Back when I lived in Virginia I'd heard of Pat Goodale's training outfit in West Virginia by word-of-mouth from both my instructor at the time (altruisticd) and a friend (smjayman). At the time, I couldn't afford to go to the classes even though they were semi-local to me.
Coming out of a long Montana winter, I was looking for some local training to both refresh my fundamentals and help me reach my maximum potential as a shooter, and what did I find but that Pat was offering classes in Billings, Montana. I'd heard so many good things about him that I decided it would be worth the six hour drive, and signed up for all six of the courses that he's offering here this summer. This past weekend I went through Defensive Handgun I and II. These reviews get long-winded, but I've written this as detailed as my memory permits so that I have all the drills down on virtual paper such that I can run these drills again on my own. Hopefully I've provided enough detail that anyone who wants to spice up their practice can use them as well.
Review: Defensive Handgun I
This class had twelve students; me, seven other women, and four men. I tried to pay attention to what everyone was shooting - it was pretty much a Glockfest. There were two sig 228s, one .357 revolver, and everything else (as far as I can remember) was Glock, mostly 19s. There was a broad cross-section of experience there, and there were definitely some beginner students. Since the certificate from the course counts towards the CWP requirements for Montana, the class started with three hours of lecture. Unlike the CCW class I took in Virginia, this one did not cater specifically to Montana state firearms law, so in that respect this one just served as a safety check. However, the lecture portion did cover the seriousness of using deadly force in self-defense very well.
Pat Goodale strikes me as being a very knowledgeable, very competent instructor. I could tell that his lecture was well-rehearsed, and yet he kept it interesting and kept everything on time. After a short lunch break, we all headed up to the range. There was some serious environmental stress caused by the very cold weather we were having, so that made things a little more interesting at times.
The course was set at a pace that challenged me, so I can't imagine how the new shooters must've felt. I get the impression that Pat is the sort of instructor who tries to keep everyone trying to catch up rather than catering to the slowest learners, and I personally liked that. But I don't know that I'd have like it if I were just starting out. The course was run on a hot range, and there were a couple of folks who had serious problems with keeping their fingers off the trigger as well as with sweeping folks. It would've been nice to have had them taken off as a separate group for slower, more individual instruction. That would probably be my only complaint about the course today. However there was one coach per two people standing on the line, and they were very quick to react to potentially unsafe conditions. One even came up and apologized to me personally after the class for all the sweeping - I guess he could see me flinching.
There was nothing new for me in this course. Everything we did today were things that altruisticd has done with me in the past. First there were the basic firing positions, drawing, trigger reset, different types of firing, different types of magazine changes, and so on. We did COM shots, COM+hips, COM+head, and so on, each at 7 yards and then 3 yards. And then we covered strong and weak hand unsupported shooting. We also spent a fair bit of time on retention shooting, which is something I do well but never spend enough time on. Then it was on to moving and shooting, a small amount of shooting while moving, and lastly, shooting from concealment/cover.
Now, as I said, there was nothing much here today that was new to me. But I have learned that if I can take away ONE concept from a class, it was worth the time and effort. Mine takeaway from DHI was something Pat said about "follow through." He said that for every firing sequence, you should acquire a sight picture, fire, and then acquire the picture again before lowering the firearm. It sounds like such a tiny little detail, but I was amazed by how much following those instructions tightened my group from the very first string I shot. Seriously, I'm talking a good four inches closer in. He also emphasized gripping the gun a lot more tightly than I ever have, and that improved the problem that I've been having pulling shots low and to the left. If I can keep up my dry firing practice to completely eliminate my flinching, I'll be 100% better than I was.
Altogether, a good day (hey, any day when you can shoot 400 rounds and be tired and achey and have grass stains on your knees is a good day, yes?) and I'm glad I opted to take this class instead of going straight to Defensive Handgun II.
Review: Defensive Handgun II
As altruisticd prophesied after my original write-up of Defensive Handgun I, "yesterday was the only easy day." I can't believe I thought that DHI was strenuous and fast-paced now that I've been through Defensive Handgun II. I think that perhaps had I gone into this class fresh I would've fared a bit better, but I'm glad I didn't, since I now have a better feel for how I can work when I'm not in peak condition mentally or physically.
Defensive Handgun II started with a brief half hour classroom session. There was a short overview of the safety rules and range conditions, and then Pat went around the room asking everyone about their equipment. I forgot to mention yesterday that he gave a rather strident sales pitch for Glocks and kydex in the previous class. He said that he'd worked with so many groups in so many different (and sometimes extreme) conditions, and that experience had taught him that the tupperware-and-plastic setup was more resistant to environmental stresses than any other equipment setup, as a general rule. Another interesting things was that he encouraged anyone who regularly carried a backup gun to use it in class, as opposed to constant magazine changes. And then he gave a recommendation for those adorable little Keltecs.
A few of the students from DHI stayed for this one, and we picked up half a dozen 'new' faces. I say 'new' because a couple of them had worked as coaches the previous day, observing and helping out - I can definitely see myself taking this course over again as a refresher in the future, and I suspect that's what these folks were doing. In the first class I felt very confident of how I was doing relative to the other students; and then I thought "that's silly, I've got a lot more experience." It's hard for me to remember that I should be competing against myself to improve. DHII was much better for me in that respect. Of the ten students, by my estimation, there were three who really stood out to me in terms of striking a good balance between speed and accuracy. I don't think it's a coincidence that all three were IPSC shooters (one of whom was also law enforcement). I spent about 80% of my day on the line shooting next to one of those guys, and I was really happy about it - it forced me to work harder and push myself better, and I think it definitely had a positive impact on me. Maybe this is the real reason why I need an instructor or competition to excel; I just don't kick my own butt enough when I'm on my own or when I'm with people who are impressed by the mere fact that I own a firearm. Sad but true.
At 9:30 we moved up to the range and started warmups - paper targets with seven different aim points at distances of 3-7 yards. Remember what I said about the difference in my group sizes after the sight picture tip yesterday? Typically I call it a great day if I can get my group into something I can cover with my widespread hand at 7 yards. When taking my time now, I can shoot groups that will fit into the bottom of a Mountain Dew can. That's still awfully big for some people, but it's a big step for me.
It was at this point that I got an object lesson as to one of the bad habits I've picked up. I'm left-eye dominant, big time, but I shoot right-handed. I tried shooting as a lefty and it just didn't work for me. My bad habit: I close my right eye when shooting. Pat didn't say "don't do that, it's bad." He said, "Acquire your sight picture like you normally do and hold that." I did, and he did something off to my right. "Can you see this?" "No." "Can you see this?" "No." "Can you see this?" "No." "Open your eyes." The guy who had been shooting next to me was within about six inches from my face and I never even knew he was there. Lesson learned. Not gonna close my right eye anymore. I've always been a very hands-on learner (this is why ham radio is such a huge challenge for me) and Pat's teaching method of "here's what's wrong, here's why" works very well for me.
It was at this point that I had to take some of the tape we were using for repairing targets and wrap it around my knuckles. And I *still* got a blister.
After the warm up we went back to retention shooting. First we did this with both hands on the gun. It's jarring, feeling the concussion on your face and feeling powder burning on your chest. We did this both from the ready position and drawing from the holster. After that, we reached up and grabbed across the target at the vulcan nerve pinch point and held on while shooting from the ready and from a draw.
Pat said he had us doing this early on in the day while we weren't yet tired, because this was our best chance of the day to shoot our arms off. I gotta say, I was on edge the whole time, too. I'm not sure I've ever been more aware of where my muzzle was. And it got harder from there. The next drill was rapidly swinging the weak arm up to grab the target (versus starting out with your hand already on him) and drawing and shooting. Then the most complex - reach up, grab/hit the target, draw and shoot with your strong hand, swing the weak arm back around to the gun, move the gun from close-in retention to extended draw, and fire while backing away from the target rapidly. This was heart-racingly fun. I have a deep appreciation for all the close-in drills that we did. The ONLY situation I can think of where I'd ever have to shoot someone from your typical 7 yards away is if someone has broken into the house, I've fled to my safe room, they come in anyway, and I get them with the shotgun from across the room. Any other scenario I can think of involves someone getting within two or three feet of me before I'm able to make the shoot/no-shoot decision. I honestly don't practice at those distances nearly often enough.
By the time we were done with all of that, it was about noon, so we broke for a half-hour lunch. When we returned to the range, we were now shooting steel only, and the plates were rectangles about the size of a dinner plate, maybe a little larger. From then on, instead of firing x numbers of shots, we had to make x number of positive hits no matter how long it took. I really like this approach - it's not realistic to think people are going down if you shoot and miss. Resident Evil taught me that. :)
Next up were malfunction drills. Using two hands, this was a piece of cake for me. I've been doing these drills for a long time now, and since I spent my first year shooting a finicky Kimber 1911, I have had lots of practice. Now that I use the Glock, I don't get malfs unless I'm personally screwing up, but I *do* practice my magazine changes constantly. Tap rack bang has become second nature and I'm comfortable with my speed and maneuverability.
But doing that with one hand.... I wasn't even sure I could. Doing it with my left hand only - I KNEW I couldn't. But I did. We were shown three different methods of changing mags, racking slides, getting the slide locked back, and even clearing double feeds using only one hand. Then we were handed dummy rounds to mix into our magazines and we shot strings over and over until we could do everything with our strong and weak hands alone. Here's where I had another tiny personal breakthrough - we were instructed to do things a certain way. Specifically, for left handed shooting, drop the magazine by depressing the mag release with one of the fingers on your left hand. From the previous day's and morning's shooting, my fingertips were raw and I just no longer had the strength to do that. Pat came over and said "what's wrong?" and when I told him I no longer had the strength to do it that way, he said "so find a way that works." Duuuhhhhhhh. I flipped the Glock upside down, muzzle downrange, held it between my knees, and used my left thumb to push the mag release, ripped the mag out, and replaced it. It just hadn't occurred to me to try anything other than what I was specifically told to do. After that, I took all sorts of liberties using my newfound "whatever works" philosophy.
After that we did lots of moving/shooting drills. First it was very basic - draw, move three steps forward, shoot. Draw, three steps backward, shoot. Draw, three steps diagonal forward, shoot. Draw, three steps diagonal backward, shoot. Then we went to combinations - shoot and move at the same time. This sort of went against everything I've been practicing all along - I adhere to the smjayman philosophy of "shoot and then move or move and then shoot, but don't try to do both at the same time." But realistically this might not always work. If you're not behind cover, you're probably going to have to get to it, and depending on how much ammo you have on you at the time, you're not going to want to just toss lead in the general direction of the bad guys and not hit anything while you're doing it.
One of the better moving and shooting drills was a "box move." There were three targets 7 yards downrange. Using sticks on the ground, you started at the lower left corner of the rectangular box. Staying inside the box, you move forward while shooting target one, then when you hit the upper left box corner, you move laterally right while shooting target 2, and then when you hit the upper right corner, you move backwards while shooting target 3. I was tired at this point. I limp wristed my gun after the first or second shot and got a double-feed. I kept moving, cleared the malfunction, but was already to the target 3/backwards position before I was ready to fire again. I say with some degree of pleased-with-myselfness that I *still* managed to get two hits on all three targets before I reached the end of the line. I wasn't supposed to, but hey, zombies don't care about rules!!!!! That was a fantastic drill though. It definitely shakes you up to have to think about doing so many things at once. And maybe next time I won't screw it up. Where shooting is concerned, I am definitely my own worst enemy.
A more difficult drill involved moving very quickly past six targets - you're half-running past them with them 90 degrees on your left or your right, and you're shooting them with one hand only. I think I hit two going each direction. I very much sucked at that one, and I know why - at that speed/position, it's really difficult for me to focus on my sights instead of the target. I was basically performing a spray-and-pray. That drill kicked my butt royally.
Next up was shooting from seated positions. We practiced drawing and shooting with both hands, and strong and weak hand singly, from seated facing the target, seated with the target on the left/right, and moving out of the chair to behind it, using it as concealment. altruisticd had run me through those several times, so they weren't too tough. I must say though, I think it would be a LOT harder in practice trying to draw from the interior of a car, say, with my vest on and a seatbelt covering everything up. This is why I keep a .22 in the truck - I can get to that a lot faster than I can draw from a holster, and at carjacking range it should work just fine (although should I be able to keep my wits about me, accelerating rapidly ought to work even better).
The last drills were shooting from nontraditional positions. Start from standing position. Move to one knee, bracing your elbow against your knee to shoot. Then drop to double kneel. Then lying down flat on your back with feet towards the target, drawing and shooting between your spread legs. Then staying on your back, pull your knees up, draw (taking care not to sweep your body parts), and shoot from between your legs. Then a really weird one - drawing and firing from the fetal position, starting on both the left and right sides (theory being that men may find themselves in this position after a groin kick). Then we faced away from the targets flat on our backs, draw, bring the gun over your head, roll slightly to the left/right and fire. This was where I had another breakthrough. The first time I tried this I rolled all the way over onto my belly, braced my elbows, and fired. I hit the target, but was chastised for rolling too far.
Pat asked me why I did it, and I had my "the enemy's gate is down" Ender's Game moment. I hadn't really realized it, but I was in the habit of not wanting to fire until the gun itself was 90 degrees to the ground. He said, "it'll fire sideways just as well as upright, yes?" And that was that. After that I had no trouble shooting from upside down, even. Big breakthrough. I think it'll make a huge difference in the way I shoot from cover - I've always had some trouble with that and I'm betting it's the positioning that was hanging me up.
Somewhere in there we also did rotating shooting - with your lower body straight, you shot with the gun (and your upper body) at 12 o'clock, then rotated clockwise to 1:30, 3, and 4:30. Then starting back at twelve, do the same thing to the left. Again, when you got down to 4:30/7:30, you were slightly upside down to the target. Very disconcerting, but educational.
The last real drill of the day was also the most fun. Hostage rescue. :) You started about 25 yards from two steel targets. About 5 yards or so in front of them was a 40-pound piece of steel with a bent edge for a handle. Starting 25 yards back, you were to move towards the "toddler" while shooting over his head at the two targets, grab the toddler (and execute a magazine change somewhere along the way - I did this while I was bending down with the kid - hey, if they were gonna shoot him they'd have done it already, right?) and then protect the kid while rapidly moving backwards continuing to fire (and hit) the steel. I enjoyed the heck out of that drill.
A few light exercises with timed firing and we were dismissed for the day. commander_zero just counted the boxes of ammo I brought back with me, and I shot off 900 rounds over the two days of courses. Wow. I think that's the most I have ever shot in that span of time (I thought I was doing good to clear 300 rounds a *week*) and I've got the poor raw blistered hands to prove it.
More cover/concealment practice would've been nice (and perhaps that's a significant portion of Defensive Handgun III), but I don't know that he could've crammed anything else into that course day without giving up something else that was equally important.
To sum up - my three personal takeaways were:
1. Don't close one eye while shooting.
2. Do whatever works best and fastest to make the gun go.
3. Gravity and/or the horizontal plane should not negatively impact your shooting position. The enemy's gate is wherever the target is.
Overall, I have no complaints whatsoever about DHII. It was incredibly more challenging than anything I've done previously, and it feels good to know I can be pushed to my limits, tired, sore, and still be able to do all the basic maneuvers at a subconscious level. I definitely made a lot of mistakes. I can certainly use a lot more practice. I absolutely need to work on my speed and attain a better balance of speed and marksmanship. But over the course of one weekend, I know I've improved significantly - and for the most part it wasn't even technical stuff - it's all in my head. It hasn't been my technique that's been holding me back so much as it's been my confidence level, knowing that I will be able to efficiently and effectively do what I need to do even when I'm rattled. I feel really good about that now, and I'm very pleased at how much better I was shooting even by the end of the two days.
Additional points having to do with the instruction itself - as I mentioned, they're fast-paced courses that challenge the best shooter in the class rather than teaching to the level of the slowest. I personally like this, but others might not have the same view. My impression is that Pat is a man of few words who deals out compliments rarely - I very pointedly remember every single "good girl" I got yesterday. And speaking of gender, I especially appreciated that he did not treat the female students and differently from the males. We weren't catered to or coddled, and when we screwed up we got the same treatment the men did.
Goodale said that he gets all of his students by word of mouth, and specifically encouraged us to tell folks about our experiences if we enjoyed the class. He definitely gets my vote of confidence. If you're near (or can reasonably travel to) Fort Springs, West Virginia or Billings, Montana, consider taking one of his courses. I'd be very surprised if you could find a similar level course at the mere $125 a day Pat charges. The web site is Pat Goodale Practical Firearms Training - check it out. Kit recommends.
Now I'm just looking forward to Tactical Rifle and Defensive Handgun III in June.