The Saratoga Sun -

Shooting at the Spur

 

Max Miller

Russell uses a plastic prop gun to avoid pointing real weapons at anyone during his speech.

udents gathered under a large metal canopy adjacent to the Silver Spur Ranch shooting range 8 a.m. Saturday morning, arms crossed and fleeces zipped against an early morning chill. The class was called Advanced Defensive Pistol, and the students ranged in age from a teen competitive shooter to elderly adults looking to master new weapons. The instructors were all former police or military weapons trainers, many from the San Diego area of California.

John Russell, former SWAT sniper and detective, was ring leader under the big metal top, and before giving any technical instruction to the group, he pointed out the instructor with the most medical training. Then he laid out four pillars of gun safety. Rule number one was "muzzle discretion: never point your weapon at anything you don't intend to destroy." Rules two, three and four were keep your finger off the trigger until ready to fire, having awareness of your target backdrop and treating every weapon as if loaded. Driving home his point, Russell asked the crowd if they had seen footage of a Drug Enforcement Administration firearms trainer shooting himself during a class, drawing nervous titters.

Russell stressed that whether practicing on the range or trading shots in a gunfight, "You own every round." Before owning a gun, every person in the room should know whether they're willing to use it in a confrontation, Russell said. This is a critical determination to make before an emergency, he said, "Because every fight is going to be a gun fight–you bring the gun."

Another theme of the 4.5 hour workshop was skill building and maintenance. "You've got to practice as much as you can–it's a very perishable skill," Russell told his students.

He also reminded them that in a gun fight, "whoever puts rounds on target first wins," so time can be a critical difference-maker. Throughout the lesson, there was some tension between this emphasis on decisive action and the importance of knowing when not to shoot, such as when a family member is coming home late at night, or there is a child's bedroom behind where an intruder is standing.

After covering safety and philosophical questions, Russell got into the nitty gritty. Russell spoke of the relative merits of concealment (hiding or camoflaging oneself) versus "cover" (sheltering behind something that will stop bullets). Russell also touched on the strengths and weaknesses of various pistols, and suggestions to keep in mind when buying a holster.

After about two hours of lecture, it was time for hands-on lessons. The students broke into groups of three and four to receive pointers on their technique from the bevy of weapons specialists acting as trainers. A range of skills and abilities were present in each group, so novices could learn the ropes from more experienced shooters.

Instructors taught their students a "modern isosceles combat stance," where the shooter stands square to his or her target. The small group instructors also emphasized approaching shooting with the same set of steps and mental preparations each time, much in the way coaches drill free throw shooting in basketball or taking penalty shots in soccer. "Slack, Aim Pull," or SAP, was the teachers' mantra.

As shots cracked out across the sage desert, teachers readjusted grips, critiqued arm position and readjusted the feet of experienced shooters and newbies alike. Reversing bad habits was a one of the big challenges for teachers as shooters took aim first at paper silhouettes, then steel plates.

After some practice at seven yards, the distance was increased to twelve yards, and instructors started pushing students to shoot in quick succession as they became more confident. Soon, steel was pinging two, three and four times in a row.

The morning ended with a competition among the shooters. Each participant was given six shots at a steel target 12 yards away. The fastest time won, with a five second penalty added for each miss. After everyone had taken their turn, the top 10 winners were announced to cheers and applause from the group, and prizes like rifle cleaning kits and whetstones were awarded to the crack shots. Russell had a big grin on his face as he readied himself for the afternoon lesson, and many of his students did too as they drove away in their trucks.

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