View Full Version : Part II: Course Review - Gunsite 260/SATP Defensive Shotgun

August 8, 2002, 04:18 PM

Much of what is taught really comes together (or falls apart) during these exercises. Square range drills are very good for practicing the elements, but the process of having to think about threat locations, select a course of movement, avoid obstacles, differentiate hostiles from non-hostiles, AND perform weapon manipulations, preserve marksmanship, and manage your ammo is an eye opener. These experiences are worth the price of admission. Both indoor and outdoor simulators are used. There are skills that are common to both, but there are also very noticeable differences in the demands they put on you. They require your full attention in broad daylight, and more when you add darkness, and eventually live adversaries (more on that later).

The outdoor simulators were typically ravines with lots of hidden ledges, or outcroppings which concealed reactive steel targets. Sometimes they were hiding in bushes, sometime high, sometimes low, sometimes more than one, appearing almost simultaneously. At night , the shadows make the same ground you saw earlier that day look completely different, and there are several sites they use during the program. We also got to work one called the “Scrambler”. This a multi-station venue where students run from station to station, most with some form of natural barricade or cover, and fire on targets at distances ranging from 20 to 80 yards. The effort is timed, and intended to reinforce proper selection of position(standing, sitting, prone, or some weird combination), and to help you appreciate how your shooting skills change when you’re stressed physically. Simulator experiences can also be radically changed by introducing other constraints. Without giving too much away, let’s just say you don’t just practice the unconventional techniques on the square range. If you’re lucky (like I was), you also get to find out how you’ll react when something unexpected happens….like having your weapon light go out in the middle of run. It was not planned, but it was case study in what they mean about the shotgun and pistol forming a layered system, and that two are always better than one in a fight (two guns, two flashlights, two pairs of underwear…..it’s a long list).

The indoor simulators add the complexities of close quarters, more varied hiding places, and all manner of corners, doors, windows, and even curtains that must be approached correctly. You pay attention not only to what the opponent may look like, but also what you look like to the opponent (lighting or the lack of it, and even noises present new problems). As the course progressed, the configurations get more complex. Hostages/Bystanders are added, and the quarters become tight enough that efficient manipulation of the shotgun physically becomes as important as marksmanship. The teaching staff add more information for you to process by following you around and talking (or yelling) on behalf of the assailants/hostages/bystanders.

The point could be made: “How hard it could be, particularly when the opponents don’t actually shoot back”?, but if you allow yourself to approach them with a mindset that they are real, you can get pretty pumped up. Allowing yourself to slip into character magnifies the learning experience because you gain insight about your own reactions, as well as applying the techniques.

Along with everything else, I have developed a profound respect for people who are called upon daily to do this kind of stuff in the line of duty. It doesn’t take very many of these exercises to drive home the point that having a “Plan A” that involves a safe room and a cell phone is a privilege. Hats off to all of those who choose to step into harm’s way to protect the public, and for whom “Plan A” is not often an option.


My overall reaction to this part of the program was that I don’t want it to get any more real than that…but it is also an experience not to be missed by anyone who carries (or keeps) a firearm as a defensive tool. We did several simunitions exercises. Gunsite uses members of their support staff as adversaries (as opposed to instructors – who observe and offer feedback). I’ve heard some say that simunitions is not much more than glorified paint ball. I suppose that could be true for some practitioners …but that’s not the way it’s done at this facility. The scenarios are very relevant : a roadside encounter, a burglary gone bad, and an effort to rescue family members from a home invasion. The emphasis is not on who shoots whom, but on how well you apply the tactics to improve your odds of survival. It’s also about making the right choices (which may even include taking the steps to avoid a lethal confrontation). It’s also about being decisive. Events in these exercises unfold incredibly quickly. Charging in without a plan will “get you dead”…but so will being tentative at the wrong time. There are also several reasons I think Gunsite uses their staff as opposed to having students encounter each other in the scenarios. They are new faces. They have practiced their roles many times, and they behave in ways that reinforce a students’s correct use of tactics (they’re not in it to “beat” you ….they’re in it to “teach” you…). They are also fairly scary role players. If you are not apprehensive before you start, awash in adrenaline during, and relieved afterwards….you’re either a battle hardened pro, or you’ve conditioned your thinking with the “it’s all a game” mantra. O.K. to do certainly, but I’m not sure you’ll get the full benefit of the experience. Allow yourself to be a little scared (or maybe a lot), and you’ll learn about the most important tool you’ve got….you!!

One of the scenarios in the advanced course involved applying team tactics . That added additional variables, including a genuine motivation to avoid doing something (or failing to do something) that could get your partner killed. I had the good luck to have conducted that one with a fellow student with many years of law enforcement background, who had actually done house searches. That was helpful, but even then, I walked away realizing how easy it is to make mistakes, how difficult it is to do correctly, and what an art form it is when it IS done correctly.

On a nuts and bolts level, the exercises were conducted with converted Glock 17’s and Remington 870’s. Huge (and appropriate) emphasis on safety. Heartbreaking stories about accidents elsewhere among the good guys when training was not carefully controlled. Two searches to make sure nobody inadvertently brings any equipment into the exercises which could cause injury. Comprehensive protective gear (Helmet, Body, Neck, Groin, and Gloves). In case you’re wondering, I don’t think this detracts from the realism at all. You’ll know if you get hit, and the equipment creates kind of a claustrophobic, fumble fingered effect that I imagine might not be so different from the loss of fine motor skills that survivors and physiologists associate with mortal encounters.

I can’t resist a few more comments on the assailants. Capable of being really intimidating during the exercises…nicest folks you could ever hope to meet outside of them. They contribute substantially with the instructors during de-briefs, pointing out what was good and what might have been a better choice….and re-assuring those that need it that it’s O.K. to start breathing again . I gather that many of them are firearms instructors in their own right, performing various technical and administrative tasks at the facility when they are not scaring the daylights out of the students. Nice work gentlemen!

Overall the simulators and simunitions exercises were probably the highlight of the program. Oddly enough, the most significant elements for me were not the successes, but the mistakes I made. Within minutes, and even weeks later, I remain convinced that those were some of the most valuable learning points…and the ones I will never forget. If you get the chance to participate in this kind of training, you will learn things about yourself that may surprise you.

Part III - Out-takes/Wrap-up

August 8, 2002, 05:32 PM
Link to Part III