My SEAL shooting buddies were adamant. They insisted I attend the 250 pistol class at Gunsite Academy and do it as soon as possible. As a Border Patrol firearms instructor with training credentials from a number of state and federal schools I wondered what I might learn at Gunsite but figured if it impressed the SEALs it was probably worth it. Arriving in the small town of Paulden, AZ, north of Prescott, I imagined I would soon be experiencing another firearms training class much like the many I had under my belt. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Jeff Cooper founded what would become known as Gunsite Academy as the American Pistol Institute at Gunsite Ranch in 1976. Initially offering only a pistol class the school gradually expanded to include advanced pistol, shotgun, rifle, carbine and specialty classes.
As Cooper developed the training with the help of some very talented competitive shooters and instructors he also defined The Modern Technique, a doctrine that flows throughout the classes and is epitomized by the 250 Defensive Pistol class. One of the key elements of the Modern Technique is the Combat Triad. Represented by an equilateral triangle, the three sides represent Marksmanship, Weapon Manipulation (gun handling) and, at the base of the triangle, Mindset. Cooper emphasized the balance of these equally important subjects and the training at Gunsite Academy works to achieve this.
Gunsite 250 is a five-day class. Often thought to be a basic class, it goes far beyond the basics. Subjects covered during the week include marksmanship and gun handling skills such as loading, unloading, reloading and clearing malfunctions. Cooper called the draw stroke the presentation and 250 students quickly become adept at shooting accurately after presenting the pistol from the holster. Firing precision and multiple shots, engaging multiple targets and tactical movement are other topics addressed during the week. Weapon safety, cleaning and maintenance, dry practice and ballistics are classroom topics taught in detail.
Thursday is a busy day as during the morning students cycle through an indoor and an outdoor live-fire tactical simulator. The outdoor simulators are dry washes festooned with steel Pepper Popper knock down targets while the indoor simulators are shoot houses with realistic shoot and no-shoot targets. After a break for dinner students return to the range for a night shoot and receive instruction on shooting and moving while managing both a pistol and a tactical flashlight.
The Day Three lecture, on Wednesday morning, is a Gunsite Academy hallmark, and many students feel the Mental Conditioning For Combat presentation is the most important of the week. As Jeff Cooper told us, “Man fights with his mind, his hands and his weapons are merely extensions of his will.” This presentation helps students mentally prepare to defend themselves and their families, but just as importantly, provides tools for avoiding lethal confrontations altogether. Friday morning finds the students going through another indoor and outdoor simulator and after lunch there’s a “man against man” shoot-off followed by graduation. It’s a busy week.
While the Gunsite Academy training program is impressive, it’s the instructors who makes the school. Carefully selected and trained from a variety of fields, to include police and military trainers, they are the best in the business. Gunsite maintains a high instructor to student ratio, usually 1 to 4 or less on the ranges and 1 on 1 in the tactical simulators.
I’m not alone in saying Gunsite Academy was a life-changing experience. By lunchtime of the first day I was left wondering, “Why don’t I know this?” As a seasoned law-enforcement officer and federal-firearms instructor in an agency known for its gunfighters, how could I have missed learning the vital lessons taught at Gunsite? It was mind-blowing. Whether you’re a beginning shooter or a firearms instructor you owe it to yourself to experience Gunsite Academy training.
For more information about the 250 class, equipment and ammunition requirements, instructor bios, travel, accommodations and the Gunsite Pro Shop, visit the Gunsite Academy website here.