Let me preface this by giving you a little background. I started serious firearms and tactics training as a civilian in 1997. I had been out of the military for several years (12th SFG(A)) and found that my martial skills were degrading to the point where I felt that I needed to tune back up. The civilian training market was still somewhat in its infancy as this was before most states had passed their citizen concealed carry statutes.

An old SF buddy of mine had just started a shooting school in Texas and invited me to attend his Basic Handgun course. I went, learned a great deal from him, and signed up for his intermediate and advanced courses. This started me on the path to citizen martial skills enlightenment. I sought out other instructors soon thereafter and before long, I was attending 2-3 courses a year. At that time, Texas was the mecca of training so I was spending a good deal in travel and training expense. I started as a serious student of the handgun, but I quickly began to enroll in carbine/rifle courses, shotgun courses, tactics courses, lowlight courses, precision rifle courses and combinations thereof. Not counting military schools, to date, I have attended over 40 such courses, all being from 2 to 5 days in length.

I have trained with the following, just to name a few: Paul Howe, Jim Smith, Pat McNamara, Mike Panonne, Ken Hackathorn, Jeff Gonzales, Tom Givens, Jason Falla, Steve Moses, Andy Stanford, Bennie Cooley, Max Joseph, Greg Hamilton, Pat Rogers, Chris Costa, Craig Douglas and several others, some of them multiple times.

All this is leading up to the main point of this article. In the last 20 years, I have learned a bit about civilian firearms and tactics instructors and instructing. Over the years, I have developed some thoughts and pet peeves when it comes to civilian training courses and instructors. All of the above instructors have been guilty of one or more of the following complaints, some much more than other, and some barely at all. So, you instructors out there, if you want me to spend my money with you more than once, pay attention.

1. Be prompt and on time, not only for the start of the class, but for all time hacks (break times, lunch breaks etc). Do not advertise a 8:30 am start time and show up at 8:45. Likewise, if lunch is from 12:00 to 1:00, be back before 1:00 to start the class promptly;

2. Be prepared. After the briefing on safety, emergency plans etc., the next question should not be "where are the targets"? You should have been to the range well in advance of start time so that the range could be prepared. If nothing in preparation has been done, it wastes a lot of time for the students to start hanging the initial targets or setting up steel. If you want help prior to the start time, let folks know. I always get to the range early so that I can assist in range preparation, if needed.

3. Teach your curriculum. If you have advertised a curriculum for the course, teach it. As a student it's very disappointing to have a very well prepared lesson plan, then the instructor fails to follow it or does not cover all things as advertised.

4. Give accurate round counts. I've been to courses that required 1,000 rounds only to shoot about half that, or worse yet, advertised as 500 round courses and run out half way through the course. It shouldn't be that hard if you have a well developed lesson plan. Yes I always bring a little extra, but when shipping ammo, or buying it locally, it can get very expensive.

5. Limit "war story time". I love a good war story as much as anybody, but frankly, I didn't pay a lot of money to listen to war stories. I have already researched your background and know quite a bit about your qualifications; hence the reason I've decided to give you my money. War stories are great for after training hours or social gatherings after training, but don't waste training time telling stories. Now, if you have a personal anecdote that will assist in helping students understand a technique or its use in a real world situation, then by all means incorporate that in to your training plan.

6. Put your cell phone away. I've seen instructors, with students on the line shooting, pacing behind them on his cell phone. You should be paying attention to the students and giving them instruction or correcting them as you see fit. This is getting to be bigger problem as of late. I understand that teaching citizen courses may not be your big money maker, but at least give the students your attention during training time. Students standing on the line waiting for the next drill shouldn't have to wait for you to get off your cell phone to start the drill.

7. Vet your students. I understand there is a motive to fill up courses ($$), but if you're advertising a course requiring prerequisites, or "advanced" courses, figure out a way to insure your students have the right qualifications. On more than one occasion, I've seen instructors forced to spend a great deal of time with students that didn't have the requisite skills in an attempt to get them up to speed. This detracts from the course and from those students who do have the skills.

8. Change out targets frequently. Nothing is more disappointing that shooting at a target and having no idea where you're hitting. Nearly all the former military instructors I've had (Delta/CAG) mark or paste targets after every drill and each of them emphasize the need for feedback for every shot fired. Targets are cheap, paper is cheap.

9. Coordinate with the course organizer. If you have traveled to a place for training, make sure the course organizer knows what you expect of him and what the requirements are for the course (range size, length, targets, medical etc). I attended one course on a range designed for about 8 shooters and we had 21 students. We were literally shoulder to shoulder on the firing line. The instructor was "surprised" by the insufficiency of the range, but he made do with what he had. You shouldn't be surprised by anything when you step on to the range. I also attended an "Intermediate Range" carbine course that ended up getting shot on a 100 yard range. Seems the course organizer failed to coordinate with the range owner and he ended up booking the long distance range for another event.

10. Limit your class sizes. I attended a course once with 21 students, far too many for even the best of instructors. You cannot pay enough attention to all the students with this many. Invariably, you end up spending a lot of time with a few of the poorer quality shooters and end up spending little to no time with your better shooters. In addition, in another course, we shot an evaluation course of fire that was about a 50 round COF with target changes required for each stage. This took a great deal of time and before it was done, the entire afternoon was spent and the instructor didn't have enough time left to complete his lesson plan.

11. Finally, make sure the students know what’s expected of them with respect to brass pickup, range tear down etc. Many times I’ve looked around after the course is over and there are only a couple guys picking up brass or doing all the tear down work while everyone else has either left or is in the process of leaving. Finally, if it's a "lost brass" range, don't ask me to pick it up.

These have been my observations having spent the last 20 years deeply involved in citizen training circles. I have not seen any of these issues getting any worse with time, but these issues keep cropping up again and again. Readers of this article may have similar or vastly different experiences. or may even have had problems that I haven't. My intent is not to knock any instructor or school, as I would gladly train again with any of the instructors I named above. Training tuition and fees, ammo and travel are expensive, trainers and instructors need to learn how to maximize the learning experience and provide the best instruction that they can and eliminate unnecessary distractions from their courses.


Does not pass up an opportunity to criticize P&S.
Have a what if shit happens plan.

Went to a class where it was discovered on T1 that we couldn't start live fire until noon on T2 (2 day course). Instructor brought sim weapons and rounds and ran an impromptu 4 hour block on single person room clearing. It was a surprise but he handled it superbly.


Regular Member
Good points. I've got 11 days of classes between a few instructors and numbers 1, 7, 8, and 10 were all lacking in one of the two day courses. Dude was probably the biggest name I've trained with too.

Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk


Great info.

I would like to hear the counterpoint to this as well.

From a seasoned an instructor, what chronic things do they see from their students that inhibit the flow of classes they are teaching?

Not a rant from some grizzled instructor but a constructive/helpful list like the OP has compiled.


Thank you for your observations. I've attended enough professional training classes to recognize every point you are making. Given how much money we pay for these classes, every single point you make should be strictly adhered to.


Great info.

I would like to hear the counterpoint to this as well.

From a seasoned an instructor, what chronic things do they see from their students that inhibit the flow of classes they are teaching?

Not a rant from some grizzled instructor but a constructive/helpful list like the OP has compiled.

I'm pretty sure experienced students could provide that list as well, but that is a separate thread, I'm sure, but ... (zeroed weapons, enough ammo, firearms ready to go, get your stuff together before you arrive).
One thing to consider, especially in terms of the class breaks, specific drills covered, etc. is that the environmental conditions (heat, humidity, cold) and the student's responses to those, may require on the fly adaptation. If the instructor calls for a 10 minute break, but notices that a portion of the class is not looking good at the 10 minute mark, they'll be smart to stretch that break.

This is especially important in highly physical classes such as ECQC, what I've seen of the VCQB course, etc. Yes, a student should be self-aware enough to pull out when they start feeling poor, but it's also up to the instructor to monitor the class and make that call for people who aren't willing to do it themselves.

This will also help keep other students from getting to the point that they have to be pulled off the line. Even if a dude recovered fully, can you imagine the shitstorm that would ensue if an instructor "let" him become an environmental casualty?


Military schools are a good alternative to conventional education. The biggest difference with military schools is that there is an integration of military principles in the curricula. Despite this, military schools, like other traditional schools, strive to prepare students for lifelong success.