Steve Munden



Defensive Shooting at
Jeff Cooper's American Pistol Institute

By 1991 I had achieved master classification in International Air Pistol, and expert in International Free Pistol and International Standard Pistol. Those are all target-shooting disciplines, using the classic posture of one hand on the gun and the other in the pocket, static targets, fixed time limits. I was feeling pretty good about my shooting ability. I figured it was time to show the so-called combat shooting world what I was made of. By far the most prominent of the combat schools, and the only one I knew about at the time, was Jeff Cooper's American Pistol Institute in Paulden Arizona (which still exists as Gunsite Academy, though it's changed hands a couple of time since Cooper's retirement). I wrote for information, trying to convince them that I was ready for the advanced training already, but their reply made it clear that they were not greatly impressed by bullseye matches. They were very polite, though, and also made it clear that even if I did turn out to be as good as I thought I was, the basic class instruction and instructors could challenge and improve my skills. I signed up for a class in early June.

Remember while reading further that these are my impressions as a student in 1991. They may not have been completely accurate then, and if they were, they may be inaccurate now. The names of all the students have been changed. The story is from my diary of the trip and it gets a little disjointed, as I became more overwhelmed by the flood of information and impressions.

I flew to Phoenix, rented a car, and drove to Prescott, eating supper at a Mexican place called El Charro's which I knew from a couple of rock-climbing trips to Granite Mountain just outside of town. Then I drove into Paulden, where Gunsite was (and is) located, found the camping area, and then strolled around looking at the bird life. When I returned around sundown the others in the grounds told me that someone (who turned out to be Janelle Cooper, Jeff's wife) had come around to greet everyone and hand out cookies that she'd baked. I missed mine as a result, but I was stuffed to the gills with Mexican food anyway. I didn't know at the time that Janelle's brownies were as famous as she herself was.

I slept outside my tent last night. Didn't put the thermometer out, but I'd guess mid-40s. Shorts are definitely nice during the day except that there are lots of tiny critters that look and act just like no-see-ums. Also we'll be getting into kneeling and prone in the next few days and it might be hard on the legs.

I was curious about how people would arrive to class, armed or unarmed. Nearly everyone arrived unarmed (openly, anyway). I was armed, after agonizing and watching a 350 student who was camping. The fact that she was a 350 student meant that she'd been here before. She was unarmed. But hell, I know how Cooper feels about it: If he has his pants on, he has a gun on. And if he doesn't have his pants on he has his gun ready to hand. So I put on my holster when I got up. (The entire time I've been in Arizona I've had it in my waist pack.)

Everyone was armed by late morning, but for the entire class lots of people would take off their gunbelts for lunch and when finished shooting for the day. This despite the fact that it's legal to carry openly in Arizona. It's illegal to carry concealed.

We were in a classroom all morning and about an hour after lunch; then we went to the range. Half our class have crunchentickers (the local term for DA autos) and half Colt-style SA; there's also one revolver. (The revolver shooter is a classic Sweet Young Thing whose boyfriend or husband wants her to take the course. He's in the 350 class. Prediction: SYT won't finish the course. She spends lots of time straightening her makeup and seems to be concerned that she'll break a long painted fingernail.) The only thing that's wrong with my equipment is that the magazine pouches are too high and don't hold the magazines firmly enough. (I knew that already.)

Smoking policy according to Cooper: "If any of you are still addicted to nicotine..." then you can't smoke in any building. Outside, ok; but don't throw the butts anywhere on the ground. Strip em, pocket the butts, and put em in a trash can later. Of our 24, we had two smokers, both older men. None of the military or police smoked.

The 24 of us in the 250 class have the undivided attention of 4 instructors (including one "provost", which means an instructor in training who doesn't get paid), plus the occasional ministrations of Cooper. We fire in 2 relays: One has DA autos and the revolver, and the other has Colts and clones. The off-duty relay can recharge magazines and drink (metal cup with name attached provided for each student). They may not handle guns out of the holster. The range we fired on has 12 positions from 3 to 25 yards. 24 is the max 250 class; the 350 class has fewer people and I think is full; they may take only 12, but I'm not certain.

A firing relay takes only five minutes, or even less. We don't recharge magazines on the line so there's the limitation of the ammunition in the gun and on the belt. We fire 6 or more rounds on command, and then the other relay takes positions as we tape holes in the targets. The sight of 12 armed men and women facing us is an encouragement to tape quickly and get out of their way. There's little wasted motion.

At the beginning of the range session we get a relay on the line — or sometimes everyone — and make ready for dry practice. This means to pop the magazine far enough so that it won't feed and to eject the round in the chamber (everyone carries in condition 1, right?). Then push the loaded magazine home.

"Make ready" means to put the gun in condition 1, if it isn't; and if it is, make sure that it is. I do a press check and if there's nothing in the chamber I rack the slide, then do a tac reload to get a full magazine in. If I have time I top off the replaced magazine with the round that was removed when we made ready for dry firing; if not I put it in the rear pouch and replace it when we're moving from one line to another.

"Condition 1", for a single-action auto such as my Colt Officer's ACP, means round in chamber, full magazine seated, hammer cocked, safety on. A "tac reload", short for "tactical reload", means to replace the partially depleted magazine in the gun with a full magazine from the belt or pocket, while retaining a grip on the old magazine. It's distinguished from a speed reload, where you just dump the empty or partially empty magazine and replace with a full one.

At the end of a range session — before lunch or adjourning for the day — we'd all be summoned to one of the firing lines and told to face downrange and "clear for the break". That means to put the gun in the condition desired for carrying it off the range — in my case, condition 1. Many unloaded at this point. Neither the instructors nor Cooper ever said anything about this practice; in fact, I don't know how the instructors felt about the matter. I know Cooper's opinion; I suppose he felt that it was pointless to try to arm people who don't want to be armed.

There are 3 women in the class — two and a girl, actually. There's one in the 350 class. One of ours is the SYT, who's not competent at all — she reminds me of one of my students, who would do something (shoot, or draw, or whatever) and instantly look around at the instructor, smiling brightly, to see whether he thinks she did it right. She doesn't appear to think at all. At one time I saw her with one of the instructors (Monty) off to the side, while the rest of the line was dry firing. She drew and pointed the gun right at Monty, whose eyes got big as he asked her to please not point that thing at him.

Another woman is Cary, a cop from Ventura. She's as competent as anyone. The last is Alice, a kid from Midland Texas who's here with her father. She'll do all right, but she's not aggressive.

Homework for today:
- remove finger from trigger instantly upon lowering gun
- reholster without taking eyes off target
- strong push/pull in stance
- eyes-closed drills
- tactical reloads — keep finger straight along front of magazine

I did the homework exercises using a huge juniper tree beside my campsite as a backstop, with a long field of view beyond it. The eyes-closed drill is a very useful exercise for me to improve the draw stroke and hence the time to get on target. Standing directly in front of the target or backstop, I close my eyes and then draw to a firing position with an unloaded pistol. I then open my eyes to verify sight alignment and position on the target. I'm not very good at it. I generally have to wave the muzzle around to find the front sight and get it into its notch in the rear sight. Getting better, though.

On the second day, Tuesday, I read a missive from Cooper posted in the classroom building: "We've received a letter from the Arizona wildlife folks informing us that the following 4 animals are endangered and not to be molested: gila monsters and ridge-nosed, 2-spotted, and rock rattlesnakes. We have not seen gila monsters but we do have rattlesnakes. The law forbids killing these certain kinds. Not to shoot without firm identification. A rattlesnake is best identified by the rattle at its stern. The protected types may be identified by a ridge on the nose, two spots, or a penchant for rocks. Why not drop the whole thing and just shoot at targets?"

On our first day we did all our shooting from the guard position; no draw. On the second day we introduced the draw and started working on it.

Far as I can see, everyone here is first-name except for Missus Cooper and Mister Cooper, or Colonel Cooper, or The Colonel. Cooper's sort of mild-mannered, a very grandfatherly type, almost shuffles along sometimes. We've gotten just a slight glimpse of his speed (no full-speed demonstrations from him or any other instructor). If he has a temper the only indication I've seen is a slight impatience when we first hit the range yesterday at one of the instructors who Cooper seemed to feel was getting ahead of himself with one student: "Get his piece back in the holster so we can get started here" delivered in a mildly disapproving tone and his usual quiet volume.

The analyses from the instructors have been good but, of course, not infallible. During one drill today — draw and (dry) fire one shot in 1.5 seconds — Cooper said "Steve [we have name tags on the backs of our hats or shirts] you got on well but then you called off the fight while squeezing the trigger." Certainly it takes me a long time to get off the shot after I'm on — the instructors click the trigger the instant that the gun's level — but the reason is that when my gun's level it isn't aligned. It takes a further half second to wave it around to find the front sight and then to settle it in the rear sight. I know the cure for this: eyes closed drills until the gun comes up aligned. Then it's just a matter of bringing the gun up, verifying sight alignment as the gun comes level (what Cooper calls a flash sight picture), and pressing the trigger. Anyway, the point is that sometimes we have to carry the analysis a little further once the instructors identify a problem, rather than just doing what they seem to be calling for — in this case, a too-hasty trigger squeeze before the sights are aligned.

I think I'm doing well here. I think I have a good chance for an E ticket. If there's any wizard in the class I don't know about it. I guess it wouldn't be a physical impossibility to win the whole shebang. But there are a lot of people working hard.

An "E-ticket", by the way, is one of the classifications each student is assigned on the last day. The E is expert, and is better than Marksman 1, which is better than Marksman, which is the lowest classification that means "you met the standards". Lower still is a certificate of completion, which means "you were here and didn't get tossed out".

In the classroom on Wednesday, the third day, we got a question from Cooper: Draws a silhouette on the board. Puts a bunch of x marks on the dead center of the target, very close together. What's wrong with this group? I and other target shooters laugh and shake our heads; nothing's wrong with that group. WRONG! This group is too slow. The kill zone (our x ring) is huge, 8 inches or so in diameter, the size of a dinner plate. Cooper suggests 90% x-ring hits during a practice session. More than that and you can pick up speed. Only exception: Don't miss a head shot. If you've failed to convince your opponent with 2 shots to the chest, don't miss his head.

Most of our shooting so far has been done at 7 yards, and the rest at 3. We might have shot at 10 once. Today we moved back to 15, kneeling. That's tough with tight pants. Head shots at 3 only, 2 shots to the chest at all other ranges. Actually we may have practiced Mozambiques (2 to body, guard, evaluate, 1 to head) and "failure drills" (2 to body, move to head, shoot it if it's still erect) at 7 also.

Practice tonight:
- clearing malfunctions (actually they told us not to do this due to the possibility of negligent discharges, but I brought duds)
- kneeling
- speed and tactical loads
- smooth presentation
- eyes closed drills

I have to get a lot more reliable in my muscle memory before I can hope to meet course times on Saturday. But I don't care about that. I'd rather go for the hits a litle slower and smoother, to develop the speed over the next weeks and months. Sloppy speed is not good, and may not exist; if I shoot before I'm aligned I'll just miss faster. Even if it does exist, it's easier to learn sloppiness than speed or smoothness. So even though I think I have a chance to place well in the shootoff, I'd rather cool it and miss the times. I could also slop myself out of an E ticket (assuming I'm not kidding myself about being in that class).

On our last drill today we had reference whistles to mark standard times for Saturday. I didn't make most of them.

Just talked to Ellen for half an hour. Sure was good to hear her. Now I have to get my tail in gear: eat, clean gun, practice, shower, sack out. I'll clean and practice in the Revelations building, the classroom.

One of our instructors (Mike Harries — the others are Dave Harris, chief range officer; Monty Meickle; Ann Stacey) gave us some parting advice at noon today: Don't practice giving up. If you start something, carry it through. You have to balance the bad of practicing bad procedure against the awful fact that things go wrong in gunfights. If you start over when you don't get a good grip the first try, the fight'll be over before you get it. Carry through! He said, if you drop the gun in the dirt I expect to see you dive for it, grab it gravel and all, and shoot the target from prone. Good advice for me and other target shooters.

So an hour later in practice at noon, I drop the pistol. Threw it, actually. I gave a howl of dismay and rage, grabbed it, and dry-fired 2 to recover.

More evidence of Cooper's temper and humor today, Thursday: He demonstrated a tactical magazine change that was different, and inferior, to the one showed us by our instructors the day before. They mentioned later that it was the one previously taught, but changed because they found a better way. Sometimes he forgets, Dave Harris said. "And you didn't remind him?" I asked in an incredulous voice. Much raucous laughter.

Later, in the lecture this afternoon, he made a feeble pun or something that made me smile but which didn't get the response that he wanted. He observed "You know, everyone loses five points for not laughing at my jokes." Many hearty laughs resulted.

In going over his color code he mentioned that he's on white most of the time on the ranch.

The color code, incidentally, is: White: Not alert. If something happens, it'll be over before you can react to it. Yellow: Alert. Actually, "aware" might be a better term than "alert". It just means you know what's going on around you. Orange is the next step up. It means that you have become aware of a possible threat, something or someone out of place, something to check out more closely, and you're doing that. You're now on alert, prepared to react to a threat, violently if needed. And red is the final stage. It means that you have identified and verified a threat and are taking appropriate action. This could be shooting, or it could be driving away, or seeking cover.

I tell ya, I may be the person here who takes him more seriously than anyone else (possibly including himself). The comments I hear, even from instructors, are respectful but irreverent, if that's possible.

I am now a veteran of the Donga and the Fun House, and my high opinion of myself has diminished greatly. Not to be too hard on myself, a house-clearing is something I'm not likely to do, right? Well, what about when I hear a window break at night? I'm gonna have to give this some more thought.

Today, Saturday, it's over; no E ticket. (I was kidding myself.) That bothers me not a whit. Of the three other classifications — certificate of completion (ie, we acknowledge that you were here), marksman, and marksman 1, ascending in that order, they graded me at marksman. No argument there. (Though one of the LAPD men who I thought would do well approached me after the class and expressed surprise that I wasn't one of our 2 experts. He said that the 4 of them from Ventura thought that I would be one of the guys to beat: "Your presentation was real smooth." I'm not convinced that he wasn't just being nice.)

After all the shooting was over (noon) we retired to the classroom to grab a bite, settle up at the Gunsite store, etc., while the instructors made out certificates. Cooper handed out the expert certificates (we had 2, both to military or police), and then Dave handed out the rest without giving the ratings to the public. The 350 class also had 2 experts, including the woman from Ventura.

In the shootoff (more later) I won one bout, lost the second, won the third, and lost the fourth to the eventual winner. (I think the first was to number 2, but I'm not sure.) Two losses and you're out.

What does disappoint me is that I started to jerk the trigger during the last couple days. Our usual course of fire was 1 head shot from 3 yards in 1.5 seconds; then repeat. (All times starting from leather.) Move to 7 yards, shoot 2 shots to the chest in 1.5 seconds. 2 shots in 2 seconds from 10 yards, 2 shots in 3.5 seconds, standing to kneeling, from 15 yards, and 2 shots in 7 seconds, standing to prone, from 25 yards. I did a tac load after shooting at 7 and at 15, to avoid running the magazine dry. If for some reason I didn't reload, or we shot more at one distance than usual, I'd speed reload any time I had an empty magazine in the gun.

Last couple of days we'd shoot El Presidente: With back to 3 targets at 10 yards (7?) we'd turn at the command, draw and shoot 2 shots on each target, reload (even with large magazines you had to reload), and shoot twice more on each target. Par time was 10 seconds, all x hits. However, Cooper criticized two students who did it in 8 with all xs: "If you can shoot 12 xs in 8 seconds, you can shoot it in 7 seconds with groups that are effective for stopping fights." I think he's inconsistent in this: The whole exercise was admitted to be tactically unsound. If you're faced with 3 adversaries, you're stupid to hit each twice before moving on to the next. So who gives a damn about acceptable groups in less time? If you're playing a game, play it and don't try to fiddle it into usefulness when it's fatally flawed from the start. Cooper's too much in love with his creation.

I asked Dave on the first day we shot El Presidente whether we could do something slightly different — one shot on each then work your way back, or something like that. "Jeff would go ballistic," he said. But I think it'd be a good idea anyway; I don't care if Jeff goes ballistic. It's bad luck to practice bad habits, such as shooting multiple opponents twice each before moving to the next.

I shot the final exercise in 11 seconds, slowing deliberately for the sake of better hits. Even so I had a couple ys and a z. Poor. But I did better than the previous day in both time and groups.

Not part of graduation exercises, but one of the most enjoyable of all, was the Dozier drill. We faced 5 Pepper Poppers at various ranges, all short — longest was at most 10 yards, and the shortest was closer to 5 or even less. The object is simple: Knock em all down. I ran it three times, getting 3.2, 2.5, 2.5 seconds, time starting from the first shot. Naturally the proper way to time this is from the leather, like all our other timed exercises. That would add about a second, based on the times we shot the school exercises. Our best class time was 2.25 seconds.

What we shot was a modification of the real drill, which is based on the experience of Brig. Gen. James Dozier, who was either killed or kidnapped (I forget) in one of the trouble spots of the world — mideast, or Italy, or someplace. Five men gained entrance to his office or home by posing as repairmen. They each had an equipment bag for tools and such. Once inside they put the bags down, opened them, removed weapons, inserted magazines, and took him. So this drill is this: 5 poppers for one man, and one for the other. One has his pistol on his belt (as Cooper assumes one should always have one's pistol on one's belt), and the other has a bag on the ground in front of him with an unloaded pistol and a loaded magazine. On the signal, the one tries to kill all the repairmen before the other can open the bag, load the gun, and get it into action.

This is naturally more favorable to Dozier than reality. Even assuming Dozier was on yellow (which he wasn't), he might well not have shot until he saw the first weapon. He could have hurt them but he'd have to be lucky to win.

In Cooper's lecture on tactical principles he had an interesting example for aggressiveness. He was in Guatemala on a range when the Israeli ambassador strolled in. He took out his pistol and bore down on a target, shooting one-handed as he stalked toward it, winding up shooting straight down at the mutilated target on the floor and stomping it a few times before packing up and leaving.

And then there were the tactical simulators, indoor and outdoor. We had a run at each on Thursday and another on Friday. First I did the outdoor. We were told that all targets (poppers) were hostile. Some would have eyes, some would not. Those with could see us as soon as (or before) we saw them; those without couldn't see us. We were given a brief lesson on how to move to clear dead spaces. Shoot twice at each target, they said; if it doesn't go down, shift to head and shoot again. (Some would be set hard so that they require the greater leverage of a head shot to put them down.) The course would be a gully and an instructor would follow. No targets would become visible behind us so there will NEVER be any reason to shoot behind, endangering the instructors. The entire course would be walked (or run, or crawled) at the guard position; we're assuming a known dangerous situation where you'll have your gun out if you have any brains. We can use any position taught us at Gunsite — standing, kneeling, prone. No barricade shooting, in particular.

I lined up in front of Monty and drew to the guard at his command. Proceed, he said. Well. A long way down the gully ("donga" at Gunsite — from Africa) I could see a target. Now what? Too far for me to shoot. I thought I could see eyes, so he could see me. I elected to ignore him. What was I thinking? In retrospect I should have said something to Monty and said that I assume that if he's too far for me, I'm too far for him. If told that he has a rifle I should have replied "Wait here. I'm going home for my rifle."

Next I saw a large collection of brass ahead. Aha! I bet there's a target to be shot from a position a bit to the left of that. But that's something I don't want to know, because it defeats the purpose — MY purpose. So thereafter I put brass and footprints out of my mind so successfully that I wasn't aware of them again.

I found myself breathing the way described to us in our scuba course: fast and shallow, using the top 5% of the lungs. Slow down; stop, in fact. Take a deep breath. Now go on. I engaged a couple of targets, 2 shots each (only the first connected — I'm not fast enough on the recovery to connect twice), and did a tactical reload, returning the magazine with 2 rounds to my pouch in defiance of the Gunsite order to put it in a pocket. On at least one further target I missed with the first shot but connected with the second. I wasn't good about staying to the side of the gully.

We were told that the instructor would talk to us only if we did something wrong. I'd fired a magazine dry and done a speed reload with my one remaining full magazine, dropping the empty and ignoring it, when Monty said "Holster!" Dang! What'd I do? Nothing; it's over. Wow! Some excitement.

I did well, according to my lights. I saw the sights on every shot and pressed the trigger without jerking. I used the standing position for every shot. Monty said something about better use of cover, and then I was done. All targets had eyes, and none were set too hard for my gun.

The indoor simulator now held no terrors for me. I knew that the instructors were rumored to tell people that they would now forget about the front sight, but I knew that I could retain concentration on the sights.

So Mike and Ann lined me up, told me again that I'd be shooting from guard at pictures of people, that not all targets were hostile, to look at the hands to make the determination, and to shift to the front sight if I decided to shoot. Go ahead.

I took a long deep breath as I looked at the closed door to the house. I eased it open very gradually, earning a sarcastic comment from Mike about how hesitation gets people killed. Once open, nobody in sight. I saw a hallway ending in front of me and continuing to the left. I moved to the right wall to avoid the corner, advanced to the brink, and stepped out into the hall. TARGET, blast him! I fired twice. Once I did so I realized that the front sight could have fallen off for all I knew; I sure didn't see it.

I kept going, clearing the house in a systematic way so that I didn't have uncleared space behind me. Once I stepped through a door and found a target about 3 feet from me. I shot from guard, twice. Mike stepped up to me, peered at the middle of my chest, announced that he saw no eyes there, and inquired how I could align the sights with that position. It didn't matter; my gun had no sights that I was using.

The proper guard position has the safety on. I'd been foregoing that step because the safety was getting hard to move. And it didn't matter, as my trigger finger was well-educated about getting off the trigger until my eyes were on the sights (or would have been, if I'd been using the sights). Then I stepped out of a hall into a new room and saw a blue eye sighting down a revolver barrel. My gun flew up and I jabbed the trigger; nothing! I stepped back into the hall, horrified, and pressed the slide home. Then I stepped back out and shot the target. Naturally I was dead. Mike inquired gently what happened; I told him. Why didn't you discover that when you put the safety up? I told him I wasn't using the safety. Do you now think it's a good idea to use the safety in the guard position, so that you'll discover these problems sooner? I did think so.

I cleared another target or two when there was a hell of a racket at 90 degrees to my right as a trapdoor with a target on it swung down. I pivoted at the sound, blasted it twice, and then again for good measure, elevating the gun slightly as if for a head shot, but still not looking at the gun.

"Holster!" It was over. Then Mike asked why I shot the last guy. It was of a man in a ski mask with his hands held up before him in a classic "fend off a blow" position and with a terrified expression on what could be seen of his face. I didn't say anything; only "no excuse sir" would have done in any case. Later I thought of saying something about how only bad guys wear masks, but even if true (it isn't — cold-weather bicyclists go into banks before removing ski masks) it didn't matter. In the first place, we shouldn't be looking at the face — and I wasn't — but at the hands — and I wasn't. I never saw the face until the powder smoke cleared. I probably would have shot at a blank trap door. It annoyed me that the only target I shot three times was the only one that I shouldn't have shot at all.

I asked one of the men who didn't shoot the guy on the trap door why he didn't. "Why would I shoot him? His hands were empty." It was at this point that I knew that I wouldn't be getting the E ticket.

A problem that I didn't even realize I had on this run was that I wore my sunglasses. I walked out of the bright sunshine into the not too dark house and so it was darker than it had to be. For the second indoor run the next day I took care to use the clear safety glasses.

Of the 23 people in our class (SYT, as predicted, did drop out; though I overheard a comment from Janelle about surgery — knee or foot? — which had not healed, so she had a better excuse than I thought), only 5 didn't shoot the trap door. One of the great characters of the group, Mark, stood up in class at this announcement and shouted "I didn't shoot him!" Mike then observed that he was going to keep it quiet, but since Mark brought it up he was bound to mention that the reason that Mark didn't shoot it was that his gun was locked back empty. He sure was trying to shoot it.

Cooper mentioned on the first day that running a gun dry was formerly worth a beer for everyone in the class from the culprit — a case for a full class of 24. But they'd eased off once Janelle said she thought they ought to get a license or something, there was so much beer stacked up along the classroom walls.

I myself locked back my slide one day when I had a malfunction and ejected a stuck round, then shot the remaining two rounds in the exercise. When it locked back I did a good speed reload and was back in operation before anyone saw it. It's only "Miller time!" (the shout given when an empty gun is observed) if someone else sees it, so I escaped.

I got a lot of slide not fully forward that day, and cured it that night by a thorough cleaning. This also cured the reluctant safety. Since we also had our night shooting exercise that night I was up late; it was after 2300 before I went to bed. I got up at the usual 0430 or 0500 anyway, so this was a little hard on me on Friday. Life's tough.

Night shooting was interesting. We learned the Harries flashlight technique from the inventor, Mike Harries. (I told him that all along I thought that he was named for the technique, not the other way around.) Then we repaired to the range to shoot in gradually dimming light until we could no longer see the sights, or even the target, and brought out the lights. (While things were still dimming we got a good lesson on how valuable it is to have a presentation — ie, a draw — that puts the sights on without need for realignment once the gun's up. When we could still see the target but not the sights we were still getting good groups — those of us who had good presentations.)

The important thing about this shooting (after the proper hand position using the light in one hand and gun in the other, interlocked to give the isometric push-pull characteristic of the Weaver positions) is to raise the interlocked arms, finger the light button, shoot, release the button, lower the arms to guard, and step to one side. DON'T illuminate your position by turning the light on when the gun's not up. The only problem I found in practice (besides the increasingly reluctant safety and slide) was the huge amount of light from all the other flashlights. On one occasion I was complimented for raising the gun, shooting, turning the light on and back off, and lowering. What happened was that I raised the gun and hit the button, but not enough to turn the light on; or perhaps I lost the button during recoil. I didn't notice since there was plenty of light from the sides, and also because I was looking at the sights. Then I shot and released the button. Same amount of light. So I figured I'd pressed the button so hard that I'd clicked it into the full-time on position, and hit it again hoping to turn it off. It came on instead. One more time, this time to turn it off. All this was done in shooting position (NEVER illuminate your position!), so it was pretty obvious.

When we broke at the end of the afternoon session I wanted to leave my ammo at the range so I wouldn't have to tote it back for the night shooting. (Lots of people left ammo at the range all the time, all night. Nothing ever gets stolen at Gunsite. I left mine in the unlocked classroom.) I asked Dave whether we'd be shooting night exercises at the same range. "Far as I know, we will." "Let me change the question. If we do shoot at the other range, will Cooper accept as an excuse the fact that my ammo's at this range?" "No."

On Friday we shot the simulators again. First, outdoor. I started by popping a popper with one shot, which I didn't follow up. "Two shots per target, Steve!" Yessir! Another target in view, and another one-shot kill. Damn. I shouted "Two shots per target, Monty!" before he could get me again, and continued, shaking my head.

As I proceeded down the donga Monty started saying "careful, careful". I stopped and looked around, wondering whether I was out of position, or had completely missed a cranny in the gully. Then I saw a popper on TOP of the gully, 6 or 8 feet above me, in clear view for quite a long time. I put it down (with 2 shots) with an injured feeling; isn't there something in the rules about how opponents in a donga fight have to be in the donga itself?

Now: I see two poppers quite a way off, with no cover at all. No way to ignore them either. Too far for standing. I dropped to kneeling and loosed a careful shot. Nothing. Damn! I pitched forward to prone and nailed both of them with 3 careful shots. Only one shot per target here; the range is too long for a quick followup shot. HOLSTER!

Monty said that I showed much improvement over the first run. I certainly learned it's important to keep my eyes moving, ignoring artificial boundaries such as gully walls. I mentioned this fact to one of the cops and he said that it happens all the time. They had one simulation, modelled after a real affair, where they had the bad guy hide on top of the shower stall in a bathroom with a high ceiling. As cops moved through the house clearing it he'd calmly pop them in the top of the head with his paint gun. Worked almost every time.

After lunch it was time for the second indoor run. Of all the exercises, indoor simulator was the one in which I was most displeased the first time. I would never have believed that I could lose the front sight like that. After all those years! Mike also observed that I had a tendency to lead with the gun. And it was clear to me that I had to be much better about looking at the hands.

I thought about this a lot during the previous night. I concluded that I wouldn't worry about leading with the gun; that I can practice at home. I'll try to think about it and be better, but the place to expend the brain cycles on the second run is:
HANDS followed by, if appropriate

I saw Mike at the "square range" (meaning the place with firing lines and backstops) getting a drink before my second run. "Mike, you aren't going to try to TRICK us today, are you?" He bent over in a spasm, spat out a mouthful of water, choked, recovered, and solemnly assured me that of COURSE he wouldn't try to trick us.

So the time finally came when I stood in front of him at the closed door of the second outdoor simulator (the Play House, as opposed to the Fun House). He told me that there was one hostage situation inside, and that I would get just one shot; make it my best. Roger that, sir; one hostage situation, one shot. I told him that I intended to look for hands, then for a front sight. Then I pushed open the door briskly, taking care to keep my left hand out of the line of the muzzle, and stepped in. (Don't kick the door open, alerting everyone inside with the crash, but do it briskly, so that anyone watching would see first a closed door and then an armed man looking at his hands.)

First target! Gun in hands! Shoot! Two shots an instant apart; two clear images of the front sight. Exhilaration swept over me. Another! Tac load! I put the partially empty magazine in a pocket, according to policy.

Around the corner is a man with a gun to the head of a woman! He's mostly hidden by her body and head; only part of his head shows. Range, maybe 15 feet. Target: His head. I dropped to kneeling and delivered a careful, fast shot, eyes on the front sight. Then I stood and continued to advance; never mind how I shot; she's either alive or dead now, and either way my contribution's over.

Another door. Swing it open. Shotgun! Two shots, two images of the sights. Getting cocky now. Step to one side to view the rest of the tiny room. A target, hands in front, holding a semiautomatic soda can. Blast him! I shot as the picture sank in. "You bastard!" I howl at Mike, as he observes that my mouth must be awfully dry to kill a man for his soda.

Continue; he's dead now. One more target, this one with a gun. Two more shots, speed reload! Magazine on the floor, ignore it. Well done. Where now? HOLSTER!

That was much better. My groups the first time were pretty wild. The only reason that I had any groups at all were due to eyes closed practice; the gun's coming up, not perfectly aligned, but well aligned. But this time, with the sights being used, I produced splendid hits, mostly breastbone hits — probably too good in Cooper's view. A little more speed and chest hits would be better. The hostage taker was perfect. If you took that target and drew a circle to explain to someone where to shoot for, you'd put a circle exactly on my hit. Naturally this doesn't mean I did it perfectly; the gun doesn't shoot one-hole groups, and it's even conceivable that I was pointing high and right and jerked the shot down to the right place. But that didn't happen; I shot well. I also got points for going to kneeling. We took head shots at shorter distances on the square range from standing, but this was farther and the target was smaller because the entire head wasn't visible — and a slight error to the right would have hit the hostage. I done good. Too bad for that guy with the soda.

I got undeserved points for the speed reload after the last target. Mike said it was a good tactical decision because I was in a large empty space that could hold surprises, but I did it because my magazine was empty. I probably should have tac loaded earlier.

At the session's end on Friday, while we were "clearing for the break", Mike told Mark that he should just unload now; it'd save time. Much laughter. Apparently Mark ran his gun dry during the second simulator run too.

They have an interesting attitude to safety. Rule 1 is "all guns are always loaded". When we were dry firing, nobody was allowed in front of the firing line, because a mistake shouldn't cause anyone to get hurt. The instructors stepped in front of the line, or told us to go forward or backward, only when everyone's gun was holstered. At Gunsite it's a lot easier to remember and take seriously this rule than at a target range, because the natural condition for a defense gun is loaded; while the natural condition for a target gun is unloaded. Cooper's practice makes a lot of sense, and the rule follows the practice.

The instructors were serious about keeping guns loaded on the range. Even when dry firing we were expected to have a loaded magazine in the gun. The only time we removed the magazine or used an unloaded magazine was for malfunction drills. On Saturday, one of the men — Will — had just lost his second, and therefor last, bout in the shootoff. He'd been reloading when his opponent put down the last target, so Will stopped. Normally Dave said to complete the reload and then holster, but this time Will holstered the gun without inserting the magazine, put it in his pocket and started to step away. Dave intervened: "You just holstered an unloaded gun." That's ok, said Will. "No it isn't." Before Dave would let him move he had to get the gun in condition 1. This even though Will was through shooting in the course; he'd just lost his second bout in the shootoff, and two losses are all you get. All guns are always loaded.

Will had some trouble with malfunctions in the shootoff — in fact a lot of people did. (Inadequate cleaning, I suspect.) Will lost a point to Alice, our kid from Midland, because Alice was shooting while Will was clearing a malfunction. He was well ahead until then. When the whistle blew and Mike announced "point left!" (ie, to the competitor on the left, which was Alice) Will turned and asked if he lost because of the malfunction. No, said Mike: You lost because Alice shot the last target before you did. "But I woulda won if I hadn't had a malfunction." Well, how many wouldas does it take to win a gunfight?

I asked one of the LAPD cops how he felt about all these wild-eyed citizens such as myself running around with concealed weapons. Not good, he said; in the first place, it was illegal. I informed him that I have a license, which mollified him quite a bit, but not completely. He agreed with Cooper that there was something to it: Bad things don't happen to other people, they happen to people; and I'm one of that group. Nevertheless, he's one of the people that suffer more from concealed weapons, because he deals with bad guys. I sympathize, but it's irrelevant: He can't protect me, and if he regards me as one of the enemy because I'm armed then he becomes one of the people from whom I have to protect myself. So be it.

He did tell me some of the ways that he identifies concealed weapons. He looks for bulges, for holsters peeking out from below sweaters and shirts, for anything that suggests 'gun'. For example, he stopped one man for a traffic violation, and saw a Hoppe's cleaning kit in the back seat. "Where's your gun?", he asked. The guy didn't have any idea what Chris was looking at, and this is often the case. It makes me think that I should never assume that a cop questioning me knows anything; he could be merely shooting in the dark because he sees an NRA sticker on the car, or saw me at a pistol match. Don't confess to nuthin, even if it's too obvious to deny. If he reaches under my shirt and pulls out my gun, express surprise and ask where it came from.

I asked some of the cops if house searches were usually as wild as those done here. Yes, said one 12-year veteran (who I believe came in second in the shootoff and was one of the two E tickets); every time it's a Chinese fire drill. You never know what you'll face.

There was one occasion when the cops were called for an armed holdup at a convenience store. When they arrived there was a man holding a gun to the head of the woman who was the clerk at the store. Let her go! Never! You can't win at this! No, I'll kill her! And on and on for a while, until they finally convinced the man to let the kid go. She ran out the door screaming, the cops grabbed her and told her to get off to one side while they dealt with the felon, and she did. After the cops turned their attention to the gunman the woman pulled a gun, shot them both, and then she and the gunman made their getaway. It's tough when the crooks have brains and a sense of humor.

When they set up that simulation in training it worked every time. There was another when a SWAT sniper killed the wrong person because the crook forced a hostage to put on a mask and hold a gun on him (which I presume was unloaded). The sniper got the green light to shoot and shot the hostage. So now their cops, at least, know to treat everyone at the scene of a crime as a potential bad guy.

Anything can happen. There was one simulation where a cop entered a house (simulation) to find a couple of men sitting on a couch. DON'T MOVE! One of the men got up and ran out, directly away from her, feet and arms flying. She plugged him in the back twice with her paint gun, losing points big time. The second man then stands up and screams "You shot my brother!" a couple of times. DON'T MOVE!! Second man then pulls out his own paint gun and plugs her in the chest twice, while she stares at him big-eyed, losing more points.

How long will it take to get reliable at this, doing one simulator run a day? Weeks.

Cooper seems to know his birds fairly well. He knows the difference between scrub jays (which I saw a lot) and pinon jays (which I may possibly have seen and which he claims frequent his house). He also understood when I said there was a Say's phoebe nesting under the eaves of the range which didn't seem to be too concerned about us or the gunfire.

One of our students said that his future father-in-law would not give his blessing to the marriage until he (the student) received certification from Gunsite. This of course tickled Cooper pink. When the student got his certificate on Saturday he said something about "Wedding bells, here I come!"

Cooper of course went over his DVC ideas — accuracy, power, quickness — in class with us. He mentioned the common theory that misses will so unnerve an opponent that they're practically as good as hits, especially if you have a large magazine so that you can kick lots of dirt on him before pausing to reload. To counter this theory he quoted Churchill: Nothing is so exhilarating as being shot at and missed. God help the spray and pray theorist if he comes against a Churchill. (It's either Jordan or Ayoob who says in one of my books that if you think kicking dirt on your opponent will distract him, just imagine how distracted he'll be if you shoot him in the chest.)

I talked to Monty Miekle, the instructor who ran the outdoor simulator, while waiting for something to happen. This was Friday, after my first indoor simulator, when my expectations for myself were so savagely readjusted. I told him that originally I'd harbored fond dreams of skipping a 350 course entirely and going straight to 499 from 250. He said that was tough to do. He himself went home after his 250 course and competed hard in IPSC matches for 2 years before returning.

Next time I go I'll take some extra ammunition. On Thursday and Friday there were a number of relays that weren't full because lots of people were off shooting the simulators. Dave told us that we could shoot provided we had extra ammo. Actually I could have fired anyway, since I finished the course with almost 200 rounds extra (dunno why), but I didn't know that was going to happen. I'll take 100 rounds of my own and use them if necessary.

The indoor simulator houses are well set up. They have trash blowing around, torn-up furniture here and there, Grateful Dead posters on the walls, etc. In the second run, after I opened the door I looked down a short hall to see some graffiti in spidery white paint: "watch front sight".

In one of my stupider moments I didn't take Cooper up on his offer, made to the entire group, to visit at his house, The Sconce, after the class was over. I broke camp and headed back to Phoenix to return home. There was plenty of time; I just didn't know what I was missing.

I'd be back in a few years. When I returned, I would have a much better mind-set than when I arrived the first time. My gunhandling skills would be much improved. For me, as for many others, Gunsite Ranch would be where it started. Cooper would be greatly disappointed if it ended there.