If you’re looking for firearms training, you might be overwhelmed with the options available to you. There are so many schools and instructors that it can be hard to figure out which one makes the most sense for your particular situation, but asking these five questions can help you narrow it down.
1. What Do You Want to Learn?
Forget about trying to learn shotguns, pistols and rifles in a two-day weekend course (or even a longer one). Pick the type of firearm you want to concentrate on and look at schools/instructors that can help you focus intensely on that particular gun.
Many training courses and schools claim to do all things well. Some do; some don’t. Some specialize in one specific discipline or even a niche within that discipline. Some schools, such as Gunsite Academy, offer a wide variety of classes and truly do cover almost everything you could want to learn. I’ve taken seven very different courses there, and can vouch that they really do teach everything well. Few schools can offer such a deep and wide course schedule without having a weak spot. You won’t go wrong there, but there are also some wonderful specialized schools that will give you great instruction. In this category, I can personally recommend the long-range rifle school taught by Outdoor Solutions.
2. Why Do You Want to Learn It?
Different schools teach the same discipline for different purposes. For example, Gunsite is a defensive school at heart. Although they teach lots of different classes, there’s an undercurrent of self-defense running through almost every course. A tactical school will teach you how to defend yourself with a firearm. In contrast, some schools or instructors are set up to teach you how to excel at the range or in competition. If you compete, this can be extremely valuable because it’s tailored to what you do most frequently with your gun. Just know before you book what kind of school you’re looking at and make sure it fits your needs.
If you are simply looking to learn safe gun handling and meet your state’s requirements for a concealed carry permit training class, you can choose to jump right into the deep end (an intense week-long course at a place like Gunsite), or you can start small and find a class near you taught by a local law enforcement officer or instructor. This will let you dip your toes in the waters and gain some familiarity with your gun before you commit to a more expensive course that might require travel.
If you’re looking for self-defense classes and you’re already at an intermediate level, you should consider obtaining some off-the-range training that will help you learn to shoot in more realistic, adrenaline-fueled scenarios, such as shoot houses, simulations and maybe even Simunitions. These aren’t offered at every school, so choose carefully.
3. How Do You Like to Learn?
I’ve shot under the tutelage of a number of instructors over the years, and they’ve all been different. Some are the military-drill-sergeant type who crack jokes without cracking a smile, bark orders and good-naturedly pick on students. Some are big softies who you know could turn from sweet and understanding to ruthless and intimidating at the flip of a switch. Some are nurturing mama bears or sweet Southern belles. Many are former military or law enforcement. All of the good ones are in complete control of their class, keep safety as a top priority and exhibit unending patience with new students.
Some courses have more classroom time than others; some are 100 percent range time. I find class time really helpful, as it gives me a chance to absorb a lot of information, ask questions and take notes before I hit the range and implement what I’ve learned. Some people might prefer the opposite—if they’re not shooting, they feel they’re not getting their money’s worth.
Think about how you learn best and what kind of personality you learn best from. If you’re not going to be comfortable in a class full of operators with an instructor who barks orders, be careful to avoid the schools or courses where that’s a key feature.
Do you care if you learn from a man or a woman? Many women are more comfortable taking a class from another woman, and there are some wonderful female instructors out there at some of the best schools that can make sure you’re learning in way that feels right for you.
4. Do You Have Special Considerations?
If you have a different physical ability or challenge that might require you to modify your shooting position or that limits you from doing specific activities, you should check with any school or instructor you’re considering and get a feel for how accommodating they’re going to be.
Gunsite offers specific classes for youth, women and “seasoned citizens,” which might make you more comfortable if you’re intimidated by the idea of being in a class with shooters who might be differently abled or shooting at a different level than you. There’s a good chance you can find a women-only course near you if you’re more comfortable training in an all-female environment.
5. What Are Your Resources?
Of course, for most of us, the courses we can take are limited by our time and our budget. A trip across the country, including flights and hotels and food and hundreds of rounds of ammo on top of the cost of the class, is simply not something we can do very often (or ever). Check into what’s available locally that might meet your immediate needs while you start planning for your someday-when-I-can dream course.
Whatever you do, check reviews and referrals on any instructor or course you are considering, especially the more elaborate courses that represent a significant investment for you. Keep in mind that reviews on Google and other open sources might be tainted by people who simply hate guns and haven’t attended. Call the school and ask questions. If they act like they don’t have time for your inquiries, take that as a red flag.
After your first course, you’ll likely gain a lot of information about what you like and don’t like in an instructor, a school and a course schedule, and that will help you make an even better decision on your next class.