Sunday, November 22, 2009

On The Range #3: NRA Basic Pistol First Steps

Yesterday I took my first shooting class, NRA Basic Pistol First Steps. The class was put on by Alabama Training Services, LLC. My goal in taking the class was mainly to get the required prerequisites for further training and to learn any little tidbits I could.

I went into the course kind of expecting it to be a little silly, and I figured it would offer very little to me in the way of knowledge or new skills to practice/hone. Now I feel like a complete ass for that.

I arrived at the Heritage Rifle and Pistol Club where the class took place about thirty minutes early. The instructor arrived shortly after me and I introduced myself and offered to help set up. He accepted and I went about carrying chairs, tables, and large cardboard displays.

After the other two people taking the class arrived we filled out the required forms and then got down to it. The first two hours of the course were 'class room instruction.'

First things first, safety was covered extensively. Safe gun practices and safe gun handling were demonstrated by the instructor, Mark Cubine. He did a really good job of not preaching safety, but of actually explaining why it was so important by giving examples from his own life and relatively current events in the area.

After this we moved on to gun handling. Since all of the students were using automatics we concentrated on that, though the instructor offered to cover revolvers as well if we wished. We were showed proper grip and stance (this particular instructor taught 'modern-ISO' of which I am a fan), and we covered the fundamentals of making a good shoot, including sight picture, trigger control, and follow through. After this we went over to the range.

On the firing line we were given a crash course in range etiquette and rules, and then moved on to dry fire practice from a bench. As we dry fired the instructor went to each of us in turn and corrected our grip until we had that which was best for our particular firearm and individual stature.

I think the most important thing I took away from the shooting portion of the course was learning what to do with my thumbs. It's always been an issue for me and the instructor gave me some tips that helped a lot.

We progressed quickly to live fire practice from a bench rest. We started off loading and firing one round at a time in order to focus on making each shot a good shot. Before long were doing five shot strings and everyone was shooting consistently.

Moving on to standing shooting we reverted back to dry fire with the instructor going from student to student correcting stance and grip. When he was satisfied that we had it we again moved on to live fire practice.

I think all of us progressed to the point that we were able to diagnose our bad shots, which was one of the instructors main goals in that particular class. All of the shooting was done at pretty short ranges as this was mainly to encourage good habits.

I would say that we all did well, two of us shooting far beyond the abilities of the third who obviously had no prior experience with firearms. I would say it was a toss up as to who was better between me and the other experienced shooter. His groups were a bit tighter, but his pistol also had a barrel two inches longer than mine.

Since we had plenty of time the instructor broke out the range's Texas Star. If you have never seen one of the these contraptions I suggest you look at a YouTube video of one being shot. It's a windmill type device with five metal plates on the end of the 'arms.' As each plate is shot and knocked off the arms begin to swing back and forth. Shooting in the wrong sequence can result in a bad spin.

The instructor took on the Texas Star first and showed us how it was done. All shooting at this target was done at 15 yards. He knocked all the plates off, but had a fair number of misses. The first student to shoot was the other experienced shooter. With a fully loaded full-size HK USP he impressed me by also knocking off all the plates. The weakest shooter went next and managed to get two plates off. In my opinion he did well considering his experience.

I went last with 8 rounds in my little compact 1911 with it's three inch barrel. I managed to knock off the first two plates fairly easily, but I struggled with the third. I expended my last couple of rounds attempting a fourth, which I failed to knock off.

I will say this for the Texas Star: it's a bitch, but it's fun! I'd love to have one to shoot at home.

After we put up the Texas Star we went back for a little more classroom instruction. This focused mainly on disassembley and cleaning of our pistols. We covered field stripping, the parts most important to clean, and then moved on the lubrication.

The instructor showed us a variety of lubricants, being partial to white grease (I think I'm a convert to this). He also told us that synthetic motor oil is perfectly acceptable, and at about half the cost of most brands of gun oil. "Do you really think you are putting more stress on your pistol than you are on a car engine?"

I learned a lot. This class did exactly what it is supposed to do. It filled a lot of holes in my firearms knowledge and corrected some of the mistakes I had been making while practicing on my own. I was very impressed with what I got for my $65 fee.

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