50 Rounds on Target
If you read my “Growing Up on a Farm in Virginia” blogs you would know that I grew up with guns. About the age of 10, my father gave me a single-shot .22 rifle and taught me how to use it. As I recall, he was serious about gun safety, especially making sure that the gun was not pointed at any one nor in the direction of any farm animals or equipment. (He should have mentioned “buildings” too—-see my blog about the shotgun hole in the corn crib roof.) That is where I first heard “always treat a gun as if it is loaded.”
I was really spoiled regarding hunting and using a gun. I lived on that 500-acre farm, essentially surrounded by water. My father had a nice bolt action .22, two 12 gauge semi-automatic shotguns, a Winchester lever action 25-20 and a .22 revolver. Except for my .22 single-shot, these guns were in a gun cabinet at the lower house. If I wanted to go hunting or target shooting, I just selected the gun I needed.
In Air Force Officer Training School we were required to qualify with a Smith and Wesson .38 caliber revolver. After the safety class, we spent the afternoon on the range practicing and qualifying. With my experience on the farm, I was comfortable with the handgun. For many of my classmate, however, this was their first experience with a firearm. Several were visibly frightened of even handling the weapon.
After leaving the Air Force, I rarely had an opportunity to go hunting or do any shooting. One of my closest friends, John, who went into the Marine Corps about the same time I went in the Air Force, became something of a gun collector and shooting enthusiast. When I retired a year or so ago, he gave me a 9mm semi-automatic pistol as a retirement gift.
Living in a relatively remote area (at least from law enforcement) he felt, and I agree, that having a personal firearm available for self-defense was a good idea.
Not being familiar with a semi-automatic handgun, John and I scheduled some “familiarization time” at Elk River Training Center (ERTC), the local firing range. I have returned to the range several times to improve my skills.
ERTC teaches several handgun and rifle courses (they also have an archery course and a five-stand clay pigeon shooting range). I recently signed up for, and completed, the Handgun Safety Course required for Tennessee’s Concealed Carry Permit. It was clear to me that this was something I should do as a responsible handgun owner.
Billy Powell was our instructor. Billy is Chief Deputy of the Marion County Sherriff’s Department with more than 17 years of law enforcement and firearms training experience, including as a law enforcement academy firearms instructor and a State of Tennessee Certified Handgun Instructor.
Prior to the class, chatting with Billy, it was clear he is easy going, good humored, and knowledgeable. His instructional method was upbeat, positive, and thorough, but it was also clear that he was “deadly” serious about firearm safety and ensuring that the eight of us in this class understood our responsibilities as gun owners and permit holders. His years of experience also allowed him to relate a number of real-world examples of good—and sometimes not so good—gun handling.
The course consisted of three-plus hours of classroom instruction and discussion plus time on the firing range. By the end of classroom time, Billy had engaged each of us directly with questions and discussions.
After a lunch break, we headed to the firing range. Since there were eight of us, we divided into two groups of four for live fire training and qualification. Billy was assisted by ERTC facilities manager and instructor Lavon Meyers.
The outdoor range set-up is really very simple. Shooters stand on a covered concrete platform. Targets are mounted on cardboard on moveable supports. Each shooter’s stand is separated by transparent curtains. The curtains prevent ejected semi-automatic casing from striking fellow shooters on either side.
The live fire exercises involved shooting 50 rounds, gradually increasing the range from three, to six, and then nine yards. Qualification required at least seven of ten shots hitting the target in the silhouette area at the nine-yard range.
The Billy and Lavon observed each shooter, including not only safety procedures, but properly holding the weapon and other suggestions that resulted in consistently more accurate shooting. They offered helpful suggestions to everyone. The lady to my left, shooting a revolver, put 48 rounds tightly grouped in the center of the target. Billy’s advice, “I’m not sure what you are doing, but keep on doing it!” Everyone in our class qualified successfully on the range.
With the shooting completed, we returned to the classroom to complete a brief test on the academic part of the course. The combination of True/False and multiple choice questions covered every aspect of the course. But the course presentation was sufficiently thorough that everyone completed the test and the course successfully.
My Take Away
Although I had fired my weapon under the knowledgeable supervision of my friend, the professionally taught course revealed much that I did not know, and greatly improved my knowledge and understanding of handgun laws and my personal responsibilities. Also, on the range, my weapon jammed a couple of times. This was actually good, since I was not sure what to do. The instructors showed me how to safely clear the jam and continue shooting. I completed the training with a sense of accomplishment and confidence that I could handle my weapon safely and shoot accurately. Our instructors also emphasized and recommended a program of continuing practice to add to our experience—basically, self-directed training and requalification. Much of this practice does not require firing the weapon. ERTC also offers courses in advanced firearms skills.
For more information on gun safety training go to: