Get the most out of your range lesson
Taking a range lesson is kind of a big deal. Not only did you (or someone who cares about you) put in hours of labor to earn the money for the class, there is substantial effort required just to show up. Eye and ear protection, a gun, and ammunition are just the beginning. Travel and child or animal care may need to be arranged. Maybe special gear was purchased. After all that effort, it’s wise to plan ahead to get maximum benefit from the experience. Here are some ways that I’ve found to get the most out of the lessons I attend, as well as things my own most students have done to make progress fast.
A working assumption here is that you’ve signed up to work with an instructor who’s competent in their field of expertise and for whom firearms safety is a priority. With those factors in place, here are ways to make the most of your formal instruction time.
1. Have gear and clothing that fit the class.
Most curricula will inform you of preferred gear in terms of holsters, slings, mag pouches, and so on. Pay attention to those details and match the list to your gear as closely as possible. Although some requirements may seem mundane, most trainers have practical reasons behind that equipment list.
At a carbine class with a nationally-known instructor, a young man showed up in shorts and flip-flops. He stuck with the morning program just fine, performing well. But when the running and kneeling drills kicked in for the afternoon, he became a liability of sorts, losing a sandal at one point and slowing down the entire large class as he struggled to fix that problem. By day’s end, his knees were bruised from rocks.
Common sense should be applied before class when looking at weather conditions, staying hydrated, keeping long hair out of your face and sling, and similar details.
2. Take notes.
This is the most powerful bit of advice that will serve you in perpetuity, if you do it. Spend whatever time is necessary on break jotting down the specific drills you did---distances, round counts, target types. Make notes of any specific advice you received from the instructor or any new technique you tried that resulted in a breakthrough. Although it may seem in the moment that your newfound competence and confidence is permanent, if you don’t re-create challenges like a drill that worked for you, the progress will almost certainly fade with time. Although it can be tempting to chat with fellow shooters on breaks, save that for after your notes are done, and don’t give into the temptation to write it all down when you get home. You’ll have lost many details by then.
3. Be open-minded.
Especially if you’re an expert in your own shooting discipline, or if you’re someone who’s done things your own special way all your life where gun handling is concerned, you’ll need to perform the usually difficult mental task of letting go of certain habits and replacing them with new ways, at least for the duration of the class. Every instructor has a unique way of approaching the seven fundamentals that form the basis of good shooting. Some things they teach may “click” for you, and you’ll make them your own. Maybe some things won’t. The only way you’ll know is if you try. So long as a new technique doesn’t violate the firearms safety rules, there is no reason not to try it at least once.
Included here is the willingness to fail. Participation-ribbon culture has created a generation of people who are perfectly competent, but limit their own progress by refusing to go into the stretch zones of their own skills. Failure is a natural and expected consequence of getting better at any pursuit. Qualified instructors understand how to use failure moments as learning occasions. By allowing yourself to risk failure at a task, you allow yourself the chance to grow, both as a person and a shooter.
4. Ask for homework
If you’ve taken astute notes and got some individual comments during the class, this step may take care of itself. In most cases, it doesn’t hurt to approach the instructor for a brief minute to ask, “what’s the biggest thing you think I should work on?” A good instructor will provide specific advice on techniques or drills that would help you advance.
This question may also elicit advice on buying gear. This should be taken in context of your relationship to your gun. A certain holster, gadget, trigger, or whatever the case could be a problem-solver for you. Or it may be a problem-maker if the person recommending it has a very different body type than you relative to that bit of gear, or if the context of your normal gun use is divergent from the type of shooting done in the class. There are, for example, match shooting accessories that work great on the range but would impede everyday carry, and tactical rifle gadgets that might get in the way for hunting. We can all learn from cross-training so long as context is taken into consideration.
Oh, and you have to actually do the homework to get the most bang from your training buck.
A message directly to you, Dear Blog Reader:
This article was presented as an alternative to “how to find the right instructor,” a topic that’s been covered many times in other places. Tell us in the comments if you’d like to see that subject addressed here. Happy training!
Eve Flanigan is a defensive shooting and concealed carry instructor living in the American Southwest. Today she works full time as an instructor and writer in the gun industry. Flanigan loves helping new and old shooters alike to develop the skills needed to keep themselves and their loved ones safe.