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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.

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  1. I don’t mind the Wilson product, as I own a few and I am pretty happy with the quality. However If I were to buy another semi custom high endish 1911 I would probably do Nighthawk, might even get one of their hi-powers. My problem with Wilson isn’t personal, but it certainly was for a good friend of mine. He owns a local outdoor gun range near where I live, and is a world class competitive shooter. He competed here in the early IDPA days when Bill Wilson was super involved in it. He had nothing but bad things to say about the man. My friend claims that they deliberately lost his score cards on multiple occasions, and they tampered with his scores. He called them out on it and they permanently banned him from IDPA. Getting a Bill Wilson ban was the death bell for a competitive shooting career back in his day apparently. So my friend went on and competed in South America and won numerous awards. He is the best shooter I know. He gets paid 1000 bucks an hour to train military special forces guys how to shoot a pistol. Anyway, he does not like the WIlsons at all. He said Ryan in particular is a real piece of work. Apparently he is or was an alcoholic and a habitual day drinker, and he had to have people blow in his breathalyzer starter so he could go drive around drunk. Apparently at some point he got into a bad DUI collision and tore some poor woman’s leg off. Old Bill made sure he never saw the inside of a jail cell. My friend wouldn’t lie about such things, he encouraged me to stay away from the clan. Apparently Bills’ first wife did just that when she left and made Nighthawk. Take this info however you want to, I am just putting it out there, no harm intended. I believe people should have the right to know what kind of people they might be doing business with.

    • I dunno about his character

      But i sure dont care for his guns

      If i’m buying a semi-custom single stack range toy, it’d be Ed Brown or Nighthawk any day

      For serious competition, SVI all the way, Brazos is also awesome.


  2. Good stuff Jon. Now I’m going to have to try that 5X5 drill and see how I do.

  3. [In reference to the 5×5 video linked in this story.]

    Not to be a dick here, the shooting is impressive but I don’t really see it as particularly useful. Not that I have a problem with the drill but I get tired of these people who shoot very impressively and then you find out they have a custom or semi-custom gun that costs thousands of dollars that is rigged for speed/competition.

    Again, I’m not saying their skills are unimpressive, I’d just find them more impressive and more realistic if they used a base model gun. I get the whole “What’s more valuable a few grand or your life” argument but the vast majority of people are not going to what amounts to a tricked out competition gun on a daily basis. Some people do I’m sure, but the vast majority of gun owners and carriers are not going to do that.

    Again, it’s impressive but it’s not, IMHO, very practical. The same way these people talk about “practical practice” when they’re putting 1000’s of rounds out a week. Not many people can afford to do that.

    • The 5×5 is primarily for use with your EDC, not a race gun. Almost everyone in the class was using their EDC, and both Ryan and Bill ran it with their carry guns, neither of which were full size Government 1911s.

      • He’s using a Wilson Combat (semi custom) pistol that starts at $1195. That’s basically $1200 and $1200 for a 9mm is getting into the realm of ridiculous. It’s more than $400 more than a regular 92.

        That might be his carry gun, but it’s way more than most people spend on their EDC pistol. In fact it’s double (or more) the cost of many common carry guns.

        Now, Wilson Combat says this thing has a trigger job done to it in house before it’s sold and comes with different sights than your standards 92/96. That trigger job is likely a pretty big deal for most people.

        I’m not trying to crap on the guy here, I’m just pointing out that his gun is expensive and customized to make it easier for him to do what he’s doing. Since most people are not going to carry such a device, it’s a little obnoxious to basically use a professional shooter firing such a gun in what amounts to advertising.

        • That video is a professional shooter paid by Wilson Combat to shoot, shooting Wilson’s gun in an instructional video by Wilson Combat. Of course it is a commercial, but how is that obnoxious? Should he have been shooting someone else’s gun?
          As far as a $1200 9mm being ridiculous, different people have different standards. I have 2 Wilson 92s, an FS and a G, and they are bargain basement fire sale cheap compared to my EDC.

        • @jwt
          A wilson 92 is fire sale cheap compared to your EDC?

          What’s your EDC if you dont mind?

          I’ve never had a gun that expensive that is reliable enough to trust my life on, though

        • An STI Duty One 4 LT in .45 with a lot of custom work done on it; finish, slide mill, trigger, grips, heine sights, etc. Well over 30,000 rounds through it now. For a test here, we put 2,000 rounds of mixed ammo through it with no cleaning, lube, or malfunctions of any kind.

        • I fail to see the point in carrying such an expensive firearm as your EDC. To me it makes no sense. The vast majority of people can’t afford to carry a gun like that, especially with the very high probability of losing it if you have to use it. Simply put, IMHO for an EDC gun, $1200 is overpriced. Other guns go bang just as well and 99% of people don’t have the time or money to put into shooting to get good enough to actually use a $1200 gun to it’s potential. That’s just my view of carrying a super expensive gun. Yes, I can afford it, but I’d rather put that money towards other things like bullets, powder, casings, primers and range time.

          What I find obnoxious about such advertising is that it’s the same BS you see in other parts of the economy. The not-so-subtle message is “You need this” aka “pay us a boatload and we’ll give you the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow”. There are an awful lot of gun and gun training companies out there that are just taking advantage of people when it comes to the prices that they charge.

          Sorry to say it, but your average gun owner isn’t as smart as most of TTAG’s readers seem to be. They believe hype. They think that $1200 pistol is going to make them a better shot and it’s not. They think they’re gonna be super badass if they pay thousands of dollars to have some retired military folks to teach them “spec ops secrets”.

          Again, just my opinion here, but this sort of thing just feeds the mall-ninja tomf&^kery that’s become so common these days. It’s only contributing to the number of people out there who really aren’t thinking because they’re waiting on someone to tell them what to do (someone who may or may not know) or the next piece of $1000 gear that will do it for them when they could be spending that time and money figuring it out via research and experimentation. Just look at all the idiots on some gun websites who only talk guns but never talk about medical and then say things like “Well, I’m not gonna get shot”. Um… hello, you’re the one talking about gunfighting tactics and guess what happens in gunfights? People get freaking shot!.

          I for one, would just like to see a return to some level of sanity in the gun world where not everything is about who owns the most expensive this or who paid what guy a ton of money for that. If you want to spend a ton of money on a “carry” gun, fine by me, but in my experience most of the people who do that are either collectors who don’t really intend to carry that thing, inexperienced people who think they can “buy experience” or fools.

  4. Bill is a fantastic instructor and runs a first rate training program. It is extremely professional. My personal skill level went up markedly. Bill’s not only running drills with you, he’s teaching you, watching people and correcting you every step of the way. His little explanations bring so much knowledge to the table.

    And- it’s not insanely priced. I would 100% endorse his course, and if he ever runs a beginner’s class, I’m shipping my wife to it.

    I was very impressed that Bill didn’t care what gun anyone was shooting- no comments about any manufacturer. You’re not going to feel bad about not having a Wilson….And, Bill’s very willing to let you shoot his guns.

  5. This is a perfect example why most reader comments are such a waste of time!
    It’s a well written personal account of a training class.
    The first post is a page long gossip piece attacking the Wilsons that has no relevance and contributes nothing.
    The subsequent posts, are either complaints of why do pistols have to be so expensive, unrealistic training videos, or a pissing contest to let everyone know that what you carry is so much better than (fill in the blank).
    Aside from contributor Paul, who actually commented constructively on the article, the rest of you sound immature and petty.

  6. For a (“semi”?)custom 1911 that is readily available over-the-counter, my Wilson Combat pistols have been fantastic. Other than that my Protector will not function reliably with Fiocchi 200-gr. JHPs or IMI ball with little-to no crimp, it has been flawless. All of my other (4) Wilsons work just as well (1996A2, CQB, Millennium 2000, and a 9x19mm CQB Elite). My son used my Protector for his 250 Youth Camp in 2015, so for his birthday in 2016, I took him to Gunsite for the GAS and presented him with his very own railed CQB Elite in .45acp. It ran flawlessly, too. I have had custom work performed by Wilson’s shop to my complete satisfaction, as well.

    My experiences with other high-end “semi”custom 1911s from the 2 other shops named after their owners whose initials are at the other end of the alphabet have not been so satisfactory. In fact, one needed two tries to even install an ambi. thumb safety properly on their 1911.

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