There is no shortage of self-titled firearm instructors out there. You’ll find plenty who are, or claim they are, a former law enforcement officer (LEO) or military. I’ve learned that just because someone was career law enforcement/military that doesn’t mean they’re a good instructor.
I trained with one retired LEO and when I inquired about learning to shoot on the move he told me that was for police and there wasn’t a reason a civilian would be doing that. Another time at a range I inquired about training. Their new trainer was hyped up as being career Special Forces, a pure badass, etc. Upon being introduced to him as “This guy is interested in training” the first thing he asks me, before my name or anything else, was “What gun are you shooting?” I responded that I had my Beretta 92G on me. He then proceeded to give a speech about how I should ditch the Beretta and get myself a Glock. He said it would shoot 10,000 rounds without cleaning and no degradation in accuracy and made some “fancy Beretta” remark I only caught in passing as I was already tuning him out. As I’m sure you can guess I didn’t pursue further training with either.
Once in a very rare while there’s an instructor who doesn’t try to recreate the wheel, so to speak. They boil it down to the essentials based on efficiency and their real life experience. No roll here, Hondo. Paul Howe, owner and instructor, of Combat Shooting And Tactics (CSAT) does just that. Paul is former Delta Force and was in the well-known Black Hawk Down battle. His email signature is “Be Humble, Be Low Key, Be Deadly”, he and his training exemplify that.
One of the first things I noticed about Paul when meeting him was how he interacts with a wide variety of people. Being ‘just a citizen’ I hate when someone talks down to me because I’m not law enforcement or military. Paul treats office workers, like myself, and police officers with the same respect. If you’re talking then he’s actively listening to you, not just waiting for you to stop or only paying half attention to what you’re asking. That speaks volume about his character.
In November last year while at CSAT’s Advanced Individual Tactics (AIT) class Paul asked us if we would be interested in a long-range pistol class. I eagerly voiced my support and kept an eye on his calendar in the following weeks. When I saw a new class called ‘Extreme Pistol’ listed on his website I crossed my fingers and clicked.
That is exactly what I was hoping for! I quickly submitted my application and started giving thought to what pistol I was going to shoot. At those distances I wanted something with a nice crisp single action trigger. In AIT I used my Beretta 92G. While the double action first pull of the trigger is only 7 pounds and very smooth, the thought of making 100 yards shots with it didn’t sound appealing. It was perfect justification to purchase my SIG Sauer P226 SAO Legion.
If I’m taking a long-range course I want to use the best ammo possible. When asking for recommendations several people suggested I use regular practice ammo. From an economical standpoint this made sense. When I think about all the factors involved with long range shots I want every possible advantage I can get. That led to my 9mm 115 grain Match and Duty Ammo Accuracy Test, where I shot the below group.
I knew I had found my combo.
ASIDE from fun, what’s the purpose of a 100 yard pistol class? Most pistol shooters, especially those who focus on defensive use, rarely shoot long distances. People will typically quote two reasons for this. The main reason they say is there is no justification for shooting someone from long-range when you could easily hide, call 911, run away, etc. The secondary reason is that statistically most gunfights and self-defensive use of a gun occur at very short distances, so why practice at longer ranges? While those two reasons are true in most instances they are far from hard rules. Massad Ayoob did an interesting article specifically addressing that fallacy.
When I’m away from home I’ve got a pistol on me, concealing a rifle really messes with my suit lines. It’s what I’m most likely to use should I find myself in an unfortunate situation and I want the ability to fully utilize it. During AIT one of the instructors, from Austin Texas SWAT, told us about a gunman who opened fire on the police station. It was a pistol shot fired from 104 yards away that stopped the attacker. While it was a LEO who made that shot it could as easily have been a civilian stopping the attack.
DAY ONE started in the classroom with a short PowerPoint to get us all on the same page regarding things like our sight picture. We then hit the range to get warmed up and dialed in. Paul believes in the value of dry fire and has started both classes I’ve been to with the 5 and 1 drill. That’s 5 dry fires and 1 live round, repeated 5 times at 7 yards. This is especially helpful any getting through, or identifying, any pre-class jitters. This drill is shot on a 1 inch pasty on the standard CSAT target. I know my pistol, ammo and I are all capable of putting all 5 live shots into the 1 inch square. That didn’t happen though.
My 5 shots were probably in a 3 to 4 inch group. Between my hands being sweaty and initial excitement/anxiousness I wasn’t properly applying the fundamentals. I was gripping the hell out of the pistol and breathing shallow in my chest, but of course that wasn’t registering. I saw Paul walking the line behind us and I was embarrassed at what he was going to see, I knew I should be doing much better. He watched me take a shot or two and then gave me some advice “Breath, full breath, shoot on a dead chest.” I wanted to smack myself in the forehead. Intellectually I knew that breathing shallow in my chest and holding my breath was detrimental to accuracy. I just wasn’t doing it.
We transitioned to the opposite pasty and Paul walked the line. My group had gotten better but I was still dropping some shots. He noticed my gun trembling and told me “Back off 10% here” as he pointed at my strong hand “and increase 10% here.” pointing at my support hand. Again I wanted to smack myself, I should have been on top of that. At no point does Paul ever make you feel bad for making rookie mistakes so I quickly got past my initial embarrassment and started focusing on getting the job done right. On the way to the CSAT range you drive past sign pictured below. Embarrassment comes from ego and it had no place on the range.
I had a rocky start but within an hour had improved significantly, shooting more like myself again. After posting up Paul’s triple bullseye target (three vertical SR21C targets on one paper) we setup at the 25 yard line for the ball and dummy drill. This is where you work with a partner and setup their gun for them. While they turn away you either load a live round or no round at all and then give them back their gun. They take aim at the target but don’t know if it’s going to go bang or click. This drill quickly brings to light any flinches or other accuracy degrading behaviors. The drill stops when you’ve fired a total of 5 live rounds at the target.
My partner noticed I didn’t have my finger fully on the trigger, I was using the more traditional pad approach. Paul had covered this in the PowerPoint but it is one of those things that has been burned into my brain since I was a child and is very difficult for me to even notice I’m doing. My partner suggested I may want to try getting all my finger on the trigger. I’m always happy to get any constructive feedback and gave it a shot. It made a HUGE difference. I could not believe how much my accuracy increased. I am very appreciative that he pointed it out to me.
While practicing at 25 yards I started falling into the old breathing habits again, and my accuracy showed it. We were shooting 5 rounds per string and between trying to remember to put my full finger on the trigger, relax my support hand and counting the rounds fired, something was bound to get forgotten. Trying to remember how many shots I had fired was distracting and leading to frustration so I started loading only 5 rounds in my main magazine. Paul saw my big group and told me to “Lock, lock, breath, shoot.” Using that mantra the very next group was tiny in comparison. I continued to use it throughout the rest of the class, it was an easy way to remember those fundamentals.
When I took AIT last year I missed earning a CSAT challenge coin by 1 shot, I went 9/10 on our final test. When receiving my certificate of completion and shaking hands with the instructors I told them I’d be back for that coin. When Paul announced that we were going to have our first shoot-off and a coin was on the line I told myself “I’m getting that damn coin!” I refused to allow any room for doubt, it was mine. Period. I shot the below target.
And earned my first CSAT coin. Three of us tied for first with a score of 43. I was proud of myself but pride is ego too so I quickly reminded myself that there was a lot of shooting to still be done and I only barely won the coin. Now wasn’t the time to get cocky, not that there ever is.
One of the reason’s CSAT has such good training is because of how the courses are designed. Each drill gradually prepares you for what’s to come. This is integral in building the confidence the student is going to need to make the precision shots later in the course. In day one I went from shooting a large group to start the day, to hitting a steel torso at 150 yards. Clearly I was getting some real benefit from the content. I also learned that while the Atlanta Arms does great at around 75 yards and in when you start stretching out to 100 yards and more it is much less accurate. This may be due to the 115 grain weight, I’m not sure. During one drill at 80 yards I was having a difficult time hitting the steel target. I swapped in my carry ammo, Federal HST 124 grain, and started hitting with ease, but I only had a couple magazines of it. Thankfully Paul set me up with a box of Speer Gold Dots 124 grain for the following day’s long-range work.
DAY TWO started on the range. We warmed up and then got right into it. Splitting into two groups one went to practice bullseye and the other went to practice vehicle barricades. I was in the group that went to the vehicles. I had done a similar drill in AIT and it was a lot of fun. We were to utilize vehicle cover while advancing on a target. There was a steel target quite a distance away and when you got a solid hit it would fall down, while it was rising back up you would move to your next point of cover. If you shot it lower in torso the 9mm 115 grain didn’t have the juice to knock it down, you needed a chest hit. We practiced several more variations including horizontal movement between cover and engaging steel spine box targets. Running and getting your heart rate going and then being able to shoot accurately takes practice and focus. It’s a great challenge.
After swapping with the other team and getting our bullseye practice in we all got together for another shoot-off. By this point in the class there were some good friendly rivalries developed. Myself and another gentlemen went back and forth several times narrowly out shooting each other. He had beaten me in the previous challenge by 1 point and I joked that I was coming for him next time. In our next challenge I shot the below target, beating him by 1 point and earning my second challenge coin.
He then of course won the following challenge. By now we were also shooting strong hand only and support hand only. I bounced back with a win in the strong hand only challenge and earned my third coin.
The three different coins-
We then got into the real long distance shots. There was a steel torso 200 yards away and you had 5 shots to hit it. Somehow I wound up being the person always going first in the single man drills. Paul was spotting for me and I took aim with my front sight right at the top of the torso. I knew it would come in low but it would throw dust and we could adjust from there. Paul called my impact, I made a small adjustment and sent my second round. No register. I fired my third round. It felt like an eternity and I started to think I had missed again when we heard it ding. My next 2 shots were dancing within inches of the edges. To learn that from two football fields away, if I do my job right, I can suppress someone and even hit them with a pistol was pretty eye-opening.
The class wasn’t just shooting bulls and steel though. Paul isn’t one to let a good tactical learning opportunity to pass by. We went to a shoot house where we had to pop out from cover and engage a hostage target with two rounds from 25 yards away with an unsupported headshot. This was a good learning opportunity because it pointed out several things. The most obvious is whether you can make the shot or not. CSAT has a cowbell hanging outside each of their shoot houses. If you shoot a hostage you have to ring the bell and say “I’m a farmer not an operator.” I was going first and I really didn’t want to ring that bell. That apprehension caused me to hold too conservatively and send my rounds over the bad guys head. I didn’t ring the bell but I didn’t make the shot.
I know I’m completely capable of making that shot and I did in the following run, putting two rounds on top of each other right above his eyebrow. What this showed me is that even though I may have the skill to make that shot whether I should is another story. If the thought of ringing a cowbell in embarrassment was enough to throw off my game why should I expect to perform better if that were a real life situation? It’s as equally, if not more, important to know your limitations as it is to know your capabilities. Do I want to risk shooting the hostage, shooting and missing which spooks the bad guy and he shoots the hostage, or should I take cover and let a SWAT team deal with it? There’s no solid answer because it changes second by second as the situation evolves, but that’s what you have to consider.
THE final shoot-off was our best 5 shots from the 25 yard line onto a bullseye. Up for prizes were two knives and a Wilson Combat Glock 19 barrel. I went in feeling good, confident, and ready. I can say I shot my best 25 yard unsupported group and it was respectable but it was not a winner. While it was a nice group it only brought me a third place finish. First place went to the gentlemen I had been having the friendly rivalry with, he is a great guy and a heck of a shooter. He earned first place with a score of 46. Second place went to the RMR shooter in the group with a 45, and I took third with a 44. The funny thing is we were same three shooters that tied in the first challenge.
I admit I was pretty bummed out. The group I shot was just a little too low. If I had placed the left 9 ring shot 1/10th of an inch higher I would have won a knife. Instead I got the barrel but I don’t own a Glock 19. While I could have sold it and made a few bucks I’d rather another one of the students get it. So I passed on it and it went to the fourth place finisher, who could actually make use of it. When I figure the slightest movement to the muzzle translates to several inches at the target I can’t be too hard on myself for those near wins. It does always leave me hungry to keep improving!
Here’s some video from class-
UNFORTUNATELY Extreme Pistol was a one-off class and probably unlikely to be held again anytime soon. I really can’t overstate the value of the class to me nor begin to really capture all it contained in this article. I learned what myself and my weapon system are capable of. I found I really enjoy bullseye shooting and will at minimum make it a regular part of my training routine, though I hope I can find some matches around as well. Establishing a confident long game really changed my short game perspective. The next time I shoot a steel match those targets will seem massive and my confidence in making the precision shots they sometimes sneak in there will be much higher.
Paul isn’t going to be doing this forever. If you want the opportunity to train with one of the best instructors out there I suggest you schedule it sooner rather than later. Not wanting to miss an opportunity myself I signed up for his 5 day Tactical Rifle/Pistol Instructor course. I’m looking forward to the challenges it will present. I enjoy working with people and helping them develop. While I don’t have the background to become a high level instructor myself I believe that the course will help develop me as a shooter by furthering my shooting maturity.
If you’d like to see what CSAT has to offer check them out at www.CombatShootingAndTactics.com