Sometimes our attempts to have the best shooting firearms cause us to lose sight of an important principle: Knowing how to use them safely and effectively should always come first. That does not mean you cannot buy a nicely appointed rifle and then learn how to use it. It simply means you cannot place that same rifle under the bed and expect it to make up for your shortcomings when it is time to pull the trigger.
I was reminded of this during a recent conversation with an old SOF buddy. He is one of the few guys I know who I can trust with my life, because I have. We worked together in uniform overseas for many years and had each other's backs on several hair-raising occasions. A master of articulating common-sense solutions to everything, my friend inspired the title of this column while we were discussing different approaches to helping people learn to shoot well. As a tactical instructor, he often sees students who are more focused on the features of their tricked-out guns than on learning how to shoot them. This is a common problem, and we need to remind ourselves from time to time that learning to crawl before walking is important in all things requiring any amount of skill. Running should be somewhere far down the line.
Before buying a high-end tactical long gun, first consider whether some of your hard-earned dollars might be better spent on professional training. A beginning or self-taught shooter can become quite proficient behind the sights of a basic rifle or carbine once he or she is taught to use it properly. Conversely, having a top-of-the-line blaster will not provide any edge if you do not first have a solid foundation upon which to build.
We have probably all seen at least one overzealous person show up at a range appearing ready for Armageddon. I used to work with a guy who would strap a handgun on each hip and sling on both a rifle and a shotgun anytime he showed up (uninvited) at informal shooting events. He would blaze away with one gun until it was empty, literally throw it down, and then move on to the next and the next until his personal thrill ride was over. No one could talk any sense into him, so we simply stayed far away—on and off the range. This clown always made sure he had cutting-edge guns and gear. Not surprisingly, he hit very little of that at which he aimed. In the end, he was all bark and no bite. Fortunately, guys like him are the exception rather than the rule, and most of us are humble enough to admit we need to train more.
Familiar shooting schools like Gunsite and other well-known mobile training groups have much to offer shooters of any skill level. Most of them do good work and if you can afford the time and money, they are worth at least one dance. Oftentimes, just having someone fine-tune your technique is all it takes to get on track. A good instructor will show you where you are weak and what to do to fix it on your own. But, you have to check your machismo at the door and open your mind to get the most out of formal instruction.
I was blessed to receive a lot of specialized tactical firearms training while in uniform. Those courses later paid off by helping me hold my own in both close- and long-range gunfights overseas. Still, I recognize I have much to learn and I always enjoy picking up solid techniques from fellow instructors and shooters. Not every new method works for me, but I home in on the ones that do and try to perfect them.
What if you cannot afford to attend a big-name instructional outfit in these tough economic times? Seek out one of the handful of discreet instructors and companies with impressive pedigrees hovering around the periphery of the firearms training world. These smaller companies tend to be more cost-effective and flexible, without requiring you to provide 20 other students or a month's salary to attend. Many teach tactical shooting with all firearm types and provide other specialized services.
Field Advisory Services and Training, Fulcrum Concepts and TMACS are a sampling from this category, and I can vouch for all of them. They are staffed by one or more operators with whom I worked—and, in most cases, fought alongside—in my former life.
These guys are the real deal. They eschew the limelight and focus their efforts on helping military, law enforcement and civilian shooters learn to fight and survive. If you are in the market for quality tactical training without the usual ego or glitz, I recommend checking them out. Each offers a slightly different range of courses and options.
I thoroughly enjoy customizing firearms for people who want an edge in comfort and performance, but I would rather steer a customer to an off-the-shelf gun at a local shop than build them a custom rig if their shooting needs and skills are basic. A lever-action .30-30 Win. in the hands of a highly skilled shooter is worth more than a heavily accessorized tactical carbine in the hands of a novice any day of the week. Spend a little time studying under the watchful eyes of a quiet professional and you will come away with new skills upon which you can bet your life. Then, you can rightly shift your focus to improving your fighting arms while regularly sustaining the techniques you learned.