Choosing Your First Firearms Trainer

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So you’ve purchased a firearm for self-defense, (good), and want to learn how to use it safely (better), so you start to look around online and ask people you know who’ve they’ve trained with.

This isn’t a bad way to find a trainer, but how do you evaluate their advice? We’ve all gone the mechanic who was recommended by someone else, only to find out they were less than competent and messed up our car something fierce. Here’s a few guidelines to help locate a trainer that can help you learn to shoot better when you’ll need it the most.

  1. Look for trainers who are nationally certified by a recognized training organization. The NRA is the largest firearms training organization in the world and has certified thousands of people to teach others to safely use a firearm. Other programs such as the Combat Focus Shooting program are starting to go nationwide and would also be an excellent choice for a first-time gun owner.
  2. Look for trainers who teach safely. There is absolutely NO reason for students, instructors or photographers to go “down range” (i.e. by the targets) at any time during live fire. None. Zero. Zippo. If your prospective trainer talks about how his methods are too “hardcore” or how he plays by “big boy rules”, smile politely and walk away. Real life is scary enough, there’s no reason to make it more dangerous when you train. 
  3. Train the skills you’re most likely to need. I suck at long-range shooting. Anything over 300 yards with a rifle is theoretical at best for me. I need to train that skill in order to get better at it, but it’s also not a priority for me right now because I’m not a hunter or a sniper and don’t need to make a 500 yard rifle shot on a regular basis. If you’re looking at a trainer who talks about the latest “Tier One Tactical Operator” techniques and how he can teach YOU to shoot like a Navy SEAL in just two short days, smile politely and walk away. The fact is, you’re NOT a Navy SEAL, you’re a regular person who wants to stay safe in a dangerous world. Leave the SWAT tactics to the police. Your job isn’t to clear a building, your job is to keep you and those you care about safe until more help arrives.
  4. Be prepared for your class before you show up the first day. If you don’t own ear protection or eye protection, buy some. A good trainer will have extra sets of safety gear for students that forget theirs, but you really should own your own. I like electronic hearing protection like these inexpensive Howard Leight earmuffs for training classes because they allow me to clearly hear the instructor’s commands, but filter out the loud noises when the bang-bang part begins. For eye protection, well, you get what you pay for, and considering how much you use them, you REALLY don’t want something cheap protecting your eyes on the firing line.Also, make sure you have the minimum amount of  ammo required for the class (plus 10 percent more) on-hand at least a week before the class starts, because these days, chances are there will NOT be ammo available when you need it.

A quick note about hats and firearms training: There’s a reason why you see almost everyone in a training class wearing a ball cap of some sort as they’re shooting their guns on the firing line: A spent casing can go just about anywhere when it’s ejected from a gun, and if that hot piece of brass gets lodged in-between the top of your shooting glasses and your eyebrow, it can ruin your whole day and/or eyesight as well. Wear a cap with a brim on it when you shoot to deflect brass and stop this from happening.

Train now, and train safely, because if, God forbid, you need to use your gun to defend your life, you won’t “rise to the occasion”, you’ll fall to your lowest level of skill. Learn to shoot quickly and accurately now, before you need it on the worst day of your life.

Reprinted with permission from

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