After attending my first Tac Con last year, I had pretty much made up my mind early on that I wanted to attend this year’s 20th Anniversary Tactical Conference, held at the Direct Action Resource Center (DARC) in Little Rock, AR for the second year in a row. (Check out 2017 AARs here and here.) I’m glad I was able to be there this year, as it was again an awesome training opportunity that also allowed me to meet and greet several people that I’ve followed on social media for awhile now.
This year, I could basically describe my experience with the quote “No plan survives first contact with the enemy.” That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but rather, an example of needing to adapt to the situation at hand. Things were going great at first… I got there early enough to grab a t-shirt and pick up the ammo that I had preordered. I attended the first lecture that I had selected, but then my plan abruptly crash landed. Many sessions were first come, first serve. This year, RSOs were taking names prior to class times, and I was about two people too late to get into Claude Werner’s “Introduction to Snubby Skills” despite showing up to the range early. Then, in the afternoon, even showing up 45 minutes early wasn’t enough to get into the session I wanted. Undeterred, I signed up for a repeat of that class later in the afternoon. Both of these situations required making some changes to my plan. As fate would have it, Paul Sharp had to cancel at the last minute, so I was able to attend an unplanned repeat of Claude Werner’s class the next day (which required yet more changes to my original plan). While I think it’s a good idea to know which sessions you want to attend, you really need to be flexible and adapt to the situation, realizing that you can’t see everything and certainly can’t control everything.
Friday, March 16
- I started the first day of Tac Con 18 with Lauren Pugliese’s “Pet First Aid: Lend a Paw” presentation. This is an area of interest for me given my medical background and fondness for dogs. I miss my German Shepherd dearly, and will eventually get another when it’s feasible in my life. Dr. Pugliese happens to be Greg Ellifritz’s girlfriend, and is associated with his Active Response Training company. She is a veterinarian specializing in animal surgery, and is a wealth of knowledge in how to provide emergency care for our furry friends. Her presentation was quite informative, with real world guidance on how to prepare to care for and evacuate injured pets or even bug out with a pet. To find her writing on the subject, search the Active Response Training Blog.
- Next I wound up in Gary Greco’s “Personal Security for Foreign Travel.” Mr. Greco worked in the U.S. intelligence community and has traveled the world extensively. As I mentioned in my introduction, I wasn’t necessarily planning on attending this lecture, but I’m glad I was able to. I enjoy travel, and have had the opportunity to travel quite a bit in years past. I definitely learned some good strategies for future travel as well as some current trends, although I didn’t really hear anything that I considered earth shattering. Much of his advice and suggestions are predicated on proper planning and common sense. I may be a little biased in my review simply because I have been to several foreign countries during the past three decades, and I am relatively comfortable leaving the confines of the United States.
- After lunch, I wound up attending Dr. Jack Feldman and Dr. Martin Topper’s “Get More Bang for Your Training Buck” lecture. Both are retired from academic and research fields and approach the subject matter accordingly. I found their advice regarding threat profiles and appropriate training to be a refreshing departure from much of what is promulgated in the training community and firearms industry. In short, prioritize your training for the threats you are likely to face. I particularly appreciated Dr. Feldman’s discussion on controlled relaxation and the effect of stress on fundamental skills.
- To round out the day, I was on the range for the repeat of John Holschen’s “Training for Accuracy on Animated Targets” class. This was the highlight of my day, and I can honestly say that I learned some stuff, or at least understood it better. Holschen explained how adversaries are often not static, which leads to misses in force-on-force scenarios. He then led us through a series of drills to facilitate learning how to accurately engage an “animated” target. These drills are easy to perform on almost any range and stress follow through and driving the gun to make a subsequent accurate shot. As Holschen said, “stick the landing.” This is definitely something I’m going to integrate into my own training sessions and I wish he wasn’t on the opposite side of the country! If any of our readers have the opportunity to train with Holschen, do it! (And if you do, write an AAR. I’ll be happy to let you publish it as a guest here on the blog.)
Saturday, March 17
- I showed up to the range at DARC ridiculously early and secured a spot in the repeat of Claude Werner’s “Introduction to Snubby Skills” class. Having watched his DVD on Snubby Skills previously, I had some idea of what to expect, but there is no substitute for being there in person. The Tactical Professor began by discussing the objectives for our limited time frame and demonstrated the ready positions we would be using in class. All work was done from a ready position, and Claude had us load with loose rounds from a pocket to practice the most difficult possibility of needing to reload the revolver in a gunfight. He then led us through a series of drills that included presentation from the ready, loading, ball and dummy, and strings of multiple shots. We did each iteration dry before repeating it live, and Claude first demonstrated everything that he had us do. He discussed how to use and enhance the sights of a J-Frame, and went into great detail on how to eject empty casings and load the revolver to position the cylinder properly in case of a partial load. After we had finished shooting, he entertained questions from the class and we concluded with a class photo. I am much more comfortable practicing with and carrying my LCR after his brief block of instruction, and I’m very glad that I had the opportunity to train with The Tactical Professor.
- Keeping true to my original plan of attack, I next attended Darryl Bolke’s “Offensive Shotgun Skills (Part 1)” lecture. I have great respect for the scattergun, and while my intended use for a shotgun is primarily defensive in nature, I wanted to hear Bolke’s thoughts on the subject. Anyone who follows his posts on pistol-forum.com will realize that he is a consummate SME when it comes to the shotgun. Everything I heard strongly reinforced my decision to defend my home with a shotgun. Bolke discussed the history of proactive use of shotguns among military and police, pros and cons of shotguns, and then moved into the evolution of equipment and techniques. Again, while my shotgun is for defensive purposes, there are many lessons to be learned from those that have deliberately carried them into harm’s way.
- After lunch, I went to the repeat of Karl Rehn’s “Historical Handgun” lecture. Karl delivered a fascinating synopsis of handgun techniques and training from roughly WWI to the present day. Indeed, knowing where we came from is vital to properly understanding where we are today. Having Massad Ayoob, John Farnham, and Marty Hayes in attendance to interject bits of wisdom was an added bonus, as they were literally there when it happened. I scribbled down many book titles to seek out and was duly impressed with the amount of information and history that Karl has assembled. I did have to briefly step out of Karl’s lecture to shoot the pistol match (I shot a 197/200), but thanks to the wonders of modern technology, I was able to listen to what I missed since I left my iPhone recording in my absence. Unfortunately, since I had left my phone recording the lecture, I couldn’t take a photo of my target. Suffice it to say I had three shots in the down one zone of the target.
- For the final block of the afternoon, I listened to Kevin Davis talk about “Learning from Officer-Involved Shootings.” KD is a career law enforcement officer, and an expert in use of force. While his presentation did somewhat focus on the law enforcement perspective, the lessons from law enforcement use of force investigations apply equally to the armed civilian in many cases. KD is an animated speaker, and tells things like they are. His discussion of stress and perception along a use of force continuum was an excellent reminder of the realities of armed conflict and the need for progressively more intense training. If I had to sum up his admittedly cynical point, if most police investigators can’t even properly investigate officer involved shootings, how do you expect them to treat the civilian involved in a shooting? If you carry a gun, have a lawyer present before being interviewed after a use of force.
Sunday, March 18
- I had planned on taking Gabe White’s “Supporting Tactical Success with Technical Skills” class, but alas, showing up an hour early wasn’t sufficient. The class had reportedly filled by 0615. With nothing else of immediate interest to me until 1000, I decided to stay and simply watch the first two hours of class. Gabe is as precise in his in range commands as he is in his shooting (he won the pistol match this year). He gave the most thorough safety brief I heard all weekend, and was clear on the objectives of the class. In his words, “Disorganization is the absolute enemy of safety.” He also stressed having the discipline to correctly apply your current level of skill. There is a time to use your skills, and a time to push your skills. Don’t confuse the two. I regret that I wasn’t able to participate in the class.
- Since missing Gabe White’s class meant that I had a lot of ammo left over, I elected to attend Randy Harris’ “Point Blank Pistol Skills” class. Most of this was material that I had seen elsewhere before, but it was a good review and it’s always good to see the same concepts presented by different instructors. Teaching what Randy taught in two hours is not easy, but he pulled it off. As an aside, I have to again commend Greg Ellifritz on his Extreme Close Quarters Gunfighting class. I was pleased to discover that the skills I had learned in that class over a year ago served me well in this class. Although I rarely practice extreme close quarters skills, I remembered enough that this class was largely review for me. We started out by taking off all live weapons and were frisked twice for safety. With the threat of live weapons mitigated, we then practiced the draw stroke and some close quarter shooting positions. We also worked with a partner to practice a proper fighting stance and defending our head against attacks while facilitating weapon access with blue guns. Roughly half way through the two hour block, we switched to live fire exercises and practiced firing from full extension, from mid-point in the draw stroke, and at contact distance, culminating in a simulated grappling exercise in which we started facing up range, feigned a strike to the target, moved around the target (simulating moving the opponent), and fired into the target’s back from contact distance (facing downrange). This may sound somewhat dangerous, but in a controlled setting, with adequate instructor to student ratios, it’s not. I would, however, advise against trying this without adequate prior instruction, as there are a lot of small but very important details to get right. I did like the fact that we used humanoid plastic 3D targets covered with t-shirts. That added a nice touch of realism to the drills.
- After lunch, there were several excellent choices, but I elected to stay on the range to watch Darryl Bolke’s “Offensive Shotgun (Part 2)” class. Ironically, I could have easily signed up for it, but I didn’t bring a shotgun. As it was, I was probably better able to take notes than I otherwise would have been with a shotgun in hand. It’s always tough at Tac Con to prioritize what you want to do, but given my focus on the shotgun this year, I thought this was a valuable use of my time.
- To round out my weekend at Tac Con, I was on the range for Lee Weems’ “Social Levergun” class. Look for a more in-depth review on this class in the near future, but suffice it to say, within its niche, I would be quite comfortable pressing a lever gun into action in place of a black rifle. To paraphrase both Bolke and Weems, in most short duration gunfights, the shotgun and lever action are going to be more than sufficient. Where they suffer is in prolonged gunfights. To quote Bolke, “When no one answers when you dial 911, it’s time for box fed rifles!”
Tac Con was a lot of fun this year, and I left amazed at the wealth of knowledge and experience collected in one place. For less than most two day classes cost, the Rangemaster Tactical Conference is a tremendous value. I was able to meet several people that I previously knew of by name only, and I would like to think that I accomplished at least some blog-related networking. I’m already looking forward to next year’s event! Especially for those that may not have a lot of time to devote to multiple weekend classes or those that may be new to concealed carry or gun ownership, I think the annual Rangemaster Tactical Conference is as equally important as it is to the experienced gun owner.