This past weekend, I was able to attend the CTT Solutions (Mike Pannone) Advanced Pistol course conducted at the Blue Trails Range in Wallingford, CT. I always learn a lot training with Pannone, and this class was no different. In fact, I would rank it as one of my best training experiences to date. This was my third class with Mike Pannone, and he has consistently provided great classes well worth my time and money. (See previous AAR’s here, here, and here.)
In attendance was a mixed group, ranging from one person literally attending their first training class to veteran law enforcement officers from municipal, state, and federal agencies. Many faces and names were familiar from prior classes, and at least two thirds of the students had trained with Pannone before.
Pannone stressed several times throughout the weekend that this was a different type of course than typical, being more academic and cerebral in nature. Having said that, we still managed to shoot approximately 800 rounds over two days. Pannone made the point early on that there is nothing advanced about shooting, rather, an in-depth understanding of what you are doing and why is what makes it advanced. Anyone can run a gun, but to truly reach full potential, you have to understand more than just basic marksmanship. To put it another way, it’s not only the breadth of knowledge required to reach full potential, it’s also the depth of knowledge required. This was essentially a pure shooting course and not a tactics course. At my current skill level, it was exactly what I needed.
Training Day 1
Pannone began the class with an introductory lecture that was really more a dissertation on the fundamentals of marksmanship and shooting. He compared shooting to a math problem, with the understanding that like making a mistake in an equation will yield the wrong answer, so will a mistake in the sequence of actions required to make a shot yield a miss or substandard result. In order to quickly make accurate shots, you have to correctly put together all the required pieces in the required order every time, or it’s just not going to work. He also discussed how our brains work in terms of thinking in pictures. I interpreted this as an explanation of visualization. He stressed the importance of feeding your brain positive images and avoiding negative images. Don’t imagine or worry about throwing a shot or flubbing a draw, instead think about what the perfect shot looks like. This “thinking in pictures” would be revisited later in the class when we paired up to shoot drills, with one student shooting the drill and the other observing.
Pannone also discussed the process of presenting a pistol and firing a shot in terms of time and pools of time, highlighting which parts of the shot sequence were active vs passive. He explained where it was appropriate to make up time and where going faster serves no purpose. Notably, he does not advocate prepping the trigger of a double action pistol on extension, considering that the trigger press is insignificant in the overall timeline of making a shot. There are better and more efficient places to make up time. In his words, “Don’t shoot faster, shoot sooner.” This tied directly into his explanation of acceptable sight picture and sight systems.
I once asked a different instructor about whether there was such a thing as a “best, first” sight picture with a pistol. I didn’t really get the answer I was looking for then, but my understanding of Pannone’s explanation was essentially that. Spending time refining the sight picture is essentially wasting time. Within reason, presenting the pistol correctly should yield the front sight in the rear notch and assuming everything else is done correctly (stance, grip, trigger press), the sight picture you get should yield an acceptable shot. To paraphrase Pannone, with the pistol at extension, you have roughly 2-3 seconds maximum before your ability to make the shot begins to degrade. If you present the pistol correctly and see the front sight where it needs to be, take the shot. Also related, don’t “chase the bullseye.” This is definitely something I’ve struggled with and now understand better. Even in the span of two days, I saw my shooting improve using this. I think there are some corollaries here regarding sight focused shooting vs target focused shooting, but that is a separate discussion.
More takeaways for me from this interactive lecture included the effect of lighting on sights (light pushes the sight), that varied lighting affects iron sights more than optics, and that narrow rear notches on iron sights minimize potential variances. Regarding sights, I had installed a set of fiber optic sights on my Glock prior to this class, knowing that Pannone seems to prefer fiber optics. My decision was validated in class, as Pannone did indeed shoot a pistol with a fiber optic front sight and briefly discussed zeroing a pistol with fiber optic sights. An interesting point that he explained was that trying to focus on lining up the top of the front sight instead of the dot means that your brain now has to deal with two separate images rather than one. This is hardly a new revelation, but can be summarized as just drive the dot. I imagine this advice would apply to almost any prominent front sight.
Returning to the issue of time, Pannone explained the fallacy of timing a one shot draw vs. the reality of drawing and firing two shots to really look at how long it takes you to deliver an accurate shot. In other words, if you want to know your real time, draw and fire two accurate shots. Look at the time for the first shot from that data and this is what really matters. Invariably, it will be slower than just firing one shot. This is because it takes time to prepare for an accurate follow up shot. Everything is done in sequence and to perform that sequence correctly takes time. Timing and our perception of time would be a central theme to much of the instruction over the next two days.
Pannone’s curriculum stresses competent and efficient gun handling, with an emphasis on safety and a foundation built on the cornerstone of neuromuscular kinesthetics. Several drills were demonstrated and shot during class, with Pannone’s explanation that drills should be designed to demonstrate a specific learning objective and to practice what is difficult. All of the drills that we shot were indeed straightforward with a tangible metric attached. I plan to incorporate several of them into my own training regimen.
We started out shooting at the ten yard line, and spent most of the morning refining the fundamentals of marksmanship just to get everyone on the same page for the rest of the class. We frequently wound up on the 20 yard line, shooting a slow fire string for accuracy. This metric requires absolute focus on the fundamentals. Pannone distinguished between slow fire and rapid fire by explaining that each slow fire shot involves a separate presentation. Presenting the gun and firing multiple shots is essentially one sight picture in our brain. Slow fire requires consistent execution of the fundamentals to achieve the same sight picture and same point of impact every time. Thus, we frequently revisited the 20 yard line with slow fire to hone our execution of the fundamentals. In a tangential criticism of Dot Torture, Pannone made the point that shooting tight groups at 3 yards does not translate to accuracy at distance. In a recurring theme evident here on the blog, if you want to be accurate at distance, you have to practice at distance.
We also shot several drills on the timer, and for many of us, our accuracy suffered. I know mine did, and this is definitely something I need to work on. This played into Pannone’s discussion of managing emotions under time constraints and understanding how to best use the available time and how our perception of time affected our shooting. In fact, he had us shoot a string of fire with no time limit and then again with a very generous par time. By simply adding a time constraint, many of us were distracted enough that our accuracy suffered. The moral of the story? Disregard the timer. Using the available time efficiently is a constant exercise in evaluating proximity, skill, and target exposure.
Also on the first day, Pannone discussed stance and grip. He considers grip to be the most important piece of the puzzle, and talks about all of the mechanics of shooting through the lens of sports kinesthetics. He explained stance and body position in a way that I had not really thought of before, going into detail into how our position recruits various muscle groups and how introducing artificiality and tension is counterproductive. This manifested itself in such things as whether to cant the gun when shooting one handed and finding the ideal position to shoot from one handed. (Hint: The gun will be canted, but don’t cant the gun.) Pelvic alignment and squaring to the target were also discussed. Pannone is very big on using pistol manipulations that rely on the natural range of motion for the greatest strength and dexterity. This translates into being efficient with a pistol.
After lunch, much of the afternoon was spent on multiple shots, multiple targets, and establishing a shot cadence. Again, timing and use of time. This is where Pannone introduced us to his concept of conscious contradiction. This involves shooting drills with target transitions that force the brain to switch gears from going fast to slow and slow to fast. Take time where you need to. Pannone also explained the importance of establishing a consistent shot cadence, even on multiple targets, because of the way our brains operate. Think about shooting a plate rack. If you get out of sequence in your shot cadence, it’s better to just stop and restart. Otherwise, your mental and physical cadences will be out of sync and your body will be trying to catch up with your brain. Better to reset the entire system.
Pannone concluded the first day with some key takeaways that emphasized the importance of putting all the pieces together consistently and using pools of time efficiently. He stressed the importance of not trying to make up time on the trigger press, and explained that “that the gun should always be working.”
My total round count for day one was exactly 300 rounds, almost all precisely fired shots.
Training Day 2
Pannone began day two by describing his personal experience running different guns. He called it a subconscious “tactile activated program” that recognizes which manual of arms is required while the hand is establishing a firing grip in the holster. This is important for those who run different guns by choice and especially for instructors who must be familiar with multiple different platforms. By way of example, I would imagine that most reading this blog would be able to distinguish between a Glock and a 1911 by feel alone. The key is mastering each platform separately before changing guns.
We next covered reloading techniques. Pannone made the point that there is no such thing as variations of techniques as far as our brains and neural pathways are concerned, rather, there are simply different techniques. In all of the pistol manipulations discussed, including reloads, bringing the gun into a point within the natural range of motion to optimize strength and dexterity was emphasized. Imagine trying to open a jar lid. Would it be easier to do with the jar held out with your arms extended, or held in closer to your torso? Where do you hold something that you pick up to read (with corrected vision)? You probably hold it at your natural focal length, somewhere in close to your head and body. This is where pistol manipulations should take place.
We then jumped quickly into learning to transition the handgun from one hand to the other. Pannone showed us the correct way to do so that we maintained positive control of the gun. We practiced this with a drill that had us firing one shot freestyle, then one shot strong-hand only, then one shot support hand only. Obviously we were instructed to let the gun drop if we fumbled it (insert obligatory P320 joke here). We then staged rounds in our magazines to require a reload after the first shot.
We next shot a drill that required 10 rounds at 20 yards, shot for time and score that allowed us to calculate a “hit factor.” Pannone demonstrated the drill before timing each of us individually, and he even achieved a new personal best with his demonstration. He called the drill a “speed-bull” and it’s an excellent metric to evaluate both speed and accuracy, and thus is a valid way to gauge combat effectiveness.
Later in the morning, we set up four VTAC barricades in front of steel targets and Pannone gave us some pointers on how to get into position with the feet in the appropriate position and center of gravity low and stable. He discussed the importance of placing the gun first, then finding a suitable position behind it, and showed how to rest a pistol for greater stability and talked about when and how much to extend a muzzle past a barricade or cover. Much of this was a review for me with many similarities to what was taught about using cover in Pannone’s Street and Vehicle class. While it was review, I definitely needed the additional practice and took several opportunities to shoot from behind the barricades from the various ports. For me, the upper and lower ports were relatively easy to deal with, but finding an acceptable position behind the intermediate height ports was more difficult.
We also practiced shooting on the move. Pannone went into significant detail describing the appropriate posture, gait, and pace. While it may seem complex, if you can walk and carry a cup of coffee, then you can shoot on the move. We first practiced advancing toward a target, and then backing away from a target. While some may question the validity of backing away, there is a way to do it correctly. Basically, always keep your weight forward and reach back with your feet. If you lean back while backing up and run into something, you’re going to fall backwards. We also practiced transitioning between body and head shots while moving and incorporated reloads. All of this was done in pairs with one student shooting and the other observing and critiquing. This went directly back to the discussion of how we think in pictures. By seeing what needed to be done, we better understood how to do it. Anyone who has ever taught skills professionally knows that the instructor also learns by teaching. That is a rather simplistic statement, but I know I learned an extraordinary amount when I was teaching EMT skills. Shooting is no different. Plus, by having the non-shooting student really observe his partner, there is no idle down time that can lead to distraction.
Next we moved over to the steel targets and practiced lateral movement while engaging multiple targets. To paraphrase Pannone, lead with your vision, always shoot ahead of yourself, and don’t pass a target. If you are past it and still need to engage, it’s better to plant and square up to the target, engage, then move again. This exercise culminated in moving with a partner. Situational awareness and proximity to your partner are key here.
After finishing our work with the barricades, we moved them out of the way and worked on shooting steel in pairs, with one student shooting and the other observing and coaching. Specifically, we repeated the sequence of one shot freestyle, one shot strong hand only, and one shot support hand only. Ultimately, we pushed out to 50 yards, although we each had to complete the sequence with no misses before moving back. Pannone only asked us to shot freestyle at 50, but many of us took it upon ourselves to attempt the one handed shots at that distance.
All of the second day, before we took a break and switched to a different module, Pannone had us all get on the 20 yard line and fire 10 shots slow fire with no time limit on a B8 repair center. This served to refocus us on the fundamentals and hold us to a precision standard after the more relaxed accuracy standard of simply hitting a steel plate or the “A” zone of a cardboard backer. I repeatedly scored in the 80’s on this drill. Again, something I need to work on to push my score into the 90’s.
At the end of class, Pannone again shared what he felt were key takeaways that we should understand. In training, he suggested working on individual components of shooting rather than trying to practice everything. Go to the range with a plan and specific objectives. Train to a standard and use a measurable metric to track your progress. Use a timer. He reiterated that in order to become a better shooter, you have to be an educated shooter. He also advised all of us to take up competition to improve and test our skills. Finally, he talked a bit about aftermarket triggers in striker fired guns. He made the point that the striker fired design with its trigger slack and travel was intended to replace double action triggers in duty guns. Striker fired guns are not single action guns, and carrying one with a trigger modified to be essentially single action is equivalent to carrying a 1911 with the safeties off. Not a safe practice. Leave the triggers in striker fired guns alone. The trigger press is a minor factor in the overall picture.
After we cleaned up the range, Pannone handed out certificates and patches bearing his company logo. If you’ve never heard the story behind the logo, it is a sobering account of dedication and brotherhood.
My round count for day 2 was 388. Some students shot more than I did, as some people shot up to 800 rounds over the course of the weekend.
As I said in the introduction to this AAR, I think this is probably one of the most worthwhile classes I’ve taken in terms of improving my shooting ability. I definitely had a few light bulb moments and am excited to put what I learned into practice. As Robert remarked when we were talking after class, Pannone’s background is so diverse that he just offers more than many others can. This was an awesome class from an awesome teacher, and drinking from a fire hose is an apt analogy. While this review may seem quite detailed, it is really only the tip of the iceberg of what was covered. If you’re serious about training and if there is a CTT Solutions class offered near you, you owe it to yourself to attend. Pannone is a fantastic teacher, humble, funny, and exceedingly knowledgeable.
I used my typical Glock 19 Gen 4 with WOTG Proctor Square Notch sights with a green fiber optic front. I have decided to remove the SSVI Tyr Trigger in favor of an OEM smooth faced trigger. Although the trigger maintains the stock safeties and travel, the distal edge of the SSVI trigger actually irritated my index finger after two days. Plus, as discussed above, Pannone pretty much put the perceived need for an aftermarket trigger to rest. If an NYPD ESU Officer can be one of the best shooters in class with a NY trigger in his duty gun, then I certainly can work with the OEM trigger. I used PPU 115 grain 9 mm FMJ and had no ammunition related problems. I was in a minority in shooting the entire class from concealment. I used a Bravo Concealment IWB Torsion appendix holster and a Bravo Concealment mag pouch (my new favorite mag pouch) on my ARES Gear Aegis belt. In contrast, most students used OWB duty holsters for this class. Glocks were prevalent, although not universal.
On the second day, I had one malfunction that required a tap-rack. For the first time in my life, I had failed to adequately seat a magazine. Time to habituate a magazine tug when administratively loading! One student on the line near me had not one, but two squib loads. Fortunately, the bullets lodged in the barrel in such a manner that the slide would not return to battery, so they were easily detected. Also fortunate, he had three pistols with him, so he was able to switch out quickly. Apparently, he was shooting reloads that were loaded below minor power factor. To each their own, but what is your training time worth? Using factory ammo, even if it’s just commercially remanufactured ammunition, will make your training experience run more smoothly.
I was disappointed that we didn’t specifically cover malfunction clearance, but by the same token, anyone enrolled in an advanced pistol class should probably already understand how to clear malfunctions. I also thought that lunches ran a bit long, but I don’t think that this detracted from the class materially. Other than that, I have absolutely no complaints about the class.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Mike for consistently providing a great training value, and I would also like to thank the class host for all his hard work and consistent dedication to bringing quality training to the Northeast.
An errors or omissions in this AAR are my fault alone. I tried to take good notes, but I also wrote a great deal from memory, and lord knows mine is fallible. As always, thanks for reading. We welcome your questions, comments, or concerns posted here on the blog or on our Facebook page.