Saturday, September 28, 2013

Gunsite 499 Advanced Pistol - Day 1

By Dave Dargo

My first visit to Gunsite was intimidating. It was an intimidation caused by the unknown; I had no idea what to expect.  My brother-in-law, Jim Jeansonne, had been imploring me to go for years and I kept saying, "Yeah, maybe someday."

I finally took their three-day introduction course, 150 Pistol in July, 2010. I was hooked on the first day and have been back many times. I still have a slight sense of intimidation when the courses start but now it's because of the known. I know I'll learn a lot and I also know I'll be tested.

I had taken the 499 course once before back in May and came out again this month to reinforce what I learned and to see if I could improve my performance.

The weather for this week is expected to be beautiful: clear blue skies and temperatures beginning in the morning at about 45 degrees and warming up to the mid-70s.  Gunsite is located in Paulden, Arizona, about a 100 mile drive from my home in Scottsdale. I try to stay at Little Thumb Butte Bed and Breakfast when I go to Gunsite but, unfortunately, they were full up this week putting me at the Days Inn in Chino Valley.

There is an expectation that the students attending the 499 class actually paid attention in the 250 (Introduction) and 350 (Intermediate) Defensive Pistol classes. However, they don't just throw you into the deep end right away. They do, however, move you there quickly.

Many of the people I meet at Gunsite"get" to go once a year. I go a little more often. Some students in this week's class hadn't been to Gunsite in over five years. As a result of the mixed levels of freshness in each student's training, the 499 class is designed to get everyone back up to speed with the Gunsite way.

The first day is spent doing pretty much everything that was learned in the 5-day 250 class as well as part of the 5-day 350 class. The second day will be finishing up the 350 class review and then moving right into the meat of the 499 class.

We spent the first hour with some classroom review of firearm safety, getting the administrative housekeeping out of the way and getting down to the range. Once on the range, though, things moved very quickly.

Before the morning was over we were deep into the 250 school-drills: drawing from the holster and a shot to the head from 3 yards, two shots center of mass from 5, 7 and 10 yards, kneeling at 15 yards and prone at 25 yards.

Once lunch was over we moved to the 350 school-drills: drawing from the holster and a shot to the head from 3 yards, two shots center of mass from 7, 10 and 15 yards, kneeling at 25 yards and prone at 35 yards.

In the next few days we will move to 499 distances which move the final standing position to 25 yards, kneeling at 35 yards and prone at 50 yards with additional complexities thrown in.

Today also saw us:
  • Moving before shooting to simulate moving off the line of attack
  • Using tactical and speed reloading techniques
  • Delivering controlled pairs - This is firing two shots with three sight pictures in the sequence: sight picture, shot break, sight picture, shot break, sight picture.
  • Delivering hammers - Two shots with only two sight pictures delivered much quicker than a controlled pair with the sequence: sight picture, shot break, shot break, sight picture.
  • Clearing malfunctions:
    • Type 1 - failure to fire
    • Type 2 - failure to eject
    • Type 3 - Some call this a feed-way stoppage and we practice it as a double-feed
  • Delivering a failure response - two shots center of mass, one shot to the head
  • Delivering a non-standard response - multiple shots (more than two) center of mass and an optional shot to the head
We went through about 230 rounds today out of our weekly expectation of 1,350. The ammo package for class is 1,100 rounds of ball for the square range and 250 rounds of frangible for use in the simulators.

All of these exercises were done with the expectation that they were review for us and to let us warm up for what the rest of the week will bring. Having been through a 499 class before I know there's a lot that will be delivered during the remaining four days of this class.

The biggest issue I run into is maintenance of my 1911 during the class. It's dry enough and dusty enough that dust gets everywhere. This is especially true when inserting those magazines back into the well after retrieving them from the ground after a speed reload or dropping to prone on the sand and pebble ground. Lubrication helps keeps parts moving but more lube attracts more dust. I can definitely sense the slide slowing down by the end of the day and past experience tells me to clean the gun daily to be able to get through the next day. I only really think about this at Gunsite. When I'm shooting in Louisiana I can go seemingly forever without ever being concerned with the slide slowing down.

The other issue is protecting my hands. I wrap some Nexcare Waterproof tape around my thumb because it will inevitably get cut up from the slide after 500 rounds or so. I also place some Moleskin Plus in the palm of my hand. My palm can only take so much pounding from gripping the gun before it becomes an issue. I never notice any of these issues when I shoot fewer than about 250 rounds but when doing the intense, repetitive training through 1,300 rounds it becomes quite noticeable.

I'm looking forward to the week with an eager anticipation as well as a certain level of intimidation. I have to keep my body and mind fully engaged just to meet the minimal standards I've set for myself.

I keep going back to Gunsite in order to drill the techniques into my head and to, hopefully, maintain a minimal level of competency with my pistol. So far, I have over 300 hours of training at Gunsite in addition to training from others.

I know other people who don't want any training. I hear them say they've been shooting their entire lives and don't need anyone to show them the proper method of getting a sight picture or pressing the trigger. That is certainly their right.

I, however, happen to believe that the responsible armed-citizen has had training and would welcome input from those with more experience in order to be more effective with their pistol.

I'm in Gunsite's Advanced Pistol class with other students who have taken many of the same courses as I. Some of us are very proficient and some of us need a bit of help. Sometimes, it is the same person who is both proficient and needs help and I'm glad to be among those willing to invest in their pistol craft.

I know that each of us in this class will come out at the end of the week better enabled than the first day and that can only be good.

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