In the pantheon of firearms and self-defense instructors who teach classes to the general public, Tom Givens has to rank near the top of anyone’s list. For years I have been reading his writings in magazines and books and listening to podcasts in which he was interviewed. Despite the high regard in which I have always held him, I never did take advantage of any opportunities to train with him. Why? Sometimes there was a conflict with other classes I planned to take, other times family events, and, to be honest, I just did not make it a priority.
A year ago I attended the 2017 Rangemaster Tactical Conference, and there I made it a point to attend both of Givens’ lecture-based seminars. My impressions leaving both seminars (and evident in the AAR I linked to above) were that he knows his stuff, is a great orator, and that I need to prioritize taking classes with him. Givens is not getting any younger, and so more and more I find myself wanting to learn what I can from some of these older hands before they hang up their teaching shoes. Accordingly, when classes for 2018 began to be listed on the Rangemaster website, I was quick to sign up for several.
As noted in John’s review of the Friday defensive shotgun class, we both got to spend three days with Tom and other Rangemaster instructors. I thought John captured the salient points and impressions for both of us in his review, and so this review will focus on the Saturday and Sunday of our training weekend.
The cost of the Rangemaster Two-Day Pistol class was $495, which I paid in full. The host of the class was the founder of FPF Training, John Murphy, with whom readers of this blog know I have trained several times. The weather was unseasonably warm on Saturday (especially for THIS Spring), with temperatures up around 80 degrees. Sunday was cooler, with a high perhaps into the low 60s and rain in the afternoon (more on that later).
This is not a gear-intensive class. I used my typical OD third generation Glock 19. Though I recently tried out some other sights during some practice sessions, I had just reinstalled a set of Ameriglo I Dot Pros the week prior to class. I used both factory and Magpul 15 round magazines. I used a Raven Concealment Systems Eidolon holster (I’ve recently taken to using this with only one belt clip and my own, homemade foam wedge) and my no-name kydex double magazine pouch. For ammunition I used Federal American Eagle 124 grain FMJ.
What follows will not be a blow-by-blow or drill-by-drill account of everything the class encompassed. There was much more included than what I have written about here. Instead, I have chosen to write about some key takeaways from each of the two training days.
Training Day One
Our first day of training began in a small conference room at a hotel in Culpeper. During this time, Tom outlined some of his own history. He mentioned a few times that he has now taught over 47,000 students! He also mentioned the now pretty-well-known statistic that he has had 66 of his former students get into legitimate shootings and had 63 wins, 0 losses, and 3 forfeits (the 3 who forfeited failed to have a firearm on them when they needed one…..each paid with his life). There are many lessons in those numbers!
In thus establishing his expertise, Tom reminded us of the gravitas of carrying a gun each day. Many have probably never thought about how, each day when they get dressed and put on their concealed carry firearm, that they now have the power of life and death over everyone with whom they come into contact.
With that said, Tom went through the four firearms safety rules. Tom noted again and again how these are not “range rules”, but firearms handling rules for life. To hammer home a few points, Tom included in his PowerPoint some rather grisly photographs showing what happens when some or all of the rules are not adhered to in a religious manner.
I mention this because this was by far, among all of the many classes I have now taken, the longest and most comprehensive safety brief I have ever experienced. And all of this was in addition to the emergency procedures that were discussed at the range itself later in the day. Tom is a stickler for ingraining proper safety habits, and I for one applaud him for this. With many hours on the range during private practice and during classes, I have faced a few dicey situations when others did not take firearms handling rules seriously enough. I will sum this up by simply saying that it is pointless to train and practice for self-defense if you end up getting killed or maimed in the process.
Classroom time also included topics like range etiquette (how not to be “that guy”), the fundamentals of marksmanship, the importance of accountability for every round we fire, and ready positions. The morning at the hotel went from 0900 until close to 1100. From there we caravanned to the private range run by FPF Training, about a 10 minute drive away.
After a review of safety rules and going over emergency procedures should the unthinkable happen, we began the day with some dry work. The dry work included practicing ready positions, placing our trigger fingers “in register” high and outside the trigger guards, the clearing of cover garments as part of a four-step draw, and some penny drills (dryfiring the pistol with a penny balanced on the front sight, the goal being to press the trigger without the penny falling).
I will note here that, for the entire rest of the two-day class, everything we did was heavily influenced by the stats of Givens’ students’ own shootings as well as those of other private citizens and plain-clothes law enforcement officers. In essence, this means the rapid draw and presentation of the handgun toward the target followed by the use of rapid, at least roughly aimed fire into a reasonable target zone (8 inch diameter circle in the high chest or a 4 inch circle in the head/face) from distances equaling that of about one car-length. This is not the class to take if you want to get really good at shooting bullseye targets at 25 or 50 yards. We probably did about 80% of our shooting from 3 yards, with the remainder at 5, 7, and 10 yards.
One of the first day’s lessons I found particularly helpful was the demonstration—and subsequent practice—of just how “rough” a sight picture we can have on the target and still be able to get quality hits. Shooting at 3 or 5 yards, a front sight visible anywhere inside the notch of our rear sight would still get us a hit inside the aforementioned 8 inch circle. This has always been a personal struggle of mine, as I often waste time looking for the “perfect” sight picture when, in fact, an “adequate” sight picture at those distances will net me a hit just as good.
The other significant takeaway from day one was what I thought was the best drill we ran that day. Referred to as the “parrot drill”, we had to shoot at the 8 inch circle at the center of the chest of our target, the 4 inch circle in the “head”, and then an even smaller circle positioned over the “shoulder” of our targets (right where a parrot would sit on a pirate’s shoulder……ARRGHHHH!). Thus we discovered how the cadence of our shooting would vary depending upon the precision required for each shot. So if the drill called for two shots on each circle from chest, to head, to parrot, it might sound like a quick bang-bang, followed by a bang, bang, followed by a bang……….bang. Tom summed it up as follows: shooting quickly, shooting carefully, and shooting precisely. It’s funny how simple words can be so descriptive of desired performance and outcomes. Tom had us change up the order, too, so that at some point we shot every combination: quickly, carefully, and precisely followed by carefully, precisely, and quickly, followed by precisely, quickly, and carefully, etc. This is an awesome drill!
Other things covered on Day One included the three types of reloads taught by Tom (speed, emergency, and tactical…….all good stuff, but don’t get me started on the definitions. Can all instructors agree to some universal language here??? This is the price we pay for training with so many instructors.) as well as strong-hand only and support-hand only shooting,
Several times on Day One–and again on Day Two–Tom had us shoot some qualifications for score in order to see how we were performing as well as pressure-test us just a bit. I performed very well on all of these, shooting a perfect score on all of them. Overall, I shot very well throughout the weekend.
To up the stress a bit, Tom also had us shoot against each other a bit. We moved into two lines at the plate rack and competed against those in the other line to see who could clear three plates off the rack first. In my first go-round, I had to go against Allen Sams of Civilian Carry Radio. We both knocked down our plates at so close to the same time that Tom had us immediately perform a do-over. On the second iteration, I got my third plate down just before Allen! In addition to the plate rack, we also competed at the dueling tree. I won against two different opponents at the dueling tree, though one student made it easy on me: when she drew, the magazine fell out of her pistol! Always make sure your magazines are seated!
We finished up Day One with another qualification, and wrapped up around 1715. I fired 327 rounds on Day One.
Training Day Two
Training Day Two began at 0900 on the FPF Training range. Due to forecasted rain and possible thunderstorms in the afternoon, Tom decided to try to get all of our shooting in by about 1300 or before returning to the hotel conference room to go over some other lessons. He said he typically prefers to intersperse these lessons throughout the day, but the weather had to be taken into account.
The day began with Tom saying something to the effect of: “You did well yesterday, and many of you showed a lot of improvement. By the end of the day you were scoring well on the scored course of fire. Let’s see how you shoot it cold.” I am happy and just a little proud to say that, of 22 shooters, I was one of 5 to shoot a perfect score, earning a Rangemaster patch (shout-out to my friend Tim–who took the course with me and John–for also shooting a perfect score! The aforementioned Allen Sams also earned a patch).
Day Two covered more of the same relatively close range shooting, but we also began to incorporate malfunction drills of various types (utilizing dummy rounds as well as empty cases). We spent quite a bit of time on immediate action drills to get our pistols cleared as quickly as possible. Some of these were partnered drills where we put a dummy round somewhere in our partners’ magazines, forcing them to tap-rack-assess at a relatively unknown point in a string of fire. Tom reminded us that only a few of us had had stoppages thus far in class, but the range is “best case scenario”. In a fight, when the pistol may get dropped in the mud, be tangled in clothing, be covered in blood from you or the assailant, malfunctions are much more likely. Frankly, I need to practice malfunction clearances more often. For many of the students, I would be willing to bet that they had never before practiced malfunction clearances.
Later in the day, the DT2A targets were put up, so I was pretty sure I knew what was coming (the Casino Drill!). However, before we got to the Casino Drill, we first utilized the targets for a different purpose. As you can see, the targets consist of numbered, colored shapes. Tom ran us through a few iterations of a drill where he called out a number, we would find the correct number, and then shoot that number of rounds into that target. Later, he might call out a color, and in that case, we would have to find the lower number with that color and shoot the appropriate number of rounds into that shape, and then the appropriate number into the other shape of that same color. To round out this drill, we had to do this in a competitive format, whereby we all shot it together. If you missed any shots you were “out”, and if you were the last one firing you were “out”. We actually did this in two different relays. My friend Tim won his relay, and I was doing well in mine (one of the last four or so shooters) until my Glock suffered a stove-pipe, and in my rush to make up shots after clearing it, I lost one round high (see? Pistols can choke when you count on them most).
New versions of these same targets were then hung, and we moved on to the Casino Drill. I have shot the Casino Drill only about 2-3 times in the past (see my article here), but for a vivid, live-action description of what it entails, you can check out this video featuring John Johnston from Ballistic Radio, one of our favorite podcasts.
We shot the Casino Drill several times as one large class (including versions where we had magazines loaded with different combinations of rounds: 7-7-7, 6-7-8, etc.), and each time I was done with 3-4 seconds to spare. Naturally, when it was time to do it for real—which we did one-at-a-time with the whole class watching—my thumb rode the slide-stop (which it typically does not!), causing me to wonder over fractions of a second if I had had some other type of malfunction, if I had not fired the required number of rounds at one of the targets, or if I had accidentally loaded my magazines with too many rounds. The result was stupid-slow reloads. I still completed the drill in exactly 20.0 seconds with one miss as I had rushed to finish. As each miss adds one second, I finished in 21.0 seconds, passing the drill. The fastest shooter on this drill (with a time in the 14 second range) won an engraved knife (Spyderco, I believe) from Tom.
After completing the Casino Drill, we had the thug-with-the-ultimate-mullet targets put up, and we shot one final qualification for score. Once again I shot a perfect score, finishing out what for me was a really good weekend of shooting.
We stopped for the day around 1330 to clean up the range and eat lunch and were instructed to meet back at the hotel at 1530 to finish the classroom portion of the weekend. Sure enough, some rain started to fall while we were eating lunch, so kudos to Tom for his forecasting abilities.
Back at the classroom, I will sum up what we did as covering the “why” of what we are doing. We got to listen to what can only be described as chilling 911 calls that were made by people who probably would have been better served by having a firearm than a phone in their time of need. In addition to these anecdotes, Tom provided the sobering statistics of violent crime throughout the United States each year. With about 5.8 million violent crimes occurring annually and extrapolated over a lifetime, you have about a one-in-four chance of being the victim of a violent crime (robbery, assault, rape, murder) over the course of your life.
We finished the day with Tom’s somewhat legendary discussion of the infamous 1986 FBI Shootout in Miami, Florida. While some might ask, “Why study this in a class for regular civilians?”, Tom includes this because there were so many elements that were applicable to everyday life. The distances involved, the preparation (or lack thereof… “How can this be happening???”), the will to fight and to live, etc., all were evident over those few minutes by both the agents and the bad guys.
Certificates were awarded, goodbyes exchanged, and I was in my car headed home at 1800. I fired 359 rounds on Day Two, for a total of 686 over the two days.
John and I drove back to my house together, so the ride back provided the chance to rehash the entire weekend and review our takeaways. With now over 400 hours of professional instruction in self-defense skills and topics, it is easy to look at this class as almost too basic. As should be obvious at this point, however, I got quite a bit out of the class. What Tom teaches are relatively simple, robust skills and techniques designed to take the average concealed carrier to the next level. I left the class a bit more skilled, armed with new knowledge, and intrigued to try out a few different things Tom taught to see if they are worth incorporating into my repertoire.
To sum it up: if I knew someone who had passed his or her state-mandated concealed carry class and perhaps also taken something like the NRA Basic Pistol class and was now looking for a two-day class to expand the skills, THIS would be the class I would recommend. Students attending this class ran the gamut in terms of prior skill level, and Tom had something for everyone. But the students who started Day One as the least experienced showed considerable improvement by the end of Day Two (and how do we know this? Because Tom actually tests everyone!).
I am not sure exactly how old Tom is, but he is no spring chicken. I would advise anyone who has not trained with Tom to do so sooner rather than later. How strongly do I feel about Tom’s teaching? Well, let’s just say I’ll be spending more time with Tom this year.
As always, thanks for reading. If you have any questions or comments, please post them below or on our Facebook page, as we always welcome civil discourse.