So you Wanna Take a Shooting Course?

December 16, 2015  
Categories: Learnin'

Merrill weighs in with some quick tips. What would you add? Mad Duo


So you Wanna Take a Shooting Course?

Dave Merrill

Firstly, good on ya. There are a lot of places to choose from but this post isn’t about that whatsoever.

Shooting courses are expensive. But the fact is, the course tuition can be a relatively minor part of the cost. If you have to travel, add in the cost of flights/driving, hotel and food accommodations. Even if it’s local and you manage to finagle a spot for free at a bare minimum you’re spending money in the form of ammunition and time.

As such, you want to get as much for your money as you can. People often say they learn something from every course they attend, even if all they learn is what not to do. I don’t know about you, but spending a couple grand to learn what not to do is an expensive lesson. So let’s not spend money learning negatives, and instead apply our resources to worthwhile courses. Even if you end up with a dickbag instructor, there are methods to maximize your advantage.


Follow the required gear list

Do this carefully before a course and if you have any questions, contact the instructor or the coordinators beforehand. Oftentimes if you don’t have a piece of equipment someone will have one available for your use—but check first instead of simply counting on it.

Pay attention to Weather Reports

…and plan accordingly. Even if the forecast is brightness and sunshine the entire time, I always pack inclement weather gear. Training in the rain isn’t always fun, but it’s never fun if you have soaking wet pants and boots for ten hours at a stretch. But it’s not just rain. Getting a bad sunburn on the first day of a three day class can suck a lot of dick.

Don’t use Shitty Ammunition

A lot of classes restrict the use of reloaded ammunition or cheapass Russian ammunition. Sometimes this is due to range restrictions and limitations, and other times it’s to avoid issues with malfunctions. By far the biggest ammunition issue I’ve seen with 5.56 was from improperly resized casings. When the gun goes down, for whatever reason, you have to fix it. The more time you or the instructor spends fixing it, the less time you’ll be learning.


Have Backups

On that same token, even if your guns have never malfunctioned before, it’s best to have spares. Some classes will subject your gear to higher firing rates and stressors than it’s experienced before, and Murphy can always rear his ugly head. In some classes a spare rifle may be available (instructors will usually have several on hand, as will some students) but you can’t count it. Plus, you may end up with something much different than you’re used to.

So if there’s an issue, just set it aside to be addressed later, and grab your backup rifle. If possible, have your backups configured in the same manner as your primaries. The same applies to weapon lights and other critical gear. If at all possible, have spares.

Have a Zeroed Weapon.

If there’s a zeroing session in the beginning of the class, it should be for an administrative check-and-verify. This is done for a few reasons:

-The instructor wants to know that your rifle is good to go. Shooting left because your rifle is zeroed left and shooting left because of a shooter issue are two different things. A proper zero streamlines any correction process.

-Zeros are affected by temperature and elevation. If it’s been a long time since you confirmed zero or if you traveled a great distance, a zeroing session will allow for some correction.

-Some people have goofydick zeros. If your instructor advocates zeroing at a different distance, just go with their advice—at least for the duration of the class.

Just don’t hold up the class because you have a brand new rifle with a brand new optic you haven’t put any rounds through. Dick move.

Have Good Magazines. Have a lot of Magazines. Have a lot of Filled Magazines.

It’s probably a good idea to have a small handful of empty magazines in case you start out with some drills where magazines aren’t filled to capacity. But the less time you spend filling mags between drills, the more you can pick the brains of your instructors.

Stay Hydrated 



Stand Next to the Worst Shooter

Seriously.  This isn’t meant to make you look better, but to get more information and instruction. The squeaky wheel always gets the most grease, and this is especially important in a large class or a class with a less than ideal student to instructor ratio. All too often competent shooters will be let go on autopilot while a lesser shooter gets more attention. If you can identify that shooter, try and stand right next to him. Most of the time an instructor will look to those immediately surrounding them before moving on, plus you may pickup tidbits while said worst shooter is being corrected. If you can’t readily identify the worst shooter, the worst shooter may indeed be you.

It is noteworthy that if you’re in a class where people line up on their targets, often they will stay in these same positions even in a multi-day class. This means that you may have to judge a book from its cover when selecting your position. While no doubt there are dudes with Uncle Mike’s holsters and other subpar items that can shoot like the second coming, this is far from normal. So be a judgmental dick if you have to, just do it inside your head.

I should say that this is the opposite advice I’d give for everyday range sessions. Normally I’d advise to always shoot with someone that’s better than you. Not only can you pick up pieces of good info, they can force you to push yourself. However, in a situation where the instructor’s time is a finite resource I recommend standing by the worst shooter for the reason outlined.

Don’t Offer Unsolicited Opinions 

People aren’t there to hear you speak, instruct, or argue. If you have a question, chances are you aren’t the only one. However, there is a difference between “Why are we doing XYZ this way?” and “This is dumb, doing it ZYX is waaay better.” Any instructor worth their salt should be able to articulate the reasons why they’re teaching something a particular way. You can disagree and you can debate, but pick an appropriate time and manner and don’t be the asshole that ruins it for everyone else.


Take Notes

Seriously. The human memory is far from infallible. Take notes about everything when you get a chance. What drills you liked and your corresponding scores, what you did or didn’t like, what you’re strong or weak at. Pull out that notebook in a few weeks or months and revisit your personal lessons learned.

Bullshit with your Classmates 

But not during periods of instruction. You don’t want to take away from anything being taught–but do take the opportunity to meet some like-minded people. A local class is an especially good time to meet new friends and training buddies.

I’m not going to pretend that this is an all-encompassing list by any stretch, and I’m looking forward to hearing what you’d add.


Mad Duo, Breach-Bang& CLEAR!

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Dave Merrill

Dave Merrill

About the Author

About the Author: A combat veteran of the United States Marine Corps, Dave "Mad Duo Merrill" is a former urban warfare and foreign weapons instructor for Coalition fighting men. An occasional competitive shooter, he has a strange Kalashnikov fetish the rest of the minions try to ignore. Merrill, who has superb taste in hats, has been published in a number of places, the most awesome of which is, of course, here at Breach-Bang-Clear. He loves tacos, is kind of a dick and married way, way above his pay grade. You can contact him at Merrill(at) and follow him on Instagram here (@dave_fm).


  1. Ordnance Marine

    Often overlooked: Be sure to find a school/instructor that will take the time to help you if you are…..more mature than your classmates, or maybe slightly disabled. Worst thing ever is to have your instructor tell you to leave the training to the young/fit in the class. I have continued training since my EAS (’86) and will continue to train, regardless of my age, until I cannot do it any more, that will be years from now.

    Nothing worse than an instructor recruiting his students to bash someone who is not 18-35 yrs old and running a Colt instead of DD/BCM/insert boutique AR here.

    • Wilson

      Such cases would highly suggest an unprofessional instructor… someone who needs a dental rearrangement.

  2. Tobias P

    Have spares for other participants. Besides being the nice thing to do, it speeds up your training, too.

  3. David Cook

    Get in shape appropriate for the class you’re going to take. Makes the class a lot more fun and you won’t have any excuses when you fail the El Presidente!!

  4. Wilson

    Tools and spare batteries as appropriate.

    For every little option you may have added to your rifle you should have the tools to remove/fix it if it breaks or replace batteries if required.

    Nothing ruins your day like a dead battery with no spares, except possibly a dead battery with a replacement in your bag but no way to open up your bitchin’ optic and replace that $3 battery.

    Don’t lose valuable time and money for want of an allen wrench. Put together a little kit that goes into your bag that has the RIGHT tools and batteries.

    Also, if you’re only running one rifle and you’re running optics on it, for the love of everything holy, invest in some flip-up sights in case you break that optic.

  5. Kenneth

    To add one more thing…Don’t be late to the class. Plan accordingly and be on time. Not only did you spend money for time, so did everyone else. If you’re late and the instructor waits for you, good for you, bad for everyone else. If you’re late, you are costing everyone valuable time and money, on top of all the other associated costs. Just so you know, if you’re that guy that is late, you’ll probably hear about it all day and you won’t soon forget it.

  6. James Price

    Now you know why I added that certain colored shirt for the class you were in David – cuz if a student does not have it then I know he does not pay attention to details and I’ll have to keep an extra eye on him

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