By Chris and Jeff Knox
If you ever visit a gun-related website you’re sure to see the logo: A human silhouette target superimposed with a set of gun sights and the words “FRONT SIGHT.” Click on the link and you’ll see the square-jawed visage of Dr. Ignatius Piazza holding a variety of weapons at the ready. My earliest impression of Front Sight grew out of their hard-sell advertising. Frankly, that impression was not positive. Nonetheless, back in 2008, when brother Jeff scored some certificates for the Four-Day Defensive Pistol class, I went along for the ride just to see. What I saw surprised and impressed me enough that I wanted to go back. I also wanted my son Brandon, who is considering a job in law enforcement, to at least start with the level of training Front Sight offers. Almost four years to the day after my first trip, Brandon and I went back to take the same class. This time I was less surprised, but even more impressed. I saw capital improvements to an already impressive facility, as well as careful updates to a comprehensive introductory course in the martial art of gun fighting.
The Front Sight facility sits on some 550 acres of desert some 15 miles east of the the sprawling town of Pahrump, Nev., and 40 miles west of Las Vegas. Brandon and I arrived on Sunday night where we met my brother-in-law, Joel Wilkins, and my niece Sydney – who had driven across the country to Denver and driven the rest of the way with his brother Phil and nephew Luke. It was Phil and Joel’s fourth time through this class and Luke’s second.
Class starts early the first day to account for the unavoidable hurry-up-and-wait process of checking in. On this Monday morning, I guessed the crowd size at 600. Instructors check holsters, guns and ammunition. Ammo must be factory-new hardball – no exposed-lead bullets, reloads, or “remanufactured” ammo at all. The factory ammo mandate is understandable since students stand close together on the firing line. A gun blowing up due to a double-charge could spoil more than one person’s day. Common-sense measures such as ear and eye protection are also required, along with hats to keep hot brass out of eyes and shirts.
From the check-in, students move to a large central classroom where an instructor provided an introductory safety lecture and the usual stack of legal paperwork. Leaving the classroom behind, we made our way to the range and met our instructors and classmates. The Four Day Defensive Pistol class is an all-ages, entry-level class. Our group of some 40 students ranged in age from 18 (my niece) to folks who I would guess were well into their 70s. There were both experienced and novice shooters in the class. Everyone had use of their legs, but the range included target stations with paved approaches a wheelchair could easily navigate. That is not to say that the class is easy or not strenuous. It is genuinely challenging, both mentally and physically. Everyone rises to meet their own challenge.
Before shooting, the class performs a dry-practice drill (they don’t call it dry-fire) which the instructors monitor for muzzle-dips and wiggles. Lead instructor Larry Mayer remarked that he could teach the whole class with three days of dry-practice, but everyone would be bored. He’s probably right.
During the shooting drills, instructors monitor students and look for issues. Front Sight doctrine teaches the Weaver stance exclusively. The shooter stands with the shooting side foot dropped back and the hips turned about thirty degrees away from the target. The shooting arm is slightly bent and the shooting side fingers relaxed. The support side hand pushes back on the grip of the gun to provide an isometric tension that manages recoil. The position is not natural and will seem awkward and unwieldy. While there are arguments and controversies over the virtues and vices of isosceles versus Weaver, Front Sight teaches Weaver. End of discussion.
Over the next four days, we would shoot nearly 700 rounds of ammunition and make at least as many, if not more, presentations from the holster. Every skill was introduced in the first two days and honed in the second two days. The methodical process shows impressive results. Every student’s groups tightened up. People went from barely being able to hit the paper to drawing from concealment and hitting the target under time pressure.
In addition to the process of shooting, the class covers malfunction drills, as well as a house-clearing exercise that is scarier than any Halloween haunted house. In between, lectures cover topics like the moral, ethical and legal issues of using deadly force, deciding whether to clear a room or when to sit tight, and equipment choices such as flashlights, lasers, or gun modifications. Information on membership at Front Sight is available, but there is no hard sell.
I noticed some tweaks in the new edition of the Four Day Pistol course. The course has been “flattened” a bit, to focus more on fundamentals. There is no longer a nighttime shoot teaching flashlight technique, that topic being left to more advanced courses. I confess I was a bit disappointed not to be shooting at night, but considering that several novice shooters needed constant reminders of safety rules, the change is a wise one. I’d just as soon not not wandering around in the dark with them.
Over the years there have been some negative comments about Front Sight in online forum postings and elsewhere. There are allegations of fraud, a Ponzi structure and lawsuits, but those issues seem to be receding. I know nothing about Front Sight’s business model other than that the marketing and advertising push pretty hard with yet another once-in-a-lifetime opportunity showing up in my inbox every week or so. The hard-sell advertising leaves me cold. Even so, the model seems to be working at least well enough to pave more than four miles of private road and bring water and flush toilets to a range far out in the desert. Most important, on the range and in the classroom, there is not a trace of the hard sell.
For a fraction of the cost of a “name” school it’s possible to get an excellent introduction to defensive gun fighting. If you pass the course as a Distinguished Graduate, you get to move on to the advanced classes. The only three Distinguished Graduates in our class of almost 40 were all named Wilkins – my brother-in-law Joel, his brother Phil and Luke. Son Brandon just missed Distinguished, but got the Graduate title. Me, well, I’m working on my malfunction clearing. Yes, we’ll be back.