We live in the Golden Age of firearms instruction. Never before have we had such a knowledgeable and professional firearms instructor cadre. It’s never been easier for a beginner to learn how to shoot the right way, or for a seasoned shooter to improve their skills.

Choosing the right firearms instructor is crucial. If you don’t, you can risk being turned off to the sport, and you’ll likely have wasted hundreds of your hard-earned dollars.

Here are some tips that will make your search easier, as well as some red flags to watch out for.

  1. Know what type of instruction you want. If you’re looking for a basic pistol class that will lead to a state-issued CCW permit, you’re in luck. There are more than a few instructors out there who are adept at teaching beginners. Also, they can help you with the permitting process, and answer your questions. Most of these folks are certified by NRA or another group. Certain states have additional requirements. Make sure the instructor you choose is authorized by your state to train students for a CCW permit, and make sure they’re in good standing with their certifying organization. There have been problems in the past with instructors whose teaching credentials have been suspended or revoked, even though they continued to train students. Once the state licensing agency found out, the students’ CCW permits were revoked and they had to retrain with another instructor. If you’re interested in learning more advanced skills, like gunfighting, for example, you will need a more advanced instructor – a gunfighter.
  1. Find a firearms instructor with military experience. In my humble opinion, there is one important rule when it comes to advanced firearms instruction: You can’t teach gunfighting if you’ve never been in a gunfight. It would be like trying to learn open-heart surgery from someone who has never cracked a chest. Unfortunately, I see it all the time – instructors who teach their students what they can expect in a gunfight even though they’ve never fired a shot in anger. I call them gunfight theorists. While they’ve never been in a gunfight, they have a theory about what it will be like. Fortunately, there’s no need to settle for a theorist when you can have the real thing. Nowadays, there are plenty of military veterans out there with decades of gunfighting experience, including a few who served in Tier One units. If you can take a class from one of these guys, do it, but make sure they’re legitimate.
  1. Don’t be afraid to vet your instructor’s claims. Most firearms instructors have a bio on their website that includes their military service. If they claim veteran status and don’t, it’s a red flag. Vetting an instructor starts with asking questions about their service, especially if they claim to have worn green hats, tabs or tridents. The more elite the unit, the easier it is to weed out the phonies. If someone falsely claims to have served in Delta, it would take me about two minutes to learn the truth. These elite units are so small that everybody knows everybody. If someone falsely claims to have served in Special Forces, it gets more difficult, because there are thousands more Green Berets than Delta guys. There are groups like Guardians of the Green Beret, who expose fakes and phonies, and they are very good at it. There are similar groups and individuals dedicated to exposing fake SEALs. All of these groups have searchable websites. I recommend using them. Keep in mind that even guys who served in Tier One units can talk about their military service, at least a little bit. So, if you run into an instructor who tells you they can’t discuss their time in the military because it’s so secret they’d have to kill you, they’re likely full of shit. The same goes for the company men who claim to have served in some hyper-secret government unit even more secret than the CIA. They, too, are likely full of shit – super-secret shit, to be sure.
  1. Find a firearms instructor with an attitude like your favorite elementary school teacher. I’ve seen instructors with incredible military records who couldn’t teach you how to tie your shoes without screaming. These are the guys who like to yell a lot and belittle their students. Nowadays, there’s no place for them. On the other hand, I sat in on a basic pistol class with an instructor who had never served a day in the military, who had only basic instructor credentials, but who retired after teaching high school for 25 years. He took three women in their 70s who had never even touched a pistol – including one who was terrified of firearms – and had them all shooting accurately within a few hours and enjoying the experience! Firearms instructors are teachers. Find one who can actually teach. Besides, training is fun, at least it’s supposed to be fun, and we pay for the experience. We’re not supposed to be treated like basic trainees.
  1. Avoid one-of-a-kind shooting methods. Folks have been throwing lead downrange for more than 500 years now. It’s not that difficult of a process. Techniques vary, of course, but when I hear of an instructor who has developed a brand new, revolutionary shooting technique all by themselves that no one has ever thought to use before, I get a little apprehensive and suspicious, especially if it involves something like not using sights or focusing their inner combat chi. Every industry has its frauds, fakers and snake-oil salesmen, and the shooting industry is certainly not immune. If an instructor claims they can teach you how to shoot accurately without using your sights or by focusing your mind – run – and find someone else. There’s usually a good reason why other firearms instructors aren’t teaching their one-of technique – because it doesn’t work. After all, combat shooting is all about mastering the fundamentals – that’s it. Gimmicks do not work.
  1. Avoid the “drills not skills” guys. The worst class I ever took was from an instructor with a decent reputation and solid background who did nothing but run students through drills. There were about 40 students, so I spent the entire weekend waiting in line to shoot. There was no one-on-one coaching. There was zero work on improving the students’ individual skills. There was just a lot of standing around. You should try to find an instructor who focuses on individual students, not drill after drill. The best way to avoid this is by scouring the internet for independent reviews of the instructor’s classes. After my bad experience, I found a few reviews I wish I’d read before. I likely would never have taken the class. That said, keep in mind there’s at least one instructor out there who has threatened to sue students who have posted negative reviews of his classes.
  1. Don’t join a cult. Over the years, I’ve been invited to a lot of different classes from a lot of great firearms instructors. I learned something important from each and every one of them, even though their training and experience was very different. My point is this: don’t choose just one instructor to provide your training. Change it up. You’ll become a much better shooter.
  1. Above all else, find an instructor who is safe. My good friend Bob Keller presents a 30-minute safety brief before all of his classes. In fact, he goes over the same brief – all of it – when it is just me and him on the range. That’s what you should want in an instructor. Over the years, I’ve seen a few instructors who weren’t safe – who wouldn’t immediately stop a class when there was a serious safety violation. That can no longer be tolerated. When there’s a negligent discharge at a range and someone is wounded or worse, it feeds the mainstream media’s narrative and becomes national news.

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