Weaponcraft Wednesdays at Vance Outdoors

Weaponcraft Wednesday is a series of eight training/practice sessions conducted under the guidance of Vance Outdoors certified instructors that are designed to help individuals improve/maintain their tactical shooting skills

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Firearms classes taught by supposed firearms "experts" abound. Truthfully there are some really questionable classes out there and unfortunately it is very hard for those of you that are new to the shooting world to tell the unqualified folks apart from those who actually have the real world experience to back what they are teaching.

Trying to find quality instructors is a problem because unqualified instructors can make it sound like they have it all together. I recently heard from an individual from outside the State of Ohio who sent me an very nice letter about an article I had written. He sent me three different business cards, one of which was for his concealed carry instruction classes. As I read his letter, the warning flags about having been a "Navy SEAL" began popping up before the second page, and I realized in short order that I was reading a letter from a total "wannabe". Oh boy. The letter was discarded without further action, but it illustrates the problem. Where can a new or experienced civilian shooter find qualified instruction and training from people who are the real deal?

If you have read my columns for awhile, you may know that I have promoted firearms training classes from Vance Outdoors in the past-and its not just because I write for them. Its because I have dealt with Vance Outdoors and the folks who own and run it for all of my 38 year law enforcement career, and I know their integrity and the quality of the services and support that they provide. I know that they would not do anything to tarnish their reputations-particularly when it comes to the quality of training they provide at their Alum Creek training center.

I had the opportunity to sit in on a regular class that is quite popular for those folks who already have their concealed carry permit. It is called Weaponcraft Wednesday and I came away very impressed for a a number of reasons.

Weaponcraft Wednesday is a series of eight training/practice sessions conducted under the guidance of Vance Outdoors certified instructors (more about that in a moment) that are designed to help individuals improve/maintain their tactical shooting skills. It is a great idea.

The eight sessions cover different individual skill segments each week, and cost only $25 per session. While Vance's does not require that you take all eight training segments, it is highly recommended.

The sessions are arranged as follows:

  • Week 1- Draw and Presentation
  • Week 2-Diagnostics
  • Week 3-Reloads
  • Week 4-Malfunctions
  • Week 5-Single Hand Shooting
  • Week 6-Multiple Targets
  • Week 7-Movement
  • Week 8-Drills

I arrived for the Wednesday Night Week 3 "Reloads" session which began sharply at 6pm. The first thing that I noticed is that most of the students knew each other from the previous classes, and engaged in friendly conversation before the class. As an instructor, I know that class camaraderie makes for a great training session. 16 students were in attendance that night, which was just the right sized group for the range bay (3) reserved for the class. Too many students and less individual attention is not possible from the instructors, plus the range bay becomes too crowded.

The Weaponcraft Wednesday course is run by retired Ohio State Highway Patrol Lieutenant Mark Leach. I knew Mark while he was still at the Patrol, but had never seen him teach a class, even though I knew him to be a long time instructor at the academy. Mark was assisted by two other Vance Range Safety Officers.

It was obvious the students had great respect for Mark, and with good reason. He knows his stuff, and not only that, he knows how to teach it. As soon as he began the session, he called upon students to answer previous range safety rules he had drilled them on in the two previous class sessions-especially rules about "cease fire" and who can call it. The students had the material memorized, and gave what appeared to be near perfect recitations of the rules. Very impressive.

Speaking of drilling the students, Mark brings the OSHP Academy Drill Instructor experience with him, and these students respond very well to it. As I listened to him in class, and then on the range before the shooting started, I noticed his vocal qualities. I had the great honor in the past to meet the late R. Lee Ermey at the IACP and SHOT shows. If you ever had the chance to meet the "Gunny", you found that he was one of the nicest men around. On the range Mark had some of the same vocal qualities of the Gunny (without the profanity of Full Metal Jacket) as he demonstrated the techniques to be used during the session. It was pretty cool actually, and you knew he was fully in charge of the range. Having this kind of control is a critically import aspect of any range operation, and it was obvious that no one had any doubt that the safety rules would be strictly and rapidly enforced. There are plenty of ranges out there where that is NOT the case, and they are scary places to shoot-due to the dangers posed by students who are not under the control of their instructors and the tactics that are being taught.

Having a tightly controlled range doesn't mean that students don't feel free to ask questions or express concerns. On the contrary, Mark took time to answer any and all questions while going through his lesson plan and demonstration of the techniques in a professional manner. Any questions that came up on the range during live fire were answered either by Mark or the two capable range safety officers who helped monitor the firing line.

The class was scheduled to use up to 150 rounds per student, and the shooting started about 35 minutes after the class began. Too many classes are taken up by too much instructor talk and not enough shooting. Watching student progress it looked like 150 rounds were an accurate estimate. Mark made his points, reinforced them, and then had the students get to work taking them through each part of the advanced reloading process, after demonstrating the techniques using dummy ammunition.

It was interesting watching the students shoot. The targets used were Birchwood Casey Shoot N' See 2x18 inch reduced silhouette targets, rather than a full-sized silhouette. The distance starting out was around 15 feet. Using reduced size silhouettes encourages more accurate shooting-in the words of Mel Gibson in the movie The Patriot- "Aim Small, Miss Small". It is a good training concept.

The shooting actually occurred beyond the shooting stalls. Getting out of the stalls (which you normally can't do at Vance's or any other indoor range) under instructor control allows for better freedom of movement, plus it encourages 360 degree observation practice since there are no "blinders" on them like there is inside the stall.

There was a one female student in this particular group. Women seeking firearms instruction at Vance Outdoors don't need to feel that they need take a class taught by female instructor to feel comfortable in the learning environment. The female student was fully involved in the class camaraderie, and was part of the learning team. I watched her shoot. She was out shooting most, and I mean most, of the male shooters on the line, dropping round after round of the various firing stages through many of the same holes-chewing out the center of the target.

Weaponcraft Wednesday classes are designed around semi-automatic pistol users. I noticed a wide array of pistols in use by the students-all quality arms. There were SIG's, Ruger's, Glocks, Walther's and Smith and Wesson M&P's riding in their holsters. Surprisingly there were no 1911's that I saw. One student was using a reflex type electronic sight, while a couple of students had weaponlights affixed to their handguns. Most students were drawing from OWB belt holsters, which helps keeps things moving along. Deep concealment holsters would slow this particular segment of the class down, since the emphasis was on reloading technique.

Weaponcraft Wednesdays is simply a great class. The tactics taught were solid, the instructional delivery was great, and the student body did a great job and approached the course and training with seriousness and enthusiasm. $25 per course (ammo not included) is an amazing price, and students get all the bang for the buck (pun intended) they could ask for.

Weaponcraft Wednesdays is only part of an expanding list of shooting and self-defense classes available through Vance Outdoors. If you want to learn how to be a serious self-defense shooter, and keep those skills honed, I highly recommend the Weaponcraft Wednesday series.