Entry Level Pistol Essentials Class with The Complete Combatant

Pending availability of more systematic data, we have good anecdotal reason to believe that a substantial portion of the Great Gun Buying Spree of 2020+ was new gun owners.

Training, or lack thereof, is always an issue with gun owners. But with a surge of new gun owners, issues of training have come to the fore. A recent news story out of Wisconsin features Steve D’Orazio, owner of Max Creek Outdoors, expressing his concern:

“If we had ten new people walking in, we’d have one person signing up for some type of training,” D’Orazio said. “It scares me. It scares me because again, people are coming in thinking they need a gun in their home for their own protection, but they’re not so much interested in training like they were in the past. I have a problem with that.”

Of course, not all those involved in gun sales and training agree with D’Orazio’s experience. One commented on my Gun Culture 2.0 Facebook page:

I’m seeing the opposite and so are my coworkers. Training is continuing to rise in new gun owners at our store. We have a very solid in house training program with good instructors and good curriculum so it is easy to pitch training to the prospective new gun owner.

So, is this ultimately an issue of “if you build it, they will come”? Create a good entry level pistol class and it will sell itself?

I am not in the business of designing, offering, or selling gun training courses, but I have spent a considerable amount of time attending, observing, and writing about them. This includes sneaking away to the mountains of North Georgia last summer to spend some time at The Complete Combatant’s range in Dahlonega (for pronunciation think Elvis Costello’s “Veronica”).

The Complete Combatant training facility, Dahlonega, Georgia. Photo by David Yamane

My wife Sandy and I have previously trained with The Complete Combatant’s Brian and Shelley Hill in their Force Readiness class. So when Shelley invited us down for their Entry Level Pistol Essentials class, I signed Sandy up to take the course ($69) and I planned to observe. As it turns out, a spot opened up in the class last minute and they invited me to step in, which I happily did.

Given the COVID conditions in June 2020, enrollment in the course was capped at 10 students and the round count was reduced to 50 rounds. Through a relationship with H&K, students have the opportunity to borrow a VP9 pistol to use in the class.

H&K VP9 loaner pistols at The Complete Combatant. Photo by David Yamane

The course promises students “will have FUN and learn much in a safe and comfortable environment from coaches that love new shooters!” My brief analysis is mission accomplished.

Conversations I have had with gun curious people from the non-Duck Dynasty demographic reveal that the idea of buying guns or taking classes from companies that fly their Trump/MAGA flags high and deafen with their Spartan warrior molon labe rallying cries is a huge turnoff.

Brian and Shelley Hill do a great job of creating an inclusive environment. Shelley is loud and boisterous like an enthusiastic hug and Brian is more soft spoken like a familiar and comforting adult contemporary song.

Of the 8 students other than Sandy and me, there is one older guy, a father with his teenage daughter and son, a married couple with their teenage daughter, and another teenage girl. The Hills take being entrusted to teach people’s kids especially seriously and acknowledge that trust in the opening session.

Shelley and Brian Hill safety brief. Photo by David Yamane

The four-hour class convened at 10:00am sharp in the teaching pavilion away from the firing range. This area is “sterile,” Shelley insists, meaning no functional guns or ammo is allowed. Everyone is issued a plastic inert training gun for this part of the course.

After reviewing administrative notes and a medical briefing, Brian introduces himself to the class. He comes from a martial arts background, he says, and The Complete Combatant adapts this to shooting classes in the form of a “belt” system. Everyone who completes this course receives a white patch – akin to a white belt – that says, “Welcome to the club.” It is a start, Brian says, and important because, as in the martial arts, “Showing up the first time is the hardest part.”

The Complete Combatant Entry Level Pistol Essentials White Patch. Photo by David Yamane

Brian reiterates the fundamental goals of the class: learn the basics of handling firearms, feel comfortable with them, and want to do more.

The rest of the morning session is given over to information and dry practice. Rules of gun safety, firearms and action types, and ammunition components and types are reviewed.

Brian Hill works with student on grip and presentation. Photo by David Yamane

Next Brian covers fundamentals of stance, grip, sights, and trigger control. He has us work on stance, grip, and sights with our plastic guns, then we form two lines and work with Brian and Shelley on our presentation and trigger press using SIRT pistols.

This takes us to a 12:15pm break, and we resume class at 12:30pm on the range.

Shelley Hill reviewing range safety protocols. Photo by David Yamane

Unlike other courses I have attended at outdoor ranges, tables are set up between the students and the targets to give people a place to put their stuff and to establish the firing line. This makes reloading more efficient and safer since students do not have to leave the line to walk back to a separate area where their shooting bag is. Also, even seasoned shooters can have trouble forming and maintaining a firing line, so this system is especially great for beginners. There is no drifting left or right because you know where your shooting station is, you know if you have stepped back behind the line, and you cannot easily move in front of the line.

After reviewing again the range and safety rules, Shelley and Brian very deliberately help get everyone with a cleared gun in front of them on their table. We practice our presentations with and without a trigger press, both from the low ready and compressed ready positions. Shelley, Brian, and a couple of additional experienced trainers who happen to be on hand give the students plenty of individual attention here.

Brian Hill demonstrating how to load a pistol. Photo by David Yamane

When we finally turn to the live fire portion of the course, the shooting is very deliberate. We first load one round in the magazine and fire a couple of times, then load 2 rounds, then 5 rounds.

In the end, we load 10 rounds in the magazine and shoot a final course of fire: 10 rounds untimed on a B8 repair target.

Although she is hardly a beginner, I was nonetheless proud of Sandy for getting a perfect score, the title of Top Shot for the course, and a commemorative Complete Combatant patch.

Top Shot: “DeadEye” Sandy. Photo by David Yamane

The Complete Combatant manages to fit a great deal of instruction and practice into 4 hours and 50 rounds. For less than $100, including ammo, and not even needing to have your own gun, this is a great model for teaching new shooters and gun owners the essentials of pistols. I would happily send friends and loved ones to this course.

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