Warning: this is a long entry.
With an interesting drive and my first day of the Suarez shotgun gunfighting course under my belt, Markie and I struck out to find our hotel room. We were both pretty tired, and we decided to check into the hotel, grab some shut-eye, and look for a place to eat.
I’d made reservations at the Red Carpet Inn. I was a little worried when I made my reservation. The Holiday Inn Express and most other hotels in the area were sold out, and the RCI was a not-so-highly-rated one and a half stars. “Who cares?” I thought as I clicked through Expedia.com rapidly, “it’s only one night anyway.”
We arrived to find the kind of two-level, flat-roofed motel I remembered from my childhood. My father and I would travel around buying livestock, and pull over to the most convenient place that would allow a truck and trailer to park. The main requirements back then was something cheap and close to the highway. Cleanliness and safety were further down the list. Much further. The parking lot of our motel was mostly empty when we checked in at about four. It was pretty jammed by the time we napped, showered, and headed out for food. Things had taken a turn towards the scary.
A flatbed ten-wheeled truck drove by, the lady behind the wheel’s face screwed up like Munch’s The Scream painting. The truck didn’t stop and just got back on the highway. As I made sure the motel door was shut and locked, a man got out of his dark-colored Cadillac. “Don’t forget the chicken,” he said as he shut the long, heavy door. A much younger woman wearing a very tight dress poured herself out of the passenger side, holding a bag of food. “At least they can use the grease from that chicken as lube,” Markie said flatly as we got in the Mazda and headed to town.
The rest of the night passed uneventfully, although I will admit I loaded nine rounds in the Mossberg just in case goblins went bump in the night.
It was cool when we woke the next morning, but I warmed up as we ran through the material from day one. We worked the positions on the clock, and it was time to address Suarez’s method for handling movement to the rear “weak” positions. When moving backwards and off-hand, especially to the seven o’clock, we were to switch the shotgun to our off-hand shoulder, fire a round, move, reload, and switch our hands on the shotgun. In my case, my left hand slid in to the grip, while my right hand slid out to the pump. It sounds goofy, and it feels goofy. But by the end of a few drills, it became more comfortable. This technique allows the body to follow the hips in a natural walking position while (mostly) covering the target. We lined up single-file again and I put all of my rounds on target except for one. I hurried my shot and sort of grazed the side of the attacker.
Next up was engaging multiple opponents. This turned out to be my favorite part of the class. I felt like the off-hand shooting was neat from an “a-ha!” perspective, but it was a ton of fun to shoot as many targets as possible. We started out slowly (again, single-file and one at a time for safety). We were to move to the one or two o’clock, and put one round center-mass into three targets. Boom, boom, boom, no sweat.
We were then told to engage four targets, and that we could put two rounds onto each target if our ammunition supplied allowed. RapidFire went first, his tricked out semi-automatic sounding like a rolling kettle drum. Boom-boom-boom-boom-boom-boom-boom-boom! “Wow,” Frank remarked, looking down at his beat-up Remington 870 hunting pump. “Maybe I should get a semiauto. That was really fast.” My friend Mark and I agreed it was fast, but then we added that every semi had at least one malfunction. Frank mentioned the speed again, and all I could do was shrug. Then it was my turn.
Jack told me to make ready, and I echoed his commands: engage four targets, two shots each, moving at the one o’clock. I was stock still, the Mossberg held at a combat ready.
BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM ! My Mossburg burped out eight rounds as fast as the semi auto. The instructor didn’t specify shot placement, but I wanted to prove a point. Each of my targets had a round center mass, with a follow up shot to the head. I checked my targets, then my left, right, and rear, and safetied my weapon.
For the first (and of only two times during the whole course), the instructor clapped.
The second time Jack applauded was when RapidFire ran the drill again. He not only double-tapped each target to the head and body but also slung his shotgun, pulled his sidearm, and dumped five rounds at the last target. He was VERY fast. Once again he demonstrated the huge advantage of tactical slings when transitioning to another weapon. If RapidFire keeps at it, his accuracy will settle down and then he’s golden.
We did a lot of other things but I’m not really going to go into them here. One, this entry is long enough, and you probably don’t want to read the particulars. Two, I want to respect Suarez International’s curriculum and I don’t want to post a play-by-play of the entire thing where competitors can find it. We did ammunition selection drills, long-range slug firing (up to 100 yards, it was pointless in my Mossberg with my low level of shooting skill), dynamic loading drills where we loaded right after we shot a round. We even ran a “hostage rescue” drill. Jack said it was for fun, and to demonstrate how silly it is to try to engage someone with a shotgun with an innocent person in their grasp. It was possible up to seven yards, but any further than that and the spread of buckshot plus the idea of a flailing hostage made taking that shot very risky.
I felt that the course was worth it, overall. The purpose of the class was a little muddled. Some bits of the course were good for civilians, but the majority seemed geared towards law enforcement/military folks who need to know how to do things like chamber a slug in the middle of their buckshot loadout. I enjoyed doing a lot of the drills, like “shoot one, load one,” but I would not imagine myself doing that in a home defense situation.
We didn’t cover the kinds of things I was hoping for, like how to enter a room or pass by a doorway or hallway. Jack demonstrated how to not lead with the barrel of your shotgun as to avoid telegraphing your presence, but that was in passing and not in the curriculum. We did move-and-shoot drills, and that was fun, but I would have preferred to practice in a more realistic setting. A false hallway could have been constructed with a closed door at the end of it. You’re in your home, and hear a bump in the night. You need to check on your children, who are asleep in their room with the door closed. What do you do? Again, the sling drills were fun, but how about shooting at targets that were behind cover? We didn’t do any shooting from a crouched position, either. My main plan in case of a break-in is to immediately shut and barricade the door and then hide as best as possible and wait for the goblins to come in. I would not be standing bolt upright like we were for two days.
Every participant had a mobile phone on them, it would have been a good drill to “talk” with the police with the off-hand while maintaining aim on a target area. It would have been fun, and practical, for Jack to suddenly scream out “FIGHT!!!” and force us to shoot one-handed, or drop the phone, etc. I would have rather done more realistic drills than unslinging a shotgun in my home, firing, and then transitioning back to my handgun for follow-up rounds. The drills we did were mostly for “field” work, and with a class full of civilians, it felt more like five guys plays cops than something I would take home and possibly use. I didn’t feel really challenged during any part of the course, except for the transition drills. I’d never worked with a sling (again, why would I need one in a home defense situation?), so I fumbled a bit. But I never felt like I was being outshot at any time, or that my performance was unacceptable.
Those complaints are not the fault of the course. The rough objectives are spelled out in the course description, I was just excited to sign up for formal training and be with my friend. However, I was also dissatisfied with some of the safety aspects of the class. I never felt like I was in danger, but there were incidents of poor safety control and line discipline. Jack cautioned us to safety our shotguns as we slung them over our backs, but people were failing to do so. Jack clearly and distinctly ordered us to safety and sling our weapons, but no one was ever caught for not doing as the instructor said. There were a few times that a shotgun was being used for instructional purposes and the safety was disengaged. Markie and I both commented on how staggered the firing line would become over time. It seemed dangerous for one person to be one pace ahead of the firing line, while another person snuck back a pace. That put the lead person as much as six feet out of line, and while we didn’t have an incident, crazy shit happens. To me, it just spoke to the level of the participants in the class, and I would have liked to see Jack police us a little bit more.
I will say that Jack was a very professional and extremely personable. I never would have taken offense to anything he said, and if he were to correct us for doing something dumb I would have been more embarrassed than upset. My number one fear coming into this class was feeling stupid or that the instructor would take an elitist attitude with me, and I am extremely pleased to say that Jack was a very encouraging and comforting instructor. I concentrated on doing what he asked, instead of trying to avoid his wrath. I would definitely recommend him as an instructor. It made absorbing his teaching much, much easier.
The facility sucked, and Suarez should be ashamed for hosting a shooting course in someone’s field with a six-foot long puddle two steps away from the firing line. We had to angle our fire as to not strike some of Frank’s trees, which I did anyway:
One slug from my Mossberg made this tree very unhappy. I can’t fathom what it would do to a chest cavity.
I am all for training in adverse environments, but not for a basic course. I expected more, facility-wise, from an organization that teaches all over the world.
I would have recommended this course to people who are novice shooters, but unfortunately the cost of the course will rise in 2008. I don’t think there is enough applicable material for someone interested in the shotgun for home defense. I enjoyed being able to do some things I couldn’t at an indoor range, but to bump the price to $350 puts it outside of my “fun money” comfort zone. An overall good experience for me, with plenty of information to pass on to other folks. In the event of a serious period of civil unrest or zombie uprising, my shotgun and I will be ready.