Gun schools aren’t just for experienced shooters.
Arizona’s Gunsite Academy, the largest and most famous shooting school in the country, teaches shooters with skill levels ranging from expert to absolute beginner. Classes include everything from basic handgun instruction to advanced tactical and defensive shooting, wing shooting, long-range rifle shooting and tactical shotgun shooting.
“We get quite a few students that have never fired a gun,” says Gunsite Academy training director Dave Starin. “About a third of our students are beginners, a third have some experience and the rest are skilled shooters, often with a military or law enforcement background. We offer training that matches the skill level of the shooter and then we help them become better.”
Tim Fallon – owner of Sportsmen’s All-Weather, All-Terrain Marksmanship School held at FTW Ranch in Barksdale, Texas – instructs shooters who share similar experience levels.
“We have a lot of shooters who are avid hunters but who may not have the opportunity to shoot much,” he says. “We help improve their abilities by reinforcing good techniques and changing bad habits.”
Fallon likes to call it the perfection of the fine art of shooting. He and his instructors analyze everything from the way a shooter grips the gun and squeezes the trigger to the follow-through after they take a shot. All of those things, and many more, play a major role in shot placement.
“One-thousandth of an inch movement at the muzzle equals a sixteenth of an inch at one hundred yards. If you multiply that by just a tiny fraction, you can see how the slightest movement of the muzzle can translate to a poor shot at three or four hundred yards,” he explains.
Class In Session
Missing isn’t just a result of bad form, though. A number of factors besides the guy behind the gun contribute to poor shot placement. Some guns just don’t like certain bullets or loads, and even the most skilled shooters may not fully grasp the intricate details of ballistics. That’s why the best schools include a little classroom time.
Instructors typically cover everything from basic marksmanship and safety to ballistics and the intricate functions of a scope. Each day is a progression of lessons that helps participants improve one step at a time.
The classroom instructors are typically the range instructors, who not only know how to shoot, but how to teach. They tend to be ex-military or law enforcement with lots of experience as instructors.
Fallon’s lead instructor is a retired Navy SEAL sniper, and Gunsite’s teachers not only taught shooting in their past lives, they have undergone extensive training themselves. The best teachers not only know guns and shooting, they have good people skills, too, and know when to push their students and when to use a different approach.
Don’t Forget the Fun
If you can drill a bull’s-eye at 100 yards and shoot sub-minute-of-angle groups at twice that distance, you may not need someone to tell you how to shoot better than you are already. But in some ways, Fallon’s classes and other, similarly intense instructional seminars aren’t necessarily about becoming a better shooter. They’re about having fun.
Where else can you test your ability out to 500, 600 even 1,000 yards? The best schools have multiple ranges with a variety of targets scattered throughout challenging, even intimidating topography.
You can’t have too much fun, though, at least not if you measure fun by the number of times you squeeze the trigger. Gunsite’s students will burn through upwards of 1,000 rounds in some five-day sessions, but Fallon typically limits his shooters to three or four boxes of ammo per day.
Depending on the group, he might turn a range session into a game, pitting shooters against each other in speed drills, accuracy contests and distance shoot-offs. In the end, though, it’s all about combining fun with improving your ability to defend yourself, break more clay pigeons or hit a target every time you pull the trigger, even a steel plate over a half-mile away.
Cool Schools for Shooters
Whether it’s long distance with a rifle, up close with a handgun or swinging at flying targets with a shotgun, the following schools offer a fun, exciting way to spend a few days improving marksmanship skills that will last a lifetime. Heck, the skills you learn could even safe your life someday ensuring that lifetime lasts a little longer.
- FTW Outfitters SAAM
- Gunsite Academy
- GPS Sniper School
- G4S International Training Inc.
- Massad Ayoob Group
- OSP Shooting School
- ShootRite Firearms Academy
- Sig Sauer Academy
- Orvis Wingshooting Schools
- Thunder Ranch
- Desert Tactical Arms Training
- Front Sight Firearms Training Institute
- L.L. Bean Outdoor Discovery Schools
This article originally appeared in the Oct. 7, 2013 edition of Gun Digest the Magazine.