When most people think of training, they probably think about the guys working on the national circuit who charge upward of $400 for a class and require a minimum of 1,000 rounds for the two days. The guys who pay their bills providing training are certainly good instructors, or they won’t be paying their bills for very long, but can sometimes be cost prohibitive. This is especially true for the student who is just getting into shooting and only wants to dip their feet in the water to try it out and is not ready to jump in the deep end just yet. The other option is the local gun guy down at the shooting range that has his NRA Pistol Instructor certification, but really doesn’t know much that isn’t in the NRA handbook. The problem here is that while this instructor will probably be more affordable, he or she isn’t really that good at teaching, and doesn’t know as much as he or she thinks he does about shooting. In my opinion, the guys who fall in the middle of that range are the real sweet spot of firearms training. The guy who takes firearms training serious enough to both understand what it means to shoot well, and what it means to teach well, and who has put in the work to develop a quality training course, or menu of courses.
One of those guys who lands between the gun dude down at the local range and the traveling road show instructors, is Jay Cunningham and Protective Shooting Concepts. Jay’s shooting pedigree is pretty impeccable. The list of courses he has taken and guys he has trained with would make a pretty good training wish list for guys like me. Jay knows what he is talking about, and has both the skill and knowledge that goes with being a serious student of the gun, or as calls it, a “training junkie”. Jay’s protective pistol courses are designed around the concept of addressing what is most probable in Protective Pistol 1, what is a little less likely but still pretty common in Protective Pistol 2, and the outliers in Protective Pistol 3. What he is really saying is the skill demands will increase significantly as the courses progress. Protective Pistol 1 is the only course Jay offers that does not have some sort of skill prerequisite that must be successfully demonstrated at the beginning of the class. I can appreciate this approach to filtering who can participate in higher level courses because it allows people who have already established a certain level of skill to skip over the courses that cover topics they may already be familiar with. It also eliminates the problem of having people who have completed lower level classes but have not put in the work outside of the class to really anchor the skills from attended classes that are still above their skill level.
The class I was able to attend was Protective Pistol 1, hosted at the Washington County Tactical Range in West Alexander, PA. In the interest of full disclosure, I did not pay for my slot in the class, I won it as part of a Facebook contest. I did however drive the 15 hours to be there, paid for hotels, and paid for my wife to attend also, so I have some significant resource investment in the class. So the next obvious question (and one that was asked frequently by other students in the class) is why did I come that far for a 1 day basic level class? I know about Protective Shooting Concepts and Jay Cunningham because of pistol-forum.com, where he is one of the admin for the forum. I know the type of shooters and instructors he tends to associate with, plus already had exposure to some of his thoughts on shooting from the forum. I was not at all going into this blind. I pretty much knew ahead of time that Jay was a squared away shooter, and likely a squared away instructor too. A quick aside, if you shoot handguns and do not at least browse through pistol-forum.com, you are doing yourself a disservice. The amount of experience and knowledge on that forum is incredible.
Jay describes Protective Pistol 1 as dealing with the very top of the bell curve of what is most probable for someone to deal with in a defensive gun use and is built around a standard of being able to draw from concealment while moving offline and place 3 rounds into a USPSA A-zone in 3 seconds, a very basic, but still useful standard. The class is 10 hours, crammed into a single day. We were on the range from 8:30am-6:30pm just as promised. Some people might find that to be a long day on the range, I however enjoyed it. Even though the course is relatively long for a one day class, the round count is not very high. The reason for this is that a large part of the class is lecture based, with some live demos mixed in. Since this course is intended for the new shooter, a considerable amount of time is spent on topics like gear selection, understanding different aspects of shooting, etc. Essentially, the course is intended to give both the knowledge base and basic skill necessary to successfully carry and use a firearm. Quite literally, they cover almost everything a person needs to know in order to start carrying a pistol.
After the lecture, answering questions, and getting student’s gear squared away, it came to shooting guns just after a short break for lunch. The class was split into 2 relays, but each relay was encouraged to watch the other and pay attention to corrections being made by the instructors. After some quick dry fire to make sure everyone had the draw stroke basically down, live fire started. The first drill was a trigger control-ish sort of drill designed to demonstrate how quickly and decisively the trigger can be pressed at the ranges where most defensive gun uses occur without pushing the gun off target. Students were given a 0.30 PAR time, instructed to grip the gun, aim at the target (which was a USPSA A-zone), place the trigger finger on the face of the trigger but do not apply any pressure. On the beep, the student presses the trigger all the way through the trigger stroke within the PAR at 3-4 yards. The idea here was to teach a trigger press that could be executed quickly, and to get the students to understand that at the distances where most defensive encounters occur, the trigger press does not have to be really precise, especially with a fundamentally sound grip. Personal confession time, coming from Glocks, I have always been a “prep and press” kind of guy with a striker fired gun. Obviously, with a true DA gun like my S&W 66 it isn’t quite the same, but with only one or two exceptions, pretty much everyone in the class was shooting some sort of SFA handgun. I was skeptical of what the results might be for some of the new shooters in the class. There was one person in the class who had basically zero firearms experience. It quickly became apparent that my skepticism was misplaced. The largest group I noted was approximately 4″, right in the sweet spot on the top half of the A-zone. The smallest groups were just an inch or two. It was an eye opening drill for me, not because of what I accomplished, but because of what the new shooters accomplished with this drill.
Each instructional point or drill built onto the previous instructional point or drill, adding layer after layer until by the end, students were moving offline while simultaneously drawing from concealment, and firing multiple rounds at a USPSA A-zone in about 3 seconds. I won’t recount every drill or instructional point, but the process was incredibly efficient for the amount of ground that was covered. Even though the round count and rep count for the class was what I would consider pretty low, the end result, both in terms of shooter skill, and perhaps just as important, shooter confidence was impressive. The course design, coupled with the quality of the instructors, and the favorable student to instructor ratio (4 instructors for 15 students split into 2 relays), did an excellent job establishing a base level of skill.
My personal highlight from the class was having my revolver reload complimented on by Ashton, one of Jay’s other instructors. Ashton had recently coached an IDPA shooter that was going for their master classification in IDPA on revolver and understood how much work has to go into a revolver reload. It was validating to hear someone acknowledge the work, and that it had been worthwhile. I also learned that speed loaders dropped in mud still work pretty well, but that Comp II’s and Comp III’s are not the same diameter and Comp II’s work best in my 66 (more on that later). I need to make a small modification to my stance, and I need to increase the speed of the last portion of my draw. Essentially, I need to drive the gun to the target quicker once I have drawn it up into my eye line. It is important to train with a good instructor every now and then, they will keep you honest. Even though I use video to self-diagnose in some instances, it is still not as good as having an adept instructor watch how you run the gun.
Protective Pistol 1 is the class people who are new to training (notice I didn’t say new to shooting), about to get their concealed carry permit, or who have just gotten their concealed carry permit should take. It covers all the nuts and bolts associated with carrying a handgun, and establishes a sufficient level of skill to serve as a good starting point. The instructors take their task very seriously, and are good at what they do, getting students from zero to a passable level of performance in a single day. I was impressed with where some of the students started in terms of skill level, and where they ended up by the end of the class. If you are close to western Pennsylvania, you owe it to yourself to look up Protective Shooting Concepts and Jay Cunningham. If a level 1 class is below you, then check out his level 2 and 3 courses, just make sure you can complete the prerequisite skill requirements before showing up for the class, the very first drill will be to confirm everyone meets the prerequisite. Probably the best endorsement I can give for the quality of the instruction is that I am already thinking about making the 15 hour drive back to western PA next year sometime.