As in all things, having
the right tools makes doing any job easier.
This is definitely true at Front
Sight's training courses, where for some of the time you'll be
required to perform at the very maximum you can achieve.
Having the right equipment will make a huge difference.
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Part 1 - Choosing the right pistol,
The Glock 17 Gen4 is
perhaps the best general purpose handgun for most people
today. It earns Front Sight's highest recommendation
and if you don't already have a high quality handgun, this
would be an excellent choice to rent or buy.
Part 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 series.
The good news is that you can
more or less rent or buy anything you might need for a Front
Sight course through their Pro Shop on site. So there's no
downside to any of this - if you forget something, you can
possibly make do without it, or alternatively, you can buy/rent
it once you get to Front Sight.
But often you'll save money or
be able to choose better quality equipment than the standard
grade rental equipment offered at Front Sight, and if you're
buying rather than renting, you'll find a wider range of
equipment and much more competitive pricing if you buy prior to
visiting Front Sight.
In these next three parts of our multi-page
series, we give you the run-down on exactly what you should
bring, and how to choose the best options for each of the things
Taking or Renting Weapons,
Should you take your own
gun(s) to Front Sight or rent guns from them? What about
ammo - buy it from them or bring it with you? And what
else do you need to have with you as well?
Front Sight will happily
rent you a pistol (Glock 17 or Springfield XD in 9mm; Glock 22
or Springfield in .40 cal; or Glock 21, 1911 or Springfield
in .45 cal) (and/or rifle or shotgun for your rifle/shotgun course), complete with
spare magazines, holster, double magazine pouch, speedloader,
plastic 'red' practice gun, belt, and eye and ear protection.
They charge $50 for a two day rental and $100 for a four day
rental for a kit comprising usually all of the above items.
On the face of it, this is a
very convenient service, giving you everything you need for your
course, and avoiding the hassle of transporting your own gear
to/from your home and Front Sight.
This also means that if you
don't own a gun, you can still do a Front Sight course.
But we noticed the rental
gear was sometimes strangely incomplete (speedloaders often
missing, other times practice guns missing) and the eye and ear
protection was very basic, and the eye protection often
In addition, if you rent
their gun, you need to buy all the ammunition you shoot from
them too, and although they dropped their prices in September (down from $25 to $22 for a box of 50 generic 9mm
rounds) their prices are still much higher than you can get 'on
the street' ($12.50 - $13.50), especially when buying a large quantity.
Most of all, doesn't it make
compelling sense to use your own personal weapon to train with?
What is the point of becoming proficient with a gun that you
don't own and will never use?
The Equipment You Will Need for
a Four Day Defensive Handgun Course
Over this and the following
two pages, we provide a run through of the
equipment you will need. This might seem like a daunting
list, but much of it are things you probably already do have or
Some of this equipment is
provided in the rental packages by Front Sight, if you should
choose to avail yourself of one of those. Some is not.
And some may be or may not be included in the rental package -
yes, that sounds strange, but that is what happened, with some
people getting included lights, some people getting plastic red
practice guns, and some people getting speedloaders, but other
people not getting one, two, or all three of these items.
We discuss, for each item,
whether it is definitely or possibly included in the Front Sight
The Importance of Having
Maybe it is self evident
that you should have the very best gear possible, and if you
already subscribe to that notion, by all means skip down to the
But if you're not yet a 100%
convert, please read on. The thing is that your Front
Sight training course will be intensive, tiring and stressful,
particularly in the hotter weather. Anything you can do to
minimize the intensity, the fatigue and the stress is something
you'll massively appreciate.
Furthermore, at the end of
the course there is a test where you get to shoot at timed
targets and do weapons handling drills, also on a timed basis.
The times are very very short to do such things - for example,
you have as little as 1.8 seconds to draw your weapon from
concealment and fire two aimed shots at a target, and as little
as 1.4 seconds to clear a malfunction in your pistol.
Clearly, anything that can
give you even a tenth of a second of extra time to complete
these tasks becomes a significant contributor to whether you
succeed at these activities or not, and will make a big
difference to whether you graduate the course or not.
If you carefully follow
through all the recommendations in this section, you'll end up
best able to progress through the range work with the least
amount of stress and strain, and be able to do the best possible
in the tests at the end.
Oh yes - one other thing.
When it comes to stress and benefiting from the best possible
gear, it isn't just when you're training at Front Sight that
this will be important. How about 'on the street', when/if
you suffer from needing to put what you've learned into real
A Comment About Speed
Note that although I
regularly talk through this piece about optimizing your ability
to do things quickly so as to score well on the course's timed
tests, this is not just an artificial thing that relates to
range practice only.
If you tragically end up in
a situation where you have to use your weapon for real, and
especially if you then have a malfunction, you're going to be
even more appreciative of each and every millisecond you can
shave off the time it takes you to clear the malfunction.
You might think that
malfunctions are so rare as to not be worth worrying about.
Two comments in reply to that.
Firstly, it is true that
malfunctions are rare, but needing to use your pistol in
self-defense is even rarer. I have never had to use a
pistol in self defense, and will do all I can to finish the rest
of my hopefully long life without needing to ever use one.
But I have had perhaps a dozen malfunctions over the course of
various plinking sessions and range practice. Malfunctions
are much more common than actual situations where you need your
If you are keen to prepare
yourself against such a remote eventuality to the extent of
owning a pistol, don't you think you should then prepare
yourself also for the possibility of a malfunction?
Secondly, many (perhaps even
most) malfunctions are due to you, the operator of the pistol,
rather than due to the pistol and ammunition. Although you
might never do anything to cause a malfunction when calmly
shooting at the range, in the unthinkable pressure of an actual
life-threatening confrontation, all your skills will massively
I'll risk embarrassing
myself by giving an example. On the test at the end of the
four day pistol course, I had two 'malfunctions'. The
first one was when, after inserting a magazine into the pistol,
I forgot to rack the slide and load a round into the chamber.
So for the first timed test, I quickly presented my pistol,
sighted at the target, pulled the trigger, and then - 'click'
rather than bang (the instructors refer to the click, a 'Type 1
Malfunction' as "the loudest sound you'll ever hear in a
The second one was that
after this happened, by the time I worked out what was wrong and
inexpertly solved the problem (in part by stripping out the
magazine in the weapon and loading a new one) I didn't seat the
second magazine correctly. So when it came time to fire
again, I pulled the trigger, and the gun fired, but immediately
thereafter I saw to my horror, out of the corner of my eye, the magazine I'd
just loaded drop out the handle of the gun, leaving me empty and
unable to take the second shot. I needed to do an
emergency reload, using my third and last magazine in the
process (how often do you carry a weapon plus two spare loaded
magazines, by the way?).
I'd never made either
mistake prior to that point in training, and both mistakes are
laughable in their foolishness. Furthermore, the stress of
the final test is enormously less than the stress of needing to
defend oneself using deadly force in a life threatening
So plan for problems and
failures, and do all you can to optimize your ability to respond
to such challenges when you're under maximum stress.
Lastly on this point, while
I deride much of what we see in Hollywood movies, here's a
fascinating short video clip that shows some correct tactics and
some amazing speed in movies.
0.2 Seconds Can Save Your Life
Most people can fire a round
from a semi-automatic pistol about four or five times a second.
If you can be the faster
person in a confrontation to start firing rounds, you'll get the
other person ducking down, and you'll have a tactical advantage.
But if the other person starts firing first, you'll be the one
concentrating on seeking cover and you'll be reacting to them.
Speed can completely change
the tactical balance of a situation, and so can save your life.
And now, at last, let's talk
about your choice of pistol.
NOTE : This discussion
about the 'best' pistol is from the perspective of the best
pistol to train with at Front Sight, it is NOT from the
perspective of the best carry pistol or home/self defense
If you are choosing between
bringing any of the several different
pistols you might own, or if you are thinking of buying a new
pistol, we recommend you choose a pistol of at least 9mm
caliber, with a full length (ie 4.5" or longer) barrel and
a 'full size' frame.
As you might already know,
the lighter the gun and shorter the barrel, the more unpleasant
the experience when shooting it. Heavier guns are more
stable and have less felt recoil, and a longer barrel also cuts
down on muzzle flash/blast and improves accuracy.
These factors might not
matter much when you're only firing your handgun perhaps once a
month or so, and for only a box of ammunition at a time.
But you'll be firing 500 - 600 or even more rounds during this
four day course, and that will massively stress you (and your
In terms of the 'best' gun
to buy/own/bring, there have been millions of words written on
that topic. We'll limit ourselves to quoting from Front
Sight itself when they describe the Glock 17 (ie the standard
sized 9mm version of the Glock family of pistols) as the best all
round firearm available, and point to the fact that Glock has
over 65% market share of all sales to law enforcement bodies in
the US. The Glock 17 is an ultra reliable weapon, it needs
little or no cleaning (true!), it is extremely simple to use,
and well suited to work with you rather than against you in the
Just the simple fact that
you don't need to take the safety off when presenting a Glock
to fire might save you a twentieth of a second or so - that
might not sound like much, but when you've only got 1.8 seconds
in total, that is 3% of the total time that you are
unnecessarily spending by taking the safety off. This
might make all the difference between being able to fire two
aimed rounds in the time available, and running out of time and
only getting one round off.
The Glock 17 is also moderately
priced (about $600 - $625 or so as of Oct 2010), and has become our own personal favorite. But we also
noted that many of the most experienced instructors had as their
personal weapon some type of Colt M1911 - a truly classic gun even
though it is now almost exactly 100 years old. But before
you consider a .45 caliber gun, do give thought to the stress of
the much higher recoil that you'll experience from firing so
many rounds through it in such a short time.
I don't think I saw any
instructor who had any other type of gun. They all either
had a Glock or some variation on the 1911 design.
The best gun for you to
train with is of course the gun you own and plan to use.
There's little point in becoming ultra-competent with a gun
you'll never use again.
But, on the other hand, if
your main personal defense weapon will be a small caliber tiny
gun that is good for concealment, this would probably not be a
good choice of weapon to shoot 600 rounds through during an
intensive four day program, and in such a case, you might want
to substitute a full sized gun firing 9mm caliber ammunition,
and then upon your return home, practice your new skills and
techniques with the actual weapon you'll be carrying and
'transfer' them to your actual weapon this way.
Front Sight recommends
bringing a backup gun too in case the first gun fails. We
don't see the pressing need for this because if your first gun
fails, you can then turn around and rent a gun from Front Sight
Note that if you bring your
own weapon, Front Sight will inspect it (and your holster too) when you first arrive
and check in, and if they don't pass their inspection for
function and safety, you'll not be allowed to use either the
pistol and/or holster.
A comment about no safeties on
a Glock pistol
The Glock pistols have no
external safety levers that you need to enable and disable.
But that does not mean they are more dangerous or susceptible to
negligent discharges than any other type of pistol, in fact it
could be cogently argued that their lack of external safeties
improves rather than detracts from their overall safety.
Glock pistols actually have
three different types of safety mechanism in their design, but
they are all automatic. There is nothing for you to
remember or forget, so there's never a danger of pulling the
trigger on a weapon that is still safed, and never a danger of
accidentally doing something that causes a shot to fire when you
thought you had the safety on, either.
Instead, the triple safety
mechanisms are all activated and released by the extra little
lever on the pistol's trigger. Until such time as you put
your finger on the trigger and start to squeeze it, all three
safeties are preventing the weapon from firing in any
circumstance. And then when you do put the finger on the
trigger and take up slack, all three safeties are disengaged and
the weapon comes live and only then is able to fire.
Growing close to your pistol
Maybe you've seen a movie
such as Platoon which shows how closely soldiers are trained to
relate to their rifle, and smirked at the inanity or social
dysfunctionality of such a concept.
Well, call me inane or
socially dysfunctional if you must, but towards the end of the
four day course, I found I was, ahem, identifying closely with
my pistol as well. It was becoming a familiar friend and
trusted companion. It no longer felt like an artificial
thing that I would clumsily hold and even more clumsily use,
flinching as I'd pull the trigger. Instead, it was
becoming an instinctive extension of my hand and myself, adding
meaning to the concept of 'reaching out and touching someone'.
I'd look at it not as a
slightly strange and puzzling collection of assorted mechanisms,
levers and springs, which worked through some strange process
and which, if failing, would pose puzzles and problems, but
rather as a 'known quantity' that I could control and manage.
This is another reason to
train with the pistol you'll then choose to associate yourself
with in future situations. You are instantly at ease with
it, after having already been through stressful and demanding
Front Sight Pistol Options
Front Sight can rent you one
of three different model pistols - a Glock 17, a Springfield XD
9mm, or a Springfield 1911.
If you are going to rent
from Front Sight, you should first consider renting the weapon
most closely equivalent to what you own at home. If none
are close, consider the Glock 17. It is the easiest and
most pleasant to shoot of the three weapons, and will probably
come with higher capacity magazines (see below).
also give you a chance to become familiar with this excellent
handgun and may encourage you to go buy one for yourself when
you get home (note that the Front Sight Glock 17 pistols are not
the latest and slightly enhanced 'Gen 4' versions of the Glock
17, so a new one will be even better than the one you'd been
using on the range).
Revolver vs Semi-Auto
This is not the place to
debate the overall concept of whether a revolver or semi-auto
pistol is a better choice of handgun.
But in terms of
participating in a Front Sight course, you will find life hugely
simpler and better if you bring a moderately high capacity
semi-auto with you. You'll be firing up to perhaps 20 - 25
rounds at a time with almost no break between each sequence of
shots; you'll have enough time to quickly do some tactical
reloads of your semi-auto by simply swapping magazines, but if
you are having to reload your five or six round wheel-gun you'll
be full stressed all the way through and always behind the
Okay - so if you only have
revolvers, it makes sense to observe the higher priority concept
of 'train with the gun you'll use in real life' but if you have
any flexibility, you'll find the experience much less stressful
with a semi-auto.
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
28 May 2011
You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.