Students listen intently to firearms instructors at the acclaimed Gunsite Academy in Paulden, AZ
Remember that teacher you had in school who inspired you to greatness, the one who made learning fun? You probably learned a ton more from him or her because you enjoyed being in class. It was the highlight of your school day. For me, it was my high school English teacher -- may be boring to you, but he's the one who inspired me to become a writer.
Teachers can make or break a student’s academic experience. In the same way, instructors can make or break a gun owner’s desire to learn firearm safety and train to sharpen their shooting skills. That's why it is critical to find one who will inspire you, educate you, and drive you to learn even more.
So how exactly do you find said instructor? It can be daunting, especially if you’re new to the gun community.
Here a few tips to point you in the right direction!
Students of the Gunsite Academy are trained according to the exemplary standards set by Lt. Col. Jeff Cooper.
Let’s start with the essentials: what are you trying to learn? If you’re taking a basic pistol class, you don’t need a fancy instructor with all sorts of designations in his or her resume. You do, however, need one who has a strong knowledge of the subject.
Two of the most common criteria for qualified firearms instructors are either an NRA or USCCA certification. This means they have passed not only the class you are about to take but additional training that proves they can teach it. For example, trainers with NRA Basic Pistol Instructor (one of my certificates) can teach the NRA pistol curriculum as well as several states’ concealed carry classes.
If you’re looking for more advanced skills, such as personal protection, defensive pistol, or rifle classes, seek out certified instructors with advanced credentials. Often these instructors will teach basic classes, too, but they are also qualified to teach advanced skills.
Start with people you know and see who they recommend. If you have friends who have taken classes, ask them who taught them and if they liked them. A personal recommendation is gold.
If you don’t know anyone or you’re new either to the area or to the gun community, the next best resource is your local gun store. Knowledgeable staff members are usually eager to offer quality recommendations.
Some ranges offer classes themselves, so they are likely to recommend their own staff. In most cases, they are credentialed and perfectly fine, maybe even great. That being said, I still recommend checking with others who aren’t biased to see how good they really are.
If the range does not offer its own classes and instructors, chances are they know local instructors they can recommend and pass along their contact info so you can reach out. Often, they will reach out on your behalf since they have the relationship.
A highly qualified instructor demonstrates how to clear the doorway of Gunsite Academy's Shoot House in Paulden, AZ
Another great avenue is social media. There are a ton of instructor forums with valuable info on finding the best one for your needs. Read customer reviews posted on firearms training websites and Facebook pages and then take it a step further and Google them to find more candid reviews. Find which hashtags they use to identify themselves on social media (ours is #crossbreedholsters) and search to see what other people are saying about them.
A word of caution: In case you haven’t noticed already, gun folks are very opinionated. This isn’t always a bad thing. Just be aware that some people will give you horrible advice with great conviction. It’s important to check with multiple people before settling on an instructor.
While most instructors are excellent and will do a great job teaching and guiding you through what you need to learn, beware of anyone taking shortcuts with your training. For example, one instructor in my area was known for magically transforming a state-mandated 8-hour concealed carry class into three hours and handing out the state certificates afterward.
When his scheme was uncovered, his instructor credentials were pulled, and all of his students had to pay for and take the class over again with a different instructor to meet state requirements.
One of the most endearing traits of gun owners is how friendly and helpful they truly are. There are lots of great instructors out there and it's not too hard to find one.
Just tap into your local gun community and you will find to unveil a community eager to embrace and assist you!
Do you have any pointers for new gun owners? How did you find your last instructor? What was the best firearms course you've ever taken?
Sound off in the comments, we want to hear from you!
David Workman is an avid gun guy and a contributing writer to several major gun publications. In addition to being an NRA-certified RSO, David trains new shooters on basic handgun skills and CCW requirements and is a strong advocate for training as much as you possibly can. “Real life shootouts don’t happen at a box range.”
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