If you’re open to it, you can get a lot of individual attention at Bill and Ryan Wilson’s Intermediate Pistol Course. There were at least two instructors present and watching the line during the entire course. Usually Bill and Ryan. For most of the second day, Joyce Wilson and some other great shooters were on hand to help. Every once in a while, someone will get called out in front of the class to work on something specific, and used as a teaching moment for everyone . . .
Like when students experienced the most common malfunction of any kind: the failure to feed another round because the magazine isn’t fully seated. Bill recommended getting into the habit of pulling down on the magazine once you’ve slammed it home, to make sure it’s really in there.
I asked Bill, Ryan and Joyce a lot of questions. Some of them must have been annoying as hell, like “are you aligning the dot on the front sight or the top of the sight?” Yeah, I know, that’s a really stupid question. All the instructors took the time to answer me, explaining the reasons behind their advice.
Same for non-shooting-related questions. I asked Bill all about the founding of Wilson Combat, and why he got into shooting in in the first place.
Bill’s loved shooting since he was a little kid. He started competing early. He went to school to become a watch and jewelry maker, and then started seriously competing in pistol shooting.
Like many successful entrepreneurs, he wasn’t happy with the quality of the tools he was using. He figured that if he could make a watch, he could smith a gun. And he was right. Soon people were asking him to make their guns.
Back then, there wasn’t much money in it, but he enjoyed the work. Bill said that he committed to making guns full time when he realized that he could starve making watches or starve making guns, and he’d rather make guns. And now, well he’s not starving.
I learned a lot about my own shooting. Some things I already knew. First and foremost, my left hand shooting still really sucks. I’ve had all of the tendons and muscles severed on my thumb and first two fingers of my left hand (pig hunting); it’s going to be hard to get over that problem. There’s some left-handed and single-handed firing in this course, but not much. Bill recommends that about a third of your training time should be spent on single-hand drills, to include your weak hand as well.
Also, my simple standing and firing is not very good at all.
I’ve said it before: this is a kind of shooting I just don’t do. I don’t often practice standing still and firing. I’m always either kneeling, crouching, crawling or sitting behind cover; or I’m moving.
So how did I perform? I did very well when moving and shooting. I shot more consistently on target while shooting behind a barricade than I did when standing in front of the targets at the same distance. But it’s not just that. Since I spend so much time shooting and moving, and so much time shooting at night, I’ve been cheating and allowed myself to consider what is unacceptable accuracy as good enough.
Bill wants me hitting a 7″ circle at 15 yards in fast fire while walking. I was happy hitting the silhouette at all like that. I was hitting the silhouette, but not consistently in the circle. I got lazy with those sights, and was pretty much just point shooting. You will perform how you train, and I’ve been training to a sub-par standard.
Bill either has 1,000 drills in his head or he’s really good with coming up with new ones on the spot, and this course is one drill after the next.
In general, Bill is big on creating drills that challenge and test multiple skills with as few rounds as possible. I was surprised at how few rounds Bill shoots in a session, but his emphasis is on efficiency in training, not rounds downrange. Bill recommends no more than 150 rounds per shooting session, and anything more than 300 rounds a day you are just making brass.
For this course, after just a couple of rounds on the line shooting at 10 and 15 yards, you start scored drills. The second drill is a general competency drill: the 5X5 handgun drill.
Unlike everything else for this course, I ran this drill just like I’ve done it at home, and scored well enough to put me in the Expert class. (Frankly, I suspect a printing error). Bill and Ryan, Ryan being slightly faster, ran it in the low 14s, and that seemed blazing fast. The idea that some people are doing this drill in the 11s is seriously humbling.
Bill and Ryan say they tailor the drills to the class make up. This is not a basic course. It’s assumed you can safely handle your firearm, understand how it functions and are proficient in basic shooting technique.
The first day consists of a series of drills that expose weaknesses in those techniques, and give you some ideas on how you can fix them. The second day is all about shooting on the move and shooting from barricades and at longer distances.
A good portion of this required you to remember courses of fire. Unless I have a while to visualize the entire course of fire in my head, I am just horrible at remembering complex courses and movements. I always have been. I can’t even remember what set I’m on in the gym, much less how many shots go into string 1 vs string 5.
This deficiency was revealed during one of the last scored courses of fire, where I had to shoot from a vehicle, jump out and shoot from under the bumper area, run forward and engage two targets on the move, run to a barricade and shoot two rounds into a hostage target, then engage six targets, each with two shots, at varying distances.
I was doing great — right until I got to the hostage targets. I didn’t realize it was so far away, but still, I put two rounds into the 50 yard silhouette. Yay me, except I was shooting at the wrong targets. Bill yelled “the paper, shoot the paper!” Without thinking, I drilled the closest paper target, two times fast, center mass.
Yay me again — except it was the hostage. I ran the rest of the course perfectly All clean except for the hostage stage. But that’s two shots down completely for hitting the wrong target since those are misses, then two more shots into the hostage. I knew it wasn’t going to be good when Bill said, “man, this is going to be ugly.”
But quickly switching your focus (not splitting it) to thinking about what’s next and doing the shooting is a real, and very valuable skillset. It’s just one I’ve always sucked at. Mark another deficiency in the inventory. Something to work on.
I tried a lot of different techniques over this course; that’s what courses are for. I’m always curious as to why people who go to firearms courses and insist on shooting the exact same way as they did when they showed up. I assume it’s out of the fear of performing badly in front of other people. But that’s what courses are for.
Wouldn’t it be great if we could make all of our mistakes in front of qualified instructors, and not at competitions and in the real world? My advice is, come with an open mind and ready to learn, and try out new things. If you don’t learn anything, it’s your fault; there’s a whole lot of information to absorb in those two days.
If there was a downside to the course, it is on that second day there can be some downtime while each person runs the different drills. How you use that downtime is up to you, as there is a separate area for drawing, dry fire, and weapons handling, and you can always use that time to pick the brains of the other students and instructors. Or you can sit and snack.
All in all, this was an outstanding course. I learned a lot, and got a solid evaluation and inventory of my skillset. I look forward to taking the course again, and I’d recommend it to anyone without hesitation.