Friday, June 7, 2013

Gunning in Nevada - the Full Report

    As I've mentioned, the Brick and I just got back from a four-day class in handgun use at Front Sight Institute...not far from Vegas.  This is a long post, but I wanted you to understand a bit more about this place, and the experience.

(A quick update from the "Thank God" Department: He finally passed the last kidney stone! And wouldn't you know it --  the biggest. He is feeling much better, though quite wobbly.)

Front Sight is a large desert compound way out in the boonies, a 45-minute drive from Las Vegas on one side, and a 30-min or so jaunt from Pahrump on the other. (It's close to the California border.) This place is HUGE -- at least a dozen firing ranges, plus some classroom tents (big ones) and several buildings, including an armory and a Pro Shop. Adobe walls and large sand berms separate each range, and protect from stray bullets. Sand is everywhere, in the parking lots, alongside the sidewalks, and sand devils (little whirwinds) kick up in the distance. The ranges are gravel underfoot, with spent shell casings that shine in the sun. (A sore temptation, if you're into embellishments. Yes, I picked up some. The Brick just laughed.)
While we were there, a two-day class on handguns was happening, as well as our four-day class, plus other classes on rifles and shotguns. (I also noticed an obstacle course similar to that used by the Top Shot History Channel series.) This made for somewhere around 250 people, all ages, shapes and sizes, out there. Many were hunters; others had a strong interest in protecting themselves and their families. Or both. A healthy sprinkling of women were included. I'm guessing that most, like myself, were just accompanying their mates. (But hey, I could be wrong.) At least five other women were in my class.
     Everyone sports a holstered gun on one hip, and a couple of loaded magazines on the other. Talk about swaggering...

Our instructors (from 3-5, depending on the day) were dressed in quasi-military outfits, and extremely professional. Some guys were ex-military. Others had police training. Several had training in martial arts, as well; one also taught Tai Kwan Do to kids. What particularly struck me: their dedication to safety and training. These people not only wanted us to be able to shoot handguns -- they wanted us to do it well, and only when necessary. For that, we repeated certain steps -- like holstering and loading -- over and over and over. But by the time class ended, I could do it automatically without thinking.

Glasses and electronic earphones went on, the moment we walked into the range. We shot at full bust targets from 3 feet, 5 feet, 7 feet and 15 feet. Two shots to the thorasic cavity. ('Why not take two shots - your gun is already lined up from the first --  then a third sight, just in case.') If that didn't work, then a head shot. (As I said, a strong emphasis on personal protection.) Once you do this, over and over, first 'dry' (no bullets) and then live, it starts to feel more natural.
     It also helped that we had instructors at our elbow, watching and making suggestions -- yelling sometimes, but praising just as often (or more). I became fond of a few, for their encouraging ways...but the master instructor was all business. He didn't want to be friendly -- he wanted us to learn it. "Eyes, ears, ammo" was said so often, that I can hear it in my sleep.

We also had several lectures on legal and moral procedures, as well as training on moving into and out of doors and other visual obstacles. One of the exercises was "Monsters,Inc," a houselike structure with several doors. The instructor hooks a carabiner to your back belt and says, "Open the door."
    "No," I said.
   He blinked a little "Why not?"
   "Because I know something will be jumping out at me." (I hate sudden surprises.)
   "Well, just open the door."

Thankfully, it was just posters of bad guys, positioned in every room. I nailed the first one, then successfully avoided the girl talking on her cellphone. Feeling more confident, I turned the corner into the next room, saw a flash of knife and another leering bad guy. Gun up -- BLAM!
    "Congratulations," the instructor said. "You just shot your son."
    Turns out that bad guy was holding a hostage: a teenaged kid. I'd taken the poor kid out -- oops. The instructor smirked.  But hey, I also got two shots in Bad Guy's knife arm!
     (After class, I phoned Daughter #1. "Guess what? I just shot your brother." She said, "I don't have a brother. NOW what, Mom??")

The entire class wasn't easy. Although we hunt every year with rifles and shotguns, I hadn't shot a handgun since college (hunting rabbits with friend Herman). Raising that gun and pulling it to reset and load took a lot of hand strength I really don't have. (My wrists are not very strong anymore. Blame arthritis and too much quilting.) By the end of each day (though it did get easier), we were just beat. We never even went to the Strip -- just went back to our condo, had a swim and supper, watched TV -- then bed. After all, we had to be at the firing range by 7:40 a.m. the next morning.
    The other issue was the heat. Ninety-five degrees was the lowest of the temperatures we experienced. ("Naw, that's not hot" Terry, our instructor said. "It's not even summer yet!") I got in the habit of looking at the thermometer every time we left at night, when things had cooled down somewhat: 104, 106 and the highest, 108 degrees. Although we had a canopy over the chairs on the shooting range, we were usually standing by the targets, out in the sun. Things got a little hazy at times, even though we guzzled down gallons of cold water. No one in the class got sunstroke, though several came close. I feel pretty certain that the Brick's kidney stones were aggravated by dealing with this heat and dryness, day after day.

We persevered, though, and finished the class. (Classes, for the Brick. He took a CCW class, too.)
        Would we do it again?

The Brick would, in a heartbeat. He has always wanted to get more training in handguns. (Plus, he wants to get a concealed permit.) He is already planning to come back in the fall or winter for one of the advanced courses.

I probably would. (In fact, if the Brick signed up, I'd go, just to be with him.) It wasn't fact, it was so totally different from my usual modus operandi that I had little to compare it with. I often felt awkward, especially at first. But the class helped me learn how to handle a handgun accurately. I knew I could shoot well enough -- I've done that before, with hunting rifles. But what I learned: I don't shoot quickly. (So didn't do well on the skills test, which was all timed.) But the instructors kept emphasizing that it was far more important to shoot accurately, rather than just fast.

That became even more clear during the final exercise. Instead of the single head target we were used to, the instructors stapled up a threesome -- a white figure in front, with a gray figure on either side. He wrote the name of a loved one (in my case, Daughter #2) on the white figure. "This is a hostage," he said. "The others are hostage-takers. Take them out."
     I nicked her. (Sorry, Angel.) But one of the hostage-takers was toast, and I came close to the other one. The mother cougar in me felt proud -- no one was messin' with our daughter!

A final reflection: A read through this post makes the class sound more bloodthirsty than it actually was. There was a lot of emphasis on self and family protection. (For good reaosn too, in this unpredictable world.) And the targets were shaped like people. BUT it wasn't an exercise in blasting everything that moved. Over and over again, the instructors urged, 'Think. Prepare. Practice. Do it safely, and shoot only when absolutely necessary. Then when the emergency comes, you'll be ready.'
     I think they're right.

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