Tag Archives: marksmanship

NRA Personal Protection Courses

Last weekend, I traveled to Florida to take the NRA Instructor Basics of Personal Protection Outside The Home Course (PPOTH). I was asked by several people why I would want this particular “Basic” Certification in light of my background and training experience. It’s simple,

I like training new shooters.

My colleague Grant Cunningham made a pertinent blog post about this shortly after I took the PPOTH Student Basic and Advanced Student Course. Experienced instructors often shy away from training the newest students. There has been a massive increase in people licensed to carry firearms over the past few years. In addition, several States have adopted Constitutional or Permitless Carry. That market base probably needs experienced trainers and coaches.

And I don’t feel the need to reinvent the wheel. It’s unfortunate that the NRA Training Department’s best marketing statement for its Personal Protection training is contained in the PPOTH Instructor manual. “The NRA Basic Personal Protection Series is based on the building-block approach, moving from the simple to the complex.” The most effective training courses I have taken over the past two decades have used a step by step approach to skill building.

The Training Department sees the progression of the courses for new gun owners interested in learning how to defend themselves and their loved ones as follows.

  • NRA Basics of Pistol Shooting Course, the first course, develops the basic skills of handling, shooting, and cleaning the firearm, as well as a thorough grounding in firearm safety.
  • NRA Basics of Personal Protection In The Home Course, the second course, teaches:
    • the defensive or flash sight picture,
    • firing single shots and/or aimed pairs from various shooting positions
    • shooting using a center-of-mass hold,
    • effectively using cover and concealment,
    • employing point-shooting and multiple target engagement techniques.
    • techniques for improving awareness and promoting mental preparation,
    • methods of enhancing home safety without a firearm, and
    • legal aspects of the use of deadly force in self-defense.
  • NRA Basics of Personal Protection Outside The Home, the third course in the series, covers:
    • Introduction to Concealed Carry Safety and The Defensive Mindset,
    • Introduction to Self Defense and Concealed Carry,
    • Legal Aspects of Concealed Cary and Self-Defense,
    • Carry Modes and Handgun Concealment,
    • Presenting the Handgun from Concealment, and
    • Presentation, Position and Movement.
  • Another offering in the series is the NRA Defensive Pistol Course. This is a shorter course than PPOTH. It teaches:
    • How to apply the NRA Rules for Safe Gun Handling when carrying a concealed firearm,
    • basic principles of concealment,
    • drawing from a hip holster
    • levels of mental awareness,
    • developing the proper mindset when using a pistol for personal protection,
    • flash sight picture
    • reloading
    • clearing common stoppages,
    • shooting a qualification course,
    • use of pocket pistols,

In addition to the Courses themselves, the Training Department provides additional Skill Development Exercises for NRA Instructors to use with students after PPITH and PPOTH.

PPITH Skills Development

And the NRA Marksmanship Qualification Program has even more exercises that interested shooters can use to increase their skills and earn awards from the NRA.

DPI table

Looking at all the topics covered, that’s a really comprehensive training program. Those who are interested in a defensive firearm as more than a talisman to ward off evil can really get a lot out of such a “Basic” program.

There are a number of aspects of the NRA’s series that I really like. First of all, the classes are between 4 to 9 hours long. Because they’re constructed in modules, even the 9 hour classes don’t have to be conducted in a single day. Most people’s lives are quite busy and asking new shooters to take an entire weekend or even week of training is both difficult and sometimes counter-productive.

The NRA’s program is really the only one in the industry that is built around the student’s capabilities and time constraints rather than a trainer’s weekend convenience. Mea culpa; I’ve done both the traveling trainer and hosting trainer routines, so I’m as guilty of it as any of my colleagues. It’s something I want to try a different approach to.

There’s a place for both newer trainers and experienced trainers in the NRA’s Personal Protection Series. I’m very much looking forward to seeing how I can implement that.

Standards (A Series)

Standards (Part I – Introduction)

While I’ve been on hiatus, I’ve been thinking a great deal about Standards. The Free Dictionary lists the first noun definition of Standard as: An acknowledged measure of comparison for quantitative or qualitative value; a criterion.

In the area of personal protection, standards can apply to many different facets of our skills and body of knowledge. Standards imply measurement, something that many people are deathly afraid of. While ‘public speaking’ is often mentioned as being the most prominent fear, that is merely a subset of a larger body, individual performance measurement.

The most obvious and contentious type of standard regarding Private Citizens who own firearms is the concept of marksmanship standards. The discussion comes up regularly among the training and gun communities without any general consensus about what is appropriate. Generally, the topic revolves around Citizens who have some form of of License to carry a weapon. We should keep in mind that it can also apply to those who keep firearms for home defense.

Opinions vary widely about what standards are appropriate for those who carry weapons. On one end of the spectrum, some people feel there should be no standards at all. Rob Pincus of I.C.E. Training holds this view as do advocates of Constitutional Carry. On the other end of the spectrum, there are very difficult standards such as the FAST Drill developed by the late Todd Green, the Humbler popularized by Larry Vickers, or the Handgun Testing Program developed by Bill Rogers of the elite Rogers Shooting School.

In the middle are the Qualification tests used by many States as one of the prerequisites for obtaining a Weapons Carry License or whatever name the State puts on the card. For those who wish to carry a weapon in those States, the discussion of what standard is appropriate starts with what their State’s requirement is and how to meet it. No two States having a Qualification requirement are alike

The difficulty of these State Qualifications varies quite widely. Anywhere from 10 rounds to 50 rounds have been mandated. The distances shot at fluctuate from six feet to 15 yards. Some are timed but most are not. The targets may be large or much smaller. Interestingly, very few States have a test requirement that includes drawing from a holster. In fact, some States specifically prohibit the Qualification test from including drawing from a holster. While this might seem paradoxical, it is not because of liability and fairness issues.

What this series will explore is the various types of standards that exist, what skills are required to meet them, and how to choose what is appropriate for you, if anything.

Be a good instructor

Claude, I really like your blog, I have been a fan and a reader, since I saw it linked over at georgiapacking.org

I’m scheduled to get my NRA certification as a firearms instructor for basic pistol next month.

Do you have any advice for me, in starting out as an instructor?

My main recommendation would be to continuously improve your knowledge and skills. I can’t tell you how many NRA Instructors I know who haven’t
read a single gun book beyond the NRA manuals, have never taken another
class, and who don’t do anything to measure and improve their skills.

My personal library has over 400 books about guns, shooting, tactics, police work, and military history. The subjects run the gamut from appropriate rifles for African hunting in the early 20th century to analyses of the effects of using deadly force by the shooter. My collection has over 100 DVDs in it too. Granted that took me over 40 years to accumulate but it’s indicative of what I try to know about the subject. Many instructors have neither depth nor breadth to their repertoire. They learn one set of skills at a mediocre level and stop there. I see it time and again. That’s a mistake; never stop learning.

I take classes from others regularly, frequently just short evening courses. Those short evening courses are how we are going to begin to reach the majority of new gunowners. And, even if someone else’s class is terrible, like one I took at an indoor range last week, you get important insight about how NOT to do things. Learn from others’ mistakes as well as your own.

With regard to measuring one’s skills, I think it’s important for everyone to benchmark where you are and try to improve that continuously. For an instructor, it’s doubly important. There are a lot of different benchmarks you can use, just having one is the important thing. Shoot it periodically and try to get better at it. You may find that the benchmark you use changes over time to something more challenging and that you have multiple benchmarks that measure different aspects of shooting. One of the main advantages of shooting in competition is that you find out you’re not as good as you think you are. Ego is the Achilles heel of many shooters and instructors.

I also think it’s important to demonstrate drills for the class. Time dependent, it doesn’t have to be all of them, but the first drill and any complex drills should be demonstrated. People are visual learners, for the most part. Telling people how to perform a physical skill is simply not as effective as showing them, IMO. And don’t take your subject matter knowledge for granted about what constitutes a ‘complex’ drill. I have had very intelligent students who couldn’t figure out what the NRA MQP drills were until I demonstrated for them.

PA snub crop 2

Have an inert gun to do this, where it’s appropriate. If it’s livefire, I use a live gun. If I’m demonstrating gunhandling or tactics, the inert gun comes out. I have both of them on me when I’m teaching.

Most importantly, don’t get complacent about anything. Your skills, safety, communication, etc. need to be at the forefront of your mind whenever you’re teaching. Every story we hear about an instructor having a Negligent Discharge or shooting a student in class has complacency as its root. Complacency is a killer, don’t go there.

Structured shooting is a whole new world for most people. Help them understand it in every way you can.

Structured practice (Part I)

What exactly is Claude Werner’s ‘1,000 Day Dry Fire’ program? Is it published anywhere? Anybody tried it? What were the results? Would you do it again?

This question was asked on a forum I visit occasionally. In a narrow sense, the question refers to an idea I had a while ago. About 12 years ago, a friend was working on his Yoga instructor certification and had to do 1000 days straight of meditation. That inspired me, so I decided to do it with dryfire. He said that dryfire is my form of meditation; I will defer to his judgment on that. Another friend of mine wanted to try it last year, so I’m doing it with him now, my second time, his first. We’ll be finished at the end of 2015 but we both agree it’s become such a habit that we probably won’t stop then.

First of all, the ‘program’ is not any particular drill or set of drills. Rather, it’s the commitment to do dryfire each and every day, without fail, for 1000 straight days. If you miss a day, you have to start again at the beginning. The important thing is do some dry practice every single day, even if it’s just a little. My last trigger press is never more than 24 hours in the past. Days that I practice livefire are not exempt from the dryfire requirement. I like to finish each range session with a few dryfire trigger presses.

The first time I did the program, when I was at the GF’s house, I’d do it in the bathroom by using the tile intersections as targets. She finally figured out what I was doing and had me set up a little dryfire range in the spare bedroom. The range consisted of a reduced size target behind a picture and a cassette tape I had made with a specific regimen on it. Eight minutes and I was done.

The reason there’s not one drill or set of drills is to avoid boredom. I regularly change up my regimen. Run different qualification courses dryfire, practice bullseye shooting, run the NRA Defensive Pistol I & II, etc. It doesn’t matter. I make different targets and reduced size target arrays from time to time to change things up, as well.

front face

The most important aspect of the program is that it represents a philosophy of practicing our skills on a regular basis. Those skills might be shooting, threat management, surveillance detection, pepper spray, unarmed combat, etc. Any physical skill is perishable, meaning after a length of time, it’s not as easily performed on demand. The ‘riding a bicycle’ analogy does not completely apply. When we get back on a bike after a long time, we have some time to refresh ourselves with those motor skills. If someone is attacking you, a refresher session for your personal protection skills is not an option for you. You need to be on your game at that point. Shooting skills are especially perishable for those who have never become Unconsciously Competent at them in the first place. That’s most people, frankly.

I dryfire even when I shoot an IDPA match. When I go through the “Unload and Show Clear” process, I don’t just do a trigger mash at the hip like most people. I pick out a spot on the berm, aim at it, and do a good dryfire trigger press. What I don’t want to do is to ever program myself to do a motor skill in a sloppy or detrimental way.

As a friend of mine once remarked, “Claude doesn’t do anything that doesn’t have a purpose.” My cardiologist told me “You are a very programmatic person.” Both of those are completely true, to the extent I can make it that way.

Spot shooting

“Do you want it in the belly or in the teeth?” –my father, to a would-be robber, who suddenly remembered a previous appointment.

My dad’s eyesight was pretty bad by then, so he couldn’t aim at the eye. However, the teeth remained a viable aiming point for him. At age 83, he and I took the training to get our Nevada Concealed Handgun Permits. He outshot everyone in the class except me. One reason was he knew to aim at something.

One of the biggest problems I see in current training methods is the concept of “aim for center of mass.” Coupled with the blank targets used, it’s no wonder that people have a hard time learning to hit anything. That’s the equivalent of what’s called an “area target” in the Army. Area targets are best engaged with some form of area weapon, such as a machinegun, grenade launcher, mortar, or artillery. However, we don’t carry area weapons for self-defense.

One of the greatest handgun shooters ever, Ed McGivern, was asked how he could hit playing cards so quickly and with such tight groups. His answer was “I’m not aiming at the card, I’m aiming at a spot on it.” Ed established some speed records that have never been broken, so this is does not have to be a slow process, either. The idea that aiming at a spot on a target is too slow is a common misconception. It does require practice, though.

To facilitate this when I am dryfiring, I have targets with spots on them. The one I am using now has a variety of spots on it. There is a face, a cut out area of the IDPA -0 zone with a spot in it, and a series of circle and dots on the back. When I’m shooting IDPA, I do my best to pick out a spot on the target to aim at, such as a paster or group of pasters. So, I’m not aiming at ‘center of mass,’ I’m aiming at a spot.

front faceback spot
When I explain this concept to students in my Defensive Pistol classes, I reference the Internet meme “Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everyone you meet.” Whenever I hear that meme, I ask “What are the elements of your plan?” I have yet to receive any meaningful response; it’s just a platitude that people repeat to sound like they’re ‘switched on.’ I tell my students that one element of my plan is that as soon as I meet someone, I pick out the spot on their body that I am going to aim at, should it become necessary to shoot them. Then I describe to each person in the class what the aiming point for them would be. This tends to generate considerable discomfort but makes the point very clear. Most of the class is shot on dot targets. Only when the students shoot the qualification course do they shoot at a silhouette, which has a discernible aiming spot on it.

sb-2 crop

Spot shooting is a fundamental part of the instruction at the elite Rogers Shooting School.  There is always a spot on the body plates at the School. When practicing recoil control via the ‘Bill Drill,’ aiming at that spot is key to firing a good group.

What we are trying to achieve when aiming at a spot is not necessarily to hit the spot but rather to get our bullet very close to it. As I explain to my students, our groups are always going to be larger than what we are aiming at. This is true because guns are not generally capable of putting all the bullets in the same hole, nor are we Terminators who can hold and press the trigger exactly the same way every time. However, by aiming precisely, we minimize the amount of error induced by mechanical tolerances and our human fallibilities.

This is the fundamental problem with ‘aiming at center of mass.’ In that philosophy, the entire silhouette is the target. So if the group is larger than the target, misses become an inevitable part of the result. Throw in poor trigger manipulation and you end up with a 20% hit rate.

Try this out the next time you go to the range, I think you will notice a difference.