The First Day of Front Sight’s 4-Day Defensive Handgun course started much better than the first day of rifle instruction. I knew what the course entailed, and what to expect- I had no first day anxiety of the unknown. The course schedule did not change from our rifle courses to our handgun courses; the rifle schedule is the same as the handgun schedule. Because of this, I chose not to attend most of the lectures I had previously attended a few days earlier. Like the rifle course, the handgun course began with instructor introduction and safety lectures. I was actually much happier to go through the safety lectures the second time, as I knew how important and helpful they are in the courses. Handgun courses seemed to consists of more new, inexperienced shooters. There were a lot of people attending to receive the free Springfield XDs they received through a Front Sight promotion. In fact, the majority of shooters had XDs. The second most common guns were Glocks. The rest of the handguns consisted of a few 1911s, a Beretta 92FS, a Kahr 9mm, an M&P .45, and a Sig Sauer P238 that had Crimson Trace laser grips. I realized very quickly, through informal polling (and an eventual hand count), that the majority of attendees were there for instruction on carrying concealed. There were a few people that were repeating the course, and a few amateur competitive shooters. We took the first day slow and I participated in the extra dry practice sessions they made available. I believe we covered presentation from the holster after lunch. This was a very important instruction for me, as I think a safe, consistent, and fast presentation makes for a better gunfighter. The Front Sight presentation is a 5-point process that ensures muzzle discipline and a quick draw. Here is a great wikiHow article on how to present from the holster.
By the middle of day two, I understood the curriculum completely. Front Sight handgun instruction is loosely based on the “Modern Technique of the Pistol”, championed by Jeff Cooper in the 1950s. It is a very popular and proven handgun shooting method. Unfortunately for me, this included a heavy emphasis on the Weaver stance. Truth be told, I like the Weaver stance. I believe the push-pull isometric tension created between the web of the shooting hand and the fingers of the support hand creates a very stable shooting platform. My brother has problems shooting handguns. It is hard for him to steady a handgun when it is extended at full reach. The Weaver method allows him to create (the aforementioned) forward-back isometric tension with his shooting hand and support hand. Having his arms bent gives him more support, as his arms create a series of triangular supports under the gun, effectively stabilizing the muzzle of the weapon. This works for many shooters, and I have a lot of friends that use these same techniques (even without fully understanding the theory behind them). That being said, I shoot Isosceles better. I also prefer not to use the “thumbs up” grip advocated by Front Sight (I have always believed that the more contact I have with the gun, the more control I have over it- see Travis Haley explain the method I use). I struggled to drop my habits and adopt new ones in the course of a few days. What complicated things was knowing that I’d be switching back as soon as I got home.
By day three, I had almost completely abandoned the Weaver stance. I was shooting well and hoped I would continue to shoot that way. I looked up the skills test and thought I could do reasonably well given my shooting ability and what I had learned in the first two days. Day three started with the tactical movement lecture, tactical movement drill, and live fire handgun simulator. In contrast to the rifle simulator, the handgun simulator is small. It consisted of a small house littered with paper friendly and foe targets. You are expected to demonstrate the skills they have taught under stress and in an unknown environment. I did very well in this simulator. They taught us how to effectively clear a building, and their techniques work. I did not shoot any friendly targets, and I had hits on every target with very few misses (I will admit, however, that I did three tactical reloads and expended nearly two full magazines worth of ammunition. Excessive? Maybe, but it made it a lot more fun!). At that point, the teachers largely stopped trying to correct my stance, and I was hugely appreciative of one instructor that took me aside, complimented me on my form, and helped me with my Isosceles stance. We then received instruction on drawing from concealment. My brother and I both chose to draw from an open jacket. This entailed sweeping the garment away to access the firearm quickly. I realized on day three that the skills test would be conducted strictly from concealment. I thought this was unfortunate, as although it does represent the interests of the largest percentage of attendees, I do not currently have the option of legally carrying concealed in my county.
The fourth day was very similar to the final day of rifle instruction. By this point, I had begun to focus strictly on the skills test. As the Front Sight guide details, a Distinguished Graduate must shoot 90% or better. There are only 25 shots, and the rest of the test consists of timed malfunction clearances, and timed reloads. The last day entails shooting the course both dry and live to prepare students for the real test. The pace is varied to keep shooters stressed and challenged. Then the test is conducted for all students. The test ends in an anticlimactic style; shooters transition directly from the test to a man vs. man steel shoot challenge. The challenge is fun-spirited and a great way to end the course. It consists of a steel hostage with hostage taker attached, and two steel targets staggered behind. The object is to shoot the hostage taker, then shoot the other targets in order. I was eliminated in the first round for shooting the hostage (an automatic disqualification). It was unfortunate to find out from the professionals that shooting the hostage (and thereby taking it out of the equation) is not an accepted practice and cannot be advocated. My brother did much better than I did, making it to the third round (single elimination). By the final round, the whole crowd was cheering and picking favorites.
You receive a full five points for every shot in the designated target area in the time allowed (which varies for each shot based on distance and difficulty). Three points are deducted for going outside the target area but still in the gray area, and all five points are deducted for missing the gray completely. There are three rounds of shooting, and instructors score and tape targets in between rounds. I got 111 points (125-0-6-8, zero late shots and zero deductions for reloads and malfunction clearances= 111) out of 125 points. Had I received 112 points (I rushed and obviously pulled that one shot completely off target- that shot cost me five points alone), I would have been a Distinguished Graduate. While that was disappointing for me to learn, it was also encouraging (especially given my lackluster performance on the rifle skills test) to know that I did finish as a Graduate. My brother received the same Graduate honors, shooting very well the whole day. The course concluded with a very fun paper hostage rescue shoot and course discussion.
As with the rifle courses, the instruction was top notch. The wealth of shooting experience and the depth of the course material combines to create a very effective learning environment. I was more than happy with the value I received from Front Sight and I will be attending again in hopes of learning more and achieving the elusive Distinguished Graduate status. As with the rifle courses, Front Sight offers a 2-day Handgun Skill Builder course as the next logical step in instruction.