At a recent gun show there were unbelievable crowds, lines of people trying to get in all day and guns, lots of guns. And along with all those new purchases were hordes of people eager for training. One great place to start, especially for beginners, is with the courses offered by the National Rifle Association.

NRA COURSES are all taught locally by independent NRA Certified Instructors following a specific course guideline. It is sort of like going to a chain restaurant, no matter the city, the menu and quality is the same. I admit some bias here, as I am myself an NRA Certified Pistol Instructor, but the course listing is fairly comprehensive. This includes some that you would have a hard time finding anywhere else such as cartridge reloading and different types of muzzle loaders.

The NRA offers basic rifle, pistol and shotgun courses focusing on their sporting uses, which are ideal for new shooters as well as those needing to brush up their skills and maybe unlearn some bad habits. NRA also offers defensive courses for pistol including Personal Protection Inside the Home as well as Personal Protection Outside the Home. This second class is geared towards the needs of those who carry concealed and is divided up into two parts, a basic class and a more advanced course with more range time. Both personal protection courses also include a section on self-defense and the law which must be taught by an attorney or a police officer. (

GUNSITE ACADEMY may be the most widely recognized name in firearms training and was started by Lt. Col. Jeff Cooper in 1976. Cooper developed many modern pistol techniques and his facility located in Paulden, AZ, continues his work with pistols as well as rifles and shotguns. The main class folks take is Pistol 250, an intensive five-day combat pistol course developed by Cooper himself. Pistol 250 emphasizes marksmanship, gun handling and a combat mindset. Students focus on building these skills through a series of live-fire drills and 1,000 rounds of ammunition.

Gunsite also offers a matching five-day rifle course for the AR and one for the defensive shotgun. The rifle course covers all aspects of handling, speed loading, clearing malfunctions, sighting in and low-light techniques. The defensive shotgun class teaches the students the various uses of the shotgun and ammunition selection as well as effective handling and transitioning to the handgun. (; 928-636-4565)

SIG SAUER ACADEMY encompasses a vast state of the art facility just adjacent to the Exeter, NH, factory and offering courses from beginner introduction to shooting to specialized advanced courses for military and police. There are also several armorer schools focusing on the complete line of Sig Sauer firearms. The one- and two-day home protection courses are the most popular for civilian shooters and include handgun, rifle and shotgun as well as dealing with low light self-defense situations and even a reality-based course that uses non-lethal Simmunitions. More intensive civilian courses address issues like terrorism, unarmed combat and close quarters combat with a knife, pistol or rifle. (; 603-679-2003)

MASSAD AYOOB GROUP (MAG) offers a different perspective that goes beyond the how to use lethal force for self defense and gets into the when to use lethal force issue, which is just as important. Ayoob has had a long career in law enforcement and is a nationally recognized expert in lawful self defense. Ayoob’s “Armed Citizens’ Rules of Engagement” class is a great place to start and covers legal issues, tactical issues, and dealing with the aftermath of a self defense shooting all in an intensive two-day course.

MAG also offers a two-day live-fire pistol course that covers the tactical realities of self defense including drawing from concealment, use of cover, firing from the weak hand, as well as speed and accuracy under pressure. Those interested in both courses can complete the two simultaneously over a four-day period. There is also another intensive live-fire course that adds handgun disarming techniques and the use of rifles in defensive situations.

VICKERS TACTICAL recognizes that the AR is not the only practical rifle in existence and worldwide the AK is in fact far more common and popular. Larry Vickers certainly knows his stuff when it comes to dealing with the AK, having encountered them many times as a special operations veteran. The Vickers Tactical AK class covers not just the operation of this ubiquitous firearms but also zeroing, maintenance, tactical reloads, handling, malfunctions, shooting on the move and transitions to the pistol. This class is for any AK variant from the Galil to the Valmet and including every Com Bloc design in between. (

SMITH & WESSON ACADEMY in Springfield, MA, has a great list of courses for all levels of shooters. Defensive Handgun Techniques in Close Quarters in particular addresses the real world issue of self defense inside one’s home, which typically involves a lot of corners and short distances. In recognition of the high stress involved in such situations, this course focuses on instinctive point shooting, rather than a front sight focused approach, although both are covered. There are those who disdain point shooting but it does have the advantage of relying on a more natural target focused approach and at close quarters can be very fast. Other courses offered also include basic and advanced defensive shotgun as well as the semi-auto rifle and most take place in a one-day format. (; 800-331-0852)

US SHOOTING ACADEMY offers excellent five-day Tactical Handgun and Tactical Rifle courses at their world class facility in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Students have access to a live-fire Shoot house and 36 ranges with steel and reactive targets spread over 100 acres. These courses are not for beginners and are made up of intense 8- to 10-hour days focusing on speed, accuracy weapon handling techniques, low light, and firing from adverse positions. Students also cover clearing malfunctions, shooting on the move, weapon retention, CQB fighting, and developing 360-degree (Please turn to page )
awareness. There are many standard and specialized courses to choose from for all disciplines. (; 918-857-4920)

GANDER MOUNTAIN ACADEMY offers a unique wrinkle on their civilian firearms training. They are the only ones that have police-style, fully immersive video simulators available for the general public. Video simulators that offer different scenarios designed to test accuracy and judgment with shoot/don’t shoot situations have been around for some time but until now limited to law enforcement and military use. Gander Mountain has a 300- and 180-degree simulator as well as a virtual video range with instructors that can review your reaction to different scenarios and help you improve. They also offer free firearms safety classes as well and hunter education and concealed carry courses. Many of their offerings are also for ladies only to provide a more comfortable learning environment. Unfortnuately, not every Gander Mountain store has an academy and currently only six cities offer them, but the list is expanding and you can check online for one near you and a course schedule. The video simulator alone is worth the trip. (

THUNDER RANCH is home to Clint Smith’s training school, which offers many specialized and standard firearms courses. For those who have already taken their standard rifle classes, Thunder Ranch also has a more advanced “High Angle Rifle Training” which deals with the factors that shooters must consider when ranging targets at distances from various angles. The four-day class takes place largely on mountainous terrain so endurance is key and targets range out past 1,200 yards. A more down to earth course is the “Home and Vehicle Defense with Trauma Block” class that addresses the everyday reality of self defense at home or from inside a vehicle. In addition to discussing and practicing various handgun techniques for use in these environments there is a separate block dealing with emergency medical care as a result of ballistic trauma.
Smith does not neglect the venerable revolver either and offers a “Defensive Revolver” course as well. Despite a preference for more moderns designs among today’s shooters, the efficacy and reliability of the revolver cannot be discounted and it remains a favorite among many, especially beginners. This course covers handling, dealing with the rare revolver malfunction, drawing and low-light tactics. (; 541-947-4104)

MAKO DEFENSE is the only place to get Israeli method self defense and combat training without actually joining the IDF. When you are surrounded by people who are actively trying to do you harm, you have a tendency to take your training very seriously, and MAKO Defense training clearly emphasizes the practical application of force. Available courses include two-day counter terror carbine defensive tactics for the AR, a two-day combat pistol class and a carbine course focused on AK style guns. All courses cover cornering, room clearing, multiple targets, firing from vehicles, and the use of Krav Maga hand-to-hand combat techniques. Even if you can’t attend a course in person, MAKO Defense also offers DVD courses.
(; 417-849-3233)

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At a recent gun show there were unbelievable crowds, lines of people trying to…