Despite my inability to hit a USPSA match for the past few months, I still consider myself a competition guy when people ask me about what kind of shooter I am. I enjoy the “defensive practitioner” side of shooting, but I know in my heart that I’m a boring guy who does boring things in safe places, and am rather unlikely to put those defensive skills to intended use. Don’t get me wrong, I still think they’re important – because sometimes safe places become not-so-safe, and boring things becoming dangerous – but shooting a USPSA match is the activity I’m most likely to be using a gun in.
Because of that, I put a heavy priority on hitting competition-oriented classes when they’ve available to me. I think you can get a lot out of them; the JDC speed shooting class brought my splits down to ~.25, which isn’t going to put me in GM class anytime soon, but it’s enough that I don’t feel as totally outclassed as I used to. Given those results, I was eager to see how the Green Ops Practical Pistol/Competition class this past Sunday would give me some improvement as well!
More after the break!
(Full disclosure: I got a small class discount for AARs I previously wrote. I didn’t ask for it, and I’d still be taking their classes without it. The amount of money in question is trivial to my situation, and thus had trivial impact on this AAR – or so I hope.)
First up, let’s talk about Green Ops. Green Ops was founded and is owned by Mike Green, who’s a SF vet and (from what I can tell) currently does some “interesting” government work as well. He has extensive background as a trainer, is an SME on VIP protection, and a master-class USPSA and IDPA shooter. I will note that if you get the chance, you should see Mike shoot competition; he is the epitome of “smooth is fast”, because he never looks fast, he just looks smooth and winds up being fast.
Now, it seems like there have been changes at Green Ops recently, because Mike is out of state, and Chris Alvarez is now the Director of Training and running the day to day. Chris is a good dude, and also a retired SF guy who’s done a ton of training himself – you can read more about both of them over here. He is probably more famous for his participation in The Tactical Games, where he places quite well. I bring this change of leadership up because it’s interesting, and points to some further evolution in the Green Ops organization.
Besides Chris, the trainers in this class were Lucas Brooks and Ace (whose real name is apparently classified). Lucas is a high-B class USPSA shooter, and Ace is a retired military guy who also shoots competition. One slight critique of the class is that I wish they had pulled in a M or GM class USPSA shooter to help instruct, but the instructors did a pretty fine job even considering that; it’s pretty clear Lucas knew what he was about in terms of competition, and to be fair, it was also a “practical” pistol class as well. Ace did a fine job of correcting technique flaws as he saw them.
The class took place at the NRA HQ range. I feel like I’ve discussed it ad nauseam by now, but it’s a pretty good place for classes. Clean, well-lit, friendly ROs, and a good target system. The ventilation system is also more than adequate, which is refreshing (pardon the pun) for an indoor range. The range is about 50yds, but we did almost all of the shooting in this class at 5-7yds.
Here’s the class description:
This clinic is designed to increase handgun skills for self-defense or competitive shooting. We will stress speed and accuracy while covering handgun manipulation skills that will enable the shooter to use their pistol more effectively. The focus will be on the improvement of handgun shooting skills such as speed shooting, accuracy, the draw, reloads, barricade drills, shooting while moving, etc.
Unusually, this was a small class – only seven students (all guys). I know one person missed the class at the last minute, but it’s pretty uncommon for these classes to not be sold out completely. I guess it’s possible that there were only eight spots, but that seems like wasting space… I suspect it was just not advertised as much as usual.
On the positive side, everyone knew their way around a gun, and there were no safety issues. The average skill level of the class was somewhere between intermediate and advanced; there was one guy there who was a pretty great shooter, and another who was maybe on the beginning end of intermediate. Gear was the usual, albeit with a lot fewer red dots than I was expecting (maybe 3 out of 7 – most of the training junkies these days seem to be running them). Nobody had a gun or holster go down hard, which is nice to see.
My gear for the class was an RHT OWB competition holster, my trusty Blade-Tech magazine pouches, and an Uncle Mike’s belt. The gun was a 9mm Poly80 PF940 (17-length) with a Fastfire 3 8 MOA and a Streamlight TLR-1. My ammo was CCI Blazer Aluminum 147gr; I expended about 150-200 rounds during the course of the class. I only had a single stovepipe failure during class, and it was at a non-critical time. I am continually impressed with the handling of my Poly80 guns; they are noticeably more comfortable than my regular Glock frames and seem to be very reliable.
Class began, fittingly, with some classroom time; the forty-five minute lecture discussed the benefits of competition shooting and dry-fire. Unlike the last time I took the class, there was a slide deck this time. It was well-constructed and delivered competently, and I could see some of Chris’ fingerprints on it (figuratively). One area for improving the lecture would be delving a little further into the types of competition and how their scoring is different; for example, IDPA is far more punishing on non-alphas than USPSA (especially major). I would also perhaps recommend that they mention specific places where you could shoot competition in the MD/DC/NoVA area.
The medical brief was good, but there wasn’t much discussion about the range safety rules that I can recall. On one hand, it’s a good practice to run through them, but on the other hand, if you haven’t figured those out by the time you hit an intermediate level class, I don’t know that you ever will.
From there, we moved on to the range and got started. Everyone got unpacked, jammed some mags, and brought their cased guns to the firing line to load up.
The first drill of the course was dry-fire draws on the timer. Besides the novelty of dry-firing on someone else’s timer, the par times were set VERY aggressively. Think “.8 seconds from draw to sight picture”. I always did my dry-fire par times from holster to first shot (can’t cheat the shot!), so I had no idea what that was going to look like. Thankfully, it turned out I was plenty fast, even with a red dot optic. The drill also really brought home to me the point of aggressive par times – it forced me to really keep my stance solid, which I get lazy about with draw-to-shot par times.
Once it was verified that we were fast-ish and safe, we moved on to the live-fire drills. The first set of live-fire drills focused on the first and last portions of the IDPA 5×5 qualifier. Again, these times were set semi-aggressively – think IDPA EX or M level shooting. During these drills – and all the other drills in the class – there was extensive use of a shot timer on both the class and individual level. I really like how that keeps you honest. I also learned an interesting trick on “2 on the alpha, 1 to the head box” drill where you can ride your recoil straight up to the head box – handy trick that you don’t really get during dry-fire.
After mastering these drills (for whatever definition of mastering you want), we moved on to bill drills and el prez. Like most everyone else, I get a little ahead of myself on the bill drills and waiting for my sights to settle. If there was ever a fun drill to practice on a static range, you’d think bill drills would be the one everyone rocked at, but I suppose not.
The first round of el prez was single head shots only, which was extremely challenging when combined with transitions. Much like when I took this class the first time, transitions were my weakest point. I think I need to revise my dry-fire setup at home to space out my targets more. One thing I specifically got out of this portion of the class was Lucas’ description of how Steve Anderson turns for it. I’ve been trying it, and it’s really quite a bit faster (despite how slow I am in the video).
During this whole time, there was a lot of one-on-one coaching, too – that’s the benefit of a 3:7 instructor to student ratio! If you were doing something dumb, you were politely corrected. I didn’t get too much of that, but I definitely got reminded to stop dropping my shoulders and be a little more aggressive on my transitions.
The class concluded with a class competition for the fastest El Prez time using USPSA hit factor. I was slow, but only had a single Charlie, so I think I came in 2nd or 3rd place. A couple guys who were smoking fast (and better shooters than me in general) had misses, which I think reiterates the point that you can’t just be super fast; you have to blend it with acceptable accuracy.
I enjoyed the class; getting pushed on speed and transitions on a timer is something I like, and it’s not something that’s as heavily emphasized at the “defensive” classes. I very much felt like I improved my speed as a shooter, and that’s worth going to a class for, to be sure.
If anything, I think maybe there was a little too much emphasis on draw times, and maybe not enough on other skills. In an unexpected way, this class was very complementary to the JDC class I mentioned above; that class was generally unconcerned about your draw, where this one had times that were heavily influenced by your draw. I acknowledge that four hours isn’t enough time to do it at all, and I do think the time we had was spent well… that’s probably the most you can ask for.