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Gunsite API 160 Off-Site Shotgun Class

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I had this class in April, and after starting two or three reviews and losing them for various reasons, I hope to finish this one.

There were some things that stood out to me about this class besides the instruction itself, so I'll probably be discussing more ancillary matters than what we did and how we did it.

The class was held at the Boone County (IN) Sheriff's Office range. The Sheriff is a Gunsite instructor. He hosts at least four off-site Gunite classes each year (two each handgun and carbine), teaches some other classes, and hosts several instructors and school each year. Almost all are open to the public.

A few words on that...

Besides being a 2A supporter, he is the first to say the range is ours because we paid for it, and that he benefits as much as we do from this training. He knows people will carry, he wants them to, and he wants them trained, so he makes it available. At least twice a year, usually four or five times, he does an "Introduction to Defensive Pistol" class, held on a Sat-Sun. It is essentially the first three days of a Gunsite pistol class crammed into two days. Cost is $175, which is right about the break even point for materials. It has to be the best bargain in training. He makes it easy to get some training. There is little excuse not to around here, except maybe for not knowing about it.

He also benefits by a trained population when it comes time for jury duty. As he says- when you are sitting on the jury, I'd rather you get your gun knowledge here than from watching CSI and TJ Hooker reruns. He never again wants to hear "Why didn't the officer just shoot the gun out of his hand?".

And finally, when he hosts a class, his people get a spot or two in the class. I have little doubt that the regular patrol officers in his mostly rural county (and the small town PDs) are some of the best trained in the country. They have access to some of the best training available, and they never have to leave town.

He benefits greatly, as do we. He has written articles in LE publications and spoke at conferences telling other departments how to implement it. It usually falls on deaf ears.

This class would be the first Gunsite shotgun class held there. I think they held one off-site shotgun class in WI last year.

Sadly, there aren't that many shotgun classes out there. Not in comparison to pistol and carbine, anyway. For every shotgun class I see advertised, I see several times that number of pistol classes. There simply isn't the demand. For all the people who recommend the shotgun for home defense, they must not be beating down the door to training facilities. As big as Gunsite is, they only have two shotgun classes on the schedule at AZ this year. I think they held only one last year. Believe me, if the demand was there, they would have more.

And of the places teaching defensive shotgun, for most schools/instructors it's a sideline. They teach it not because they are big shotgun proponents, but because it's another business opportunity. I don't want to take a shotgun class from a person or place who is holding the class because they were bugged about it until they gave in and held a class; I want to take it from a shotgun guy. I did that once, and while he was a good instructor for other things I'd had, his preference for rifles was clear.

I can probably count on one hand the number of top instructors I know of out there who are big shotgun fans. While Gunsite is not especially known for shotgun training, two of the biggest shotgun loving instructors I know of are former Gunsite instructors, so I thought it safe to assume they had influenced the curriculum at Gunsite. When this class came up, that's what I thought about. I had taken a shotgun class from one of those instructors before, and was curious how it would compare.

Bad part fist. I admit up front that I'm a Gunsite fanboy. The have been doing this a long time, and have it down pretty well.

That's what made the screwup worse.

Of the classes held here, the Gunsite classes cost the most. It's not even close. I pay it because I feel you get a little more from them because of the organization.

When you show up to a Gunsite class, you will come with everything you need because they sent a letter telling you what to have. The class flows smoothly. There is no shortage of instructors. They have the lesson plan down. If weather or something else alters the plan, they adapt without a stutter. The range equipment is in top shape. If something on the range breaks, they bring out another. If a gun breaks, an instructor (almost always an armorer) is there working on it. In other words, the time is used well, so that they manage to get more actual teaching time crammed into the same time period. This organization is what you are paying for. Some of this is because of instructor quality, some is from refining the system over time, and some is from the pre-class preparation of the admin staff.

The admin staff dropped the ball this time. Usually, they send out a letter well before the class listing ammo and gear requirements, start times, directions, etc. I never got a letter. No problem says I, since I know where it is and the ammo requirements are on the website for the same class held in AZ. All I need to know is the start time, and since I know the Sheriff/Rangemaster, I emailed and asked him. His reply "You didn't get a letter either?" was a clue.

When the class started, we learned that only a couple of people got letters, and they got them only a couple of days before the class. Everybody found the place, and was there on time, so it appeared no harm was done. The first problem became apparent when the instructors found out what ammo was brought. The ammo requirements for the class when held in AZ is built around spending time in the shoothouses and strolls through the outdoor wash (hidden target walk), so is heavy on buck and slugs. We didn't have these things at the IN location, so the plan was to do more drills using birdshot. A lot more. As a result, most of the students showed up with way more buck and slugs than we would use if we took this class two or three times, while having about half the birdshot needed.

Messing up to have extra FMJ pistol ammo or rifle ammo is not so bad. It can always be used; maybe in the next practice session. Causing people to buy more (expensive) slugs and buckshot than they will ordinarily use in three years is a different deal.

Oddly, this screwup by one part of Gunsite showed how good the main part is. The instructors simply adapted, and did it without missing a beat. It's a lot different to teach a shotgun class heavy on slugs than one heavy on shot, but if I didn't know what happened, I wouldn't have been able to tell by watching.

Still, it did inconvenience some students. I was fine because I always bring extra of everything, but some people were looking for a WalMart in a strange town to buy some birdshot, some were trading shells with those of us with extra, and others simply went until they ran out and shot some of the last drills with buckshot ($$$). The latter said they didn't mind, and it is a good thing to work with actual buckshot more than usual, but I doubt they would have chosen to do so if they would have had plenty of birdshot with them.

The other problem caused by the lack of a letter almost messed up a large part of the class for me, but it got straightened out. When IN went on Daylight Savings Time a few years ago, we went on Eastern time, which means it's pretty late before it gets dark in the summertime. Because of this, they stopped having a night shoot portion in the classes there. If you have to wait until nearly 10 PM for darkness, it makes for an annoying evening for the range's neighbors (old folks home) and a long day for the students. So the last few classes I've had there had no night shoot.

This class did.

It would have been nice to know. The letter told us this.

I have a light on the shotgun I intended to use in the class, but not on my spare. Had I known there was a night shoot, I would have had one on the spare, even if it meant buying a $15 plastic mount as a temporary solution.

Sure enough, Gun #1 broke before the first day was over. The second day, with the night shoot, was approaching and I had a shotgun without a mounted light. I would be using a handheld light technique, which is a good thing to work with, but not very applicable to my usual equipment.

A big part of the class would therefore be wasted for me. Had I known, I could have prepared for it. I was not happy.

The Sheriff rescued me, though. The problem with my shotgun was the front sight, which was silver soldered on, departed the gun and would need silver soldered back on. The Sheriff's father in law builds nice muzzleloaders and has a well-equipped shop. He can silver solder. the Sheriff was able to catch him before he left town for a few days, so he could silver solder it back on and save the class for me. No kidding, he bailed me out. Using a different (very different) shotgun for the rest of the class would have been a lot less beneficial to me.

Whether anyone else had a problem due to the night shoot surprise, I don't know. I know there were more than a few who did not have a weapon-mounted light. Would/could they have brought a gun with a mounted light?- I don't know. To the out of town people, the surprise in the schedule probably didn't matter, but anyone locally who had something planned with the family for that night may have had a problem. The night shoot portion of classes are invaluable, but it's good to know of them beforehand.

Admin dropped the ball, no question. The Rangemaster had written the altered letter last January (I saw it in his computer-sent to Gunsite) so they had it.

To their credit, I repeat this is the first shotgun class Gunsite has held there, and maybe their second off-site shotgun class ever. It is also the first true error of any kind I can remember in any Gunsite class I've had.

In every Gunsite class, a critique is passed out at the start of class so students can write things down as they happen. I wrote about the lack of class letters. Within a week of the class, I got a note from Buzz Mills, the owner of Gunsite, with his thanks for bringing it to his attention, what I believe was a heartfelt apology, and a promise to fix it.

I can almost guarantee it got fixed.

Now with the complaints out of the way, the fun stuff...

Gunsite classes start in the classroom. Actually, they start with paperwork like most classes. Again, here is another case of how Gunsite having their act together makes a difference. While most classes start with paperwork, in most others you lose up to an hour as one person has to clear up everything from screwed up applications to finances while the rest of us wait. Not with Gunsite. The staff in AZ has most of that done beforehand, so a couple of signatures on paper as the Rangemaster gives the welcome speech and we're ready to go into the real lecture.

I've heard that Jeff Cooper had a saying: "The best thing to hear is that it's already taken care of". His influence is still seen, even in seemingly small things.

The only shotgun class I've had from a serious shotgun fan was from Louis Awerbuck. I know a few people who have had classes from Bill Jeans, another blunderbuss advocate, and have compared notes with them. Since both of these gentlemen taught at Gunsite and certainly molded Gunsite's shotgun class into what it is, I wondered if it would be a repeat of that info for me or be a little different.

It didn't vary too much, but it was enough different to be worth taking in addition. How much of this was from the altered lesson plan due to the ammo mixup, and how much was typical, I do not know.

One thing that seemed new to me, but may have been covered in previous classes, was part of the loading technique. They taught to always load into the tube, never into the chamber. Usually the thought is to get one in the chamber ASAP, so people toss one in, close the bolt, then fill the tube. They wanted us out of that habit, and into stuffing the tube every time.

With an auto this might be of dubious gain, but with a pump I can see it. The obvious question with chamber loading a pump is "When would the action be open?" Every time you fire a shot, you run the pump- fully open and fully closed. If it goes click instead of bang, you would either run it again (fully open and fully closed) or load the tube. Taking the time and trouble to open it, load it, then close it, gains nothing in speed over loading the tube and running it normally (it's actually slightly slower).

Mainly, chamber loading adds another movement, or series of movements, that aren't used for anything else. Tube loading is something you are doing often anyway.

With a auto, it doesn't matter as much, at least I didn't think. With the bolt locked open, you are going to have to do something with the bolt no matter where you load the shell. It just keeps you in the habit of stuffing the tube, which is no small thing. Although, I have seen more than a few people try to throw a shell into an open auto breech and miss, sending it sailing through the air. I suppose it avoids that. It does simplify things slightly, and one fooler with a shotgun is how complicated things can get. When fiddling with at least two types of shells, judging whether you are in buck or slug range and estimating pattern size, getting into a position to manage the recoil, maybe planning reloads, plus fighting, you have plenty to keep straight. Loading the gun the same way every time helps.

This is a good time to discuss dogma. Gunsite has a reputation for being dogmatic- our way or the highway. I'm not sure where that comes from unless it's from people who haven't been there. The above example of loading procedures probably comes across as them being locked into Their Way, but that is why I should explain.

Their procedure is to show you what has been proven to work over the years. You can do it that way or you can do it your way. If you do it your way, however, you can expect an instructor to be at your side asking you to explain why. This is not to put you on the spot just to do it; they actually want to know. Sometimes they can help you then, and sometimes it's to help others later by changing something. I was loading with my strong hand, which is the opposite of what they teach. At different times, two instructors asked me why. I had to because my shotgun has a carrier release button that must be depressed to allow shells to enter the tube- I slide my weak hand back, hold the button down with it, and stuff shells in with my strong hand. They worked with me to find a way to do it all with my weak hand, but none that would work without me growing E.T. fingers.

They are also looking for something useful when they ask. If they find something that might be a better way, they will look into adding it. At the end of each year, Gunsite gets as many instructors together as possible to discuss any changes that might need made. Unlike what some think, Gunsite doesn't go on and on forever rigidly teaching the same thing.

I would say that nobody will make you do it their way, but they will if you are struggling your way. One instructor I like a lot is a lot less pushy with his methods. He tells you up front he will present the methods that work for him, and what you do with it is your business. Just try it once, and see if it works for you. There are exceptions, but after he tells you once, he won't come up to you later and ask why you're not doing what he told you two days ago. This is OK, but I have noticed that people tend to drift back to doing the wrong thing (not just a different way, but wrong) so a little reminder along the way helps a lot there. Lots of times when asked the Gunsite "Why?", people simply say they forgot.

The class proceeded in normal fashion, starting with zeroing with slugs and buckshot patterning. I'm usually amazed at the number of people who come to a class with an unzeroed gun, but most of the class was in pretty good shape here. Patterning is sometimes an eye opener for those who haven't taken the time to do it. Several students had Vang Comp barrels or complete guns, and had previously put them to paper to see what they did.

What can be surprising to me is what can do well. Here is the target from a 70-year-old shotgun whose barrel was cut down so it's a true cylinder bore:

Ranges were: #1- 5 yards; #2- 7 yards; #3- 10 yards; #4- 13 yards; #5- 17 yards Yep, they were in one hole except #5, that put one pellet out.

We stopped there at 17 yards because most of the guns (yes, even the Vangs) were making patterns so large they were at or past their effective buckshot range. They determine "effective buckshot range" as when it no longer keeps all pellets in a head-size area.

Any change in the gun/ammo combination can make a difference. The pattern shot down by the crotch of the target was from the same shotgun, and same load, but different lot number.

Due to the ammo we had on hand, we did more slug work in this class than we ordinarily would have done. I was glad, because I came away with a lot more confidence in shooting slugs. I like slugs anyway, so if I feel better about them, I'd think the others must have. We shot as far back as 100 yards- the max the range allows. A Gunsite tradition is holding elimination-type shootoffs, where shooters line up and on the start call, take a snap shot at steel targets. Everybody that missed, plus the last to shoot, steps out of line and you move back a few paces. Repeat until one is left. I think we were on about the 70-75 yard line when we eliminated all but one in the two times we ran it. At least half the class was still in at 50. Taking your time to stand and whack an 8" steel at 50-75 is one thing, but doing it on a snap shot, when someone else says "go", not once but repeatedly every five or so yards along the way, is another. It's confidence building. If I keep a shotgun for home defense, there is the (small, very small) possibility I'd have to take a shot at a car on the road, which is right at 100 yards away. That small possibility is one reason I prefer a carbine for HD use, but I know that shot is quite doable with a shotgun.

Whatcha whinin' about? It's not that far!

In fact, buckshot will hit the target at 70 yards, as was proved by accident when one student accidentally loaded buck instead of slugs for one drill. Out of five rounds fired (45 pellets) he got maybe seven or eight on paper. That's better than one per shot. It's nobody's first choice, but if it's all you had when a long shot presented itself, you could do worse.

One staple of the class was Rolling Thunder drills using birdshot on steel. In it's simplest form, a team of five shooters lines up, and each take turns shooting at steel. A myriad of procedures and twists are added. A simple one would be that each shooter's cue to start shooting is when the shooter to their left stops. Complications that can be added are making each shooter fire a different number of shots, going in a mixed order, rotating through each shooter shooting one to five rounds but starting at a different point, etc. Most seem simple enough until the shooting begins, then much hilarity ensues.

The lesson is that there is a lot to manage with a shotgun, and things go better if you have them down to automatic processes rather having to think about doing it before you do it. It also shows the need for clear communication if multiple good guy shooters are involved.

We also did a variation of the Dozier drill. This drill has been around a while and usually done with a pistol. It was created in response to the kidnapping of Brig Gen James Dozier in Milan by Red Brigade terrorists in the 80s. Four or five of them entered his apartment disguised as plumbers, assembled SMGs, then took him away. The question arose was: If he had been armed with a pistol, could he have taken the four or five terrorists before they could respond, since they expected no resistance?

The drill is usually ran with five steel in front of two shooters. One shooter engages four steel; the other engages the remaining one. The shooter engaging the four is the "victim". He draws and shoots when he feels like it, which is the start signal for the other shooter. He has to down all four before the "aggressor" can react, draw, and shoot his one steel. It's usually close. Lesson: Action beats reaction. Usually. When done right.

For shotgun, this was modified with the need to turn before shooting.

Night shoot:

The following seemingly has nothing to do with the class itself, but I want to talk about the students. I think their makeup tells us a thing or two. Some points:

-In most classes I take at this site, whether the Gunsite ones or not, I see some of the same people in the class- the regulars. I didn't see any of the regulars this time. I only knew one guy, and that was from IDPA matches at an area club. This was his first class ever.

-I think he might have been the only student taking a class for the first time. In any class without a pre-requisite, there is always at least a handful of first-time students, sometimes more. This was a pretty experienced group.

-Whether regulars or not, the students in the classes held at this site are mostly what I call "semi-local". Most come from within about a two- maybe three-hour drive, and at least half live within the state. Not this time. There were a lot of people from out of state. Mostly from nearby states, but some from much farther. The average student drove farther than usual.

-In the Gunsite classes in particular that are held there, the students are usually people who come here because they can't make it out to AZ to "real" Gunsite. Talk during breaks often involves their plans to get out there someday. Not this one. I'd say over half the class had been to AZ Gunsite at least once, and roughly half the class had been there multiple times. More than a couple had been there within the previous six months.

-In most of these classes, I've estimated around 40% of the students were in Law Enforcement. Of the 13 students in this one, only two were LE and one of those was local (probably getting the seat for free from hosting the class).

Why the differences this time? I have an idea. I think it comes back to lack of interest in shotgun training. People put it off. They were willing to do what it took to get to AZ or elsewhere for other training, but when it came to shotgun they waited until it was closer to home. That accounts for the people from surrounding states. I think there were fewer locals this time because it filled up with the others faster.

I'm guilty of putting it off. I had a few each pistol and rifle classes before I ever had a shotgun class. Granted, I'm not a big shotgun guy, but I see others doing the same thing even if they love the shotgun as an HD weapon. I don't know if it's ammo expense, fear of getting beat by a shotgun for days, or what, but people put it off.

I will say this: If people put off shotgun training because they think it's not as badly needed, I think they will find different when they do take a shotgun class. Awerbuck's class in particular is geared to make you realize how much there is to keep up with when using one. He does a seemingly simple 3-shot drill that leaves people dazed and confused.

The lack of LE attendance I can figure, because the patrol carbine is the sexy thing now. There are probably a lot of agencies with shotguns in storage at present.

One thing took me a while to figure out, and I'm still not sure if I did. There was an unusually high number of students from Illinois, and at least four who lived close to the IL border in other states. Ordinarily, IL students stick out because they are the ones saying things like "It's nice to know this stuff, but I wish I could use the gun at home". Sure, IL is a bordering state, but none of the other students were bordering states.

Finally, driving home the last day, I might have figured it out. I'm only guessing, but perhaps with IL laws as they are, the shotgun gets a little more attention than it would in some other places. The students living near IL could keep a shotgun in their car in their travels over the state line and not get people as excited as if it they had some other things. Don't know; just a guess.

I wondered beforehand if the class would even fill up. It did, but I don't know if it filled fast or just before it started. I have to wonder if the IL people were among the first to grab slots, though.

Other than that, the class makeup was typical. Fewer LE than usual, but your average cross-section of jobs. One Colonel of Marines, one part-time trainer, a husband and wife couple, etc. We had 13 students. The limit was 14, but one had to cancel at the last minute.

One student bears special mention. We had a Wounded Warrior- a former Army infantry officer. He was in a wheelchair, and used a long barreled hunting shotgun (Win 1200) and he excelled. I think the word "inspirational" might be overused, but I can't think of a better one.

Not To Be Trifled With:

We had three instructors. That is an excellent instructor/student ratio- again, part of what you pay for with Gunsite. There was the Sheriff, and two other regular Gunsite instructors who live in this area and teach at the state LE academy some.

Having three instructors for a shotgun class is a plus, and not just for the instruction. Shotguns tend to break often in these classes. I don't know what it is, but classes are hard on guns. Shotguns seem to be the worst at breakage from what I've seen. I know trap shooters go through as many shells in a day, but maybe it's the rate of fire and/or the heat. Whatever it is, there are guns dropping fairly often. There were times when two of the three instructors were in the range house working on guns. Any fewer instructors and the class would have been held up at times.

Pistol Transitions:

Gear talk:

The usual 870s and Benellis, with a scattering of 1100s and Mossberg 500/590s. I had to be abnormal and use my cut down Remington M11, backed-up by an 870 and Ithaca 37.

I don't remember any Benelli trouble in this class. They seem to run about 50/50- either flawless or sporadic. Various little malfunctions and breakages by most guns throughout. I lost the front sight the first day, but it stayed after being re-soldered, and I had no other trouble. One 870 went down to stay after the pump rods broke at the forward end where the collar nut screws on- very unusual. The guy was about the size of the Hulk too, so he might break every manually operated gun he touches.

For anyone afraid to take a shotgun class due to recoil- read this:

I don't think anyone had so much as a bruise. Remember, we shot at least as much buck and slug as birdshot in this class. I think the ammo requirement was 150 buck, 150 slug, and 300 birdshot, and we shot most of it. If the gun fits you (short stock) and you can hold it right, you will be fine.

In summary, I liked it.

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