Gunsite Trip Report, May 1993.
Kathy and I have returned from a week at the American Pistol Institute,
Gunsite Ranch, Arizona and would like to share some of the experience
with you. This was Kathy's first trip to Gunsite, my second. She took
the general pistol class (API 250) and I took the defensive shotgun
class (API 260).
The pistol class is Gunsite's basic offering and the start of the whole
program there. About half of the people who go to Gunsite take the
general pistol class. Almost all of the other half who attend other
classes there are graduates of the general pistol class. That means
that a total of about 1,000 new people per year are exposed to the
Gunsite organizes their instructors such that each class has a lead
instructor, a couple of coaches and one or two provosts. Each class is
split into two relays of not more that 12 people, resulting in a ratio
of one instructor for every two or three people on the line. All
simulators and tactical exercises are run one on one; one instructor for
In Kathy's class, the lead instructor was John Bowman. He is a tenured
professor of criminology/police science at the University of Illinois.
The coaches were Mike Harries - of "Harries flashlight technique" and
Monty Meike who is also some type of instructor with the RCMP. I didn't
catch who was in the provost program for her class.
There were 22 students in Kathy's pistol class, 5 women and 17 men. It
was interesting that 3 of the 5 women had SOs in the shotgun class. Ten
of the men and one of the women in the class had various ties to Law
Enforcement (LE). They had 4 people from one of the SEAL teams and one
from an "unnamed Federal agency". One woman owned a farm somewhere in
Nebraska and I think that everybody else hand a job involving
technology - mostly biotech or various types of engineering.
Everybody in the pistol class was shooting some type of semi-automatic.
About half of them were SA only, the others being SA/DA or DA only.
About half of the pistols were .45 ACP, the others 9mm or .40 S&W.
Kathy had the only 10mm - Colt Delta.
The Gunsite course of instruction focuses on gun handling, ammunition
management, rapid target acquisition and dealing with stress. Gunsite
is not predominately a shooting school, although they do teach shooting
there. It is really all about surviving and winning a gunfight. Gun
handling, accuracy and speed all play a part in that, but mind set and
tactics are equally, if not more important. At the end of the program
all students should be able to demonstrate the following ability, from
the holster, on demand:
Three meters, standing get a hit in the upper X zone in 1.5 seconds.
Seven meters, standing get 2 hits in the X zone in 1.5 seconds.
Ten meters, standing get 2 hits in the X zone in 2.0 seconds.
Fifteen meters, start standing assume a kneeling position and get 2
hits in the X zone in 3.5 seconds.
Twenty-five meters, start standing assume a prone position and get
two hits in the X zone in 7.0 seconds.
Each exercise is repeated twice at each range.
Ten meters, El Presidente, 10 seconds with all X hits. The El
Presidente is a drill where you start with your back to three
targets, each separated by one meter. At the start signal turn, draw
and engage each target with 2 hits each. Reload and engage each
target with another 2 hits each.
The class also spends a lot of time with indoor and outdoor simulators,
night shooting and the philosophy of "solving short range interpersonal
Kathy really liked the class. She knew how to shoot before she got
there, that was never an issue. Her gun handling and tactical awareness
are now much better. Kathy used to shoot once every few months for
"maintenance". Now she's bugging me to get to the range for more
practical exercises. She wants to start shooting with TASC to improve
her ability to shoot under stress. She has already scheduled us to go
back for the "advanced tactical problems" class in November.
While Kathy was having all that fun in the pistol class I was taking
the shotgun class, had a great time. I learned how to do things with a
shotgun that I didn't think were possible. According to the
instructors, the shotgun class is the most physically demanding off all
the Gunsite classes. I can attest to that, losing over 5 kilos that
week. (No comments about having it to lose please.)
The instructors for the shotgun class were some of the most senior
people at Gunsite. The lead instructor was Bill Jeans, who is also the
operations manager at Gunsite. Bill started with USMC, added 17 years
of California LE and has been a Gunsite instructor for 15 years. The
coaches were Hershel Davis (Command Master Chief USN, UDT-17, SEAL
Team-2 and currently with SEAL Team-5 in charge of training.), Brian
Worthan (With a primary job of serving felony warrants for a Ventura LE
agency and a secondary job of training their SWAT team.) and Col. Bob
Young USMC Ret. (The Colonel commanded the USMC security battalion and
was responsible for issuing them with Mossberg 12 Guages. He also was
one of the instigators of the Marine "FAST Platoon" concept.)
There were a bunch of real serious shooters in the class. We had a
total of 17 students, all male. There were 5 MDs, 2 engineers
(including yours truly), 1 US Army Major, 1 civilian firearms
instructor and 8 LE types, mostly senior instructors. All except 2 of
the students had taken at least one previous course at Gunsite, for
several people it was their fourth, fifth or sixth class.
We had more 870s in the class than anything else, with a total of 11.
One of these was an "entry" gun with a 14 inch barrel, it belonged to
one of the surgeons. There were also 5 Benellis and 1 Mossberg. Five or
six of the guns had Sure-fire flashlight fore-ends 2 had tritium front
sights. Everybody had a side saddle or butt cuff shell holder, several
had both. Almost everybody had a shortened stock with a 12 inch length
of pull being about average. My Benelli started out at the stock 13.5
inches. By Wednesday I had it shortened to 11.75 inches.
They describe the shotgun as "the thinking mans weapon" due to the
versatility that it has. The goal of the course is to achieve a first
round hit at ranges from contact to in excess of 100 meters. We spent
all week learning how to do this.
At Gunsite they teach two ready positions with the shotgun and two
carry positions. Both ready positions assume a round chambered with
the safety on. High ready, or outdoor ready, is a modified port arms
position with the muzzle up, but always in line with your line of
vision. The barrel is perhaps 30 degrees up from horizontal and moves
as your eyes move. The low ready, or indoor ready, position has the
butt of the shotgun mounted in your shoulder with the barrel anywhere
from 30 to 80 degrees depressed depending on your requirements for
movement. As the barrel depress towards vertical the muzzle moves to
the outside of your weak foot.
The two carry positions are the traditional "American" and "African"
carry. The American is slung with the muzzle up, strong side. The
African is slung with the muzzle down, weak side. One goal is to go
from either, with a round chambered and safety on, to a 10 meter hit in
less that 3 seconds.
Several types of targets are used. Short range, 15 meters or less,
targets are 8 inch steel plates. Intermediate range, 10 to 110 meter,
targets are steel poppers or IPSC option targets. In some cases paper
option targets have been replaced with heavy steel silhouettes for
durability reasons. By the end of the class the student should be able
to, from the outdoor ready position:
Drop an 8 inch steel plate at 7 or 10 meters in 1 second.
Drop an 8 inch steel plate at 15 meters in 1.5 seconds.
Hit the X ring of an IPSC option target with a slug load from 35
meters in 2 seconds.
Hit the X ring with a slug load from 50 meters in 3 seconds.
Each exercise is repeated 5 times for each range. You also do multiple
target drills, multiple target - reload - multiple target drills and
moving target drills.
We did 3 outdoor simulators and 2 indoor simulators, one of each at
night. It is difficult to describe the intensity that can be involved
in these, for example: 22:00hrs, no moon - moving down the donga
searching for poppers hidden in the darkness and brush. Hit the light -
search - light off and move. Repeat. Spot a popper... Oh shit there's
two of them! Light off - align sights, fire, clang - the next one
should be justtttt there fire, clang - move, reload reload, move move
move - light on, search...
Well, maybe that gives you the idea.
The "scrambler" was another interesting experience. Seven shooting
positions aiming at a steel silhouette, ranges between 110 and 90
meters, spread out along maybe 90 meters horizontally. Start standing -
shoot at target until hit. Move about 10 meters to a kneeling, repeat.
Move about 10 meters to low barricade, repeat. Move about 10 meters to
prone, repeat. Move about 10 meters to sitting, repeat. Move about 10
meters to standing, repeat. Move about 20 meters, climb a tree, repeat
- finish. Climb out of tree, try to get your pulse rate out of the
The first time I ran this it took 1:58 minutes; too many first round
misses. The second time I dropped it to 1:23 - got first round hits on
everything except the first target, that was a second round hit. I hear
the all time record is 0:49. Whoever did that must be younger and much
faster than I.
All in all both Kathy and I had a great time, we both learned a lot and
learned things that we want to work on at home. If you have ever been
thinking about doing it - go for it, you won't be sorry.
Barry Needham <email@example.com>