I am no stranger to Tom Givens or the course work of Rangemaster. I began in 2019 with the basic instructor course, and completed the Master level pistol instructor certification in early 2022. Since 2020 I've been eyeing his shotgun instructor certification, going so far as to enroll and pay for lodging before military commitments forced a last minute withdrawal. After a few years on the backburner, I decided an attempt was long overdue, and I signed up once again to test my mettle. After making the 17 hour haul to get from the Southwest to the Midwest, I arrived at Mead Hall, ready to receive the Gospel of the Gauge.
Location of the Rangemaster Shotgun Instructor Development Course
Mead Hall, McLoud, Oklahoma
Mornings started in the mid to high 80's with 40% or more humidity, making for a swampy start to the day. Afternoons saw temperatures rise to over 100, with humidity plummeting for a different kind of heat. I had no idea how hot Oklahoma got in August, despite growing up just a few hours away. Overall things were sunny, with a slight breeze. Luckily, Tom allotted significant time for breaks, and Mead Hall has fantastic facilities to keep students shaded, cool, and hydrated. I expected to see at least one heat casualty, but everyone stayed healthy throughout the weekend.
I shot the entirety of class using the Beretta A300 Ultima Patrol, equipped with a Steiner MPS red dot. I kept this fed with an Esstac side saddle, and Safariland 085 loaders on my Blue Force Gear double layer belt. No pistols were necessary, and shotguns lived on tables when not in our hands, reducing the gear requirement for class. For ammunition I used full power Federal Power Shok slugs, Hornady Critical Defense 00 buckshot, Federal Top Gun #7-1/2 birdshot, and two boxes of Winchester AA Light #7-1/2 birdshot.
About half of the class used Beretta 1301 Tactical shotguns, with one being Beretta's competition model. The rest was a mix of Remington 870, two other A300UP's, a Benelli M1 Super 90, and a MAC 1014 rounding things out. Roughly half of the class had optic-equipped shotguns, including the Holosun 507C and 509T, Aimpoint T1, Trijicon SRO and RMR. A handful of guns had the Vang Comp treatment, and all of them were chambered in 12 gauge. Spare ammunition was carried via a variety of side saddles, with a handful of Aridus and Vang Comp examples, dump pouches, Safariland 080-12, and a 3-Gun style quad loading rig. Outside of a few minor problems, like the rear sight falling off an A300, and operator errors, no significant issues popped up with any gun or optic during class.
There were 18x students in class, two of which were women, with ages ranging from late 20's to early 80's. Nearly everyone in class was a graduate of some level of Rangemaster Instructor course, with several Master instructors acting as assistant instructors. Backgrounds varied, to include current and former law enforcement, former military, real estate agents, physical trainers and gym owners, and more.
Day One of the Rangemaster Shotgun Instructor Development Course
Day one begins with multiple small reunions occurring between students, as well as us with Tom. Most students know someone in class from other training, and almost everyone is a repeat offender with Tom. This sets the stage for the mood throughout the entire weekend, which I'll touch on later. Material begins with an overview of standards for graduation, introductions from each student, then a general outline of what the next three days of training will look like.
Our first subject is context, which is home and business defense, driving how we'll be employing our shotguns on the range. After this Tom gets into the history of the shotgun, from the handcannons of the 1400's, to Old West coach guns, to today. We spend a significant amount of time covering safety practices and appropriate gun handling. This is always critical when interacting with firearms, and especially so with the incredible power offered by the gauge. Conceptual safety makes an easy transition into the mechanics of our firearms; covering the safety devices themselves, along with nomenclature to get everyone on the same page in conversation. From here we move to modifications to optimize the shooting experience, along with ammunition selection and how payloads have evolved over time. Next Tom talks maintenance, common issues, and patterning of our guns.
Moving away from more administrative topics, we get into technique. This starts with properly mounting the gun, discussing different sighting systems and their appropriate sight pictures. Now that we can mount the gun, Tom covers various ready positions and their pros and cons. The push-pull technique of recoil mitigation is delved into, with Tom paying credit to Rob Haught for bringing the technique to the masses.
The morning's lecture is topped off with demonstrations of a few loading techniques, incorporating both strong and support hand methods. From here Tom has students retrieve their empty guns for dry practice. We work mounting the gun from each ready position previously shown, with AI's tweaking students as necessary. After this, we head down to the range.
We head to the range, where Tom and crew are waiting for us. The first shots are fired by Tom, giving us examples of different patterns at various distances from his Remington 870. We get a safety briefing on the range, then start dry practicing on our targets. Our first shots are empty-gun loads, both from the ejection port and using the violin technique. Shooting is in a building block structure, starting with one round, then steadily working our way up from there. The day wraps up with each student shooting Stationary Thunder, a review of the day's work, and tomorrow's expectations. After this we break for the evening and head home.
Day Two of the Rangemaster Shotgun Instructor Development Course
Day two of the Rangemaster Shotgun instructor course begins on the range with Tom providing introductions of his six assistant instructors. Once we get shotguns in our hands we start the range day with dry practice, working various up-drills and loading. We quickly move into Stationary Thunder, then two runs of Louis Awerbuck's Rolling Thunder, where my team clenches the win twice in a row. After this we do another run of Stationary Thunder, with Tom recording our times for a prize at the end. I come in second-place here, with a time of 26.39, being beaten by Mindy Kay Ray and her time of 19.39 from her 1301 Competition. Afterwards we do some work from low ready and and compressed ready, then break for lunch.
Lunch features a video lecture from Tom, showing the performance of various loads against barriers such as auto glass and car doors. This is an excellent demonstration, especially for those in class who are unfamiliar with similar material. After lunch we head back down to the range for some patterning with our buckshot at multiple distances, along with a few more runs of Stationary Thunder. During our last two runs I develop a case of the yips, but manage to stop myself before dumping rounds off target, costing time but maintaining shot accountability. From here we move back to the classroom for more lecture.
Tom begins with demonstrations of how to clear a variety of stoppages from both pump-action and semiautomatic shotguns. Again, this is a subject that not everyone is familiar with, garnering some "oohs" and "ahhs" from the audience. Next we move into the history of shotgun training, with examples from both the FBI and Memphis PD being given--neither of which inspire confidence. This takes us into another training film, this time from Gunsite Academy, dated somewhere in the 1980's. I won't go into detail here, but I love stuff like this, and I ate up every bit of it. Afterwards Tim give his analysis of the film, calling attention to its focus on using the shotgun more like a military carbine that can also use shot, as evidenced by early Gunsite's USMC influence.
To end the day we conduct a long review of material we'll need to become familiar with for tomorrow's written test. Tom fields some questions from the class, and provides the next day's expectations. Once class is done for the day, students gather for dinner, prepared by our hosts. We chat for a few hours, discussing guns, life, and more, with Bryan Eastridge joining us for a bit. After dinner we head home to rest and prepare for the final day of training.
Day Three of the Rangemaster Shotgun Instructor Development Course
The final day of the Rangemaster Shotgun Instructor Course starts strong, with us shooting our first slugs from 7 to 15 yards. After this we do one final run of Stationary Thunder, then a practice run on our qualification course of fire. That directly leads to our actual qual, using slugs only, where myself and six other shooters score a perfect 100% on the test. We wrap up shooting with a man-on-man split failure drill contest, where some shooters prove that pump-actions can stand toe-to-toe with the best autoloaders on the market.
Next we try the Shotgun Casino Drill, and I bring in a 21.92 after the Good Idea Fairy causes me to serious screw up my loading plan, adding significant time to my final score. Word from the wise, stick with your plan, don't change things up at the last minute. We conclude the day with a familiarization exercise. Tom selects a handful of shotguns to keep out, then has everyone rotate through to get hands-on with each, loading and firing a few shells per gun.
This gets people access to guns they may see students bring to classes that they may not have previously seen. Offerings include various 870's, some 1301 and A300's, and a Benelli M4. We get a variety of optic and iron sight configurations, different stocks and other accessories. Once this is done we pack up, clean up the range, and head to the classroom.
Classroom time starts similarly to the previous day. We watch a third training film, this one also from Gunsite Academy, but updated for the early 2000's. This shows the evolution of training over the course of a few decades, moving more in line with what we see today. As a recent Gunsite 260 Shotgun grad, it was especially interesting to see changes that have happened over the 20 years between this film and my class.
From here Tom moves into a lecture about adult learning methods and teaching techniques. In here he discusses a wide range of topics from how to write a course of fire, the use of props and visual aids, to the actual presentation itself in terms of how you interact with an audience, and more. This material translates across more than just firearms based instruction, and is somewhat reminiscent of the Citizen's Safety Academy Effective AI lecture.
After lecture we take a break before diving into the written test. This is a few dozen questions, with a mix of true/false, multiple choice, and written responses. You'll definitely want to pay attention in class, and spend some time reading your handbook provided at the beginning of class. On average, Tom sees a 10% failure rate with the written test, but I manage to come away with a cool 100%, as do a handful of other students. My class is above average, with 7 students getting perfect scores on both the written and shooting tests.
Once each student has finished their test Tom gives out awards for Top Shot, and a few other shooting drills. We hang around for a bit, chatting with each other and giving kudos to those who won awards. Soon students start packing their things and filtering out.
Even with solid performances across the board, the skill level of students varied fairly widely on the first day of training. There were some serious shooters here, pushing the limits of their equipment, and a few who stumbled a little at the beginning of the weekend. Despite some hiccups, these students saw incredible growth in a short amount of time, dramatically improving their gun handling, and confidence to bring home a victory. To date, I don't think I've seen such rapid change in such short order, which speaks to the material and the instructional staff.
Final Thoughts on the Rangemaster Shotgun Instructor Development Course
These three days of training are likely the most fun I've ever had on the range or in a class. A mix of fantastic classmates, interesting material, an incredible facility, and a stellar performance from Tom Givens were like lightning in a bottle. I left the range on a high, wanting more, not being ready to head home just yet. I learned a lot, both in lecture, and on the range, and fostered relationships with the cadre and my fellow students.
If you're a student of the scattergun looking to up your game, I wholeheartedly recommend you sign up for this course. Tom only hosts a few of these a year, so don't wait around too long if you want to secure a seat. You can find all of the courses offered by Rangemaster >>HERE<<
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