Rangemaster 3-Day Instructor Development Course After Action Report
October 28-30, 2016
Ben Avery Shooting Facility in Phoenix, AZ
Tom Givens, Lead Instructor
Lynn Givens and John O’Connell, Assistant Instructors
Cost: $575 registration, 1000 rounds of FMJ ammunition ($200 for me), travel expenses (minimal for me, as this was in my home town; if not, add airfare/gas, lodging, per diem)
Executive Summary: Tom Givens puts on an excellent course, and as a follow-up course and additional certification for those with more basic pistol certifications this course will add to your repertoire significantly. For all pistol shooters, this course will challenge your shooting skills as well and ensure that you have solid fundamentals in marksmanship with a pistol. I recommend it highly.
October 28-30, 2016 I attended Rangemaster Instructor Development Course with Tom and Lynn Givens at Ben Avery Shooting Facility. I have been a firearms instructor for about 5 years now, and take my training, my knowledge, and my abilities seriously. I learned some things, shot well, and came away impressed with Tom and the course content.
On Friday we began in the classroom with administration and introductions, and it was clear from the beginning that we had a wider swath of shooters than I had anticipated. I thought we’d mostly have NRA instructors looking for their next certificate, and there were a few of those. (::raises hand::) But we had everything from an 18-year-old young woman out for a weekend with her mom of training, to two Well Armed Woman chapter leaders, to Combat Focus Shooting certified instructors, to active duty soldiers, to a jiu jitsu black belt instructor, to LEO shooting instructors, to competitive shooters and professional trainers. We had 12 men and 3 women as students. It was a diverse group! I was interested to see where I “fit” in the flow of the group, but with such a diverse set of backgrounds, there was plenty of room for everyone. Tom and Lynn and John were friendly and welcoming to all.
Tom is a business-like guy in the classroom and on the range, and when it’s time to go, he runs his courses like a man who gets what he wants. He started on time, wasted no time with people dragging their feet getting back from breaks, and expected people to keep up with him in the classroom and on the range. Tom has a mouth like a drunken sailor so if language offends you that might be a problem. In 8 years in the Navy I heard a LOT worse; heck, I have heard as bad on my kids’ middle school campus. Regardless, students need to come prepared and on time to keep up. With that said, Tom is also funny, kind, and likeable. His Tennessee drawl helps take the edge off, and I found him engaging and easy to learn from.
The course provides a 200-page instructor student manual that instructors are expected to know. The test on that manual includes fill in the blank questions that must be answered precisely, and so students should expect to spend their evenings studying the manual and getting some terminology precise for the exam. Since students must score 90% on the exam, this is an important point! I wish that perhaps Tom would have sent us the manual in advance to read over and be proficient in, to prepare us for that. Regardless, the manual has a LOT of information for instructors, broken into major sections on “hardware” and “software.” It’ll stay in my reference library for sure.
The classes all three days alternated between classroom instruction and range time, and we shot 900-1000 rounds in the 3 days. This course was a serious shooting course, and Tom expects every student to be able to shoot to a high standard. We also used the coach-pupil method throughout, with two lines running, so when you weren’t shooting you were expected to give your fellow student professional and significant coaching to help them improve. On the line, Tom brooked no shenanigans but he was also funny and engaging. He has a natural flair for teaching and getting students to see what he is doing and why. We shot from 3 yards out to 25 yards, and students who hadn’t really developed good marksmanship fundamentals struggled at the longer distances.
It’s worth noting that while Tom has some strong preferences, he isn’t dogmatic about his way and doesn’t badger students to agree with him. A good example is the thumbs-forward grip, which Tom definitely doesn’t like. He spent some time talking about why he doesn’t like it, why we shouldn’t do it or teach it, and how he thinks to do it right. But when it was time to qualify, he didn’t give me a hard time at ALL about using the grip I am practiced with.
Sunday was evaluation day, and Tom’s evaluations were no joke. We had a lot of learning to do on Sunday as well, but the core of the day was spent on testing to ensure instructor candidates can adequately shoot. First we shot the FBI qualification test (60 rounds) on IALEFI QP targets. Tom likes to say that the FBI qual course is a “sobriety test,” but the reality is that it isn’t easy if you can’t shoot at distance! Still, with the scoring zone being the entire bottle target, and with the times being not too difficult, it’s not too hard to pass with the required score of 90%. (that score was chosen to match what the FBI requires of its instructors). After the FBI qualification we shot the Rangemaster Instructor Qualification (50 rounds), which is a very similar test but requires movement at 3 and 5 yards and scores hits in the center circles only (without penalty). It requires a 90% score as well. Each are shot twice, with the student keeping the best of their two scores.
I work hard at my shooting skills, and I must say that I sweated the shooting portion after hearing from previous students that it was no joke. I worked my dry fire practice hard and got to the range several times in the weeks leading up, and that work paid off. I shot both quals clean, earning me 100 points each. (Tom takes your percentage of points possible on each test as your score) There were several other students who did as well, and I must say that the shooting at 15 yards from kneeling can be challenging.
Finally, at the end of the day, we took the written exam. That exam isn’t easy because some of the questions are fill in the blank and required precise answers. A 90% score was required to pass, though there were enough true/false and multiple choice that I don’t think passing was ridiculously difficult. I scored 94.1 on the exam.
At the end of the weekend Tom gives those who pass all three tests a certificate of completion. We had 13 of 15 students qualify (including the 18-year-old young woman!). Tom also gives out an award for the highest aggregate score combining all three assessments normalized to 100%, and the one who has the overall highest score is awarded the distinction of being “Top Gun” for the class. The Top Gun scored I believe 95.4, so he edged me out by 1.3 points and I took second in the class. I am very happy with those results.
Overall, this course has great strengths and a few time-constrained limitations. We focused a lot on shooting skills, and it’s important to have those skills to pass on to students. We spent a good bit of time at the range. Tom made sure in the classroom that we had a modicum of legal knowledge and a good discussion of marksmanship theory and practice, which is important. The limitation was in teaching theory, course and drill design, knowledge transfer, and assessment for instructors, but those might be in the advanced instructor course as well.
I am very glad to have attended and very pleased to say that I am a Rangemaster Certified Instructor. I will take the Advanced Instructor Course and recommend that any handgun instructor take the course as well!