Firearms training should not simply put a gun in your hand and point you toward a target. There’s so much more to self-defense. A good school will teach you what you don’t know, not simply to hone your marksmanship skills.
Minnesota-based Final Option Tactical Firearms Training School provides practical, legal, ethical and real-world training in a perfect mix of classroom, range and reality-based training. If you leave the school not knowing more than when you started, you just weren’t paying attention.
The Final Option Advanced Concealed Carry Course is an intense weekend, packed with information and training that will not only make you a better shooter, but will also increase your understanding of the real-world meaning of self-defense. It’s a lot to take in, but Tony Caspers and his team of instructors keep the training focused and the students involved.
Simply put, all the shooting elements on the range are timed. Targets appear and disappear and the action doesn’t stop just because you have to do something like reload or clear a malfunction.
“This type of training is about as close as we can get to the real thing. The difference is, you should know you’re not going to die in this class,” says Caspers, founder and lead instructor at Final Option. And Caspers knows about the real thing. As a decorated, 11-year veteran of the Minneapolis PD Emergency Response Unit, Caspers has utilized every element of the training he provides. The fact that he is alive to talk about it is proof that it works.
The “real thing” Caspers refers to is a phenomenally stressful situation that could end up with you fighting for your life. In those few seconds you’ve got to make all the right decisions and follow through with the correct actions. That’s what self-defense is about. To induce stress and teach students to deal with it, Final Option trains students in reactive shooting. Simply put, all the shooting elements on the range are timed. Targets appear and disappear and the action doesn’t stop just because you have to do something like reload or clear a malfunction.
“If you get rattled on the line with us pushing you to improve and the targets popping up and down, imagine what it’s going to be like if you ever really have to use your gun,” says Caspers.
Because it is a concealed carry course, students are expected to draw from concealment, fire and reholster in accordance with the instructor’s commands. In the Advanced Concealed Carry course, students are expected to have some experience with their gun and holster rig. While it is assumed that each student has some basic level of skill, the staff also takes the time to go over the basics for those who might need a refresher.
A computer controlled, targeting system raises and lowers targets according to the sequences directed by Caspers. When the target appears, you shoot it. The steel targets provide instant feedback and instructors patrol the line, providing encouragement and pointing out problems that get in the way of accurate shooting. Each sequence gives the shooters only a few seconds to score the required hits before the targets disappear—and don’t get caught shooting late.
“Hey! That target was gone,” said Tim Hanks, an instructor and fellow officer on the SWAT team with Caspers. “Listen people. We are teaching you to shoot until the threat stops. If the target is gone, that means that the threat has stopped. Don’t shoot. On the street, if you shoot when there is not a threat, you will be held accountable.”
That statement pretty much sums up the training regimen at Final Option, as police officers Caspers and his staff are in a unique position to reinforce the reality of using force for self-defense. “Even if you don’t fire your handgun, if you draw it, you’d better be able to explain why,” says Caspers.
“There will be an investigation into every shooting incident. You have to be able to defend and explain your actions to the police, a prosecutor and maybe even a judge and jury. And even if there are no criminal charges filed, you will likely face a civil suit,” he said.
Students at Final Option are taught that making the right decision is just as important as having the proper shooting form and trigger mechanics.
For those that think that they handled the classroom and the firing line, the first day of training ended with an even bigger bang. Students have the option of attending an evening class of force-on-force training using Simunitions in a variety of scenarios. My advice is simple: Pay the extra money for the force-on-force training. It puts all of the elements of the first day’s activities into perspective and gives you a real-time look at how you might react. Several students were surprised. I know I was.
For my first force-on-force scenario, I was given a Simunitions pistol, a cardboard box and the most basic instructions. “This is a present for your wife. Walk over there and get in the car to drive home,” was all that my instructor said.
“Over there” was a corner of the now dark range, with a single streetlight partially illuminating an old sedan. As I got half way to the car, I thought to myself, “I never would have parked here.” Just as I got to the car, I heard a voice from the far side of the car.
“Hey, can I have ride? I really need a ride downtown so I can get to work.”
I dropped the box into the car and said, “Nope. Sorry. I’m in a hurry.”
“Aw c’mon,” the man said, as he started around the front of the car. “I really need a ride.”
“Hey, man. Back off,” I said, starting to move to the rear of the car.
“Gimme a ride!” he shouted, still coming.
“Get back!” I responded, still trying to put some distance between him and me.
Before I knew it, he was flying at me screaming, “Gimme the f—ing keys!” There was something in his hand!
By the time I could draw and fire, his training knife had hit my left arm and I was still trying to get around to the trunk of the car.
“That’s enough!” shouted the instructor. “Michalowski, why did you shoot?”
That was easy. I said that a knife-wielding attacker was almost on top of me. The instructor seemed to approve of that answer.
“Did you hit him?”
I saw my front sight on his chest before each shot of the controlled pair. I was right again: two hits, center mass. Then I admitted that I could not remember if I had seen a true sight picture or just the front sight.
“Could you have done anything else?” was the next question.
I didn’t think so, but I wanted to hear what he had to say.
“What about your flashlight? Could you have lit him up with your light right away? That might have made him think twice about advancing. You have a light. Use it.”
In the confusion and at the pace my “attacker” had set, I didn’t even think of the light. Perhaps a firm response showing preparedness on my part would have defused the situation. I’ll never know. And I may never have thought of it without this type of training.
The role players were so good in each of the three scenarios that for a full 10-minutes after each event my heart was still racing, even though I knew this was “just training.”
On the second day of training, we worked through malfunction and reloading drills. This was where people really came to understand the difficulty of using fine motor skills under stress. And this wasn’t even serious stress. Targets were up and gone before many of us could even get out from behind cover. It was humbling for many.
We also got a quick look at what happens when you are fighting from a vehicle. We’ve all heard about the difference between cover and concealment when it comes to car doors and the like, but what happens if you have to shoot from inside your car? It was another thing that none of us knew and might never get a chance to practice anywhere else. It was eye-opening.
Over the course of the weekend, I fired more than 500 rounds, second-guessed my reactions a thousand times to all three force-on-force scenarios and got a real understanding of what it takes to draw and accurately fire a concealed pistol in a limited amount of time. I came away not only a better shooter, but also knowing more about the real meaning of self-defense than I ever had. No matter where you’ve trained before, Final Option will show you what you don’t know.
[ Kevin Michalowski is an NRA Certified Pistol and Personal Protection Trainer and a member of the Waupaca County Sheriff’s Department Reserve. ]