Two Letters Re: Firearms Training and Subsequent Practice

A question for your readers: If our possession of firearms in the US is such a fundamental right that we should be closely guarding as a privilege that could be revoked at any time, why do so many of us take it for granted and how many of us are merely owning fine weapons as a ‘talisman,’ as I once heard Mas Ayoob put it, with no intention of ever using them, hoping that merely possessing weapons will ward off all evil? Why do we own them if we aren’t going to figure out how to use them effectively?
I read a few days ago on one of your posts that you were getting in shape to take a four day firearms course at Front Sight. Good for you. I figured you all have had lots of firearms training since you and your family are pretty much ahead of the curve in being prepared for living in a troubled and perhaps difficult future. My family and I live in the east and it would be very difficult for us in our current situation to block out a week or more to head west at this time, as I am sure many may be thinking when they hear of Front Sight, Gunsite, Thunder Ranch and other fine shooting schools, mostly in the western USA. [JWR Adds: See my comments below on other training organizations and training opportunities.] I was glad to hear as busy as you and your family are raising your sons, making a living and serving your church in your local community, you are
taking the time to become familiar with your guns and gear and get the training to keep your skills sharp for when they may be needed.
If I may digress briefly – when I was single and in my late twenties, I would spend my one week vacation from my job driving to Ray Chapman’s Chapman Academy learning some fundamentals about pistol shooting, sleeping in my car on the way up and back, coming home tired and with no loaded ammo left. After that I also got to take a couple of Mas Ayoob’s LFI pistol classes over a couple of more vacations, learning a bit more each time, including the legal side if one has to shoot someone in the gravest extreme, to borrow a phrase. When my work load got more serious and I advanced in my career, I stopped going to shooting schools and shot locally. Over 20 years passed and I got married and settled down, built a house, started a farm in the rural east still wishing I could go back to classes at a good shooting school. Not much chance of that, until about three years ago when I found out about one well known world-class shooting master who travels the US and even overseas on occasion to bring his expertise to folks who cannot make the yearly trips to Texas, Arizona, or Oregon, among the better known areas for civilian shooter training. I was stunned to know that this shooting master had been coming to my area of the east coast for over 15 years, and teaches yearly at a gun club/range a thirty minute drive from my home. How can one pass such good fortune up? This will be the third year in a row I have been back to classes in tactical carbine, pistol 1 & 2 and this year in shotgun and refresher handgun. After the first year I got my wife to go. After an iffy first day of class she gained confidence in her shooting ability with her Glock, and we are now building on our overlapping skills from there as a team at home. She and I will be taking a shotgun course together (on opposite ends of the line, of course as required by the instructor) later this year and we are looking forward to it.
My roundabout point is that folks should get out there and learn to shoot NOW, looking for shooting instructors that travel to teach if enough folks are interested in having them come there if you cannot go to an established brick and mortar school in the west….also, check for shooting schools that you may not know are within a reasonable driving distance, either on the internet or through one of your local shooting clubs or state organizations. Time is short, as we all know, and shooting is a noisy and sometimes costly business. You all might also keep an eye out for the traveling Appleseed Rifleman shoots that are traveling the USA this year for the second year courtesy of the RWVA (Revolutionary War Veterans Association). I have been to their shoots and they are excellent for getting you into the rifleman category but you have to put out the effort to practice. Just my $.02 to all you folks sitting on a mountain of freeze-dried food and ammunition somewhere.
You are responsible for your own safety and security. Regards, – Redclay

Mr. Rawles,
Regarding firearms, we are all aware of the need for practice. It does little good to have top-of-the-line equipment if one is not skilled and practiced in using it. However, I have heard some in the preparedness-minded community recommending thousands of rounds worth of practice per year. I understand that when it comes to practice, usually more is better. However, firearms and ammunition are not cheap. Practice obviously expends ammunition, which must be replaced, causes wear and tear on the firearms (which must be repaired and eventually replaced just like a car with X miles on the odometer), and there are range fees and even the expense of cleaning supplies to consider. My question is, where is the balance? Is there a “sweet spot” where adequate skill can be maintained, without excessive expenditures in equipment and materiel? The concern is that there is other prepping that must be done – this requires money also. Any dollar not needlessly wasted on excessive firearms usage or maintenance can be invested in other things.

This would especially be a concern in an actual long-term or permanent SHTF or TEOTWAWKI situation where the ammo and firearms could not be replaced at ANY cost.

Also, is there much point in practice without prior training? (this does not include basic safe handling and operation, which is a given). The concern is that practice without training may simply reinforce bad habits thru repetition, incurring cost while realizing little (if any) benefit. Thank you for any feedback you can offer. – B.R.

JWR Replies: The amount you shoot will depend on your level of of proficiency, the required intensity of training, and your ammo budget. I’m fairly proficient with guns, so on average I now shoot only about 1,000 rounds a year. (All calibers, combined–of which about half is .22 rimfire) But at an upcoming defensive handgun course at Front Sight, the Memsahib and I will each shoot 800 rounds of .45 ACP in just a four day period. My sons, who are just learning, shoot about 400 to 500 rounds each per month in good weather. (Mostly .22 LR rimfire.) I only expect that figure to increase, since all there of them will soon be in their teenage years. One of my good friends, “Fred the Valmet-meister” regularly shoots more than 1,000 rounds per month. He is absolutely awesome with a pistol, and also a fine shot with a rifle. He did his best to wear out one of his SIG P220 .45s, but he just installed a new set of springs and it is still going strong.

Yes, you need to strike a balance between proficiency and your budget, as well as considering wear and tear on your guns. But I’ve seen AR-15s that have been fired 20,000 rounds with their original barrels that are still going strong, and still shooting quite accurately. I ‘ve also heard of Glocks that have been shot literally hundreds of thousands of rounds without a failure. There is a lot more to preparedness than just shooting proficiency. I recommend that people dedicate just as much time to leaning first aid, learning how to home can foods, tend a garden, raise small livestock, operate a CB or shortwave, and so forth.

You are also right that practicing without prior training is a bad idea. It does reinforce bad habits. Get the best training that you can afford, and then pass along what you’ve learned to your family and friends. I mention Front Sight a lot here on the blog, since I can vouch for the quality of their training. However, there are lots of other great facilities out there, such as Gunsite and Thunder Ranch. There are also smaller scale schools and personal trainers all over the country like John Farnam (of DTI), Gabe Suarez, Ken Hackathorn, Jim Crews, Rob Haught, Dave Saffir, Mas Ayoob, Dave Schleicher (of Eagle Personal Protection), and Louis Awerbuck. Also, don’t overlook the essentially free or at-cost training that is offered by the NRA and groups like The Appleseed Project. I’m not familiar with many tactical firearms training facilities overseas that cater to civilians, but one that stands out is Condor, in Israel.

One important proviso: Always wear proper eye and ear protection when shooting. I’m a big believer in wearing both earplugs and ear muffs. Hearing loss is progressive and irreversible!