I’m writing this post for my friends who are looking at training, but are afraid they’re gonna do it wrong.
First of all, even training imperfectly is still an improvement over not doing it at all. You don’t know what you don’t know, and going to a shooting class is a great way to figure out those unknown unknowns in a safe, controlled environment.
But, if you want some specific suggestions about how to get the most out of your class, here’s a list I compiled from my experiences and some friends I talked with. Just to keep it real and less preachy, I’m also going to list when I failed at doing what I recommend.
Read the required equipment list twice, and check your gear against it before leaving. If you leave home for a carbine class and forget your sling, it could be a very long day. If you’ve only got one magazine for your pistol and you needed three, that’s also going to be annoying for everyone involved.
A time I did not do this: I forgot to bring work gloves to the Intermediate Action Shooting class I just did last week. You don’t want to be handling steel targets without gloves, they’re gross and can cut your hands.
Don’t grossly overestimate your skill level. Your first shooting class shouldn’t be intermediate or advanced, no matter how long you’ve been shooting on your own. Not only will you be overwhelmed and not learn as effectively, there are safety considerations as well. There’s nothing wrong with challenging yourself, but it should be progressive, not all at once.
A time I did this: my first low-light pistol class back in 2018.
Bring active/electronic hearing protection. You don’t want to have to constantly remove your earpro just to hear your instructor, and it might not even be possible in the middle of drills.
A time I did not do this: my very first carbine class ever in 2012. I had massive padded hearing protection, and I could not hear the instructor without taking them off. Thank G-d he had a suppressor on his rifle for when I didn’t quite get my earpro back on fast enough.
Don’t bring chest rigs or plate carriers to classes unless the instructor specifically requests them. My experience has been that ~95% of the time, chest rigs and plate carriers are slower and are just going to get in the way of the learning process. Get a good belt, and hang your mag pouches off that. If a chest rig is all you have, fine, use it, but don’t go buy one for a class because it looked cool on instagram.
A time I did this: my first Green Ops carbine clinic in 2018. I brought a Blackhawk Omega vest, and it wasn’t the end of the world, but belts are so much better.
Bring an appropriate gun with substantial magazines. Some people love their 1911s, and that’s cool, but your experience at the usual defensive pistol or rifle class will be greatly enhanced if you bring a gun with higher capacity mags (such as 15-20rd mags). Similarly, leave your tiny carry pistols at home unless the class is specifically oriented to concealed carry or pocket guns – these make it harder to practice good grip formation, which is a key component of many pistol classes. You nominally want something like a Glock 17 – full-size grip with a good size mag.
Don’t use covered mag pouches unless they’re your duty gear. I think covered mag pouches are sometimes appropriate in the real world, but they are only going to get in the way of doing drills in class. HSGI Tacos, Esstac Kywis, etc. are all superior options. A close corollary: don’t get creative early on. I’ve seen newer guys bring horizontal mag pouches to pistol classes, and those were just a disaster. There’s stuff that’s known to work, and you should start with that.
A time I did this: my first Green Ops carbine clinic in 2018.
Bring the right mindset. The right mindset is humility and a willingness to learn. It is not “I’m awesome and know what’s best” or “I’m awful and should be better”. The more time you spend being flustered and embarrassed or being upset that you’re not the hotness is more time you’re not learning and getting value out of the class.
A time I did not do this: probably my first half dozen classes. It took a while to rid myself of the expectation of not making stupid mistakes, and it still pops up even today.
Don’t bring a gun that is not reliable and zeroed with your chosen ammo. You need at least a rough zero and, preferably, to have run about a hundred rounds malfunction-free of your chosen ammo to ensure reliability. The time to try out your new gun or ammo is before class. If you are having trouble with any of this, contact your instructor beforehand. I am sure they can help you. Another close corollary: if you have backup irons, zero those, too. If you’re forced to use them, they may as well work.
A time I did this: Green Ops defensive carbine clinic in January 2019. That IDF-style Colt Commando shot well enough, but mags didn’t release AT ALL. I was stripping them out the entire class.
Bring more than the bare minimum of magazines, and load them at home. Magazines are a consumable item. They can fail, especially when you’re dropping them on cement floors. Bring an extra. You should also come with them loaded to capacity, except maybe a single empty one for reloading drills.
Don’t bring a holster that requires you to remove it, or use your fingers to reopen it, before safely reholstering. Cheap nylon holsters are infamous for being unsafe, besides just falling apart in general. There are some perfectly good concealment holsters that aren’t good for classes because you’ve got to take them off to safely put your gun back in them. That isn’t going to be efficient for your learning process.
If you have a reliable, zeroed backup gun, bring it. Even really good guns go down unexpectedly; if you have a backup gun, bring it just in case, even if it’s not as good.
A time I did not do this: FPF Training shotgun class in 2020. My 870 choked, and I should have brought my Stoeger M3K as a fast backup.
If you are going to be (literally) running around with a pistol in class, bring a reliable active retention holster. Safariland GLS holsters are cheap and will keep your pistol from falling out. If you have a weaponlight, Blackhawk Omnivores work acceptably well. Even really good passive retention holsters can suffer failures from sling snags and just general banging around on the ground (eg, urban prone on the wrong side). DO NOT BRING A SERPA. Make sure the screws are appropriately tight.
A time I did not do this: my holster literally fell off my belt at my first 3 gun match in 2019.
Lube your guns before class. You don’t even need to clean them per se. Just dump some lube in the action so they keep running. This is ESPECIALLY important in dirty and/or cold environments. I’ve had guns go from unreliable to 100% with a quick dump of lube into them. The kind of lube almost doesn’t matter – CLP, Slip2000, whatever.
A time I did not do this: my first class with Jedi was in a cold November, and my pistol was not reliable until I hit it with more lube.
Check your batteries, and bring spares. We live in a world of active hearing protection, reflex sights, daylight bright LPVOs, 1000+ lumen weaponlights, and lasers. Make sure all of those work before class, and bring some extra batteries.
Plan for the weather, and don’t wear shorts to a rifle class. I don’t care how hot it is, burning your leg on your rifle’s hot barrel is going to feel worse. If it is hot out, bring extra water, sunscreen, insect repellant, etc. If it’s cold, dress warmly. This isn’t that hard, but it requires you to look at the weather and act accordingly.
Dry-fire with your gear a week or two before class. This will reveal any glaring deficiencies in your setup, and give you time to fix what needs to be fixed. If you really want to get yourself in shape, use a par timer on your phone to time yourself doing common drills.
I know that sounds like a lot. It probably is. These are just things to think about as you approach your first class in order for you to get the most out of it. As I said up front, even if you do go in with imperfect stuff, you will still get something out of the class. But I want you to have a great experience, not just an adequate one!
UPDATE 8/31/2020: one more:
Don’t bring a suppressor to introductory carbine classes. I know it looks cool and reduces noise and recoil. But my experience has been that suppressors tend to induce a lot of failures in many guns, especially over sustained periods of fire. When hot after a few strings of fire, they also can be REALLY annoying to manage while slung, especially if it’s not a short K-can. Skip it until you’re a little more experienced and know what you’re getting into.