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If you own a firearm, you owe it to yourself to attend a Front Sight training course.  And if you don't, you should still consider attending to get a better understanding of these issues.

Although originally doubtful about the benefits of investing four full days in a handgun training course, I am now a 110% convert to the value of these wonderful courses.

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Front Sight Firearms Training Institute

A series reviewing my training experience and detailing firearms training and related issues in general

A husband and wife practicing on Front Sight's 1A range during our Four Day Defensive Handgun Course.

Part one of a series on the Front Sight Firearms Training Institute; what it does, how it does it, and its relevance for you.  Please click the links on the right hand side for other parts of the series.



If you are like me, you have owned and been around firearms for decades, but you've probably never had any formal training in their use, or perhaps you've taken a one day or shorter course at the local gun range that tells you little that you don't already know.

And if you're also like me, you've never needed to use any firearm in self defense.  Long may that remain true!

And so you might feel there is no need and little benefit to investing four full days in a defensive handgun training course.  That was what I thought, too.  But friends pressed me to join them on one such course, and to my surprise (and delight) the experience was transformational and invaluable.  It absolutely will be for you too.

Please - for your safety, and for the safety of those you love and wish to protect - consider attending one of these courses.  Hopefully you'll never need to apply the skills you've been taught, but even if you never do, you'll be a vastly safer person when it comes to handling your weapons and more confident of your ability to respond adequately if an extreme situation suddenly occurs.

Not Just for Firearms Owners and Supporters

Let me say something up front urgently quickly, before I lose everyone who dislikes firearms and wishes they would all get out of our lives.

Firearms can take lives, but firearms can save lives.  If you have a firearm, you have a responsibility to be able to control it and use it properly, a responsibility to ensure you never have an accident - a 'negligent discharge' - that might cause harm to anyone, and a responsibility to ensure that if you ever find yourself in an extreme position, you can make a proper decision as to the best course of action and then be able to implement it.  You need to go to a Front Sight training course.

And now, for those who don't have weapons, and who don't like them at all.  Don't you think you should have a better understanding of what firearms are, and how they can be used for good and to save/protect the lives of yourself and your loved ones, as well as to appreciate how they can be dangerous and to know how to minimize such dangers?

Why not also come along to a training course - Front Sight will rent you everything you need.  There are several ways to get very low priced training programs, and if you don't like what you've learned on the first day, don't come back for the subsequent days.  Go and treat yourself to several days in Vegas instead.  At least you'll know more certainly, after a day's exposure to firearms and their proper use, about your opinion and you can then affirm your decision to avoid them in the future.

Why Everyone Needs Firearms Training

Firearms training courses in the Nevada desert.  It might sound like something of appeal only to 'red necks', to 'gun nuts', or to 'survivalists'.

Actually, many people belonging to such groups probably never attend any type of firearms training at all, believing themselves to be automatically expert at such things, and perceiving formal training to be beneath them and a challenge to their manhood and their god-given rights to firearms ownership.

Unfortunately, a similar perception applies to 'normal' people too; people who might have a firearm at home but who use it rarely or never, and don't see any benefit or reason to study up on how to use it.

Some people also feel uneasy at the thought of attending what they perceive to be something glorifying/advocating the use of guns, and maybe they worry too that the other attendees will be the red necks, etc, mentioned above.

The reality of the Front Sight courses, the Front Sight personnel, and the Front Sight attendees couldn't be more different than these negative perceptions would suggest.

I attempt to explain these things on this and subsequent pages of this series, and most of all, I hope I can persuade you - whether you are a gun owner or not - to consider attending a course.  You'll not emerge a crazed gun toting psychopath - quite the opposite.

You'll have a more sober realization of the complexity of issues and responsibilities associated with gun ownership and use, and you'll also have the skills to ensure that in the normal course of events, you'll be a very safe gun owner and user, but in the ultimate extreme, you will also be a very skillful gun owner able to defend yourself and your loved ones, while only endangering the bad guys and not any other innocent bystanders.

Who Attends Front Sight Training Courses

Based on observation of the 600 or more people attending a mix of various different courses during the nine days I have been at three different Front Sight courses (in September and October, 2010), it is clear that a broad mix of people attend.

I saw people of all ages and backgrounds, of both genders and probably of all political persuasions too.  There were a couple of young girls, about 15, who were doing a Four Day Defensive Handgun Course along with their brother, mother and father (amazingly they weren't the typical sort of giggly teenage girl preoccupied with fashion, etc; they were sensible well behaved girls who treated the responsibility of firearms ownership and use with the respect and seriousness it deserves).  There were other parent/child groups, as well as newlywed couples, long-time married couples, and single people attending by themselves (who quickly made friends with others - indeed as an aside, Front Sight reports a number of marriages have come as a result of people meeting on one of their courses).

There were other people of all ages ranging up to grandparents in their late 70s and probably beyond.  Front Sight say they have trained people on the far side of 90 in the past, and on rare occasion, have been persuaded to accept pre-teens into their programs too.

People came from all backgrounds and professions, from physicians to mechanics, retirees to school students.  There were a surprising number of people who were currently serving in law enforcement or the military, and who were attending a Front Sight course, on their own time and at their own expense, because they felt the training they received at Front Sight was substantially better than the formal training they had received while becoming a law enforcement officer or serviceman.

People seemed to come from all around the country, from 'gun friendly' states as well as from 'gun unfriendly' states.  There were even people from other countries ranging from Britain to Greece among the 40 people in my own small group.

Some people already had considerable experience with firearms, others had moderate knowledge, and then there people such as a retired lady who I was partnered with for a while - she had bought, just the week before, her first ever pistol for home defense.  Some people owned no guns at all, but were coming to better understand the issues involved with gun ownership, should they choose to buy one in the future.

So whatever your level of expertise/knowledge, you'll find a Front Sight course helpful and beneficial.

No-one was aggressive or rude or extreme in behavior, and with everyone walking around all day with a pistol and couple of magazines of ammunition on their belt, there was clear proof of the adage 'An Armed Society is a Polite Society'.

Such a society is also apparently a very honest society.  Instructors told us with tangible pride 'leave anything anywhere, we don't have problems with stuff going missing here'.

The standard courses don't require any particular physical abilities, other than those that allow you to walk a short distance to a range, and to be able to load, reload, cock, aim and fire your choice of pistol, shotgun and/or rifle.  Front Sight even have handicapped parking places for the several people with mobility impairments who were attending.

Repeat Attendees

A noticeable feature was the number of people who were returning to repeat the course for a second time, and some people were back for a third or fourth time.  I would guess that perhaps one quarter of the attendees at 'entry level' courses were returning students repeating the course rather than new students, and of course, those attending more advanced courses were necessarily returning students.

This points to two positive things.  The first is that people found the course such a positive and invaluable experience, they wished to repeat it.

The second is that there is such a wealth of knowledge being transferred in the course that everyone can benefit from a repeat attendance, improving on the skills they have already acquired and getting better mastery of new skills not fully appreciated the first time.

Note :  I will be going back to repeat this course myself, too.  There's still much for me to learn and much for me to improve.  Update - I did indeed return, some six weeks after the first course, and found the repeat course to be almost as valuable as the first course.  I intend to keep returning again in the future.

Front Sight's Long and Intensive Days of Invaluable Training

NOTE :  Front Sight has changed its curriculum for its Four Day Defensive Handgun Course as of late Dec 2010/early Jan 2011.  Please visit the extra page 'Changes to the Front Sight Four Day Defensive Handgun Course' for an explanation and discussion of the changes to what is and is no longer included.

Prior to attending, I wondered skeptically how it would be possible to fill up four days with information about how to shoot a pistol.  Surely, I thought, this was a simple and straightforward thing - you pick it up, load it up, point it at a target, and pull the trigger.  Allow an hour or two for some safety explanation, an hour or two for information on how to sight and shoot accurately, and a few hours of practice - it seemed to me a single day would be more than enough, and I've certainly seen lots of one day training courses advertised at local gun ranges over the years.

I couldn't have been more wrong.

We were very fully tasked, all day of each of the four days, learning and polishing new techniques as well as relentlessly working on fundamental safety drills, and moving from a hopelessly inadequate level of awareness and competence to a 'barely adequate' level as the course progressed, while all the time striving to improve our competence still further.

Front Sight says that almost everyone who attends one of their four day defensive handgun courses will end up being more competent with a pistol than 99% of all other pistol owners out there, and not only that, but also more competent than 95% of law enforcement officers too.  That is a very bold claim to make, but in conversations with current and former law officers, they unanimously agreed the Front Sight training was much better than their own training at a Police Academy or elsewhere - generally they said we spent more range time than they did, and we had vastly better instructors, teaching us superior techniques.

So, did we really need four long days of training?  Heck, yes!  Indeed, it seems that most attendees resolve to return to repeat the training a second time, so as to become more confident and competent.

Actual Hours of Training

Here are the actual start and finish times of each of the four days.  There was a break for lunch - although sometimes we had lectures during lunch too, and on the long Day 3 (which included a night shoot) we had a break for dinner too.

The first half hour from 7.30am until 8.00am was optional on days 2, 3 & 4 but most people chose to come along for and greatly appreciated the extra 'bonus' time (spent on dry firing practice).

Day 1 :  Started at 6.30am.  Finished at 7.00pm.  12 hrs 30 minutes.

Day 2 :  Started at 7.30am.  Finished at 6.50pm.  11 hrs 20 minutes.

Day 3 :  Started at 7.30am.  Finished at 9.40pm.  14 hrs 10 minutes.

Day 4 :  Started at 7.30am.  Finished at 5.45pm.  10 hrs 15 minutes.

In total, there were about 42 - 45 hours of training given to us over the four days (note - the new Front Sight curriculum in 2011 has substantially less).  And not a single person left the course without feeling the need for more training - not because the training was inadequate, but because we discovered that firearms handling is a bit like peeling an onion - the more we learned, the more we discovered we still needed to learn.

A Growing Appreciation of the Rights and Obligations of Firearm Ownership

Interestingly, as our training progressed, our motivation to keep learning grew too.  I don't think anyone, at any stage, found themselves thinking 'okay, so I'm not up to their standards of perfection, but I'm a lot better than I was and that's good enough'.  The more we learned, the more we wanted to keep learning - not because we are gun crazies, but quite the opposite, because we wanted to responsibly honor and discharge the responsibility attendant with owning and using firearms, to the best of our ability.

Many of us hadn't even really considered the obligations and responsibilities associated with owning a firearm prior to arriving at the course, but the more we learned, the more we came to appreciate that while the Second Amendment may give us the right to own a firearm, it also gives us a tremendous obligation and burden to be responsible and prudent in exercising that right.

Front Sight gave cogent well-reasoned lectures on such topics as the morality of deadly force and ethical issues involved in its application, complete with vivid illustrations and staged examples that helped us understand how such abstract issues as ethics and morality were actually an important part of owning - and possibly using - a gun.

I think most of us came away from the course less rather than more likely to use a firearm in any future confrontation, more willing to hide in our bedroom and do nothing at home, more willing to run away and be labeled a coward on the street than stand our ground with fatal consequences.

The Most Valuable Thing We Learned?

And so, was this the most valuable thing we learned?  To really truly use firearms only as an absolute last resource?  Yes, I think it was, and this is so important I consider it further on the subsequent page 'When to Use Deadly Force'.

Stating the Obvious - Ignore What You See in the Movies

On a more light-hearted note, you've doubtless already noticed that guns seldom run out in movie shoot-em-ups.  Six round revolvers seem able to shoot many more than six rounds, seven round 1911s will fire repeatedly, and as for a submachine gun, an evil looking MAC 10 with a 30 round magazine of .45 caliber ammunition, which at its cyclic rate of 1145 rounds per minute would take 1.5 seconds to empty, is capable of firing for maybe ten or more times that duration.

But some of the other elements of firearms usage in movies might be less obviously ridiculous.  For example, we were taught in the section on using cover that it is better to stand away from a wall or side of a building rather than huddle right next to it (the reason for this is surprising and very definitely valid).

When you see the good guys searching a house for bad guys, they invariably have their guns held up at eye level - seemingly so they can more quickly take a shot if needed.  But that too is a mistake - the best way to hold your weapon in such cases is pointed down at a 45 degree angle.  See if you can figure out the reason why that is - answer at the end of this section.  They also tend to trap themselves in the 'fatal funnel' as they go through the house, something I too did once (but hopefully never again) in my practice drills.

Or how about the movie stars that pose in a 'ready' position holding their weapon pointed straight up.  And then trace out huge quarter circle arcs with their weapon when moving it down to point at a target.  That's another very bad practice, although it does look impressive on the movie posters.

During the course of the four days, you'll repeatedly have to unlearn things you might be unconsciously mimicking from what you've seen in the movies, and you'll laugh uproariously as instructors name specific actors and their distinctive styles of (mis)using a weapon prior to telling you the correct solution.

Oh yes - the answer to why you should hold your weapon down at a 45 degree angle while scanning an area for attackers?  If you are holding it up and straight out in front of you, the gun and your arms are blocking your vision of all things below your gun and arm.  You won't see anything from the floor up to about your own head height.  But if you are holding the weapon down at a 45 angle, neither it nor your arms are blocking your vision.

This is obvious now that you know, isn't it.  But it is also a subtle thing that few people would intuitively do - and so forms another example of the invaluable training you get at Front Sight.

The Final Test

At the end of the fourth day, we were given a test in two sections - the first being a test of our ability to shoot accurately and quickly, and the second being a test of our ability to reload our weapon and to clear malfunctions, again on a timed basis.

This was a very demanding test.  For example, we had to be able to draw our pistol from its concealment (ie under our jacket or something), and then aim at a small target 16.5 ft away and hit it, all within 1.9 seconds - and, no, you can't start with your hand already on your pistol.  We had to be able to do an emergency reload within 2.4 seconds, and clear a 'Type 2' malfunction in 1.6 seconds (while simultaneously moving to make it difficult for the attacker to take advantage of our sudden helplessness).

Not only was the test demanding, but so too was the scoring.  There were a maximum of 125 points that could be scored, but because you not only got zero points for misses or shots not fired; you also got up to 30 minus points for slow reloads or malfunction clearances, it was possible to end up with a score of less than zero (and some people do indeed get a less than zero score).

Front Sight have three levels of outcome from the test.  If you worked your way diligently through, completed the course and did the test, you were assured of getting a 'Certificate of Completion' (even if you scored less than zero).  This might sound like giving people a free and meaningless piece of paper, but we had more than six of our original 40 people drop out during the course, and so simply completing the course was both a meaningful accomplishment and also a very valuable learning experience.

Even the worst scoring members of our group felt they had enormously improved their skills, and no-one complained at all about the quality and value of the experience.

If you scored over 87 points, your certificate was endorsed with a seal denoting you as a graduate of the course.  This would also allow you to proceed on to take some additional higher level courses in the future.

If you scored 111 or above (remember there were 125 points maximum) your certificate was endorsed with a seal describing you as a distinguished graduate.

The first time I attended, out of our group of 40, we had one only person earn the status of distinguished graduate.  This was a man probably in his 60s, definitely over-weight, and on his second time going through the course.  The first time he had failed to graduate at all, and this time, he convincingly came top of our class, providing an inspirational role model for us all.

I think I counted five people who were awarded graduate designations.  28 of us got certificates of completion, and six people (maybe more, but six I know of for sure) failed to complete the course.

The second time around, our group of 40 ended up with one distinguished graduate (a man in his 30s, attending his second course) and four graduates.

As further indication of the high level of skill needed to graduate, both times we had current and former law officers who failed to even earn a graduate designation.

But looking also at the two people who graduated with distinction, and at the people - of all age ranges, fitness levels and both genders - who graduated, it is clear that while it is very difficult to pass the test, it is not impossible.  Anyone can do it, although probably more realistically on their second or third attempt, not their first.

UPDATE :  My third participation in one of these courses was with the new 2011 curriculum and with no turning targets.  This time we had three people earn distinguished graduate certificates (a returning student, a professional law enforcement range master, and, ahem, me) and maybe 15 or more (too many to count!) get graduate certificates.

This significant leap up in pass rates and grades attained seems to bear out my perception that the new approach to timing the test is more 'forgiving' than the older approach; plus due to extreme winds on the afternoon of the skills test, we were told not to use concealment garments and that made the process of quickly drawing one's weapon faster and simpler, helping some of the marginal students move sufficiently higher up the scoring to pass.

One could debate the underlying approach to making it so difficult to pass the course.  Indeed my sense is that Front Sight itself is a bit defensive about their test results, because they officially claim that about 10% pass with distinction and 30% - 40% graduate, results that were completely negated by the reality of the two classes I attended and my perception of how people in other classes were similarly performing.

Perhaps it could be argued that it would be better to have a less demanding test so more people could pass, or maybe better to have an 'easy' class followed by a more difficult intermediate and then perhaps an advanced class.

But the bottom line reality is that as demanding as Front Sight is, the real world is potentially very much more demanding, and you don't ever want to come second in a gun fight.  We have chosen to equip ourselves with a deadly tool, and may need to use it in the ultimately dangerous environment of an uncontrolled unexpected encounter with probably multiple adversaries.

If we are competent, we will protect ourselves and our loved ones, while also being sure not to endanger other innocent people.  If we are not sufficiently competent, we risk the survival of ourselves, our loved ones, and potentially other innocent bystanders, while failing to stop people seeking to inflict the gravest of harm upon us and leaving them free to continue their marauding into the future.

Maybe Front Sight's approach is best, because even though we all left the class much more proficient in all skills than when we joined it four days previously, none of us could claim to be at all confident of our ability to guarantee winning any such subsequent adverse encounter.  Even the two 'distinguished graduates' had varying levels of result when shooting at targets - immediately after the graduation, one of the two distinguished graduates then shot at a target depicting a hostage with the bad guy obscured behind the hostage.  His attempt to hit the bad guy resulted instead in a shot to the hostage.  He certainly does not feel overly self confident and plans to continue attending further Front Sight courses.

With that in mind, and as a reflection of my own total satisfaction with the course, I will be repeating it again myself (for a third time).

Please read on through this series to get a better appreciation of the Front Sight phenomenon, how to best prepare for it, and what to expect.

Part of a multi-part series

Please click the links at the top right of this page to read through other parts of this extensive series on Front Sight and the training they offer.

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Originally published 11 Sep 2010, last update 30 May 2021

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

Related Articles
Front Sight Firearms Training Institute - an Introduction to this Series
About the Front Sight Firearms Training Institute
Front Sight Update 2011
Gun Safety Issues
Discounted Front Sight Course Certificates - too good to be true?
Front Sight Lifetime Memberships
Join the Travel Insider at Front Sight, November 2011
The Instructors and Instruction
Front Sight's Ranges and Training Scenarios
When to use Lethal Force
What to Bring to a Front Sight Course - Pistol
What to Bring to a Front Sight Course - Essential Extras
What to Bring to a Front Sight Course - Other Valuable Equipment
What to do After Attending a Front Sight Course
Where to Stay and What to Eat in Pahrump, NV
Weather Issues in the NV desert
Traveling and Flying with Firearms and Ammunition
All About Body Armor and Bullet Proof Vests


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