When you hear the name SIG Sauer, it’s likely that you first think about firearms. Maybe you even think about small arms, specifically, since SIG is certainly well-known for manufacturing and selling durable, reliable handguns to firearms enthusiasts, law enforcement officers and militaries worldwide. Of course, it’s also plausible that you associate the name SIG Sauer with rifles, ammunition, suppressors, air guns or even optics. After all, this innovative and world-renowned company has successfully expanded over the years to offer an impressive range of equipment, gear and accessories.

But after spending a week immersed at SIG — touring its headquarters, meeting team members, absorbing the culture and observing SIG Sauer Academy training — I’m fairly certain that the people at SIG would much rather you think about the mindset that surrounds the safe and responsible use of firearms instead of the variety of firearms-related hardware the company offers.

SIG Sauer’s Mission

Left to right and top to bottom, no matter whom I encountered at SIG Sauer, an unwritten but powerful company mantra was obvious and intentional: Safe training is paramount. Even when speaking with Ron Cohen, SIG’s president and CEO for the last 16 years, it was evident that this mindset is a foundational part of the entire organization. Intertwined with recalling proud moments in SIG’s past and revealing exciting looks into the company’s future, Cohen spent a substantial portion of our time together sharing personal stories that offered some very raw and honest looks at how significant information and education are to the man who runs the New Hampshire-based company of more than 2,000 employees.

Many of Cohen’s recollections included instances of people who would learn about where he worked and what he did for a living and then, understandably, start to inquire about purchasing guns. But instead of launching into a discussion about SIG’s latest innovations or grabbing his phone to show photos of some of his favorite firearms, which he could have easily and justifiably done, Cohen admitted that he most often turns down requests for firearms recommendations. Why? He emphasized that if people don’t know how to use guns — specifically, if they don’t have safe and proper training — he doesn’t want to sell firearms to them … not even to the rabbi at his synagogue. With a grin on his face, Cohen explained that he politely turned down his rabbi’s request for a gun recommendation until the religious leader agreed to go out and learn how to shoot.

Left to right and top to bottom, no matter whom I encountered at SIG Sauer, an unwritten but powerful company mantra was obvious and intentional: Safe training is paramount.

For a company that is known for selling hardware, that’s a pretty impressive stance. But everywhere I looked, this perspective was evident. And I personally believe this perspective has played a big part in SIG’s successes. Of course, SIG has set itself up for success on many levels. Whether you need to purchase a handgun, learn how to use a pistol-mounted optic or take a low-light class, it has you covered. And that’s why thousands of people travel to SIG Academy in Epping, New Hampshire, every year to take a first (or 101st) class.

The Education at SIG Sauer Academy

The wide variety of classes that could be happening at any given moment at SIG Academy is truly amazing. While a Handgun 101 class for seniors might be covering the basics of firearms in one area of the facility, other folks are gearing up with protective clothing and simulated ammunition to participate in scenario-based training in a shoot house, which could be right next door to a SWAT team that’s getting some intense training accomplished for the day. That example sounds hypothetical, but that was an actual lineup of events while I was at the facility. In fact, Kyle Lamb, U.S. Army Special Forces operator and owner of Viking Tactics, happened to be teaching several courses just a few ranges away.

It truly is an amazing setup, and the academy’s unique class structure and cadre of professional instructors allows for an impressive amount of customized and individualized training options. Here, after you take the basics and the fundamentals, you get to set your own path. So, choose your own adventure. What will it be? Working on improving your concealed carry skill set? A focus on competitive shooting? Or will you move onto other types of firearms, low light, close combat or edged weapons? With ranges, bullets, guns, shooting and training packed onto its 140 acres, you should be able to carve out the next steps in your journey, whatever it may be.

According to SIG Academy’s Director of Training Steven Gilcreast, there are typically five to six classes available at the Epping facility on any given day during the week and even more remote classes available across the nation in various locations. And with the construction of the SIG Sauer Experience Center on the academy campus now underway, SIG hopes to increase its available classes, seminars, workshops and partnerships — all while building community awareness and outreach. In addition to expanding its popular Pro Shop and incorporating a lecture hall and a museum, the opening of the Experience Center will be the first time SIG will have a range that is available to the public and not just class-based.

Of course, SIG is still planning to grow its number of full-time and adjunct instructors, expand its curriculum, and increase its number of students nationwide.

“Our ultimate goal is to offer a comfortable and challenging learning environment for everyone, from the athlete to the CEO and from the operator to the stay-at-home parent,” Gilcreast stated. “And our methodology for doing this is to focus on realistic, functional and repeatable objectives and expectations.”

And the academy is already doing just that, offering a full spectrum of principle-based learning opportunities.

QUITE A SPREAD. Though a lot of Americans think “Europe” when they hear “SIG,” the firearms giant is actually headquartered in New Hampshire, with an expansive training center that is open to the public.

The Immersion

My immersive week at SIG was truly a one-of-a-kind, fly-on-the-wall experience, enabling me to observe and absorb; to see through the eyes of the students; to watch from the instructors’ perspectives; and, of course, to participate once in a while. Not only did I get private red-dot-sight (RDS) training, I may or may not have also picked up and tested out some never-before-seen handguns and rifles.

I actually had the opportunity to train at the academy about five years ago, working through my certification as a SIG Certified Pistol Instructor. I remember, at that time, feeling like everything I knew about instructing people how to learn about firearms was deconstructed, allowing me to drill down to simple, basic truths about adult learning and focus on the different skill levels of each student — individually and subjectively.

I could see that this mentality is still implemented, and the SIG “simple is good” philosophy is still very present in all of the instructors. As with my experience back then, the cadre, while highly skilled and vetted, still openly welcomed questions and displayed professional but laid-back personalities, allowing plenty of time to get to know the students and tell “dad jokes” while basically allowing the instruction to happen organically and in meaningful and memorable ways.

SIG’s dedication to training remains very evident. And the academy only enhances this perspective by providing a solid array of foundational building blocks that allow both students and teachers to explore the basics and fundamentals in ways that allow everyone to grasp them, retain them and use them. And from there, the fun really begins, as people can choose the paths of instruction that work best for their levels of skill, comfort and interest. It truly is a full gamut of training all in one location where the best come to instruct and the best come to learn.