Rangemaster Instructor course review

Hello all. Once again, I decided to go outside of my own circle (and outside of the NY State border we affectionately call “The Wall”) to see what others are teaching, what skills they are using, and how they are evolving with the industry. This trip outside of The Wall was well worth it.

On June 27-29, Matt, one of my instructors, and I made the trip to Xenia, Ohio to take part in the Rangemaster Instructor development course.  If you have never heard of them, Rangemaster was founded by a Mr. Tom Givens and his wife Lynn to provide training to those who carry a handgun, or use other firearms, for their own personal defense.

Tom’s history starts out a long time ago. He retired after 25years in law enforcement and went into the instruction field. He has been a major part of the evolution of firearms training and defensive firearms use for many years.  You can read about his here: http://rangemaster.com/about/tom-givens/

A few years ago, I decided to seek out more instructor development courses. Sure, everyone has them, but are they just a shooting course that does not give you any solid tools, or is it a definite instructor development course. This one was the latter. Rangemaster came up on my radar at one time, but I was unable to commit to a course due to schedules and training. It’s always been an idea, but until recently, I could not make a trip there.

After having the pleasure in training alongside Tom and Lynn earlier this year when I went to Florida to take part in a course taught by Gabe White. After watching Tom, chatting with him, and listening to him, I asked Tom about his Instructor course and he said “You should come do one. You’ll do well.”  Well, Tom’s personal approach got me to look at his schedule and the one in Xenia was the best option. The host of the Gabe White course told me that if Tom said I would do well, that was essentially an open invitation to get my ass into one of his classes. I agreed!

After a 7hr drive, we made it to the hotel, checked in, and then headed off to find the range and scout the area. The Xenia PD was fortunate enough to use a good deal of drug forfeiture cash in building their range and it was set up as if I laid it out. They had a perfect indoor classroom, two outdoor bays, and plenty of room to expand. The were some SWAT (HUT!, HUT! HUT!) guys running around and climbing on the obstacles, so we did not hang around. We’d been up early and it was a long drive, so we decided to hit dinner and then relax and get ready for Day One.

The hotel was just South of the Wright Patterson Air Force Base and we were treated with watching some of the heavy lifters flying overhead!

To preface the three days of training, I went into this course with a completely open mind. I wanted to see and hear the Rangemaster details and methods first, before making any judgments on the course. We were also well prepared for the 95 degree days. Light colors, lots of water, and small snack type foods, no large lunches.

Day 1 started off in the classroom. Just to toss out some demographics, this is what I wrote down for the attendees:

Total count: 26ppl
4 females (1 was still an active duty Marine)
4 firearms instructors from the Xenia PD
The rest were a mix of civilian trainers and law enforcement personnel
States represented: 12
Instructor experience levels ranged from 1year to over 30 years.

The gang:

People shot mostly GLOCK pistols. I saw a lot of 17’s and 19’s, a couple 34’s, some M&P Shield models, and a few SIG pistols.

The gear requirement, or loadout, was 1000 rounds of ammo, a reliable defensive handgun, a CCW type holster, at least 3 magazines, a magazine holder, a belt to complete the system, eye and ear protection, and good, professional range footwear and clothing. Add to that the optional gear that you feel you need, and you’re ready.

Although I carry a Glock 19 3rd Generation, I used my Glock 17 5th generation for the course. Prior to this training, I had sent about 3800 rounds through it in training and practice. The Glock was riding in my Milt Sparks VersaMax II IWB holster. I also used one of my Fobus double magazine holders. None of my equipment failed.

Important note: All participants were required to wear their holstered handguns and magazines, concealed, upon arrival. This was a professional level instructor course, all built around concealed carry. If you’re going to teach it, you better live it.

Tom started the day by telling us what we would need to accomplish to obtain HIS signature on a certificate. We would have to pass the FBI Qualification of fire, the Rangemaster qualification, and a written test with scores of 90% or better. If we did not pass, we do not get a certificate. Having shot the FBI and Rangemaster qualification in practice, I was familiar with them. The written test was the one that everyone warned me about. I was a tough one.

After that, we all had to introduce ourselves, give some details on our training and certifications, and share some data on our goals for ourselves in this course. Tom smiled when I said “I want to know where I suck so I can work on that to get better.”  Well, isn’t that the goal? Some people actually go train in courses just to make themselves feel good, AKA “Ballistic Masturbation”. True professional trainers go out to find the weakness in their skills and work on those very weaknesses to become better.

Tom started the next session off by working through some details about our profession, why we are needed, and how we can be effective. One of the many phrases that became a sobering reminder of the importance of our role was: “We hold our student’s lives in our hands.”  I took that to mean that we are professionally and morally required to teach our students the best way, the right way, and the legally defensible way to save their lives. If we take shortcuts, then our students can fail. That is not something I want on my conscience.

During the whole three day course, Tom followed the “Your brain can only absorb what your butt can tolerate” idea. He made sure we had ample time to learn, yet also time to get up and get the blood flowing. It turned out to be a good mix and schedule. (I think he has done this a couple times)

After setting the stage, we got right into it. Safety was the underlying push. Covering and discussing the safety rules, actually lifestyle rules as Tom referred to them, we learned that in our roles as civilians, we cannot, and should not, ever accept missing our targets. We cannot afford to miss. EVER.

The next topic was how to know if you have a good gun for self defense.  I have my own criteria (intuitive, no bells and whistles, levers, locks, or other tasks to slow me down) but I wanted to hear what the Rangemaster points were. We got into the subject of the shooting fundamentals. Discussing each of those in detail was a good reminder and a good way to make sure we all understood the terms and requirements. Stance, grip, body position, sighting, trigger control, and follow through are the keys to shooting well.

We also discussed the universal use of force rules. I have found that if you are at a defensive course, be it firearms, knives, or unarmed training, and the laws of using physical and deadly physical force are not discussed, then you are missing an important segment. Without this component, the WHY behind the WHAT is missing, and the context (a word used many times over the three days) can be wrong.

The Adult Learning Theory (or Theorem) was another good segment. Without this idea, proper training may or may not happen. With the theory/theorem, it will. Following the ‘Explain, Demonstrate, Practice, and Test” concepts, we can measure a student’s success easier and with more effectiveness.

Then, it was time to talk about coaching. Working with people, be it in a large class, or one on one, you are their coach. Instilling a sense of purpose behind each skill, helping your student work to build the skill, and then letting them prove it to themselves, is being a coach. Even though I learned from some great instructors who were excellent coaches, I still gained some useful info from this that I plan on using.

Finally, you guessed it. We went to the range. Tom gave us all about 15 minutes to grab our gear and get on the range – ready to go. Luckily, I filled my magazines the night before, so all I had to do was drop my carry ammo laden magazines and replace them with my target ammo ones. On the line, we divided up into 2 groups. Scientifically called ‘Line One’ and ‘Line Two”. This was the warm-up and an opportunity for Tom to evaluate us and see what each individual needed.  We actually started off the range session ‘dry’ or unloaded. This gave Tom and Lynn the chance to watch our trigger control, draw strokes, and overall gun handling. They also linked us with our training partner behind us as a coach. So, not only were Tom and Lynn offering training tips, our coached were expected to do the same. Our goal was to make the other better, so that they could make us better, and the cycle kept going. The format he used was for one group to do a couple reps on a skill, and then switch. Then, after the other group did a couple reps, we would switch back. That gave us a chance to receive coaching, give some, and then go back and apply what we were coached on.

Since one of my personal goals was to discover more efficient ways to draw and shoot, I worked on refining my draw from a closed or buttoned garment, to an open (unbuttoned) shirt. This involved two slightly different stating techniques, but I found that my prior training allowed me to use either one as needed.

After getting a solid foundation, we went live. Starting out slow, we all had to produce a tight group, preferably a one hole group, of five rounds. Then we got into the finite skills of trigger manipulation, or press, along with some small tweaking of grips, stances, body positions, and more. The overall goal was to get each of the shooters in a naturally balanced and efficient shooting platform to support the handgun. With a few more drills, Tom must have been happy as he started letting us go on our own a bit, while receiving feedback from our coaches. At the end of the day, I counted a little over 150 rounds downrange.

We closed out Day One’s range session by returning our pistols to our carry setup and reconvening in the classroom. It was good to get back into the AC after being outside. Tom gave us some homework: Read through the 200 page manual that we all received, and get some rest. No partying!

Of course we were hungry, so 8 of us, along with tom and Lynn, headed off to a wood fired pizza place to eat. Although they were a bit slow, we did eat and then all broke off to head back and relax and read a bit.

Day Two had a short session in the classroom for a recap and then by 9am, we were out on the range. This was our shooting and training day. I was keeping a decent count when I could, but a good estimate is that we did close to 450 rounds on day Two.

We got back online to our targets and Tom rotated us to a new coach/partner. That gave us a new, fresh slate to work with! Starting with a little bit of a reminder of the operational rules and our goal for the day, we then got to work. Most of the drills all blended together to create an efficient flow of training, but we did a lot. Cadence drills, drawing and engaging single shots, doubles, working on repeated shots with an emphasis on follow through, we all started to get smoother, cleaner, and more efficient. Trading back and forth with our partners, we got to work on smaller and smaller skills and minute feedback tips until we all decided that we wanted OUR ‘student’ to be better than the other ones.

Throughout, the emphasis was on getting hits on target, in the area you wish to hit. Most people would refer to shooting the target, or shooting AT the target, rather than HITTING the target. In our line of work, a hit is what counts. Misses only waste time and endanger others. We have to be able to GUARANTEE a hit, regardless of the situation.

As the day progressed, I could tell that Tom was also prepping us to shoot the two qualifications, which we would do on Day 3. We worked on speed of shooting based on target size and distance, accuracy at distance, and being able to judge on the spot as to our cadence.

By the end of Day Two, we were hot, tired, and wanted to get back in the AC. Tom and Lynn closed out Day Two by telling us to study more, relax, and be ready for the fun stuff tomorrow.

Day Three: Testing day. This was it. Make it or break it. Stand and deliver. Whatever saying you want to use, it was time to step up and put all our training into play. Since I was part of ‘Line 1’ I got to shoot first. By the way, there was no warm-up, no practice shots. Nothing. We were told to have at least 60 rounds either loaded or on us and we got up to the line.

First up was the FBI Qualification. This one is not a difficult one to complete – if you have been doing the correct training and continually practice. The qualification uses a Q type target and the image looks like an older milk bottle. There are two scoring circles, an 8” and a 10”, in the center as well. The scoring is 5pts for any hits inside the 8” circle, 4 points for hits in the 10”, but outside the 8” circle, and 3 points for any hits in the bottle shape. You MUST score a 90% to pass. We were given two runs at this qualification. Tom would count the best score of the two. I ended up with a 100% on the first run. I scored another 100% even though I had a couple shots almost out of the scoring circle.

120 rounds done. Now for the important one: the Rangemaster Qualification.

The Rangemaster qualification is somewhat similar in that we use the same target and shoot from the same distances- mostly. The stages of fire are a bit different and are based off of Tom’s real life experiences and data from real life shooting encounters.

Personally, this is the qualification I knew I wanted to ace. I was practicing for a few months to get everything in the 8” ring. No other hits would be acceptable to me. I wanted that 100% and I was going to get it.

At the end of the first run, I got a 98 because I had a bad reload and had to clear it fast. I rushed one of my 2 follow-up shots and dropped one hit outside the 8” circle. I also hit another one in nearly the same spot from 25yds. As soon as I saw them, I laughed because I knew I did it. Oh well. Time to regroup and make the next one work.

The ole ’98’ target:

My second run was nearly flawless. I flubbed a couple draws but was still fast enough to accomplish the goal and it worked out. In the end, I got my 100% score and as you can tell from the picture, I had a darn good group too!

Got it!

There. 240 more rounds fired and I was done with the shooting part. Now, off to the classroom to study.

Between eating lunch and reading, I managed to glean a lot of good ideas from the Rangemaster manual. A lot of the information and theory was nearly perfectly aligned with mine and how I teach. That was a very satisfying feeling- to know that what I have learned translates into the rest of the training world AND into the REAL world as well.

In the end, I got a 92.5 on the exam. I knew all of the information but some of the differences in terminology tripped me up. I’ll admit that I totally blanked on one of the questions, but I was Ok with it. I was hoping to get a 100 on the exam and grab that perfect 300 award but today was not my day. I actually missed out on the Top Shot award by 2 points. Tom takes your range scores and combines those with your exam score to come up with your aggregate score. The guy that edged out 6 of us for the award did deserve it. He shot well, and obviously scored well. (If only I hadn’t gotten my terms mixed up with Tom’s!!)

Total round count for the course: approximately 840 rounds. I had some extra boxes in addition to the 1000 rounds I brought with me so I can only narrow it down within about 75 or 100 rounds. I would guess that we may have been closer to 900 but that’s OK. I don’t get hung up on round count unless it suddenly doubles or is cut to less than half the requested amount.

I was still pleased to be called up to receive my certificate and to shake both Tom and Lynn’s hands. This was a three day course with a lot of work, and a lot of fun mixed in. I would rank this one among the top five of all the courses I have taken – both for instructional development and overall shooting development. Yep. I rank this among the likes of the InSights Training Center’s Intensive Handgun and Intermediate Defensive Handgun courses, Academi training courses, and some of my early training to pass a few other shooting qualifications at places like Sig Academy, and more.

I said it when our training was done, and I am sure I’ll agree later on: This course was no joke. Although everyone learns something, you do not pass unless you achieve the grade. There’s no wiggle room. No worry about hurt feelings. Tom told all of us on Day 1: If you put in the work and study, you will do well. How well you do depends on how much work and studying you do.

Overall, my experience in this course was great. I got feedback from others and read over a dozen course reviews prior to going. None of them could have, or should have, prepared me for the feeling of accomplishment and the overall fun of training with Tom and Lynn Givens. I put in about 2500 rounds of solid, focused practice at the range and read as much as I could to prepare me, and yet, it was still a great learning experience. I met a lot of people that I had interacted with online, and it was good to put faces with names. I saw some great shooting, received some very valuable coaching and tips to take back to my students (I’ve already used a lot of them) and got to experience the Rangemaster course graduation feeling.

The question people always ask me because I ask them: Would I do it again. Yes. Absolutely. In fact, I am hoping to have some of my training team complete this course in the near future and you bet I am hoping that my schedule allows me to go along – even just to watch and pick up some more training tips.

The bottom line? If you are a newer shooter or newer instructor, and have not yet obtained a good deal of professional defensive firearms training, get some before you attend this course. If you are not ready, you will not do well. You must have your gun handling and shooting skills tuned so that you are not putting a lot of thought into the operation of the handgun. It needs to be nearly seamless and autonomic.

Go out. Train. Learn from a few different sources and find the best trainers in the business. As Tom said in class: “We are in the Golden Age of training.” Find out who you can go to and learn from them. Then, go out and find someone better. And then find someone better than that. Keep going. Never stop. I always tell my students and instructor candidates “You don’t know how good your first instructor is – until your second one”

Then, when you are nearly intuitive with your skills, come do this course. You’ll still work hard and wonder if you can pass – but you can do it.

Thanks to the Xenia, Ohio police department for hosting, thanks to all the drug dealers in the area for providing the cash to build the range, and a special thanks to Tom and Lynn Givens for providing a top notch training experience. I look forward to the next one!


P.S. I was not ‘That Guy’ during the course!

At Rochester Personal Defense, LLC we believe in training you, the average person, who wants to be safe. Self defense is just that - defensive, not offensive in nature.


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