I attended my first Rangemaster Tactical Conference (TacCon for short) in 2017. I skipped last year’s conference for a variety of reasons, but was eager to get back this year and so registered quite early (I registered March 28th, 2018!). John attended with me and has shared his thoughts here.
This year’s conference was held at the NOLATAC Training Center in Avondale, Louisiana, which is just southwest of New Orleans. Cost for the conference was $389 (a registration fee brought the total price up to $412), which I paid in full. I am not affiliated in any way with Rangemaster or the NOLATAC Training Center. Though I became a certified Rangemaster instructor last summer, I do not receive any benefits from Rangemaster, nor do I actively teach about firearms or self-defense.
For those who do not know, TacCon is an annual event (this was its 21st year!) that this year featured 43 instructors who provided training blocks/seminars of two to four hours to the 235 attendees over a three-day period. To give an example of the quality of instructors present, I had already taken full classes with 7 of those 43: Tom Givens, Greg Ellifritz, John Murphy, Chuck Haggard, Craig Douglas, Massad Ayoob, and Darryl Bolke. The seminars varied from live-fire exercises to hands-on clinics and lectures. Live-fire seminars included pistol, carbine, shotgun, and lever-action rifles, while the lectures covered topics as diverse as active shooters, home invasions, optics, and training industry trends. The hands-on clinics included groundfighting, weapon disarms, and trauma medicine. Each year there is also a pistol match in which all attendees can participate, with awards going to the top male, top female, and top law enforcement officer (current or retired).
One criticism of the conference the last few years has been how full (read: OVER-filled) the live-fire classes can become. For example, when I attended in 2017, the live fire class put on by Darryl Bolke and Wayne Dobbs of Hardwired Tactical had over 50 shooters, of which they were able to handle 42! Last year, when John attended, he noted that live-fire seminars put on by Gabe White were full by about 6 AM! To eliminate this issue this year, Tom Givens had pre-registration (several weeks before the conference) for all live-fire classes. Others could watch from well behind the line, but only those who registered in advance could attend each live-fire class. While not everyone got the class he or she wanted, it guaranteed that everyone who wanted to do a live-fire class got into at least one, and also eliminated the throngs of people on each of the ranges.
I have not often written about the weather for classes unless it was an issue. This time, I would describe it as an issue. Although quite warm when I arrived in New Orleans the day before the conference began, the three days of the conference itself featured intermittent rain (drizzle to fairly heavy downpours), wind, and unseasonably cool temperatures (highs around 50 degrees). Those who arrived with nothing but T-shirts and shirtsleeves found themselves seeking out heavier clothing and rain gear.
I will begin by going through the seminars I took, then go through some other general stuff about the conference itself (logistical matters and such), then my final thoughts. I will note here, however, that whatever live-fire class each attendee got and what time each was assigned to shoot the match could heavily influence the seminars one might choose to take.
AM Session One
Dr. Sherman House—“MacGyver School of Medicine: Improvised Trauma Care”
I have long been a follower of Dr. House at his blog, The Civilian Defender, and he has commented many times on our articles here. I chose to take this seminar for several reasons. First, I always wanted to take a course or seminar with Dr. House. Second, other medical courses I have done had more of a focus on purpose-made medical gear rather than on the improvised aspects. Third, there really was not much else in this time slot that interested me. Finally, I would be shooting the match at 10:30, and therefore needed to take a seminar that would allow me that freedom.
This was scheduled from 8 AM until noon and was a good block of instruction. Dr. House has considerable knowledge in this field, has good delivery (with plenty of humor, pop-culture references, etc.) to deliver that knowledge, and, best of all, can answer student questions with practiced ease. I stepped out around 10 AM to make the long trek over to the range to shoot the match. When I returned close to 11 AM the seminar had already ended, which was a bit surprising, but I guess the practical application of what had been covered over the first two hours did not take very long. I used the remainder of this time to watch Cecil Burch conduct his “Just Enough Jits” class in the area right next door, and made a mental note to take a full class with Cecil sometime in the near future (note: I missed the beginning of Cecil’s presentation due to my participation in the match, so I just watched Cecil rather than participate directly).
The range officers were having a few issues with the pneumatic targets (they face 90 degrees from the line and turn toward the shooters, indicating it is time to fire…..no BEEP at this match). Once they got that squared away, the match moved quickly. The match required 40 total rounds and was shot in stages from 5, 10, and 15 yards. There was one slide-lock reload, strong hand only and support hand only shooting, some shots from kneeling, some shots from the draw and others from the ready, and some head shots from both 5 and 10 yards. Much of it seemed to have been borrowed from the Tom Givens Core Skills Test, and it was shot on a normal Rangemaster Target (essentially the FBI QIT-99 target but with a 4 inch circle on the head and an 8 inch circle surrounded by a 10 inch circle on the chest). I lost one round high for no reason at all and so scored what I think was a 187. Not good enough to make the Sunday shoot off (cutoff ended up being 194). I used my OD Generation 3 Glock 19.
Day One PM
Paul Sharp—“Recoil Management”
I have mentioned on the blog many times about how I feel like my grip on a handgun is one of my biggest issues. Accordingly, spending four hours with Paul Sharp seemed a worthwhile use of my time. In addition, I wanted to get a feel for Paul Sharp and how he teaches, as I am considering doing more coursework with him in the near future. I was not disappointed with Paul in any way. Funny, clear and concise in instruction, using great analogies to help illustrate what he wanted us to do, it was a pleasure to watch Paul in action. In this seminar, we paired up with students next to us to coach each other (thanks for the coaching, Peter!) under Paul’s direction. I must say that I found Paul’s techniques exhausting (in a good way). Anticipating many students finding this to be the case, he told the class that this is normal since we were using muscles, ligaments, and tendons in ways we were not accustomed. But he also stressed that proper recoil management has little to do with body mass or strength, but merely proper technique. He taught everything in a stair-stepped manner, adding layer upon layer to build our grip. Much of this information is available in short YouTube clips recorded at a previous TacCon, but seeing it all in sequence and context was definitely worth it. The rain really started to come down heavy a little over two hours into this session, and Paul, reading his audience, had us wrap up a bit early. Though the seminar description said we would shoot about 300 rounds, I only shot 150 rounds. I would have liked to have gotten some more reps in (plus I had no desire to flirt with FAA/airline rules about how much ammunition could be carried in checked bags on my return flight!), but I also was not a fan of standing around in the rain while fighting a head cold that had started brewing a couple of days before.
AM Session One
Jon Skubis—“All About Optics”
There were not a lot of options for me during this time slot, as several of the offered seminars were seminars I had taken two years ago or were with instructors with whom I had done entire classes before. Thus, I found my way to Jon Skubis’ seminar and was pleasantly surprised by the content offered. Jon works for Vortex optics, but he was not there to pimp his company but rather to explain the characteristics and features of binoculars, spotting scopes, rifle scopes, and red dot and holographic sights. Issues like parallax, eye relief, first focal plane and second focal plane scopes, reticle features—among many others—were explained in detail and questions answered. He had a ton of samples available to examine in order to illustrate certain features and even raffled off a free Vortex Sparc! Two very well-spent hours.
AM Session Two
Tom Givens—“Home Invasions: What You Need to Know”
I find it impossible to attend TacCon and not attend a session done by Tom Givens. It would be like going to New Orleans and not eating crawfish! Tom is a fantastic orator and delivered the goods yet again. Tom reviewed definitions of burglary, statistics galore, and then several case studies of worst-case-scenario home invasions. The class concluded with recommendations for ways to harden one’s home. This part was presented with the caveat that the homeowner can never keep someone out indefinitely, but merely delay entry and force the criminal to make a lot of noise, allowing the owner to mount an effective, active defense. Two more very well-spent hours.
Ed Monk—“Active Killer Threat & Response”
I have always had an interest in active killers, and with my relatively recent and continued involvement on my school safety committee, this seemed like a no-brainer seminar to take. This would turn out to be one of the true highlights of the conference for me, as Ed delivered in a big way. For a nominal fee I purchased hard copies of his PowerPoint slides. By my count there were 222 slides in this four-hour presentation. Ed went through case study after case study outlining trends, gave a scathing review of the deputies in Parkland, Florida, and pointed out that he has to keep updating his material because these events keep happening. The biggest takeaway from this seminar was that when an armed, willing person has been present at these events, active killers have been limited to less than 10 victims 100% of the time. Want to make any bets how well this argument will work for me at my job?
AM Session One
Dr. Martin Topper—“Ammo Update: Loads for Personal and Home Defense”
There were only two lectures during this time slot, as this was also the time for the “shoot-off” portion of the shooting match. Though I feel like I make good choices when it comes to defensive ammunition, I wanted to see and hear what Dr. Topper had to say. There were a few surprises in this presentation, among them that handgun caliber, even between calibers like 9mm and .45 ACP, does matter, at least to a degree. The fact that Dr. Topper switches defensive ammunition based on environment—often—also came as a surprise. For example, he advocates using one type of ammunition in a carry pistol, but switching to another type that might offer less penetration if staying someplace, such as a hotel, where overpenetration can be a serious concern. The fact that he uses fluted Lehigh ammunition for some defensive purposes was also surprising, as I was not aware of much of a track record–good or bad–in actual shootings with this style of bullet. An interesting lecture.
AM Session Two
Darryl Bolke—“Mission Drives the Gear Train”
I was planning on taking Fletch Fuller’s seminar on handgun disarms during this time slot, but unfortunately his airline changed his flight and he had to leave suddenly just before this seminar was to start. Once I learned of this, I rushed over to a nearby tent to catch all of Darryl Bolke’s presentation on how each person’s mission should drive their gear decisions. Much of this two-hour session consisted of ways to carry a potential weapon in places where weapons are not permitted. Bolke is an awesome presenter (his presentation was the highlight, for me, of the 2017 conference). Considering I was not planning to attend this session, I must say that I chose an information-packed alternative.
PM Session One
John Holschen—“Surviving the Extreme Event”
This was another two-hour session that focused mainly on active killers. I was told by several people smarter than me heading into this conference to “take anything John Holschen offers.” Well, these people all PROVED they are smarter than me. Holschen delivered what, for me, was probably the best seminar of this year’s conference. It really had me rethinking a few things. In addition, in much the same way that attending Wayne Dobbs and Darryl Bolke’s presentation in 2017 convinced me to do a class with them (and I did!), so it was that this presentation has convinced me that I need to take a full class with John.
PM Session Two
Steve Moses—“Martial Arts for Middle Agers”
The final block of instruction for the conference featured Steve Moses. In the lecture portion of this seminar, Steve discussed the pros and cons of different martial arts systems when it comes to practical applications “on the street”. Big surprise, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu was his top choice. What was most interesting to me was that he only started BJJ at age 57, and it is working out very well for him. There is hope for me yet!
About halfway through this session there was a break so that students could disarm for the practical portion of the class. I used that opportunity to head to the porta-potties, and on my return ran into John Holschen outside a tent, and chose to spend the rest of the afternoon picking his brain about some different topics. So I never did make it back to Steve’s presentation. This is no knock on Steve, as he was definitely presenting quality material. I was just eager to speak more with John one-on-one.
Seminars were great this year. Unlike my last conference, there were no real duds. Some were better than others, of course, but I feel like I got a ton of value from several sessions (Holschen, Givens, and Monk), good value from several more (Sharp, Bolke, Skubis), and plenty to think about from the others. One of the recurring issues at TacCon is not being able to take everything you want to take (an embarrassment of riches, if you will!). For example, I really wanted to take Cecil Burch’s “Just Enough Jits” seminar, but it fell during my time to shoot the match. At other times, hard choices have to be made between available seminars. Again, an embarrassment of riches. It really is hard to go wrong at TacCon. I also have to say that the new method of pre-registering for the live-fire classes was the right move.
I was not thrilled with the NOLATAC Training Facility. First, the place is below sea level but the ranges are just grass and dirt. With all the rain, they soon became muddy ponds. Is gravel hard to get in the New Orleans area? In addition, because NOLATAC shares space with a racetrack, some of the more soft-spoken presenters were difficult, at times, to hear with the constant sound of racing cars and motorcycles. There was also a dearth of porta-potties set up in a timely manner on the first day. I should point out that they tried to be good hosts and succeeded in most areas, such as the free crawfish boil on Friday night, the tacos (not free, but reasonably priced) on Sunday, the food trucks available on Friday and Saturday, the ability to pre-order ammunition so it did not have to be brought down, and just generally being nice and helpful. I had no issues with the people, just a few with the place.
Although not in New Orleans proper, I have to say that the hospitality industry there seems to rely on New Orleans being a draw no matter what. So it was that, despite hotel reservations, we arrived at our hotel with no room available. We were not alone with this experience. Others had other issues (Tom Givens, head of the entire conference, had a hotel room with no shower curtain, and Greg Ellifritz entered his room to find blood on some cushions, a disabled smoke detector, and cocaine on the bathroom counter!). A second hotel I stayed in for one night seemed much nicer, but upon opening the room door we found an empty suitcase with a note taped to it that said, “Throw away.” Had housekeeping properly cleaned the room before it was given to us? A dubious assumption.
Personal travel woes continued for me leaving New Orleans the Monday after the conference. A nearly one-hour wait just to get checked in with the airline was followed by a 20 minute line at security. I must look shady, because I got frisked. The TSA agent explained that he had to search around my groin and buttocks and asked if I would prefer a private screening (I nearly asked him if I had to pay extra for that, but didn’t think the joke would go over well!). I declined, as I could see from the security area that my plane was already boarding. Once through that debacle, I literally had to run to my plane. To top it all off, when I arrived at my home airport, I discovered that my car battery had died in the long term parking lot! I felt like I was Jack Lemon in “The Out-of-Towners”!
Looking at just the conference, despite the miserable weather, I had a great time. I learned a lot, re-learned a lot, met some people I had wanted to meet in-person for quite a while (Dr. Sherman House, John Correia, John Farnam, John Holschen), and generally had a good time.
I think the conference is best for those who are:
1. Looking to get their training started off on the right track. They can get exposed to a variety of instructors and a variety of topics all at one event and for a reasonable price.
2. Looking to network with others in the self-defense/firearms training industry.
3. Treating it like an annual “tactical vacation” of sorts.
4. Using it like a high school reunion, where they just get to catch up with like-minded friends they may not often get to see.
Although TacCon is very reasonably priced, its location (invariably toward the middle of the country) dictates that I must fly to attend. It also means 4-5 nights in hotels, meals, 4-5 days away from my family, and typically three days off from work. At a time when I have already accrued over 500 hours of training, these days I tend to be seeking more depth to every sub-topic I study, more than can usually be provided in seminars of 2-4 hours. In short, my issues with TacCon are not with the conference, but are unique to my own situation. I look at the opportunity cost of the time and money spent on TacCon and think about all of the other classes I could take instead. Although I will probably return to TacCon, it might be a while before I do. Again, these are very personal issues, and I would recommend the Rangemaster Tactical Conference to anyone looking for firearms/self-defense training.
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