Firearms training: Old NFO lays it on the line


Friend, fellow blogger and fellow author Jim Curtis, known in the blogosphere as Old NFO, has written a blunt, to-the-point article pointing out the many problems with modern firearms training.  Here are a few excerpts.

I’m worried about the division I’m seeing becoming more and more prevalent in the gun world, where you are judged by who you’ve trained with, what latest plastic fantastic or custom gun you’re carrying in the latest holster, while firing the latest and greatest super ammo, while being able to in W seconds fire X rounds into Y square inches at Z yards. Or how to shoot your AR out of your car, etc.

. . .

I’ve also heard instructors say NRA training will get you killed on the street.

Um, NRA training is designed to be BASIC training, not get you your CCW or anything else due to the differences state to state… And a basic course is what everybody is now requiring that people have to take just about any course.

BUT, what are being left behind are John/Jane Q Public that carry a pistol for self defense or want pistol courses that help them to get better. Rangemasters, Mas Ayoob, and a few others offer basic courses that stress BASIC skill sets, of grip, draw, presentation and sight picture, and mindset. But they aren’t cheap.

The other ‘mantra’ that seems to be getting louder (again) is that if your gun doesn’t have a caliber that starts with a 4, you should shut up and go home, you can’t be effective. I’ve seen people basically get laughed at in various forums for carrying .380s or .32 or .38 pistols, or ‘really stupid’ to carry .22 or .22 magnum pistols.

. . .

Have instructors become so wrapped around the ‘tacticool’ agenda that they are leaving most shooters with no good training if you’re not an LEO or operator? I’m beginning to think so … Most CCW folks don’t have thousands of dollars to spend on gun after gun, course after course, and don’t shoot a thousand rounds a month, or five hundred… I’d say the average CCW person is probably down around 100-200 rounds a month maybe less, especially now with the dearth of ammunition. And they’re shooting it with what they have… and can afford or actually operate. Some people (especially females, elderly or disabled) can’t rack a slide on a 9mm, much less a .40 or a .45, much less control a pistol in that caliber to get more than one or maybe two rounds on target without issues. But they can shoot/control .22s or .380s. Or that old .32 or .38 revolver that may not have all the bluing, but it still works well.

. . .

Maybe it’s time to look closer to home, to those local instructors that teach part time for not much money, because they want to share knowledge, and are willing to work with students on a case by case basis. They may not have one or more pages of ‘qualifications’ but they teach because they believe in what they are doing, and by and large are pretty cotton picking good too!

There’s more at the link.  Recommended reading.

I’ve seen the same issues Jim has, and they’re important.  A great deal of what’s taught in many shooting classes has little or nothing to do with the average person’s basic need to defend themselves with a firearm.  It’s a lot of fun to learn, and I’ve enjoyed the courses I’ve taken, but let’s face it:  most of us aren’t ninjas, or operators, or assassins.  We won’t ever use that sort of training in real life.  What we need are the basics, properly taught, emphasized and re-emphasized, and drilled until we know them inside-out, back-to-front and upside-down.

  • Sight picture.
  • Grip.
  • Stance.
  • Trigger control.
Get those right, and you’ve solved 90% of your weapon handling issues.  Get them wrong, and no matter how tacticool your training may have been, you probably won’t get rounds on target quickly and accurately enough to save your favorite tuchus.  When I train disabled shooters, as I have for decades, those are the things we work on until they’ve got them right.  Only then do we go on to more tactical considerations.  (For details of that, see this article.)
In case anyone thinks I’m criticizing mainstream training without knowing what I’m talking about;  apart from military and civilian firearms training and experience in Africa, in the USA I’ve attended three courses – basic, intermediate and advanced – with Massad Ayoob;  a handgun and a rifle course at Thunder Ranch;  the Advanced Handgun course at Chapman Academy;  and several short courses with Jerry and Kay Miculek in Louisiana.  I valued and enjoyed each and every one of those courses, but I’ll be the first to admit that they’re a lot more than the average person needs for basic home and personal defense.  They’re for enthusiasts.  I can no longer manage such courses, thanks to physical disability, but I’d do one again in a heartbeat if I could cope with its demands.  If you can do that and have the money to spare, I think you’ll benefit from it.  Just be aware that in today’s economy, for a week-long course, ammunition, travel and hotel costs, etc., you’re probably talking several thousand dollars.
Jim also talks about ammunition selection in his article.  In today’s market, with the desperate ongoing shortage of defensive ammunition, it’s often very hard to lay your hands on the “best” solution;  but there are viable alternatives.  I carry Buffalo Bore wadcutters in my .38 Special and .44 Special snubbies, and don’t feel in the least under-gunned with them.  Wadcutters have a long and distinguished defensive track record “on the street”, as the late Jim Cirillo (a gunfighter if ever anyone earned that title) was fond of pointing out.  Hunting rounds can also serve for personal defense.  For example, at Blogorado last weekend, I was shooting Littlestone .44 Special ammunition with a 260gr. WFN (wide flat nose) hard-cast bullet, loaded to the upper edge of pressure limits for that round.  It’s my standard general-purpose load in that cartridge, and in .44 Magnum handguns too.  Out of a 2¾”-barreled revolver, doing about 870 feet per second, it smacked down steel plates with authority.  I’ll trust it to take any game animal up to 200-300 pounds in weight, given proper bullet placement.  If it can handle animals like that, there’s no reason to think it won’t handle human assailants in the same size range with equal aplomb.  (Just look at the track record of the similar .44-40 round in the Old West, where it was renowned as a fight-stopper from rifles or revolvers.)
I think Jim has the right of it.  Get the basics right, keep it simple, and you’ll have solved most of your potential problems.


  1. It’s like learning to drive a car. You don’t start with race car on track school, you start with the basics.

  2. Hey Peter;

    I haven't seen an Old NFO post generate the kind of comments that one generated. But I have seen it the past 10 years, where people wanting to get the latest and greatest especially people coming back from the GWOT, they were trying to get their niche in the Gun world and it is ever evolving and there is a demand for the "New and tacticool". Some of the trainers forget that you HAVE to know the basics before you can go farther, and Jim's rant is based on trainers "dissing" the NRA training, and I believe part of the "Dissing" is related to the political troubles that the organization is having, kinda like getting the cheap shots while the organization is down. I believe in the training, I an NRA certified Rifle,shotgun and Pistol, and I teach Boy Scouts mostly how to shoot, and I run a safe range, and the kids have fun and they learn how to handle firearms SAFELY, which is the idea. Should I take more training, you betcha, but right now it ain't an option, so I practice with airsoft, and BB's, Fundamentals are Fundamentals no matter the launching platform. You gave me that idea from a blogpost a while back, it was so simple it was brilliant.(Thanks btw).

  3. I would at least recommend 9mm/38 spcl. These can be had in small or large guns (ez rack from s&w for the arthritic). Also, it is easier to load a mag than a revolver. A 4 inch slide on a s&w makes it easier to shoot. I don't care if all you have is a .32 or .38. But if you are buying, newer is definitely better. Start at the basics, then practice laying down if possible. The Kenosha kid is living proof that they WILL knock you down at any cost.

  4. The gun you have and the ammo you have is what you need to know how to use. A.22 will kill you. I know a monster who killed himself and 3 others with a .25 pistol. If you can't handle ANY gun safely and hit the target, you have no business with one in your hands. How you keep the emotionally impaired from harming others is a whole other kettle of fish.

  5. As the answer to the question goes:

    Q: “What is the best gun to have an gun fight?”

    A: “The one in your hand.”

  6. I took my Ruger Mark I .22 to my concealed carry live fire exercise. The instructor made a comment about the small caliber. He shut up when he saw my tight group.

    A few years ago I did a driving experience on a Formula 1 track. I didn't take the fastest car because I wanted to learn more about technique and proper lines than to just hammer around the course.

    It's all about getting the basics right.

  7. Nice post. Great comments. Being raised by a veteran, hunter, certified firearms training instructor, my Dad, also a Grandfather whom farmed in Northern Minnesota and always had a gun near and was rigid about gun handling safety. I grew up with guns. I've had my PTC for many years and spend as much time as I can at the range. But I am so used to using and handling guns, Dad drilled me well. I've never even considered a class. Maybe I should, even though I am an old dog, maybe I could learn some new tricks.

  8. Another thing is that not all of us want to be trained as HSLD "operators".

    I have to many health problems to play soldier and carry a full kit and armor.

    I don't have the money for NODs, training at whoever, and a ammo fort.

    And yet, people tell me to either get a better job or too bad for you, your dead.

    And I'm laugh at for having a Marlin 3030 and a S&W K38 for my weapons.

    There's no one willing to teach me how to use these unlike an AR.

  9. I know better than to get into these kinds of discussions but here goes my two cents. I’ve been around the shooting, competition and self defense game for a very long time as a Marine, Police and Civilian marksmanship instructor. What I am going to say are my observations going back around 50 years with several combat tours and many years of instructing. These are my observations and experiences yours may differ.

    First, the caliber argument is a faux argument. Handguns are not very powerful weapons. Why do I say this? Around 85 percent of those shot on the street with handguns survive. The facts are the facts. Who knowing they are going into a fight would pick a handgun over a rifle or shotgun? No one I know. The only reason one would fight with a handgun is because it is easy to carry and have available when needed. Like an insurance policy.

    Threat fixation is the biggest problem with sight alignment and sight picture. It’s human nature to focus on the threat. It’s how we are built. Takes a lot of training, which most do not have, to overcome. I don’t spend much time with it. If you are going to look at the threat get a dot sight. Taking Marines and police through a course where targets popup at varied ranges from two to 10 yards and several targets appearing at the same time puts a lot of stress on the shooter. Most folks successfully engaged the targets. After each shooter completed the course of fire I asked, “Tell me about your front sight.” No one ever used their sight. Again target fixation.

    Grip and trigger press are the most important skills a shooter must master. Without these skills hitting a target is very difficult. With a handgun the threat should be hit often until it is no longer a threat. Hard to do if you cannot properly grip the handgun and press the trigger without moving the handgun off target.

    Stance. Beyond basic marksmanship I do not teach. If you are fighting you should be moving. If you are stationary you should be behind cover. Learn to shoot while moving. Learn to move to cover. Shooting while moving is a hard skill to learn but a very important skill.

    With some cities burning I have had a big demand for classes. I teach people how to fight not the finer points on how to shoot. What I have observed is that folks show up with the latest tacit-cool gear that fails more often than not. All have trained on a square range where shooting from a fixed stance is all they do. When put under stress their previous training fails in many ways. They forget to properly grip so the pistol jams, miss the targets while moving, and get really stressed when they must discriminate targets and not flash non threats.

    A final thought. Shooting is a perishable skill. Tactics are a must. There is a need for both. Spend as much time with tactics as you do with shooting. With good tactics you may not have to fight and for me that’s a win.

  10. It's not super wide spread yet, and it's -basic- pistol. Project Appleseed now has, in some areas, an Appleseed Pistol Clinic. will take you to the event finder. For instance, December 12th there's a pistol clinic in South Huntsville, AL. Cost for the event is $75.

    Rifle clinics are very widespread, again fundamentals of rifle marksmanship (and a good history lesson on the start of the revolutionary war at both rifle and pistol clinics). Cost is the same. And it's a -ton- of fun.

  11. The first class I took from Mas Ayoob he had one lady who just could not hit on target. He solved her problem by writing on the web of her right hand “front sight”. In just a little bit she was hitting correctly. Sometimes simple things can get across the basics.

  12. Got my first .22 when I was eleven. Single shot bolt action rifle. Bought it myself at Fred's Sporting Goods in Santa Fe lo these many years ago.(1950)

    Bought me a box of shorts also. Then a friend of mine clued me in about lead buildup, so always after that it was 22LR. Sharpshooter in the military. Don't need any additional training, just some practice. And I have no qualms about putting down some nutjob trying to destroy my country. I can still hit a small can of beans at 100 yards with the 30.06 I had… that got stolen recently.

  13. EasyCompany –
    "And I'm laugh at for having a Marlin 3030 and a S&W K38 for my weapons.
    There's no one willing to teach me how to use these unlike an AR"

    there are definitely people who would be more than willing to train you with that lever gun and revolver. For example, Lee Weems at First Person Safety is based in the area of Athens, GA, and he offers a lever gun course.

    Tom Givens of Rangemaster offers a one day revolver course. He'll be offering it in the Austin area April 22 next year. I've taken that class, it was very worthwhile.

    And I know Clint Smith at Thunder Ranch has at least in the past had courses for lever guns and revolvers.

  14. Tier One JSOC Ninjas and Hall Of Fame athletes have one thing immutably in common:

    They don't train in exotic minutiae nor learn Level 42 Ninja-fu tricks; they train on the basics.

    But unlike earnest amateurs, they don't practice the basics until they get them right; they practice the basics until they don't get them wrong.

    I've watched world-class shooters on their way to championships, and they do the same things duffers do. They just do them right, every time, faster, and they don't miss (much, if ever).

    It's really that simple.

    And word to your mother: you'll learn more from 10,000 times dry-firing with snap caps and then 100 rounds at the range, than you ever will from 1000 rounds of live ammo alone. Including what works, and what doesn't. And you'll be ahead the cost of 900 rounds, for openers.

    Hence the mantra from the elites of weapon-handling:
    Slow is smooth; smooth is fast.

    Whether it's competition against paper, or someone else's incoming rounds, you can't miss fast enough to win, because only hits count.

    And the people teaching shooting ARs out of cars or upside down from trampolines jumping through flaming hoops to anyone whose chances of ever shooting out of a car with a rifle are under one in a gazillion are just another type of con artist. I got banned from one Homer Homebody forum because I didn't know the forum owner was a guy teaching tactical combat care with a round count that would have embarrassed a Marine Corps infantry battalion's tally for annual qualification. (Hint: the round count for medical school, last I checked, is still zero, and Ima guess the average rookie med school graduate has far better trauma skills, otherwise untutored, than anyone who killed two cases of 5.56 in a weekend course, and if the bulk of your time "learning" TCCC is loading and changing magazines, you aren't learning any medical skills, and probably not much about shooting either, except as an excuse to turn money into noise, and buy the instructor's groceries. Know what you're learning, and if the instructor gets butt-hurt about your questions, keep walking, and keep one hand on your wallet.)

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