You’ve probably already read Robert’s thoughts on this year’s Rangemaster Tactical Conference. If not, you can find his AAR here. Robert covered most of the basics of attending the conference, but as our schedules during the conference did not exactly coincide, I will talk a little bit about my experiences as well.
Just getting to DARC was a bit of a challenge for me, as Southwest Airlines cancelled my outgoing flight after a blizzard wrecked air travel in the Northeast in the days prior to my scheduled departure. Ultimately, I was able to make it to the conference through a combination of driving and flying, but not without frustration and a significant change of plans.
This was my first time at the annual Tactical Conference, now in its 19th year. Coincidentally, 2017 marks the 20th anniversary of my initial handgun training under Tom Givens at the original Rangemaster facility in Memphis, TN. It was good to have the opportunity to train with Givens again. This year, for the first time, the conference was held at the Direct Action Resource Center (DARC) in Little Rock, AR. While the facilities were perfectly adequate for our activities, it should be noted that they were commonly described as “spartan” or “austere.” Portable latrines and a food truck were available on site and three large tents provided “classrooms” for the didactic presentations.
With multiple different events and training opportunities available concurrently throughout each day, an attendee occasionally had to make some hard choices, based upon their own priorities and preferences. One need not ever even fire a single round at the conference, although there’s plenty of opportunity for that. In some ways, the conference seems very much like a large self-defense buffet that requires multiple trips to try everything.
Both Robert and I started out the first day by attending Chuck Haggard’s “Something Between a Harsh Word and a Gun.” This presentation on pepper spray was for me a much needed introduction to choosing and using pepper spray and I learned a lot about the subject. This class persuaded me to add pepper spray to my EDC, and made me reevaluate the pepper spray option that I had previously bought for my wife. While not an all inclusive panacea, pepper spray is definitely a valuable component of a well-rounded self-defense plan. Haggard covered the subject in surprising detail for such a large audience and short time frame, and was able to conclude his presentation outside the tent with some demonstrations using inert training pepper spray.
Robert and I chose different sessions for the rest of the day. In the second block of the day, I attended Fletch Fuller’s “Keep Your Piece” class on close quarters handgun retention. (I want to take a sentence or two to make note of an unexpected theme that emerged throughout the conference. Many presenters, especially in the hands-on classes, were faced with accommodating large groups or turning people away. By way of example, I was surprised at Fuller’s ability to successfully teach 52 people in this class!) Fuller was able to teach all participants a few different simple moves to deflect a weapon grab and retain a drawn handgun. This was accomplished by pairing us off in a large circle and practicing each technique with a partner. He had brought some blue training guns, and others had brought personally owned blue guns, so we actually had enough to supply the entire group. I used my own Blueguns G19 training gun that I had brought, a purchase that was well worth it for this class. I had encountered some elements of Fuller’s techniques in previous training, but most of them were new to me. They all share the attributes of being easy to remember and easily performed. I can attest that they will work against larger and stronger opponents as I was paired off against someone that was significantly taller than me. Fuller borrows heavily from his background in Jiu-Jitsu in some of his techniques, and his class served as an excellent and comprehensive primer on how to avoid being disarmed in a close quarter fight with a gun. At the very end of the session, we were given a brief opportunity to practice the techniques we had been taught while armed with a training pistol and shooting Silent Blank firing rounds from Ultimate Training Munitions (UTM). Throughout the entire two hour block, Fuller structured the drills in such a way that we were exposed to increasing amounts of stress, culminating in the force on force aspect with the UTM rounds.
After lunch, I decided to again attend sessions offered by Chuck Haggard. Let me just say that he is an excellent instructor and that I recommend that you train with him if you get the chance. The first block of time in the afternoon was Haggard’s “Practical Practice with Pocket Poppers,” a class dedicated to running small pocket guns. Followers of our Facebook page know that I have been testing an RM380 for the past few months, and I took this opportunity to learn more about how to successfully carry and run the little gun. Once again making excellent use of limited time, Haggard discussed the use of both small revolvers and automatics, covering ballistics, targeting, carry methods, and manipulations. Several other well known names in the training industry were in attendance as well, occasionally offering their perspective on using small guns. Notably, Claude Werner offered up a few key points related to small pistols and revolvers, and helped Haggard run the line with two relays of shooters. I used a Desantis Nemesis pocket holster during class, and successfully shot the Atlanta Police Second Weapon Qualification (2011 version) with a score of 240/250. Not perfect, but passing. Look for my in depth review of the RM380 in the future. We only shot a total of 46 rounds in the two hour block, with 25 rounds of that total dedicated to the qualification course of fire at the end, but I still got a lot out of the class.
I stayed on the range for the final block of instruction of the afternoon, where Haggard presented his “Quick and Dirty Guide to Ammo Selection,” a two hour live fire demonstration of various popular ammunition choices shot into ballistic gelatin. At times, Haggard used an old pair of blue jeans as an intermediate barrier, and even an old AK47 magazine filled with rounds to simulate a chest rig. Various myths were dispelled and overall performance characteristics of different rounds were shown. Rather than being a definitive test of ammunition, this block was instead designed to show generalities among popular ammunition choices. The particular gelatin block used by Haggard had been melted and reconstituted a couple of times already, skewing any measurements. By way of further explanation, when the FBI tests ammunition, they actually mix the gelatin on site, and specific temperatures and testing protocols have to be adhered to. This demonstration was just for the benefit of participants that might not otherwise have the opportunity to see projectiles fired into gelatin through various barriers. The demonstration garnered a significant attendance, and several other prominent instructors such as Greg Ellifritz of Active Response Training and John Johnston of Ballistic Radio interjected additional observations from their own testing experiences. As he noted in his own AAR, Robert was able to catch most of this demonstration after shooting the match in his assigned time slot.
Both Robert and I started out Saturday morning at Greg Ellifritz’s “Recognizing and Neutralizing the Terrorist Bomber” presentation. Ellifritz never disappoints with his knowledge of subject matter, and gave a thorough presentation replete with multiple video examples of various explosions from improvised bombs. He discussed the prevalence of a bombing component in many historical active killer events, explained typical components and construction of terrorist bombs, and showed us what to look for to recognize a potential terrorist bomber. This material was brutally sobering, in that IF one is even able to recognize the bomber, preventing the attack from happening is typically devoid of any good choices. Close enough to do something with a pistol means close enough to die in a bomb blast, and that’s assuming that the bomber is acting alone. Consider that the average time between recognition and detonation (from surveillance video studies) is roughly 8 seconds. Can you deliver a head shot on demand while studying the surrounding environment for handlers in that time frame? I can’t. Truly, this is scary stuff. For Star Trek fans, the Kobayashi Maru exercise comes to mind. The best bet is to hope to be far enough away to survive the initial blast and then get the hell out of the area. Ellifritz’s presentation was well organized, well attended for the 0800 slot, and I can’t really do it justice in a simple paragraph. Needless to say, I took a lot of notes, as I could potentially be called upon to respond to such an event in a professional capacity one day.
Next up was Tom Givens’ “Defining the Threat.” Givens discussed the best resources to use when defining the typical threat to a civilian concealed carrier, and differentiated our mission as civilian concealed carriers as opposed to the missions of the police and military. For instance, the LEOKA statistics are of little relevance to us, as we are not required to approach and apprehend bad guys with direct hands-on contact. During the presentation, he made use of the data he has collected over a long career to emphasize his points with just the right blend of statistics and war stories. As Robert said in his AAR, this lecture is excellent for refocusing the priorities for the average civilian that wisely chooses to carry a gun for defense of themselves and others… carry your damn gun! All of Tom’s students that did survived their encounters. He has documented over 60 successful outcomes to date in which his students have defended themselves or family members with a firearm. Worth noting, the three in his data set that did not have their guns with them were killed after complying with their attacker’s demands. Be alert and aware, have fast and reliable access to a concealed handgun, be able to achieve first and subsequent round hits within 3-7 yards, act with surprise, speed, and violence of action, and you will probably live to tell the tale! You don’t need to be a Delta-SEAL-Ninja-Operator to survive a violent attack, you just need to have mastered the basics and have the mindset to act “right fucking now.”
For the afternoon, both Robert and I chose to attend the lecture and live fire class “What Really Matters” presented by Darryl Bolke and Wayne Dobbs of Hardwired Tactical, both Part 1 and Part 2. Bolke led the classroom session, and his lecture drew on his and Dobbs’ investigation into the habits of successful gunfighters, as well as debriefs of his team members’ shootings. This block alone was worth the price of admission to the conference, and again stressed mastery of the basics with a firm understanding of the reality of gunfights. Unfortunately, I had to step out briefly to shoot the match at my assigned time slot (I was disappointed with my performance), but in looking at Robert’s notes, I didn’t really miss all that much. The lecture was winding down as I returned, and we soon adjourned to the paper range for Part 2.
An amusing vignette took place after Bolke had concluded his lecture. By pure luck and happenstance, Claude Werner sat next to Robert for the lecture. After the lecture, we took the opportunity to introduce ourselves to the “Tactical Professor.” We briefly mentioned our blog and that we followed his with interest and appreciation. Imagine the looks on our faces when he politely asked if we had a business card between us… I offered some reply to the effect of, “we’re not really that big yet.” I suppose Robert and I will eventually have to have cards made!
For Part 2, Bolke and Dobbs had too many shooters for the available spaces, so a bit of a shuffle ensued. We wound up with 42 shooters in two relays, with several observers. Since I don’t by any means consider myself an accomplished shooter and performed dismally at the match, I was gratified to secure a spot in one of the relays. Dobbs led the shooting instruction, and we began with the HiTS Test, a timed marksmanship standard based on a similar test used by Ken Hackathorn and Larry Vickers. We then practiced failure drills from different distances with different time constraints and finally incorporated offline movement. To paraphrase from Part I, a properly executed failure drill has been successful in the majority of officer involved shootings that Bolke has investigated. We ended by shooting the HiTS Qual A. I passed, but just barely. I also learned that I needed to drift my sights slightly while I was punching a ragged low and left hole in the B8 in the initial shooting drills. Both Darryl and Wayne opined that I was probably not making the same mistake consistently and that Glocks are known for shooting slightly left. I am exceedingly happy that I had the brief opportunity to train with Bolke and Dobbs, and I suggest you do the same if you are anywhere near their home base of Dallas! They offer a curriculum based on time tested reality and mastery of the basics. Now, where have we heard that before?
Both Robert and I started out the final day of the conference attending Skip Gochenour’s “Training Decisions: Problem #1 & Problem #2.” The main thrust of Gochenour’s lecture seemed to be that one should consider above all else how their “character” will be perceived by a jury should they ever need to use deadly force. This includes not only not doing “silly shit” but also choosing training wisely. For example, you don’t want to be in court and have your trainer’s mugshot presented as evidence. Furthermore, a typical jury will almost certainly not be made up of your “peers.” I have enormous respect for Mr. Gochenour as a primary developer of the National Tactical Invitational (NTI), but I must confess that I wasn’t terribly impressed with his presentation and I think he could have benefited from better time management and perhaps even attending Tiffany Johnson’s presentation “Unsuck Your PowerPoint.” Having said that, he certainly got his message across, and called into question for me some of my previous training choices. Had there been time for questions at the end, I would have been curious whether he believed that better recent training choices could mitigate poor past choices.
Next up for both Robert and I was attending Kevin Davis’ presentation “Preparing and Training for the Fight.” Davis gave a dynamic talk covering the spectrum of things necessary to prevail in a violent encounter, everything from understanding the enemy to using force on force to inoculate against stress. This presentation continued to hammer home the point that advanced skills are simply the basics mastered, coupled with the importance of cultivating the mindset to win. I thoroughly enjoyed this presentation and have already ordered his book, “The Citizen’s Guide to Armed Defense.” I was gratified also when Davis made the point that whether or not you like the term, if you carry a gun, you’re a “gunfighter” by default.
My experience at the Tactical Conference culminated in the afternoon with Tom Givens’ “Fundamentals of Defensive Shotgun.” Although I have long kept a shotgun in the bedroom as a first line home defense firearm, I had never actually taken a class with it. Thus, the opportunity to train with Givens again and learn the fundamentals of the shotgun was an experience that I didn’t want to miss. Givens did not disappoint! It is amazing to me the amount of information that a competent instructor can impart to a group of motivated students in such a short amount of time. Over the course of three hours, Givens covered safety, ammunition selection, suggested modifications, manipulations, and a drill designed to teach the shooter how to competently run the gun and keep it fed. Tom stressed the significant differences between a shotgun and other guns commonly carried and used by gun owners. Indeed, the shotgun’s manual of arms is quite unlike that of a pistol or AR-15, and learning to run the gun is not instinctive. Some takeaways were that pump shotguns are often actually more reliable for home defense than semiautomatics, proper ammunition selection is of paramount importance, and that the 20 gauge, even for smaller shooters, is not a good choice. The main modification that Tom suggested as mandatory was shortening the buttstock. Regarding semiautomatic shotguns, one student had brought a very nice Beretta 1301 Tactical, but due to the ammunition being used, the gun didn’t run well and a case head separation actually bloodied the student and the gun!
Although my ancient Winchester 1300 Defender served me well in class, I am going to be investigating the purchase of a Remington 870P SBS in the near future. Within the walls of my home, I have a newfound respect for the shotgun as the quintessential civilian home defense weapon.
Despite the travel challenges compliments of Mother Nature, I’m glad I had the opportunity to attend the 2017 Rangemaster Tactical Conference. I will probably try to attend the 2018 conference, and perhaps even bring my wife to give her access to some much needed training. Although I’m happy with all the choices I made in attending different blocks of instruction, there was so much more that I didn’t get to do. I haven’t yet figured out how to clone myself! Among the presenters that I didn’t get to see, such notables as Massad Ayoob, Claude Werner, Andrew Branca, Cecil Burch, Paul Sharp, Craig Douglas, Lee Weems, John Murphy, William Aprill, and Spencer Keepers come to mind. Some of these trainers offer classes within driving distance for me, some do not. I will eagerly await the list of next year’s presenters. If you’ve been on the fence about attending the Tactical Conference, hopefully the AARs on the blog can sway you one way or the other. There is truly something for everyone at Tac-Con, and it offers a phenomenal all-inclusive value for attendees.