Todd's Review of Frontsight - basic range equipment

I took advantage of Frontsight's 'Millionaire Patriot' offer in the fall of 2009 (full disclosure - the above link and banner are 'affiliate' links, I'll make money if you click through and sign up).

It was a smokin' deal, five days of Defensive Handgun / Concealed Weapons Permit training for $1,200, and they throw in a desirable (to me, anyway) gun worth about $500 to boot.

Basic Range Equipment

In addition to standard "eyes and ears", Frontsight requires that you wear a billed cap (a baseball cap or similar) at all times on the firing line. Anybody who has been to the range a bunch of times has experienced (or knows someone who has) hot brass getting behind your shooting glasses. It takes some experience / discipline to maintain your weapon in a safe direction while brass is burning your eyelid. The billed cap helps keep this from happening. It also helps keep the sun off, which is a big deal in the desert 90% or more of the time. I wore one with a "painter's tail" to shade the neck, and that seemed like a wise choice.

I am very happy with my Caldwell E-Max Electronic Hearing Protection Low Profile Earmuffs. You can easily spend 10 times this much on electronic hearing protection, but these get the job done, at a price where I felt comfortable buying two pair: useful for a range buddy if you want to chat, or for giving basic instruction to a new person.

The "buddy" approach at Frontsight means that somebody is standing right behind you on your strong side all the time. He / she (or a staff member) may be giving you advice at any time, and it works better for everybody if they can use conversational tones. The electronic earmuffs should just about be mandatory. Most people I run into think the entry price for electronic muffs is over $100, up to $200 or more. At $30 or less, this is basic equipment in my eyes.

That same 'density' means you're going to get peppered by brass all day long. Most of the class requires a 'cover' garment of some sort to conceal the weapon. Consideration of necklines and undergarments is due. For the ladies, the firing line is not the place to be displaying cleavage, as it becomes a "brass catcher".

Not having that particular problem, I found myself struggling a little with layering and concealment. I went to Engineering School in Phoenix (DeVry), and from there I learned that if you're going to spend all day in the sun, there's not much that beats a long sleeved light colored dress shirt (preferably Cotton) to keep the sun off. Since the dress shirt would be my concealment garment (in full desert sun), I wore a short sleeve T-shirt underneath. But wait: it's actually pretty cold in the desert (in October) when it's not mid-day. So add a shearling / firehose vest to that for warmth / concealment. This layering bit isn't a huge deal (anybody who's spent any time outdoors faces this), but it adds complexity to learning to draw from a concealed holster. You start the day flipping a shearling vest back to expose your holster. Then you get hot, and you have to excuse yourself to the "brown room" (tan colored outhouse) to reconfigure your shirt / belt holster (don't drop anything...). You return to the firing line, and have to reaccustom yourself to a different garment of concealment. Sun goes down, reverse everything. Come to think of it, it's probably good practice for the real world.

Holsters - probably 75% or more of folks there had form-fitting kydex holsters. When the line reholstered, it was an odd sound of stacking plastic plates. I had brought a Blackhawk kydex holster for my backup gun, a Sig Sauer P226. This is a fine holster that features their Serpa retention system. Unfortunately for me, the Sig is a "backup gun" only in the context of this class. It's a full-sized (15 + 1 capacity) 9mm pistol, and it's not one I carry on a daily basis. Since my HK P7 is not exactly a modern weapon (new ones have been unavailable for 15 years, and even the 'replacement' HK P7M8 is pretty damn rare), I have fewer options for a fitted holster.

Fortunately for me, the fine folks at Fist Holster have lasts for the HK P7, and they offer a number of leather holsters that work pretty damn well. The one thing they don't do as well as a fitted kydex holster is release smoothly. Leather is inherently a little more 'grippy'. I had worked over my holster with Silicone Spray, but I think it needs "miles" before it's truly smooth. Of course, it's a fine line between "smooth" and "falls out on its own". In addition to being a little stiff to draw, I had a few instances of the weapon being out of battery when I drew it; this is due to the tendency of the holster to force the slide back a little upon re-holstering. This is more an issue for training than daily use; in training they drill you pretty hard to find the holster with the weapon without looking at it. In daily use, I'd look at the holster before putting my weapon in it. And the trainers admit (anecdotally) that it's highly likely that in a deadly force encounter, you won't get a chance to put your weapon back in the holster...

I actually got a little repetitive motion strain, a bit like tennis elbow, from all the draw strokes. It's an unusual motion, and they train you to "pop" the weapon straight up out of the holster with some force (at least it takes 'some force' for a leather holster).

Eyes - I generally shoot indoors, so my safety glasses were the clear or yellow variety. I also recently started needing reading glasses, so I invested in Multi-lens cheater safety glasses from Duluth Trading. These have reading glasses built in, and one of the lenses is a dark one well-suited to the bright desert sun. No complaints about these. I did have a little trouble with a glasses strap I bought from them. It's just fine for wandering the factory (at Boeing), but the 'lump' on the earpiece started to bug me after the first hour when worn with headphones. No problem, ditched the strap.

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