Do you know how to shoot? How sure are you about that? I was pretty sure that I knew how to use a gun. After all, I’d received about 30 minutes of training from a police officer, had been to the range a few times, and I could pretty consistently put a bullet inside the silhouette on a target from 3 yards out.
Certainly, that’s better than nothing…but, is it really good enough to bet your life on?
I didn’t think so, which is why I was very interested in the Front Sight Firearms Training Institute. Front Sight is in the desert about 30 minutes outside of Pahrump, Nevada and it’s famous enough that my trainer in Myrtle Beach, SC had heard of it and was envious that I was getting to attend.
Front Sight basically works like a gym with a lifetime membership; you buy in and then you can come back as often as you want. You just have to pay for your ammo and any gear you rent. I was told that initially its clientele had been mostly professional shooters like S.W.A.T. Team members, but over time its customer base has become a mix of highly trained professionals and novices. Roughly 1000 people a week go through Front Sight’s classes, which is something it considers to be one of its biggest advantages because the trainers get so much experience. The different courses cover everything from handguns to rifles to shotguns to hand-to-hand self-defense.
In my case, I got to attend as media. I didn’t know exactly what to expect when I showed up for the Front Sight 4 day defensive handgun course beyond some excellent firearms instruction, but the trainers bent over backwards to emphasize that it isn’t “Rambo training.” In fact, they insisted that they didn’t want me to write a word about Front Sight unless I attended the whole course to see how much they focused on responsible and safe firearm usage.
They did indeed spend a great deal of time making sure we understood how much our lives could change with a single pull of the trigger. They hammered home the point that even a completely justified shooting could lead to a court case, civil suits, damaged reputations, and having our face associated with a gun death in the papers.
One example they gave was imagining what would happen if someone broke into your house at 2 AM in the morning, wearing a ski mask and carrying a knife. You put two bullets in the guy and kill him dead. The police show up and they find out it’s the “Satan strangler,” a criminal who just escaped from jail. In that case, the investigation is probably short and you’re hailed as a hero in the press. On the other hand, imagine that that everything is exactly the same except when the ski mask is pulled off, your next door neighbor’s 14 year old son is under the mask. In that case, you face a long police investigation, the local newspaper may run a headline like “Homeowner Shoots 14 Year Old Boy,” and people at work may treat you like a child killer. Everything was the same from your point of view; you did the right thing, but the result may be very different because of factors you have no control over. Point being, if it’s time to shoot, shoot. But, think very, very carefully before you get into that situation, what you’re willing to die for, and what you’re willing to kill for because there are real consequences to pulling the trigger even if you do everything right.
Of course, we spent most of our time training, not being lectured.
Front Sight has a difficult job. Imagine having novices, expert shooters and people in between all in one class and having to train all of them over a 4 day period. How do you get the new shooters up to speed without boring the top-of-the-line gunfighters to death?
Front Sight solves this dilemma by going over the basics on day one and then steadily building on the skills it teaches people. It’s not about teaching people a hundred different skills; it’s about teaching them how to do a few basic things extremely well. Front Sight teaches people to shoot quickly and accurately, when to shoot, where to shoot, how to clear misfires, and how to properly clear a house.
As a less experienced shooter, I can tell you that it was very tough to pick everything up.
I had to focus on having the correct stance, turning my shoulders the right way, getting the right amount of isometric tension, keeping my fingers in the right spot, and pulling the trigger correctly. In a sense, it’s like driving a car. Once you get it all down, it’s automatic, but until you do, you have to think about every step. That’s a little tough to do when you’re simultaneously being trained on the right way to clear a house.
It’s even tougher when you actually go through a “simulator” that is supposed to mimic a hostage situation.
At Front Sight, the trainers teach you that you need to have a tight, hand-sized spread when you’re practicing because you’ll be significantly less accurate under pressure. I got to experience that personally when I went through the simulator. It was supposed to mimic a hostage situation at a BBQ. Some people you had to tell to get down, while others you had to shoot.
Not only was I less accurate, my brain just didn’t process certain things. For example, the guy on the right was pulling a cell phone out of his belt. I put two in his thoracic cavity. The hostage taker in the middle? I put a bullet in his throat. The instructor asked why I didn’t shoot him in the ocular cavity since he had a hostage. The honest answer was that my brain was so focused on the threat that I DIDN’T SEE THE HOSTAGE. So, the primary thing I learned from clearing a house in a simulated hostage situation is that I wasn’t yet ready to clear a house in a hostage situation.
Still, the class was an incredible learning experience. Front Sight teaches you how to shoot.
The trainers also teach you things like when to put bullets into your opponent’s body and when to do headshots.
But, they also do a remarkable job of putting together a class that emphasizes safety, shooting, and real world practice for a wide range of shooters. The class is fast paced, but the pace isn’t so breakneck that new shooters can’t keep up. Advanced shooters get enough value out of having top notch instructors guiding them through crucial drills that they come back (One of my classmates was on his 7th repeat of the same course) while less experienced shooters like myself were happy to learn the more basic skills that we can build on at the range.
As someone who has taught social media classes that mix newer and more advanced students, I can tell you that’s tough to pull off, but Front Sight does an amazing job of it. How good are they? Well, I tried to think of some things it needs to improve on for the article and to be honest, not much came to mind beyond perhaps shooting a little more and getting a bit more individual time with the instructors. Even those complaints are pretty mild given that we popped off 600 rounds and there was seldom a time when we didn’t have a partner working with us to watch our form and improve on it.
All in all, Front Sight is absolutely amazing at what it does. The instructors know exactly what they’re doing and are firm about safety, but keep things light and fun enough that no one gets discouraged. If you can spare a few days and really want to learn to use a gun the right way, Front Sight can turn you into a skilled shooter.