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No matter what level shooter you are, a basic pistol course is a good way to reinforce the fundamentals and iron out some of those bad habits you’ve picked up along the way. It’s also a great way to learn how to use a gun for the first time. I ran across the Use Of Force Academy (UOFA) at the Dulles Gun Show a few months back, who run a training facility just across the border in Romney, West Virginia. They invited me out to their facility to do some training, which I did this past weekend. Here’s what I thought.

The Use of Force Academy usually runs a 3 day pistol course, which includes night shooting, simunition training, and a few other bells and whistles. It also claims to satisfy the training requirement for concealed carry permits in West Virginia, Virginia, Florida (with notarized affidavit), Pennsylvania, Ohio, North Carolina, and South Carolina. The course I took was only the first day of that standard 3-day course. From the course description:

Defensive Pistol I is an introduction to the defensive pistol and its use. Fundamentals are established and safety rules ingrained. Presentation from the holster, fixing stoppages (malfunctions), and after action drills are just a few of the skills taught in this course. Training for real life encounters is conducted on our live range and our Force on Force range. This course qualifies the student for Concealed Carry License/Concealed Carry Permit. This is not a classroom based course. The focus is on operating the pistol to prepare the student for real life encounters.

They really meant it when they said that the course isn’t classroom based. The course I took in Chantilly, VA to qualify for my concealed carry permit was a good solid 8 hours of classroom instruction on the justification of the use of force and then 60 rounds of live fire. With the UOFA, the classroom instruction only took about an hour. They covered the basics of how a handgun worked, the basic safety rules, and then straight out to the range.

The UOFA facility is located just off a bend in a rather sleepy back road and is very easy to miss. Heck, I missed it the first time I drove past. At first blush the facility seems a bit ramshackle, with the classroom being in a small cabin and similarly of small size. But, as they say, don’t judge a book by its cover. Just down the dirt path was a set of ranges that were both better maintained and more suited for pistol training than the Weapons Training Battalion’s ranges aboard MCB Quantico. Range 1 was a standard flat range set up for live fire, but Range 2 boasts a “shoot house” and car for simunition training.

The first part of the day was all about basic pistol handling. There was one person in the class who had only once fired a gun before, but the instructors did a good job of getting him up to speed and on target fast. For the more advanced shooters they rapidly increased the pressure and the difficulty of the drills to make sure that everyone was being challenged.

As it shook out I was the best shot in the class so they started giving me some, erm, “special attention.”

Trying to hit a target when you’re having trouble reading the number is annoying, but doing it while your instructors make fun of your sluggishness and pelt you in the back of the head with spent brass is downright infuriating. But in a good way. The ability for the instructors to tailor the class to meet the individual student’s needs was downright impressive, whether it was ramping up the difficulty for the advanced shooters or emphasizing the basics for the beginners. They did it in a way that walked the thin line between critique and criticism, giving instruction without making the student feel as if they had done something wrong. Comparing back to the OFWG that taught my certification class it was night and day.

It became rapidly apparent that the emphasis in their training is self defense — drawing from (theoretical) concealment, engaging a threat, and then assessing the situation once the threat is no longer an issue. Some of the steps are familiar to those who have watched the Magpul pistol course videos, but the after action drill is drastically expanded. Case in point, this is the only training I’ve ever done where the last step before reholstering is to physically pull out your cell phone and mock dial 911. The instructors even stood behind us and occasionally pretended to be a 911 operator. It was strange, but for their chosen scenario it was logical and beneficial.

I do have a couple major complaint about this course. With most training courses, safety is the #1 concern. It’s treated almost like a tenet of firearms ownership, something to be adhered to at all times. Little things like no one being forward of the firing line while someone is using a loaded firearm. Well, the UOFA had other ideas about that. Their Tueller Drill, for example, starts with one of the participants well forward of the line.

I’m a bit of a stickler when it comes to safety. Not that I wouldn’t enjoy a chance to practice my trauma skills on a live patient, but there’s something about the phrase “primum non nocere” that sticks in my mind. As Murphy will tell you, anything that Can happen eventually WILL happen, especially bad stuff. I mean, just look at George Lazenby’s Bond career. In order to keep everyone’s blood on the insides that means minimizing the possibility of accidental shootings. Which means putting in place as many hurdles as possible to keep accidental shootings from happening, including not handling weapons while people are downrange. Especially since this course is billed as a beginner’s pistol class I would have thought the instructors wouldn’t have played quite as fast and loose with the standard rules.

They asked me to participate in this particular drill. I refused, believing it was unsafe. They didn’t press the matter and class continued.

The other major complaint I had about this course was that there was no structured discussion of the use of force. It was briefly mentioned (and outlined on the back of their business cards) but not to the extent I expected. One would think that an academy that calls itself the “Use Of Force Academy” would have something about, you know, the use of force and when it’s justified. While the 8 hours of classroom instruction in my previous course was mindbogglingly boring at least it went over the finer details of “disparity of force” and “duty to retreat.”

According to the instructors they were in the process of splitting up their standard 3 day course into easier to swallow 1 day chunks and the use of force lecture usually happens with day 2 (a subsequent class), but nevertheless they issued a certificate at the end of the first day that satisfies the requirements for training in a good number of states for concealed carry permits.

In general I found the Use Of Force Academy’s pistol training to be some of the best range time I’ve ever spent. The training was fantastic and the drills they taught me will help me continue to improve as a shooter. With the exception of some safety issues it was an excellent class. Not something I would necessarily recommend for beginners, but if you’re looking to improve your skills this (especially for self defense) this is a great place to start. There are other courses available as well, which go into “force on force” simunition training and other topics.

Use Of Force Academy Level 1 Pistol

Prerequisites: None
Round Count: 300-350 FMJ ONLY
Holster: Non-SERPA strong side OWB. Must retain shape without pistol inserted.
Time: 9-10 Hours
Cost: $150

Ratings (Out of 5 Stars):

Technical Instruction: * * * * *
Even the guy who had never fired a pistol before that week was running his gun with the best of us by the end of the day.

Safety: * *
I had some issues with safety. People shouldn’t be downrange of the firing line, it’s just inviting disaster. On the other hand at least they didn’t ask me to point a gun at a living person, so it could have been worse. And yes, I’ve heard of a class where that happened.

Facility: * * * * *
There aren’t many places on the East Coast that have a facility like this.

Overall: * * * 
It’s no Frontsight Academy, but if you’re looking for a good training class close to home on the East Coast this would be a good one to check out. My safety concerns are the main reason for the lower score, so if that’s not an issue for you tack on another star.

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  1. You said “they issued a certificate at the end of the first day that satisfies the requirements for training in a good number of states for concealed carry permits.”

    Could you expand on this a bit? Which states?

    • Sure. The course satisfies the requirements for:

      West Virginia
      Florida (with notarized affidavit)
      North Carolina
      South Carolina

      I’ll update the review to include that information as well.

      • That’s interesting, because I was really sure that Ohio required the “use for force” lecture for their cert. I guess my instructor just thought it was a good idea.

  2. I attended the 3-day course earlier this year. I’d say it was about 25% classroom and 75% range time. Some of the lecture was done while the students ate lunch in the classroom to increase range time. It was very effective for me. Use of force topics were covered thouroughly and case studies were reviewed. For a course that can accomodate any student from a beginner to a veteran, this course cannot be beaten. We did not do the knife drill, but the four basic safety rules were clearly stated and vigorously enforced. I would rate the course with five stars, and the instructors and facility with four stars. I have and will continue to reccommend this course to everyone I can.

  3. I completed the three day course and would have to say that the alternatives and consequences (moral and legal) of using deadly force were clearly explained. Of course each state has unique language on the issue and students were directed to research the law in their home state. I took the basic CCW course years ago from another provider and the information provided by the Use of Force Academy was much more in depth and presented in a format that made it much more interesting. It was actually a nice break to get off the range. Also, I never had issues with safety and have recommended the course to other folks interested in personal defense.

  4. It was an excellent class. The facility was great and the instruction was sound. It was a perfect 1-day class for both new and more experienced shooters. For me, the class was a good review of some basic concepts but also introduced some new techniques and ideas. It was well worth the beautiful drive to West Virginia and I recommend it to others who are looking for a positive training experience.

  5. I took the three day level one course in July and I agree with all the comments written by the other members that took the class. This class was great all around. I have a few of my personal comments:

    The instructors are superb. They do a wonderful job tailoring the class for veterans and for complete beginners. Our class had a good mix of both. My girlfriend, a beginner, also participated in the class with me. The first day she found the Glock 17 to be difficult to work with and she was easily frustrated by the experience. The instructors quickly identified the problem, pulled her aside and patiently worked with her throughout the day. By the second day, she was shooting just as well as everyone else in the class. There is no doubt that her success was due to the patience and competence of the instructors.

    I liked the class enough that both my girlfriend and I plan to sign up for their defensive handgun level two course! I would highly recommend this course to anyone. Don’t settle for the standard NRA class. Spend the little bit extra and you will thank yourself later.

    An aside: I found no part of this class to be unsafe. Maybe the author had a different experience than I but safety is always the instructors #1 concern.

  6. I completed the three day course in August 2010 and what an eye opening experience. The instructors are excellent, very alert to each student and very good at constructive criticism. I was already a CCW holder and avid pistol shooter, but until I completed this course with safety drilled in from the start and continuing til the end, the real life scenarios that create vital decision making, I could only hope if something bad had happened before this that I would have made the right decision. Now there is no doubt in my mind that I would, and that to me is priceless. I have recommended this course to a number of people and the ones that have taken it felt the same way after completeing it, an absolute must for anyone considering carrying or handling a gun.


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