John and I registered for the Rangemaster Tactical Conference (TacCon) almost one year ago, fresh off reading others’ AARs about the 2016 Conference. This year’s conference—the 19th annual iteration of the conference—was held at the Direct Action Resource Center (DARC) in North Little Rock, Arkansas. Cost of the conference was $335 per person. This AAR will serve as Part 1; John has posted his own thoughts in Part 2.
The format for the conference this year as in past years is for a variety of presenters/instructors to present material in two-hour blocks of time. During any single block there might be as many as 6 activities going on simultaneously in various locations around the center. In addition, all 300 or so participants could elect to shoot in the pistol match that is held throughout the 3 days (each participant is assigned a date/time to shoot, and the “match” only takes a few minutes. More on that later).
Because of the overlap of different seminars, one has to pick and choose carefully which to attend. Though a few were offered more than once over the course of the three days, sometimes I had to make some tough decisions. In the end, my typical decision-making process included thoughts about whether or not I might ever get the chance to train with certain instructors again. For example, Craig Douglas presented his “experiential learning lab” twice during the weekend, but because I have trained with him once and will probably have the chance to train with him again, I chose to attend different seminars instead.
In the sections that follow, I will list the sessions I attended as well as a few thoughts about each.
AM Session One—“Between a Harsh Word and a Gun”—Chuck Haggard
As someone often disarmed by policy or law, I make it a priority to carry pepper spray with me wherever and whenever I can. However, I have never received any formal training in its use. Chuck Haggard gave us some history behind the development of pepper spray (and other non-lethal agents like CS and CN) as well as some “research-based best practices” in the employment of such agents. The different delivery systems (spray, stream, gel, foam, etc.) were discussed along with pros and cons of each. Due to the enormous number of students in this seminar (Chuck said only a handful of students have attended this seminar at past conferences), we did not all get to use the inert sprays he brought. But, we got to see some great demonstrations. I learned a number of valuable tidbits in this seminar.
AM Session Two—“Active Killers”—Tom Givens
I have only ever heard Givens speak before on podcasts and such, never having trained with him. Givens is a great orator and provided many statistics on active killers, commonalities, etc., along with a plethora of cases that were dutifully handled by armed citizens. Some best practices in dealing with active killers were also discussed. A great seminar, great enough that I chose to attend another Givens seminar the following day.
PM Session One—“Police-Citizen Contacts—Lee Weems
Chief Deputy Weems of the Oconee County, GA, Sheriff’s Office has been following our blog for a while now (he has his own, here), so I felt compelled to take his seminar. It was great! Weems outlined the three major types of police-citizen contacts and summarized a lot of case-law for the participants (“Terry” stops and such). Much of what he discussed was also included during his recent appearance on Ballistic Radio, but the seminar also included a sizeable portion on use of force issues and legalities. Chief Weems was full of information and presented it clearly, answering questions along the way with practiced ease. Very happy I attended this session.
My time slot for shooting the match fell about half-way through the second afternoon session, so for a little while I was a man without a home. While I shot pretty accurately in the match, my Glock 19 inexplicably had two stovepipes, one of which would not clear with a tap-rack. Thus, my time for the match pretty much sucked. The match results have not yet been posted, but I do not expect to have scored well. In the meantime, I now need to try to determine if this was an ammunition issue, a magazine issue, an extractor/ejector issue, or some sort of user-induced malfunction (possible but unlikely). The match required a total of 28 rounds fired. When done with the match, I made the short walk over to….
PM Session Two—“Ammo Selection Guide”—Chuck Haggard
Though this was about half over when I joined, I still got some good information. Chuck Haggard was shooting a variety of guns and ammunition through blocks of ballistic gel, showing how some much-lauded rounds do not typically perform as advertised when shot into both bare and “clothed” gel. A highlight at the end was when he shot a few rounds through a loaded AK-47 magazine (simulating a shot through a chest rig). I was happy with the performance in this test, as well as a few others, of my typical carry load in 9mm: the 124 grain +P Speer Gold Dot Hollow Point.
AM Session One—“Terrorist Bombers”—Greg Ellifritz
Readers of the blog know about my affinity for the classes Ellifritz teaches. The guy consistently puts great information out there on a multitude of topics (see his website), so there was no way I was going to pass this one up. Yet again, Greg delivered. I went into class knowing very little about bombs and bombers. What I learned convinced me that I will probably not recognize a suicide bomber before he or she detonates the bomb. If I do recognize the bomber and what he or she is about to do, the chances of me successfully engaging the bomber and surviving are slim to none. A very sobering seminar.
AM Session Two—“Defining the Threat”—Tom Givens
I had some other quality options for seminars here, but really felt the need to listen to more from Givens. This discussion was even better than his active killer seminar on Day One. Honestly, having heard Givens on many podcasts and having read his book (which can be found in our Recommended Books section of the blog), there was not a lot of new information here. However, hearing Tom put it all together in person was worth it. John attended this seminar with me, and afterwards I told John that I felt like Givens’ seminar had sort of re-grounded me to reality.
PM Session One—“What Really Matters Part I”—Darryl Bolke and Wayne Dobbs
I had always heard great things about these guys and their school in Texas, and so jumped at the chance to learn from them. Part I was more of a lecture and Q & A about what we need to train for and how we need to train. Part I was full of all sorts of good nuggets that I plan to include in my training regimen. A real focus on high standards in training was emphasized along with a focus on the fundamentals. The key aspects to a quality fighting handgun were also discussed with a bit of a look through history at what has worked for so many. A great seminar.
PM Session Two—“What Really Matters Part II”—Darryl Bolke and Wayne Dobbs
While Bolke handled most of Part I, Part II was mainly run by Dobbs out on the range. This was another popular course, and over 50 people showed up to shoot. To Dobbs’ credit, he was able to run twin relays of 21 students each for a total of 42. The others who showed up got to watch. We ran through a few of their “tests” which have their origins with the Vickers “The Test” and some variations thereof. We also shot one of their qualification courses of fire of 50 rounds. I used my second Glock 19 for this course (always bring a spare!), shooting 141 rounds in all. In the 50 round qualification, I shot a 230/250, or 92%, which actually puts me at their instructor level. The qualification was shot from 25 down to 3 yards, and everything was shot on the timer.
AM Session One—“Problems 1 and 2”—Skip Gochenour
This was the only session all weekend I would call a dud. Skip provided a few tidbits that were good to know. For example, the importance of character (and being able to show that you are of good character) if you are ever involved in a defensive gun use. Also, the importance of choosing your instructors wisely–lest YouTube videos of their rantings be shown at your trial—was stressed. However, the lecture was a bit disjointed at times, to the point that he was still talking when time ran out and it was time to head to the next session.
AM Session Two—“Training for the Fight”—Kevin Davis
This session fell right in line with several others that I had already attended over the two prior days, and Kevin hit it out of the park. His session was easy to follow, and he has quite the sense of humor. Perhaps the best takeaway (among many others from this session) was that he considers any citizen who carries a gun a “gunfighter”. It seems we chose the name of this blog well (credit to John on that one!).
PM Session One—“S.T.O.P.P.”—Claude Werner
Fans of this blog should recognize that I am a big fan of the writings (and podcast appearances) of Claude Werner, the Tactical Professor. His seminar on Strategy, Tactics, and Options for Personal Protection (S.T.O.P.P.) was a bit all-encompassing but not difficult to follow. I would say it largely fell in line with Givens’ session on Day Two and Davis’ seminar earlier on Day Three. Much like those sessions, I felt like this one really helped ground me in the realities of what I might one day face as the greater likelihoods than ninjas sneaking into my house. Claude Werner has always struck me as realistic and pragmatic, and so I could not pass up the chance to learn from him in person.
PM Session Two—None
Werner’s seminar was three hours, and there were no other two or one hour sessions in the afternoon anyway. Accordingly, I wandered over to the range to catch the last hour or so of Givens’ shotgun class. I did not bring a shotgun to the conference, and just hoped to catch some wisdom and learn a few drills to try in the future.
General Observations and Thoughts
The conference had a real mix of people attending, from the novice level all the way up to highly accomplished shooters. I was actually a bit surprised that the overall make-up of the participants was not a little more “switched-on”, for lack of a better term. A few of the shooters in the Bolke/Dobbs class on Day Two were real soup sandwiches (as evidenced by the pasties on my target, which we had to put on there after the guy in the lane next to me shot my target with 4 rounds at 25 yards…..this did not seem to be an uncommon occurrence). While I was waiting to shoot the match on Day One, one of the gentlemen administering it said they had to do a lot of least-common denominator stuff due to the experience levels of many of the participants. He said the idea is to try to get those participants who are new to all of this to get more training, and so I applaud the efforts of the conference organizers (primarily Tom and Lynn Givens, Tiffany Johnson, etc.).
Overall, I was happy with virtually all of the seminars, and I felt like Saturday was the real highlight for me, as I absolutely loved all the sessions. While all of the shooting classes seemed quite popular, I chose to spend most of my time in the “classroom” and less on the range. I was feeling a little lazy all weekend and also felt like I can shoot anytime but cannot always see and hear people like Givens, Werner, Weems, Davis, and Haggard all in one weekend/location.
Though the cost of the conference is ridiculously cheap for what you get, the cost of travel, lodging, meals, etc., added up (I still owe John some money!). I also had to take three days off from work in order to attend, which is not without “cost”. Likewise, and always important for me, is the time commitment and its opportunity cost. Accordingly, I would surprise myself if I attend the 20th Anniversary conference in 2018, but you never know. However, these are personal issues unrelated to the quality of the conference itself, and I would highly recommend the conference to novices and experienced shooters and self-defenders alike.
If you have any questions or comments about the conference, please share below or on our Facebook page. As always, thanks for reading.