Gunsite Lite

Gunsite Lite

No, this is NOT a post about what Crimson Trace is doing up in Paulden next weekend, this a post about training and branding and consumer trust. 

Gun Culture 2.0 is about self-defence and unless you’re Chuck Norris (PBUH), that means training. Situational awareness training, “tactical” training, stress-fire, less-lethal options, safe rooms, the whole nine yards. Training is what turns the lump o’ metal on your hip into a weapon that will save your life.

Because the market is large and expanding, there are a lot of people offering “tactical” training out there, some of them very competent and serious, some of them not-so-serious. The problem for consumers is, how do you separate the wheat from the chaff? With everyone and their dog talking about their tacticool skills, how do you make competent, informed decisions about self-defence training that aligns with your perceived needs and available budget? 

I was fortunate enough to have an extremely talented shooter and teacher as my CCW instructor. One of the first things he told us is that only 1 in 3 people who finish a CCW class are serious about it and will make defensive carry a part of their lifestyle. I like to think I’m that one person, although the fact that I’m STILL stuck in D Class Production casts doubt on that point… 

I digress. 

For that 1-in-3 person, what post-CCW training options are there? The NRA offers excellent one and two-day training classes in Personal Protection. I’ve taken both courses, and they do an excellent job of teaching the basics of defensive firearm tactics like safety, situational awareness and methods of concealed carry. The Personal Protection I and Personal Protection II classes are excellent value: For the cost, they’re hard to beat. 


They are beginning courses. They’re not going to teach stance (much), they’re not going to help much with flinching or mashing the trigger or any of the various ways we humans can mess up a shot. Instructor quality can vary: Generations Firearm Training has top-notch people leading their courses and I trust them implicitly, but when it comes to training, there are few recognized leaders out there for the consumer to chose from.

This is where branding comes in. We trust the NRA to provide good training because of their long history, and, for the most part they come through. I have no idea why the NRA doesn’t step up to the plate and aggressively market their NRA-branded protection courses as the logical next-step for CCW holders, but they are missing out here, and others are stepping in to the void left by the NRA’s inaction. 

This market is prime territory for Gunsite and other top-tier schools. They have the brand loyalty. They have the established trust. They have the brand recognition. And most importantly, they know how to teach people how to safely use firearms. 

The least-expensive course at Gunsite is almost a thousand dollars in tuition. Add in three days of hotel, airfare, car rental and ammo, and you’re looking at the same amount of money as a three-day trip to Disneyland. My wife’s a good shot, but I’d have a hard time justifying spending the money for our family vacation on a trip to Gunsite. 

Why not let the mountain come to Mohammed instead? Consider this: 

Gunsite On Location
Course length: 2 days (18 hours)
Prerequisites: CCW License, NRA Basic Pistol or equivalent instruction
Instructor to student ratio: Minimum 1 instructor to 6 students
Instructors: Lead Instructor is an instructor qualified to teach at Gunsite, with up to three assistants, each trained at Gunsite in some manner.
Class: Defensive Pistol 090. Basics of drawing from concealment, situational awareness, firearms safety, defensive tactics, taught using methods from America’s premier defensive firearms academy. Marketing tagline: “What your CCW class doesn’t teach.”
Cost: $500 per student. 18 Students max.
Ammo: 300 rounds factory practice ammo
Completion of this course entitles the participant to $100 off any 250 Pistol course at Gunsite.

The downside to this is that it may dilute the Gunsite brand, but that can be mitigated with video recording of the instructors on location to insure standards are met, detailed after-action reports and instant feedback from class participants via the web.

The advantages are it’s a new revenue stream for Gunsite, it’s another avenue to advertise Gunsite to Gun Culture 2.0 and it increases interest in the more advanced classes at Paulden, both for the students and the assistant instructors.

Ok, Gunsite, I’m looking for a job. There’s your business model, now hire me to run it. 

Mother Of Mercy, Is This The End Of Glock?

Mother of mercy, is this the end of Glock?

In a word, yes. No. Maybe.

Richard over at Guns For Sale has an provocatively-titled post arguing that demand for Glocks has peaked, and other guns are on the rise, and he may be on to something here. 

All successful companies reach a point where they discover a cash cow that brings in money hand over fist. For Microsoft, it was Windows-MS Office integration, for IBM, it was the server-terminal environment, for Sun, it was Sparc, for Apple, it was… 

Apple is a special case. More on that later. 

When a company discovers a cash cow, the tendency is to milk it for all it’s worth and avoid doing anything that might interrupt the revenue stream from that popular product. The emphasis is on refining existing products, not innovating new ones. Companies become successful and big and most importantly, risk-averse, making them vulnerable to the next innovation coming down the line. 

Microsoft supplanted IBM because IBM was too focused on the server-terminal environment to see that desktop computing was the next big thing. Google upstaged Microsoft because Google saw that relevant information was more important than operating systems, and Facebook is in the process of upstaging Google because we trust our family and friends to give us relevant data more than we trust programmers in Silicon Valley. 

Which brings me to Apple. Apple has been on top of the hi-tech world for ten years now: It’s gone from having Microsoft and Dell to worry about to squaring off against Google and Amazon, and it’s been successful so far because senior management has realized that we, the consumers, are in charge of what we want, not some faceless product marketing dude in middle management. In order to stay ahead of the innovation curve, Apple is willing to kill its cash cows when needed, even in their prime, something very few companies are capable of doing. 

Glock needs to do this. The Gen4 pistols are nice, but they do have issues, and let’s face it, in an industry that ain’t exactly known for rapid innovation, Glock has pretty much stayed still, churning out the same size and shape of pistols with the same action for thirty years. They may stay on top for a while, though. To borrow a phrase from the IT world of 40 years ago, “No one ever got fired for buying IBM”, and that’s where Glock is right now: They are the safe choice, the one to chose because everybody else is doing choosing them too. 

Will they stay on top forever? Of course not, no company ever does. Who will knock them off? Someone who hits the sweet spot of price, performance, placement and promotion like Glock has these past decades. Maybe Ruger, maybe S+W, maybe some gunsmith in a garage with a great idea. 

Heck, it may even be some guy from the backwoods of Utah

* Disclaimer: I have no dog in the “Glocks vs. 1911” debate: As far as I’m concerned, there are CZ’s, and there’s everything else. 

** Instead of going for the music reference, I went for a movie line in the post title

Learning From Red Bull

Learning from Red Bull

Consider this video for the Red Bull Air Racing World Series: What can we learn from it when it comes to promoting practical shooting?

1. Personality goes a long way. The nationality of each pilot is up front and center, giving us a reason to cheer (or boo) right off the bat. 

2. Fan-friendly venues. The fans can see the action at the venue know the score as the event happens. Ever gone to a USPSA match or IDPA match as a spectator? From personal experience, I can tell you they really suck to watch (80% of a squad’s time on a stages is spent with walk-throughs, scoring and taping). 3 Gun Nation does a great job at distilling the essence of three-gun down to an exciting competition, but a little bleacher seating and some local promotion would go  help bring in more people to the sport.

3. Real-time scoring. The fact is, you can’t tell from watching a USPSA or IDPA competition who is doing well in the match and who isn’t. Sure, a competitor may ace a stage, but what that means to the match as a whole is a mystery until the final day of the match when all the scores are tallied.

4. Big-time sponsors. Smith and Wesson, FNUSA and Cheaper Than Dirt’s revenues COMBINED probably don’t add up to one-eighth of the money that Red Bull makes in the U.S. alone. Bass Pro Shops teaming up with Top Shot is great step in this direction (even if all they show is fishing commercials during the show). 

Hunting 2.0

Hunting 2.0

The National Shooting Sports Foundation reports that hunting license applications are up significantly from last year

The NSSF credits the free time available and need for outside food sources due to the worsening economy, but I’m wondering if the people who’ve been brought into the shooting sports via Gun Culture 2.0 aren’t looking to branch out and try new things. 

While extrapolating a national trend from one’s own experience is pretty poor analysis, I can’t help but wonder with shows like “Sarah Palin’s Alaska” on TLC, “The Wild Within” on the Travel Channel and “Survivorman” on Discovery, there’s now a new generation of exurbanites who have grown up in cities but are now looking to re-establish our roots to our inner hunter-gatherer. If this is the case, then this uptick in hunting licenses won’t end with a better economy; instead, we’re looking at a fundamental shift towards hunting becoming an accepted part of our society once again. 


Military Games

Military games

Once again, an idea that began in competitive shooting bubbles up to the real world

Surefire RTS

Dubbed the Rapid Transition Sight, it was designed by SureFire’s suppressor division head Barry Deuck to be a simple, elegant solution for shooters who use a magnified optic as their primary sight.

-Ultra-Durable: Machined from 7075 aluminum alloy bar stock, light weight and twice the strength of 6061 T6 aluminum -½ MOA elevation and windage adjustments

-Mil-Spec Hard Anodized finish

-Same height above bore as standard M4/M16A4 sights

-Ambidextrous: can be mounted for left or right hand shooters

-45 degree offset

-Low profile over picatinny rail only rising 2/10th of an inch so that it does not interfere with your primary optics

-Mounts directly to the top picatinny rail of your rifle

-No Special Tools Required: only uses a flat head screw and can easily be done in the field 

And it’s perfect for shooting Tac Optics in Three-Gun, too. I still shoot Tac Iron, but I will join the dark side and put glass on my rifle one of these days.

Our Own Worst Enemy

Our Own Worst Enemy

Sons of Guns is a half-hour show weekly show on Discovery that’s essentially “American Chopper” with AK’s, showing the operation of Red Jacket Firearms in Baton Rouge which specializes in Saiga conversions.

And if you read, you’d think it was the worst thing to hit the firearms community since the assault weapons ban.

“I watched the first episode and all i could think was how bad it made the industry look to the average uninformed joe. Even that f******* Morgan Spurlock show made us look better than this.  Also, imho, some of the stuff about our ‘gun culture’ is not for mass consumption.”

“They had to find some shop that specializes in saiga’s class III conversions? Why not a custom 1911 smith. Or a custom doubles shop? Something with some art and history behind it?? Nope lets make it about billy bobs house of SKS & Waffles.”

“I hope they cancel that show.”

Two million people watch this show. Two million people watched a show where suppressors aren’t used by assassins or poachers, where AK’s and Saigas are commonplace, where normal everyday people from all walks of life buy guns.

Two million people watch a gun show. Two million voters. Two million people who think a show about guns is a good idea.

If we want firearms to become part of our culture once again, like it or not, it’ll be shows like Sons of Guns and Top Shot that lead the way.

Tactical Wonderland

Tactical Wonderland

I made a had’jj up to Cabela’s this week to pick up some reloading supplies (darn you, Sportsman’s Warehouse for not carry big boxes of cheap 9mm bullets!), and once again was overwhelmed by the scale of that store. From fishing to boating to camping to hunting, if you wander out of doors, chances are, Cabela’s has something you can buy. 

Which got me a-thinking: The driving force behind firearms sales these past few years hasn’t been in hunting rifles or duck guns, the “tactical” or self-defense markets have been where sales have really taken off.

So what would a “Cabela’s (or Bass Pro Shop) for the tactical market” look like? 

Well, it’d look a lot like the Scottsdale Gun Club, quite frankly. With a name like that, you’d expect it to sell high-end hunting rifles and collectable Old West shootin’ irons.

Wrong. They’ve got Wilson Combat .45’s and Sig Sauers and whole wall of M4geries, along with a great indoor range and a training program that is second to none. 

Environment and branding are everything in retail, (Don’t believe me? Why did the Apple Store succeed where the Gateway Store failed?), so the store fixtures and experience have to instill confidence in the customer so they can trust advice from people of this store with their lives. If I see ONE MORE gun store open up shop with fixtures left over from an office-furniture repo sale, I swear I’ll… 

Where was I? Oh yeah, training and accessories. 

These are the killer (pun not intended. Really.) add-on. Margins on guns themselves are pretty slim; where guns stores make their money is in the add-ons. If you carry concealed, you’ve got a box full of holsters that didn’t work quite right, and if a store can become THE local source for good holsters, chances are they can succeed where others have failed. 

And a good indoor range will also bring people back over and over again, not just to buy more ammo to replace the rounds they’ve shot, but to buy the little profitable things that make a store stay in business. 

And training, ideally as an adjunct from a school nearby that’s known and trusted nationwide. I haven’t done the cartography, but I’d be willing to bet that everyone in the lower 57 states is within a day’s drive of a top-flight gun school. I haven’t been to Gunsite (yet) because even though it’s in-state and somewhat nearby, I can’t afford the cost of the ammo for even an beginning class there, much less the registration fee and hotel room cost. 

But would I spend a hundred bucks to be one of 10 people in a basic class (say, two hours of classroom time and an hour of range time) taught by a Gunsite Instructor? 

You betcha. Call it, say, Remedial Defensive Pistol 090 and use it to either develop interest in Gunsite (or Thunder Ranch or U.S. Shooting Academy or whatever) or upsell NRA training classes and let the range make some $$$. Either way, it’s a win for the firearms industry and a money-maker for the range.

Will we ever see such a place? Maybe somesday. And if it does happen, I’ll be first in line when it opens.


Shooting Sports

Shooting sports

Michael Bane write about the growing popularity of the (non-hunting) shooting sports

The big trend for 2010 is the bigger than expected successes of shooting competitions on television, led by TOP SHOT on History and 3-GUN NATION on Versus. I hear channels are scrambling for more shooting programming. 

Well duh. What took them so long?

First-person shooter games have been around for thirty years, which means for thirty years, we’ve been running around and shooting things in a virtual environment. It only makes sense that the same impulses that drive us to blast the legions from hell would drive us out to the range and try our hand at the real thing. 

So what would a TV-friendly shooting show look like? Well, a lot like Top Shot or 3 Gun Nation, actually. Head-to-head competition is what makes slalom skiing so exciting, and that’s another sport that relies on technique to shave thousands of an inch at every opportunity, which is also happens to be the key to winning practical shooting. 

And, to quote Jules Winnfield, personality goes a long way. Top Shot drew in so many viewers because we were attracted to the people of the sport, and not just the sport itself. NASCAR gets this, practical shooting needs to learn this, too. 

A few more things to get practical shooting more TV-friendly: 

– Reactive targets and/or real-time scoring. Waiting around for an RO to yell out “Two Alpha” (or in my case, “Charlie Mike”) is boring. Steel is good, some kind of electronic target that shows hits in real-time would be better.

– Side by side comparisons of runs. Why did Mike Voight beat Taran Butler on Stage Three? Was it because he shot a bit faster or a bit cleaner? Showing the same run using identical camera angles and editing would go a long way into helping others understand the sport. 

– Colour commentary. Many, many football fans rely on the experts in the booth to tell them why a wishbone offense is a better idea in a given situation than the shotgun, and it’s the same with practical shooting. Why did a competitor screw the pooch on a given stage? Why did one do better? Without a colour commentator, you have to be involved in the sport to know why. A good TV host can open the competition and the sport to people who aren’t shooters, making it even more popular. 

If paintball can be shown on ESPN, why can’t USPSA? Imagine how popular IPSC would get if Dave Sevigny was on the Wheaties box… 

The Gun You Have

The gun you have

I still dabble in photography, even though it’s been almost ten years since it was my full-time job, and photographers are still equipment-obsessed, a trait they share with firearms enthusiasts. Camera companies spend millions of dollars on ads that show the wonderful, striking photos you can take with your SuperTouchDeluxe XV3 (now with MondoPixel technology!), and photographers fall for it, thinking that all they need is the latest technology to turn into the next Yousef Karsh.

But the fact is, great photos can be taken with any camera, and chances are, you can defend your life with just about any firearm. It’s not the tools you use, it how you use the tools you have. Tam’s post on The Firing line nails it wonderfully.

Two reasons people are anti-training (perhaps not coincidentally, this is also why people are anti- competing in organized shooting sports):

1) “It costs too much.” Somebody has fifteen guns, a motorcycle, a PS3 with plenty of games hooked to his flat-panel TeeWee (not to mention the PS2 and PlayStation in the attic), and who knows how many other toys, and a $200-$400 handgun training course “costs too much”. Hey, Skippy, how ’bout selling that Taurus Raging Judge you were bragging about buying last week and using the proceeds to get yourself taught how to use one of the fourteen other guns you already had? (And maybe sell one of those and take an MSF class for your motorcyclin’ while you’re at it.) The problem is, people can’t point at new mental furniture and say to their friends “Look what I just bought!”

2) People can’t shoot, but think they can. At the range, nobody is really watching them shoot and, face it, everybody else at the range is awful, too. But if they go to a class or enter a match, it will get proved officially: “Joe/Jane Averageshooter: First Loser”. It takes humility to learn and lose. Humble people don’t boast on their adequacy. So most people go and buy another gun instead, because when they open the box on that gun, it won’t look up at them and say “You stink!”; it’ll say “You just bought the official pistol of SWATSEAL Team 37 1/2! Congratulations!”

If you want to take better pictures, learn about light and get some training, because chances are the camera you have is up to the task. If want to defend your life, learn to use the gun(s) you have, because they’re the ones you’ll need if your life is on the line.