Looking for Proficiency?

In the spring of 2001 I attended an excellent shooting course conducted by the 19th Special Forces Group in the Utah National Guard.  It was 15 days of intense shooting with the best possible curriculum and instructors. I learned a lot but the one lesson I most remember about the course wasn’t part of the curriculum. 

At one stage we were required to place 15 rounds in a 10” circle at 15 meters with the M9 Beretta.  Due to unlimited ammo and excellent coaching, we were all able to accomplish this difficult task, however, during this exercise I noticed that a select few had groups within 4”.  I questioned each of them and learned that they all had at least one of two things in common. They either worked for a police department that offered unlimited ammo or they were reloaders.  It was obvious that more ammo was essential to improve proficiency and since I had no desire to become a police officer, my choice was to start reloading my own ammunition.

Almost every reloader I spoke with told me that they started with a single-stage press before advancing to a multi-stage press and recommended everyone else start the same way.  I have never been one to follow the crowd or do things just because it’s the way it’s always been done so I decided to skip the first expense and buy what I would eventually need to produce the  quantity of ammo I would need to increase my proficiency. I started researching progressive presses.

My next question was about quality.  While quality in pistol ammo may be negligible under most circumstances, it’s essential in distance rifle shooting and I needed to do quite a bit of that.  During my search I spoke with a teammate with plenty of shooting and reloading experience. Walt told me about an experience he had while participating in Sniper competitions.  For one event he could not locate enough of his preferred commercial ammunition to compete. Since he had a Dillon 550B that he used to load practice ammo he called them and asked what he needed to do to ensure enough consistency to produce match grade ammo.  Their answer was, “Nothing. The 550B was designed to generate the consistency needed to produce match grade ammo all the time.” Walt told me he loaded what he needed and had one of his best performances.

So, I bought a Dillon 550B and the components necessary to load my first 100 rounds.  Skipping the single-stage press step increased my learning curve slightly because I had to learn all the stages at once but – in hindsight – nothing says you can’t perform single-stage operations with a multi-stage press.  Yes, I made mistakes because I didn’t have a local mentor. I just studied enough to ensure that my mistakes wouldn’t be fatal or catastrophic. I still figured that the machine paid for itself by the end of the first year based on the number of rounds I produced with it and what they would have cost me at retail.  Then again, we reloaders like to say, reloading doesn’t save you any money; it just lets you shoot more.

In summary, no, Dillon has never offered me or even asked for me to promote their products but I now have a Dillon 1050 that stands next to my 550B. I have long since lost count of how many rounds I’ve loaded over the years but I’m certain it’s measured in hundreds of thousands.  Meanwhile, reloading has allowed me to turn some excellent training into excellent proficiency.

Why Your Instructor Matters.

Anyone that has searched for firearms training has almost certainly seen all the claims by instructors trying to make themselves look impressive. Three badges of implied credibility are often cited. These are NRA Certified Instructor, POST or police affiliation, and military training. To an unknowing public, they all sound quite impressive but there is much more you should know before selecting someone to teach a subject or skill that often determines who lives and who dies or whether or not you spend the next few years incarcerated and/or facing expensive legal fees.

Another consideration is what you want to get out of the training. Do you want your Concealed Carry license? Do you just want the permit or are you most interested in learning the most accurate and latest laws on the subject? Are you interested in learning skill to protect your life, liberty, or property or do you just want to make loud noises and not shoot yourself or others? These purposes and a whole host of others should all be considered before choosing your firearms instructor.

Almost all instructors are NRA Certified Instructors. Since the NRA has over 100 years being the gorilla in the gun community, the letters carry some impressive influence but that should be one of the last considerations. The reality is that all it takes to be an NRA Certified Instructor is to be a member and attend at lease two NRA classes; one on a specific type of firearm which basically tells you how to go to the range and not shoot yourself and one that shows you how to put together a basic course outline. In my opinion, that’s a pretty low bar to meet but, if you’re new to firearms and only interested in recreational shooting, it’s all you should need.

Military service is another mention that sounds more impressive than it usually is. That is because most service members have little to no additional training after their brief introduction in Basic Training. Among the few that do receive enhanced training, it’s almost always excessively regulated. Military training on something other than the M-16 is almost unheard of. Effective handgun training is nonexistent outside of Special Operations. You should also keep in mind that being a good user does not mean you can teach it effectively.

Police officers get much more handgun training but far less rifle training than the military however, most departments are still teaching the same techniques from 40+ years ago. Some still have qualifications based on 6 shot revolvers. They frequently use methods that would be considered assault with a deadly weapon if the average citizen did the same thing. Where they just patrol officers that liked guns or were they firearms instructors. Did the instructor actually teach or just enforce qualification standards?

What you should be looking for is actual experience in the subject they are teaching. Does your CCW instructor keep up with the latest laws? I have seen some that teach common misconceptions that are actually contrary to law. Check to see if they are affiliated with local – not national – advocacy groups that spend time advocating with your state legislators. Does your skills instructor have experience with the guns you want to learn beyond the by-the-numbers taught by most government schools? And finally, can they teach it in a way that you can understand and retain the information?

As a disclaimer, I didn’t write this to trash people with the above mentioned credentials. My intent is to bring awareness to their limitations and hope that you learn to look past a catchy facade and look for real experience that will best match what you want in your firearms training.

Sam Fidler

As a 25 year veteran of the U.S. Army Special Forces, Sam Fidler has taught firearms in Thailand, the Philippines, Afghanistan, and Iraq. He has taught for the US Army Special Forces, the US State Department, and locally for private citizens. He is well practiced in the latest tactics and techniques. His ability to teach has been proven repeatedly as he has helped countless novice and intermediate shooters become expert marksmen.

Sam is a graduate of the U.S. State Department’s Basic Field Firearms Officer’s Course (BFFOC) and the U.S. Army Special Forces Advanced Urban Combat course (SFAUC).

The Palladium Academy

The Palladium Academy courses are taught by retired Special Forces and veteran soldiers with real experience teaching the latest battle proven techniques around the world. With a student to instructor ratio of no more than 4 to 1, you can count on enough instructor attention to ensure your form and performance will be exactly what you need to maximize your shooting skills. Our primary objective is to provide you with the tools needed to protect life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We do not mass produce students just to take your money.

The Basic Defensive Pistol class provides the student with the mind and body tools to survive in life threatening situations. It begins with a discussion of the physiological effects experienced during dangerous events and then we teach the basic fundamentals of combat pistol marksmanship that work in those situations. Reloads are taught along with clearing malfunctions. We also teach many drills that you can practice on your own during future range sessions in order to help you reinforce the fundamentals of good pistol marksmanship. By the end of this course you should be intimately familiar with your firearm and have the tools necessary to make future improvements.

Become one with your rifle. The Tactical Rifle class starts with the basics and gradually progresses leaving the student intimately familiar with the capabilities and features of their rifle. We cover the fundamentals of marksmanship, reloads, malfunctions, a 360 by 180 battle space, shooting from cover, and while moving. This class is designed for the external magazine fed semi-automatic rifle of your choice.

You could waste thousands of dollars traveling out of state just to receive substandard training on antiquated techniques and tactics that will fail you when you need them most. Our extremely low introductory prices mean we are practically giving you our experience for free. Sign up now before we come to our senses.