Southern Hills Tactical, Custer, South Dakota. This range is only open for training events, though the gun shop on site is open to the public. Interestingly, the backstop is topped by an active runway. This resulted in a handful of ceasefires as aircraft were taking off and landing.
The weather was beautiful for my weekend of training. Partly cloudy, in the high 70's to low 80's with a breeze. Occasional gusts kick up a fine, glittery dust from the range, leaving everyone and everything dirty, but looking absolutely fabulous.
Throughout class I used my EDC gen 4 Glock 34 with an Aimpoint ACRO and Surefire X300u. This was carried in a Bawidamann Gotham v2, with spare magazines in Esstac Kywi and HSGI Taco pouches. Magazines were topped with extensions from Shield Arms, Dawson Precision, Henning Group, and Arredondo.
Most other students use Glock pistols, typically a 19/17 or 23/22, but there are a few more exotic firearms in class. Also in attendance are a H&K VP9 with a Trijicon SRO, a H&K P30 LEM with a Trijicon RMR, a Smith & Wesson M&P, a Glock with a Shield RMS, and a handful of Surefire X300 and Streamlight TLR-1 weapon lights. About half the class fires from concealment, with the other half in open carry or duty rigs.
This was a 15 person class, 3 of which attended my initial Rangemaster Instructor course the previous year. Two students, Neil and Stephanie, you may recognize from Active Self Protection. Lee Weems of First Person Safety acted as Assistant Instructor during class. Many students were current or former law enforcement and military, with some students traveling from as far south as Louisiana and as far East as Indiana.
Historically, this course was the final two days of a five day certification for Rangemaster instructors. Over time, Tom found that it was easier to break the class into two separate events. With this in mind, we hit the ground running, picking up where the previous course left off. We start with a discussion on various ready positions that have been used over time. Tom covers the pros and cons of each, and how they can be applicable depending on the situation you find yourself in. From here, we move into a large portion covering courses of fire.
In this segment, Tom goes over scoring methods used in competitions and qualifying events. This leads into target design and the proper use of different types of targets. This leads into a discussion of anatomy and how target selection needs to reflect accurate anatomy for positive training. Afterwards we cover drill and qualification design to test skills and tactics. This is something that will be important for those pursuing the Master Course.
The final portion of morning class time covers sighting methods. In this, Tom discusses miniature red dot sights (MRDS) for use on pistols, as well as iron sights. This section was a pleasant change from the initial course. Tom has been experimenting with MRDS over the past year, and while he's still not completely sold on them, he was much more open to the idea than he was previously. It's always good to see people growing and developing, even when they're as accomplished as Tom Givens.
We hit the range in the late morning. Tom has everyone start off with the basics to establish a baseline with the student body. We fire a wide variety of drills to test our skills, and many people immediately feel the heat. Rapid, accurate hits on small targets is the theme of the day. Shooters get practice shooting strong and weak hand only, taking one inch squares out to five yards, and eight inch circles out to 25 yards. Everyone is on a time limit, but there are no excuses for dropped shots. Shooting is run with two flights; one firing, and the other loading magazines and coaching shooters. This gives everyone the opportunity to practice teaching; getting feedback both on our academic and shooting skills.
Range time ends with two practice runs at the Rangemaster Advanced qualification course of fire. Everything we do throughout the day leads up to this, testing the individual skills required to pass. Not everyone makes the grade, but luckily this wasn't for keeps.
Back in the Classroom
After practicing the qualification course and cleaning up the range, everyone heads back into the classroom. Tom lays out his expectations for tomorrow. Everyone clean their gun, think about what needs to be better for tomorrow, get food and water and rest. In total, we are in class from 0900-1745 for the first day.
Day Two of the Rangemaster Advanced Instructor Course
We spend more time in the classroom on day two, covering a wide variety of information. Based on observations from the previous day, Tom reattacks some fundamentals. Grip, stance, sight picture/alignment, trigger control, follow through, and coaching tips are given. Afterwards, we dive back into the meat of the matter. Tom speaks at length about liabilities we may face as instructors, and potential repercussions of our actions. He goes into methods to manage and mitigate our risk, types of insurance, waivers and more.
There is roughly an hour discussion on mindset after this. We cover mentalities of the average, violence averse person, those of varieties of criminals, and the minds of types of armed citizens. Learning how to connect more effectively with students, communicate better with those under duress, and more.
Like on Day One, the second day is filled with coaching. Again, two flights, with half of the students firing, and the other half providing feedback and other administrative functions. Nearly everything we fire today is against a timer and for score. Tom shows us several drills to test our skills for the coming qualification, all of which are applicable across a wide variety of scenarios.
Personally, my performance on the range was lacking, but not a complete surprise. The advent of COVID-19 severely limited my ability to compete, and the lack of stress inoculation really showed. My marksmanship was largely unaffected, but my emotional control was in the toilet, leading to several dropped shots. I passed the qualification, but with lower scores than I hoped for. The weekend is perfectly summarized by my Ace Card; two groups of two shots touching, and a final flier off the card. Don't be like me, be cool.
A rapidly approaching hail storm stopped class about 30 minutes early, but all the course material had been covered by this point. We hurriedly cleaning the range, gathered our things, and headed out the door to beat the weather.
Final Thoughts on Rangemaster Advanced Instructor Course
Once again, Tom Givens delivers. Not that that's a shock, but it needs to be said. The course is awesome, and certainly tested my skills as both a shooter and an instructor. Being surrounded by higher level shooters, and two great instructors is a nice change, and certainly forces me to up my game. Even though my performance wasn't where I wanted it to be, I still learned a ton and enjoyed myself.
I highly recommend the Rangemaster Instructor courses to anyone looking to get better as a teacher or as a shooter.
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