AAR: 2021 Rangemaster Tactical Conference, Carrollton, TX, March 26-28, 2021

This year makes the fourth time that I’ve attended the annual Rangemaster Tactical Conference (Tac-Con for short). I honestly wasn’t sure if I was going to go this year, although I had purchased a ticket when they first became available. The stress and time commitment of my recent job change have taken their toll, and quite frankly, I’ve been tired. Just tired. But I’m glad I went. I’m am reenergized to focus my training time and efforts, and it was good to see so many old friends and acquaintances at the conference.

I had actually decided to go last year after I heard John Hearne appear on a podcast (I must apologize, but I don’t remember which one). I had not attended Hearne’s lecture in years prior simply because I didn’t want to dedicate an entire 8 hour day. That was a mistake on my part, and I intended to rectify it. The fact that the 8 hour lecture was spread across two days this year made it that much more accessible.

This year’s conference was held at the Dallas Pistol Club in Carrollton, TX. Although I wasn’t able to get a room at the designated hotel, I was able to stay at another hotel across the parking lot, within about ten minutes of the range. Of the four Tac-Cons that I’ve attended, this has probably been the best facility. The weather for the weekend was just about perfect, starting out cool early but quickly warming by mid-morning.

Friday

Day one started with picking up my name badge and figuring out the layout of all the ranges and classrooms. Part one of Hearne’s lecture was first up and would occupy my morning. Securing a good seat early, I ran into the Suited Shootist and had a chance to say hello. If you’re not following his blog and YouTube channel, you should be! Alex consistently puts out some very good and thought provoking content.

COVID has definitely changed the world, so I wasn’t completely shocked to learn that Hearne would be delivering his lecture via Zoom videoconferencing. Ever resourceful, Tiffany Johnson had set up a screen, projector, speakers, and microphone to facilitate the lecture. I will admit I had some initial trepidation, but Hearne delivered the material eloquently and the videoconference interaction was not nearly as disruptive as one might imagine. The depth and breadth of the material presented by Hearne is impressive and very thought provoking. He starts by establishing how humans are “wired” based on evolutionary evidence and looks at all relevant aspects of human performance through the lens of a researcher. The overwhelming message of the first half of the lecture was the need to train to perform in the rational brain instead of in the emotional brain. Before breaking for the morning, Hearne started busting a series of common myths, or as he put it, “John’s Sacred Cow Slaughter House.” He sells his lecture notes for a nominal fee, and I did not hesitate to acquire a copy to review, as I simply am not that good of a note taker. Previously, the only real way for a layperson to hear Hearne’s lecture was at Tac-Con, but he now has a new website and classes scheduled, including the 8 hour lecture. The material is absolutely worth your time and money, and I would encourage you to seek it out if you’re serious about the defensive use of the pistol.

At the noon break, there was a brick oven pizza food truck, so pizza it was for lunch! In the afternoon, I had a few choices, but I ultimately decided to attend Lee Weems’ “Standing Your Ground” lecture. I was also scheduled to shoot the match on the first day, and the match was conducted right outside the room that Weems was teaching in, so the proximity helped. I always hate to step out of a lecture to shoot, but it is what it is. I managed to catch the first twenty minutes or so of Weems’ lecture before I had to step out. I also ran into Michael Bane in the room where Weems was going to be teaching. I still listen to his podcast every week and appreciate his cogent commentary on the gun industry and the ever changing world around us. I ascribe perhaps more importance than I should to the fact that Bane and I are both from Memphis. At any rate, we briefly talked lever guns, and I am very much looking forward to his forthcoming book on the subject.

I had been ambivalent on shooting the match, and had in fact forgotten to pack enough ammo for the classes I was intending to take plus shooting the match. But John Murphy of FPF Training came through and had enough ammo to cover me, although I wound up not needing it in the end. On the firing line, I found myself standing next to no less that Darryl Bolke and Erick Gelhaus… no pressure, LOL! The match was fairly similar to years past and I’m not going to stress about my lackluster performance this year. I very literally shot it cold, not having fired a single live round in the preceding six months. I have practiced my draw and done some dry fire, but honestly, it’s been sporadic at best. I managed to squeak by with a 190/200 (95%) and shot 48/50 on the Tie Breaker stage (5 shots on a B8 from 7 yards, on the timer). Again, not having fired a gun for six months, I was okay with my shooting. I only fumbled one draw when I failed to clear my garment, but I still made the time. Ultimately, I placed 113th out of approximately 160 shooters. Nothing to write home about, but it certainly could have been worse. Looking at my target below, it sort of underscores why Hardwired Tactical stresses the B8 and grapefruit sized vital zones. My target looks more like I used a shotgun. Having treated numerous shooting victims in my career, I wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end, but any number of my shots probably would not have had the desired effect. Time to put the work in again!

My target after the 40 rounds fired at the match… just barely a 190/200.

Back in the classroom for the remainder of Weems’ presentation, I picked up right where I had left off with my notes. The title of Weems’ presentation is largely designed to catch attention, as the actual meaning of “Standing Your Ground” involves only a very narrow slice of actual self defense case law. In his presentation, Weems covered the gamut of legal issues that a gun owner that carries concealed should concern themselves with, from the perspective of a law enforcement officer and constitutional scholar. Some takeaways include that if you are forced to use your gun, you should probably plan on being arrested, even if you aren’t charged. If you are charged, the costs of a legal defense can be extensive. Even if you are not charged, you may still face civil litigation costs depending on your jurisdiction. He referenced things such as attorney Andrew Branca’s Law of Self Defense book and classes, as well as some of the teachings of Massad Ayoob. Notably, both were in attendance and occasionally offered relevant commentary. All in all, Weems offered a comprehensive overview of use of force implications and consequences, along with relevant training points and suggestions. Of particular interest was the discussion of a hypothetical shooting incident aftermath, spanning from 911 activation to potential criminal charges and civil liability. Especially in the world we live in today, concealed carry “insurance” is an increasingly good idea. Lee Weems is uniquely qualified and positioned to effectively teach what he preaches, and there is much to learn from him. You can learn more about him at First Person Safety.

Weems finished up a little early, so I had opportunity to watch the last part of John Murphy’s “Practical Concealed Carry.” This was a welcome review of the very important material that Murphy focuses on. If there’s one class that a new CCW holder should take, Murphy’s “Concealed Carry: Street Encounter Skills and Tactics” is it. Murphy is now retired from .gov and traveling the country with his unique class. Look for him at a range near you!

John Murphy doing his thing…

Saturday

Saturday morning was the second half of John Hearne’s “Performance Under Fire” presentation. Hearne continued with the slaying of sacred cows to include such topics as whether you can see sights in a gunfight, Hick’s Law, fine and gross motor skills, and others. He included a VERY informative block on how not to get shot by the police, backed up with research. He also discussed training methodologies and the relative importance of fitness. Hearne ended the morning with “other stuff you really, really need to know,” and some strategies for optimizing personal performance. I learned an incredible amount from Hearne’s lectures, and I will be making some changes in how I approach my training and maintenance of skills. His block of instruction, albeit long, is well worth the time.

A brief snapshot…

Saturday’s food truck was not nearly as efficient as the previous day’s, and quite frankly, I wasn’t terribly impressed with the grilled cheese based sandwiches. To be blunt, I felt bloated and had indigestion later that afternoon. I try to eat relatively clean, and this wasn’t it. But I’m still thankful that there was an option to obtain food on site.

For the afternoon, I chose another four hour block of instruction with one of my favorite trainers. Darryl Bolke of Hardwired Tactical Shooting was presenting “Secrets of Highly Successful Gunfighters.” I had seen a version of this in years past, but was interested to see what else Bolke might have to say on the subject. He did not disappoint! I was gratified when he introduced the lecture as a natural follow on to Hearne’s presentation. In Bolke’s words, Hearne presented the “science” while he would present the “reality.” I wound up taking six pages of notes in my shorthand style as Bolke talked about past gunfighters that dominated the fight and then broke down why they were so successful. Names like Frank Hamer, Jim Cirillo, Bill Allard, Giles Stock, Larry Mudget, Scotty Reitz, LAPD SIS and “D” Platoon, and Paul Howe were referenced by Bolke. When instructors like Ayoob, Weems, Farnam, and Holschen are also in the room taking notes, that might be what you call a clue… Bolke was spot on in describing his presentation as a natural follow up to Hearne’s, as there were many parallels between the two presentations with historical precedent lending credence to the science. One big takeaway for me was a discussion of sight focus vs. target focus. There is more to focusing on the front sight than simply hitting what your aiming at! Like Hearne, Bolke left us with some strategies to get the most out of training and practice. Again, this was a long block of instruction, but one that I was glad I attended.

Darryl Bolke…

Sunday

Readers are going to start to notice some repetition here as I go over my last day at the conference… aside from my overall goal of attending Hearne’s presentation, it was very much a Bolke and Weems conference for me. Accordingly, I spent the first morning session listening to Bolke’s “Revolver Options” presentation. I have a few wheel guns and I enjoy them and do occasionally carry one. In this class, Bolke described the attributes of revolvers as well as who specifically should consider a revolver. There is much myth and mysticism surrounding the revolver, but they aren’t necessarily obsolete just yet. This was another in-depth discussion from a true subject matter expert. Simply because I find the subject interesting and still relevant, I will almost certainly wind up at the “Revolver Roundup” sooner rather than later.

For the second half of the morning, the first of my two scheduled live fire classes at the conference was John Holschen’s “Moving and Shooting.” I have been very impressed with Holschen’s presentations and range sessions at prior Tac-Cons and considered myself lucky to secure a spot in his class. Holschen is very knowledgeable with significant experience and both he and his wife are class acts. I was fortunate enough to get to know them a little bit better over dinners at the 2019 Tac-Con and can assure readers that he knows his stuff. Holschen has a very relaxed range presence and is able to pack a lot of nuanced material into a two hour block of instruction. After a brief discussion of how and why we might want to move (including simple egress from a bad situation) he had us start off with forward and slightly lateral movement to simulate getting to cover or establishing a better position to take a shot on an adversary. Next up was lateral movement offline, or “getting off the X,” emphasizing the priority of not getting shot. He then demonstrated (using an inert blue gun) and had us practice, in a building block method, how to move our upper body with pistol in hand to bring the sights to the eyeline while the lower body was oriented to move in a different direction. This is not easy to explain in words, but imagine unlocking your upper body frame, almost reminiscent of Center Axis Relock. Finally, we had an opportunity to put it all together in what was essentially a flanking exercise on a target set up in the center of an arcing lane of travel. This was done in both directions by all participants one at a time, starting with the pistol already drawn and in hand for safety. Holschen had us start the exercise with the pistol drawn since you really have to have your draw stroke refined with your hands meeting in the middle in a retention position to avoid flagging your support hand when the body is twisted. Everything Holschen demonstrated and discussed gelled well with my prior experience and training. With the exception of up close and personal, you should probably either be moving OR shooting, not necessarily moving AND shooting. Quite frankly, if your moving fast enough to make it worthwhile, your accuracy will inevitably suffer. If you’re anywhere near the Pacific Northwest, you really should seek out his classes. I have no doubt that they are well worth the effort.

I was able to get in line early at the food truck on Sunday and was very pleased with the sliders that were available for lunch. For my palate, this was probably the best food truck yet. I took the opportunity at lunch to say hello to Greg Ellifritz and he was kind enough to sign my copy of his new travel book. I had too many conflicts to make it to his “Safe Travel in Dangerous Places” presentation, but I have no doubt that Greg delivered a ton of useful and pertinent content. He is one of those trainers that I’ve traveled to train with multiple times in the past. I suggest you do the same!

I found myself in another of Darryl Bolke’s presentations after lunch. Bolke is positioning himself as a historian of sorts of gunfighters and gunfighting, and his last presentation of the conference was titled “The Ambush Guns of Bonnie and Clyde.” Just as in the present day, the media didn’t necessarily get everything right at the time of the event. Further, while an enjoyable film, “The Highwaymen” took significant artistic license in portraying the epic manhunt. In stark contrast to popular belief, the guns used in the ambush of Bonnie and Clyde were somewhat boring and pedestrian. Indeed, the men charged with stopping Bonnie and Clyde used ordinary guns that they had familiarity with. Bolke focused on the actual guns used in the ambush, weaving in interesting nuggets of information and observations on some perennial constants of successful gunfighting. Bolke’s presentation was enhanced by the fact that he had several examples of period weapons on hand to allow for show and tell. One RSO at Tac-Con even brought in an iconic BAR that attendees were allowed to closely examine. All in all, this was a fun, informative, and interactive session for students of the gun.

To cap off Tac-Con 2021, my final class of the weekend and my second live fire block was Lee Weems’ “Revolver Essentials.” With a safety and medical brief taken care of, Weems started with a discussion on equipment, with a particular focus on reloading methods. We then started at about three yards firing a couple of practice drills that effectively become “ball and dummy” drills. These were eponymously attributed to Claude Werner and Wayne Dobbs. Almost immediately, I discovered that I need to adjust the sights on my S&W Model 19-3. Mine has a 2 1/2″ barrel and while older than I am is probably still in better condition!

For class, I had quickly obtained the only holster I could find before Tac-Con, a Galco paddle holster. On Friday, knowing that Darryl Bolke is based in Dallas, I had asked if he knew anywhere that I could purchase an appendix holster in the area. Bolke did me one better, and was generous enough to loan me a rare and expensive 5-Shot Leather SME to use in class! The holster is a work of art and worked beautifully in class. I’m tempted to order one and wait however long it would take for delivery, although Bolke recommended that I just go with JM Custom Kydex for the gun. I worry about the effect Kydex will have on the revolver’s finish, but it’s hardly pristine, so that may be what I go with. (Anybody want to buy a Galco Paddle holster that fits a S&W K-Frame, LOL?) I also discovered that I want some different grips, as the Altamont boot grips that I have are a bit lacking in how they fit my hand. I’m thinking a set of VZ grips with no finger grooves, although I really want some classic wood for the iconic blued revolver.

Weems continued his lesson with a revolver version of “rolling thunder.” This was both fun and challenging, emphasizing loading skills. Much like a shotgun, you have to keep the gun fed. Weems briefly delved into maintenance and malfunctions, at one point enlisting the assistance of Claude Werner, who happened to be observing. Finally, Weems debuted a new shooting test that he calls the “No Loader” test. His premise is that “the problem doesn’t change because of the gear you choose.” The test is specifically tailored to be revolver neutral, and pays homage to both the Georgia POST Double Action Qualification and the Newhall incident with a 2, reload 2 string of fire with a fifteen second par time. I failed the test… it is challenging. Weems has published the test on his website and social media, and I encourage readers to check it out and try it out on the range. All said and done, I fired 75 rounds of .38 special in class and discovered that Federal 148 grain lead semi-wadcutters are damned accurate out of my gun. Blazer brass, not so much.

With that, I returned Darryl’s holster, said my goodbyes to people, and Tac-Con 21 was a wrap! Readers may notice that I didn’t talk much about anything outside of the conference. Since I got booted off of Facebook, I didn’t have access to the Facebook group where dinner plans and such were posted. I mainly kept to myself, got takeout from a nearby restaurant, and caught up on work in the hotel.

If I had any criticisms of the conference, it would be that I wish there were perhaps two food trucks each day, just to avoid long lines, and that the porta-potties were getting pretty damned full by day three. Having said that, everyone ate, and there were actual bathrooms available with flush toilets. The portable toilets were just supplemental convenience. I still think the Dallas Pistol Club has been the best venue yet for the Tac-Cons that I’ve attended, and it’s already been announced that it will be the venue for next year’s event as well. IF I go, I will probably do so with a focus on hand-to-hand and combatives. Time will tell.

As always, thanks for reading. If you’re not already, please follow the blog via e-mail or on Twitter (I don’t think they’ve kicked us off yet…) We welcome questions, comments, and civil discourse. I can be reached privately at civiliangunfighter.john@gmail.com.

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