After messing around at my local range for a year, a friend turned me on to the FrontSight brand of training courses. After purchasing a membership, we signed up for our first class – the Four Day Defensive Handgun. As the class approached, my husband and I packed up all of our gear (handguns + backup handguns, and 600 rounds of each caliber), and when March 20th rolled around, loaded the car and drove into the desert.
Here is me, my husband Mark, and one of my besties, Brandi, hangin’ at FS:
You approach the town of Pahrump about an hour after turning off Interstate 15 onto CA-127. The 127 is a two lane “highway” through the desert, where you will see few cars but lots of really great desert views. In March, there were some desert blooms and green patches. I’m sure in the summer it is awful!
After reading lots of reviews, we decided to stay at the Best Western. They have a good Front Sight discount, so make sure you ask. The room was clean and just fine, but our neighbors were inconsiderate jerks. The upstairs neighbors stomped around until 11pm or 12am, and the next door neighbor started up his radio at 5am and never turned it off. Finally, on the last night, they moved us upstairs where it was MUCH quieter. You have to schlep your stuff up stairs, but that was worth it for the quiet.
The complimentary breakfast was fine, and had waffles, eggs, potatoes, biscuits and gravy. I ate it the first day, regretted it, and went back to the protein breakfast bars I packed.
We also decided to pack a giant cooler with sandwich stuff to pack for our lunches. This worked out very well until we switched rooms, and I didn’t realize the little mini fridge was turned way down – so nothing really stayed cold on the last night and I didn’t want to risk it. We purchased lunch from the Beach Café truck onsite (same company that provides the pre-ordered lunches) that day. We had chicken strips, and they were great! So that worked out fine. Where the cooler really came in handy was for drinks – having a steady supply of freezing cold water and ginger ale (heat pisses off my stomach sometimes) was amazing.
For my Front Sight course, I brought my M&P Pro in 9mm with a Salient Arms flat trigger, with a trigger pull weight of about 4.5 pounds. They did test my trigger to make sure it wasn’t below 4 pounds, which isn’t allowed for these classes. I also purchased the BladeTech IDPA pack, which included the OWB Kydex holster and a magazine pouch. This was perfect for the class.
My husband brought his M&P Pro CORE in .40, stock trigger (6 pounds?), and the same holster set up I had.
A note on BladeTech – my husband thought that he had the right holster for his Pro CORE. At exactly 2 weeks, we realized it didn’t actually fit! I submitted the order to BladeTech and let them know it was a rush, and they had it to me lightning fast, no problem. Five stars for BladeTech’s customer service, they were just fantastic.
For clothes, we packed mostly 5.11 cargo pants with CoolMax-type shirts. I found I wanted to be in a tank top the whole time, so I washed them in the sink to re-wear. I had also packed long sleeved sun shirts and short sleeve CoolMax shirts, but the tank tops were the best for me. Take a few options. My husband wore CoolMax t-shirts or polos.
For our “concealment garments,” we packed long sleeved button down hiking shirts. MISTAKE. The day I practiced with my Patagonia down jacket was my fastest day out of the holster. I wish I had realized that BEFORE the skills test. My husband had the same experience, and shot it with his Carhartt jacket. Next time, I’ll buy what they were calling a “shoot me” vest – because it is obvious you’re carrying if you’ve got one on, and you’ll be the first one bad guys shoot.
For shoes, we both wore our normal hiking boots. Even with those, my feet were feeling it by day 2, but toughened up and were fine by day 4.
Day 1 – The Arrival
You’re told to get to the gates between 7am and 8am for weapons check and check-in. We arrived right on time, parked, and headed over for inspection. You wait in a line, and, when it is your turn, head over to a table where they check your ammo and weapon to make sure it complies with their rules. No “pocket pistols,” .22s, triggers lighter than 4lbs, things like that. After, you head to check-in where they find you in their system and send you to a range. We were assigned range 1A, after a little snafu.
They couldn’t find us in the system. We had originally registered for the March 21 Two Day Defensive Handgun, and later called and switched into the Four Day. Well…looks like the office switched us into the February 21 class! Oops. They were able to accommodate us anyway, so it was fine.
After check-in everyone heads to the classroom for a “lecture”.
The lecture is given by Brad Ackman, who has been with Front Sight for…well, a long time, I guess. We went over some waivers we had to sign, including a “Dry Practice Protocol.” Very important.
After the classroom lecture, you head out for “Range Activities.” We were on Range 1A with Range Master David Jones, and line coaches Carol Beneux, Miles, Jack Cummings, and Nick. I can’t remember everyone’s last name…possibly my brain is fried.
The day starts off with going over the Front Sight firearm safety rules. These are IMPORTANT. No one wants to go home with extra holes, that’s just not fun.
- Treat every weapon as if it were loaded.
- Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy.
- Keep your finger off the trigger and outside the trigger guard.
- Be sure of your target and what’s in line with your target.
You have to break two of these before anyone can actually get hurt, so I think it works well. After going over these rules, they go over how the range drills will work. The class works in two relays, with one relay on the firing line, and the other relay just behind working as student coaches. They also went over various range commands, such as: “range is clear,” “firing drill” (present to the ready, load, and once you are satisfied with the condition of your weapon, slowly and safely back to the holster), “dry practice drill” (present to the ready, unload), “unload,” “turn and face,” “STOP,” “reset your action,” etc.
The first real procedure you learn is the chamber check/magazine check. You bring the firearm in close, move the slide back 1/4” to allow you to see if there is a round in the chamber, and pull the slide forward. Then you check the magazine, removing one if there is one in there, or sticking your finger into the magazine well if there isn’t to make doubly sure there isn’t. I think this is really smart, because loaded chamber indicators can malfunction, and you can do this on every single weapon.
The class is then taught the Front Sight specific ways of loading and unloading. You’ll learn that there, and it is called “indexing.”
Front Sight preaches the Weaver Stance. From Wikipedia:
The Weaver stance has two main components.
- The first component is a two-handed technique in which the dominant hand holds the pistol or revolver while the support hand wraps around the dominant hand. The dominant arm’s elbow is slightly bent while the support elbow is noticeably bent straight down. The shooter pushes forward with his/her dominant hand while the support hand exerts rearward pressure. The resultant isometric tension is intended to lessen and control muzzle flip when the firearm is fired.
- The second component is the positioning of the feet in a walking stance, with the off-side foot ahead of the strong-side foot. A right-handed person will have the right foot angled out to approximately forty-five degrees to the side and to the rear at shoulder length. Most of the weight will be on the forward foot, with the forward knee slightly bent and the rear leg straight. The shooter’s upper torso should be leaning forward at the hips, putting the shoulders just over the forward foot. The rear foot will help catch the force of recoil, as well as allow for rapid changes in position. A left-handed person would reverse the footing.
I was shooting…well, let’s call it jacked-up isosceles. They fixed me and I had to FIGHT to get that stance the whole weekend. Sticking a magazine under my left armpit helped to keep my from “chicken winging” it.
With that, we shot a few rounds. I sucked. Then I sucked some more. Then they sat us down and told us the “three secrets” of marksmanship…
- Sight alignment
- Sight picture
- Trigger control
For me, it’s my trigger control that stinks so bad. Dave noticed right away that I want the gun to go BANG! when I say to…so I got to work on taking out the slack and slowly building pressure to get a true “surprise” break. When I did it, I couldn’t miss. When I get in a hurry? Mess. Hot. Mess.
They also help you figure out which of your eyes is dominant – and, lucky me, I’m cross-eye dominant. Oh well. I already knew that. I’m working on retraining, but not that weekend.
We brought our lunch, but ate in the classroom for the air conditioning. The lunch lecture covered the “combat mindset.” Honestly, I was a little sleepy, but it was the same lecture as many I had heard before.
Back to the Range
From then on, we learned how to present properly from the holster. That entails 5 steps. Do it right, and you’re fine. Do it wrong, and they’ll give you a “red gun” (plastic) until you do get it right. We also learned “after-action” drills, and sent some more rounds down range. Or as Carol put it – “turn some money into noise!” Totally.
At 5:15 we were sent in for a classroom lecture about the moral and ethical decisions associated with the use of deadly force. Message? If it isn’t worth dying for, it isn’t worth shooting for.
Considering I’m an attorney, the implications are rather well known to me. An interesting lecture, but I would rather have been sent off to go to sleep early.
At 8am, we arrived back on the range. Today we learned the tactical and emergency reload procedures, along with the three types of misfires. We also learned about “failure to stop,” which is when, after a controlled pair, your attacker keeps coming. A single shot to the cranial-ocular cavity will stop that.
This lecture was a presentation by Sonic Ear, to try to get us to buy some $2500 custom ear protection. Super, super awesome product and they are really amazing, but for $2500….eh, I’m ok with muffs and my custom molded solid plugs.
Back to the Range
We next worked on Designated Head Shots (timed), and continued working on drills and technique. I was wiped by the end of this day.
This was the introduction to “Monsters, Inc.” and the procedure for clearing a room, or house, or enclosed area. Interesting, but when the gun safe sales person jumped up to try and sell me an over priced safe, we took off.
This was the day that killed me the most. When we got back to the hotel room, I was EXHAUSTED! I was really freaked out by how tired I was, but I got some sleep and, despite my jackwagon loud neighbors, felt much better the next day.
On day 3, concealment was introduced. It is a little tricky to start, but doable. I recommend just getting a “shoot me” vest (because the bad guys will shoot you first, it is so obvious you are carrying) so you don’t have to stress about getting your garment in the right place. I brought a sun shirt, because I knew it would be hot, and it wouldn’t flip back fast enough. The day I wore my Patagonia Down Jacket was the fastest day for me.
Day 3 is also “Monsters, Inc.” day. You get to go practice clearing doorways with a red gun, and then do a loaded tactical drill in their “tac house.” It was very fun, and I scored 100%.
Later that day, we did the “ragged hole” drill, where you stand at the 7 yard line and shoot 5 live rounds into about a 2 inch black square. You shoot 5 live rounds, then do 5 dry presses, and then 5 rounds again. My first 5 were better because I was just too tired by the end of the day!
I’ll call that one a “win” for me.
Day four brought our man-on-man steel competition. I was all amped up and wanted to do well, and I did ok, losing by time only. The person that beat me went on to win the entire challenge, so I guess that’s ok with me!
We also finally made it to the skills test. I wanted to at least graduate with a 70%, but I basically got excited, threw my slow and steady strategy out the window, tried to go fast, and dropped 20 points on accuracy and a crap ton of points on speed.
I was PISSED. I’m very, very (VERY!) competitive, and I wanted a good score. Earlier in the day, our range master had warned us that even he didn’t DG the first time, but after going home and doing 30 days of dry practice (angry dry practice), he was able to get it done. So that’s what I’ll do…ANGRY DRY PRACTICE.
I fully intend to eventually pass with a Distinguished Graduate score, so I can go on to some of the advanced classes.
Hotel: If you stay at Best Western, even though an upstairs room means you have to schlep you stuff up stairs, get it because if your neighbors are elephants, you’ll be really pissy in the morning when you are tired and have to go to the range.
RV: The little group of RVs/trailers that were right outside the FS gates on BLM land looked like they were having a blast. I’d love to do this, but I’m unsure about water / sanitation. You’d have to be totally self-contained for 4-5 days, or take time to go into town and dump/refill. Not sure if that would work for me. It sure looked fun!
Food: We brought our own lunches, but on one day the food got too warm and we had to get food from Beach Café. I got chicken strips, and they were really good! I think their lunches would be fine.
Tacos el Charo: YUM!! YUM YUM! And cheap, with a super nice owner/manager who let us know that if we didn’t have a lot of time to eat, just call ahead and she would have it ready for us. Awesome.
Carmelo’s Bistro-Pizza-Fine Pasta: No. Fail. It looked good, had good Yelp reviews, but the pizza had a weird rubbery mozzarella layer that just wasn’t good – and the mushrooms were canned! Ew.
Steakhouse in the Nugget: This was pretty good. I had a 6oz filet which was great, and my husband had prime rib, also good. Great sides, but I wasn’t a huge fan of the stuffed mushrooms. Maybe we should just skip the Pahrump mushrooms from now on!
Edited to add: I was being so careful to include everything that happened, I didn’t tell you what I really thought! Our Rangemaster was David Jones, who got an assist from Carol Beneaux, Jack, Nick, and one other I’m spacing a name for. They were GREAT! There was no “boot camp” atmosphere (not that that would have bothered me, I learn “boot camp style” just fine), and they really, really want you to become a better shooter. I really can’t think of anything I would change, other than there being less people in the class so we could move a little faster – but being a beginner class, that obviously wan’t going to happen.
I would recommend this class to everyone, beginner to advanced. They kept telling me, “slow is smooth, smooth is fast!” and it is true. Everyone can benefit from slow, very technical and correct, practice. So GO!
***If you are interested in attending Front Sight, contact me — I have memberships available!***