AAR: CTT Solutions (Mike Pannone), “Covert Carry”, Bethlehem, PA, 7/26-7/27, 2014

This was the sixth after action report I wrote based on a courses I took in 2014. The course was CTT Solutions Covert Carry class, which took place at the Bethlehem Police Department Range in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania on July 26th and 27th, 2014. I am not in any way affiliated with CTT Solutions or Alias Training, except as a paying customer. Cost for the class was $525.

CTT Solutions is run by Mike Pannone, and if you don’t know who he is, I would suggest visiting the CTT Solutions website (http://www.ctt-solutions.com/), or visiting the Alias Training website (http://aliastraining.com/), which seems to serve as some sort of umbrella for Mike’s company as well as the companies of Larry Vickers, Jeff Gonzales, Ken Hackathorn, Pat McNamara, and Frank Proctor. The common thread among these guys is special operations forces (Vickers, Pannone, and McNamara all former Delta, Gonzales ex-Navy Seal, Proctor ex-Army SF, and Hackathorn ex-Army SF Firearms instructor, amongst other things). Mike’s resume is available on his website as well as in the description of each class he teaches on the Alias website. Post-injury with Delta, he has spent time developing the training program for Federal Air Marshals, trained Naval Special Warfare units, and, as it happened, had just spent the week prior to our class training US Marines. He is regularly contracted by numerous law enforcement agencies.

Mike Pannone
Mike Pannone

At the risk of sounding like a fanboy, I have been wanting to train with Pannone, or someone of similar background, for some time now. I wanted to see if/how training with someone with a background like his might differ from others I had trained with over the prior two years.

Let me begin by saying that there is nothing boastful about how Mike teaches. When he says things like, “This is how we taught the Air Marshals how to do this,” or, “this is what we used to do in Delta,” or, “this is what we teach the Naval Special Warfare folks,” he does so in matter-of-fact fashion just to help demonstrate that what he teaches is the real-deal. Remember this story in the news back in 2014?

Want to guess who trained these guys? Is there any question as to why I wanted to train with this guy?

This was the first class that I took with a long-time friend of mine, i.e., not someone I met in a class. The fact that I took this class with a friend who I have known for almost 20 years probably did have a positive impact on my overall enjoyment of the class (there was some trash talking!), though I am sure I would have enjoyed it regardless. He works in law enforcement and we drove to Bethlehem on Friday night; with a 9 AM start time for class on Saturday, we wanted to be able to wake up and already be in town.

My friend navigated and we made it to the range by about 8:35 AM. At least half the class was already there. The range we would work on (there were several at the facility) was completely covered in short grass rather than gravel, which was nice. It was hot and humid both days, with temps close to 90 degrees and humidity off the charts. We got situated at a bench and loaded a few magazines while chatting with those in our immediate surroundings. Right at 9 AM Mike called us over to get us started.

He introduced himself with no fanfare. He just told us his name and that, since we were there, we probably knew all about him and his background.  He then described what the course is about. He explained that he calls the class “Covert Carry” rather than “Concealed Carry” because there is a difference. In most places, concealed–legally speaking–means covered, whereas the people he spends so much time training carry covertly, wherein if they are “made”, there are all sorts of ramifications (think:  international incident!). He suggested early on that we experiment a bit with holster positions, cover garments, etc. He emphasized that all cover garments are different based on thickness, weight, etc., and all of the different variables will have an effect on our ability to clear the garments and get a solid draw.

EVERYTHING we would do over the next two days was from concealment. Indeed, before we had fired a shot, Mike told us that we would probably fire around 700-800 rounds over the two days but, more importantly, draw from concealment 400-600 times!

The first shooting drill was simply designed to allow Mike to determine what type of students he had in class in terms of marksmanship fundamentals. This is an advanced class and Mike wanted to be able to take remedial action as needed and meet the class where it was. So at about 7 yards, the 20 of us fired 5 rounds two-handed, 5 strong-hand only, and 5 support-hand only at a circle target taped over a standard IPSC target. Mike walked up and down the line quickly assessing our abilities, declared a “good, you’re all squared away, we can get to it more quickly now”, and off we went.

I am not going to list every drill we ran. Despite my furious writing in my notebook, there were times when we changed things so quickly that I didn’t get the chance to write down every little thing. What I would like to talk about is Mike as a teacher.

Being a student in Mike’s class is like watching a scientist, or maybe a Hall of Fame athlete in ANY sport. He has the ability to boil things down to their barest elements and identify all of the subtleties that separate bad performance from good, and good from stellar. His philosophy is straightforward:

  1. Know what you are doing
  2. Know why you are doing it
  3. Know how to do it with a high degree of specificity, understanding the mechanism for success in whatever it is you’re doing
  4. Identify the potential failure points along the way
  5. Train around those failure points in order to avoid them completely or mitigate their effects.

This is his philosophy, and he was able to provide abundant analogies for how to apply these points to all aspects of life, not just shooting-related endeavors. He said many times that, for him, all of this stuff can be summed up by two different percentages: 100 and 0. If something doesn’t work 100% of the time, then it may as well work 0% of the time, because you can bet that whatever failures are possible with a particular technique WILL rear their ugly heads when the chips are down.

An example of this would be drawing from concealment. It may be that someone who merely flips away his split front shirt can get his gun out and up and on target in 1.0 second. But the chance of that flipped shirt not being out of the way when you acquire the grip is too great (wind can flip it back to you, the garment might be heavier than you are used to, etc.). Therefore, why not pull that garment WAY out of the way EVERY TIME? It might cost you .02 seconds, but it can potentially save you 2 seconds when that flipped garment doesn’t clear and you end up “Barney Fifeing it”.

Mike Pannone demonstrating the draw.
Mike Pannone demonstrating the draw.
Mike shooting. Look at that recoil control!
Mike shooting. Look at that recoil control!

The class was set up as almost “guided discovery”, as Mike said that we each have different clothes, holsters, body types, etc., so what works for him or one student may not work for another. With each iteration of the same drill he would tell us to push ourselves; much like a race car driver, there’s no way to know how fast you can take a corner until you put the car into the wall. Once you’ve done so, then you know you have to dial it back a bit.

Day One drills included the diagnostic drill mentioned above, some draw and fire drills (and he had the science of the draw down and explained it beautifully, I thought), some draw-fire-slide lock reload-fire drills, some movement drills backwards at an angle, straight back, and forward, strong-hand only draw-fire drills, support-hand only draw-fire drills (loved his technique here!), and then we broke for lunch. New targets up, we did one-handed reload drills (strong and support, not easy, but again he has a great technique for this stuff), some timed drills two-handed (from the holster….EVERYTHING was from a concealed holster…did I mention that?), then started working the head shots, then some timed head shots. We finished the day with some Rabbit Drills (more on that later). We finished for the day around 4:15 (the class advertises some night-firing, but clearly this is range dependent, as many have noise restrictions, depending on where they are located. Ours fell into this category). I shot 368 rounds on Day One, and probably had about 325 draws from concealment.

A little moving and shooting.
A little moving and shooting.

I took the time that evening to write down some general thoughts. Among the things that Mike teaches is the use of the slide stop/release on reloads rather than an overhand rack or 2 finger sling-shot method. I definitely had some training scars but mostly used it and have come to prefer it. It is way faster and also keeps your soon-to-be firing grip intact, which I like. He hates the overused “Slow is smooth, smooth is fast” term since, by the transitive property of math, it means “slow is fast”, and clearly slow is NOT fast. He said the only way to get fast is to train fast. Finally, many of his techniques are definitely geared toward protecting your gun (he feels that one of the worst outcomes possible in any confrontation is getting shot with your own gun). Thus, the one-hand reload technique he brought to the FAMS is not the now all-too-often-seen stick the gun between your thighs and slam in a new mag technique. In that technique, you give up vision on the bad guy, solid control of your gun, and you present too big a target.

Day Two began again at 9 AM. We started with some drills that we had done the day before just to get us reacquainted with everything. We started to increase the distances a bit, and then the steel was brought out. We would shoot exclusively on steel for the rest of the day (with the exception of the final timed drills). On steel, we did some movement drills, walking at about 10 yards across an array of plates and shooting them slowly on the move. We shot some on the draw with the classic sidestep move from 15 yards. Every now and then he would throw in a wrench from the day before, so he would add things like the one-handed reload or support-only shooting, etc.

One of my targets. This was Day Two AM just before we switched to steel.
One of my targets. This was Day Two AM just before we switched to steel.

We then did more Rabbit drills. I will (successfully, I hope) add a few vids taken on my phone from class, and these will include the Rabbit Drills. Two students face each other, already determining who is the rabbit and who will chase. One round in chamber of both students’ guns with an empty mag. Two steel plates (about 8×6, I think) about 10 yards away perpendicular to the orientation of the students. On rabbit’s first move, game is on. First guy with two hits on the steel wins (obviously, there is a reload involved in there). This was SUCH a great drill. It puts different pressure on both sides. The rabbit gets the benefit of the first move. If he does everything right he SHOULD win, but that’s the pressure. He knows if he screws up anything, the chaser can catch him. The chaser, on the other hand, knows he is behind from the get-go, and so must go balls-to-the-wall in order to catch up and pass the rabbit.

Two guys getting ready to run a rabbit drill.
Two guys getting ready to run a rabbit drill.

We did the rabbit drill for a while, because we switched sides a lot so that sometimes we had to turn left to shoot at the steel, sometimes right, sometimes as the rabbit, sometimes as the chaser.

After the rabbit drills, we moved the pairs of plates about 3 feet apart and ran one of the Naval Special Warfare drills. The standard to try to achieve was, from the draw (EVERYTHING was from concealment!), 2 shots on each plate in 2.5 seconds total. The best I managed was 2.58, and as I recall I missed one shot every time I tried it. It was tough. We were at 10 yards, I believe.

After our lunch break, we looked at Mike’s own version of “Urban Prone”, which he calls “Vehicle Prone”. I much prefer his version, which clamps the gun hands (and gun, of course) between your knees for maximum, vice-like stability. We tried this on both sides: falling on our sides, drawing, assuming the vehicle prone position, and firing. We shot this on steel from various ranges out to 25 yards. At one point, at 25, I was having trouble hearing the hits (so many others were firing further down the line), so I kept firing and Mike approached me and told me, “he’s dead. You just put 8 rounds into about a 2 inch circle!” I liked the stability of that position! We ran a variety of movement drills across the line at various plates, and then we finished the day back on the IPSC targets, 7 yards, timed, shooting for the A zone, two-handed draw and fire one round (5 times), strong-hand draw and fire one round (5 times), support-hand draw and fire one round (5 times), then two hand draw fire one round, reload, fire one round (5 times). Mike wanted us to leave with some numbers on our performance so we might know how we improve (or fall apart) in our futures. The best part of this final bit was my draw and fire two handed…..NSW goal is 1.5 seconds. My times were 1.61, 1.57, 1.73, 1.68, and…..drumroll….1.29! That last one left Mike whistling a bit.

I shot 309 rounds on Day Two, for a total of 677 for the class. I was probably on the low-end of the round count compared with most of the students. Mike reiterated all of his major talking points, we each got a CTT Solutions hat and, of course, the obligatory certificate.

Equipment: I shot my Gen 3 Glock 19 with Defoor sights with a bit of fluorescent orange paint on the front sight. During the afternoon of Day Two, I used my other Gen 3 Glock 19 (OD Frame) with Trijicon RMO7 RMR milled into the slide by One Source Tactical. I had not yet shot this pistol outdoors, and so wanted to wring it out a bit. I was hesitant to use it at all because I had been shooting so well throughout the weekend, but really needed to try it out. A few fellow students also tried it out. All of my Glocks have Glock 17 triggers as well as Vickers Slide Stop/Releases (very handy in this class!). I also shot a couple of rounds through Mike’s custom CZ 75D PCR, which was quite smooth, I must say. My holster was my usual Blade Tech worn appendix style (I have a similar holster designed for the RMR Glock that I used when using that pistol). I used a single Blade Tech magazine carrier with tek-lok attachment. Although I had used this holster and mag pouch combo before, I started looking at others afterwards, particularly the magazine pouch, as I found the tek-lok on the pouch dug into me way too much.

Random thoughts:

  1. This was a concealed carry (covert carry) class, so I wore the type of clothes I typically wear. Cabelas 7 pocket trail hiker pants, button down short sleeved Wrangler shirt from WalMart, etc. I am SO glad no one showed up to class in multicam pants! One funny note was the number of people wearing some form of Salomon footwear, which included me and at least half the rest of the class!
  2. There were quite a few people from law enforcement in the class. I would say 1/3 to 1/2 were LE. Mike said that his experience is that many police who work in plainclothes never practice this stuff, but instead do their qualifications in their duty gear. This way, they just got 500 or so draws from concealment.
  3. Mike was super-approachable. I talked to him over lunch to clarify some things and make sure my notes were squared away about some things he had said, and he talked to me for a while about some of the physical workouts they did in Delta back when he was in, how they didn’t realize how they were overworking their bodies, etc. It was great getting tidbits like this.
  4. Mike was quite funny. There were no nicknames earned or anything like that. But he kept it just humorous enough to keep things fun, encouraged friendly competition amongst the students (more pressure!), etc. And if you approached him from his right side, he might say, in a joking way, “Ah, you’re sneaking up on my blind-side!” (he lost his eye in an explosive breaching accident…it doesn’t seem to affect his shooting!).
  5. Mike spoke many times of how speed is achieved through training fast and being efficient with our movements, but you have to know/learn which corners can be rounded off and which cannot (failure points!).

One thing to keep in mind is this is not a tactics class (ever get attacked by 12 steel plates coming at you on line?) and is not billed as such. Rather, it is a techniques class. The drills are carefully crafted to make you utilize the expressly taught techniques, with stressors introduced as needed. The techniques would have to be applied in a–dare I say it?–“tactical” situation (by tactical, I mean a situation in which one must employ some tactics). The techniques taught are all very applicable in real-world situations, and I feel better prepared to be able to access my firearm and make solid hits from a variety of positions and with either or both hands at some distance. I cannot recommend this class enough for someone who carries a concealed pistol.

Final thoughts: I LOVED this class. Mike Pannone is a phenomenal teacher and I told him as much in a private aside after class. I really feel like I got a ton out of the class, not only in how to conceal a pistol, draw it, shoot it, etc., but in how to analyze techniques in general. Some of his techniques were so simple and yet so effective, we were left wondering how no one else thought of them.

This was the most expensive class I had ever taken up to that point (factor in a two night stay at a hotel and it was even more so), but I think I got a lot for each dollar I spent over the other classes. I already have plans to train with Mike again, and if the rest of the Alias guys are this good (and everything I have read indicates they are), then they will get more of my money and time in the future.

On a final note, I was a bit anxious in the weeks/months prior to class. Would I be the guy who held everyone back? Am I advanced enough for a class like this? Either I am at that level or just had a lucky weekend, but it meant a lot to me, as I was handed my certificate and shook Mike’s hand, to have him say to me, “great shooting this weekend”. I didn’t hear him say that to many.

My blogging partner John–who I had just seen in a different class two weeks prior–was so impressed by what I wrote in the above AAR that he took Covert Carry 8 months later at the Sig Sauer Academy in NH  (AAR here).  He left his iteration of the class as impressed as I was with mine.

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10 thoughts on “AAR: CTT Solutions (Mike Pannone), “Covert Carry”, Bethlehem, PA, 7/26-7/27, 2014

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