After Action Report: Combat Focus Shooting Advanced Pistol Handling With Paul Carlson


So I used my teeth to rip a stuck magazine out of my pistol on Sunday. How was YOUR weekend?

I met Paul Carlson at SHOT Show and I’ve listened to and enjoyed his podcast for years, but I’ve never trained with him before. I must confess I had a bit of hesitation going into this class because I have no desire to wrapped up in the Tactical Timmy world. On the other hand, my priority throughout all of this is to keep myself and my family safe. Taking a class on effective shooting with a pistol in less-than-ideal conditions made sense, so I signed up.

“When in a fight, be it by ourselves or with other people around us, as armed citizens we must realize we are the solution the problem.”
Paul Carlson

fdeThe class started off with refresher drills for the skills we learned in Combat Focus Shooting. Almost immediately afterwards, we went to ground, shooting from kneeling, sitting and prone positions, and then went on to drawing from those positions as well. We then moved on to precision shooting under stressful circumstances, strong-hand and weak-hand shooting and one-handeded malfunction drills.

And it was during a weak-handed malfunction drill when I did my Kakar Dental Group orthodontic reload. Was it fun? Yeah, it was really ninja. Was it a skill I needed to learn?

Thoughtful pause.

In this class, as in other Combat Focus Shooting classes, the idea behind training on the line is, (I believe) to provides skills that can be adapted to almost any situation and not to set up a scripted response. This is a good thing and I heartily endorse it because it encourages improvisation and adaptability in an inherently chaotic situation like a gunfight. However, it also makes some of the drills appear to be of questionable valuable on the line. Is there a chance you’ll take a round in a hand in a gunfight? Yeah, a pretty good one, actually.

Think about it: Under stress, we focus on the danger in front of us, and in a gunfight, that danger is the gun. Therefore, rounds are probably going to be heading towards the hand that carries your gun. As well, if your gun is out, your hands are right in front of your center of mass, increasing the chances of getting hit in the hand even more, so learning how to deal with reloads and malfunctions with only one hand is a useful thing.

But you probably don’t want mess with your gun one-handed when facing down your opponents and dancing around like a spastic ninja. Getting your gun into play is obviously a priority when faced with violence, but the five to ten seconds it takes to reload or clear a malf with one hand is something that’s best done under cover or done far, far away from your opponent, not in front of someone shooting at you. The reason why Combat Focus Shooting integrates a flinch and a “Get Off The X” moment isn’t so students will have a perfect high block and sidestep on the range, it’s to introduce the concept that we’ll be startled and may need to move when our life is on the line. It took me a while to integrate that idea with stripping a mag with my teeth, but yeah, if I were hit and under cover or at distance for an attacker, getting my gun back into play (or drawing another one…) is a useful thing to learn.

That’s my only hesitation, however, because everything else in the class was skills that I could immediately see as something that would help save my life or the lives my loved ones. Is there a chance I’d be knocked off my feet during a violent attack? Yes, so I should learn how to draw and shoot from really awkward positions. Is there a chance I’d need to use the ability to hit a small target on-demand in order to make a tough shot to stop a threat? Again, yes.

An unexpected bonus to this class was the presence of Richard, a fellow student who was in a wheelchair because of a traffic accident. Having someone in the class who had to deal every day with the mobility issues we might face during an armed violent encounter brought a new level of reality to things, and I, for one, really appreciated having him in our class. Also, I found it interesting that I was the only one out of ten people who drew from concealment the entire class. None of my fellow students were law enforcement and some were from states where open carry is not allowed. Shooting with a cover garment meant I was slower than the rest, but I figure if you’re going to take an armed self-defense class, it’d behove me to make sure I’m using same the tools and the techniques on the range that I do off the range.

There were three other “ah-ha” moments for me during the class.

The first was after a “flow drill”, where we students to go to our knees, then seated, then back, then knees, then stomach, then up and back again, and a call to make the shot on-target could come at any time during that movement. This was much better than just practicing shooting from your knees, because you never know what position you’d be in when you had to shoot, and mimicked the reactive skills and target recognition we learned during a Figure 8 drill, but applied it to a bunch of awkward shooting conditions. The drill was NOT easy to do (as my knees and calves reminded me a day after the class was over), but it provided more difficult shooting opportunities from weird positions than just shooting from your knees or back alone.

The second was during a long-range drill. We shot at man-sized targets standing 40 yards away with three different stances. First time was using isosceles, and I managed one hit out of three on paper, much less anything in an area where I might have stopped the threat. The second time, we shot with Weaver (I know: A Combat Focus Shooting instructor teaching Weaver. Maybe the Mayans were right all along…), and by changing my stance, I was able to turn out one center-mass hit. The last time was using the Chapman stance, which felt MUCH more stable than the other two, and my results proved it. I dropped one round into the head and another into the chest with this stance and would probably have gone three for three if not for the long double action trigger pull on the first shot with my P07. Knowing that I could make a 40 yard shot if (God forbid) I needed to added new confidence in what I carry and how I carry it.

Shooting a gun from a car

I’ve shot from a car often in shooting matches, but never with a seatbelt on before.

The third was shooting from a car: Is that something that is possible in my day-to-day life? Sadly, yes, and safely training for such a thing can be a difficult thing to accomplish. Shooting from a car or car-like position is fairly common in competition, but this was the first time I’d actually shot from a car with my daily carry gear and had to deal with seatbelts and the possibility of rolled-up windows. Because we had learned safe gun handling and accurate fire from a seated position earlier in the class, everything came together at once and we were able to train for this potentially life-saving situation quickly and safely in a truly realistic environment.

Unrelated to the class, living in Arizona means living in the center of gun culture west of Texas, and this class proved it once again. On the first day of training at the Cowtown Range, Iain Harrison of Top Shot / Rapid Fire / Recoil magazine stopped by on his way to another bay to test some cool-looking SMG’s. The next day, USPSA Junior champ Christopher Oosthuisen and his equally-talented dad dropped by to see what was going on, followed by Rob Pincus, who casually mentioned that Travis Haley was a few bays over from us. All of this only added to the fun, as did the first-class lunch on Sunday provided by Big Stick EDC holsters.

To sum up, the class was VERY well-run, and everything we learned could be picked up and applied to a variety of self-defense situations. If you’ve been looking for a class to take your defensive pistol skills to a new level, I’d recommend an Advanced Pistol Handling Course without reservation.