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Op-Ed and Review: The Armed Citizen and Costa's HE02 (Part 1 of 2)


Shot taken at a CCW course for citizens in my neck of the woods recently. This one is about 2 1/2 times as long as the one required by the State; it's for people who want to do more than "just enough".

This will begin with something of a rant before it gets to the review. I apologize for that in advance, but I think it needs to be said. This introductory op-ed is my opinion alone, it doesn't necessarily represent, etc. etc. ad nauseum.

I've mentioned before that I have great respect for the 'trained and educated armed responsible citizens' (TEARC) who take the improvement of their shooting skills seriously. I believe I've also mentioned that I was pleasantly surprised by the extremely well reasoned opinions offered by some of these shooters about the choices of fact, surprised might be a weak description. Astonished might be better, if you consider how much I learned from a two hour conversation between Mark W and Manny Z about the relative merits of optic mounts like the LaRue QD Pivot vs. various ways of mounting/wearing gear - information I confirmed afterward, by the way. As for the unfortunate tendency to include such shooters in the ranks of true 'posers', 'wanna-bes' and 'mall ninjas', I think we should all keep three things in mind.

First, there are far more 'mere civilian' citizen shooters than former/current military and LEOs, making them essential to a proper and intelligent representation of the Second Amendment. Second, it was people much like these shooters who chastised General Gage so effectively when he tried to enforce the 'Intolerable Acts'. Third, there's nothing desultory about them - believe me when I say I've been thoroughly and effectively put in my place by many of them (not that I'm any good measure of a proper gunslinger), most recently at Rocky Creek Ranch in Florida and North Point Training Center in Virginia. Ellen P, Ansel F and Russian Tim were better rifle shooters than probably 75% (or more) of the armed professionals I've ever known. Tory J and Matt E had less ego invested in the learning process and were more serious about correcting their mistakes than about anyone I've ever stood on the range with. I should mention they were all tremendously patriotic and staunch supporters of the military (many in extremely practical and evident ways).

My point? These are people we should not only teaching to, they can be people we learn from, and there certainly should be no antipathy between the two groups...particularly at a time when misguided even ignorant people like Bob Costas and Piers Morgan happily declaim handguns on prime time TV. Politicians are already talking about a new ban, and the President's second term hasn't even started yet.

Whew. Deep breath. So that's it. I think we should be more actively involved, even welcoming, to the TEARC. To that end I asked one to write a review of a recent Costa Ludus handgun course he attended (HE02) in Myakka, Florida early last month.The author (initials E.D.) is a citizen who never wore a military or LE uniform. He is an ardent shooter who is a strong supporter of the military, serving on the board of 1/75's 1ST Ranger Battalion Sua Sponte Foundation.

He may not be a hardened gunslinger with multiple tours overseas, and he obviously doesn't represent all civilian shooters, but he is a great example of a TEARC and he's certainly no Gecko45.


Costa Handgun Employment 02

Rocky Creek Ranch, Myakka FL 09 - 11 NOV 12


Your day was going far better than you expected.  Your boss just gave you a surprise bonus check for making the most widgets at the ACME Widget Factory.   And, for the first time ever, the check even contained a comma.  After work, you head over to the bank to deposit your new found wealth.  While waiting in line, you idly pass the time mentally spending every dollar on the latest tactical cool guy gear that you are sure will secure you a spot on Ninja Task Force 175.

The sound of, “Sir....Sir....Can I help the next customer please?” jars you from mentally perusing the pages of Brownells.  You look up and witness the teller’s once friendly face morph into a look of terror.  As you struggle to interpret this, a jarring pain erupts through your neck and right shoulder.  Things begin to get fuzzy.  You hear “Everyone one the ground, hands out! This sh*t is for real!” You fall to the deck and your lights go out.

Moments later, you come to, the world begins to spin more slowly and you begin a mental and physical inventory.  Wiggle feet a little.  They work.  Wiggle fingers, they move.  Move legs a little, ok there too.  Left arm seems functional. You go to move your right arm and the pain is almost unbearable.  You begin to alert to the sounds around you.  Face down, you look over your newly jacked up shoulder to see a man wearing a skull embossed face mask popular with motorcycle riders.  He's yelling at someone who you presume to be the manager while waving a 12 gauge Mossberg furiously.  “Give me the F-ing money from the vault or I'll kill it NOW!”  Paralyzed by fear, the manager stutters and stammers as he tries his best to explain that the vault is on a time lock and he cannot open it.  A blast comes from the shotgun and the manager’s shirt goes from white to crimson before he even hits the floor.  You hear the killer rack the Mossberg and dispatch the teller. Screams and panic grip the civilians around you on the floor.  The shooter then begins to head your way.

What do you do?  Do you have the training necessary that provides you with the skills and confidence to bring a resolution to this event if or when you deem force necessary?

Enter Chris Costa of Costa Ludus and his Handgun Employment 02 class at Rocky Creek Ranch.  As the name implies, the class is a three day handgun-only class for a more experienced shooter.  If you are just learning your weapon system, this is NOT the class for you.  Below is a review/summary of the course.

About me:  I am a civilian that loves to shoot.  I made it a goal to attend one training class per quarter. I am the guy that stays on the range after the training day ends and shoots for another hour or so.  Yeah, I’m that guy. When a class says 1800 rounds minimum, I bring 2500.  Most of the time, I come back with less than 100 rounds.  Consequently, I have been fortunate to shoot over 17,000 rounds this year alone. Over the years, I have been extremely lucky to have opportunities to obtain training in various disciplines with Gunsite, Tigerswan,Vickers, Burkett, Costa and a number of others.  I am not making that statement to brag or attempt to sound cool, but to inform and provide context.  Am I the worlds best shooter with any weapon system I pick up?  Of course not. I'm better than some and not as good as others.  But I am always working at getting better and actively working to learn new skills. I do my best to use the knowledge I attain at the various classes and incorporate what works for me into my shooting and everyday life.  Some classes are better than others, but I have found that I can learn at least one new idea in every class. (emphasis added/DR)

Equipment:  For you gear whores out there here is a list of what I ran in class:  S&W M&P9 5” slide with thumb safety.  M&P magazines with 10-8 baseplates.  Raven Phantom Holster and mag carriers supplemented by G-Code GSM single mag carriers on a Wilderness Instructors belt. I shot roughly 2300 Atlanta Arms and Ammo 9mm 115 grain reloads over the three days.  I suffered no gear related issues during the class.

The People: As you would expect, the class was made up of the usual suspects from diverse backgrounds.  We had a mix of Law Enforcement Officers, LEO Training Officers, Active duty military, Private Security Contractors, Firearms industry folks and people like me.  There were 24 shooters in the class, 23 males and one female.

The Location:  Rocky Creek Ranch in Myakka Florida hosted the class.  RCR is a 1500 acre ranch with multiple ranges. RCR has a multitude of lodging options.  All meals are provided on site and the price is reasonable.  It is a definite benefit to have lunch brought to you and served on the range.  It means you have less downtime and more shooting time. Proximity is a bonus; five minutes after your last shot is fired, you are back at the room showering up.  After supper, you have the opportunity to hang out with the instructor and fellow shooters in a laid back atmosphere and exchange witty banter over a few drinks.  There really isn’t another place on the planet that creates this sort of atmosphere.


 After breakfast Costa briefed the class and gave a course overview.  He asked each participant to introduce themselves,discuss profession/background and state what they hoped to gain.  Safety rules were thoroughly reviewed.  A nedical brief was then given.   “You shooting yourself or someone else is not part of my course description," Costa advised.  "Watch your muzzles, be aware of your surroundings and be safe out there!  Get your gear and get down to the range and start jocking up mags.”  So it began.

Ten minutes later we were on the range and posting targets.  We counted off to ensure everyone was on their own target. Always amuses me when grown adults cannot count to 24. Yet it happens in almost every class I have been to. The target was a simple cardboard cut out with 9 dots painted on it.  Three tall, three wide.  We were less than 5 yards away.

Costa started the class with a quick review of the 7 fundamentals of shooting.  We covered stance, grip, sight alignment, sight picture, trigger control, follow through and breath control.  Then he emphasized the three big ones.  Grip, trigger control and sight picture.

“The range is now HOT! Load and make ready. This is your warm up!  Two hands, send five rounds top left dot on your own pace.  Remember trigger control, there is no need to rush...Five rounds, top row, second dot...take your time, get your hits....Send them!”

This was repeated at various distances until three mags or so were expended.  As I looked down the line, I was truly  impressed at the groups that were on virtually all of the targets.  Sure, there were a few fliers here and there but for the most part there were more quarter sized holes in the black dots than I expected. This was a squared away group of shooters.

On the walk back to reload magazines, I was thinking this is going to be a 'fun' class, well within my envelope and comfort zone.  To be perfectly honest, I figured it was going to be a typical so-called 'advanced class' that followed the 80/20 rule.  Eighty percent fun shooting that was well within my capabilities and 20% manipulations and one handed shooting that might stress me a bit.  As I mentioned previously, I have been to quite a few classes and most tended to stick to this formula.  I was even telling myself, just work your fundamentals and look to get one good concept from this class.

We reloaded and headed back downrange.  VTAC silhouette  targets replaced the painted cardboard.

As in any class, Costa would give a course of fire brief, then shot the drill at various speeds to demonstrate before we began. Rather than repeat that fact ad nauseam, from here on out, it should be assumed.

With the class reassembled on the line, we shot from a standing 'compressed ready' position at the 3, 5, 7,10,15 and 25 yard lines.  We continued to work the on the fundamentals.   We checked targets, taped outside “A” zone and went back to reload.  Chris then discussed trigger control, recoil management and proper extension.  The class seemed to be familiar with these concepts, so we forged ahead.

OK, so far so good.

Costa then gave a quick brief and demo on speed reloads and admin reloads.  We moved on to the draw.  When Costa yelled "Threat!" or "Bust 'em!", we would draw and fire anywhere from 1 to 5 rounds at distances ranging from 3 yards all the way back to 25.  Every evolution started with the basics at close range and then build in speed, difficulty and distance.  This was true as the class continue on to more difficult training blocks as well.

Then came weapon hand only (strong side) drills from roughly the same yard markers.  I had been doing a lot of Carbine classes lately and was seriously slacking on my pistol shooting.  The target that stared back at me made that point very apparent. Weapon hand only seemed a bit harder than I remembered but still wasn't awful.

“Tape up and reload mags and meet back here in 10.  If you don’t like taping the target up, then don’t miss!”

It was a refrain heard frequently throughout the day. Words to live by.

We then repeated the same drills and the same distances but this time with the reaction side only. This is when I realized how I had fallen into the 'fun' training mentality and hadn’t pushed myself while training on my own.  (emphasis added/DR) It was now apparent, this was not going to be a cupcake class, but rather one that was going to kick my ass if I didn’t start stepping up.

To make matters worse, my target looked like someone had shot it multiple times with buckshot at 75 yards - and that might be a generous analogy. Clearly, I needed to go back to basics, slow down and work the trigger correctly.  I was feeling a little defeated but not broken as we headed into lunch.  At lunch I remember thinking, Thank God we are done with all the one handed crap!  Now it can be a fun afternoon!

Wrong again.  The afternoon was spent taking our newly refined one handed shooting skills and then applying them to different positions at various distances.  In between reloading/water breaks, we covered standing, kneeling, urban prone and supine.  We covered each drill with two hands, then weapon side only, then reaction side only.  All were shots were taken from the compressed ready position.  So just on day one over two thirds of the shots fired were one handed.

As the day drew to a close, we moved a little closer into the targets and performed a series of speed drills designed to improve speed and accuracy. I'm guessing round count was about 800 plus. We then headed back to the lodge to decompress, where RCR provided an excellent dinner and the students began to get to know each other. As might be expected, discussions stuck mostly stuck to guns, gear and generally ribbing each others failures during class.


To be continued.

About the Author: E.D. works as a a financial professional to afford ammo and shooting classes. He has actively sought out training opportunities as frequently as possible over the last 20 years and attended many of the of top shooting schools in the county.  Is he a flawless shooter? Absolutely not! But he is striving to improve and learn more everyday.  He also gives back to his community by serving on the board of the 1st Ranger Battalion Sua Sponte Foundation, Inc.


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