Night shoot allowed students to experience a whole new side of their rifle and lighting set-ups. Marcia engages her target after sweeping it with her SureFire.

When he informed me that he was going back to Tactical Defense Institute (TDI) as a guest instructor at their July 2011 Tactical Rifle I class, he again asked me to join him. Two of his friends were bringing their wife and fiancé, respectively, and he commented how nice it would be to have me there as well. I finally agreed, but knew in my heart I was doing it for him, not me.

I’m a wife, mother, home-school teacher of three and, secondarily, an ER nurse. I’m moderately competitive and possess a high level of self-confidence and independence. My life moves quickly both at home and at work, as it does for most people.

My experience with weapons was minimal and consisted of shooting .22-caliber weapons on our home range. I had been babied with the gentle nature of the suppressed .22-caliber weapons, which have no kick and don’t crack when fired. When Abner introduced me to a real AR-15, I immediately complained about its recoil and loud crack.

For this class, my husband surrendered his favorite rifle to me: a 10.5- inch barreled AR-15. I would be firing Black Hills 55-grain .223 ammo. The loudness and recoil of the rifle made me somewhat anxious. I knew from my brief time with the rifle at our home range that I’d have a lot to overcome at this class.

Author found she was particularly adept at CQB shooting.
Stephanie shoulders her rifle and delivers quick shots on target. Author told her she was going to call this photo “Manicured Nails on an Mk18.”


On Training Day 1, after the introduction of students and staff, TDI Instructor John Motil taught us what to look for in a quality rifle, along with the many additions that can be made to an AR-15. I learned that looks can be deceiving. One needs to be able to compare rifles just like comparing cars before buying. That afternoon we moved onto the range and began to learn the difference between supported and unsupported shooting. We worked on zeroing our rifles from prone and practiced precision shooting from 100 and 200 yards.

Initially, Abner had set my rifle up with a Leupold DeltaPoint optic. I couldn’t seem to lock on target with the top of the triangle, so he switched me to an MRDS from Insight Technology. However, even though I could now easily find center mass with the MRDS, I didn’t do as well as I thought I should have because of trigger anxiety from the loud boom of the rifle.

These ladies take their own safety seriously and dedicated themselves to learning as much as possible in this three-day class.

One of the instructors (my husband, of all people) told me I was yanking the trigger, and he was right. (Did I really just say that?) The anxiety related to pulling the trigger manifested itself in my right hand and trigger finger “pushing” the rifle down and left in anticipation of the boom and recoil. Most of my shots were down and left on the target. So after the first day of class, my “competition ego” was slightly wounded, and it seemed I was going to be in for a long weekend.


Saturday morning, thinking we would be doing more of the same, I had resigned myself to “Operation Enduring Weekend.” We zeroed once more to be sure that our sights were holding their point of aim.

We then moved on to close-quarters battle (CQB). I found my happy place in CQB! As each skill set was demonstrated, we would practice a dry run, then move into running hot. Instructors David Bowie and Lynn Freshly demonstrated sight offset, which Instructor Chris Wallace had skillfully covered in the classroom portion the previous day.

By noon, I had familiarity and confidence with my rifle. Most notable, however, was the absence of trigger anxiety. I had finally conquered the loud crack and recoil of the rifle, and could now focus on learning the new skills.


The TDI instructors are exceptional. They do whatever it takes to drive home a point in a positive and even humorous manner. Case in point: I couldn’t remember when to use the bolt catch or when to rack the Bravo Company Gunfighter charging handle (which Abner spoiled me with—I love this thing!).

To remind me what I should do during practice, Instructor David Bowie said, “Pretend that bolt catch is the side of Abner’s head. Now smack lil’ Abner!” It worked. I now know how to smack him good—and have also become much more adept at releasing the bolt catch.

The day was full of skill-building exercises. I learned about muzzle awareness, proper posture for holding an AR (which is different in precision shooting and CQB), how to clear and lock open the bolt, load and do tactical reloads more efficiently, clear malfunctions, and shoot from my off side. The Black Hills ammo worked wonderfully and without malfunctions.

We learned low-light shooting techniques in the twilight of early Saturday evening, including the use of both mounted and handheld lights. My husband had equipped the rifle with a SureFire X400 weaponlight that was very bright and easy to use. We did several movement drills where we were taught to use light sparingly. These drills were coupled with movement for a very effective lesson in using darkness to your advantage.

Jungle Lane uses overgrown foliage and low lighting to slow students down and make them pick out the human shapes hidden in the shadows .


The final day of class started off with learning how to shoot on the move and clear corners and walls by slicing the pie and using the drop-out technique.

You’ll have to go to TDI to find out about the drop out. All I can say is that it’s proprietary to TDI and is an effective and easy-to-learn maneuver to help clear doors and corners.

At mid-morning on Sunday, the class of 19 people was split up into four groups. We were sent to the far-flung regions of TDI’s vast ranges for various skill testing. My group’s first was Jungle Lane, which tests observation skills in low light and densely foliaged terrain. It’s populated with hidden bad-guy targets. Instructor John Motil did an excellent job of keeping us on task in this environment of wooded paths and creek beds.

Live Fire House 2 is a series of corners that test shooters’ drop-out skills and fast target-acquisition abilities.

Next, my critical judgment and dropout skills were tested, with guidance from David Bowie, in Live Fire House 2. We then moved to a long-range shoot on steel with Instructors Chris Wallace and Wyatt Roush. This required us to start at 120 yards with the rifle and finish at 10 yards with a pistol, all the while moving from cover to cover and using different shooting positions.

The final drill was The Wall with Instructor Clay Smith. This drill was exhausting and very hectic but fun.

In all four activities, we were expected to incorporate the skills we had previously learned. It was during these exercises that I really began to understand how much I had accomplished in just three days. I impressed myself!


What I appreciated the most about TDI, though, were the instructors. I expected drill sergeants reminiscent of nursing school, which was an absolute horror. But at TDI, we all received constructive critiques and clear instructions throughout each exercise. It was superb! I can’t find enough superlatives to describe my thorough appreciation for these instructors.

I walked away from that weekend completely excited about rifles and much more confident in my ability to defend my family. Never could I have envisioned learning so much within a weekend or having such a blast doing it. It was hot (I have never sweated so much in my life), and it was work. But it was fun! If rifles and fun are not two words you find symbiotic, think again!

Instructor Clay Smith looks on while author works her way across The Wall, a true test of marksmanship under pressure.


Women are a misrepresented demographic in the world of self-defense. It only makes sense that we understand the basics of how to use a weapon properly, even if only to unload it. It’s very similar to using the buttons on a blender. You don’t turn it on until you need to use it. Weapons won’t jump up and bite you. They don’t turn on by themselves.

Wouldn’t you rather know how to defend yourself and your family at 2am rather than wait in the hope that the police aren’t busy on another call? A lot can happen in several minutes. This class will help you overcome your fear and give you confidence in using a weapon, should it ever be necessary.

If your beloved asks you to go to a tactical training class, go! You will have fun, you will learn, and you will come out of it with a sense of accomplishment.

Thanks to Black Hills for providing the class ammo, and John Benner and his staff at TDI for receiving us so warmly. Out of 19 students, only four were women … and from what I’ve heard, that is three more than usual in any given weapons class. We need to remedy this situation.

When Abner is on duty, his back-up is every cop in the vicinity. But when he’s off duty and at home, I’m it. It’s good to finally be able to say that I have his back.

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