Thunder Ranch
Defensive Handgun 1
October 18-22, 2004

(Or dare I, "A Tale of 220's?")

(This information may be a tad dated now since TR is changing their class structure when they move to Oregon in December of 2004)

Monday Day 1

As instructed by Heidi on Sunday, I showed up at the classroom building about 7:30 AM.  First item on the agenda is to complete and sign the release forms.  Here I got to meet some of my fellow classmates and get acquainted with them a little.  There are people from all walks of life and from all over the States.   We were also introduced to the instructors who will be working with us for the next 5 days. 

I got to meet Greg, who I've been corresponding with via email and comparing notes in an effort to get our gear in order.  Greg is all the way down from Alaska and will be attending next week's DHG2 class.  This guy will be so tactical after two weeks at TR he'll be a one man SWAT team..  And despite the fact that he's a ex "Coastie" he turned out to be an OK guy.  (Sorry, my Navy heritage demands I take a swipe at the USCG whenever possible.)

About 8:30, Clint shows up and cranks up his famous lecture, ostensibly about handgun tactics but it's interwoven with his working philosophy on a wide array of topics.  (No extra charge.)  I liked Clint immediately.  His forthright manner and humor are hard to resist.   I also note that Clint taint no one to be messin' with.  The lecture runs until noon or so and then it's lunch.  This is the only classroom work for the entire week.  At 1 we hit the Red Range for some shootin.'

It's hot for October, sunny, 92 degrees and fairly humid.  It was 40 degrees with a north breeze when I left home on Friday.  The black gravel on the Red Range must be about 140 degrees in the sun.  My shoes burst into flames at the most inconvenient of times.  My shooting, not surprisingly, is erratic.  Handgunning is a recent fancy of mine.  I've shot long guns all my life, but up until the last year or so, handguns never got my attention.  I guess that's one of the long term effects 9/11 has had on me.  It's time to get serious about personal and home defense!  And that's why I'm here.  The Red Range

We shoot at TR's cardboard version of a B27 target.  Nothing long range.  7 yards was probably as far back as we got.  Even there I was pretty good at scattering my shots.  After years of shooting trap, handgunning is a 180 degree flip in approach.  Now here I don't focus on the target but rather on the sights themselves.  Trigger pull is more a slap and go in the game of trap but here I have to pay close attention to the motion.  Fine, that's why I'm here. 

Despite the repeated urgings of the staff to "shoot good, not fast", I shoot fast.  I think I'm shooting slow and relatively good but I'm only fooling myself.  Slow learners line up behind me!

About 430 we're done.  I go back to the camper and try to figure out why the reefer won't run on LP.  Fortunately Heidi took pity on me (I think my constant whining wore her down) and set me up with a camp site where I can get plugged into AC to run the refrigerator and the air conditioner (Thank God!)  I also have to thank Cathy, one of the instructors, for getting the ball rolling on the new camp site as well. 

Tuesday Day 2

Back on the Red Range at 830.  It's going to be hot again.  Talk of record setting heat.  And I'm here to see it!  Today I wear long pants despite the heat.  I thought I had a good enough tan, but the backs of my legs got a might pink Monday afternoon.   Today we get introduced to the heart breaking concept of shooting on the move.  Yep, the instructor's collective evil knows no bounds.  So what if it's what I really need to know and it's good for me.  I shoot like crap cause I still don't want to look at the front sight and I sure as hell don't want to shoot slower.  I got this autoloader and by God I'm going to make it spit lead! 

Despite the fact that I think I'm drinking enough water, I'm not.  After lunch I fade and can't maintain focus at all.  Was that two steps to right and two shots to COM and 1 to the head or 3 steps to the right and 3 to the body?  I can't get in sync which adds to my frustration.  Then on top of that, the mighty Sig 220ST, my wonderful Sig which had run so magnificently at home, begins to choke.  It sometimes hangs up and won't fully chamber a round.  This isn't supposed to happen with a Sig, is it?  But it does and I get some more malfunction drills as a bonus.  I attribute the malfunctions to a lack of adequate lube and let it go at that.  We've already shot approx 300 rounds in this heat.  I'd never fired more than 200 at any one time on the range at home.  Unbeknownst to me, I am about to educated in the way of the Sig.  I went to my backup, a standard Sig 220R aka "The Black Gun", for the rest of the day and got along fine. 

That evening, I met Brian, who is a member of a SWAT team somewhere in Oklahoma.  He offered  me the use of his Camelback hydration system for the rest of the week.  I simply am not getting enough water in this heat.  I gratefully accepted his generous offer. 

Wednesday Day 3

<>It's hot again and I'm still shooting too fast.  Everything is too fast for me at this point in time.  We've been given a lot of information to digest by this time and I have to admit my poor little brain with 4K of RAM ain't enough.  Today we shoot The Terminator for some simulated room clearing drills.  On the Red Range, it's more of the same.  Shoot n' move, malfunction drills, marksmanship, draw and holster, tac reloads, shoot from behind barricades and other shoulder straining drills.  Have these guys no mercy? Greg, me and The Terminator
The Camelback system is saving my northern butt big time in the hot Texas sun.  I can drink while reloading mags and listening to range instructions.  If we're not shooting we're in a group getting instruction or suggestions for improvement from the evil staff.  (They're actually pointing at the sun and laughing.  They tell us it's not hot.)  But we're always, ALWAYS, reloading mags.  Reloading between strings, reloading while waiting for everyone to finish taping their targets, reloading while receiving instruction, reloading while on break, reloading at lunch.  (Hint: My HKS mag loader did save some wear and tear on my fingers when I could find it and use it) I brought 14 mags for the Sigs and that was none too many. 

Now it's time to visit the infamous Terminator and apply what we're supposed to know about clearing rooms.  Well at least there's only one witness in this event, the lone instructor who accompanies me and acts as the BG's voice in our role playing scenario.  Only he will see how the worlds' fastest non front sight looker at'er fares in the Terminator. 

Actually it didn't go too bad that first day.  I came around the corner, recognized the threat and demanded compliance.  I didn't get compliance, so I shot the SOB.  One, maybe two rounds and he was down.  But I de-cocked the Sig before determining the aggressor was really out of the fight.  Bzzzzztt!  Shoulda kept it cocked and ready to repel boarders.  OK, I have to cut another corner and since I'm shooting lefty, I have to lean waaaayyy out to my right into the room to survey the situation (tactically as possible naturally).  I hate this feeling 'cause I'm certain I'll see ol' Waingro hisself sportin' an 870 when I stick my fat head in that room.  He already knows I'm comin' 'cause I just cut down his bud. 

Anyway, I cautiously "slice the pie" in my very best tactical manner until it's time to lean hard right into the room with Sig out front.  Sure enough, BG #2 is there just awaitin' yours truly, the world's fastest non front sight looker at'er, to stick his head into the buzz saw.  My verbal challenge is met with gun fire and I open up.  2, then 3 rounds COM and he's still standin', the instructor yells "shoot his head!!!"  Oh yeah, why didn't I think of that?  I aim for his head and touch off.  He's still standing!  "Shoot 'em again!" yells the instructor.  And I begin to furiously pump lead into this stubborn and apparently iron clad bastard.  Boy, this is just like a video game but only noisier! What fun!  I reload and the target is still up.  The instructor surmises that there's something wrong with the target.  He fires a coupla three rounds and it's still up.  Yep, it was FUBAR.

The next scenario is much the same except the targets fall, despite my less than perfect hits.  I fail to look into a corner and am gigged on that.  (Didn't "look for the mouse.")  But I didn't shoot any holes in the wall and didn't drop any innocents either.  Maybe there's hope for me yet. 

Thursday Day 4

Today we start at 2 PM, break for supper about 530 and eat a TR catered supper.  After that, it's the night shoot.  

We start off with marksmanship drills and more tac reloads while covering for our partners.  They're trying to teach us something here but somehow it's not penetrating my thick Irish skull. 

Mid afternoon, Greg and I get turned loose on the charger deck.  Heidi operates this infernal contraption which is designed solely to make poor shooters like me look like fools.  And trust me, I did my part. The Charger Deck

<>We watched the team ahead of us go through it and I decided that it didn't look too bad.  After a few dry runs, we get the nod from Heidi to fuel up the armament.  I stuff nine rounds in the Sig and hunker down, certain that I was about to teach this malevolent mechanical monster a lesson or two.  Once the targets start moving, we are to draw, verbally challenge the targets and retreat to cover.  Also, we get to blast the targets if we don't get compliance (which we don't).. 

The targets take off and I draw OK but the darn targets are really moving and my shooting doesn't seem to slow them down at all.  I keep backing up in the prescribed manner but then for some reason decide to stop midway and really zero in on these bastards.  Of course, this generates much excitement as my partner is still backing up leaving me down range.  Finally I realize that I've screwed up badly and start moving back like I should have been all along.  George, another student, stationed behind me to prevent me from running off the end of the deck asks, "Who do you think you are, John Wayne?"  OK, lesson learned.

We load up again and approach the evil sliders with a little more caution and respect.  The damn things take off and ignore our shouts for compliance.  Apparently the sight of me and my 220 does not strike fear in their Erector set hearts.  And on they came.  This time I back up as instructed, yelling like a mad man the whole way.  I throw tons of lead downrange and simply fall apart on my tac reloads.  I've got unexpended ordinance everywhere.  My shooting is still terribly fast though. and one shot goes wide enough to hit the right side wooden target stringer and a big chunk of wood zinged down range.  The fact that I saw this dynamic display of brutal 45 ACP firepower tells me that someone wasn't looking at their front sight (again.)  Sigh.  And I'm still shooting too fast!!!!!

Finally, we're done and off the deck we go.  My hands are trembling as the adrenaline courses through my overheated veins.  Charger deck 1 Tim 0

It's time for supper and then back to the Red Range for the night shoot.  I can't wait to use my whiz bang Surefire M2 light.  We had practiced the various stances and holds that Clint demonstrated that afternoon and I was ready.  Somehow though, when it came time to actually light up the Surefire AND actually shoot, I found that my right hand interfered with the trigger pull.  The high tech and oh so tactical optional tail cap on the M2 was too difficult to depress using the "syringe" technique . :(Weak hand alongside strong hand, thumbs more or less together.)  The Harries technique worked alright although my 48 y/o shoulders thought there was better ways to have fun.  The next day, I searched my range bag and found the original issue tail cap for the M2 and found it much, much more usable.  I guess I don't need the "click on" feature that badly after all. 

The 220R has tritium sights on it and they were neat to use in the Texas dusk.  I could still shoot too fast but this time I was concentrating on the front sight because frankly I couldn't see the target all that well.  And then, from somewhere out in the darkness, I heard Ray's familiar voice on the range speakers.  "All this week, no one has told any of you that you're not shooting fast enough, have they?"  POINK!  A little light came on in my sun baked mind.  HEY!  They're talking to me!  And I had to "get it" with just one day left in the class! 

We ended that night about 830 PM.  I wanted to shoot more but it was time to go. 

Friday Day 5

We assemble on the Red Range at 830.  Today we shoot the Terminator and the Charger Deck.  The class more or less rotates through each range.  Some of us are on the Red Range, some on the charger and the rest in the Terminator.  Greg and I begin on the Red Range. 

Today, I am resolved to shooting S-L-O-W.  I'm also shooting the 220R as it has been much more reliable than the mighty ST.  Despite my best efforts at cleaning and lubing, the ST continues to stall out periodically.  I'm getting too much "tap-rack-bang" for my buck with it. 

My groups are better.  Not great but definitely better.  We do a little one handed shooting and then a little "weak handed" shooting.  HA!  Now the evil ones have fallen into my perfectly laid trap!  Little did they know that my "weak hand", my right hand, in reality is my "strong hand."  Shades of the Dread Pirate Roberts!  Yes, I had been shooting the entire course left handed which should be my "weak hand."  Well, I shoot long guns from the port side, so for consistency as much as anything else, I choose to shoot handguns left handed.   So the few rounds we fired "weak handed" weren't bad for yours truly which undoubtedly surprised the hell out of everybody. 

The most interesting drill we ran that day on the Red Range was firing at arm's length in the "interview position" with the weapon "locked" up against our pectoral muscles.  (Step two of the draw)  When I looked down the muzzle of the Sig was almost directly below my face.  "This is going to be loud," I remember thinking.  We stepped through the drill many times with the weapons unloaded until the instructors were satisfied that we weren't "going to set ourselves on fire."  (Another "Clintism.") 

After firing two from the above described position, we were to take a step back with our strong side foot while extending the weapon out in the classic two handed hold.  Here we fired two more.  After that, we pivoted on the strong side foot and brought the weak side foot behind us.  Then we started backing up, firing as we went.  Head, body, pelvis, it was our choice.  I resisted the temptation to "spray and pray" and did a fairly good job of maintaining focus on the front sight.   This was a good drill IMHO.  I can see this technique being a lifesaver in real life confrontations. 

Then it was on to the charger.  Today with my new found and hard learned wisdom, I KNEW I was going to do better.  And I think we did.  Greg and I communicated well and I didn't leave live ammo scattered all over the place  The sliders still slid, but I watched the front sight and worked much more carefully.  I backed up and didn't play "The Duke" even once.  I yelled in my most commanding voice, certain that I could back it up today.Charger Deck Revisited 

We must have expended 80 or so rounds on the deck as I only had three loaded mags left upon completion.  I had packed every damn one of my mags up onto the deck that day after watching the deadly duo of Brian and Lisa ahead of us.  I knew I'd need all 14 mags. 

Afterwards, Heidi critiqued us and told us we had done an excellent job.  Well, maybe for rookies we did but I was satisfied and grateful for her kind words.  I  went over to Cathy and gave her a little hug and proudly exclaimed, "And I didn't hardly screw up at all!"  She agreed even.  HA! Take that Charger Deck!

Then it was on to the Terminator for the final two scenarios.  Each was a hostage situation.  In the first, our wives or girlfriends were being held hostage.  We had to get down the hallway and try to save them.  Of course, while we're moving, the instructors are yelling all sorts of things and my poor little brain was nearly overwhelmed just trying to keep me from stepping on a mine (or setting myself on fire) or leading with the gun around a corner etc.  After what seemed an eternity, I felt I had the area to my rear cleared out and I was ready to go down the hall to confront the bad guy. 

I sliced the pie, leaned out into view and challenged the bad guy.  (Again, I had to lean waaayyy out to right which put me off balance and made me feel like a sitting duck.  Another lesson here?)  The BG wouldn't give up at my challenge so I popped him COM on shot one and then one to the head for shot two.  Maybe not the best choice this time as the hostage's elbow was in close proximity to the BG's COM.  I ended up nicking the hostage's elbow.  The instructor claimed I had shot the hostage in the elbow.  I consoled myself by telling myself that the hostage's blouse was billowy and all I had done was punch a hole in the blouse.  Oh well.Overlooking the Terminator

The 2nd and last scenario was another hostage.  I came around the corner (this time it was a RH turn so I didn't have to lean as much).  He didn't comply and this time I shot for the head rather than try for any tricky "blouse shots".  I put him down on one, but the bullet went low into the jaw line rather than right between the eyes.   I was still letting the adrenaline and my "need for speed" rule the day.  Too many video games I guess.  Oh well, didn't punch out any innocents and I scored one for the good guys in any event. 

Back to the Red Range for more target work.  Our final shots were for groups.  If I did my part, I got reasonably good groups but I've got such a long ways to go.  More range work is obviously needed but I've got a good foundation now to build on.

We quit about 3 that day for graduation.  I didn't want to stop.  We had such a good class with such a great group of people.  The instructors all were just fantastic.  I got to talk guns all week with very knowledgeable people and got to make some great new friends.  I didn't have to feel sheepish at all for expressing a deep interest in shooting and firearms with any of these fine people.  What a feeling that is!

And most of all, I didn't feel like I had to apologize for believing that I have the right to defend myself and my family!!!!!

Thanks Clint, Heidi and all the TR staff!!!

Gear I used at TR

The Man from Kodiak's take on TR (Pretty good for a Coastie)

Thunder Ranch

Class 52