By Alexander Castiglione
The weekend before Memorial Day 2016, I took a ride up from Atlanta to Semper Fi Gun Training – about any hour northeast of the perimeter – to train their Defensive Handgun course. Short of getting a bit lost on the ride up, the experience was great.
First, I’ll start at the range. It’s a very well kept range on a private farm, with steel targets going out to 300 yards. At Semper Fi Gun Training, each class is taught by consummate professionals. My class had 3 instructors for just 2 people; off the bat I liked this, as a lot of classes have something like a 5-to-1 ratio in larger schools. Steve, a career Marine, and his son Wesley run the school, and are both very informative and educated in their craft. With plenty of credentials between the two of them, they compound their experience teaching people to shoot with the addition of Von – their chief instructor. Von, also a former Marine, is currently a municipal police officer with experience in SWAT, as well being a firearms instructor. And I can safely say, even though I have a decent amount of trigger time, I came away from a “basic” class learning some new tricks or training drills.
The class was very informative, and I highly recommend it to people who are less than 100% confident and comfortable being around and firing a handgun. From basic safety, to the four rules to terminology every aspect was covered before we went hot. I really liked the fact that we went over the fundamentals a good bit – as even the most veteran shooter will tell you that the 3 basics are really what matters: sight alignment, sight picture, and trigger control. If you lock all 3 of those in, you will rarely miss. From the ragged hold drill, really focusing on sight control, to slow fire exercises concentrating on trigger reset ; the basics were hammered home.
Later in the day, we went on to do more shooting from the hip: present, controlled pair, tac reload, etc. I was happy to find out from the instructors that my presentation was sharp, and my groupings stayed tight. Being hyper-competitive, I wasn’t satisfied unless holes were touching, and Steve even joked that he didn’t have to look downrange to know I missed because I would curse myself as I re-holstered. In my defense, I hadn’t been doing much shooting lately, but after a couple hundred rounds, I was starting to be happy with my hits. They drilled and grilled us about the fundamentals, and whenever my shots started to walk, one of them gave me pointers – watch your reset, slow down, etc.
Overall, the shooting aspect was great, especially for an intro class. They built upon each progression and by the end of the day it all pieced together. From the basics of sight alignment and sight picture to emergency reloads. I can confidently assert that even a beginner with no trigger time or experience shooting, reloading, manipulating malfunctions, or presenting would learn a lot in 5 short hours with these knowledgeable individuals.
Aside from the practical applications it’s apparent these guys know their stuff. You hear a lot of clichés on the range, and they’re clichés for a reason: they work. But I heard more than the standard “slow is smooth, smooth is fast” or “aim small, miss small.” When doing the ragged hole drill (5 shots, slow fire, with breaks if needed, aiming at 1 inch square, endeavoring to get all the holes to touch), Von would remind us there was no rush, and to look at something green, as green relaxes the eyes. I never heard that before, but it made sense on a physiological level. We also threw around a lot of anagrams and initials for techniques and drills, which I won’t bore you with. I can tell you that the classes are well worth it, and not only will you get good instruction, but you will have a pleasant time with down to earth and knowledgeable individuals. From the benefits of dry practice to human physiology and defensive placement of rounds we engaged in plenty of informative conversations throughout the afternoon, with some laughs along the way.
In comparison to other courses, this Level 1 course is not high speed – but it’s not supposed to be. That being said, they could tell I had either had some training or done some practicing on my own, but wanted to assess first hand; and I respect that. Too many schools take your money and let you get right into the whizz-bang-action-hero shooting we are sold in Hollywood movies; but Semper Fi is not one of them. If you are high speed, they will see it. They will push you if they know you can make headshots all day at 20m. If you need some hand holding, they will do that with no judgment. No matter what your skill level, they can handle you. They have classes for pistol, practical carbine, defensive shotgun, and even long range precision rifle – so no matter if you are a pistolero, AR guy, shotgun guru, or the type that likes to reach out and touch someone, they have you covered.
If you are in the Atlanta area and looking for a great facility to train at with knowledgeable and polite individuals with close to 100 years of collective firearms experience – check out Semper Fi Gun Training. I highly recommend them, and will be back there to train in the near future, so expect to hear more from me.