More on my experience at Front Sight
As promised, here's a more in depth review of my experience at Front Sight with my M&P9.
Front Sight Firearms Training Institute: Personal Experience
I had the pleasure of attending the Front Sight Firearms Training Institute in Pahrump, Nevada, on November 9th through the 13th, 2007. I registered for the 5-Day Armed Citizen Corps class which consisted of the 4-Day Defensive Handgun course followed by the 1-Day CCW class. I attended for free with a coupon from my step-dad who also attended the courses with me. This was his third time training at Front Sight and my first. Front Sight does a background check on all attendees I believe in an effort to assure that students are upstanding individuals.
The following equipment is required for the handgun course:
handgun (a spare weapon is also recommended in case of weapon failure), eye protection, ear protection, flashlight (Surefire or equivalent model is recommended), a holster worn on the waist belt which covers the trigger guard (thigh holsters are not allowed), two spare magazines with holders worn on the waist, a concealment jacket, and new factory-made jacketed ammunition
Strongly recommended by Front Sight and/or myself:
notepad and pen, hat, sunscreen, mag loader, layered clothing that you can easily put on or take off depending on the weather, soft chair, tactical pants (the extra pockets are very useful for holding mags, ammunition, and other things), snack food, plenty of water/Gatorade
The 4-Day course requires 800 rounds of ammunition though you will probably need closer to 1000 rounds. You will need about 200 rounds for the 5th day for CCW training.
Many people bring Glocks to Front Sight but their motto is “Any gun will do, if you will do.” I noticed that the combat masters, range masters, and line coaches tended to carry either Glocks or 1911s. Some have their preferences. One range master recommended a Glock as the ideal handgun. My range master preferred his 1911 and didn’t buy into the “Glock perfection” as he has seen many failures in all weapon types. If you do not have a handgun, you may rent your equipment from Front Sight. One or two people in my class rented. The rental gun was a Glock 17. Wheelguns are also acceptable though there were none in my class.
The handguns in my class included Glocks, XDs, 1911s, Sigs, a H&K, a CZ, a limited edition Beretta (with lots of fancy engraving and wood grips), a Walther, and two Smith & Wesson M&P9s. I am proud to say that I carried an M&P9. The class was quite evenly split in handguns between Glock-like in function and 1911-like in function with an external safety and/or a decocker. Is one better than another? Do your own research and figure that one out on your own. What I can say is that in my class I witnessed malfunctions in the Glocks and 1911s and the CZ. I think others had malfunctions as well. The CZ I believe was traced to ammo as the main contributing factor. The malfunctions I saw with the Glocks and 1911s I believe were primarily shooter error. At least one Glock was so bone dry the scraping sound was identified from well behind the range. That person couldn’t fire two shots in a row without a malfunction. The Glock was not a rental gun.
I used the following:
Blade-Tech Revolution belt holster
Blade-Tech double mag pouch (Next time I would take two of these.)
Flashlight in nylon pouch
Leatherman-like tool in pouch
UpLULA mag loader (a MUST have item)
Leightning ear protection (several people used electronic ear muffs and some used softies)
Wiley-X light adjusting wrap around eye protection
The day begins early with sign-in and weapon inspection. This is followed by a welcome and classroom lecture on Front Sight’s Purpose and the levels of competence. Then you go to your assigned range for 3 hours of range activity. Lunch is on your own. In the lunchroom they show their Front Sight Story DVD. This is followed by classroom lecture on mental awareness and combat mindset. Then you go to the range for just over 2 hours of more range activities. The day ends with another lecture for new students focused on the moral and ethical decisions associated with the use of deadly force.
Day 1 range instruction includes the following: safety rules, range commands, chamber check, loading, unloading, grip, stance, ready position, three secrets, sight alignment, sight picture, trigger control, shooting a controlled pair, after action drills, tactical reloads, and type 1, 2 and 3 malfunction clearance drills.
Day two begins with over four hours of range activities. We arrived a half hour early for dry practice. During lunch they talk about Front Sight First Family Membership plans. Classroom lecture focuses on what you feel and what to do following a gun fight and the criminal and civil liability you will face. Then you have two more hours of range activities. Four-day students may attend a lecture following this on tactical shotgun and practical rifle. I chose to skip this lecture.
As I was walking back to my range after the lunch presentation and lecture, a gentleman made some very snide remarks to me about the Front Sight push for membership. He was very perturbed and seemed to not be very happy about being at Front Sight. I can only hope that he did not continue with that attitude throughout the four days. I can only imagine that it would keep him from learning all he could and would be a distraction also to those around him. As for myself, I don’t care for Front Sight’s marketing ploys but I don’t let it bother me. Regarding the many rumors I read on the internet about Front Sight lecturing on Scientology, those rumors are completely false. The founder makes a lot of pie in the sky promises about the development of Front Sight, but after 10 years there appears to be little progress other than the development of the training ranges. Now, what he has built is nothing small. However, until he actually starts building plumbed restroom facilities, roads, restaurant, and laying the foundation of homes and things that he has promised, I would have a very hard time believing it. On the other hand, I don’t really care about all of that stuff anyway. I think the training is outstanding and would gladly return as often as I could for more training.
Day 2 range instruction includes the following: presentation from the holster, close contact position, safely holstering a loaded weapon while looking down range, emergency reload, speed reload, failure to stop procedure, and supported kneeling position.
We arrived a half hour early for dry practice. You start out this day with a classroom lecture on tactical movement (clearing your house). This is followed by dry practice and then live practice in a shoot house. (I wish we could have done this again later.) Lunch lecture was on how to select a proper defensive handgun. Then you have four hours of range activities followed by a night shoot for about two hours.
Day 3 range instruction includes: tactical movement to clear corners, hallways, doorways and t-intersections; live-fire tactical scenario, response to your support side and firing side from the holster, man-on-man shoot-off competition, low-light/night shooting, and the Harries flashlight technique.
We arrived early for a half hour of dry practice. You start the day with 4.5 hours of range activities. The lunch classroom lecture is on the reality of the streets. The afternoon you spend four hours on range activities and skills test. The day ends with closing ceremonies and you receive a course certificate. I was pretty upset at myself for two bad shots on my skills test. That put me four points away from being a distinguished graduate.
Day 4 range instruction includes palm strike-step back drill, multiple targets, precision head shots, live-fire tactical scenarios, time pressure, and skills test.
The final drill on Day 4 was for emotional impact. The target was of a hostage with two hostage takers behind. Our range master had us put the name of a loved one on the hostage. He made it very clear we could NOT put the name of an ex-spouse, ex-girlfriend, mother-in-law, or other person with whom we had a conflicted relationship. We were to focus on precision shooting and trigger control, five shots to the left and then five shots to the right. I took my time and did very well. I was not going to shoot my wife whose name I had put on the target because in knew she would find out about it if I killed her. I was quite surprised how many spouses, mothers, fathers, and others were killed. I saved my target.
The morning is spent doing fingerprinting and paperwork for the CCW applications and then the required lecture for Nevada, Utah and Florida. Those getting Nevada CCW licenses also have to qualify for each handgun they want to carry. After lunch you spend about 4 hours doing more advanced tactical skills and shooting. I had been feeling pretty good about my performance throughout the four previous days. My confidence was appropriately returned to its proper place when the range master entered our range and took over. He really took us to a much higher level in thinking, attitude, and action. It was well worth the extra day.
Front Sight Instruction
My understanding is that Front Sight has altered their teaching methods recently. They now use a “student-teacher” method. Classes are divided into two lines. The lines pair up and when the first is shooting the second is directly observing and “coaching” them. Each day you change partners. We were paired up according to handgun type so that those with similar functioning guns coached each other. Each range had a range master and two line coaches. In our group there were about 34 students. That’s 3 instructors for 34 students but only half are shooting at a time so that is 3 instructors for every 17 students. But, since every student is also a “coach” Front Sight says there is one-to-one instruction. That’s a bit of “fuzzy math” but overall it seems to work pretty well. I learned early on that you want to search out the best shooters in your class and then find out which ones are most oriented to detail and willing to give you good feedback. It seemed to me that many people were either not very detail oriented, not concerned about following instructions perfectly, or were just unable to understand or do it. I hope nobody felt that I was a poor coach. I tried to do well and help my classmates. I should also add that after pointing out something to work on several times if it wasn’t a life threatening mistake I dropped the matter and figured that the person was doing the best he could do and saying any more would just be nagging.
Students come from all backgrounds. Many have law enforcement and/or military experience and many do not. I don’t believe that having that experience necessarily gave them any advantage over the person who did not. In fact, it can be argued that their experience puts some of them at a disadvantage. My class had some students with former law enforcement and military experience but I believe that most did not. The range next to mine I believe had more students who were currently in law enforcement. It seemed to me that their class had more dedicated learners as more of them showed up early each day for dry practice than in my class.
I thought that the range masters and line coaches were outstanding. The range master who helped teach the advanced tactics of the CCW class was incredible. Despite the uniform there is not a boot camp mentality. You are always treated with utmost respect. They are firm and do all they can to ensure safety and good instruction. Questions are encouraged and appropriately responded to. They give you individual attention each day according to your needs. Some students required much more attention especially when there were safety concerns.
Accidents Do Happen
There were several negligent discharges on my range and a few close calls. One student on the shooting line realized that she left her hearing protection back at her seat and turned around. This isn’t necessarily a problem except that she turned herself around along with her loaded Glock which ended up pointing straight at my step-dad. Now, as her coach he was a little slow responding to her mistake as he could have stopped it before the muzzle came anywhere near anybody else. Fortunately, he did stop her and no one was hurt.
On the range next to mine there was a serious negligent discharge on the morning of day three. A student, who is currently in law enforcement, using his issued duty weapon, a Sig, shot himself in the thigh. Apparently, he had forgotten to decock as commanded at the end of every firing drill or chose not to decock so that he could shoot faster in the timed drills. While drawing he pulled the light trigger, requiring immediate medical attention and surgery. The incident is detailed on Front Sight’s website along with all the others that have happened. His injuries were certainly complicated by the fact that he was using JHPs rather than FMJs. My range master recalled that most accidental shootings there have happened to students in law enforcement and mostly with weapons which require decocking or an external safety.
Smith & Wesson, M&P9
I had a difficult time choosing a handgun to purchase. I live in a rural area and the nearest range with rental guns available is 2.5 hours away. I did a lot of research on the internet. I went to a range twice and tried two Glocks, an XD, an H&K, and a 1911. Even though I had problems with the Glock, I narrowed my choice between a Glock 19 and the M&P9. I took a chance on the M&P9 based on how it felt compared to the Glock and research as I could not find one anywhere to test. I was a bit apprehensive as it is a relatively new handgun and doesn’t have the “proven record” or “perfection” that Glock claims.
I have had the gun just over a month now and have shot 1500 rounds. I had one failure to extract in the first 50 rounds. After research I believe this was due in part to light ammunition but more to limp wristing. Shortly after this the guide rod spring assembly came apart so this may have been part of the issue as well. Smith & Wesson customer service replaced it promptly for free. On Day 2 of the training I dropped my mag while shooting several times. I was trying different grip positions and each time I inadvertently pressed the mag release button as the gun recoiled. I didn’t have this problem any longer after correcting my grip. On Day 5 I had two malfunctions. The first one the slide fully seat and the second was a type three malfunction (double stack). Both were clearly related to my position in the drills and not providing firm support.
When I checked in to Front Sight, the range master who inspected my gun had very positive remarks for the M&P. My range master enjoyed joking about my “politically correct” gun. I may have the magazine disconnect removed at a later time but right now I like having it. The line coach who test fired my gun to get a feel for the trigger had a very surprised look on her face on the first shot and then gave very positive comments on the trigger. She carried a Glock. The only real downside of the trigger is the faint trigger reset point.
It seemed to me that the 1911s, Sigs, and other double action/single action semi autos were at a disadvantage in the course. This is because of the time needed to disengage the external trigger and adjust to the different trigger pulls. However, I’m aware that this is only my perceived disadvantage which could be easily eliminated with training. The semi autos that have a Glock-like function are probably best for new shooters like me.
I noticed that a couple campers were parked at a designated area outside the gates at Front Sight. Most people stayed in Pahrump, NV. My step-dad and I stayed at the Best Western in Pahrump. The room was large, quiet, and clean. They also had free wireless internet access. Some hotels required Front Sight participants to sign a form stating that they would not dry practice in the hotel rooms. Best Western did not. However, at the end of the day we were so tired we decided to arrive at Front Sight early each day to dry practice. Best Western had a very good free hot continental breakfast and also offered sack lunches at a reasonable price. The restaurant, Wulfy’s, served good food. The cook or manager was very friendly and one day gave my step-dad and I each a free large bag of home made potato chips to take with us. Best Western also had RV parking which we may do next time to help reduce cost.
I just received an advertisement from Front Sight offering $4000 worth of courses (4 Day Defensive Handgun course plus the CCW course which is what I attended), your choice of handgun (Glock 9mm, XD-40 or Springfield 1911 .45ACP), front sight logo knife, SWAT belt, holster, mag pouch, flashlight, Front Sight shirt, hat, armorer’s mat, and a complete set of dry practice manuals for $1199. Now that I’ve been to Front Sight and consider the value of each of these items, I think this is a good deal. But, it also brings me to the only real complaint I have about Font Sight; the advertising. By the way, the coupon expires December 14th. If anybody is interested in it I'll email it to you and you can have it. It is transferrable.
They’ll remove you from their email list when you request it. I requested to be removed from their email list as soon as I received an idiotic email from Dr. Piazza about mental health problems being caused by medications like Prozac. That’s probably Scientology crap like others claim they have heard others tell them they heard at Front Sight. Piazza comes across to me like a greasy cheesy car salesman in the DVD. Like I said before, I wouldn’t buy into Piazza’s “vision” or promises in building a firearms training resort until I could see some more significant progress. When I receive a mailing from Front Sight now I glance at it, chuckle, and happily toss it into the garbage and don't think about it again until the next mailing comes around.
Having said that, if I could afford a First Family membership so that I could attend as many courses as I wish for free for the rest of my life, I would buy it in a heartbeat. I’m already checking my schedule to see when I can go back for a two day skills builder course. There were many First Family members in my class. Some of them have been 4 or more times and plan to continue taking classes. Essentially, the membership has now paid for itself and all classes they take now are free.
Also about the facilities, If I hadn’t spent years working at scout camps perhaps I’d complain about having to use outhouses. But, that doesn’t bother me.
Finally, I loved my training at Front Sight. I can't compare it to other schools, but that's ok. You have my perspective and experience to gauge your thoughts and judgments on.
Here are my two 5 group shots (7 yards) which are the ones on the right closest to me in the picture. This was from day 3.