Exclusive: Didn’t Know A Damm Thing Until…

A Handgun Hunter’s Tactical Awakening At Gunsite!”

By Mark Hampton

When the opportunity came knocking for me to attend the famed Gunsite training center, I was a little hesitate to go. Heck, I’m a hunter not a tactical shooter. His-Editorship was growling on the other end of the phone, “Get out of your comfort zone for once in your life and learn something.”

I wasn’t aware of any comfort zone but wanting to keep the peace, I agreed to go. After all, I consider myself having a fairly high tolerance for uncertainty, so what do I have to lose? Actually, I had a lot to gain — and I’m grateful for the unique learning experience, and for Roy twisting my arm to go!


Mike McNett, guru of Double Tap Ammunition, and Mark at the entrance
of Gunsite’s Training Academy.


Instructors discuss strategy before hitting the shooting house.

New Language

Look and assess, press-check, tac-load, low-ready, pie-the-corner, mag-check and other Greek terminology was tossed about freely, and for a moment, I thought we were training for a military exercise or SWAT operation. All attendees, about 15 of us, were shooting S&W M&Ps in 9mm, equipped with the Crimson Trace LaserGuard, which mounts around the trigger guard in a clam shell manner. I couldn’t wait for the low-light encounters! The gun was holstered in Galco’s newest offering just for this unit. Double Tap ammunition was used exclusively for all shooting in the days to follow. One day was designated for the group to shoot the S&W M&P 15 in .223. Going into this exercise with an open mind, I was bound to learn something new and valuable.

At first, the professional instructors went over safety rules and stressed proper gun handling before heading to the range. I was happy to see the safety factor stressed. Once on the firing line, we began with basic fundamentals from close range. The instructors shared several teachable moments with me. I made a few of the more common mistakes, standing position was incorrect, and grip arrangement on the gun was incorrect, along with others. Then I invented a few new ones. Charlie, one of the professional staff members, cherished and savored the opportunity to correct the error of my ways, riding my ass periodically. I’m starting to miss Charlie. But I was learning something new and I hope the editor-in-chief was happy.


The S&W M&P 9 was shot throughout the course, along with Double Tap ammunition.


Charlie demonstrates proper technique. The classic Weaver, as endorsed by Gunsite.

Low Light

That evening we were introduced to low-light shooting techniques. First, we became familiar with shooting at night on the range. The Crimson Trace unit was a blessing to behold for this challenging low-light situation. Loading, unloading, finding your target, hitting where you want, under timed scenarios, all becomes more difficult at night. I enjoyed the night shooting applications and glad we had the chance to get “broken-in” before then moving in to the Shoot House and the Fun House during the following evening.

These buildings are set-up with multiple rooms and long hallways. Frangible ammunition is used, and shooting encounters are close range affairs. We were given a scenario before entering the house. Our mission, clear the house of bad guys — but we’re not sure who’s inside. I learned one thing real quick: I hope I never have to do this in real life! It’s a real dangerous mission for military and law enforcement personnel to actually be in this situation.

Which way the door opens, the angle of entrance, gun position during entry, all these things and more were running through my mind. Once inside I thought about my exposure, don’t drag your feet, stay off the wall, trust your senses, and by all means, carefully pie that corner. The light exposed the target and instead of shooting first and asking questions later, I had to determine shoot/don’t shoot, a decision not always easy to make. I did kill a few bad guys that night and I also shot the wrong guy once. I was glad Charlie was right there with me!

The Crimson Trace LG 660 laser is made for full-sized M&Ps and worked well. It has a master switch, and rear activation. Their LTG 760 shoots a 100 lumen white light and is activated by a pressure pad on the front strap. This is a really cool set-up for low-light shooting. I cleared the house with both the white light and laser activated. I can see real opportunities for this feature in home and personal protection. My wife really wants this unit installed on her home protection gun.


Some of the courses shot with the M&P 15 were from unorthodox positions.


Much of the handgun course was close range shooting.

Rifle Time

The following day we had the pleasure of shooting S&W’s M&P 15 in .223. All the rifles were topped with Trijicon’s TA 11-G fiber optics. This low power, 3.5×35 optic hails from a military origin and is calibrated for the .223. Several different models of Trijicon optics were used, with advanced combat features and multiple reticles. Double Tap’s 62 gr FMJ-BT was accurate and reliable from all the guns shot.

The participants started engaging paper targets in order to get familiar with the firearm. After a lengthy shooting session, more advance courses were undertaken. Some were down-right challenging, and all of them fun. The most fun was shooting the Scrambler Course consisting of seven stages from different positions, at targets ranging from 50 to 120 yards. This course was timed. It was an experience shooting from stumps, then trees, running to the next stage and crawling inside a box to shoot out of a small hole, advancing to the next stage and shooting across a log, engaging steel targets at unknown ranges. While nothing official, it was fun seeing the competition-minded race against the clock. There wasn’t a senior citizen division for me, though.


Crimson Trace’s Iain Harrison shooting paper with his .223.


The challenging shooting exercise is not just a man’s game. This young lady
showed everyone she is perfectly capable of keeping up with the best.

Gel Testing

During our brief time at Gunsite, we also tested and chronographed different calibers of Double Tap handgun ammunition in gelatin to see what kind of realistic performance took place. This was both interesting and informative for me. Most of us were surprised, more like impressed, at the performance of the little .380 bullet. Mike McNett, guru of Double Tap, brought a variety of his personal guns, including a .500 S&W revolver. The class enjoyed shooting all the different calibers, while Charlie and I enjoyed a cigar and talked fishing. I’m pretty sure I can catch more fish than Charlie.


Mike McNett and the instructor run the chronograph.


Gelatin tests are always interesting and informative.

Final Shoot

The Wash was our last shooting course. This course was shot using the S&W 9mm with Double Tap’s 147-gr. JHP. Attendees would ease down a gully engaging pop-up targets, often multiple bad guys, at close range. It was another scenario where a great deal of teachable moments became apparent, and precise shooting desired. That’s what takes place at Gunsite — you learn.

After three days of shooting a variety of courses with both handguns and long guns I know one thing, I want to return. It was a valuable experience and I walked away gaining a lot more precious information, along with the professional training. From safe and tactical gun handling techniques, marksmanship, and proper mindset, the whole shooting exercise inscribed situational awareness in my feeble little mind. The training and instruction at Gunsite made me much more aware of my surroundings and potential threats when the time comes. Who knows when you may be forced to protect yourself and others?
You can never be over-prepared.


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