Becoming A Warrior At Gunsite Academy, by J.H.

I had dreams of becoming an armed warrior at a very young age. My father and my uncle put a .22 rifle in my hands after I joined the Boy Scouts, and they asked that I go with them through the woods along the Cahaba River in Shelby County, Alabama. They cared less about sports and preferred that I learn how to survive in a non-urban/non-suburban environment. I believe they were interested in passing along family history as much as anything else. They told me how my ancestors, mainly my great-grandfathers, survived as warriors when they fought in the American Revolution and later in the War of Northern Aggression. My 5th great-grandfather, Captain John Blakeney, fought alongside the Swamp Fox in South Carolina during the American Revolution (as portrayed in Mel Gibson’s movie The Patriot).

In college, during the Vietnam War, all of us assumed we would be drafted. The closest I got to military service was ROTC at the University of Alabama. At that time the services did not want young, married men with children, so as many of my friends shipped out to ‘Nam I finished my education. About that time I joined the NRA, even before I could vote, and when I became an adult I ordered and received a U.S. Army-issued World War II .45 from D.C.M. for which I paid a grand total of $17.

While in college I worked at the courthouse, and during those four years I became friends with many deputies and police officers. Some were very active in the gun culture and had extensive collections of firearms. They were drawn to my office when they would pass by and see me cleaning my .45 at my desk. After I graduated from law school, I began collecting military-style firearms, with still no experience on how to use them. I began reading every issue of American Rifleman, Guns & Ammo, and Soldier of Fortune. During this time I learned about Jeff Cooper and the modern pistol technique.

I still had dreams but no experience. My son, John, graduated from college and had never shot a handgun. Gunsite announced that Bill Jeans, who was the operations manager, was having a weekend class in Savannah, Georgia. We signed up and drove all night from Alabama. I had purchased a Glock 9mm for my son and a new Colt .45 for myself, and we learned the basics from the best instructor that Gunsite had.

Becoming a warrior requires developing the right mindset and mastering combat weapons. Gunsite had the reputation of being the best. I wanted my son and me to have professional training even though it was not in our future to become soldiers or members of law enforcement.

After our weekend of instruction, we were hooked, and we signed up for a week and more next year at Gunsite Ranch in Paulden, Arizona. Jeff Cooper had just sold the school but still lived on the ranch. Gunsite Ranch has dozens of pistol, rifle, and shotgun ranges scattered over approximately 2,000 acres.

John and I first took the “Edged Weapons 2-day Course” and then took a 5½-day “250 Combat Pistol Course”. The most important lesson John and I learned taking the “Edged Weapons Course” is that in a knife fight there is a good chance that both participants will die. It is obvious that being attacked with a knife and having to defend yourself with a knife is a fight that should be avoided.

The class had a mix of students. There were civilians, park rangers with six-shooters, and police– two of which were from Australia. There was only one female in the class, and she was a lawyer for D.E.A. She had never used a gun before. Before she got to Gunsite, she went and purchased the same gun and leather used by D.E.A. agents. I believe she carried a Sig 9mm.

Classroom instruction was by Bill Jeans, and he did a great job of beginning to create a real warrior identity in those that were in attendance. Bill taught us the Combat Triad, which is mindset, gun handling, and marksmanship. Mindset is being aware of your environment, and we were taught that the right mindset is always a tactical advantage in lethal situations.

They taught the color code that is now well-known and used to describe the various stages of awareness.

  • White – Relaxed, unawareness and not being prepared
  • Yellow – Relaxed but very alert
  • Orange – High alert
  • Red – You better get your gun because there is a fight taking place or will soon take place

Our range master was Larry Landers. At that time, Larry was an active Arizona State Trooper. He had two assistants to keep watch over our class, which consisted of about 17 or 18 students. Gunsite and their instructors want you to have fun even though it is serious business. Since I was 50 I was the oldest, and my son was one of the youngest. I believe I had the most fun, even though the instructors were teaching us the ability to stay alive in a deadly confrontation. It appeared to me that those in law enforcement were the most stressed.

After hundreds of draw and fire practice, we were then taught speed-loading and how to deal with malfunctions. After hundreds of drills it began to feel like each drill was a potential gunfight, where shooting someone was the solution. Those that had the most fun thrived on the intensity and the pain and wanted to shoot more even though the shooting day was over eight hours. I personally shot almost 1,000 rounds through a new Colt .45 Officers Model that was made for me by the gunsmith onsite at Gunsite Academy. I wish I had ordered a full-size, because by the time I finished that week I was in pain from having shot so much.

Later in the week, we went into the desert, down ravines, and in creek beds filled with humanlike metal poppers. The poppers were very well-hidden, but we were expected to recognize the potential danger and eliminate the threat and do speed loads during this part of the drill.

Gunsite has two houses with full-size human cutouts. Both during the outside portion and the house portion of the training, we were followed by a range officer. In the house that they called the “fun house”, the cutouts were ugly enough to shoot but may have only been holding an ice cream cone. They teach you not to shoot unless you are absolutely sure the target is a risk to you. Most of the class shot innocents during the stress of learning how to clear a house. They also told us how we might have gotten shot during the process.

The scary trips through the desert creek beds and the “fun house” by the end of the week had conditioned most of us so that our muscle memory and reflexes took over.

It was a great feeling the way my mind and body reacted to a potentially dangerous situation.

On the last day, on Saturday, we had a one-on-one competition. Two shooters stood together and fired at their own set of metal targets. Whoever finished first won that round. Everyone competed twice, and then the winners were in shoot-offs.

After shoot-offs we went back to the classroom to get our certificates. There are four different grades. I wanted to make “Expert” but got the next best; I received “Marksman First Class”.

When you get a chance to take your vacation this year, don’t go to the beach, don’t go to the mountains; go to Gunsite Academy, and take your son or your daughter. It was a great bonding experience for me and my son. We are better prepared for life-threatening situations. We have been blessed to be able to go back twice, taking a shotgun course one time and later taking another pistol course.

I have carried every day for fifty (50) years. My carry gun is right there with my keys and wallet. Because of my age all of our friends are now grandparents, and all of them are now carrying. Grandmothers are a lot younger than they were when I was very young. Now the grandmothers that I know are purchasing handguns and are taking lessons.

Since my trips to Gunsite, I am more aware of my surroundings. I try not to get distracted like the people that walk by me every day. Only my friends know that I am armed. Others may notice that I am aware; I observe everyone. I look at them and smile and am extremely courteous to everybody. I suspect police officers notice me because of my sense of awareness.

Since I am a Family Law attorney I have seen how bad people can be and how shocked and surprised victims are when all of a sudden they are unable to comprehend what is happening to them or to others in their presence.

Having the training and developing the warrior mentality has not made me paranoid; rather, it allows me to respond rationally and quickly to a dangerous situation.

My wife, son, daughter, and son-in-law all now carry. People with the right training are aware of their surroundings and are very much aware of the consequences of using their weapon. They carry because they value life, not only theirs but the lives of others.

All the thoughts and ideas I have expressed are the result of the influence of others, at times unknowingly and at other times consciously. In 1950 the phrase “gun culture” did not exist.

In addition to my father and uncle, who introduced me to the proper use of firearms, I was influenced by the following:

  • Boy Scouts – “Be Prepared” taught me to always be in a state of readiness.
  • Jeff Cooper – the founder of Gunsite Ranch. Without his foresight I may have never gotten the proper training.
  • John Ross – Author of Unintended Consequences. This book is out of print and has been for almost twenty (20) years, but if you haven’t read it you should.
  • Ralph Long – Constitutional Lawyer, Retired U. S. Army, Retired Hoover Police Lieutenant, and Firearms Instructor. Ralph Long taught my wife and daughter how to shoot. He also taught them the importance of never surrendering to political correctness. He is my friend and has been for many years.
  • Patriots and Boston Gun Bible are great sources of advice on what firearms are best for those of us who wish to increase our gun sense.

A majority of the American public has awakened to the need to be armed. A recent survey by Pew Research Center revealed that for the first time in many years it is more important to protect our rights to own guns than it is to control the ownership of guns.

The American public is now better armed, and there are more of us than ever. The politicians should learn a lesson, and they should better leave us and our freedoms alone.

Take advantage of the opportunity to go to somewhere like Gunsite Academy. There are other shooting schools that have great reputations. I can only speak about my experience with Gunsite, and the experience definitely changed my life.