Private or open-enrollment firearms training courses make the perfect family bonding experience.
When I was about 10 years old, my grandfather and I were at our hunting camp. I’d found a huge hornet’s nest on the back eve and was throwing rocks at it. Grandpa saw what I was doing and told me to stop. And I did—at least until he went back inside.
A few minutes later, he warned me again, a bit more forcefully. And again, I ignored him.
Finally, I got a direct hit, and here came the hornets. I ran to the front of the camp only to realize the screen door was locked. A couple hornets hit me right in the ass, while grandpa stood on the other side of the door, laughing. I’ve not thrown a rock at a hornet’s nest since.
Learning—no matter how it’s measured—isn’t free. Lessons worth learning cost you dollars, time or pain. Basic undergraduate college tuition generally runs you between $400 (in state) and $1,200 (out of state) per credit hour. Harvard is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States and is among the most prestigious in the world. There, cost per credit hour runs about $1,500. With a credit hour generally considered equivalent to 37.5 clock hours, at Harvard you’d pay about $40 per clock hour of instruction.
Gunsite Academy is the largest, oldest, most prestigious and longest continually operational civilian firearms training academy in the world. Tuition for the Gunsite Academy 250 Pistol Course is $1,795. The cost for a clock hour of training at Gunsite Academy, which is commonly referred to as the “Harvard of Handguns,” is very similar to what you’d pay at Harvard University.
This may seem a bit extreme, until you consider what you’re learning. At Harvard, you’ll be given education related to your career. At Gunsite Academy, you’ll be supplied with training to help you stay alive. Having a prosperous career is one thing; being alive to enjoy it is, well, a hell of a lot more important. At Harvard, you may be educated by others who have had successful careers. At Gunsite, you’ll be trained by those who have relied on a gun to stay alive. Well-regarded career or self-defense training is either learned the hard way or you’ll have to pay for it.
However, when it comes to firearms training, some folks have careers that make accommodating open enrollment courses difficult to attend. You might want to attend the Gunsite Academy 250 Pistol Course, but the available dates might not fit your schedule. For folks in this situation, Gunsite Academy offers private tutorial classes. These classes are specifically tailored to you, and the cost for one-on-one training is $1,250 per day, regardless of how long that day may be. During private tutorial training at Gunsite Academy, instructors will stay with you as long as you’re progressing each day.
Some offset the cost of these tutorial courses with additional students. This could be a husband and wife; for two students, the cost drops to $850 per day, per student. It could also be for a family; with four students, the cost is $550 per day, per student. If you’re doing a four-person tutorial class at Gunsite Academy, the instructional cost per hour, for 10-hour days, works out to $55 per hour.
The Private Party
Over the past two years, Gunsite Academy has seen a sharp increase in the number of students wanting private individual or small group tutorial training. It’s becoming more popular because of scheduling issues as previously mentioned, but many are choosing the private courses because they can advance—learn—as much in three days as students in a regular course might advance—learn—in five days. This is because the training progresses with you as opposed to the average mean of a large open enrollment class.
Another reason some opt for individual training is because they’re new to firearms and might be a bit apprehensive about being around guns and unfamiliar folks. It could also be because they don’t want others to know they’ve become gun owners and accepted the responsibility of their own safety. Such is the case with many celebrities and political figures.
Over the past 20 years, I’ve taken several private courses at Gunsite Academy. No, I’m not a celebrity, and, no, I didn’t want to hide my affinity for firearms. I did it because I needed training targeting a specific skill. In every case, it was a skill included in a cataloged course that Gunsite Academy offered, I just didn’t have the time or need to attend the full training that book-ended the specific element I needed help with. I did it prior to my first African buffalo hunt, to become better acquainted with the Scout Rifle concept and to learn to use a defensive handgun with a laser and later with a reflex sight.
I’ve also used the private tutorial service offered by Gunsite Academy to help train my children and spouse. Though I’d never consider myself the equivalent of a Gunsite Academy firearms instructor, I’ve spent much of my professional career training soldiers, cops and civilians in the safe an effective employment of firearms. I introduced my wife to shooting as well as all four of our children. There is, however, a difference in an introduction to firearms and proper comprehensive training. The complex personal relationships between husbands and wives, as well as parents and children, aren’t conducive to quality firearms instruction. That’s best left to a professional outside source.
My son is a good example. I taught him firearms safety and how to hit targets at an early age. He then wanted to turn all our range sessions into a competition. When he was 14, I sent him to Gunsite Academy for a three-day tutorial on basic skills with the handgun and rifle. Two years later, he returned, took the Gunsite 250 Pistol Course and won the end-of-class shoot-off—and every other student in the class was an adult.
I’m in the process of following the same training plan with my 14- and 17-year-old daughters. Both understand firearms safety and basic marksmanship, but last summer I enrolled them in a one-day tutorial course at Gunsite Academy tailored not only to their skill level, but specifically to the handgun they’d be using. The plan is that when both graduate high school—if not sooner—for them to return in the best form possible to get the most out of Gunsite’s 5-day 250 Pistol Course.
On the recent tutorial with my daughters, I worked with Gunsite Academy Training Director Dave Hartman to establish the content of instruction regarding a brand-new semi-automatic compact pistol outfitted with an also new compact reflex sight. Also, having a working knowledge of the cadre at Gunsite Academy, we discussed instructors and selected one we felt would best dovetail with my girls.
My daughters and wife—who went along for emotional support—spent the day with Gunsite Instructor Lew Gosnell. All three finished with an elevated sense in what they can accomplish with a compact handgun, and with confidence that should they have to use it to defend themselves, they could. By no stretch are they gunfighters, but their confidence has been buoyed, and they’re well poised to safely practice on their own to further develop the skills they learned.
Should You Go Solo?
Should you take a private tutorial firearms training class from the Harvard of Handguns or attend a regular course? That’s a good question. In a three-day private one-on-one tutorial, most can advance about the same as they would in a five-day mixed class. This is because the instructor has their evaluating eyes on you every second of every minute of every hour that you’re on the range.
One on one, tuition will be $3,750 for those three days. That’s steep compared to the cost of a standard five-day class. Of course, by adding a few friends or family members, you can substantially reduce costs. You’ll also save some money on lodging and food by not being in Arizona for five days. And, you’ll get the best firearms instruction money can buy.
On the other hand, you’ll miss out on sharing what has come to be known as the “Gunsite Experience” with a collection of like-minded people who are learning and developing with you. You’ll miss the friendship the experience will create, you’ll miss the education that can be obtained from your peers, and you’ll miss seeing each one of them have what’s known as the “epiphany,” which generally occurs on day three or four of the 250 Pistol Course.
Regardless which way you decide to go—alone, with a small family group or in an open enrollment class—you’ll leave Gunsite Academy much like a graduate leaves Harvard: well trained, with confidence and with a mindset that’ll change you and possibly save your life. It’s a more enjoyable way to learn than getting hit in the ass by several pissed off bald-faced hornets!
Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the EDC 2021 special issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.
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