How to Succeed at Firearms Training Without Really Trying

Jeff Gonzales at The Range at Austin (courtesy

Courtesy The Range at Austin

There is nothing more frustrating or unsafe than chaos in a firearm training class. When you have eight to 16 people of various skill levels doing their own thing it can be a recipe for disaster.

Ultimately, it’s up to the instructor to maintain safety, discipline and a productive learning environment. But here’s what you can do to stay safe and get the most out of your class.

The Art of Listening

A training class should be fun, but you can’t multitask. At best, you can “switch task,” moving from one task to another. If you’re not fully engaged in one task, you might jump to another task at the exact wrong time.

There’s nothing more dangerous than a high risk live fire exercise performed by people who aren’t fully paying attention. Folks who’d rather load magazines, play with their gear or even socialize when they should be focusing entirely on an assigned task. 

Schmoozers and fiddlers put themselves and their classmates at risk. So don’t be either and listen closely to your teacher’s instructions.

Don’t feel like you have to be an “operator.” Move slowly, deliberately and sequentially in all things. But above all remember that firearms are a serious business. Listening is a serious business. Safety and learning demand that you take them both seriously.

Position yourself for success

Firearms instructors often provide important information to a group based on an individual’s question or performance. To learn from this technique, remember that it’s not all about you. You can learn a great deal from watching others and appreciating a simple idea: there but for the grace of God go I.

But first you have to be there.

If you can’t hear your firearms instructor, move closer and/or tell them to speak up. By the same token, If your instructor’s demonstrating a skill, move to the best position you can to observe.

As Mrs. Incredible would say, when you’re in a firearms class it’s time to engage

Realize that you don’t know

We say it all the time (I even put it on the gear list): bring an open mind to any firearms training class.

When people are mentally closed off, they fail to evolve. They end up having to listen to a re-brief or make the same corrections. Simply put, if you’re closed off to new ideas, techniques and strategies, don’t bother showing up. You’re just wasting your time and money.

No matter how much you know about a subject, remind yourself that you don’t know what you don’t know. And you can’t know everything.

Even if you’re familiar with a topic, keep an eye out and an ear open for a new twist. If you learn one new thing in a firearms class, it will be time well spent. It may even save your life.

Mind your manners

Some students feel compelled to constantly interrupt a teacher. Not to learn something new, but to establish their own expertise and/or dominance in the situation.

Don’t be that guy (and yes it’s mostly guys). Needless interruptions disturb the flow of the class, making it difficult for anyone to learn.

There are good firearms instructors and there are bad firearms instructors. But you can always walk away with something valuable from just about any class — provided you come to that class with an open mind and a positive attitude, ready to listen and learn.


Jeff Gonzales is a former US. Navy SEAL and preeminent weapons and tactics instructor. He brings his Naval Special Warfare mindset, operational success and lessons learned unapologetically to the world at large. Currently he is the Director of Training at The Range at Austin. Learn more about his passion and what he does at


  1. avatar Dale Menard says:

    I long ago learned that no matter how basic the instruction, I will learn something new. I have heard several instructors multiple times and I still learn new things.

    1. avatar I Haz A Question says:

      Exactly this. Every class and every instructor has lessons to teach and stories to tell. No two classes are ever the same.

      It’s as the saying goes: The more I know, the more I realize how much I don’t yet know.

      1. avatar Darkman says:

        Уходи Путин Тролль

      2. avatar I Haz A Question says:


        The correct word you should have used is “breadth” while trying to tell me I’m the one who’s the dummy.


        Это похоже на парня из «Слава Богу».

    2. avatar Don from CT says:

      I agree 100%.

      And even if its a class focused on the fundamentals, I end up being reminded that I’m taking a shortcut somewhere and I need to fix it. (NPOA??)

  2. avatar uncommon_sense says:

    So, don’t be a douchebag and you will learn. Sounds about right to me!

    1. avatar PMinFl says:

      That about sums it up.

  3. avatar Ron says:

    Always aim for the crotch.

    Every time.

    1. avatar Mark Kelly's Diapered Drooling Ventriloquist's Dummy says:


      Damn you!

  4. avatar Gadsden Flag says:

    The worst students I ever had were men who were only taking the class so they could get a CCW. Couldn’t teach them a thing. They had already seen every John Wayne movie ever made. The best students were new shooters. Usually women. Most often out shot their husbands/boyfriend. I never failed to mention that in front of the class. Petty of me I know. Still couldn’t resist.

    1. avatar edward kenway says:

      The first time I took my wife-to-be to the indoor range she did everything right the first time. She’d never handled a 9mm handgun in her life, and yes, her shot groupings were better than mine.
      It’s no surprise women make better students because they tend to listen well. I was a military instructor and saw it myself.

    2. avatar Ralph says:

      Most women that I’ve instructed have been good students. Why? My guess is that when it comes to guns, most women know what they don’t know and are open to instruction. Some men are good students, probably for the same reason. They are devoid of hubris.

      When it comes to shooting straight, women newbies sometimes outperform their male counterparts because they have good eye-hand coordination. Men can develop superior eye-hand coordination, but maybe women are born with good coordination. I don’t know.

      I used to watch my grandmother knit when she was sitting on my front porch. Man, those needles were flying too fast to follow. She never stabbed herself or dropped a stitch, even though she was in her 80s and had arthritis. Eye-hand coordination is a thing. I think she would have shot well too.

      1. avatar Curtis in Illinois says:

        Fine motor skills.
        Women have ’em. Men, not so much.
        Fine motor skills are required to pull a trigger without moving the gun in the process.
        My wife often makes smaller groups with a pistol than I do.

        1. avatar Yep says:

          Generalize much?

  5. avatar Goof da Virgin says:

    Your daily reminder that ‘Goof…PR’ has never known the pleasures of a woman.

    1. avatar uncommon_sense says:

      I have this unshakable feeling that commenters Goof and All Hail are the same person.

      1. avatar I Haz A Question says:

        I think you’re right.

    2. avatar Deliverance says:

      And what’s so wrong with embracing the love of a grown man?

      1. avatar Montana Actual says:

        Nothing when the lights are off.

    3. avatar Geoff "Ammo. LOTS of ammo..." PR says:

      “Your daily reminder that ‘Goof…PR’ has never known the pleasures of a woman.”

      My exes will be amused to hear that, incel.

      Did your mom put sand in your big jar of Vaseline in your basement again? Or itching powder in your shorts?

  6. avatar Mark Kelly's Diapered Drooling Ventriloquist's Dummy says:

    Only retards take a class over and over again, pay attention the first time then practice or ditch the gun and pick up something more your speed …..a rock perhaps.

    1. avatar Steve B says:

      I respectfully disagree. As one evolves into higher level classes, a lot of the time there is way too much information to learn during one class. For instance, I have taken a 3 day shoot house class multiple times and even with extensive note taking and practice, I still could take it over and over again and still fail to remember everything.

      1. avatar I Haz A Question says:

        Yup. I’ve been in the shoot house three times as well. Twice during the day, and once at night. Never the same.

    2. avatar Darkman says:

      @ Mark Kelly’s Diapered Drooling Ventriloquist’s Dummy
      Pìgu jù mó xiāoshī

      1. avatar edward kenway says:

        Pee goo.

        That’s all the Pidgin I had to see to laugh out loud.

  7. avatar GS650G says:

    I looked forward to the firearms training days in the military, we had annual class and quarterly target practice. The Karens and the Chads dreaded it and were so uptight. The CAMS instructor had to group them together so he could keep an eye on them and stop them from shooting the ground or each other. Us gun nuts would gather at the other end and try to out do each other on the scorecards.

    I wish we had cell cameras back then, priceless images.

  8. avatar Joseph says:

    Reading comments on TTAG is like sitting around with a bunch of old widow women.

    1. avatar Old Widow says:

      Oh Joseph,
      You would know about old widows because you come over every night to pound my wrinkly old catchers mitt. You need to stop trying to meet women at assisted living facilities, you dog you.

    2. avatar Montana Actual says:

      Did you know they made a movie about Mr. Rogers? There is still hope in this world.

  9. avatar Montana Actual says:

    I take a lot of classes. I learn something new every time. I actually have a rifle class at 6 today, and a couple first aid classes next month. I really enjoy the first aid stuff, because even from the training I got in the military, it never seemed like enough. Although, it’s funny how when SHTF how it’s muscle memory all the sudden. You can pop quiz yourself every day, and train every day, but you never know what situation will take place and how you will act until it happens. Adrenaline is a crazy hormone. Hardest thing I have ever dealt with.

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