It has been a long time since I’ve gone shooting, probably 2.5-3 months. The pandemic and resulting lock-down has been brutal in many respects, but the closure of all the ranges and mass class cancellations has been particularly tough on me. When I found out that Green Ops was doing their Sunday clinic at an outdoor range, I jumped on it. It’s not a “no risk” sort of situation, but I felt that the outdoor setting greatly mitigated the possible risks to the point that I felt it was safe enough to participate in.
What did I think? Read on.
(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. I’m also an admin on their alumni group, mostly because I whined at them to start it in the first place. Incidentally, I received zero discount for the private instruction afterwards other than the group rate.)
Class Title: Defensive Pistol II Clinic
Class Description: From the website:“This continuation of our Defensive Pistol series includes additional drills, and live fire malfunction clearance drills. We will begin with a review of the topics and fundamentals of marksmanship from Defensive Pistol I and move into more advanced drills. You will continue to improve your pistol handling skills while reinforcing the fundamentals of marksmanship. Timed drills will help you learn the balance between speed and accuracy.”
We covered most of the topics featured on the website. There were some substitutions made that I think made a lot of sense considering the change in venue, and they did make the class better.
Instructors: Josh Shaw and Chris Alvarez. Josh is an M-class USPSA shooter, and is super-close to the GM mark (like 94.75%). Chris is a retired Special Forces door-kicker. Both of them know a thing or two about how to run a handgun.
Location/Date: The class was conducted on May 17, 2020, at the “Stone Quarry” range near Culpeper, VA. The clinic ran from 10-2:30PM. The clinic was originally supposed to run at the NRA HQ range, but it was moved due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Weather: Overcast, but cleared up near the end. There was a constant threat of rain, and it did rain a bit as I drove down, but it was blessedly rain-free the entire class. (I take this as a sure sign that G-d wanted me to attend.)
Equipment Details: I brought three guns with me:
- My trusty G17 with Burris Fastfire 3 (Swenson slide)
- A G34 with Holosun HS507C (Brownells slide)
- A Sig P320 X5 Legion with Deltapoint Pro
I used a Bladetech belt with three “Ghost Hybrid” mag pouches and a GLS holster on a drop-down offset mount (QLS attachment system). Ammo used was my hot-end 124gr handloads. The only equipment failure I had was that I somehow missed putting the extractor back in my P320 after field stripping it, which had some predictable effects on its ability, or inability, to extract rounds. Always bring a backup gun if you have one, and make sure you’ve got the gear to use it.
I’d say round count was in the 300-350 range, but didn’t count that carefully. What rounds we did fire were spent wisely.
I wore a surgical mask as much as possible, because of the ‘rona. It seemed others felt more comfortable without one, but it did provide some interesting input into the challenges of trying to shoot with one on. Safety glasses fogged up very quickly due to my hot exhaled breath pushing up my face. (It also provides you some insight into how worthless these things are against aerosolized virus or even close coughing, but I digress.) I did remove it from time to time while shooting because I simply couldn’t do the drills while my glasses were fogged. If I had an N95 mask I could spare for class, I suspect it would not have had quite the same issue.
Preparation Drills: After months of quarantine and zero live-fire, the best I can say is that I tried to dry-fire regularly.
Author’s Previous Experience: Civilian with no military or LEO background. Have shot some competition, but no accomplishments worth bragging about. Training junkie since April 2018, and have averaged a class a month since then. I am OK with a carbine, pretty good with a pistol, and just average with a shotgun.
Class Demographics: All guys, but a good racial mix. It was about 60/40 irons to red dots. Lots of different guns, but I think most were striker-fired pistols of some sort. Skill level was moderate to high; there were no beginners here.
TD1 (10-2:30PM): We all met up at a gas station near the range. Truthfully, getting to the Stone Quarry range isn’t as bad as some of the more remote places I’ve shot classes at, but I was still happy to ride in a convoy with my classmates to get there. It’s also a convenient spot to use a real bathroom, since Stone Quarry range’s facilities are pretty minimal.
Unlike when Green Ops runs the clinic at the NRA HQ range, there was only a very abbreviated medical and safety brief, along with a description of Green Ops’ five principles of performance (dry-fire, live-fire, video, competition, and training). They all work, but as Josh wisely acknowledged, we had all gotten his dry-fire brief before and didn’t really need to hear it again. I would estimate we probably got an 30-45 minutes of shooting by skipping the classroom portion, which made the long drive to Stone Quarry range seem much more worthwhile!
Shooting started with some precision shooting at 10yds into 4 inch boxes. I was definitely rusty, even with the dry-fire practice. It wasn’t like I totally screwed it up, but there were a few close misses that I wouldn’t have missed if I had been on top of my game like I was four months ago. (Note: the top of my game is like… the bottom of other people’s games. Bear with me.)
After that, we did some holster work on a timer – single shots and multi-shots, and then some multi-shot reloading drills (3-reload-3). My brain and body were starting to remember how to work together more effectively with a pistol, and I became a little happier with my performance.
The training steadily ramped up in difficulty – which is appropriate, this is an intermediate pistol course. We did some failure drills, single-hand transition drills (strong to “other strong”), and probably other stuff I’m forgetting. Failure drills on a timer are a ton of fun in my opinion, and really reinforce how you can let recoil help drive a gun higher on a target when appropriate (instead of controlling the recoil completely and then driving it). I did really well on the head shots, and landed everything in the box or very close outside of it (either line-breaks or line-break territory). Single handed shooting kicked my ass a bit, but that’s a skill that really does require some live-fire time to master the feel of the recoil a bit better.
Throughout the drills, you got some hands-on from each of the instructors, who coached you through what you were doing wrong, and what you were doing right. For example, my biggest problem is trigger prep. I never want to put my finger on the trigger until my sights are lined up, but if you want to do a 1s draw-to-shot, you’ve got to start trigger prep as soon as the gun starts pointing at the target in any sense. Josh correctly diagnosed this, and provided some tips. I don’t think I was able to work these too well during the class, but it did provide me something to try during dry-fire.
At this point, things really got intense – and dirty. We practiced shooting from our backs, between our knees, kneeling, standing up, and so on. I did a bit of knee index shooting (pistol against your knee, while on your back) and got some really impressive gun shot residue on my 5.11 pants. I’m not sure I’d want to make a habit of doing it, because it’s pretty close to your knee and I like my knees, but I see the utility. I got a lot of useful coaching from Chris reminding me about how to efficiently get up from your back, which I managed to execute properly after a few tries.
There was also running and shooting. This was just moving forward, and it was conducted pretty safely (always a consideration when doing movement drills). This was the part of the class where I had my one and only failure – I had switched over to my P320 X5 Legion, only to discover the extractor was not in it. I guess it fell out when I field stripped it at home. I swapped back to my G17 with FastFire3 and everything was well in the world.
The final drill of the class was some barricade work on VTAC-style barricades. This was particularly intense, because there were two barricades and the instructors made the students run them competition-style – whomever could run up to the barricade and make 25yd hits on a steel target through each of the ports was the winner. I won twice and tied once, which I thought was an acceptable performance for someone as fat and out-of-shape as I am. This is just my opinion, but shooting against a fellow peer is even more intense than shooting against the timer. Also, and I think this is worth stressing, shooting around and through barricades is plain awesome.
The class ended with a run of the Green Ops pistol patch qualification course of fire. No one got a patch, including the instructors. I think the standards are a lot more attainable than, say, the MSP Black Belt standards. That isn’t necessarily a good or bad thing, it’s just an observation.
Class Debrief: There was some brass pickup. It wasn’t as rough as I remember it being with the MSP class, maybe because I got down on my knees more and did less squatting. The debrief itself was pretty short. Class picture with the US flag, followed up with a “what did you like?” session and some discussion of upcoming Green Ops class opportunities.
After Class: I did some private instruction on the carbine with a fellow student. I will detail that in a separate post. Otherwise, no after class stuff.
Conclusions: While the Stone Quarry range is a lot less convenient to me than the (temporarily-closed) NRA HQ range that the clinics are usually held at, getting that extra 30-45 minutes of shooting in was really worthwhile. I also felt that we had a lot more flexibility in what drills we could run, and what distances we could shoot at.
Josh and Chris are talented instructors, and bring with them very complementary experiences. Josh is a great competitive shooter, and Chris has been there and done that overseas in a special operations unit. You always got to understand what was most efficient, but also the pros and cons of doing certain things from a combat perspective. The instructors always demo’d the drills, and were perfectly happy to show you what fast looked like even if it resulted in a close-C-zone hit when they were going for an A-zone hit. The hands-on coaching was top-notch as well.
I strongly recommend this class. The drills were intense, and we did some stuff you’d never see in a less-advanced class, things you couldn’t do indoors. You were held accountable on the timer, and while the instructors were polite and respectful, they absolutely let you know when they thought you could do better. You will feel good (and tired!) at the end, but it’s not really a class designed to make you feel good about your skills. You’re going to discover probably as many weaknesses as strengths with your shooting. That’s the mark of a great pistol class, in my opinion.
The class being outdoors and ending at 2:30PM also presented a fantastic opportunity to get in a couple hours of (paid) private carbine instruction afterwards, which I and another student took advantage of. I’ll describe that in a separate (and shorter) post, but if you’re so-so on driving a long way out for a 4.5 hour class, that could be an option to make it worthwhile.