John and I had the pleasure of attending the First Responder Pistol class offered by Hardwired Tactical Shooting this past weekend. Hardwired Tactical Shooting is the brainchild of Wayne Dobbs and Darryl Bolke and is based in the Dallas, Texas area. Both are former police officers (Texas and Southern California, respectively), both have served as firearms instructors with their departments, and both have prevailed in multiple shootings. More importantly from my perspective, both have trained many others who have prevailed in shootings.
I first became aware of these gentlemen when listening to different episodes of Ballistic Radio. They have also both appeared on Civilian Carry Radio. In March of 2017 I attended the Rangemaster/Polite Society Tactical Conference, and when I saw that they would be presenting a four-hour seminar there, I made it a priority to attend. That seminar (two hours of lecture followed by two hours on the pistol range) would be the highlight of what was an excellent conference for me, and so I had it in my mind that I need to spend more time with them.
As luck would have it, Old Reliable John Murphy of FPF Training let me know in the Fall of 2017 that he would be hosting Bolke and Dobbs in the summer of 2018. When the registration went live in November, I was the first to register, such was my enthusiasm to train with them. The course was held in the punishing heat and humidity outside Culpeper, Virginia at the FPF Training private range. Cost of the course was $450, which I paid in full.
A couple of weeks prior to the class, all students received an email with some unfortunate news. Due to an unavoidable work conflict, Wayne Dobbs would not be able to attend the class. We were told that Darryl Bolke would still be there and would be bringing along “Joe” as his assistant instructor. As it happened, “Joe” ended up being Joe Watson of Watson Knives, a combat veteran of the U.S. Army. Although Joe did a fine, admirable job, I was a little bit disappointed that Wayne could not make it. Watching him shoot, as I got to do at the Tactical Conference, is pure joy. He is one of those people who appears to move slowly and shoot slowly, until you look at the X blown out of his target and a small number on the timer.
The Hardwired Tactical Shooting (HiTS) “First Responder Pistol” course is billed as their signature course. Do not let the name fool you, for it is not a class for police officers (though most officers would benefit from this class). I would describe the class as a bit of an intermediate level course that combines some pure fundamentals and basic skills with some higher expectations of speed and, especially, accuracy.
Just two weeks after finishing the Rangemaster Instructor Development class and achieving distinction as the “Top Gun” of that class, the potential was there for me to arrive at this class brimming with over-confidence. Though I did not arrive at this class with a “big head”, had I done so, I would have been quickly disabused of any over-confidence after a few minutes on the range.
I chose to once again utilize my OD Generation 3 Glock 19. It has Ameriglo I Dot Pro sights, a Vickers/Tango Down slide stop/release, and a Glock 17 smooth-faced trigger. I used a combination of Glock factory and Magpul magazines loaded with Federal 124 grain FMJ ammunition. My Glock suffered no malfunctions of any kind. I chose to operate the entire weekend from concealment using my Raven Concealment Systems Eidolon holster and no-name kydex double magazine pouch both mounted to a Wilderness Instructor belt.
Training Day One
After caravanning to the range from the usual nearby meeting place, we met in the classroom (a glorified shed….ah, but air conditioned!) at the range. Including Murphy, who would be taking the class with us, there were 15 students in the class, though two dropped out day two (one due to an unrelated injury and the other I think had a family emergency). There was only one female student in the class, a 20 year old who, along with her 18 year old brother, were attending their very first formal firearms class (Dad was there with them, though this was not his first rodeo). Most of the students in the class were training junkies like John and me.
Darryl began by introducing himself and establishing his bona fides, which are considerable. Nineteen years on a large, Southern California police department doing everything from nighttime bike patrol to helicopter work to SWAT instructor to shooting investigator. Much of this information is available on the HiTS website, but Darryl went even beyond all of that. Suffice is to say that he has seen a lot of dead bodies and investigated a lot of shootings and so knows what does and does not work “on the street”. Darryl also introduced Joe who went over his background as well.
With that and the student introductions out of the way, Darryl went on to describe the HiTS philosophy behind the class. He described it as not so much a shooting class as a use of force class, with the emphasis being on how best to survive (physically and financially) a deadly force encounter IN THE UNITED STATES! The latter was stressed, as we have to operate under very different parameters than, for example, the military operating in a war zone abroad. The point of the course is to provide good folks the skills they need in order to defeat evil.
Darryl then launched into what has apparently become one of the main things the HiTS crew is famous for: the safety brief. Their safety brief is definitely one of the longer ones I have experienced (I would say Tom Givens’ ranks right there with them in terms of length and comprehensiveness). As each of the four rules of firearms safety was reviewed, Darryl pointed out that the first and fourth are mindset rules, whereas rules two and three are operational in nature (they require us to “do”, or not do, something). Along the way both Joe and Darryl provided personal examples of what happens when each of the rules is broken.
The classroom portion of the course continued with a discussion of the Combat Triad (marksmanship, mindset, and tactics/gun-handling). Each of the three legs of this triangle were discussed in turn, and again, examples of real life were provided along the way.
Next, we went into threat assessment. This included the SEE acronym (see, evaluate, eliminate) and included some other cool little nuggets. One example was the recommendation that once the decision has been made to shoot, shift your focus to the spot on the person you want to hit (a shirt button, for example). Then, when presenting the pistol, the sights should more or less automatically align over that spot.
We covered some other knowledge that the gunfighter should possess, such as legal knowledge of use of force, tactical skills, and technical skills. The differences between tactical and technical skills was also reviewed, which included the discussion I have heard Bolke and Dobbs discuss in online forums and podcasts about split times. This is a topic I have seen ruffle some feathers, as the great technical shooters (typically from the competitive field) are always looking to shoot faster, with smaller split times (the time between shots). Tactically, however, this is not always desirable, as human reaction time tends to be about .25 seconds. Shooting faster than that means that you are literally outrunning your headlights and is often the cause of the “extra” shots we see fired in some police shootings. LAPD SWAT, Darryl mentioned, tends to shoot half-second splits in training and has put up an impressive record “on the streets”. As Darryl said, in a gunfight, going faster will NOT be a problem, but being accurate can be.
One final note about the classroom portion of class. Darryl mentioned on several occasions that he and Wayne built their program not by studying gunfights, but by focusing on those who actually WON gunfights. See the difference? Why focus on the statistics and measurables surrounding gunfights lost? Better, in their opinion, to look for similarities among those who actually won their fights and then build their program based on that information. I must say, it is hard to argue with their rationale!
We did not get out on the range until around 1130 hours, where we began with just a bit of dry work and going over basic tasks like how to safely unload and load our pistols. The instructors took turns going over each of the fundamentals of marksmanship with particular stress placed upon grip, trigger control, and sights (alignment and picture). At some point later in the day, it was mentioned how depending on the distances involved and the size of the target, different fundamentals might be more or less important. For example, at closer distances (3-5 yards) where the target is relatively large in the field of view, grip might be the most important skill. Conversely, at some distance (15 yards or beyond), sights and trigger might play a larger role. It would be up to us, over the course of the two days, to figure out which skill might be most critical for the shots that had to be taken. Balance would be key.
I am not going to outline every drill we shot, but just some highlights along the way. We began with single shots on a small-ish target, followed by controlled pairs and also practiced failure drills on humanoid targets (two shots to the body and one to the head). Darryl was able to clearly articulate and provide many real-world examples of this practice utilized by those he trained to great success (in one two year period at his department, I believe he said there were 57 officer involved shootings). We also got to shoot some drills where we deliberately misaligned our sights on target in order to show how “rough” our sight picture could be at closer distances and still get VERY good hits.
After lunch, the B-8 Bullseye repair centers made their first appearance. Anyone who has ever heard an interview with Bolke or Dobbs knows the emphasis they place on these targets. I would estimate that about 70% of the shooting we did over the course of the weekend was fired at these targets attached to larger silhouette targets. The black of the B-8 is only 5.5 inches in diameter, which is a significantly higher accuracy standard than most instructors emphasize.
Darryl ran us through several law enforcement qualification courses (portions of LAPD SWAT as well as some other departments he had experience with), with shots taken from 3 to 25 yards and all on the timer. The times were usually no joke, such as taking two shots in four seconds from the 25 yard line.
Reloads were also covered, and we went over the emergency slide-lock reload (Darryl calls this a shooter-induced malfunction) as well as the “tactical reload” (magazine exchange in the parlance of some). Darryl put us in charge of our own ammunition management for the weekend, and this ended up being the only class I ever took where I did not execute a single slide-lock reload. Instead, I was always pro-active in keeping my pistol topped off.
The last thing we covered on Day One was pistol malfunctions. This was covered fairly quickly, as Darryl feels that if you choose a decent gun, maintain it, and feed it good ammunition, malfunctions really should not be much of an issue (my Glock had no issues all weekend). Looking around the Easy-Up tents under which we were positioned during this segment and seeing some sleepy faces, Darryl called it for that day at 1545. Running only a single line of shooters helped us get through the material much more quickly than his classes typically run. I fired 183 rounds on Day One.
Training Day Two
Training Day Two began on the range at 0900. We reviewed some concepts and answered some questions from the day before and then went into a few warm-up drills on the range. With those completed, we moved on to The Test (10 shots, 10 yards, in 10 seconds) and The Super Test, both of which I have enjoyed past success with on my own. On this day, however, I was humbled and struggled just a bit. To add to the pressure on us, we shot The Test one at a time, on the timer of course, with all of our peers watching. I shot this drill way too quickly and dropped several rounds low and left outside the black on the B-8. We then shot the Super Test (The Test above plus 10 rounds at 5 yards in 5 seconds and 10 rounds at 15 yards in 15 seconds).
Another drill we spent quite a bit of time on was the Vickers 300. This is an untimed drill consisting of 10 rounds support hand only at 5 yards, 10 strong-hand only at 10 yards, and 10 with both hands fired from 20 yards. Those of us who wanted to could first shoot the easier version which is done at 3, 5, and 10 yards. I chose to do both. I excelled on the “easier” version but struggled with the “standard” version, shooting a measly 263 out of 300. Work to do.
After again trying out some law enforcement qualification courses of fire, we moved on to the highlight of the day for me, the 2 second standards. Darryl credits his partner Wayne for coming up with this bit of genius. In the expert opinion of Dobbs, gunfights are won or lost in the first two seconds. If they go on longer, they tend to devolve into a series of two-second engagements, with perhaps some movement interspersed or cover utilized between these micro-engagements. Accordingly, one of the things they stress is the ability to get fast, accurate hits on targets in two seconds.
We only tested ourselves at the 3 yard line, but on our own in the future we should be practicing at various distances so that we can figure out what it is we can do (or, perhaps more importantly, what we are not capable of) and how quickly we can do it.
One at a time, Darryl stood with us, timer in hand, and had us start from the low ready and see how many rounds we could fire into the black of the B-8 in two seconds. He demoed the drill first and then had Joe do it as well just so we could see what was expected (they demoed most of the drills all weekend). We needed to shoot as fast as we could guarantee our hits, but Darryl pushed us to where we were failing and then had us dial it back down. I surprised myself by equaling Darryl from the low ready, shooting 6 rounds into the black in 1.86 seconds. After a few runs like that, we did a couple of runs from concealment, where I again surprised myself with 3 shots into the black in 1.76 seconds. This is definitely a drill I will repeat in my own training.
We finished out Day Two with some multiple target drills (box drills) followed by some drills involving movement. While Darryl taught us the now classic duck-walking while shooting technique and had us practice it, he favors something more like glide or shuffle-steps in order to get some movement while also having a more stable platform to shoot from. Our final bit of instruction involved how to shoot with a flashlight, with Darryl instructing us on the Harries, reverse Harries, and the neck/cheek/temple index.
After the famous FPF Training team-building exercise (policing brass off the range), we gathered around for the awarding of certificates and were on the road by about 1630. I fired 324 rounds on Day Two for a total of 507 rounds over the two days.
Coming off the Rangemaster Instructor course, I was definitely feeling confident in my shooting. This class quickly humbled me. I actually assumed that it would just from the four hours I spent with the HiTS guys at the Rangemaster Tactical Conference in 2017. Overall, I did not shoot particularly well and was probably middle-of-the-pack in relation to the other students in this class. I was just not seeing things well, not pressing the trigger well, etc. Part of it may have just been fatigue. I also feel like taking two handgun classes so close together in time made it tough for me. Sometimes you have to do what you have to do, but I really wish it had worked out for these two classes to have been at least a month apart. On a side note, my blog partner John shot very well all weekend, and other than the 2 second standards, out-shot me the whole time.
The course itself is excellent. It provided a nice combination of pure fundamental skills (the fundamentals of marksmanship, reloads, etc.) combined with some higher skills (accuracy at 25 yards, moving while shooting, etc.). Darryl stressed again and again how much of what they teach is not “fun”. He likened this type of practice to “going to the gym”, a means to an end. Again and again he mentioned practicing the things that are more difficult for us.
I really liked how Darryl admitted up front that there is nothing in the course that they invented (not entirely true, since the 2 second standards and The Super Test were both their brainchildren). Rather, they have trained with some of the best in the business and learned a ton on the streets themselves, so that what they bring is a smorgasbord of “best practices” in gunfighting. Credit was given to many like Larry Vickers, Ken Hackathorn, Scotty Reitz, etc. As John and I drove to the class together, we had time in the car afterwards to discuss the class, and we both agreed that it would be worth repeating this class from time to time as an audit or snapshot of our skill levels at any particular point in time. Early word is that they want to return to Virginia in 2019 and Murphy, as of this writing, seems willing to have them back.
Given that the make-up of the students in this particular class varied widely from the pure beginner to several like us with hundreds of hours of handgun training, I can definitely recommend this class to anyone in that range (basically everyone) who wants to learn what skills to practice to be a better gunfighter.
Darryl is an excellent instructor (which I already knew from TacCon) who can draw on his personal experience and his vast knowledge base to not just explain things but also provide the rationale for their use. It is not often that one can train with a bona fide gunfighter. So my recommendation is to train with these guys if the opportunity presents itself. They tend to travel to classes very little, so it might require a trip to Texas for most of our readers.
As always, thanks for reading. If you have any questions or comments, please post them below or on our Facebook page. We always welcome civil discourse. Also, please follow us on Facebook, as we will be putting up some short video clips from class in the coming days.