In last month's column, I walked you through Part 1 of my list of equipment every firearms instructor should have available on the range. Some of the items are suggestions for upgrades or backups of what you already have. For the stuff you don't yet own, the season of gift giving is upon us: Leave these columns conspicuously out for your loved ones to come across. That way, even if you aren't given the gifts you need, you'll at least have some cover when you go out and buy them for yourself.
Cell Phone and/or Police Radio
If there's an injury on the range, you must have some form of communication available to alert help. Typically, this is a cell phone. Preferably, you ve already determined whether you have service at the training site. If you don't, check with other instructors to see if they have service. A good alternative I like to have is a police radio so we can immediately connect with emergency assets if needed.
If you've worked a long day on the range giving instructions, shouting firing commands and so on, you ve probably found yourself growing hoarse or even losing your voice. In another scenario, you start to bark out a range command, and, because you ve been doing so for an extended period, your voice cracks out a high pitched squeak like you re going through puberty again rather than the deep-voice anchorman-quality delivery that you normally project. Some form of a PA system is a good investment to more effectively communicate and save your voice with your students when they re on the firing line. I ve got a number of systems I use, including a large, two-speaker wireless PA from Anchor Audio (www.anchoraudio.com) that works well with a sizeable number of students on the firing line. I also like to use a small power horn from Radio Shack that s more economical, does a darn good job of amplifying and, as a bonus, plays various tones and tunes, including the opening bars of the Marine Corps hymn. A former Marine, I snatched it off the shelf and bought it when I saw that feature.
Aside from helping save the vocal cords, whatever system you choose to have on hand allows for more effective communication and control of the students over the loud sounds that are always present on the line. A PA system will help you get past the students hearing protection so they comprehend instructions and make the range a safer training environment.
A laser range finder and some type of timing device come in handy. The laser range finder saves us from pacing off distances or using other imprecise methods to set up a range. Another way I like to use the laser range finder stems from one of my pet peeves about firearms training: Too often we have students shooting from rigidly enforced, pre-designated distances 5 yards, 7 yards, 10 yards and so on. I do think this has its purpose at times and doesn t need to be removed from our training regimen entirely, but I also know that lethal force encounters don t always take place at the distances listed above. I reinforce this fact by putting the class on line at a distance that isn t marked, and then I ask for estimates as to how far away we are from the suspect. Before we start shooting, the laser range finder is used to confirm the distance, and we recognize those students who guessed accurately. In our patrol rifle instructor course, we do this at longer distances and even at angles from the target to make it more realistic in getting accurate hits.
Pact Timers and Pro Timers are two options for a timing device. Both record the time between shots and have other options that can be used to pressure students to perform within time limits. I use this to perfect my personal skill level. I also use it while working with students on their draw strokes. A button on the timer initiates a buzzer sound signaling the shooter to begin. When the course of fire is completed, the digital readout tells us how long it takes between identifying a threat (in this case simulated by the buzzer) and getting hits down range. It s a great training tool within the context of the old adage: Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast. To explain, if a student is trying to go too fast without the repetitions to support such a technique, then the pressure of being timed along with the end results as shown by the timer will tell the instructor and the student what level of proficiency is present.
Trainer, take care of thyself. Instead of carrying bottled water in your hand or pockets, consider a hydration system, like a CamelBak. Bottled water won t stay cold on its own. Add to this studies that have raised concerns that plastic bottles release harmful compounds when exposed to sunlight and heat and you have another reason to use a hydration system.
There are plenty on the market, so find a hydration system that works for you. I took a hydration system with me on a training assignment to Haiti. I was regularly filling my hydration system with ice and bottled water to help deal with the extreme weather I encountered there. Without this accessory, keeping hydrated would have been a hassle. Of course, since we were either at a crude firing range or out in the field, I also had to do a lot of weed abatement, the inevitable byproduct of taking on so much H2O. Even in comfortable weather, I recommend a hydration system due to the level of activity you re involved in as a firearms instructor.
A few other items to have handy are sunscreen, lip balm, bug repellant and a wide-brim hat that works in combination with your hearing protection. When the mood strikes me, I ll even wear an old Marine Corps pith helmet. The pith helmet was originally developed for use in hot, tropical climates. Sometimes I have to guard against students and fellow instructors who try to steal it from me. In one case, the students succeeded in feloniously taking my pith helmet. As the training progressed, I began to receive anonymous ransom notes demanding that the class be provided with ample amounts of beer, as well as an extortion attempt to end at a very early hour on the final day or else.These were accompanied by pictures of balaclava-hidden, black-clad SWAT operators with their MP-5s pointed at my pith helmet! To this day the student suspects remain unidentified, but if I do find out who they are, no statute of limitations will save them!
Like many of you, I ve used dummy rounds as a training tool for a number of years. These are a valuable item when we re training new shooters to load and unload their weapons, as well as in teaching various dry fire drills, such as reloading methods. I ve also found that they work well for that ah-ha moment they induce during a ball-and-dummy drill. In this case, the instructor loads a dummy round into the gun without the student s knowledge. When the latter presses the trigger, both get immediate feedback about the shooter s technique: If the shooter is jerking the trigger, anticipating the gun going off and not properly handling the resulting recoil, there will be a visible and tangible negative effect. Often students will quickly recognize the problem through this simple technique. In truth, they had no idea prior to the drill that they were doing it.
I also like to use the dummy rounds with transition to backup weapon drills. Whether an M-16, an MP-5 or even a 12-gauge shotgun used as less lethal launcher, weapons with dummy rounds in the magazine without the students knowledge test a student s ability to problem-solve when the gun doesn t go boom. In this case, we emphasize that when this happens especially at close range there should be a quick transition to a back-up weapon, rather than trying to fix the long gun.
I ve tried a lot of different dummy rounds over the years, even going to the trouble of investing money in more expensive snap caps. But the brand that I ve found works the best is made by ST Action Pro, out of Florida. Its version is a little more expensive than the plastic ones, but it lasts longer and functions better in most firearms (888/966-0668; www.stactionpro.com).
Before we wrap this up, let me add just a few more items to your shopping list. Extra staple guns and staples are good to have in your range box, as well as spray adhesive. I ve praised this alternative to stapling before. It works very well on days when no matter how many staples you put into a target, a strong wind comes up and at least partially tears the paper from the cardboard backer. Adhesives are more expensive but in the long run may be a better investment. Along the same lines, a roll of hundred-mile-an-hour tape (aka duct tape) is always a welcome accessory. The MacGyvers out there know what I mean.
I hope these help. I know there are probably other options you use that I haven t thought about. If you ve got a good one, please let me know. I may just run out and spend more money because of you. If it s really good, I won t just drop the new item into my range box but also share it with fellow firearms instructors.
And here s a late-breaking news flash: Your significant other just contacted me to say it s OK for you to head out right now to purchase any or all of the above items you want. On an even greater and more generous level, I have it on very good authority that at the same time, you can buy them for me as well! Thanks for taking the time to read this month's column.