The Gun Digest Interview: Tiger McKee

The Gun Digest Interview: Tiger McKee
Tiger McKee of Shootrite Firearms Academy

Gun Digest Interview with Tiger McKee of Shootrite Firearms Academy

For more than two decades, Tiger McKee has devoted himself to the art and science of tactical shooting, and in training others in these tactics. All the hard work has paid off. McKee owns and operates the Shootrite Firearms Academy in Langston, Ala., one of the premier shooting schools in the South, where he’s helped train everyone from Joe Gun Owner to members of elite SWAT Teams. McKee, 53, is also the author of The Book of Two Guns, a training manual for practitioners of the 1911 handgun and the AR carbine, as well as a recent contributor to the pages of Gun Digest. In his “spare” time, McKee, designed his own AR, the Katana, a lean carbine stripped of all the “heavy stuff” he saw built onto so many of the new rifles.

Many people hear “tactical shooting,” and assume it only refers to law enforcement or the military. Can your average citizen benefit from training that falls under that heading?

Definitely. The skills we train people on are the same across the board. The applications may differ—if you’re an armed citizen, for example, you don’t need to learn SWAT tactics. Knowing how to operate your firearm fully, including dealing with malfunctions, marksmanship, how to move while shooting, and communicating during situations—these are the fundamentals we teach, whether you are an armed citizen, law enforcement or Special Forces.

Like my prime mentor, Clint Smith of Thunder Ranch, always says, it’s fundamentals that win fights. And it’s really difficult to acquire new skills in the middle of a fight! So you need training beforehand.

How did shooting and training become such big parts of your life?

I cannot remember not shooting. Both my grandfathers were lawmen, and my father was in the military. (Note, McKee’s father retired as a colonel in the U.S. Army’s Special Forces.) So I grew up shooting. When we all got together, family gatherings and those sorts of things, we’d target shoot together.

What was the journey like, from plinking with the family to tactical shooting instructor?

It’s not really something that I planned. I’ve been involved in shooting and martial arts since I was young, so I guess I always had a “self-defense” mindset. I began teaching family and friends various things about shooting. Then, in my 20s, I became an NRA-certified instructor and it sort of went from there.

Who did you take classes with?

A number of people, including Colonel Jeff Cooper and Clint Smith. Cooper was teaching at the NRA’s Whittington Center in Raton, N.M., then, and I took a couple classes with him. That was great. He’s pretty much the father of all the things we are doing now in the tactical shooting world.

Then you took classes with Clint Smith?

Correct. Clint is my major mentor. I took several classes with him at Thunder Ranch when it was still in Texas, and then in 1997 Clint hired me to teach some classes—defensive handgun, carbine, precision rifle. That was a great break for me. I learned so much just watching how Clint conducted himself. He’s very professional and incredibly knowledgeable. I taught there for several years, and various other schools, too.

So when did you know you wanted shooting instruction to be your life’s work?

I think I knew it when I was taking classes with Colonel Cooper. He encouraged me on that, too.

So, in the 1990’s, you were full-time into shooting and teaching?

No, sir. I had a lot of different jobs and work in there, too. I owned a shop that did custom builds for cars and motorcycles. And for a while, I was part owner of a nightclub. Odds and ends. Nothing major, just making ends meet.

When did you open Shootrite Firearms Academy?

It was in 1994. But it was very much a part-time thing. Between these odd jobs and teaching classes for people like Clint, I’d hold classes at Shootrite. As things went forward, I started to get better known, and Clint would refer students to me—he helped me a great deal.

The Book of Two Guns—did you write it as a way to establish your instructor credentials?

Not at all. It began as my notebook from the shooting classes I took. I’d make notes and draw diagrams, write down ideas that came to mind, questions I wanted answered. One day, I left it at the common room at Thunder Ranch when I was teaching there, and one of the instructors saw it and showed it to Clint.

Clint read it over, and he said to me, “You need to publish this. And you need to do it in the exact form this is in, with your handwritten notes and your own diagrams.” Well, Clint’s a very smart guy, very successful. So when he tells me something, I listen. I self-published the book, and it turned out to be pretty successful. Clint was right!

And several years ago, you designed an AR, too, the Katana.

That was something else that really wasn’t planned. I never intended the Katana as a product for sale. I was seeing all these AR rifles with heavy rails and bull barrels, and I felt there should be a rifle that was true to Eugene Stoner’s original concept of a light-weight, slim AR carbine. A writer I knew wanted to do an article on the build. I built the rifle, and he did the article, and then I was using the Katana in my classes. Well, students kept asking me, where could they get one like it? And people who read that article, they were contacting me, too. Where could they buy one?

So, I hooked up with Red Jacket Firearms [of the Sons of Guns television show], and we put out the Katana together for several years. I’ve been working with a different gun maker now, M.H.T. Defense of Wedowee, Ala., and we’ll be coming out with the Katana and a couple of different model options later this year.

Someone who loves to shoot and teach and wants to break into tactical shooting as a career—any advice?

I’d tell someone that, first of all, it’s a really hard business. These days, it seems people are opening up new shooting schools every week. If you want to make a living at this, you’re going to have to make a name for yourself and distinguish yourself from all the other guys out there. That’s going to take a lot of long hours.

And there’s so much for you to learn. You should never teach anything you’re not completely knowledgeable of—Clint Smith always stressed that to me. So that’s more of those long hours.

But, for all that, it’s a very satisfying career. The things you’re teaching people, if they actually have to use them one day? You have taught your students life saving skills. It’s such a good feeling to know you are truly helping people.

This interview appeared in the May 20, 2013 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.


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