Front Sight 4-Day Defensive Handgun Class: Review and AAR

Posted on November 15, 2012

5


After 4-days in the Nevada Desert, my friends and I have returned home to civilization. Everyone in our party had an enjoyable time learning/relearning tactical pistol skills. What will follow is a discussion of the course, the material, and some of the photos from the trip.

Overview

As I mentioned during my last recap from a shooting school, I’ve been to my fair share of shooting schools. For defensive handgun, I took Chuck Taylor‘s Handgun and Handgun Combat Master classes and Scott Reitz‘s good advanced pistol classes. Unfortunately, I took those classes roughly 8 years ago. In between then and now, I moved around a lot, and my pistol shooting went through periods where I practiced multiple times a week (most of 2009) to once a year or less (2010-present). As such, I went into the class somewhat jaded, humbled by how rusty I’d gotten, and curious to see if I’d picked up bad habits from competition (spoiler alert: yes).

Day 1

Day 1 got off to an awkward start, with a great deal of miscommunication between my party members regarding the time of arrival at Front Sight. Fortunately, that got settled with nobody arriving at 8:30 am and wondering what was going on.

On the drive to Front Sight from Pahrump we were greeted by a river of cars waiting for the Front Sight gates to open.

From November 9, 2012 Front Sight 4-Day Defensive Handgun
From November 9, 2012 Front Sight 4-Day Defensive Handgun

Eventually, the gates were opened and we arrived at Front Sight at the designated time. The first steps were sign in and weapon check. The sign in was a bit stressful as I asked the head of sign in to put all 18 of us on the same range. The challenging part was that we all didn’t arrive at the exact same time, so I had to guess who was already on our list and who were the ‘recent adds.’ After sorting that I went to weapon check. Presumably, they were looking to tell people who brought ruger mk 2’s and Kel-tec P3-AT’s to bring a proper defensive handgun. I brought my customized XD40 up and the RO dry fired it. His expression immediately turned pensive and he said, “Hold on one sec.” I thought, “Oh shit.” The problem was that my 😄 40 has a crisp trigger that breaks at a hair over 4 pounds with no overtravel. Most XD’s have a mushy, creepy trigger that breaks at around 7 pounds. He wasn’t expecting that. Front Sight has a 4-pound minimum trigger weight on handguns. After five minutes, the RO came back and said I was good to go. I wasn’t surprised the freaked. As most people will tell you, a crisp trigger feels lighter than the equivalent weight factory trigger. Score one for Canyon Creek Custom, the gunsmith who built my 😄 many years ago.

After sign in and weapon check we converged on the classroom. Front sight had grown massively in the intervening decade!

From November 9, 2012 Front Sight 4-Day Defensive Handgun

While waiting, I snapped a picture of my MSA Sordin Supreme Pro-X electronic muffs. I think I’m going to sell them.

From November 9, 2012 Front Sight 4-Day Defensive Handgun

After a brief lecture on safety and some legal waivers, we headed out to the range.

The instructors explained the basics of grip, stance, marksmanship, and most importantly, safety.

From November 9, 2012 Front Sight 4-Day Defensive Handgun

My friends listening patiently.

From November 9, 2012 Front Sight 4-Day Defensive Handgun

Getting ready to shoot.

From November 9, 2012 Front Sight 4-Day Defensive Handgun
From November 9, 2012 Front Sight 4-Day Defensive Handgun

One of the most interesting instructional techniques I saw was the ‘assisted trigger exercise.’ Basically, it involved the student aiming at the target then having the instructor block the target with a piece of cardboard then asking the student what their sight alignment looked like. Then after confirming the sight alignment and sight picture were perfect, the instructor then squeezed the trigger on the students gun so that the discharge would take the student by surprise. Unsurprisingly, every student in the class put shots in the center of mass of the target. Then the student placed his or her finger in the trigger guard and the instructor pressed the students finger for them delivering a true “surprise break.” Again, perfect hits. An interesting technique I’ll probably appropriate for use with my own students.

From November 9, 2012 Front Sight 4-Day Defensive Handgun

My Crew.

From November 9, 2012 Front Sight 4-Day Defensive Handgun

Front Sight uses a proprietary Silhouette target that integrates two scoring zones, the “Thoracic Cavity” and the “Cranio-ocular Cavity”

From November 9, 2012 Front Sight 4-Day Defensive Handgun

Front Sight still teaches the Weaver stance, which I find interesting.

From November 9, 2012 Front Sight 4-Day Defensive Handgun

Without going into an epic tangent, the rationalizations I heard basically fall into the following categories:

  • Recoil Control
  • Ability to Move
  • Minimization of Target Profile

Actually, any discussion of the advantage of a particular shooting stance needs to first start with “relative to what.” When Jack Weaver started adopting a boxer’s stance and bending the support hand, the main alternative was the “isosceles stance”, erect spine, feet shoulder width apart, elbows nearly locked:
classic isosceles

It’s pretty obvious to anyone with an understanding of the physics of a handgun that the classic isosceles stance does not absorb recoil well. It’s also pretty obvious that a boxer’s stance is going to be easier to move with compared to an isosceles stance. If that’s where handgun technique development ended, I’d agree, crown Weaver and move on.

Thankfully handgun technique development hasn’t stopped, in the 1980’s some practical shooters, most notably Brian Enos and Robbie Leatham started to shoot using effectively a hybrid of the two. Uneven feet, aggressive inward lean, straight but not locked arms. The technique is called “Modified Isosceles”, “Modern Isosceles”, or “Combat Isosceles”. This technique has basically supplanted Weaver in IPSC, the most popular practical pistol discipline in the world. Why? Because competitors look for every edge that will help them shoot faster and more accurately, period, full stop. Robbie Leatham, shown here, doesn’t appear to have many issues with recoil control. But, wait, Robbie is a 6 ft tall strong guy, maybe a he is genetically more able to soak up recoil. That’s an interesting theory, likely dispelled by watching this video:

Look carefully at the stance of every single woman in this video, including Glock team member Tori Nonaka, whose father I corresponded with back in 2009 shortly after Tori started shooting competitively. They all shoot Mod. Iso. Some holdouts will argue it’s because they are using powder-puff ammo. Wrong. All the production shooters are shooting full power 9mm, and all the limited shooters are shooting full power 40 S&W. Notice that the women are almost always in motion, mod. iso seems to handle that.

That leaves the only remaining point, “Minimization of Target Profile.” Yes, applying a 30 degree blade does slightly reduce your torso profile, but two things, first, these days most gunfighters are wearing body armor, meaning that taking a hit square in the chest is infinitely better than getting shot under the armpit (think about what your plates cover), second, doesn’t adopting the fastest, most accurate stance minimize the chance of someone firing at you in the first place?

Enough theory about stance. Early in my training (mostly after shooting with Chuck Taylor and Scott Reitz) I shot Weaver. In the mid-2000’s when I getting serious about getting fast, I switched to Mod. Iso. Still, for most of Day 1, I shot Weaver for two reasons, 1) I wanted to show the instructors that I wasn’t going to be stubborn 2) I didn’t want to get “corrected” on my stance during the basic technique section of the class. After the coursework started to get more technically demanding, i.e. controlled pairs from the holster, I went back to shooting the way I shoot. The instructors recognized that I was shooting relatively fast and accurately and never once commented on my stance or tried to get me to shoot weaver. In return, when I was working with my partners, I zipped my lip and helped them get into the Front Sight Weaver Stance to the best of my ability.

After Morning Drills, it was BBQ time. Red Sky BBQ delivers if you offer them a big enough order.

From November 9, 2012 Front Sight 4-Day Defensive Handgun

BBQ was awesome.

From November 9, 2012 Front Sight 4-Day Defensive Handgun

During Lunch we had the Color Code of Mental Awareness Lecture aka “The Tactical Mindset”.

From November 9, 2012 Front Sight 4-Day Defensive Handgun
From November 9, 2012 Front Sight 4-Day Defensive Handgun

I’ve had it in one way, shape, or form several times now, but it was good to hear it again, and very very beneficial for my friends who weren’t used to thinking in terms like this.

After lunch, back on the range. I believe we went to practicing “Plan A” aka Controlled pair to the thoracic cavity.

From November 9, 2012 Front Sight 4-Day Defensive Handgun

After Plan A came “Plan B” aka cranio-ocular shot aka one to the dome.

From November 9, 2012 Front Sight 4-Day Defensive Handgun

After a good lecture on Moral and Ethical Decisions Associated with the Use of Force, it was time for us to head to a bar and relax.

From November 9, 2012 Front Sight 4-Day Defensive Handgun

Day 2

Day 2 built on the lessons from Day 1

After we’d gotten drilled in the basics, we moved towards realistic targets.

From November 10, 2012 Front Sight 4-Day Defensive Handgun

Here I am about to solve the problem.

From November 10, 2012 Front Sight 4-Day Defensive Handgun

I’m solving the problem.

From November 10, 2012 Front Sight 4-Day Defensive Handgun

And the problem is solved.

From November 10, 2012 Front Sight 4-Day Defensive Handgun

My friend got a nickname.

From November 10, 2012 Front Sight 4-Day Defensive Handgun

My friend after delivering clean hits, on time.

From November 10, 2012 Front Sight 4-Day Defensive Handgun

I think sometime during Day 1 or 2 we focused on gun manipulation drills (i.e. Type 1, 2, and 3 malfunctions, tactical reloads, etc)

That night, we ate Hibachi.

From November 10, 2012 Front Sight 4-Day Defensive Handgun
From November 10, 2012 Front Sight 4-Day Defensive Handgun

Day 3

Day 3 was much colder than Days 1 and 2, complicated by the fact that it was about 34 degrees in the morning. Thermals were very handy.

From November 11, 2012 Front Sight 4-Day Defensive Handgun

We practiced drawing from Concealment, which was admittedly a technique I hadn’t practiced in about 5 years. It wasn’t easy, especially when I wore normal street clothes.

From November 11, 2012 Front Sight 4-Day Defensive Handgun

It was cold enough to dress up as a “Tactical Hobo”. The 5.11 vest made things much easier, but I’d never wear that in public. It just screams, “Hey Everybody, I’m Strapped.”

From November 11, 2012 Front Sight 4-Day Defensive Handgun

Does make the draw easier though.

From November 11, 2012 Front Sight 4-Day Defensive Handgun
From November 11, 2012 Front Sight 4-Day Defensive Handgun

After lunch, we did some “tactical movement”, mostly hall clearing and door passages. A great refresher for me, as USPSA teaches you how to storm a stage, not slowly and safely clear a room.

From November 11, 2012 Front Sight 4-Day Defensive Handgun

A friend of a friend brought his Grandfather’s Service Revolver. How cool is that?

From November 11, 2012 Front Sight 4-Day Defensive Handgun

The best part of day 3 was definitely the shoot house aka “tactical simulator.” We rode the “people mover” to get there.

From November 11, 2012 Front Sight 4-Day Defensive Handgun

All of the other exercises prior to that point were square range exercises. In about 2 minutes, the simulator put it all to the test. Without revealing too much detail about the specifics in case anyone reading this attends front sight, in the simulator, the Instructor, aka Dungeon Master gives you a scenario, then you are more or less given free reign to deal with the scenario. hint: it involves shooting. My run was pretty hilarious, some might call it a comedy of errors. Almost immediately, I encountered a baddie, and gave him a quick shot to the chest, and my gun experienced the first malfunction of the weekend… a type 3. I cleared the jam, but failed to fully seat the new magazine and turned a type 3 into a type 1. I tap-rack-flipped, and delivered a second shot to the first assailant. None of this would have been terrible, if after experiencing the malf, I had retreated into cover and fixed the malf there, rather than standing in front of a potential threat like a total idiot. Later I spotted another bad guy holding a knife, shot him once in the chest, then realized he was holding the knife to a child’s throat and instinctively took the head shot. Not bad, but I should have gone for the head shot first to prevent injury to the child. There was only about a half second between the two shots so it was “okay.” Later, I failed to properly check the corner of a room and the instructor shouted, “under fire, under fire!” I freaked out, saw the bad guy and I mozambiqued (two in the body, one in the head) him:

Funny, in class we were discouraged from mozambique drilling targets for legal reasons, but if someone presents an immediate threat to life, if you have the skills to mozambique, might as well put them to good use.

Earlier I alluded to the habits from competition that got me into trouble. One skill you drill intensely in IPSC is the speed reload; “tactical reload” aka reload with retention is practiced by IPDA shooters. One mistake that I avoided, thankfully, was running the gun to slidelock. After I solved a few problems, as part of my after action drill, I performed a tactical reload. That was good, after the initial malf, the gun stayed happy. The main area that I need to to practice was tactical movement and observation. As mentioned before, in an IPSC stage you know the layout and target locations before you shoot the stage. Then, you before you start shooting, you build a plan in your mind for exactly how you’ll shoot the stage, where you’ll plant your feet, where you’ll engage the targets from, where you’ll perform your reload. Then you visualize yourself executing that program several times. When the buzzer goes your conscious mind takes a back seat to flawless execution of a sometimes complex plan. Often the plan doesn’t work perfectly, you take two shots on steel or miss an activator, and recalculate the new plan on the fly, but it’s all done under very very intense time pressure. The shoot house completely different. There you had NO idea what to expect, NO plan, and NO idea of the targets location/identity/threat level. Time pressure was VERY different. In IPSC, you learn to grab a door handle, throw it open, and run through guns blazing. In a tactical situation, opening a door and properly clearing a room could take 15-20 seconds. Once a potential threat is observed however, the time pressure is at ten tenths, as in you have a fraction of a second to assess the potential threat, decide if it warrants a tactical response, and deliver a plan A. So the mental cadence is almost, “Slow, FAST, slow, FAST.” It’s very different. Earlier I mentioned the target I didn’t see. Had my movement and observation skills been better, he wouldn’t have taken me by surprise. I’d like to practice a few different shoot houses to see if I remember the material from class.

Finished the day up at Mom’s Diner. GET THE CHICKEN FRIED STEAK.

Day 4

Day 4 was the toughest day by far and the one that made me feel like I got my money’s worth.

There are too many great photos from that day to discuss them all individually so here’s the slideshow:

By Day 4, my hands were pretty torn up from the skateboard tape on my gun, slamming magazines with my support hand, malfunction clearance drills, and the cold, dry weather.

From November 12, 2012 Front Sight 4-Day Defensive Handgun

Shooting multiple target arrays was fun as it brought me closer to my USPSA roots.

From November 12, 2012 Front Sight 4-Day Defensive Handgun

The less experienced folks in our crew enjoyed it quite a bit as well.

From November 12, 2012 Front Sight 4-Day Defensive Handgun

This is my friend with by far the deepest tactical CV, he crushed this section.

From November 12, 2012 Front Sight 4-Day Defensive Handgun

After the multiple target drill we went to the Man on Man Steel Shoot. I had high expectations as I used to be an upper tier B-class USPSA shooter, which, although not fast compared to the really fast guys was still pretty fast.

I won my first round.

From November 12, 2012 Front Sight 4-Day Defensive Handgun

Unfortunately, after knocking two of my friends out, I grazed the hostage steel enough to get DQ’d. Which was silly on my part, as my opponent was a friend of mine who was very new. I could have shot at a leisurely pace and drilled all three plates, instead I showboated, doh. My friends on the whole shot well and one made it to the semi-finals.

After the Man on Man we had the Skills Test, basically a Classifier covering the skills we’d worked on for the three days prior.

My friends are excited.

From November 12, 2012 Front Sight 4-Day Defensive Handgun

Some of us even practiced our drills with orange guns before the test itself. Notice her feet in motion, she’s pantomiming “looking and moving” to diagnose a dead trigger on a glock (implying a type 2 or type 3 malfunction)

From November 12, 2012 Front Sight 4-Day Defensive Handgun

The skills portion itself was several strings of controlled pairs from the holster at various distances, designated head shots from the holster from various distances, a controlled pair from the ready, and failure to stop drills from various distances. All of the tests were done from concealment and under time pressure. This was where my USPSA background really helped. I got a perfect score on this part of the test:

From November 12, 2012 Front Sight 4-Day Defensive Handgun

After the shooting portion, there were the weapons manipulations drills. There we had to clear Type 1, 2, and 3 malfunctions and demonstrate the tactical and emergency reload, all under time pressure.

From November 12, 2012 Front Sight 4-Day Defensive Handgun

As with the first part I did well, but ironically, the one portion of the drill I screwed up on was the emergency reload aka the speed reload, the motion I’ve practiced several thousand times. Oh well…means I need to practice more.

Me after figuring out I passed the test, distinguished.

From November 12, 2012 Front Sight 4-Day Defensive Handgun

After we took the test, the final drill was a shooting at hostage target with a loved one’s name on it.

From November 12, 2012 Front Sight 4-Day Defensive Handgun
From November 12, 2012 Front Sight 4-Day Defensive Handgun
From November 12, 2012 Front Sight 4-Day Defensive Handgun
From November 12, 2012 Front Sight 4-Day Defensive Handgun

Good times.

After that, we were awarded our certificates.

From November 12, 2012 Front Sight 4-Day Defensive Handgun

Then we went to Vegas and ate at the Mirage Buffet before crashing very early.

From November 12, 2012 Front Sight 4-Day Defensive Handgun
From November 12, 2012 Front Sight 4-Day Defensive Handgun

Final Thoughts

On the whole, I think that Front Sight provides an incredible public service. They take anyone with the initiative to trek out to Nevada, and in 4 days give them the skill and attitude they need to employ a handgun to protect themselves in a lethal encounter. While I might quibble with the way they teach a particular technique or a skill omitted in the 4-day class, I think Front Sight is still the best place for folks new to the tactical use of weapons. I liked all of our instructors, but Aaron did a good job of tempering the seriousness of the topic at hand with the occasional laughter provoking joke. The quality of instruction was good all-around.
After going to Front Sight, shooters can make a far more informed decision about proper pistol and holster selection, then dry practice the skills they’ve learned. Then, after learning the basics, and re-enforcing them with dry practice, they can spring for the expensive classes with instructors like Gabe Suarez, Louis Awerbuck, or Frank Garcia. Personally, I’d like to add Force on Force to my repertoire of training. We’ll see about that.

On the whole, I couldn’t be happier with the way the trip turned out. We got out of the city for a long weekend to practice a skill I enjoy. 10 total novices learned the basics of pistolcraft. I ate incredibly cheap and delicious food. Not much more one can ask (especially for a class that’s effectively free if you bring your own piece).

TheNouveauJäger

PS I mentioned nothing about Front Sight’s founder or business model. The less said there, the better.

Posted in: Training