Sight Firearms Training Institute
A series reviewing my training experience
and detailing firearms training and related issues in
A husband and wife
practicing on Front Sight's 1A range during our Four
Day Defensive Handgun Course.
Part one of a series on the
Front Sight Firearms Training Institute; what it does, how
it does it, and its relevance for you. Please click
the links on the right hand side for other parts of the
If you are like me, you have
owned and been around firearms for decades, but you've probably
never had any formal training in their use, or perhaps you've
taken a one day or shorter course at the local gun range that tells you little that you
don't already know.
And if you're also like me,
you've never needed to use any firearm in self defense.
Long may that remain true!
And so you might feel there is
no need and little benefit to investing four full days in a
defensive handgun training course. That was what I
thought, too. But friends pressed me to join them on one
such course, and to my surprise (and delight) the experience was
transformational and invaluable. It absolutely will be for
Please - for your safety, and
for the safety of those you love and wish to protect - consider
attending one of these courses. Hopefully you'll never need
to apply the skills you've been taught, but even if you never
do, you'll be a vastly safer person when it comes to handling
your weapons and more confident of your ability to respond
adequately if an extreme situation suddenly occurs.
Not Just for Firearms Owners
Let me say something up
front urgently quickly, before I lose everyone who dislikes
firearms and wishes they would all get out of our lives.
Firearms can take lives, but
firearms can save lives. If you have a firearm, you have a
responsibility to be able to control it and use it properly, a
responsibility to ensure you never have an accident - a
'negligent discharge' - that might cause harm to anyone, and a
responsibility to ensure that if you ever find yourself in an
extreme position, you can make a proper decision as to the best
course of action and then be able to implement it. You
need to go to a Front Sight training course.
And now, for those who don't
have weapons, and who don't like them at all. Don't you
think you should have a better understanding of what firearms
are, and how they can be used for good and to save/protect the
lives of yourself and your loved ones, as well as to appreciate
how they can be dangerous and to know how to minimize such
Why not also come along to a
training course - Front Sight will rent you everything you need.
There are several ways to get very low priced training programs,
and if you don't like what you've learned on the first day,
don't come back for the subsequent days. Go and treat
yourself to several days in Vegas instead. At least you'll
know more certainly, after a day's exposure to firearms and
their proper use, about your opinion and you can then affirm
your decision to avoid them in the future.
Why Everyone Needs Firearms Training
Firearms training courses in
the Nevada desert. It might sound like something of appeal
only to 'red necks', to 'gun nuts', or to 'survivalists'.
Actually, many people
belonging to such groups probably never attend any type of
firearms training at all, believing themselves to be automatically expert at such things, and perceiving formal
training to be beneath them and a challenge to their manhood and
their god-given rights to firearms ownership.
Unfortunately, a similar
perception applies to 'normal' people too; people who might have
a firearm at home but who use it rarely or never, and don't see
any benefit or reason to study up on how to use it.
Some people also feel uneasy
at the thought of attending what they perceive to be something
glorifying/advocating the use of guns, and maybe they worry too
that the other attendees will be the red necks, etc, mentioned
The reality of the Front
Sight courses, the Front Sight personnel, and the Front Sight
attendees couldn't be more different than these negative
perceptions would suggest.
I attempt to explain these
things on this and subsequent pages of this series, and most of
all, I hope I can persuade you - whether you are a gun owner or
not - to consider attending a course. You'll not emerge a
crazed gun toting psychopath - quite the opposite.
You'll have a more sober
realization of the complexity of issues and responsibilities
associated with gun ownership and use, and you'll also have the
skills to ensure that in the normal course of events, you'll be
a very safe gun owner and user, but in the ultimate extreme, you
will also be a very skillful gun owner able to defend yourself
and your loved ones, while only endangering the bad guys and not
any other innocent bystanders.
Who Attends Front Sight
Based on observation of the
600 or more people attending a mix of various different courses
during the nine days I have been at three different Front Sight
courses (in September and October, 2010), it is clear that
a broad mix of people attend.
I saw people of all ages and
backgrounds, of both genders and probably of all political
persuasions too. There were a couple of young
girls, about 15, who were doing a Four Day Defensive
Handgun Course along with their brother, mother and father
(amazingly they weren't the typical sort of giggly teenage girl
preoccupied with fashion, etc; they were sensible well behaved
girls who treated the responsibility of firearms ownership and
use with the respect and seriousness it deserves). There
were other parent/child groups, as well as newlywed couples,
long-time married couples, and single people attending by
themselves (who quickly made friends with others - indeed as an
aside, Front Sight reports a number of marriages have come as a
result of people meeting on one of their courses).
There were other people of
all ages ranging up to grandparents in their late 70s and
probably beyond. Front Sight say they have trained people
on the far side of 90 in the past, and on rare occasion, have
been persuaded to accept pre-teens into their programs too.
People came from all
backgrounds and professions, from physicians to mechanics,
retirees to school students. There were a surprising
number of people who were currently serving in law enforcement
or the military, and who were attending a Front Sight course, on
their own time and at their own expense, because they felt the
training they received at Front Sight was substantially better
than the formal training they had received while becoming a law
enforcement officer or serviceman.
People seemed to come from
all around the country, from 'gun friendly' states as well as
from 'gun unfriendly' states. There were even people from
other countries ranging from Britain to Greece among the 40
people in my own small group.
Some people already had
considerable experience with firearms, others had moderate
knowledge, and then there people such as a retired lady who I
was partnered with for a while - she had bought, just the week
before, her first ever pistol for home defense. Some
people owned no guns at all, but were coming to better
understand the issues involved with gun ownership, should they
choose to buy one in the future.
So whatever your level of
expertise/knowledge, you'll find a Front Sight course helpful
No-one was aggressive or
rude or extreme in behavior, and with everyone walking around
all day with a pistol and couple of magazines of ammunition on
their belt, there was clear proof of the adage 'An Armed Society
is a Polite Society'.
Such a society is also
apparently a very honest society. Instructors told us with
tangible pride 'leave anything anywhere, we don't have problems
with stuff going missing here'.
The standard courses don't
require any particular physical abilities, other than those that
allow you to walk a short distance to a range, and to be able to
load, reload, cock, aim and fire your choice of pistol, shotgun
and/or rifle. Front Sight even have handicapped parking
places for the several people with mobility impairments who were
A noticeable feature was the
number of people who were returning to repeat the course for a
second time, and some people were back for a third or fourth
time. I would guess that perhaps one quarter of
the attendees at 'entry level' courses were returning students
repeating the course rather than new students, and of course,
those attending more advanced courses were necessarily returning
This points to two positive
things. The first is that people found the course such a
positive and invaluable experience, they wished to repeat it.
The second is that there is such a wealth of knowledge being
transferred in the course that everyone can benefit from a
repeat attendance, improving on the skills they have already
acquired and getting better mastery of new skills not fully
appreciated the first time.
Note : I will be going
back to repeat this course myself, too. There's still much
for me to learn and much for me to improve. Update - I did
indeed return, some six weeks after the first course, and found
the repeat course to be almost as valuable as the first course.
I intend to keep returning again in the future.
Front Sight's Long and Intensive Days of
Front Sight has changed its curriculum for its Four
Day Defensive Handgun Course as of late Dec
2010/early Jan 2011. Please visit the extra
page 'Changes to the Front Sight Four Day Defensive
Handgun Course' for an explanation and discussion of
the changes to what is and is no longer included.
Prior to attending, I
wondered skeptically how it would be possible to fill up four
days with information about how to shoot a pistol. Surely,
I thought, this was a simple and straightforward thing - you
pick it up, load it up, point it at a target, and pull the
trigger. Allow an hour or two for some safety explanation,
an hour or two for information on how to sight and shoot
accurately, and a few hours of practice - it seemed to me a
single day would be more than enough, and I've certainly seen
lots of one day training courses advertised at local gun ranges
over the years.
I couldn't have been more
We were very fully tasked,
all day of each of the four days, learning and polishing new
techniques as well as relentlessly working on fundamental safety
drills, and moving from a hopelessly inadequate level of
awareness and competence to a 'barely adequate' level as the
course progressed, while all the time striving to improve our
competence still further.
Front Sight says that almost
everyone who attends one of their four day defensive handgun
courses will end up being more competent with a pistol than 99%
of all other pistol owners out there, and not only that, but
also more competent than 95% of law enforcement officers too.
That is a very bold claim to make, but in conversations with
current and former law officers, they unanimously agreed the
Front Sight training was much better than their own training at
a Police Academy or elsewhere - generally they said we spent
more range time than they did, and we had vastly better
instructors, teaching us superior techniques.
So, did we really need four
long days of training? Heck, yes! Indeed, it seems
that most attendees resolve to return to repeat the training a
second time, so as to become more confident and competent.
Actual Hours of Training
Here are the actual start
and finish times of each of the four days. There was a
break for lunch - although sometimes we had lectures during
lunch too, and on the long Day 3 (which included a night
shoot) we had a break for dinner too.
The first half hour from
7.30am until 8.00am was optional on days 2, 3 & 4 but most
people chose to come along for and greatly appreciated the extra 'bonus' time (spent on
dry firing practice).
Day 1 : Started at
6.30am. Finished at 7.00pm. 12 hrs 30 minutes.
Day 2 : Started at
7.30am. Finished at 6.50pm. 11 hrs 20 minutes.
Day 3 : Started at
7.30am. Finished at 9.40pm. 14 hrs 10 minutes.
Day 4 : Started at
7.30am. Finished at 5.45pm. 10 hrs 15 minutes.
In total, there were about
42 - 45 hours of training given to us over the four days (note -
the new Front
Sight curriculum in 2011 has substantially less). And
not a single person left the course without feeling the need for
more training - not because the training was inadequate, but
because we discovered that firearms handling is a bit like
peeling an onion - the more we learned, the more we discovered
we still needed to learn.
A Growing Appreciation of the
Rights and Obligations of Firearm Ownership
Interestingly, as our
training progressed, our motivation to keep learning grew too.
I don't think anyone, at any stage, found themselves thinking
'okay, so I'm not up to their standards of perfection, but I'm a
lot better than I was and that's good enough'. The more
we learned, the more we wanted to keep learning - not because we
are gun crazies, but quite the opposite, because we wanted to
responsibly honor and discharge the responsibility attendant
with owning and using firearms, to the best of our ability.
Many of us hadn't even
really considered the obligations and responsibilities
associated with owning a firearm prior to arriving at the
course, but the more we learned, the more we came to appreciate
that while the Second Amendment may give us the right to own a
firearm, it also gives us a tremendous obligation and burden to
be responsible and prudent in exercising that right.
Front Sight gave cogent
well-reasoned lectures on such topics as the morality of deadly
force and ethical issues involved in its application, complete
with vivid illustrations and staged examples that helped us
understand how such abstract issues as ethics and morality were
actually an important part of owning - and possibly using - a
I think most of us came away
from the course less rather than more likely to use a firearm in
any future confrontation, more willing to hide in our bedroom
and do nothing at home, more willing to run away and be labeled
a coward on the street than stand our ground with fatal
The Most Valuable Thing We
And so, was this the most
valuable thing we learned? To really truly use firearms
only as an absolute last resource? Yes, I think it was,
and this is so important I consider it further on the subsequent
page 'When to Use Deadly
Stating the Obvious - Ignore
What You See in the Movies
On a more light-hearted
note, you've doubtless already
noticed that guns seldom run out in movie shoot-em-ups.
Six round revolvers seem able to shoot many more than six
rounds, seven round 1911s will fire repeatedly, and as for a
submachine gun, an evil looking MAC 10 with a 30 round magazine of .45
caliber ammunition, which at its cyclic rate of 1145 rounds per
minute would take 1.5 seconds to empty, is capable of firing for
maybe ten or more times that duration.
But some of the other
elements of firearms usage in movies might be less obviously
ridiculous. For example, we were taught in the section on
using cover that it is better to stand away from a wall or side
of a building rather than huddle right next to it (the reason
for this is surprising and very definitely valid).
When you see the good guys
searching a house for bad guys, they invariably have their guns
held up at eye level - seemingly so they can more quickly
take a shot if needed. But that too is a mistake - the
best way to hold your weapon in such cases is pointed down at a
45 degree angle. See if you can figure out the reason why
that is - answer at the end of this section. They also
tend to trap themselves in the 'fatal funnel' as they go through
the house, something I too did once (but hopefully never again) in my
Or how about the movie stars
that pose in a 'ready' position holding their weapon pointed
straight up. And then trace out huge quarter circle arcs
with their weapon when moving it down to point at a target.
That's another very bad practice, although it does look
impressive on the movie posters.
During the course of the
four days, you'll repeatedly have to unlearn things you might be
unconsciously mimicking from what you've seen in the movies, and
you'll laugh uproariously as instructors name specific actors
and their distinctive styles of (mis)using a weapon prior to telling you the
Oh yes - the answer to why
you should hold your weapon down at a 45 degree angle while
scanning an area for attackers? If you are holding it up
straight out in front of you, the gun and your arms are blocking your vision of
all things below your gun and arm. You won't see anything
from the floor up to about your own head height. But if
you are holding the weapon down at a 45° angle, neither it nor your arms are
blocking your vision.
This is obvious now that you know,
isn't it. But it is also a subtle thing that few people would
intuitively do - and so forms another example of the invaluable training
you get at Front Sight.
The Final Test
At the end of the fourth
day, we were given a test in two sections - the first being a
test of our ability to shoot accurately and quickly, and the
second being a test of our ability to reload our weapon and to
clear malfunctions, again on a timed basis.
This was a very demanding
test. For example, we had to be able to draw our pistol
from its concealment (ie under our jacket or something), and then aim at a
small target 16.5 ft away
and hit it, all within 1.9 seconds - and, no, you can't start
with your hand already on your pistol. We had to be able
to do an emergency reload within 2.4 seconds, and clear a 'Type
2' malfunction in 1.6 seconds (while simultaneously moving to
make it difficult for the attacker to take advantage of our
Not only was the test
demanding, but so too was the scoring. There were a
maximum of 125 points that could be scored, but because you not
only got zero points for misses or shots not fired; you also got
up to 30 minus points for slow reloads or malfunction clearances, it was
possible to end up with a score of less than zero (and some
people do indeed get a less than zero score).
Front Sight have three
levels of outcome from the test. If you worked your way
diligently through, completed the course and did the test, you were assured
of getting a 'Certificate of Completion' (even if you scored
less than zero). This might sound like giving people a
free and meaningless piece of paper, but we had more than six of
our original 40 people drop out during the course, and so simply
completing the course was both a meaningful accomplishment and
also a very valuable learning experience.
Even the worst scoring
members of our group felt they had enormously improved their
skills, and no-one complained at all about the quality and value
of the experience.
If you scored over 87
points, your certificate was endorsed with a seal denoting you
as a graduate of the course. This would also allow you to
proceed on to take some additional higher level courses in the
If you scored 111 or above
(remember there were 125 points maximum) your certificate was
endorsed with a seal describing you as a distinguished graduate.
The first time I attended, out of our group of 40, we
had one only person earn the status of distinguished graduate.
This was a man probably in his 60s, definitely over-weight, and
on his second time going through the course. The first
time he had failed to graduate at all, and this time, he
convincingly came top of our class, providing an inspirational
role model for us all.
I think I counted five
people who were awarded graduate designations. 28 of us
got certificates of completion, and six people (maybe more, but
six I know of for sure) failed to complete the course.
The second time around, our
group of 40 ended up with one distinguished graduate (a man in
his 30s, attending his second course) and four graduates.
As further indication of the
high level of skill needed to graduate, both times we had current and
former law officers who failed to even earn a graduate designation.
But looking also at the
two people who graduated with distinction, and at the people -
of all age ranges, fitness levels and both genders - who graduated,
it is clear that while it is very difficult to pass the test, it
is not impossible. Anyone can do it, although probably
more realistically on their second or third attempt, not their
UPDATE : My
third participation in one of these courses was with the new
2011 curriculum and with no turning targets. This time we
had three people earn distinguished graduate certificates (a
returning student, a professional law enforcement range master,
and, ahem, me) and maybe 15 or more (too many to count!) get
This significant leap up in
pass rates and grades attained seems to bear out my perception
that the new approach to timing the test is more 'forgiving'
than the older approach; plus due to extreme winds on the
afternoon of the skills test, we were told not to use
concealment garments and that made the process of quickly
drawing one's weapon faster and simpler, helping some of the
marginal students move sufficiently higher up the scoring to
One could debate the
underlying approach to making it so difficult to pass the
course. Indeed my sense is that Front Sight itself is a
bit defensive about their test results, because they officially
claim that about 10% pass with distinction and 30% - 40%
graduate, results that were completely negated by the reality of
the two classes I attended and my perception of how people in other classes were
Perhaps it could be argued
that it would be better to have a less demanding test so more
people could pass, or maybe better to have an 'easy' class
followed by a more difficult intermediate and then perhaps an
But the bottom line reality
is that as demanding as Front Sight is, the real world is
potentially very much more demanding, and you don't ever want to
come second in a gun fight. We have chosen to
equip ourselves with a deadly tool, and may need to use it in
the ultimately dangerous environment of an uncontrolled
unexpected encounter with probably multiple adversaries.
If we are competent, we will
protect ourselves and our loved ones, while also being sure not
to endanger other innocent people. If we are not
sufficiently competent, we risk the survival of ourselves, our
loved ones, and potentially other innocent bystanders, while
failing to stop people seeking to inflict the gravest of harm
upon us and leaving them free to continue their marauding into
Maybe Front Sight's approach
is best, because even though we all left the class much more
proficient in all skills than when we joined it four days
previously, none of us could claim to be at all confident of our
ability to guarantee winning any such subsequent adverse
encounter. Even the two 'distinguished graduates' had
varying levels of result when shooting at targets - immediately
after the graduation, one of the two distinguished graduates
then shot at a target depicting a hostage with the bad guy
obscured behind the hostage. His attempt to hit the bad
guy resulted instead in a shot to the hostage. He
certainly does not feel overly self confident and plans to
continue attending further Front Sight courses.
With that in mind, and as a
reflection of my own total satisfaction with the course, I will
be repeating it again myself (for a third time).
Please read on through this
series to get a better appreciation of the Front Sight
phenomenon, how to best prepare for it, and what to expect.
Part of a multi-part series
Please click the links at
the top right of this page to read through
other parts of this extensive series on Front Sight and the
training they offer.
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11 Sep 2010, last update
15 Oct 2013
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