Ally and I signed up for Technical Handgun: Tests & Standards back in May of 2023. I went into the class with no expectations of what it would be like, however I had a goal that I wanted to work towards. Fast forward to July 2023, and the class happened. Instructed by John Johnston of Citizens Defense Research, I feel as though this may have been the most beneficial shooting class that I've ever taken. I won't be covering every single detail (go take the class if you want that), but I'll be going over the entire experience below.
Technical Handgun: Tests & Standards Overview
Technical Handgun: Tests & Standards is a two day class that has a focus on the technical element to handgun shooting. There is a combination of the physical and mental elements to performance, along with a lot of personalized instruction on the various processes that go into shooting. The class runs for twenty hours over the two days, and cost $500 to attend.
The page on CDR's website really does a solid job at describing what the intent of the class is. It was very technical, much more than many other shooting classes I've taken. It was also extremely student driven. Our class had 7 students attend, all of which were already quite good shooters before attending the class. A large part of why this class worked so well was (in my opinion), due to the chemistry that our class had. With this class, we had a massive focus on the mental element of shooting, both in regards to thinking through the shooting process, but also in dealing with our internal voice. Everyone at the class was fighting an "inner monologue" in some form, which lead to us all really cheering each other on. Positivity was something that everyone aimed for, and I think we really hit it well.
Without spilling all of the details of the course in the "overview" section, let's push forward. What gear did I bring for the class?
Technical Handgun Gear List
I shot a Glock 48 for Tests & Standards. As mentioned in my last EDC update, the G48 is my warm weather primary pistol, and one that I shoot often. I carried/shot using the PHLster Skeleton that I EDC, and used an assortment of magazine carriers during the class. My G48 has been converted to use the Shield S15 mags, of which I used eight during the class. It was a mix of five second-generation mags, and three first-generation mags. I did incur five malfunctions during the class, which I'll touch on in my upcoming G48 review.
For ammunition, I shot PMC 124gr FMJs, provided by AmmoToGo.com. They graciously provided the ammo, which saved me a solid chunk of money. I paid for the cost of the class/travel expenses, and like nearly everything on Primer Peak, we're funding it ourselves. I specifically chose the PMC 124gr, as I've found it to have extremely similar shooting characteristics to the Federal HST 124gr that I carry in the G48.
My clothing was my standard summer getup, of khaki shorts and standard outerwear. The only really pertinent clothing item for here was my belt, which was the same inner belt for the AWS SMU belt that I use. I had no belt related issues during the class. Aside from the "gear-y" gear, I also packed along sunscreen, water and snacks, writing utensils, ear and eye protection, and a camping chair. The gear list on the class webpage covered everything that was necessary, and I used everything on the list during the class. A lot of the things that I brought were dependent on the weather, which played a big part in the class.
Location & Weather Conditions
Technical Handgun was held near Bennett, CO. Bennett is a small town, located about 30 miles to the East of Denver. The range used was the Demonstrated Concepts range, which was a small range located in a farm field. Mostly grassy and sandy, we had plenty of on-site supplies for the class. Target stands, backers, and most importantly, we had access to tents. We certainly needed these, as the weather in Colorado in July necessitates that.
As someone who grew up in (what I playfully call) a "coastal swamp", I'm used to heat and humidity. I moved to a much drier place last Summer, where the temperatures were hotter, but did not feel so warm compared to what I was used to. On both days of the class, Bennett was between 80-95 degrees, with about 20-40% humidity. It was hot, but not unbearably so. However, the sun was quite imposing, which meant a lot of sunscreen, and time in the shade. Nearly everyone at the class got some degree of sunburn, and everyone was drinking a ton of water. Over the two days, I drank about four gallons of water, just while in the class alone. Accounting for the full four day trip, I consumed about nine gallons of water.
With the heat and amount of sunlight, physical and mental fatigue certainly set in as the two days went on. John was quite aware of that, and made sure that the class had plenty of time to sit and rest, and to drink more water. I'd say that we had no heat casualties due to breaks for water and shade, and I'm quite happy with that.
So it was hot and sunny, which lead to a decent amount of fatigue. How was the first day?
Day 1 - Start
Day 1 began around 9AM. We started with introductions, and listing the specific goals that each student had for the class. My goal was to have a cleaner and faster draw, with a faster first round fired. John also outlined the safety plan and protocols, something that is absolutely necessary to do. From there, we began shooting.
We started off with a basic set of group exercises, of shooting small, 1" squares. Over the two days, we entirely shot 1" squares, 2" circles, and B8s. From there, we did alternating between individual instruction with John, and group exercises. After every shooting "chunk", we'd all sit down in the shade, and discuss how we were feeling, and our mental and physical states.
Day 1 - Frazzled Nerves
While doing the individual instruction, John pointed out that I was pulling my cover garment too high, which would be slower, and possibly less safe. He also saw that I was tossing the cover garment down, opposed to just letting it fall. He wanted me to find an index point on my body, to get the support hand to clear the garment to. For me, that ended up at about ribcage height, favoring the right side of my body. My "new" goal became to naturally clear the cover garment to that point, and to just let it go when the gun was out.
I'm not normally a shooter that has nerves while shooting, but now I had to integrate in a new technique. My nerves were feeling buzzed, but as I got better at the new technique, they began to settle. Around 1PM, we broke for lunch, and sat and chatted for about an hour.
Day 1 - After Lunch
After our lunch break, we got back to shooting. The goal for the second half of Day 1's class was to continue to work on the techniques and goals that each shooter had defined.
The majority of our post-lunch shooting was done as a group. John would provide the course of fire, and let the shooters begin when they wanted to. Visual focus was a goal, with the idea being that shooters shoot the thing that they look at. While an incredibly basic concept, it's something that is certainly worth talking about. For a lot of people, they may have their mind wander while shooting, which leads to worse performance. Here, it was all focus, but not to a point of psyching oneself out.
John went up and down the line, giving feedback or a recommendation as he saw. By the later point on Day 1, I had really improved the drawstroke. However, John pointed out another thing that I could modify to be faster on to target. In his words, "stand like a jock taking a selfie". What he meant is that I should keep my head more vertical and back while drawing, as I was slightly pulling my head down to meet the gun. Instead of having the gun and head needing to move to meet, only the gun is moving, which got the dot inline with my eyes faster. My drawstroke process had gotten faster, and I was feeling quite confident.
We ended up finishing up around 5:30PM on Day 1. The majority of us went out to dinner together, to a nice Italian restaurant in Denver.
Day 2 - Before Lunch
Waking up on Day 2, I realized two things; I needed to drink more water, and I needed to apply more sunscreen. Aside from that, I was excited and hyped to start class again. Class began around 9AM, and we began with discussing the plan for the day. We went over the safety protocols, and outlined that we'd shoot until we hit a point that people were getting too fatigued to continue.
We started off Day 2 with shooting the DAM, a 55 round exercise. This was shot individually by all of the students, and was shot twice. A somewhat simple drill, the goal was to alternate between the numbered circles, shooting the number of rounds listed on each one. John demoed the drill, and we all began shooting. I shot a fairly great first run, and a still pretty good second run.
We continued to talk about how we felt after every shooting chunk. This really allowed the class to discuss their mindset, and their continued goals. Day 2 generally had less variation in how we felt, as we were on a mission to work on the shooting process. We broke for lunch around 1:15pm, and spent some time in the shade.
Day 2 - After Lunch
We discussed gear and mindset during lunch, while drinking water and applying more sunscreen. We continued on with shooting, taking many breaks as it got hotter and sunnier.
A lot of the post-lunch time was spent transitioning from small to large targets, and vice versa. Draw and fire at the 1" square, then transition to the B8. For most of us, we realized that we were slowing down the draw to be more deliberate on our first round fired. However, as we realized this, we started getting the gun out faster, rather than to make the entire draw & fire process sluggish. There were a lot of tiny breakthroughs for the entire class here.
We'd shoot for 15 minutes, rest for 10, and so on. Fatigue began to set in harder as the sun began to set, but we were not quite done for the day.
The final part of the class was to shoot The Test with No Name. This simple, yet difficult drill was covered by Dan a few years back, and was the last string of fire for the day. We had to shoot it clean to pass it, and if a shooter could clean it and have the fastest time, they'd be the top shot for the class.
Well, none of the students cleaned it. This may sound like a pity, but in actuality, we were all happy with our performances, especially when factoring in the physical and mental fatigue. All of us had technical shooting breakthroughs, which is great. However, the mental breakthroughs may have been more important.
After the shooting portion of the class ended, we had another discussion about how we felt. We then cleaned up the range, and the majority of the class drove to a group dinner. We had Mexican food and some adult beverages, and hung out until about 11PM. All of us were proud of what we did, and were happy to have been able to experience this class.
While Test & Standards was a very technique heavy class, it had a strong focus on the mindset of the shooter. At the start of the class, nearly every shooter had a negative viewpoint of themselves as shooters. Many thought that they were not very good shooters, but the process and results show otherwise. 2/7ths of the class cried during the class, as they had the realization that they were good shooters. Tears of joy are certainly a good thing to see.
One thing that I really enjoyed was the word "deliberate". We weren't being slow, we were being deliberate, when we needed to take time to get things right. The specific wording matters, and I love that John really cared about the details.
John was extremely transparent during the class, which made it easy for the students to discuss their mental state and emotions. All of the students were also understanding of each other, and we were all proud for one another. Despite the individual focus that each shooter got, this class felt like the strongest "group effort" class that I've ever been to. We had a massive group positivity, and we were all happy to see each other learn and grow. Despite only knowing Ally at the start of the class, I'd now consider all of the students and John to be friends.
Test & Standards put a lot of good stress on our bodies and minds, but I really enjoyed it.
Technical Handgun: Tests & Standards Conclusions
This class is excellent. I've taken quite a few shooting classes, shot competition, and have been carrying guns for a long time. However, this class feels like one of the strongest two days that I've had as a shooter in a long time. I set my goal, and was able to work on the processes to reach it. I'm satisfied there, but I'm also happy with my improved mindset.
I don't want to sound like a tough guy, but I've never had qualms with the possibility that I may need to kill someone in self defense. That bridge was crossed long ago. However, the mindset that I refer to is that of how I treat myself. As a shooter, I'm hard on myself. With shooting at the volume that I do, and doing all of the performance metric drills, I know precisely how good I am. However, if I perform poorly, I internally beat myself up sometimes, rather than just acknowledging the reason why the process went the way it did, and adjusting and moving on. This class helped to show me to be more positive to myself. That alone was well worth the cost of entry.
I'd easily recommend taking Technical Handgun. John is retiring from instruction later this year, so take the class with him while you can. There's one happening in Washington state in August, and in Pennsylvania in October. John is an excellent instructor, and I very much enjoyed my experience at Technical Handgun.
Further Reading & Acknowledgements
For other AARs that I've written, check out below:
One of the students at Tests & Standards wrote his own AAR for the class, which is linked here.
I'd like to thank AmmoToGo.com for supplying the ammo that I shot for Tests & Standards. With Primer Peak being nearly entirely funded by ourselves, every little bit helps. They've not paid or endorsed us, merely sent in some ammo as they enjoy our content.
I'd also like to thank Ally for doing all of the driving for the trip, Scott for meeting up with us for dinner, and John for being an excellent instructor.