Gunsite. That single name means so much to so many: The beginning of modern firearms training, incredible facilities and the experience of attending this historic place.
I traveled to Gunsite recently to attend a new class that has its genesis in our current operations in the Middle East. Urban Combat is a course for those who wish to sharpen their real world battle skills with pistol, carbine and foreign weapons. In addition to their own carbine and pistol, Gunsite will provide an AK-47, MP5 and familiarization with a variety of foreign weapons. The class includes two night shoots, two force-on-force exercises and a variety of live fire simulators, vehicle convoy, counter-ambush and improvised explosive device training. This is not a class for beginners. Gunsite bluntly tells course participants they are expected to hit the ground—perhaps not at a run—but at least a sprint. I can truthfully say they aren’t kidding.
I have attended several classes there over the years, beginning when Col. Cooper led classes from the front. I have always found the training challenging and relevant, no matter what the discipline. So as I set up my RV in the campground on a sunny Sunday afternoon, I wondered what the next week would bring.
Rapid fire with Krinkov.
A bright Arizona morning greeted me as I began the completion of paperwork, signing forms, meeting my fellow classmates and meeting our instructors. We were quickly introduced to Ed Stock and Erick Gelhaus, both of whom are fulltime police officers who have completed combat tours in Iraq. Our third instructor was Larry Elders, a 30-year veteran of the Arizona Highway Patrol. Corey Trapp, Gunsite’s resident gunsmith, also assisted throughout the week. Each of these guys is easygoing, plain speaking and a fountain of information. Classroom was a brief overview of the curriculum, and within two hours we were at the square range.
My classmates included a recently retired doctor, a former military intelligence officer, the director of Brownell’s Military and LE division, a general contractor, several all-round good people and a few fulltime police officers who wanted to be better at the serious business of weapon skills.
The five-day run began on the square range and seldom slowed down. After quickly confirming our weapons were zeroed, we began. Speed drills from close in with our carbines led the way to increased distances, less time and transition drills to our handguns. I quickly discovered that I was happy I had brought multiple magazines and my LULA loader, which was a lifesaver. Shoot, shoot, shoot, reload magazines, repeat. In the late afternoon we broke from the range and returned to the classroom.
Throughout the course, we concluded our day in the classroom receiving lectures on several very relevant topics, including explosives and IEDs, combat medicine, communist bloc weapons and the subject I found most fascinating, the current use and deployment of the RPG.
Movement through Shoot House.
Back at the square range for our good morning wake-up shoot. Now we were shooting at multiple targets from positions other than standing. Kneeling, rice paddy prone and prone were just a few of the positions we moved to and from while firing. This was interspersed with transition drills and multiple reloads as our instructors reminded us of the mantra, smooth is fast. Every time we approached a new drill, class stopped and we were walked through it with an open discussion of the pros and cons of the drills we were being taught. Having Erick as an instructor was a special benefit for me personally, since he too is a Lefty—one of the fortunate few like I am.
Shooting in full gear is a must.
Another portion of our training was our work with communist bloc weapon systems. Corey Trapp presented a significant amount of technical knowledge concerning the AK family prior to our handling the weapons. We began with semi-auto AK variants of several manufacture, getting used to manipulating the safety and the trigger pull. For the next several hours, our range echoed with the sounds of clack (safety off), bang. The AK is not foolproof, but it certainly proved sturdy. We practiced speed loading, tactical reloading and multiple stages of fire. I had the opportunity to shoot the Krinkov—a shortened fully automatic AK. I really enjoyed this little buzz saw—apparently a bit too much, because the wood foregrips started smoking due to the heat buildup.
After a quick break for lunch, we had the opportunity to familiarize ourselves with Heckler & Koch’s superb MP5 and UMP families of weapons. For several in the class, this was the first chance to use one of these weapons, and they thoroughly enjoyed it. We also had the opportunity, after a brief lecture, to fire the Russian version of a sniper rifle—the SVD, commonly known as the Dragunov. Honestly, I found this rifle to be less than impressive. Shooting left handed is a no-go because the fixed telescopic sight is set only for those shooting right handed. Additionally, after many years of being behind a quality scope, I found the Russian scope a disaster. I’m sure that with time, practice and sufficiently decent ammo I could hit something—eventually.
A break for dinner and we returned to the ranges for a night shoot. This was an eye opener for several of my classmates. We soon discovered that quality counts, as several lights quickly bit the dust. After getting dialed in with our lights, we split the class, sending one group to run the outdoor simulator under nighttime conditions, while the other worked on rapid assumption drills under the starry Arizona night. After both groups had finished, we swapped places, giving everyone an excellent opportunity to refine their night skills.
Student puts H&K UMP through its paces.
As the sun peeked over the horizon, we began running the urban scrambler. This is a range with various shooting locations requiring multiple shooting positions to hit targets at different distances. The last station simulated a battlefield pickup weapon, requiring us to load, fire and hit multiple targets. I’m not sure what happened that morning, but I think my shooting skills stayed in bed while I went to the range. I seemed to be able to hit everything except what I was aiming at. After a refocus on fundamentals and several deep breaths, I got back to where I should have been.
That afternoon we had an opportunity to run an interesting drill. This was the response to mid-distance vehicle ambush. We partnered up in a pickup with full gear on. At the command of “RPG! RPG!” we were exiting from the same side of the truck as fast as possible and moving to cover. As one shooter provided cover fire, the other moved to a new position of cover then began to engage, allowing their partner to move. This simulated getting away from your disabled vehicle and fighting to break contact.
Each team went through the drill and afterwards we had a very open and frank discussion on what we did right—and what could have been done better. We all found that exiting the closed cab of a vehicle presented a unique set of problems before we ever got our first round off. This drill was very instructive for me, since I spend my day in a vehicle and had never really practiced having to get out quickly with all my gear on.
Critically debriefing the ambush drill.
After our “Break Contact Drill,” we moved to the West Wash where we were given our scenario: we were meeting an extraction helo and we had to get there quickly. As time was of the essence, we were pushed to move quickly, maintain situational awareness and deliver accurate fire. As I entered the wash, all seemed well until I encountered my third target and Mr. Murphy showed up.
I had a major malfunction with my rifle and had to transition to my handgun. Even though time and the Gunsite Instructor were the only real stress factors, I found my heart beating a bit faster after the last target. I felt good because the transition had been a non-event. I moved directly to it without conscious thought, which proves what good instructors and training will do for you.
Our last day, and the time seemed to fly by. After our early morning wakeup drills, we split the class again. One group departed for a clearing exercise that required us to utilize both rifle and handgun as well as having to use an AK as a battlefield pickup. As this was occurring, the second group was at another of Gunsite’s shoot houses running another drill, which was a culmination of all the skills we had developed over the week.
Fam firing Dragunov.
THE GELHAUS DRILL
Throughout our week, we had several different shoot houses that presented various scenarios we were required to confront and solve. Each house had a complex and variable floor plan requiring us to move and think as well as shoot. When we made entry, an instructor, who made sure we were safe and effectively applying the skills we had been taught, closely followed each of us.
Now, I admit I have done shoot houses before and they present the usual challenges one would expect, but seldom is there a real “Oh my!” surprise. Well, the Gelhaus drill gave me that surprise. I won’t give the secret away, but it certainly took me out of my comfort zone and forced me to deal with more than clearing the house. It was a great variation and a classic example of Gunsite thinking beyond the everyday.
After a brief lunch, we all returned to the square range, where we had an opportunity to deal with the “Robot” (aka Northern Lights Tactical’s TRACS Turbo Tortoise). This is a devilish little target that is manipulated via remote control. It can charge you, turn left or right or just run away from you. It was interesting to see how each student perceived the threat and when they employed force. After all was said and done on the range, we returned to the classroom for the graduation. This was a presentation of certificates with several minutes of stand-up comedy by our instructors on each of us as students. Thanks guys…
Corey Trapp explains how the RPG functions.
That evening I reflected back on the experience. This class is just what is advertised—not a class for beginners, nor is it a finishing school. But if you have worked hard to develop and maintain your skills and are looking for more, then this is the class for you. For those of you who may be visiting any troubled Third World countries, I highly recommend this class. The Soviet bloc weapons instruction alone was incredible and, when combined with the quality range instruction, you can’t go wrong.
2900 W. Gunsite Road
Paulden, AZ 86334
Northern Lights Tactical
P.O. Box 10272
Prescott, AZ 86304-0272