipe to put over my right hand and said: "That represents your
bloody stump". We then proceeded to engage several more poppers weak handed
only with a unfamiliar weapon. Did I mention the weak hand only tactical
reload of a revolver? Great fun!
Another brief dinner break, some quick weapon cleaning and back to the ranch
just as the sun went down. Another set of inside and outside simulators and
these were about to get much harder. Night time indoor simulator, blue and
red light bar set up in a picture window, flooding the first room with
alternating blue and red strobes. My red filter is useless. My carefully
preserved night vision is gone. I switch to white light immediately. The
targets are different. There is still a full range of target types but
instead of the normal color targets these are all washed out black and white.
One target engagement, one multiple target engagement. One no-shoot with a
badge, claims to be a cop. Great I say, you clear that side of the house. Ed
won't let me get away with that. Another room, somebody holding a child
hostage. Then the smoke goes off, reflecting back in my light. Engage with
two head shots, move a little out of the smoke, take another two head shots to
be sure, move out of the smoke again, check the hostages hands -- everything
clear. Then it's time to wind down the adrenaline curve.
By this time everybody is wondering what they are going to throw at us next.
It starts during the walk down to the Donga. While walking down the road and
trying to recover my night vision I nearly step on a rattlesnake on it's way
across the dirt road. It rattles at me, I walk around it and we both go on
our merry ways. The Donga is nearly a standard night time simulator except
that they disable your flashlight and you get to do everything by moonlight
until you find a 5-cell old style Mag light. That really drove the folks that
have been using the laser technique for the last year or more somewhat nuts.
I prefer the Harries personally but I still nearly hit myself in the head with
that oversized flashlight. We wrapped up that night about 22:30 again, after
another 14 plus fun and adrenaline filled hours. Just to top off the night
Kathy and Hershal surprised me with a birthday cake (it was my birthday after
all). After a day like that, birthday cake washed down by a glass of scotch
was very nice.
We start at 08:30 again on Wednesday. What with all the festivities the
previous night I don't think I got to sleep until after 02:00 and everybody
gets up early at Hershal's. Oh well, sleep is for wimps anyway. We start the
day with stress exercises. Sprint from the 25 line to the 3, engage. Sprint
back to the 25 and engage again. Repeat that a few times and watch your front
site bounce all over the target at 25 meters. Get on-line at the 10. Engage
and then do 5 pushups. Repeat, repeat, repeat, watch your shots walk down the
target. The whole point of this exercise is to learn how physical stress
affects your ability to deal with the target. We experiment with several
grounded shooting positions: left side, right side, on your back -- both with
your feet towards and away from your target. Your front sight looks a little
unusual when it's upside down.
Then we move on to take-downs. The idea is to simulate being thrown on the
ground during a fight and then dealing with multiple targets from the ground.
We are using "red guns" for the actual take-down and then going to real
pistols after we hit the ground. Even so, this can be a real problem for the
instructors. I'm 6' 2" and 230 pounds -- I prefer to think of it as 105 Kg.
The fat/muscle ratio has changed somewhat since my years in the Corps and
playing middle line backer but I still have 48" shoulders to go with a 38"
waist. (Let's not talk about when that used to be 30"; oh well - that was 25
years ago anyway.) One of my class-mates is even larger, having perhaps 100+
pounds on me with shoulders perhaps 50% bigger. He played collage football
too, defensive tackle or nose guard by the look of him. Bill must have been
lucky, he got both of the big boys in class. Bill is about 5' 8", maybe 160
pounds, fiesty and in real good shape. After 20+ years in law enforcement and
martial arts, I'm sure he can take us down. The trick is for the instructor
to realistically take us down without putting either the instructor or student
in the hospital. Lets just say that some compromises were made. We have it on
After lunch we head off to the last two simulators of the class, another pair
of indoor and outdoor runs. OK class, what's it going to be today? I figure
that if I'm going to be down to knives I might as well bring a real knife, so
I strap on a Mad Dog Attack; I'm not the only one with a large knife on my
belt today. I run the outdoor one first. When Bill tells me to make ready I
press check my pistol and un-strap the first retention on the knife; that was
worth a chuckle from Bill. We go through a couple of situations and then come
across the bloody stump laying in the middle of the North Draw.
Bill says: "I bet you think that I'm going to make you pick that up. Well,
you're wrong!" He asks me to take off my glasses and tapes a patch over my
strong eye. We proceed with the exercise and just when I'm getting the hang
of shooting two handed with my weak eye I get my strong hand disabled. Head
shot on a popper at perhaps 30 meters with my weak hand and my weak eye. I
take three shots and can't hit the damn thing. I drop 3 or 4 more shots at it
during a tactical retreat, cross to the other side of the draw, come up behind
where I know it to be, pop up and shoot it in the back of the head, twice. Of
course it didn't go down, but Bill gives me credit for a good hit and a
We get a partially disabled dominant eye in the indoor simulator too. Colored
tape over part of your glasses to simulate a head wound with blood running
into your strong eye. You can see through it, but not well. We also started
on the roof of the playhouse this time, moving first down the stairs. There
is very amplified sound in this one, a baby crying, a screaming domestic
disturbance, a television babbling in the background. Various body parts
scattered about the inside with an axe still embedded in the largest one. It
was very difficult to clear. They had rearranged the inside such that there
were multiple doors facing each other. You had to block one while clearing
the other. They even add a new target in the form of an aggressive dog; all
kinds of interesting things happen when you shoot that. Lots of no-shoots,
some targets hiding behind a hanging cadaver and you lose your strong hand
along the way. Ever try working a door without two hands? The continuous
sound was very distracting, that and the visual effects sent the stress level
over the edge. Ed remarked afterward that they had run some of their
"special" events through something similar to this and have had people drop
their weapon and "un-ass the location". It appeared that just about everybody
in this class handled it with some level of aplomb.
That was about it. Three days, perhaps 35 hours, 10 simulators and about 600
rounds expended. The round count wasn't all that high, we have exceeded that
in a single day during one of our local clinics. I think it was the quantity
of skull sweat that really made the difference in this class. Gunsite
teaches, from the very first 250 class, that you always stay in the fight. To
surrender, to give up, is to die. Kathy and I learned a lot in this class.
Kathy in particular learned that she can do much more, under adverse
circumstances, than she thought she could. She was becoming famous for her
musical, maniacal, laughter drifting up from the Donga when Bill handed her
that big flashlight, and later elsewhere. We went into the class knowing how
to shoot and move, and with a strong grounding in tactics. We came out with a
sense of security that, if or when it comes right down to it, we will prevail.
We don't train for our best day, we train for our worst day! Hurrah!