There are a number of reasons you may be looking to take a rifle class:
- If you’ve purchased a new rifle and want to put it through its paces and learn how to use the new weapon right.
- You’ve had a rifle for years, but never got around to learning to operate it correctly.
- You are new to shooting and want to know how to use a rifle safely, responsibly, and effectively. (Hey, good for you. You’ll do okay around here.)
- You’re an advanced shooter, and/or an old war dog who wants to brush up on old skills.
- For fun. Rifle classes (or all gun classes in my opinion) are about the most fun you can have with your clothes on. Know that you’re not alone if you enjoy going to school after school, learning from industry experts. Nothing wrong with that.
- A carbine is in your defensive loadout in some form whether in your home, vehicle, or broken down in a bag/suitcase.
Whatever the reason for wanting to take a rifle class, this article should help explain some of the things to consider and help prep you in your next evolution of gun fighting.
What Level of Experience Do You Have?
If you are a beginner or its been a while since you’ve trained, don’t try to take advanced level training. You must be sure you can hang with the rest of the class before allowing yourself to advance. And, you must have a solid grasp on the basics before you should move on to more advanced tactics and techniques.
I strongly recommend taking a beginner class, going home and working weekly on what you’ve been taught, then go take the basic class again. Take the basic class as many times as you need to become an expert at the skills taught there. This is the class is where you build your foundation, and the stronger your foundation of fundamentals, the more quickly you will learn and retain more advanced skills. It’s the most important class you will ever take, so, make it count and don’t rush it.
You’ll thank me later, I promise.
Are you an advanced shooter? Don’t knock the fundamentals class! I know you have hundreds of hours behind the gun but pulling yourself back from the room clearing classes you had in mind and focusing on trigger control and accuracy is never a bad thing.
You might not have a choice. Most reputable shooting schools don’t allow new students into advanced courses unless they’ve already completed the prerequisite basic courses with their school. While this may seem like a money grab to milk the customers, there is a very good reason for this common rule:
You can’t have someone who doesn’t know what they are doing, participating in an advanced course like team-based room clearing.
Not only is it dangerous for everyone involved, a beginner will not be able to keep up and won’t learn anything valuable. You might have mountains of experience, but the instructors don’t know that.
Just suck it up, take the basic rifle class, then talk with an instructor at the end to see if they’ll sign off on forgoing the other prerequisites. If you can hang in the advanced courses, they’ll know because you’ll stand out like a beacon in the storm of confusion since you’ve already mastered the fundamentals. If not, they’re doing you a favor.
What Makes a Reputable Shooting School.
Be aware that, just because a shooting school exists, doesn’t mean you should trust your instruction to them.
Some things to consider when choosing the right school or instructors:
- Teaching experience. Pay close attention to their credentials and teaching. Don’t discredit someone without a military or LE background. There are a good number of qualified instructors who’ve never had to shoot someone.
- Have the lead instructors been instructors anywhere before? Who taught them? Why do they consider themselves experts in what they are teaching? Good instructors will have a ready answer and won’t mind saying. Stay sharp for any excuses.
- Read the reviews left by previous students. Weed out the whiners and pay close attention to well stated, and repeated concerns, and/or praises.
- It doesn’t do you any good to choose a school on the east coast when you live in California and aren’t willing to travel the distance. If you are, however, you have a lot more options open to you.
- Celebrity instructors. If you have an Instagram account and are in any way interested in guns, you’ve probably seen someone shooting fast and generally doing cool gun things. Many times, these people become famous in the gun community and travel all over the US giving classes. If this is the path you might be interested in, give them a follow and find out if they are the right one for you. And stay tuned to when they drop their travel dates and locations for your area.
What to Bring to Your First Rifle Class.
After you decide on the school and the right class for you, what should you bring? Having the right equipment will maximize your ability to learn so here are some important considerations. This is not the perfect list and yours might vary depending on your personal desires, but these are some of the most useful items to consider:
Probably the most important part about taking a rifle class is if you have a rifle to participate with in the first place. Using your grandpas lever action is better than nothing for home defense, but it might be difficult for you to keep up with the other students in the class if everyone else is running modern carbines. There are classes out there that instruct the use of less conventional home defense rifles, but these classes difficult to find because there aren’t many instructors teaching it.
Make sure it meets any requirements for the class. Different schools might have different requirements so check before purchasing the class that you have the required gear.
Check with the class outline to see what the round count is and plan accordingly. Bring a little extra in case you need it. Get some quality, but cheap range ammo. Quality, because you don’t want squib loads or duds messing with your training time.
A sling is to a rifle as a holster is to a pistol. It’s an important piece of gear and one you should have with you for the class. Not only does it keep your arms from getting tired, a lot of instructors will issue the “Let ‘em hang!” command. This is generally ordered after the completion of a shooting drill and it’s a safety technique, so student's hands are off guns during the instructional portion.
Make sure you have enough magazines, 5-6 should be enough. Bring more if you want but fill them up so you don’t have to waste time loading them during the class. Running back to your bag or car to load mags is a pain and eats up valuable schmoozing time with the instructors. It will make your life easier to have as many mags loaded as possible.
But, keep 1-2 mags empty and near you in case there is a specific round count for the drill. Then you can pull out a full mag, download the number of rounds required and load them into the empty mag, ready to go.
Rifle Magazine Pouch
Having a place to put your magazines is nice to have. You don’t have to purchase anything expensive like a plate carrier. I’ve seen everything from the most expensive, latest and greatest chest rigs, to cold-war-era cloth mag pouches. You could also purchase a belt mag pouch to carry a spare mag. Whatever you decide, a rifle class will help you understand your gear and you will be able to determine what you do and don’t like, and why.
This might not be essential, but it sure makes life easier, especially if you only own 2-3 magazines, or didn’t pre-load your mags the night before.
Cleaning gear should be a constant item in your range bag no matter what you are doing. It helps to keep your rifle running smooth and for fixing any minor issues which might otherwise stop your training, (like a loose nut.)
Electronic Hearing Protection
This, like the mag loader, isn’t essential but having electronic hearing protection is nice to have so you can clearly hear the instructors and maximize your learning. A decent pair isn’t that expensive and will generally run you between $30 and $50. If that’s too much, just make sure to bring what hearing protection you can afford, and it should be fine.
If you have anything that runs on batteries, bring extras for each type. Electronics have a tendency of letting us down when we need them most, so be prepared. Electronic hearing protection almost always gets left on after the last range day and by the time you get them out again, they’re dead. Optics usually aren’t too bad when it comes to this if you have a quality one, but it wouldn’t hurt to have extra for that as well.
Bring a snack and some water. You might not get the chance to eat during the class, but the snacks will come in handy on the car ride home. Make sure you are drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated. Every chance you can get, take a drink to stay on top of it, especially if running classes during the summer months so you don’t become a heat casualty.
A medical class should be high on your list of classes you want to take and having a medical kit on you is a great idea if you know how to use what’s in it. You can purchase a variety of IFAKs (Individual First Aid Kit) from different places and if you or someone else gets injured it could save a life. Having it clearly labeled helps for someone else to find and use it if they are helping you.
Some good items to have inside:
- Tourniquet. Know how to use it. My personally preferred tourniquet is the SOF-T. I’ve used it real world and I know it works, but the CAT and RATS tourniquets are also decent choices. Whatever you choose, ensure its TCCC (Tactical Combat Casualty Care) approved. Make sure to get the tourniquet from a reputable company. There are forgeries on the market coming out of China which will not work and could get you killed. They look exactly like the real thing, so purchasing from a reputable company like North American Rescue is a good idea.
- Combat Gauze. This is gauze with a hemostatic agent that causes the blood to clot more quickly in a wound. It works great to stop the bleeding, but again, you need to learn how to use it. It’s a little expensive but if you need it you’ll be glad you had it.
- Compression dressing. Know how to use it.
- Chest Seal. For penetrating trauma to the torso. Know how to use it.
- Mole skin, for blisters.
- Burn ointment in case hot brass gets in your shirt. I’ve seen some ugly burns from hot brass, so I keep a tube in my med bag. Wearing a buttoned up collared shirt will help prevent spent brass from getting into places it shouldn’t be.
- Band-Aids for small injuries.
- Fresh pair of socks. (Because you know that’s what doc’s gonna tell you.)
A camp chair, again, isn’t essential, but its nice to have a place to sit while you eat lunch or take a break. Sometimes the students, and, if you’re lucky, an instructor or two, will circle up their own chairs and discuss techniques and tactics for a little bonus instruction while everyone eats.
Small back pack
A small back pack you can leave near the firing line is nice to have for carrying your water, ammo, and other things you want closer to you.
Back-up iron sights
Back-up sights are good if you are running an optic which goes down or runs out of battery.
Note pad and pen
So, you can take notes and work the details on your own time between classes.
Attention, Safety, and an Open Mind
Go to every class you take with the mindset to learn everything you can. Suspend all you have been taught for a short time while in the class. If the instructor does something differently then the way you’ve been taught, try it their way first. If you still don’t like it, talk with your instructor about why they choose to teach it the way they do.
No two instructors teach rifle classes the same way. If they are good at what they do, the instructors will have valid reasons for doing it their way, and they may introduce you to a better technique. Decide for yourself after you have more experience which techniques work best for you. You paid for the class after all, so give them a chance to teach you something.
Know all the safety rules of shooting beforehand and how to make the rifle safe. All the safety rules of pistol shooting you may have done, still apply here. Safety is the primary goal of all shooting instruction and being prepared for this will improve your learning ability. Don’t be that shooter that shows up on the firing line flagging instructors and students with their finger on the trigger. No one will appreciate it, and not only will you look incompetent, the instructors might not allow you to train if you are unsafe.
Now you know how to get the most out of the rifle class you have been looking at. So, get out there and get training.
Oh, and you can find out how a carbine fits into your home defense plans, here.