Sentinel Concepts Handgun Employment AAR

Sentinel Concepts
Handgun Employment

Steve Fisher
February 22 & 23, 2020
Vortex Optics, Barneveld, WI
A lovely temperature at Vortex's indoor pistol bay
FN 509T with a 6 MOA Vortex Viper, Phlster Classic holster, Federal American Eagle 124gr 9mm
Student Background:
I’ve been working a gun counter for roughly 3 years, recently graduated from Pine Tech with a certificate in gunsmithing, farmer when I’m not selling guns. I spent 4 years as a USMC armorer. I've attended Steve Fisher’s Critical Handgun Employment, Progressive Pistolcraft and Low Light Pistol Fundamentals from Craig Burris of Tactical Training Solutions local to me here in MN, Critical Handgun: Tests and Standards with John Johnston, as well as Bullets On Vehicles at the Sig Academy.
I hadn't shot with any real seriousness for about 4 months leading up to the class because I live in Minnesota, the winter is inhospitable, and I despise any weather below 50 degrees. I also was adding a dot on an FN 509T to my stable for the class. I shot the class at Sig with a P320 with a red dot on it, but I didn't have a considerable number of rounds on a dot equipped gun, so I made two range trips before I went to class to ensure a solid 10 yard zero on my dot and to experiment more with a dot at speed.
There were 17 students in class with a make up of a fire fighter, several LEOs, a number of Vortex's employees, and a mixture of civilians.
TD1 Morning:
The class started with a discussion about the theory behind the class. I remember after I got done with the first class with Steve a few years ago he mentioned in one of his IG live streams that there were a lot of people that would show up to his level 2 Critical Handgun Employment not shooting at the level the class required and it would turn the class into a sort of 1.5 version. I am 100% guilty of being that guy. This class was centered around the core components of shooting the handgun, the priority being accuracy and mechanics, regardless of what your job or sport was or what level you came in shooting at.
We did a short intro on ourselves and let Steve know what we would be shooting. About a third of the class was using a red dot. We went over the safety brief and medical plan as well as other general safety guidelines e.g. there are no points for speed holstering. The safety brief was wrapped up with "Nothing here is stressful except what you put on yourself".
We cut over to the range to set up the target relay and kick off live fire with a discussion on what is actually relevant when shooting a handgun. Some of the topics I had in my notes from the last class I took with Yeti, such as pulling the shoulder blades together to set tension in the shoulders, but I had forgotten about rolling the elbows down to create tension in the lower portion of the grip. Sight management was the other portion of the initial range brief. "The whole perfect sight picture is bull shit. The sights have to be relevant to target and distance" is one of my favorite quotes from the beginning of the class. The sights give you a reference for the gun in space, but if you're shooting on an IPSC A zone you can get away with A LOT at normal USPSA match distances. You have to trust what you see and break the shot.
In my previous shooting with an MRDS I had noticed that the dot would generally track to about 1 o'clock under recoil and I found it slowing me down as I would try to shoot faster because I wasn't confident in where the dot would return to. Steve offered a super simple solution of flagging the right hand thumb away from the gun and out onto the knuckle of the left hand thumb like you would with one of the Sig classic line if you want the gun to lock back. This immediately had the dot tracking vertically and, when combined with the rest of the grip improvements, returning back into the window in the same place that it left.
Our first drill of the day was loading one round in the gun and firing one live and one dryfire rep to work through an initial warm up and allow Steve to get a feeling for where the student body stood. From there we rolled into a 5 round walk back to 15 yards and then a trigger velocity drill where you push our middle, ring, and little fingers off of the grip and using only your thumb and trigger finger to fire the gun. As I understood the drill, it was to help the student be more aware of how they are interfacing with the trigger and at what velocity they are pulling the trigger. This drill tied into sight management by relating sight relevance to trigger management. How you are interfacing with the trigger and, more importantly, what your grip is or isn't doing as you break that shot has as much to do with where that shot lands than do the sights.
TD1 Afternoon:

Post lunch was a rolling set of drills starting with work on cadence to work trigger speed and understanding for ourselves what feedback we needed from our sights before we broke the next shot. One handed shooting, which always seems to be a complete mystery to me. The wheels fall off every time. Some key notes in that block of instruction though were flagging the thumb high instead of pushing it into the grip, which seemed to help, and just choosing to either keep the same stance as freestyle or completely blade like a bullseye shooter. I played with both and neither seemed to dramatically improve my one handed shooting, although I do prefer to just maintain my stance from two handed shooting. When I would try and do something in between the two my groupings were consistently drifting as I began to fatigue in position. And finally wrapped the last major drill of the day shooting slow fire at 25 yards.
Steve debriefed us on the day, set expectations for day two, and asked each student what major take away they had from the day. That's something that he does consistently throughout the class and I find it extremely valuable. He does an excellent job of creating quick one on one conversations within the group setting that help students cement things that stood out to them, allows Steve to expound on themes as the students bring them up, and lets the other students learn from everyone else's individual epiphanies. A lot of my notes came from those school circles.
TD2 Morning:
We opened day two with a safety rebrief and a round table on other realizations we came to after we left the range the night before. Day two saw a number of the students switch guns, with a common theme being to a gun with a dot on top, making it about half of the students with red dot guns. The rest of the morning was used warming up, confirming or adjusting zeros, and working back through the lessons learned from the previous day.
I found that a common theme with the shots I dropped was allowing my right hand thumb to drift back onto the frame. When that would happen I noticed that there were other portions of my position that I had given up. So I started to say a mantra in my head running through each major portion of my position using my thumb as the trip wire to start the shot process; shoulders, elbows, hands, touch-press-roll. This proved to give me much more consistent accuracy and it helped me to maintain emotional control through the shot process.
TD2 Afternoon:

The last few hours of class Steve pulled us back to 50 yards. We shot 2 strings of 5 on an IPSC target and 2 strings of 10 on a B8 repair center, then took the confidence we hopefully gained at 50 and moved back up to 25. Creating that reference did help some improve their shooting at 25. Speaking personally though, there was a lot of fatigue beginning to set in and the wheels were starting to fall off for myself and others, which prompted Steve to move the class back up to the 7 yard line and shoot slow fire for X rings. The class did just fine at this, and his point was that it was all in our heads.
We did a final reproof of concepts at the 15 yard line before we gathered in a school circle for a final chat. This time was one more debrief of the class as well as a mindset discussion from Steve. He reiterated what is actually relevant to shooting the pistol, the realities when you put on a gun in the morning, he spoke to the LEOs in class about department training and policy, and dropped more quotes than I can repeat in one article. He closed out the class with "prioritize basics, know your skill and use range time to get better, and go to the range with a plan".
Final Thoughts:
I hope I did this class justice in my after action here. I could have honestly just written a list of out of context quotes and had a full article because Steve's classes are a constant stream of knowledge bombs. You can look in my notebook and see my handwriting degrade further and further as I'm trying to keep up and capture everything on paper that I can. If you only showed up to a Yeti class as a spectator you would still leave a better shooter.
I am in love with red dots on handguns and I'm predicting that by 2030 we'll see red dots on handguns like we do red dots on rifles. It greatly reduced my eye fatigue and gave me infinitely more feedback than irons do. As an epilogue for the Viper it did end up dying on me shortly after the class, probably somewhere in the neighborhood of 1300 rounds. Talking with Adam Maxwell over at Vortex it sounds like the 509 might be really hard on optics. It will be interesting to see how that plays out since we're demanding a lot more out of a much small optic, as compared to a rifle, living on a much more violent system. That will be a growing pain that the shooting industry will have to collaborate through.
I went into this class looking to use it to give a jump start to my pistol shooting since I had spent so much time off of the gun between the winter, college, and work. I walked away a measurably better shooter than I had been even before my hiatus. More importantly though I have
a much better understand and grasp on the specific mechanics that go into effective pistol shooting, which I can leverage to improve more effectively on my own or maintain my skill level more steadily.
If you haven't taken a class with Steve Fisher I would strongly encourage you to make it a priority. He has a very clear way of explaining and demonstrating the skill he is asking you to improve or execute, he has an answer to every question because he's worked through that question already experientially, and he brings a pelican full of awesome guns that you can try out or borrow. Make it a trip, his classes are more than worth a drive to get to. A notebook and an open mind will be the most effective tools you can bring to class, and there is no doubt in my mind that you will leave a better shooter.