Earlier this year I had the opportunity to attend the 250 Pistol class at Gunsite Academy. Since attending, I’ve found there are a lot of people with strong opinions about Gunsite, but they have nearly zero correlation with the reality those of us who have actually trained there experienced. With this in mind, I thought it would be a good idea to dispel some common myths and misconceptions.
To help with this, I reached out to Freddie Blish and Ken Campbell. Freddie was the lead instructor for my first 250 Pistol class, and Ken is the Chief Executive Officer of Gunsite Academy, making them both highly qualified to speak on what actually happens there.
Q: Colonel Jeff Cooper was known to be a big fan of the 1911 pistol, and it’s become nearly synonymous with Gunsite in the minds of some people. So much so, that I’ve repeatedly been told that Gunsite instructors are limited to the use of a 1911, specifically in .45ACP, and in some cases, students are restricted to the old war horse as well. Is that the case?
Ken: Well, that’s crap to put it plainly. Gunsite was never only 1911. Many people make these foolish claims and have never attended Gunsite. Folks have attended classes with revolvers, traditional double-action semi-automatic pistols and more. (When I took my 250 in 1990, I used my department-issued S&W 645.) Many instructors chose to carry 1911, but others also carried Sigs, etc.
If we only allowed 1911 platforms, why did GLOCK ask us to do three 250 Pistol Classes in 2011 celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the GLOCK Pistol?
Freddie: This is one of the two biggest myths about Gunsite. The 1911 was Jeff’s personal favorite, and still very much appreciated by many Gunsite instructors, but Gunsite is not 1911-centric. I took my 250, 350, 499 with a Glock 21.
My 250 was in July 2001 and was a 250 Master Class because Jeff was teaching. After winning the Man V Man shootoff and earning an E Ticket, Jeff said, “Maybe there is something with the GLOCK.”
While many Gunsite instructors carry 1911s, an equal number carry GLOCKs, SIGs, and S&Ws. I often carry a Colt 1911 rail gun in 9mm, but if other instructors are carrying 1911s or the majority of students are carrying GLOCKs/striker fired pistols I’ll switch to a GLOCK or M&P. When teaching military classes I carried a Beretta M9 and now the SIG M17.
From Cooper’s Commentaries, Nov ‘05 . . .
The Glock pistol seems to be doing what is necessary. It is not a weapon for the master, but it seems to work well and, of course, reliability is a major consideration with a defensive weapon. So we see more Glocks all the time in school and in competition. The marvelous 1911 and its clones continue to be the first choice of the expert, but only a few pistoleros have the intention or the ability to become truly expert.
From Feb ‘06 . . .
The continued sales triumph of the Glock pistols demonstrates the virtues of skillful marketing. The Glock pistol is okay. It is generally reliable, it is comparatively inexpensive, and it is available in respectable calibers. Above all, its after-market service is superior.
Modern 9mm hollow point ammunition and recent FBI study has ended the .45 vs 9mm debate. Most Gunsite instructors shoot and carry 9mm. I anecdotally estimate from the classes I teach that 80+% of students shoot 9mm in striker fired pistols, 10-15% shoot 45 from 1911s, and 5% shoot .40.
As instructors we may joke about the 1911 being God’s gun and .45 being God’s caliber but we recognize the reality of striker fired 9mm pistols. FYI if you want a 1911 trigger in a polymer framed 9mm buy a Staccato!!
Q: When it comes to stance, I hear folks equate the Modern Technique to essentially the Weaver stance. With that, people often say that Weaver is the only stance taught and permitted at Gunsite. Is there any truth to this?
Ken: Again, not true. While we were very strong advocates of the Weaver, it was never forced upon anyone. Now, we clearly teach a modern fighting stance. What was your experience in your 250 recently? We also teach folks to shoot with their strong foot forward. Rumors are great things, but if you read it on the internet, it has to be true. (Sarcasm font.)
Dan: My recent experience mirrors your comments. Freddie and the other instructors primarily teach a balanced fighting stance, but also provide academics on traditional Weaver, isosceles, and strong foot forward techniques. Everyone gets an opportunity to find out what works best for them, then stick with that throughout class. Using a modified isosceles throughout the week, I was never once corrected or told to change.
Freddie: First, what many people think is the Weaver stance and what Jack Weaver shot, as well as what Gunsite taught/teaches, are two different things. Many think the Weaver stance is bladed, it is not and never was.
The bladed stance was a bastardized version developed by law enforcement that combined their interview stance with the Weaver. We teach a balanced fighting stance and explain the pros and cons of both a correct Weaver and isosceles stance. If a shooter is struggling to control recoil, we will encourage them to try a Weaver stance, but no one is forced to shoot Weaver. I personally shoot a modified Weaver.
Jeff even grew tired of the Weaver vs. Isosceles argument and wrote about it in November 2005 Guns & Ammo Cooper’s Corner . . .
There is a great deal of foolish discussion bouncing around concerning the proper arm position for serious pistol work. Jack Weaver’s classic contribution consists in power control. If you crank the left elbow down and pull positive count-pressure, you dampen recoil very considerably. If you use mechanical means of reducing recoil, and if you lay great importance upon very rapid bursts of succeeding shots, this may matter, but in the overall picture, I do not believe it does.
It hardly matters whether you use the Weaver Stance or the Isosceles with both arms straight as long as you get hits and those hits should be delivered with a major-powered sidearm under controlled conditions. The argument is silly, and I wish it would go away.
Q: Without getting into too much detail, would you say that things have in fact changed since Col. Cooper founded API and then later Gunsite?
Ken: The Modern Technique continues to evolve. It did when Cooper owned Gunsite. But that is one of the many great things about it. It was designed to be flexible, but needed to be proven in real-world application.
How many schools are you aware of that failed or simply went away when the principle or founder left? I can list many. Cooper passed away in 2006 and Gunsite continues, growing each and every year. (We have had seven record years of student enrollments and appears 2022 will be number eight.)
Freddie: Polymer striker fired pistols in 9mm are the vast majority of the firearms used by students. Anecdotally, female students now comprise 30-40% of our classes. The Modern Technique has evolved to a balanced fighting stance. Pistol-mounted optics are becoming much more common, with anecdotally 20-25% of students using them.
Q: For those taking 250 Pistol, we’re restricted to outside-the-waistband carry to reduce some of the complexities associated with a concealed draw. Once students move on in their training, concealment is allowed in class, and in some cases encouraged. Does Gunsite allow appendix carry in classes where concealment is permitted?
Ken: Our experience has been that while building the foundation of the Modern Technique, the OWB holster is safer and better to use. The principles you learn apply to IWB of any type. Once you have successfully completed 250 Pistol, we allow IWB, including appendix. Having said that, if the student shows a propensity to be unsafe (i.e.: holsters with finger on trigger), we will require them to use OWB. We also offer courses in “Pocket Pistol” and “Tactical Concealed Carry Pistol.”
Freddie: 250 Pistol is restricted to OWBs. Follow-on classes are at the discretion of the Rangemaster, based on demonstrated ability of the student.
Q: This was a question I had personally before making my way to 250 Pistol earlier this year. Being a five-day course, I assumed Gunsite was pretty much restricted for serious shooters only. What would you say to newer shooters who were thinking about attending class at Gunsite?
Ken: Gunsite has never been restricted to experienced shooters. All start with the same program, whether experienced gun fighters or one of the eight million new gun owners. One of the nice things of new shooters is that they have fewer bad habits for us to break as they learn the Modern Technique. Experienced or novice, we will make you stronger as you learn to fight with your pistol, carbine, shotgun, etc.
Freddie: The 250 Pistol is a great course for a beginner, intermediate, or experienced shooters. I estimate 25 to 35% of our students in a 250 Pistol are beginner shooters. I definitely recommend the 250 Pistol for new shooters.
Q: When people talk Gunsite, I typically only hear about handguns, and the occasional scout rifle course. Tell us about some of the other offerings that people might not be aware of.
Ken: Gunsite has had a full curriculum of courses of multiple weapon systems for decades. We teach various levels of pistol, carbine, rifle, shotgun, precision rifle and more. We also have an excellent tactical medicine course, edged weapons, multi-weapon, and hunter prep.
We encourage folks to visit our website (www.gunsite.com) and see the complete listing of our courses instructed by the best instructors in the business. Sounds pompous, but when we can deliver, it is no brag, just fact.
Freddie: Originally American Pistol Institute had class designators based on college level courses; ie for pistol 250, 350, 499. Early on Jeff added Shotgun 260, Rifle 270, and Carbine 223. In all of those cases Gunsite was the first school outside of military or LE to offer those classes.
As a matter of fact the 260 and 223 classes are the genesis for the shotgun and carbine programs for most of law enforcement and the military. Gunsite offers classes for almost every shooting endeavor, as well as edged weapons and combatives.
Q: In the oversaturated training “community” that exists today, what makes Gunsite Academy stand out from the crowd as a place to come learn?
Ken: Gunsite is the world’s largest and oldest privately owned firearm training facility. While the military and law enforcement have been training longer, our “bread and butter” is citizens.
With our 47 years of experience, we continue to lead in offering the best training to clients such as the CIA, Special Operations Command, various federal agency special units, major law enforcement special units, celebrities, personal security details and more. Train where the masters learned.
Freddie: It’s the quality of the instructors. All are very experienced with military, LE, and hunting backgrounds. They also typically seek out training outside of Gunsite from top tier non-Gunsite instructors for professional development.
The square ranges offer turning target systems that typical square ranges don’t which challenge students with both auditory and visual stimulation for reaction and action.
Outdoor and indoor simulators or challenging outdoor steel targets hidden by cover and concealment forcing students to move tactically to engage and the shoot houses with targets forcing students to move tactically and decide if they are shoot or no shoot.
Q: Are there any other myths or misconceptions about Gunsite that you’d like to clear up?
Ken: We have heard the various comments on the internet (as our late instructor Pat Rogers called it, not the information superhighway, but the disinformation cow path). When we look to the source of the comments, 99% of the time it’s someone who has never attended Gunsite. It used to frustrate and aggravate me, but now I just shake my head and feel sorry for the person posting it.
Take a class at Gunsite. If you truly apply yourself and come in my office on Friday afternoon and convince me you learned nothing, I will reimburse your tuition. That is a check I really don’t have to write.
Freddie: Gunsite isn’t a “Fudd” school that’s stuck in the past. It’s constantly evolving at a proper pace so as to teach time-tested techniques, not the fad of the month techniques that often die out.
The Rangemasters frequently discuss TTPs that we are seeing from our experience, students experience, and trusted instructors outside of Gunsite so that we can advance the art appropriately for the success of our students.
Gunsite is a fighting school not a shooting school, so sometimes TTPs that are successful on the competition “one-way range” don’t always apply on the “two-way range.” As instructors we do our best to sift through those and present what we believe will help our students prevail on the two-way range.
Hopefully that clears the air for those of you who haven’t made the pilgrimage to Gunsite yet. Are there any questions we missed? If you’re interested in training at Gunsite Academy, I recommend you check them out here.