Extra Long Front Sight 4-Day Defensive Handgun AAR

Posted: October 9, 2011 in After Action Reports, Beginner, Intermediate

I’m not kidding about extra long. Brevity is not my strong suit (as you have no doubt learned by this point). Still, I hope I covered enough in here for people to get something out of it. Enjoy!

Front Sight 4-Day Defensive Handgun
5/23-26/2011 – Pahrump, NV

I took a lot of notes on this course. I have one of those tiny composition books I tend to keep in my back pocket for classes like this and I think I ended up getting about 60 pages worth of notes. Granted, I write big, but still. There was a heck of a lot of information. I’m going to try my best to condense it down as best I can.

On the first day (Monday) we had to arrive by 6:30 to get our guns inspected. It sucks to have to get there so early, but I think it’s a really smart move on their part. They have however many hundreds of people there, and if you don’t check, you may end up having some serious (and easily preventable) injuries. So we do that. We get assigned to a range, and then sort of mill about for a while before going into the classroom. The classroom is actually a big lecture hall. We listen to a presentation by a few of the head instructors that covers safety and the Front Sight training philosophy in a few parts. It’s interesting info, but not necessary for this AAR. If you’re curious, I’d be happy to tell you about it.

Next we went to our range, met our instructors, and started on some dry drills. The first thing we went over are the 4 safety rules, of course. We learned the Weaver stance and grip, which was a challenge for me. Weaver involves isometric tension between the weapon and support hands, and a bladed, upright stance. It’s different from the isosceles I had been using, which involves a square, slightly forward-leaning stance and an even grip with both hands getting as much skin contact with the gun as possible. They taught us how to do their preferred style of chamber check and magazine check, and we would do that thing hundreds and hundreds of times throughout the course. We also learned about malfunction clearances. Front Sight defines a malfunction as something you can clear in a gun fight and a jam as something you will need time and tools to fix. We learned how to fix Type 1, 2 and 3 malfunctions as well as tactical, speed, and emergency reloads. After that, we established that as citizens, we shoot to stop aggressive action, not to neutralize, kill, maim, injure, or anything else. We just want the dude to stop trying to hurt us and our family. To accomplish this, they recommend a controlled pair to the thoracic cavity (upper chest, covering heart, lungs, and a lot of blood vessels). They told us that all handgun calibers, be they 9mm, .45, .380 or 10mm are all underpowered to get a guaranteed, instantaneous stop on a dedicated opponent. If you put two shots to the center of the thoracic cavity and that doesn’t cause the opponent to cease aggressive action, they recommend following up with a shot to cranio-ocular cavity. That’s the space from the brow line to the bottom edge of the nose, and from the outside edge of each eye orbit. It’s roughly the size of a 3×5 card. Then we talked about proper sight alignment, sight picture and trigger control. We also learned Front sight’s after action drill. It involves moving yourself from where you started, checking your surroundings, checking your opponent, and then topping off the ammo in your gun. We did this a whole lot as well. As far as I can remember, we still hadn’t fired a shot all morning. Then we broke for lunch.

Lunch is the time at Front sight where a lot of people claim the “indoctrination” occurs. It’s where they show videos or do lectures or whatever. Honestly, I think we attended two lectures the whole week (including the welcome lecture) and didn’t watch any videos. When you go the first time, you should listen to all the lectures (except for the one on memberships if you aren’t interested in buying one) because there really is a lot of great information in them on the legality of using lethal force and the likely outcome if you ever have to use it. They also talk about Col. Cooper’s color codes of awareness and all that it entails. I think they get into OODA loop as well, but I don’t remember exactly. Suffice it to say, once you’ve been to one of their lectures, you aren’t required to attend it again. They “recommend” that you do if you haven’t seen it in six months, but nobody gave us any crap about it. Really, the lectures themselves aren’t bad at all. There’s very little on the politics aspect of guns, and a whole lot of great info on the reality of owning and using guns for self defense. The videos are really where the politics come into it, and you never have to watch those if you don’t want to. We skipped them the first time we went and skipped them again this time. All of that stuff is just recommended, not mandatory. If you want to sit out on the range in the shade and eat your lunch, it’s unlikely you’ll be pestered. If an instructor does ask you why you’re not in the classroom, you can just tell them you’re not interested in the video and they’ll leave you alone. I have never experienced a “hard sell” at Front Sight that I couldn’t get out of by just walking away, at the very worst. If you’re someone who is very easily peer pressured or intimidated by a guy in a uniform, you may need to man up a little and tell them “No thanks” once or twice over the course of a week in order to avoid doing anything you don’t want to do. Hey, that sounds a lot like real life, doesn’t it? Honestly, I have no sympathy for anyone who claims they were “forced” to watch “propaganda” while at Front Sight. You’re paying them. Just get up and walk out. You’re an adult, and you can make your own decisions. If you sit through any lecture or video you don’t want to sit through, it’s your own fault. Again, I do highly recommend attending the lectures (not the videos) on your first trip and taking a lot of notes. But you’re an adult and you can do what you want.

Enough of that. Back to the range.

After lunch, we actually did some shooting. We worked on controlled pairs from the 3m, 5m, 7m and 10m lines, and then did some designated head shots from 3m and 5m. Then we learned about the “Failure to Stop” drill, which is a controlled pair to the thoracic cavity, after which you go into your after action drills. During your AAD, the instructor will yell out “HEAD!” and you have to come back up into a shooting stance and put a round into the head. We continued to work on our shooting for the rest of the day, refining our grip, stance, sight alignment, sight picture and trigger control. We worked on trapping the trigger to the rear after shooting and only allowing it to go back to reset once our sights were back on the target. We also really concentrated on putting our focus 100% on the front sight. These are things I had always known to do, but had never really worked on specifically before to this extent. It really makes a huge difference in accuracy.

This day was really a struggle for me, learning-wise. I had just spent 3 days at a Shivworks class two weeks prior learning a different style of shooting, and everything I had learned there had been confirmed as effective in a live-action drill environment, so I trusted the lessons pretty much completely. I was trying to reconcile Front Sight’s style with my own style while learning the new information. Let me just tell you, that doesn’t work very well. What I decided that night, after the training was done for the day, was that I would learn their method whole-heartedly. I would try to perfect the style they were teaching. If I absorbed all of the knowledge, took a lot of notes, practiced exactly what they were teaching, and got legitimately good at it, then I would have a good enough understanding of it to integrate it into my overall knowledge. That was a tough shift to make, but it was an invaluable one. It’s going to be my default with any new training I take. I will learn what the instructor is teaching to the best of my ability, and wait until afterward to figure out what doesn’t fit with my style. So that’s what I did for the rest of the class, and it really did work well for me.

The next morning, we attended a lecture on tactical movement. We learned a great deal about how to handle hallways, doorways, how to clear rooms, etc. The instructor made it very clear, however, that there are only two reasons you would ever do this. Either because you are being paid to do it or because you have to do it to protect a loved one. He specifically said multiple times that if you have your family with you and you are all out of immediate danger, you just want to call the police and let them clear the house. Your TV isn’t worth rounding a corner the wrong way and getting a baseball bat to the skull. So we learned how to do this movement with the clear understanding that we really don’t ever want to have to use that knowledge. After the lecture, we went to a different range where there are a couple dozen doorways set up. Nothing more, just doorways. Each group of 4-6 had an instructor there to help you with it individually. We practiced the things we’d learned in the lecture, and then went on to the shoot house. The shoot house was awesome. They really set it up so you feel the adrenaline flowing. I won’t give too much away, but suffice it to say, that was one of the cooler shooting experiences I’ve ever had. One thing to remember if you’re ever doing a shoothouse drill is to do your after action drills whenever you finish clearing a room. We were all reminded of that by one of the instructors when we got back to our home range afterward (since not a single one of us had done them).

Back on the range, we started to work on speed at closer ranges. The three ways to speed up without sacrificing combat accuracy are rapid presentation, flash sight pictures and a compressed trigger press. The rapid presentation is simply a matter of repetition until the draw gets smooth and fast. The flash sight picture is Front Sight’s way of saying that within 7m, your front sight doesn’t need to be centered in the rear notch to get good hits, it just needs to be in there somewhere. I’ve seen this demonstrated before at 3m, but it still works at 7m. I definitely took advantage of this for the timed drills we did later. The compressed break is basically a faster press. Instead of a very slow, steady press with a surprise break, it’s a much faster press but it still needs to be smooth with a surprise break. Jerking the trigger (which is the tendency when pressing quickly) will send your hits low. Combined with a flash sight picture, that could put them out of the target zone, so you need to practice the compressed press a lot to make sure it’s smooth.

We also worked on drawing from concealment, and we would end up doing that for almost every drill we did for the rest of the class. We practiced that a lot, but it’s hard to describe it, so I won’t go into specifics. We also started talking about the Skills Test we’d be taking at the end of the class. Really, for the remainder of the third day and much of the beginning of the 4th day, we went over the same drills we’d been doing, but started putting time constraints on them like there are on the test. Adding the stress of a whistle really helped us to get ready for the test, I think. There’s a natural response to being on a timer, even if you know you have plenty of time. When you’re not at all confident you can finish in time (like with the times on the skills test) it really adds a lot more stress. We did work on a few cool drills that I thought I would mention. Both of them are great drills to help train you on trigger control. The first is the “Ragged Hole” drill. You are shooting at a 1”x1” square from 5m away and you’re trying to get all 5 shots into the square (ideally in the same hole). You shoot the first 5 shots with no time constraints, then do 5 dry practice shots on another square, then do your next 5 live shots on the second square. I really enjoyed this drill, as it’s something I haven’t done much of in the past. The other is the “Trigger Reset” drill. The shooter takes a shot on command from the rangemaster, and the coach puts his finger into the trigger guard and presses on the finger. The goal here is to make sure you’re trapping the trigger and only releasing to reset when the rangemaster calls it out. This really helps to train the muscle memory of holding the trigger back after each shot.

On the 4th day, we got to do some different and very fun stuff. We worked on multiple target drills, and also had a head to head steel target competition. That was fun, not least because I ended up winning. There were 3 steel targets for each shooter, one was a hostage target and the other two were regular droppers. The hostage target was probably 5-7m away (we weren’t on a firing line so I don’t know for sure) and the other two were probably 15-20m away. The hostage taker’s head was about 4”x6” (maybe smaller) and you would immediately be out of the competition if you hit the hostage. If both shooters shot the hostage, they were both out. That happened quite a bit. The stress of the competition really made it tough to slow down and make good shots. My heart was absolutely pounding every time I was on the line. It was a really fun exercise, for sure. After that we went back to our regular range and worked on another ragged hole drill until it was time for lunch.

After lunch, we went through a practice test, which was all the things we were going to be tested on, with the real test times, but it wasn’t counted for accuracy. After that, we did the whole test again, but dry this time. Then we did the real test. Here’s what it consisted of:

3 meters – Controlled pair to the thoracic cavity from a concealed holster
5 meters – Controlled pair to the thoracic cavity from the low ready
5 meters – Controlled pair to the thoracic cavity from a concealed holster
7 meters – Controlled pair to the thoracic cavity from a concealed holster
10 meters – Controlled pair to the thoracic cavity from a concealed holster
15 meters – Controlled pair to the thoracic cavity from a concealed holster

7 meters – Failure to Stop Drill (Timed controlled pair to thoracic cavity from a concelaed holster, then untimed headshot when called by rangemaster) x 2

5 meters – Designated head shot from a concealed holster x 5
7 meters – Designated head shot from a concealed holster x 2

There were times for each section but I don’t know what they are, so I haven’t included them. I’m hoping to get that information soon and will update this report.

That was the end of the shooting. Just 25 shots, with a total possible score of 125 points. If you missed the cranio-ocular cavity with the headshots or the thoracic cavity with the controlled pairs, you would get -3 points if you still hit the main target area just outside the box, or -5 points if you missed the body entirely (or hit the torso on a headshot). If you shot after the second whistle, you would get -3 points for each late shot.

After that, we did our malfunction/reload drills for time. If you did it wrong, you would get -3 points and if you were over time, you would get -3 points. You could only lose 3 points on each drill, but this is still coming off the 125 points.

Here’s what we did for this section:

Tactical reload x 2
Type 1 Malfunction Clearance x 2
Type 2 Malfunction Clearance x 2
Type 3 Malfunction Clearance x 2
Emergency Reload x 2

Scores of 90% (Down 13 or fewer) or better would get a “Distinguished Graduate” certificate. Scores of 70%-90% (Down 38-14) would get a “Graduate” certificate. Scores under 70% (39 or more down) would get a “Certificate of Achievement). for completing the course. People who chose to take the test without time constraints or without concealment would also get a Certificate of Achievement. I ended up scoring 6 down on the shooting section and didn’t lose any points for being over time on anything, so my final score was 119. We did have one student who got a perfect score. He had been really fast, smooth and accurate the whole week and was a really nice guy to boot. He had taken the course twice before, and it sounds like he really thought it was worthwhile to come back for the same course multiple times. It certainly seemed to be useful, judging by his shooting!

So there you have it. It was a very full four days, with about 8 hours of classroom/range time each day. We fired probably 600-700 rounds, and the level of shooting at the end was simply astonishing in comparison to what it had been on the first day. People who had come in struggling to hold the gun the right way up were shooting very respectably by the end. People who came in with a little experience (and an open mind) were shooting extremely well by the end. Everyone was faster and more accurate, and people had learned a great deal about working under stress. I have to say, this course was extremely valuable for me as a relatively experienced handgun shooter, and it would probably be even more useful for someone with fewer “bad habits” than I had. I really can’t say enough good things about Front Sight. They have very solid instructors and a very nice facility. It’s a little out of the way, but that’s kind of a given for a 550-acre shooting facility. I don’t agree with everything they teach, but I can’t deny that what they teach works. I was indeed much faster getting out of the holster and getting rounds on target. This is also a very basic handgun course, and I know their more advanced courses may well help to alleviate some of my concerns about the basic curriculum in different circumstances. Please feel free to ask any questions you may have. I know I’ve left things out in this (even given the absurd length) and I’m happy to answer to the best of my ability. Thanks for reading!

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